Introducing Team Macintosh 3.0

Alex Keighren transcribing correspondence from Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook.

In 2016 and 2017, I was fortunate to have the assistance of four undergraduate students—Ophelia King and Lauren Muir (Team Macintosh) and Rhys Gazeres de Baradieux and Samuel Thatcher (Team Macintosh 2.0)—in the transcription of archival material I had photographed during research visits to Avignon. So extensive is Macintosh’s correspondence, however, that several hundred letters have remained untranscribed.

I am especially grateful, therefore, that my dad, Alex, has kindly volunteered his assistance with the transcription effort whilst he is confined to home during the current lockdown. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen thousands of people turn to crowd-sourced transcription projects in an effort to find a productive distraction during a time of uncertainty and disruption.

My dad will gradually be working his way through Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook, which covers the period between 1763 and 1772 when Macintosh was active in Grenada, Dominica, and Tobago and beginning to form his political views on the management of empire.

Eighth time lucky

Last Saturday marked the eighth birthday of On the archival trail of William Macintosh. So many things have changed since I began documenting my work on Macintosh that it feels like I’ve been chipping away at this project for much, much longer. The work has always been a pleasure, and is a constant source of fascination, but it has often been frustrating not to be able to carve out the concentrated time that the project really deserves.

I was, therefore, delighted to learn last week that my application to the Leverhulme Trust for a Research Fellowship had been approved. After seven failed attempts to secure grants from a range of funding bodies to support my work on Macintosh, this news came as both a wonderful surprise and a huge relief. The Fellowship will allow me to focus on the Macintosh project full time for a year from 1 September 2020. I hope in that time to make very substantial progress on the book I have long planned.

To have received this news in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—when so much else, both personally and professionally, feels strange, uncertain, and worrying—means I am particularly aware of the rare privilege that such an opportunity presents.

Proof positive

Proof of book chapter.

Despite innumerable advances in the technologies of publishing, some forms of academic writing still take a long time to proceed from screen to print. For that reason, the arrival of page proofs is always a welcome event: a material reminder that words written perhaps many years ago are soon to find their way into the world. Today I received proofs for a chapter I have written for a forthcoming edited collection, Empire and mobility in the long nineteenth century. The book had its origins in a pair of paper sessions at the 2015 International Conference of Historical Geographers, organised by its editors, Peter Merriman and David Lambert.

Although my understanding of Macintosh has developed significantly in the five years between the conference and the book, I am really very pleased with the way the chapter—”A contested vision of empire: anonymity, authority, and mobility in the reception of William Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782) “—stands up. I look forward to reading the work of the other contributors when the book is published in June.

Following the footnotes

Erdman's "Commerce des lumie?res"

I wrote recently about a claim that appears in David V. Erdman’s book, Commerce des lumières: John Oswald and the British in Paris, 1790–1793. In that book, Erdman attributes the 1786 French translation of Travels to William Thomson (rather than to Jacques-Pierre Brissot). Because I was reading Erdman’s book on Google Books at that stage, I wasn’t able to fully interrogate the basis to his claim, but now that I have a physical copy to hand I have been able to consult his footnotes in more detail.

Erdman lists a number of the titles (including the 1782 English edition for Travels) that Thomson is thought to have edited. The accompanying footnote gives his sources as “Gentlemans [sic] Magazine, 87: I: 647–48, collated with entries in the Bibliothèque Nationale and DNB“. The first reference is to Thomson’s obituary, which appears in a supplement to volume 87, part 1, of the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1817. The obituary notes that Thomson’s “other publications, as far as they can be ascertained, were…’Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa,’ 1782, 8vo” (p. 648).

While it is not possible to know whether the current entries in the catalogue of the BNF are the same ones that Erdman consulted, they are nevertheless instructive. The 1782 edition of Travels is attributed both to Thomson (as “polygraphe”) and Macintosh. The catalogue notes its source for its attribution thus: “Attribué à William Macintosh par Halkett et Laing dans leur première édition, et à William Thomson par l’édition suivante de Halkett et Laing et par le ‘Dictionary of national biography'”. Here, the catalogue reflects changes in thinking evident in the Dictionary of National Biography. Indeed, the entry for Thomson in the 1898 edition of the DNB (written by Thomas Wilson Bayne) states “Of the numerous works written or edited by Thomson the chief are: 1. ‘Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa,’ 1782”. Bayne lists as one of his sources (surprise, surprise) “Gent. Mag. 1817, i. 279, 647”. So, as far as I can see, the attribution of Travels to Thomson (wherever it appears) can always be traced back to his 1817 obituary.

The BNF’s copies of the French edition of Travels list Macintosh (as Makintosh) as the sole author for some copies (see here and here), but list Brissot (as “Traducteur”) for another—see here. Erdman’s later claim that Brissot “arranged with Thomson for the publication of…the ‘Mackintosh’ Travels” (p. 73) is not supported by a footnote and I cannot immediately identify the basis to that suggestion. As ever, the refrain is a familiar one: I have more digging to do!

That Thomson had a role in the production of Travels is not in question; John Murray admitted such in 1790. What is less obvious from the surviving sources is what role Thomson had (if any) in the French translation of the book. I have not been able, thus far, to corroborate Erdman’s claim, despite the apparent certainty with which it is made.

More on the library of Sir Robert Palk

Palk by Joshua Reynolds (c. 1761)
Palk by Joshua Reynolds (c. 1761)

I have written before about the identification of Sir Robert Palk as one of the owners of Macintosh’s Travels (Palk’s own copy of the book is now held by the Huntington Library in California). Travels was one of about 400 titles that formed Palk’s private library at Haldon House in Devon. I was contacted today by Iain Fraser, author of The Palk family of Haldon House and Torquay (2008), who was kind enough to pass along extracts of his book, detailing the collections (of art, objects, and books) that once existed at Haldon House. According to Fraser, Palk’s library contained, among much else, “books on Persian, European and British history, religions, philosophy, travel, poetry, heraldry, society, languages etc.” (p. 35).

Having now checked the Report on the Palk manuscripts in the possession of Mrs. Bannatyne, of Haldon, Devon (1922), I can see that Macintosh cropped up at least once in Palk’s own correspondence: in a letter from Abraham Welland, Palk’s nephew, sent from
Guttaul (now Ghatal) in India on 13 December 1785. In that letter, Welland writes

Our petition to the House of Commons against certain clauses of Mr. Pitt’s Act of Parliament [the 1784 India Act] will be ready to be sent home by the last ship of the season. A committee of fifteen gentlemen have been sitting for these six months past…The petition has been framed, and signed by most of the people here. Old [Joseph] Price, who wrote so virulently against Mr. Macintosh and Mr. Francis, has, under the feigned name of An Inhabitant of Calcutta, given every support in his power to the Bill. No person on its first arrival could say more against it than he did, and I am very certain that he was one of the party who at a drinking bout burnt it.

Welland to Palk, 13 December 1785. In Report on the Palk manuscripts, p. 377.

Welland’s letter offers an interesting insight into Price’s apparent hypocrisy on the issue of
Pitt’s India Act—a matter that will require further digging on my part. As chance would have it, a portrait of Palk by Joshua Reynolds will be shortly going under the hammer at Sotheby’s. The estimate? £20–30,000. A snip!

A further French reader

My recent return to thinking about Brissot’s role in the French publication of Macintosh’s book
encouraged me to look again at Gallica, the excellent digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. In particular, I was interested in any specific references I could find to the ownership of Macintosh’s book in its French edition. As ever, the library threw up some interesting mentions. In addition to some owners I had known about before, Gallica revealed that a copy of the first edition was owned, for a short time before his death in 1787, by Charles de Rohan, Prince of Soubise. See Catalogue des livres imprimés et manuscrits de la bibliothèque de feu monseigneur le prince de Soubise (1789).

Charles, Prince of Soubise (undated, unattributed)
Charles, Prince of Soubise (undated, unattributed)

Brissot and Thomson: a literary partnership?

To date, I have tended to refer to Jacques Pierre Brissot as the “translator” of the French edition of Macintosh’s book. As with all aspects of this project, the reality of the situation looks to be more complicated still: there is reason to suspect that the translation may have been undertaken by the Grub-Street hack William Thomson (who had earlier provided editorial assistance to Macintosh and Murray in the publication of the original English-language edition of the book). In his 1986 book, Commerce des lumieres: John Oswald and the British in Paris, 1790–93, David V. Erdman notes

A Thomson project of 1786, a translation into French (later said to be by Brissot) of Travels in Europe…first attributed to William Mackintosh, later to Thomson, may have benefited from some editorial help from [John] Oswald. Oswald’s own “Voyage to the East Indies in 1781, with some Account of the Manners, Customs, History, Religion, Philosophy, &c. of Hindostan,” announced in his British Mercury of 1787 (197) as “a Work intended for the Press,” apparently never got into it.

Erdman (1986), p. 36, n. 4.

Erdman (1986, p. 73) further claims that “he [Brissot] arranged with Thomson for the publication of several books and pamphlets he was writing, or translating, or editing—including the ‘Mackintosh’ Travels published by Thomson in 1786″. While it is clear that Macintosh’s book had been on Brissot’s radar for some time, since he wrote to the Société typographique de Neuchâtel on the subject as early as 1784, the working relationship he had with Thomson over the book is less obvious. In a letter dated 4 April 1786 to Charles Alexandre de Calonne, Brissot states simply that “Ja’i publié et fait publier différents ouvrages utiles pour la France
— Voyages de Makintosh [I have published and have had published various useful books for France — Makintosh’s Travels]”.

Extract of a letter from Brissot to de Calonne, 4 April 1786. Papiers du ministre ROLAND, NAF 9534, fol. 328v, Bibliothèque nationale de France.

It is clear that I have more digging to do in order to reveal fully how (and, indeed, whether) Brissot and Thomson worked together in shaping the French translation of Travels. As ever, the historical record serves to reveal the fact that texts were never the work of isolated individuals: they required many pairs of eyes and hands working in collaboration.

Back on the trail (again)

The academic year is often accompanied by an increasing sense of busyness and a feeling that each passing term seems to demand just that bit more teaching, just that bit more admin, just that bit more marking. The consequence, of course, is that there seems to be proportionally less time for research. That has certainly been the case for me so far in 2019, and it is a little sobering to note that I haven’t had an opportunity to update this blog since the beginning of December last year. Today, however, marks the end of the teaching term and a slight change in focus and pace. Although most of the summer will be devoted to progressing a small edited collection—Landscapes of ‘Detectorists’—with Joanne Norcup for Uniformbooks, I do have a number of Macintosh-related tasks I plan to complete.

In the next few weeks I should received proofs of a chapter, “A contested vision of empire: anonymity, authority, and mobility in the reception of William Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782)”, that is forthcoming in Empire and Mobility in the Long Nineteenth Century (edited by David Lambert and Peter Merriman)—one that had its origins in a presentation given at the International Conference of Historical Geographers in 2015. Later in the summer I also expect to review proofs for an article, “The confiscated library of William Macintosh in the Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon”, due out in The Library: The Transactions of The Bibliographical Society. It will be good to see these both through to completion.

In the shorter term, I will be giving a brief presentation on my Macintosh work next week to a delegation from the Konkuk University Academy of Mobility Humanities, who are visiting Royal Holloway to develop connections with colleagues working here on issues around mobility. A more substantial goal for the summer, however, is to write and submit a proposal for the Macintosh book. I have had encouraging preliminary discussions with a publisher, but I know the task of deciding on the structure and organisation of the book will be a tricky one and will require some careful consideration. As ever, progress on Macintosh’s trail is agonisingly slow, but endlessly fascinating.

Getting to know Sir Robert Palk

In following the archival trail of William Macintosh, I have called in a number of favours over the years, particularly from colleagues who have been visiting libraries and archives abroad that might contain Macintosh-related snippets. In 2014, Natalie Cox (then a PhD student at the University of Warwick) was kind enough to check the provenance of two copies of Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa held by the Huntington Library in California. Both books contained interesting bookplates, but one of them (at that point) resisted identification. I had put this puzzle mentally to one side so effectively that I entirely forgot about it. So much so, in fact, that this month I asked by own PhD student, Ed Armston-Sheret, who is currently at the Huntington to check the same copies of Travels for their provenance. Happily, my embarrassment at having Ed check what Natalie has already investigated was lessened by the fact that it prompted me to check again for information about the mysterious bookplate (below).

The previously unidentified bookplate. The Huntington Library, call number 355653.

The previously unidentified bookplate. The Huntington Library, call number 355653.

Thanks to research recently published in the Electronic British Library Journal by Dennis E. Rhodes, it is now evident that this bookplate came from the library of Sir Robert Palk (1717–1798).

Sir Robert Palk, 1st Baronet (1717–1798).

Sir Robert Palk, 1st Baronet (1717–1798).

Palk made his fortune under the auspices of the East India Company, eventually being appointed Governor of Madras. On his return to England, Palk invested his fortune in the purchase and enlargement of Haldon House in Devon. At the time of the publication of Travels in 1782, Palk was Member of Parliament for Ashburton. Although politically a Tory, Palk was also opposed to attempts by the coalition government to regulate the East India Company. In 1783, for example, he voted against Charles Fox’s East India Bill.

Looking ahead

The arrival of a new academic year means that my work on Macintosh will take something of a back seat for the next few months as I focus on teaching, assessment, and administration (the Holy Trinity of term time). I am, however, very much looking forward to presenting some of my work at the Queen Mary Eighteenth-Century Studies seminar series on 23 October 2018. I’ll be speaking to the title “The forgotten lives of William Macintosh in the Age of Revolution: from Caribbean planter to traveller in India; from spy in France to exile in Germany” (a slightly long-winded attempt to advertise Macintosh’s significance to a range of different audiences).The forgotten lives of William Macintosh in the Age of Revolution: from Caribbean planter to traveller in India; from spy in France to exile in Germany

Looking further ahead, I have recently completed a fellowship application which—if successful—will allow me time to complete my programme of archival work and to begin writing my long-planned monograph, currently entitled The power of print: William Macintosh and the transnational circulation of radical ideas in the Age of Revolution. As with all grant applications, this is a long shot; all I can do between now and next spring is to keep my fingers crossed and hope that my numbers finally come up in the great cosmic grant lottery.

In the next few weeks I hope to receive reviewers’ comments on my paper reconstructing Macintosh’s private library (seized during the French Revolution and deposited, largely, in the Bibliothèque municipal d’Avignon). This has been a passion project within a passion project and I’m keen to see what the reviewers make of it.

The confiscated library of William Macintosh in the Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon