Eighteenth-century Paris, capital of luxury

Note: I am now ready to resume my “Smith in the City” series on Adam Smith’s fateful year in Paris (1766). Enjoy!

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Another aspect of Paris that must have caught Adam Smith’s attention was the market in luxury goods, a growing market with political and moral implications. [See generally Jennings 2007.] By way of example, the word “luxury” appears only six times in Smith’s 1759 treatise The Theory of Moral Sentiments; by contrast, “luxury” or “luxuries” appear over 60 times in his 1776 magnum opus The Wealth of Nations.

In summary, in 18th-century France a small number of workshops enjoyed royal monopolies to produce jewelry, snuff boxes, watches, porcelain, carpets, silverware, mirrors, tapestries, furniture, and other luxury goods. The crown also directly oversaw several royal manufacturers, including those of tapestries (Gobelins and Beauvais) and carpets (Savonnerie manufactory), and Louis XV had established a royal workshop to make fine dishes at the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres in the 1750s.[Louis XV would also established the first annual exhibition of porcelain at Versailles beginning in 1769, three years after Smith’s departure from Paris. See Antoine 1989, p. 566.] In addition to these luxury goods, clocks and watches became the newest luxury items. Designers such as André Charles Boulle made a specialty of gilded clock cases topped with Cupid, the god of desire, triumphing over a recumbent Father Time (see image below), and wealthy Parisians liked to be painted at their tasks with their elegant timepieces. [See generally Bremer-David 2011.]

Moreover, these luxury goods were not the exclusive domain of the royal family or the upper echelon of the French nobility, Les Grands. The chair-makers, upholsterers, wood carvers, and foundries of Paris were kept busy making luxury furnishings, statues, gates, door knobs, ceilings, and architectural ornament for the royal palaces and for the new town-houses or hôtels particulier of the nobility. Eighteenth-century Paris thus became the capital of luxury, and the epi-center of this bygone world were the hôtels particulier of the faubourg St Germain, where Smith resided during his time in Paris.

A typical day in the life of an 18th-century St Germain town-house was recreated at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2011 as part of an art exhibition “Paris: Life and Luxury in the 18th Century.” [The exhibition opened at the Getty on April 26, 2011 and ended on August 7, 2011. See Bremer-David 2011. See also Vanpée 2013.] The curator of the exhibition, Charissa Bremer-David, attempted to recapture a world subsequently overshadowed by the tumultuous history of the French Revolution. These hôtels particulier or stand-alone mansions were surrounded by gardens and contained many architectural innovations. Lofty rooms for formal receptions, the appartements de parade, were supplemented by intimate rooms for informal relaxation, appartements de commodité, where the rich exercised their politesse and turned their savoir vivre into a performance art. [To recreate a world when only firelight and candlelight illuminated a room, the lights in the last gallery of the exhibition were dimmed. In the exhibition book Paris: Life and Luxury, Mimi Hellman, a professor of art history, evokes “limited circles of flickering brightness surrounded by encroaching gloom.” Glittering enchantment was created by precious metals, gilding on furniture and china, iridescent threads on clothes and jewels on the body. Brilliant cut gemstones came to life in candlelight, spot-lighting the face of the wearer, accentuating what one commentator called “the sparkling fire of the eyes.” Quoted in Vickery 2011.]

This was the bygone world of prerevolutionary Paris that Adam Smith found himself in 1766.       

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Reading List for Smith in the City

In addition to the letters of Horace Walpole and Madame Riccoboni, I am also reading the following texts as part of my researches into Adam Smith’s life in Paris:

  1. James Bonar, editor, A Catalogue of the Library of Adam Smith (1894), available here.
  2. Charissa Bremer-David, editor, Paris: Life & Luxury in the Eighteenth Century (2011), available here. This book was part of an exhibition of 18th-century luxury goods and objets d’art at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles from April 26, 2011 to August 7, 2011.
  3. Jonathan Conlin, Tales of Two Cities: Paris, London and the Birth of the Modern City (2013), available here, the cover of which is pictured below.
  4. C. R. Fay, Adam Smith and the Scotland of his Day (1956), available here, especially Chapter 11 on “Smith, Toulouse, and Turgot,”
  5. Jacques Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris (1963). I am using this general reference book to pinpoint the street numbers of the townhouses and other places in Paris that Adam Smith most likely visited.
  6. Journal Politique Pour l’Année 1766, multiple issues, available here. I am using this primary source to get some sense of what educated people in Paris were talking about at the time.
  7. Sarah Maza, Private Lives and Public Affairs: The Causes Célèbres of Prerevolutionary France (1993), available here.
  8. Ronald L. Meek, The Economics of Physiocracy: Essays & Translations (1963), available here. Although the term “physiocracy” to describe the ideas of the French economistes was not coined until after Adam Smith’s 1766 sojourn in Paris, this classic reference book has proven to be invaluable.
  9. Adam Smith, “Of the nature of that imitation which takes place in what are called the imitative arts” (1795). This fascinating essay by Smith was published after his death.
  10. Julian Swann, Politics and the Parlement of Paris under Louis XV, 1754–1774 (1995), available here, especially Chapter 9 on La Chalotais and the Brittany Affair.
Tales of Two Cities: Paris, London and the Birth of the Modern City:  Conlin, Jonathan: 9781619022256: Amazon.com: Books
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Horace Walpole, a man of many aphorisms

I have been reading the correspondence of Horace Walpole for the years 1765/66 as part of my researches into Adam Smith’s life in Paris. (Walpole’s first visit to Paris coincided with Smith’s second.) Walpole, a prolific and witty letter writer, was a fascinating character in his own right, and I will have more to say about his relationship to Adam Smith during their time in Paris. In the meantime, however, below are three of my favorite quotes from his letters:

“… next to successful enemies, I dread triumphant friends.” (Letter 1034)

Our ancestors were rogues, and so will our posterity be.” (Letter 1040)

… though I have little to write, I have a great deal to say.” (Letter 1045)

Preaching has not failed [to rid the world of sin] …, not because inadequate to the disease, but because the disease is incurable.” (Letter 1047)

The less I esteem folks the less I would quarrel with them.” (Letter 1048)

Tranquility bounds my ambition.” (Letter 1050)

I have always sighed for thundering revolutions, but have been … content with changes of ministers.” (Letter 1058)

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Más recuerdos de la Ciudad de México

Happy Mother’s Day from Mexico City!

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¡Viva Mexico!

Pictured below is mi esposa Sydjia being serenaded at La Cantina Tenampa, next to la Plaza Garibaldi, where we celebrated our wedding anniversary (10 years!) and one of our favorite spots in Mexico City. Bonus videos: three different versions of my all-time favorite Mariachi ballad, La Bikina.

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Mexico City Street Art

On Calle Republica de Cuba.

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Postcards from Mexico City

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One-week hiatus from Smith in the City

I hate to hit the pause button now that I am on a roll, but I will have to take a one-week hiatus from my “Smith in the City” series because my wife and I will be in Mexico City this week for our 10th wedding anniversary, my first trip to “La Ciudad de los Palacios” since my college days. Next week, however, I will resume my Smithian series, picking up just where we left off–with Horace Walpole’s journal entry for March 2, 1766. In the meantime, I have posted the first part of my “Adam Smith in Paris” paper here (via SSRN). The abstract of my paper appears below:

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Smith in the City: The Parisian Gatsby

Horace Walpole’s journal entry for Monday, February 17 (1766) provides a glimpse of the ancien regime; it reads: “At night to Prince of Conti’s public night, great concert, Jéliotte and Mlle Fel sung. 4 great tables at supper, served by his guards, pharaoh, biribis, whisk, and berlan.”[1] Who was this prince, and did either Smith or Duke Henry attend his lavish soiree on the 17th?

The Prince of Conti, Louis François de Bourbon (1717–1776), was one of the most affluent and well-connected noblemen of the metropolis, a kind of aristocratic Gatsby in the last years of the Old Regime. Ernest Campbell Mossner (1980, pp. 458-459) describes the Prince of Conti thus: “Louis-François de Bourbon, Prince of Conti, was a remarkable man. A brave and skilful [sic] generalissimo of the French Army in Italy, he had won the battle of Coni in 1744 and retired from the Army three years later. He held the confidence of Louis XV in maintaining secret diplomatic missions throughout Europe until 1755, when he was ousted by the intrigues of Mme de Pompadour. Immediately he assumed the leadership of the opposition and earned the King’s appellation of ‘my cousin the advocate.’”[3] In his personal life, the Prince of Conti was a “handsome man” who “lived handsomely and lavishly,”[4] and “his reputation as a libertine was almost unapproaced; but he permitted himself only one principal mistress at a time.”[5]

According to Mossner, it was on Mondays that the Prince of Conti hosted sumptuous suppers for up to 50 to 100 people at his luxurious place of residence, a compound called the Temple, an old fortress dating back to the 13th century.[2] Located in the Marais district of the French metropolis, the Temple was one of the most opulent and palatial private compounds in all of Paris (see map below). In the words of Mossner again (1980, p. 459): “As Grand Prior of Malta, the Prince of Conti maintained as his Paris residence the Temple, situated north of the Seine in the eastern extremity of the old city. Within the fortified walls of the spacious enclosure, the original thirteenth-century square and turreted edifice of the Knights Templars was surrounded by more modern buildings. One of the smaller of these, facing north on the rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth and with a simple garden on the south, was assigned to [his mistress] Mme de Boufflers. An elegant and spacious town-house, elevated somewhat above the others, was reserved for the Prince himself.”[6]

Furthermore, it was at the Temple that the Prince of Conti “entertained, on a scale rivalling that of the Royal Palace, with theatre-parties, grand assemblies, and intimate soirees. For the Temple had its own theatre, its grand assembly room, and its small salon. All were decorated with white wainscoting, with facings and casings of pressed copper, and with high glass windows offering a vivid contrast to the austerity of the ancient fortress.”[7] The Prince of Conti also maintained a vast and celebrated art collection, housed in a special gallery at the Temple, which he had amassed during the last twenty years of his life. Among other works of art, his collection included the 1764 painting English Tea Served in the Salon des Glaces at the Palais du Temple by Michel Barthélemy Ollivier, showing the infant Mozart at the clavichord.[8]

In short, if Smith and Duke Henry had already arrived in Paris on Saturday, February 15, then this “public night” and “great concert” at the “Prince of Conti’s” was a social call that they would surely have not wanted to miss.

Either way, the Temple would later play an important role in the French Revolution, as the fortress in this Temple complex was converted into a prison during the French Revolution. [See, e.g., Curzon 1888.] In fact, the most prominent members of the French royal family were all jailed at the Temple during the Revolution, including King Louis XVI, who was imprisoned at the Temple from 13 August 13, 1792 until January 21, 1793, the day he was guillotined at the Place de la Révolution, and Marie Antoinette, who was imprisoned in the Temple’s tower from August 13, 1792 to 1 August 1, 1793.[9] Today, a garden known as the Square du Temple is located on the site of the old Temple complex in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris.[10]

Did Adam Smith himself see what was coming, a world-changing revolution that would destroy the old order? In fairness to Smith, it is unlikely that anyone saw a revolution coming in 1766, but at the same time, how could the glaring contrast between the many unemployed or hungry workers of the poorer quarters of Paris and the lavish lifestyle of aristocrats like the Prince of Conti have escaped Smith’s notice?

Compared to the annual income of 50,000 livres that the Prince of Conti received from the Knights Templars,[11] an unskilled male worker in Paris at the time earned about twenty to thirty sous a day (there were twenty sous in a livre), while a skilled mason could earn fifty sous. For reference, in the 18th century the minimum rent for an attic room in Paris was thirty to forty livres a year, while rent for two rooms was a minimum of sixty livres, and a four-pound loaf of bread cost eight or nine sous.[12] At the time, most working-class Parisians were concentrated in the crowded maze of streets in the center of the city, the Île de la Cité,[13] just a few minutes from the Temple on foot. Many of these working-class Parisians toiled as tanners and dyers on the Left Bank of Paris, near the Bièvre River, and in thousands of small workshops and furniture shops in the eastern neighborhood of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine.[14]

Whether or not Smith took notice of these disparities, thousands of unskilled men and women from the poorer regions of France would continue to flood these neighborhoods of Paris in the years before 1789. Moreover, it is this sharp contrast between the haves and have-nots, between the beggars and princes of Paris, that must have in some small way motivated Smith’s transformation from a moral philosopher to a political economist, from a mere theorist concerned with virtue to a pragmatist concerned with real world affairs.

Quartier du Temple, en 1734 (Plan Turgot). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
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Smith in the City: Death of the Dauphin

In my previous post, we saw that the names of Adam Smith or his pupil Duke Henry appear in Horace Walpole’s Paris journal no less than 20 times, starting with Walpole’s entry for Feb. 15, 1766, but we also saw an initial two-week gap in Walpole’s journal in which neither Smith nor Duke Henry appears by name at all. So, what was Adam Smith doing in Paris during this period of time, from Feb. 15, 1766 (the first time we hear of Smith) to March 2, 1766 (the next time his name is mentioned). Among other things, it is possible that Adam Smith visited Notre Dame Cathedral during this time. By way of example, Horace Walpole’s journal entry for Wednesday, February 26 contains the following somber words (emphasis added): “To the English Benedictines, and to Notre Dame to see the catafalque for the Dauphin’s funeral oration.”[1]

Although Smith and the young Duke are not mentioned in this journal entry, it is hard to imagine they would miss such a significant and historic event, for the “Dauphin” refers to none other than Louis Ferdinand (1729–1765), the eldest and only surviving son of King Louis XV of France and Queen Marie Leszczyński and the heir apparent to the throne until his death on December 20, 1765, when he died of tuberculosis at the age of 36.[2] Also, as Walpole mentions, the Dauphin’s funeral oration was to take place at the world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral. Constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries and located on the then-crowded Île de la Cité quarter of Paris, Notre Dame is still one of the most famous Gothic structures in the world and one of the most recognized symbols of the city of Paris and the nation of France.[3]

By this time (late February 1766), numerous eulogies had already been published in the Dauphin’s honor. One was by the Jesuit priest Anne Alexandre Charles Marie Lanfant.[4] Another was by a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Beaux Artes, Jean-Baptiste-Armand Cottereau.[5] But this particular funeral oration was to take place at Notre Dame, and it was to be delivered by Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, the Archbishop of Toulouse and a prominent figure of Old Regime France. Originally ordained in 1752, Brienne held a wide variety of prominent and lucrative religious titles and would later become Louis XVI’s finance minister (1787-88). In 1766, he was still the archbishop of Toulouse, the provincial town in the south of France where Smith had resided for most of 1764 and 1765.

Walpole mentions that he visited the Dauphin’s catafalque at Notre Dame Cathedral on February 26, but Brienne did not deliver his funeral oration until March 1, 1766. Although I have no evidence to confirm whether Adam Smith or Duke Henry attended the March 1 funeral oration, it is unlikely they would have missed such an important event as the funeral oration for Louis-Ferdinand, who was the next-in-line to the French throne.[6]

If Smith did attend Brienne’s funeral oration on March 1st, or if he subsequently read a published version of Brienne’s eulogy in honor of the Dauphin, he would have also had an opportunity compare the communal impact of the heir apparent’s death, “a punishment sent from Heaven and a public calamity,”[8] with the private lamentations of the Dauphin’s mother: “Her gaze was fixed on [her son’s] image … but soon the awful truth opened a wound in her heart, the lifeless image fell from her hands, leaving her sobbing and in tears.”[9]

Was Adam Smith, whose literary reputation at the time was still based on his 1759 magnum opus The Theory of Moral Sentiments, moved by these words? Either way, what else could have motivated or contributed to Smith’s transformation from a moral philosopher to a political economist? Brienne’s funeral oration also contains an allusion to the age of Enlightenment, to “the torch of sciences [that] today casts its vivid and bursting light.”[7] This reference may provide a clue to Smith’s intellectual transformation, something I shall consider further in my next post.

File:Hôtel-Dieu sur le plan de Turgot.jpg
The hospital of Hôtel-Dieu on the map of Turgot, with the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
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