Smith in the City: Jacobites in Paris

Horace Walpole’s journal entries for Thursday, March 13 and Saturday, March 15 both refer to Adam Smith and to the Scots College in Paris:

March 13: “Dr Smith and Gordon, Principal of the Scotch College came.”[1]
March 15: “With Dr Smith to the Scots College.”[2]

So, what in the Devil were Horace Walpole and Adam Smith doing at a Catholic seminary in Paris, a place that had historically been “a nest of intrigue for Jacobite schemes”?[3] After all, Smith had no sympathy for the now-lost Jacobite cause,[4] and Walpole was an Englishman. Neither man was openly religious.

As Walpole notes, the director of the Scots College at the time was named Gordon. His full name was John Gordon, and he was Principal of the college from 1752 until his death in 1777.[5] What Gordon, a Catholic priest, and Smith, a former professor of moral philosophy, may have thought of each other is anyone’s guess, but the venerable college Gordon led, the Collegium Scoticum (Latin) or Collège des Écossais (French), had been legally recognized by an Act of the Parlement of Paris on July 8, 1333.[6]

At that time, the college was housed in the rue des Amandiers (now Rue Laplace).[7] After 1665, the Scots College was located in the rue des Fossés-Saint-Victor (now Rue du Cardinal-Lemoine), close to the Sorbonne and almost two kilometers away from the rue du Colombier, where Smith and Walpole were lodging.[8] Brian Michael Halloran describes the façade of the Scots seminary thus: “It has a very impressive facade, being four storeys high, with five windows, each side of the main door, and eleven windows on each of the other floors.”[9]

According to Brian Michael Halloran, “The Scots College Paris has been an enigma to Scottish Catholic historians, sometimes being seen as extremely beneficial to the Scottish Catholic Mission, and at other times regarded as the source of a lot of woes.”[10] Either way, what was Adam Smith doing there? Perhaps Smith just wanted to visit the place in Paris where one of his closest friends and confidants in France had come of age, for the Scots College was the school where Seignelay Colbert of Castlehill, l’Abbé Colbert (1736-1813), had attended.[11] Colbert had entered the college in 1747 at the age of 11 and completed his studies in September of 1761,[12] and Colbert and Smith became close friends during Smith’s 18-month sojourn in Toulouse (1764-65), but I will have much more to say about l’Abbé Colbert in a future blog post.

The Scots College, Paris, 1603-1792 by Brian M. Halloran

[1] Lewis 1939, p. 307.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Halloran 1996, p. 328.

[4] Scott 1936, p. 403. Smith was still residing at Balliol College in Oxford during the doomed Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

[5] Halloran 1996, p. 327. According to Brian Michael Halloran, the Principal’s salary was £250 per annum. Ibid., p. 82. Prior to his appointment as Principal, Gordon had served as “Prefect of Studies” from 1743 to 1752. Ibid., p. 84. The duties of the Principal are described in Halloran 1996, pp. 75-76, and the duties of the Prefect of Studies are described on pp. 78-82. This John Gordon is not to be confused with John Gordon of Glencat, a former student of the Scots College who in 1733 published a scathing of his alma mater (Gordon 2010). See generally Halloran 2004.

[6] The history of the Scots College in Paris goes back to 1325. See Halloran 1996, p. 33. See also Montagu 1907. A typical day in the life of a student at the Scots College is described in Halloran 1996, pp. 86-88.

[7] Halloran 1996, p. 90.

[8] Hillairet 1964 (Vol. 1). The Scots College was sacked in August of 1792, amid the tumult of the Revolution, and was then used as a prison during the Reign of Terror. Halloran 1996, p. 341.

[9] Halloran 1996, pp. 90-91. Halloran also estimates that there may have been twenty student rooms, ten to the front and ten to the back: “The college building thus provided very amply for twenty students, but there is no evidence that it ever had more than fourteen.” Ibid., p. 91.

[10] Halloran 1996, p. i.

[11] Ibid., p. 342.

[12] Ibid., p. 63, p. 319, & p. 406 n.200. Colbert was later ordained in 1762 and was appointed Bishop of Rodez on April 2, 1781.

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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