Adam Smith in Paris: Le Demimonde

Previously, I described the dramatic transformation in Madame Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni’s attitude toward Adam Smith. (See my post dated 7 October 2021.) But the question remains, Why did she fall for him?

Madame Riccoboni, an accomplished actress and novelist, and Doctor Smith, a travelling tutor and admirer of the stage, were by all accounts avid theater and opera fans, so it is not far-fetched to imagine them attending a play or an opera or a concert together during Smith’s 10-month stay in the City of Light. At the very least, according to one historian (Dawson, 2013, p. 8), “it is very likely Smith took recommendations from Riccoboni as to which theatrical performances to attend.” Perhaps it was this side of Adam Smith, his art-appreciation side, that sparked their connection?

But as I noted in my Oct. 8 post, what is even more fascinating is that these theatrical venues were the center of an elite sexual marketplace: the demimonde. Nina Kushner, a historian who specializes in 18th-century European social and cultural history, has researched both the buyer and seller sides of this elite sex market in her 2013 book Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in 18th-Century Paris, the cover of which is pictured below. Although Kushner’s book does not contain any reference to Adam Smith, it paints a vivid portrait of many of the famed dames entretenues or “kept women” of French high society.

Kushner’s meticulous research is based on the records of the Paris police, which operated a secret unit to keep track of these underground activities, and the inspectors of this unit, which operated from 1747 to 1771, produced hundreds of dossiers and wrote up thousands of hand-written pages documenting the demimonde. In summary, Kushner found that, although not all theater women were kept mistresses or femmes galantes, many actresses and dancers on the Paris stage earned their living by engaging in long-term sexual and often companionate relationships with men from the financial, political, and social elites, known as le monde.

According to Kushner (p. 31), “It was widely understood that any woman in the Opéra, and to a lesser degree the other theater companies, was a dame entretenue, or at least wanted to be.” These femmes galantes–famous for their talent, glamour, and beauty–were the most highly sought-after women of pleasure in all Europe. As Kushner explains (p. 5), “being on the stage greatly increased [an actress’s or dancer’s] ‘sexual capital,’ the desirability of a mistress and hence the prices she could command for her services.” In addition, police files indicate that the theater district of the French capital was teeming with high-end brothels and places of ill repute. Again, as I mentioned in my previous post, there is no evidence to indicate that Smith partook in any illicit activities while he was overseas, but how could such a keen observer like Smith not have taken any notice of the world around him, including the world of kept women, brothels, etc.?

There is one more aspect of Smith’s stay in Paris that I would like mention. Another source, a private letter by a Dr James Currie, a respected medical doctor in Liverpool, reports that Adam Smith visited the French town of Abbeville. This letter does not explain why Smith went to visit this remote town in northwest France, but Abbeville was the center of one of the greatest injustices in French history: the execution of the Chevalier de La Barre, the last man in Europe to be put to death for the crime of blasphemy. Did Smith visit Abbeville to attend this public execution? I will further explore this conjecture in my next post …

Erotic Exchanges by Nina Kushner | Paperback | Cornell University Press

Works Cited

Deidre Dawson, “Love, Marriage and Virtue: Mary Wollstonecraft and Sophie de Grouchy, Marquise de Condorcet, Respond to The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Adam Smith Review, Vol. 7 (2013), pp. 24–46.

Nina Kushner, Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in 18th-Century, Cornell University Press (2013).

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Adam Smith in Paris: La Comédie Italienne

In his 1995 biography of Adam Smith, Ian Simpson Ross (p. 209 & p. 213) reports that “Smith enjoyed the Paris opera season” and had “attended many plays and concerts, as well as the operas ….” during his 10-month sojourn in Paris. In fact, the first report in writing of Smith in Paris involves the popular opera Tom Jones.

This first-hand account appears in a private letter authored by Horace Walpole (b. 1717, d. 1797), the 4th Earl of Orford, dated March 2, 1766 (quoted in Ross, p. 209). Walpole, a literary light and a member of Parliament for many years, reports attending an “Italian play” with Smith and his pupil Henry Scott, the future 3d Duke of Buccleuch. Smith’s biographer, Ross (1995, p. 209), identifies this production as “the successful opera Tom Jones, first produced in 1765, revived the following year [1766], and still in the repertoire … at the Comedie Italienne.”

What Ross and Walpole himself both leave out, however, should be of even greater interest to students of Smith’s travels. The Comédie-Italienne–or Théâtre-Italien, as this playhouse was also known–, was not only the celebrated stage where Smith’s soon-to-be lady admirer Madame Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni rose to fame (see my previous post); as historian Nina Kushner has shown, this theater was also an integral part of an elite Parisian sexual marketplace, the famed dames entretenues or “kept women” of French high society!

That this sultry scene overlapped directly with the world of theater — Adam Smith’s world during his sojourn in the French capital — opens up an entirely new vista of Smith’s social world in the City of Light. Although there is no direct evidence to indicate that Smith himself kept a mistress in Paris or partook in any illicit activities, this intersection between Smith’s love of theater and the dames entretenues of the Paris stage is worth exploring, a connection that I shall further explore in my next post …

Comédie-Italienne - Wikipedia

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Adam Smith in Paris: Madame Riccoboni

Note: this is the second post in a multi-part series.

Most accounts of Adam Smith’s extended stay in Paris (Dec. 1765 to Oct. 1766) emphasize the pivotal role that Paris’s famed philosophical and literary “salons” had on Smith’s intellectual development. In brief, the “salons” were informal gatherings hosted in private homes, often by prominent Parisian women. The invited guests discussed literature and exchanged ideas about art, science, and politics, and it was at these gatherings that Smith met the French “physiocrats” and developed revolutionary ideas that would eventually find their way in his magnum opus “The Wealth of Nations”.

But what about Smith’s social life in Paris? By all accounts, it turns out that Smith not only broke out of his intellectual shell during his Parisian sojourn; he also became something of a bon vivant, participating in Paris’s cultural life by attending many plays, concerts, and operas and making many friends among France’s leading artists. Among these artistic friends was Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni (b. 1713, d. 1792).

Although Riccoboni is little remembered today, she was a highly accomplished actress in the Théâtre-Italien, located in the Hôtel de Bourgogne of Paris, and an illustrious femme de lettres, one of the best-selling novelists of her day. More importantly, Riccoboni not only became acquainted with Smith during his extended residency in Paris in 1766; she also fell in love with him!

Madame Riccoboni met Smith for the first time in May of 1766, most likely in the Parisian salon of the Baron d’Holbach, where Smith was a frequent visitor. At first, Smith did not make much of an impression on Riccoboni. In a private letter dated May 21, 1766, she describes Smith in the following unflattering terms:

“Two Englishmen have arrived here. One [David Hume] is a friend of Garrick’s; the other is Scottish; my God what a Scot! He speaks with difficulty through big teeth, and he’s ugly as the devil. He’s Mr. Smith, author of a book I haven’t read [i.e. The Theory of Moral Sentiments]….”

But by the end of Smith’s fateful visit in October of that same year (1766), Madame Riccoboni had fallen head over heels with Smith! In a letter addressed to fellow actor David Garrick and dated sometime in October 1766, she reveals her feelings for Smith thus:

“I am very pleased with myself, my dear Garrick, to offer you that which I miss very sharply: the pleasure of Mr. Smith’s company. I am like a foolish young girl who listens to her lover without ever thinking of loss, which always accompanies pleasure. Scold me, beat me, kill me! But I adore Mr. Smith, I adore him greatly. I wish the devil would take all our philosophes, as long as he returns Mr. Smith to me.”

What happened between May and October to so dramatically change Riccoboni’s attitude toward Smith? I will address this question in my next blog post …

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Adam Smith in Paris

Now that I have completed my multi-part reviews of the Jack Balkin and Mark Lemley papers, I will be “switching gears”, so to speak, and writing about Adam Smith’s eventful year in Paris — i.e., from late December of 1765 up to mid-October of 1766. But before proceeding any further, what was Smith doing in France in the first place, and what was he up to in the City of Light?

Most students of Adam Smith’s life will already know the answer to the first question. Smith was in France in his capacity as a “travelling tutor” to Henry Scott Campbell, the future 3d Duke of Buccleuch, whose portrait (circa 1760) is posted below. A direct descendant of King Charles II of England and King Henry IV of France, Duke Henry was born into one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and most prestigious families in Scotland, and upon his official coming of age in September of 1767, Smith’s pupil would legally become one of Scotland’s largest landowners. (For further background about Duke Henry, I strongly recommend Alain Alcouffe & Philippe Massot-Bordenave’s 2020 book “Adam Smith in Toulouse and Occitania”, especially pp. 28–34.)

Okay, but what were Adam Smith and his pupil doing in Paris? Stay tuned, for I will revisit (pun intended!) Smith’s time in Paris in my next few posts.

File:Henry Scott, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

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Can Facebook do better? Compared to what?

The first question forms the title of this recent op-ed in the New York Times by Kate Klonick, a social media expert who is a law professor at St John’s University Law School as well as a fellow at the Yale Law School and the Brookings Institution. Professor Klonick’s question also provides me a golden opportunity to conclude my review of Mark Lemley’s paper “The Contradictions of Platform Regulation“.

For starters, how are we supposed to answer Professor Klonick’s rhetorical question? To the point: “Compared to what?”

Alas, although Prof Klonick makes a number of good points, her op-ed contains no comparative analysis whatsoever. Instead, she criticizes the way Facebook measures “user engagement” and then recommends “laws demanding transparency from platforms, a new agency to specialize in online issues, and more science.”

For my part, although I agree with Klonick’s call for “more science”– i.e. more independent studies about the harmful and beneficial effects of social media — I caution against her call for more laws and a new public Internet agency for the reasons Mark Lemley gives in Part 2 of his excellent paper. In summary, Professor Lemley gives two-and-a-half slam-dunk reasons why calls for regulation of tech platforms are likely to backfire:

1. Trade-offs are unavoidable (p. 324): “Real regulation of technology platforms is likely to require difficult tradeoffs, giving some people what they want but making things worse in other respects.”

2a. Perverse effects on new entrants: Regulations often make it difficult for new entrants to compete with existing big players, or in Lemley’s own words (p. 332): “… once government creates a comprehensive set of regulations for an industry, it makes it harder for others to break into that industry, since they don’t have the experience dealing with those complex regulations.”

2b. Entrenchment effects (p. 335, footnote omitted): “… in the long run, regulatory choices that impose obligations on incumbents to do the things we want them to do as a matter of social policy are likely to entrench those incumbents, making it harder and more costly for someone to compete with them and eliminating the possibility of competing by offering a different set of policies.”

Notice that I say “two-and-a-half reasons” because the last two points are really two sides of the same coin, but be that as it may, the larger point that Lemley (and I) want to make is that bottom-up competition, not top-down regulation, is the way to go. If you don’t like Facebook, there is always Twitter and TikTok! And if you don’t like Twitter or TikTok, why not start your own social network? My motto, then, is let a thousand social media sites bloom! Yes, all of these platforms are going to be imperfect, but I want to live in a world where users have choices, where it is easy for new platforms to enter the Internet market.


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Twitter Tuesday: The Parable of the Spoons

Here is a link to the Tweet thread by @balajis posted below, and here is a link to Alex Tabarrok’s blog post titled “The Lesson of the Spoons” referenced in the Tweet thread. I cannot, however, find any source authored by the great Milton Friedman himself — or by his co-author and wife Rose Friedman — retelling this modern-day parable.

Screen Shot 2021-10-05 at 3.20.37 AM

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Blessing of the Animals

Today is the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi. In his honor, pictured below is “The Blessing of the Animals” (1974-1978), a mural by Leo Politi, located on 125 Paseo de la Plaza in my hometown of Los Angeles, California. More details about this wonderful tradition and mural are available here.

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IASS Madison 2021 Final Schedule Announced!

The final conference program of the annual meeting of the International Adam Smith Society (IASS), to be held in Madison, Wisconsin from Oct. 15 to Oct. 17, has now been posted on the IASS website. (See below.) I will be presenting my work on “The Lost History of Adam Smith’s Private Life” — with a focus on Smith’s eventful year abroad in Paris (1766) — on Friday morning, October 15. In the meantime, feel free to read my March 2021 refereed paper “Adam Smith in Love.”

International Adam Smith Society

The final schedule for our upcoming 2021 conference in beautiful Madison, Wisconsin has been posted to the website. You can find it here. Please be sure to check your presentation dates, times, and roles as some have changed.

See you soon!

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Happy Birthday, Charlie Brown

According to this entry in Wikipedia, the first Peanuts cartoon was published on this day (October 2) in 1950.

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Friday flowers

One of the advantages of walking versus cycling or driving is that one often finds little surprises that one might otherwise have missed. Pictured below, for example, are some of the flowers I encountered during my previous walk.

(Weather permitting, on my non-teaching days I like to ditch my car after dropping my daughter off at her school; walk home via Dubstread, Orlando’s oldest golf course; shower and then make myself a Cuban-style cafe con leche; devote the rest of my morning to reading or writing, or both; prepare brunch for my wife and me around Noon; clean out my inbox and respond to emails; and then walk back to my daughter’s school when it’s time to pick her up at 3. The rest of my day is devoted to office hours via Zoom and then to my family, i.e. dinner and a movie.)

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