Adam Smith in Paris, 1766 (Part 1)

Let’s begin my “Smith in the City” series by narrowing down the date of Adam Smith’s arrival in Paris. We know that Smith lived in Paris for most of 1766, but when exactly did he arrive there?

Adam Smith and his then-pupil Duke Henry, the future 3rd Duke of Buccleugh, began their Grand Tour of Europe in early 1764 and first arrived in the City of Lights on February 13 of that year. Their first sojourn in Paris, however, was a relatively short one: they remained in the French capital for only a few days before relocating to Toulouse, where they resided for the next 18 months, i.e. from March of 1764 to October of 1765.[1] Later on, Smith, Duke Henry, and the Duke’s younger brother Hew Scott Campbell, who had joined his brother in Toulouse in the summer of 1764, all travelled to the Swiss city of Geneva sometime in October of 1765 before returning to Paris a second time.[2] So, when exactly did they return to Paris for their second, much longer, sojourn?

According to Ian Simpson Ross (2010, p. 209), citing two of Smith’s previous biographers, John Rae and E. G. West: “It has been assumed Smith and his pupils [Duke Henry and Henry’s younger brother Hew] travelled to Paris from Geneva in December 1765, in time to see Hume and possibly Rousseau before they left the French capital for England on 4 January 1766.”[3] But as Ross himself correctly notes (ibid.), the surviving correspondence between Hume and Smith does not indicate that any such meeting between them, or between Smith and Rousseau for that matter, ever occurred. Instead, Ross reports that “[t]he first news from Paris of Smith being there comes from Horace Walpole, who recorded on 2 March 1766 that [they] had gone to an ‘Italian play’ … at the Comedie-Italienne.”[4] In fact, the first reference to Smith in Walpole’s private travel journal appears on February 15, 1766. His journal entry for that date begins thus: “Dr. Smith came.”[5]

By contrast, another contemporary source, the Reverend William Cole, has Smith’s pupil, Duke Henry, arriving in Paris as early as October 26, 1765.[6] Although Reverend Cole’s account does not mention Adam Smith or Duke Henry’s younger brother Hew Scott Campbell by name, it is unlikely that Duke Henry would have travelled to Paris from Geneva alone. Of these two primary sources, however, I find Horace Walpole to be far more credible than Reverend Cole for three reasons.

First, as mentioned above, Smith and Duke Henry were most likely in Geneva during the months of October and November of 1765.[7] Secondly, Walpole was annotating his activities in Paris on a daily basis contemporaneously during his seven-month stay in Paris (Walpole was in Paris from September 1765 to April 1766), while Cole began writing his Paris travel memoire almost six months after he left Paris.[8] And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Smith and Walpole were residing in the same place, the Hôtel du Parc Royal.

But where in Paris was the Parc Royal located, and why did Smith choose to stay there? I shall address those questions in my next post.

Paris in the 18th century - Wikipedia
View of Paris from the Pont Neuf (1763) (Getty Center, Object 581)

[1] See generally Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave 2020, pp. ***. See also Rae 1894, pp. ***.

[2] Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave 2020, pp. ***; Rae 1894, pp. ***.

[3] Ross 2010, p. 209, citing Rae (1965, p. 194) and West (1976, p. 160).

[4] Ibid. (citation omitted).

[5] See Lewis 1931, p. 302.

[6] See Stokes 1931, p. 80.

[7] See Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave 2020, pp. ***. Also, if Adam Smith had arrived in the Parisian capital prior to January 4, 1766, the date of David Hume’s final departure from the City of Lights, it is likely that the professor of moral philosophy and the historian would have met at some point prior to Hume’s departure, but as Ross indicates, there is no evidence to suggest that such a meeting ever took place.

[8] Cole himself admits as much in his Paris journal. See Stokes 1931, pp. ***. As a further aside, Walpole had moved to the Hôtel du Parc Royal on October 3, 1765. (His journal entry for that date reads: “Took a new apartment at the Hôtel du Parc Royal, Rue du Colombier.” See Lewis 1939, p. 266.) So if Smith or Duke Henry had arrived there prior to February 15, 1766, Walpole would surely have taken notice of this fact.

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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