Horace Walpole’s last supper with Adam Smith

The next-to-last time Adam Smith appears in Horace Walpole’s travel journal is in the entry for Monday, April 7, which states: “Supped at Lady Mary Chabot’s with Lady Browne, Mme de Bouzols, Mr Smith and Chevalier de Barfort.”[1] What is most notable about this collection of eclectic individuals attending this late-night souper is that they were all, with the exception of Smith and Walpole, Roman Catholics.

“Lady Browne,” for example, most likely refers to Margaret Cecil, Lady Brown (1692-1782), the widow of Sir Robert Brown who became Walpole’s neighbor in Twickenham later that year (1766).[2] Walpole himself once referred to her as “the merry Catholic.”[3] The other guests at this souper, Bouzols and Barfot, were also most likely Roman Catholics. “Mme de Bouzols,” for example, may refer to Laure Anne FitzJames (1713-1766), the widow of Timoleon Joachim Louis de Montagu-Beaune, the Marquis de Bouzols.[4] She was a dame du palais, a lady of the Queen’s palace, until 1762, and she died in December of 1766.[5] For his part, the “Chevalier de Barfot” may refer to the Chevalier Charles Jermingham, an English Catholic with strong French connections.[6]

The hostess of this souper was “Lady Mary Chabot,” who most likely refers to Lady Mary Apollonia Scholastica de Rohan Chabot (1721-1769), the widow of Guy Augustus de Chabot-Rohan (1683-1760), known as the comte de Chabot.[7] Although Lady Mary was English–she was the eldest daughter of William Stafford Howard, the 2nd Earl of Stafford[8]–and is buried in St. Edmund’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey,[9] she was married in France and became the Countess de Rohan when she married Guy Augustus de Chabot-Rohan in 1744. (The family shield of the house of Rohan-Chabot is pictured below.)

For his part, Adam Smith refers to the Catholic religion in various parts of The Wealth of Nations. There are, in fact, 10 references in all to Catholics and the Catholic Church in Smith’s magnum opus. By contrast, there are only two references to Catholics in The Theory of Moral Sentiments.[10] In Chapter 1 of Book 5, for example, in the subsection titled “Of the Expense of the Institutions for the Instruction of People of all Ages,” Smith notes how “[i]n some parts of Switzerland, … where, from the accidental union of a Protestant and Roman Catholic country, the conversion has not been so complete, both religions are not only tolerated but established by law.”[11] And in Chapter 7 of Book 1, in the section titled “Causes of Prosperity of New Colonies,” Smith writes:

"The English Puritans, restrained at home, fled for freedom to America, and established there the four governments of New England. The English Catholics, treated with much greater injustice, established that of Maryland; the Quakers, that of Pennsylvania. The Portuguese Jews, persecuted by the Inquisition, stripped of their fortunes, and banished to Brazil, introduced by their example some sort of order and industry among the transported felons and strumpets by whom that colony was originally peopled, and taught them the culture of the sugar-cane. Upon all these different occasions it was not the wisdom and policy, but the disorder and injustice of the European governments which peopled and cultivated America."[12]

In other words, Smith not only avoids a dogmatic tone when writing about Catholics and other religions “dissenters” of his time; he appears to be downright sympathetic to their plight.

House of Rohan-Chabot - Wikipedia
Shield of the House of Rohan-Chabot

[1] Lewis 1939, p. 312.                                                             

[2] See Hunter 1999, citing Dobree 1932, pp. 2388 & 2572.

[3] Letter from Walpole to George Montagu dated Nov. 1, 1767 (Letter 1118), published in Cunningham 1906, Vol. 5, pp. 72-73. The reference to “the merry Catholic Lady Brown” appears on p. 72.

[4] Lundy 2019, p. 8867, available at https://www.thepeerage.com/p8867.htm#i88667. See also the genealogical chart in Hughes 2007, p. 610.

[5] See Masson n.d.

[6] Young 2013 (eBook). See also The Correspondence and Diaries of Charlotte Georgiana, Lady Bedingfeld (formerly Jerningham) c1779-1833, together with the letters of Anna Seward, c1791-1804 and Lady Stafford, c1774-1837 from Birmingham University Library, available at https://calmview.bham.ac.uk/Record.aspx?src=Catalog&id=XJER. According to Walpole, Chevalier Jermingham was the “uncle of the present Sir William Jermingham, was educated in France, and entered the French service under the name of the Chevalier de Barfot.” See Walpole 1810, p. 151 n.5.

[7] See Jermingham 1807, pp. 26-27.

[8] See Chester 1876, p. 411 n.8. See also Letter from Horace Walpole to Lady Hervey dated October 31, 1762, published in Cunningham 1906, p. 41 n.1, available at https://libsvcs-1.its.yale.edu/walpoleimages/hwcorrespondence/31/075.pdf.

[9] See Chester 1876, p. 411. See also “Benjamin de Rohan” and “John Howard, Earl of Stafford & family” in the Westminster Abbey website, available at [insert PermaCC here] https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/benjamin-de-rohan and at https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/john-howard-earl-of-stafford-family.

[10] See Chapter 6 of Book 3 (paragraph 13) and Chapter 4 of Book 7 (paragraph 16) of Smith’s treatise on moral philosophy.

[11] The Wealth of Nations, Glasgow edition, p. 813 (para. 41).

[12] Ibid., Glasgow edition, p. 589 (para. 61).

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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