Chap 13: Geneva

Chap 13: Geneva

 

  • In the end of August, Smith and his pupils left Toulouse and made  an extensive tour in the South of France. (Stewart)
    • No other record remains of this tour.
    • Lady Mary Coke was the Duke’s aunt.
    • She mentions that when they were at Marseilles they visited the porcelain factory.
      • The Duke bought two of the largest services ever sold there, for which he paid more than £150 sterling.
  • They seem to have arrived in Geneva some time in October.
    • They stayed about two months there.
    • Smith had long been a fervent admirer of Geneva.
  • In making traveling to Geneva, he was influenced as a political philosopher by the desire to see something of the practical working of those republican institutions.
    • He speculatively regarded them with so much favour.
    • to observe how the common problems of government worked themselves out on the narrow field of a commonwealth with only 24,000 inhabitants.
    • which yet contrived to keep its place among the nations, to sit sometimes as arbiter between them, and
    • to surpass them all in the art of making its people prosperous.
  • He had the luck to observe it at an interesting moment.
    • It was in a constitutional crisis.
  • The republic’s government had been vested in the hands of 200 privileged families.
    • The rest of the citizens were now pressing their right to a share in it, with Voltaire’s active assistance.
  • This important struggle [Pg 189]for the conversion of the aristocratic into the democratic republic continued all through the period of Smith’s visit.
    • Geneva in its usual state was as “a tedious convent with some sensible people in it.” (Voltaire)
    • It was then the animated scene of the successive daily acts of that political drama.

 

  • During his stay there, Smith made many personal friends among:
    • their leading citizens and
    • the more distinguished of the foreign visitors who generally abounded there.
  • People went to Geneva in those days to consult Dr. Tronchin and converse with Voltaire.
    • Smith needed no introduction to Tronchin.
    • Tronchin had a high opinion of Smith’s abilities that he sent his own son all the way to Glasgow to attend his philosophical classes.
    • Through Tronchin, Voltaire’s chief friend in that quarter, that Smith was introduced to Voltaire.
  • Smith told Rogers he had been in Voltaire’s company on five or six times.
    • He enjoyed, as most English visitors enjoyed, hospitable entertainment at Ferney.
      • It was the beautiful little temporality of the great literary pontiff, overlooking the lake.

 

  • There was no living name before which Smith bowed with profounder veneration than the name of Voltaire.
    • His recollections of their intercourse on these occasions were always among those he cherished most warmly.
  • However, few memorials of their conversation remain.
    • These are preserved by Samuel Rogers in his diary of his visit to Edinburgh the year Smith died.
  • They were spoken by the Duke of Richelieu.
    • He was the only famous Frenchman Smith had yet met.
    • and of the political question as to the revival of the provincial assemblies or the continuance of government by royal intendants.
  • On this question, Smith said that Voltaire strongly:
    • disliked the States and
    • favoured the side of the royal prerogative.
  • Of the Duke of Richelieu, Voltaire said that he was an old friend of his, [Pg 190]but a singular character.
  • A few years before his death, his foot slipped one day at Versailles.
    • and the old marshal said that was the first faux pas he had ever made at court.
  • Voltaire then seems to have told anecdotes of the Duke’s being bastilled and of his borrowing the Embassy plate at Vienna and never returning it, and to have passed the remark he made elsewhere that the English had only one sauce, melted butter.
  • Smith always spoke of Voltaire with genuine reverence.
  • When Samuel Rogers happened to describe some clever but superficial author as “a Voltaire,” Smith brought his hand down on the table with great energy and said, “Sir, there is only one Voltaire.”[154]
  • Professor Faujas Saint Fond was the Professor of Geology in the Museum of Natural History in Paris.
    • He visited Smith in Edinburgh a few years before Rogers was there.
    • He says Smith’s face was strikingly animated when he spoke of Voltaire.
  • Smith showed M. Saint Fond a fine bust of Voltaire he had in his room.
    • He said “Reason owes him incalculable obligations.
    • The ridicule and the sarcasm which he so plentifully bestowed on fanatics and heretics of all sects have enabled the understanding of men to bear the light of truth, and
    • prepared them for those inquiries to which every intelligent mind ought to aspire.
    • He has done much more for mankind’s benefit than those grave philosophers whose books are read by a few only.
    • The writings of Voltaire are made for all and read by all.”
  • On another occasion, he said to M. Saint Fond:
    • “I cannot pardon the Emperor Joseph II..
    • He pretended to travel as a philosopher, for passing Ferney without doing homage to the historian of the Czar Peter I.
    • From this circumstance I concluded that Joseph was but a man of inferior mind.”[155]

[Pg 191]

  • Charles Bonnet was one of Smith’s warmest Swiss friends.
    • He was a celebrated naturalist and metaphysician.
    • He wrote Hume ten years after this visit.
    • He wanted to be remembered “to the sage of Glascow,” adding, “You perceive I speak of Mr. Smith, whom we shall always recollect with great pleasure.”[156]
  • This letter was written by Bonnet to Hume.
  • Another was written to Smith by Patrick Clason.
    • He was a young Scotch tutor then in Geneva,
    • He seems to have carried an introduction from Smith to Bonnet.
    • He mentions having received many civilities from Bonnet on account of his being one of Smith’s friends.
  • Clason then goes on to tell Smith that the Syndic Turretin and M. Le Sage also begged to be remembered to him.
    • The Syndic Turretin was the President of the Republic.
    • M. Le Sage was the eminent Professor of Physics
    • George Louis Le Sage was then:
      • greatly interested in Professor Black’s recent discoveries about latent heat and Professor Matthew Stewart’s in astronomy
      • one of a group who gathered round Bonnet for discussions in speculative philosophy and morals, at which, it may be reasonably inferred, Smith would have also occasionally assisted.
  • However, Le Sage seems to:
    • have met Smith first, and
    • have been in the habit of meeting him often afterwards, at the house of the Duchesse d’Enville,
      • She was a high and distinguished French lady.
      • She was living in Geneva under Tronchin’s treatment.
      • Her son was the young and virtuous Duc de la Rochefoucauld.
        • He was afterwards stoned to death in the Revolution.
      • She was receiving instruction from Le Sage himself.
  • Le Sage writes the Duchesse d’Enville on February 5, 1766:
    • “Of all the élite of our good company that I have met at your house, I have only continued to see the excellent Lord Stanhope and occasionally Mr. Smith.
    • Smith wished me to meet Lady Conyers and the Duke of[Pg 192] Buckleugh.
    • But I begged him to reserve that kindness for me until his return.”[157]

 

  • This letter shows that Smith was so much taken with Geneva that he meant to pay it a second visit before he ended his tutorial engagement.
  • But the intention was never fulfilled, in consequence of unfortunate circumstances to be presently mentioned.

 

  • Smith seemed to be a steady guest at the Duchesse d’Enville’s house.
    • She was:
      • a Rochefoucauld by blood
      • a grand-daughter of the famous author of the Maxims, and
      • a woman of great ability
      • popularly supposed to be the inspirer of all Turgot’s political and social ideas
      • the chief of the “three Maries” who were alleged to guide his doings.
  • Smith used to speak with very particular pleasure and gratitude of the many civilities he received from her and her son.
    • They seem to have cherished the same lively recollection of him. (Stewart)
  • When Adam Ferguson was in Paris in 1774, she asked him much about Smith.
    • She often complained “of your French as she did of mine.
    • But she said that before you left Paris she was happy to learn your language.”[158] (Ferguson’s letter to Smith)
  • After 2.5 years’ residence in France, Smith seems then to have been just succeeding in making himself intelligible to the more intelligent inhabitants in their own language.
    • This agrees with what Morellet says, that Smith’s French was very bad.
  • The young Duc de la Rochefoucauld, who, like his mother, was a devoted friend of Turgot.
    • He became presently a declared disciple of Quesnay.
    • He sat regularly with the rest of the economist sect at the economic dinners of Mirabeau, the “Friend of Man.”
  • Samuel Rogers met him in Paris shortly after the outbreak of the Revolution.
    • He expressed to Rogers the highest admiration for Smith, [Pg 193]then recently dead.
    • He had seen Smith much in Paris as well as Geneva.
    • He had at one time begun to translate the Theory of Moral Sentiments into French.
    • He abandoned the task only when he found his work anticipated by the Abbé Blavet’s translation in 1774.
  • The only surviving memorial of their conversation is a letter from the Duke.
    • It begs Smith to modify his opinion in the Theory on the writer’s ancestor, the author of the Maxims.

 

  • Smith used to meet the Earl Stanhope at the Duchess’s.
    • He established a lasting friendship with him
    • Earl Stanhope was:
      • the second Earl,
      • the editor of Professor Robert Simson’s mathematical works, and
      • a distinguished mathematician.
    • He took no part in public life.
      • But his opinions were of the most advanced Liberal order.
    • He had come to Geneva to place his son, afterwards also so distinguished in science, under the training of Le Sage.
  • The Lady Conyers, to whom the Scotch was so anxious to introduce the Swiss philosopher,
  • was the young lady who a few years afterwards ran away from her husband, the 5th Duke of Leeds.
  • with the poet Byron’s father, whom she subsequently married, and by whom she became the mother of the poet’s sister Augusta.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[154] Clayden’s Early Life of Samuel Rogers, p. 110.

[155] Faujas Saint Fond, Travels in England, Scotland, and the Hebrides, ii. 241.

[156] Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[157] Prevost, Notice de la Vie et des écrits de George Louis Le Sage de Geneva, p. 226.

[158] Small’s Biographical Sketch of Adam Ferguson, p. 20.


 

Words: 1,700

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