Adam Smith in the salon of Madame du Deffand

The next mention of Adam Smith in Horace Walpole’s journal occurs on Easter Sunday, 30 March 1766: “To Mme du Deffand. Mr Smith came.”[1] In fact, before his departure from Paris on April 17, Walpole will mention Smith four more times: once on April 1, twice on April 7, and one last time on April 9, but during this same span of time (March 30 to April 9), Madame du Deffand, whose portrait is pictured below, is mentioned no less than nine times–every single day, except for March 31 and April 8. The reference to “Mme du Deffand” is to none other than Marie Anne de Vichy-Chamrond (1696–1780), la marquise du Deffand, a spirited woman with a sharp tongue.[2] By all accounts, la marquise du Deffand was not only a patroness of the arts; she was also a remarkable woman of letters in her own right, as her surviving letters to Horace Walpole attest to.[3]

As it happens, Madame du Deffand was also one of the leading salonnières of Paris, Madame Geoffrin’s great rival in the rarefied world of the Paris salons, where the art of conversation à la Française and the pleasures of refined sociability ruled.[4] The salon of du Deffand was located on the rue Saint-Dominique (now the Boulevard Saint-Germain), [See Collins ****.] just a few blocks from the Hotel du Parc Royal on the rue du Colombier, where Walpole and Smith were lodging, and Walpole himself spent a considerable amount of time at her salon during his visit to Paris. Walpole and du Deffand became especially close friends,[5] and in his private correspondence to Thomas Gray, Walpole provides one of the most memorable descriptions of his friend, Madame du Deffand:

“… Madame du Deffand … is now very old and stone blind, but retains all her vivacity, wit, memory, judgment, passions and agreeableness. She goes to operas, plays, suppers, and Versailles; gives suppers twice a week; has everything new read to her; makes new songs and epigrams, ay, admirably, and remembers every one that has been made these fourscore years. She corresponds with Voltaire, dictates charming letters to him, contradicts him, is no bigot to him or anybody, and laughs both at the clergy and the philosophers. In a dispute, into which she easily falls, she is very warm, and yet scarce ever in the wrong: her judgment on every subject is as just as possible; on every point of conduct as wrong as possible: for she is all love and hatred, passionate for her friends to enthusiasm, still anxious to be loved, I don’t mean by lovers, and a vehement enemy, but openly.” [See Letter from Horace Walpole to Thomas Gray dated January 25, 1766, in The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence. Vol. 14, pp. 148-157.]

By this time (1766), however, Madame du Deffand’s salon was in decline. Her protégé, Jeanne Julie Éléonore de Lespinasse (1732–1776), had opened a competing salon of her own just down the street in the 1764.[6] But in its heyday, the salon of Madame du Deffand had attracted famous diplomats, great ladies, philosophes, and prominent politicians and gained international renown. She presided over her salon from her tonneau, her great straw-canopied chair,[7] and foreign visitors to Paris flocked to participate in her celebrated evening repasts; she received diplomats from all over Europe: baron Gleichen, Gustaf Philip Creutz, Johan Bernstorff (the Danish extraordinary envoy to Paris from 1744 to 1751), marquis Caraccioli (the Neapolitan ambassador from 1771 to 1781), and Count Ulrik Scheffer (the Swedish minister to Paris from 1744 to 1751).[8] Madame du Deffand’s salon also became a popular destination for British writers and eccentrics, men of state, and amateurs of art, literature, philosophy, and politics. John Craufurd, Gilbert Elliot, James Macdonald, Lord Robert Darcy, Lord Shelburne, Lord Bath, Charles James Fox, Charles Fitz Roy, David Hume, Edward Gibbon, and John Taaffe had figured among her distinguished English-speaking guests.[9]

Alas, we do not know what Smith thought of Madame du Deffand and the salons of Paris, but we do know that he visited du Deffand’s salon on March 30, which was Easter Sunday. At the very least, then, Smith must have preferred the salons of du Deffand, Geoffrin, and d’Holbach to the city’s many chapels, conversation to prayer, fine food to bread and wine. The salons of Parisian high society were cathedrals of conversation and fine dining, where Smith met and befriended some of the most notable figures of the Enlightenment period, who must have provided grist for Smith’s intellectual mill and invaluable sources of information for Smith’s fertile mind.

Source: DIGIT.EN.S

[1] Lewis 1939, p. 310.

[2] See, e.g., Horace Walpole’s letter to Thomas Gray dated January 25, 1766. For a portrait of du Deffand, see Appendix #22.

[3] See, e.g., Bradford 1915.

[4] See generally Lilti 2005.

[5] Upon her death in 1780, du Deffand left her papers, and her dog Tonton, to Walpole. Also, her correspondence to Walpole, which took up four volumes, was first published at Walpole’s Strawberry Hill printing press in 1810. In addition, her correspondence with such lights as D’Alembert, Hénault, and Montesquieu–Correspondance inédite de Mme du Deffand–was published in Paris (2 vols.) in 1809.

[6] See Mossner 1980, p. ***.

[7] See, e.g., Bradford 1915, p. 570.

[8] See Charrier-Vozel n.d.

[9] Ibid.

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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