Smith in the City: “Duke Henry”

Horace Walpole’s journal entry for Monday, March 24 reads: “Dined at Duke of Buccleuch’s with several English.” [Lewis 1939, p. 309.]

The Duke of Buccleuch here refers to Smith’s pupil, Duke Henry, the future 3d Duke of Buccleuch, whose portrait is pictured below. At the time, Adam Smith was serving as Duke Henry’s private tutor and chaperone, a position that Smith had held since January of 1764, when they first set off for France on their grand tour. But why had Smith given up the tranquility of the University of Glasgow, where he held the Chair of Moral Philosophy, to serve as a “mere” tutor to a junior nobleman? As it happens, the position of tutor, at least in this particular case, was perhaps an even more prestigious posting, for Duke Henry, a direct descendant of King Charles II of England and King Henry IV of France, was not just any nobleman; he was born into one of the wealthiest and most prestigious families in Scotland, and upon coming of age in September of 1767, Smith’s pupil would become one of Scotland’s largest landowners. [For an in-depth biography of the Third Duke of Buccleuch, as well as a portrait and family tree, see Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave 2020, pp. 28-34; for a short biography of Duke Henry, see Valentine 1970, Vol. 2, p. 773.]

It was Duke Henry’s stepfather, Charles Townshend, a prominent political figure in Britain until his death in 1767, who had offered the position of Duke Henry’s private tutor to Adam Smith as early as 1759, shortly after the publication Smith’s first great work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The plan was for Smith to accompany Duke Henry on a grand tour of Europe as soon as the young duke completed his studies at Eton, and Townshend offered Smith a lifetime salary of £300 per annum, more than double Smith’s salary as a Glasgow professor. Simply put, it was an offer Smith could not refuse. Smith himself did not hesitate in accepting Townshend’s offer.

In finally setting off for France in January of 1764, the father of modern economics and the young duke were following a well-established tradition, for the “Grand Tour” was a rite of passage of the sons of elite British families, “the ‘crown’ of [their] education.” [See Cohen 2001, p. 129; see also Brodsky-Porges 1981, p. 178, quoting Ogilvie 1939.] Michèle Cohen (1992, 2001) has explored the educational and cultural ideals of the “Grand Tour” and has identified many deep “contradictions and ambiguities” of these European tours by young British aristocrats, and the sexual aspect of these tours should also not go unnoticed. [See, e.g., Chapter 5 of Black 2011, which is titled “Love, Sex, Gambling, and Drinking.” See also Black 1981, p. 660 & p. 666, n.7; Black 1983, pp. 413-414; Cohen 1992, pp. 255-256.]

Perhaps it was these many contradictions and ambiguities of these grand tours that turned Smith against this aristocratic tradition. In Book V of The Wealth of Nations, for example, in the subsection titled “Of the Expense of the Institutions for the Education of Youth,” Smith delivers a scathing indictment of this institution:

"In England it becomes every day more and more the custom to send young people to travel in foreign countries immediately upon their leaving school, and without sending them to any university. Our young people, itis said, generally return home much improved by their travels. A young man who goes abroad at seventeen or eighteen, and returns home at one and twenty, returns three or four years older than he was when he went abroad; and at that age it is very difficult not to improve a good deal in three or four years. In the course of his travels he generally acquires some knowledge of one or two foreign languages; a knowledge, however, which is seldom sufficient to enable him either to speak or write them with propriety. In other respects he commonly returns home more conceited, more unprincipled, more dissipated, and more incapable of any serious application either to study or to business than he could well have become in so short a time had he lived at home. By travelling so very young, by spending in the most frivolous dissipation the most precious years of his life, at a distance from the inspection and control of his parents and relations, every useful habit which the earlier parts of his education might have had some tendency to form in him, instead of being riveted and confirmed, is almost necessarily either weakened or effaced. Nothing but the discredit into which the universities are allowing themselves to fall could ever have brought into repute so very absurd a practice as that of travelling at this early period of life. By sending his son abroad, a father delivers himself at least for some time, from so disagreeable an object as that of a son unemployed, neglected, and going to ruin before his eyes." [The Wealth of Nations, Glasgow edition, pp. 773-773 (para. 36).]

Given these dangers and temptations, how did Smith or counteract them? Perhaps this was the main reason why Smith had chosen to begin Duke Henry’s grand tour in Toulouse–a small provincial town in the south of France where they ended up spending 18 months–instead of a more cosmopolitan metropolis like Paris or Rome. [See generally Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave 2020.] So, what did Smith do to counteract these dangers and temptations, especially during the Paris phase of Duke Henry’s grand tour. Smith and his pupils now found themselves in Paris, the capital of luxury.

Source: Royal Trust Collection

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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