Nine going on ten: reflections on slow scholarship

It’s a source of wonderment and some embarrassment that this blog has reached its ninth birthday. On the one hand, I’m really glad to have kept it going for so long—it’s been helpful as a record of what I have done and still need to do, as a venue for the first rough draft of later writing, and, as a mechanism by which to reach an audience, it’s allowed me to connect with lots of interesting people. On the other hand, the blog’s birthday is a reminder of quite how (embarrassingly) long this project has been on the go—it was already a year old at least by the time I started the blog. I am, in that respect, now ten years or so into my work on Macintosh and it may yet be another three or four before the planned book finally materialises.

I have been very fortunate throughout the project not to have come under institutional pressure to prioritise other research projects that might offer a quicker return, even when—year after year—I failed to secure funding for this one. Given the ever-changing landscape of higher education and the growing emphasis on “generating income” (through applications for challenge-led research funding, for example), I cannot overstate how important it has been for this project that I have never (yet) been compelled to prioritise income generation over intellectual curiosity. I do worry, however, that the financial difficulties that the higher education sector is now experiencing as a consequence of the pandemic and lack of state support will mean that this sort of work—the slowest of slow scholarship—will become increasingly untenable and our individual priorities as academics will be recalibrated primarily along financial lines, rather than lines of intellectual inquiry.

Thanks to the support of the Leverhulme Trust, I have, however, made more progress in the last seven months than I have done in the previous half decade (even taking into account the impact of two lockdowns and months of home-schooling). The night-and-day difference that being relieved from teaching and administrative duties has made to my work on Macintosh is palpable, and it confirms something that I had often felt but had not quite been able to illustrate: that the time available for research (what is often pejoratively referred to as “unfunded research”) has, year on year, shrunk. When I was working with Charlie Withers and Bill Bell on writing Travels into Print, I remember being able typically to devote a day and a half each week of term to the task. Over the course of a term, I would have written a chapter. Viewed in retrospect, that situation seems barely believable. For at least the last five years or so, I have almost never been able to do any research or writing during term time at all and the precious remaining windows of the Easter and summer breaks have gradually, almost imperceptibly, been eroded by marking, meetings, and administrative tasks that seem never to let up. These windows are, of course, also the only time of the year when it is really possible to take annual leave. These observations are not in any sense new—every academic will be familiar with them—but the cumulative effect of changes to workload and its distribution across the academic year has really been brought home to me as a consequence of the fortunate position I now find myself in.

March in review

140 days in summary.

In early February I came to the unwelcome (although entirely obvious) conclusion that I was not going to be able to deal with all of Macintosh’s time in the Caribbean within a single chapter—Chapter 2—as I had originally planned. This month I have come to the equally obvious and equally unwelcome realisation that I am unlikely to be able to deal with it fully in two. Chapter 3, which I added to my writing plan last month, is expanding in all sorts of interesting ways as I continue to dig, read, and write and, although I am now at the half-way point in terms of acceptable word length, I am only just up to the winter of 1769–70 in the chronology, during which time the argument over French Catholic participation in Grenada’s government really comes to a head in the newspapers, printshops, taverns, and administrative offices of London. The figure of Thomas Hollis—whose fascinating and bizarre diary I read for the first time this month—looms large over these proceedings. While it has long been known that Hollis, a libertarian and fervent anti-Catholic, took an active interest in the debate over French Catholic participation in Grenada and Quebec, the full scale of his involvement hasn’t previously been written about, so it’s nice to be able to reveal this properly.

Undated portrait of Thomas Hollis. © British Museum, 1866,0714.24.

As it currently stands, I am hoping to be able to get to the financial crisis of 1772 (which was precipitated by Macintosh’s friend and financial supporter, Alexander Fordyce) by the end of Chapter 3, and to wrap up Macintosh’s Caribbean experiences in the first third of Chapter 4. I think this relative ballooning of chapters, in length and number, is a consequence partly of just how much there is to say and partly of the fact that there is next to no secondary literature on Macintosh that can do the job for me. Even then, I know that there is a huge amount of material from this period that I won’t be able to do more than hint at—material that I know will be of interest to historians of the Ceded Islands, but which really lies outside the core focus of the book. I keep having to remind myself that I can’t follow Robert Caro’s example and turn this into a five-volume epic.

The creeping sense of doubt and anxiety about ever being able to get to the end of this book has been allayed by three positive developments: 1) the reopening of schools on 8 March, which has allowed me to step back from my part-time role as home educator; 2) the prospect of the British Library and National Archives reopening in April, and 3) that the Leverhulme Trust has approved a request to extend the period of my fellowship to the end of the calendar year. This last piece of news is, frankly, an incredible privilege and something for which I am profoundly grateful. Having the chance to make up for time lost to home-schooling and the closure of libraries and archives is a huge relief, but I am acutely aware of what a privilege it is; so many of my colleagues (as well as my other half) whose research has been impacted in just the same way won’t have the same compensating opportunity.

Given recent experience, I am now rather reluctant to set out definitive goals for April (other than to take some proper time off during the school holidays), but I hope to be able to get back to the British Library to consult some manuscript material that I need in order to understand more fully the circumstances that led Macintosh to India in the first place, and to move Chapter 3 substantially closer to a conclusion.

Macintosh: a citizen of the world?

Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2 E Titres de famille 85, “Factures anglaises / 1769–1790”.

The silver lining of having spent so long working on Macintosh, is that it has become easier to spot the significance of particular items—clues that would have meant virtually nothing to me at the beginning of the project, now jump out at me. This is the case, for example, with the above receipt, the text of which reads

“Received this 5th Day of March 1782 of Mr Thompson the Sum of Seven Pounds Nine Shillings in full for Printing &c a Pamplet [sic] entitled Second Letter to Mr Jenkinson”

I had never heard of this pamphlet before today, but there are some tantalising clues that it may have been written by Macintosh, namely:

1) it was published by John Murray (who also published Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa the same year);

2) the recipient of the pamphlet’s “letter” was Charles Jenkinson, to whom Macintosh sent a letter the previous year, 1781 (which I have not yet been able to read due to the closure of the British Library);

3) the pamphlet (which I have not yet read because it appears not to have been digitised) was published anonymously, but was signed “A citizen of the world”, an epithet Macintosh often used to describe himself;

4) the “Thompson” referred to in the receipt, may have been William Thomson, who was the Grub Street editor employed to add a literary polish to Macintosh’s Travels.

Clearly this all requires a lot more digging, but it would be wonderful to be able to add another example of a Macintosh-Thomson-Murray collaboration in order to put the production of Travels into wider context.

Whatever happened to William and Ann?

I have taken a temporary step back from writing in order to take another systematic trawl through the more than 4,000 archival photographs I have in an effort to make sure that I don’t miss anything important when I do return to writing. The difficulty, of course, is knowing what is important and where important information is likely to be. Each time I take such a trawl, I learn new and surprising things, which reinforces the anxiety that I can never understand Macintosh fully unless I read every scrap of paper in his archive—an unrealistic task that would take me another ten years and would drive me to distraction!

One such discovery today was made in the large folder of receipts which offer an always-interesting snapshot into the purchasing habits of Macintosh and his family. One receipt in particular—for ribbons and gloves purchased by Macintosh’s wife, Ann, in 1778—is fascinating for what it reveals about the nature of the relationship between the couple.

Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2 E Titres de famille 85, “Factures anglaises / 1769–1790”.

At the bottom of the receipt is a short narrative, dated 2 March 1784 and composed at the point at which Macintosh settled the bill. It reveals that he and Ann had, at this point, “been near four years separated, by mutual consent”. I had long suspected this must be the case, but I had never before found direct evidence of the fact (beyond Ann being described as a widow, even before Macintosh’s death). It is helpful to have some evidence of the toll Macintosh’s political activity and global mobility exerted on his family, but I do wonder what other revelatory snippets are still there, waiting to be discovered.

February in review

If January bucked the trend of months seeming to zip past in the blink of an eye, February has very much marked a return to business as usual. I can’t quite believe that four working weeks have passed and that it is now six months since I began my Fellowship with the Leverhulme Trust. Yikes!

As ever, this month has been a mixed bag: I feel like I’ve made good progress in some areas and have stalled in others. At the end of January, I set myself the goal of finishing my account of Macintosh’s two decades in the Caribbean by the end of February. That goal was, I now realise, hopelessly optimistic. As I neared 30,000 words of the book’s first empirical chapter, I had only got as far as 1768. I realised that, as I was only just over the half-way point in terms of what I wanted to say about Macintosh’s formation as a political actor in the Caribbean, I needed to split the chapter. Now, I have one chapter (25,863 inclusive of notes) that covers the period between Macintosh’s birth in 1737 and his return to Britain in 1768 to lobby the government over the rights of French Catholics in Grenada and attempt to unseat Robert Melvill as the island’s governor. The second empirical chapter (currently 5,287 inclusive of notes) will follow that story in London and then return with Macintosh to Grenada to witness the aftermath of that lobbying.

I feel happier now that I have restructured this element of the book—in many ways it is endlessly fascinating, but it is also really quite important in terms of understanding how and why Macintosh became drawn into political activity. At the same time, I have become aware that my productivity, if measured crudely in words per day, has been declining month on month. This is, I think, due to a combination of factors. The first, and most significant, is the time invested (20 hours per working week) on home schooling since the beginning of January. There are simply not enough hours in the day to write a book and educate a five-year-old, and the level of fatigue has been creeping up as a result. Still, my phonics and number bonds have come on in leaps and bounds.

Flattening the curve (but in the wrong way).

The second issue is that, as the complexity of the social and political contexts in which Macintosh was involved increases, I am spending proportionally more time researching than writing. This was especially true this month when, earlier than I had expected, I needed to start understanding and writing about the politics of the East India Company. The learning curve has been a steep one, but I think it has allowed me to understand Macintosh and his milieu more fully than I had before and to identify the centrality of Lauchlin Macleane to Macintosh’s activities in the West Indies and British India during the 1770s.

I have also drawn a great deal of inspiration from some of the work I have read this month, particularly Emma Rothschild’s An Infinite History: The Story of a Family in France over Three Centuries and Robert A. Caro’s Working.

Very early in my work on Macintosh, I had read Emma Rothschild’s The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century History (2011), ostensibly for a footnote reference to Macintosh that it contained, and was totally blown away by it—I thought it was wonderful. That book follows one Scottish family—the Johnstones—across Britain’s eighteenth-century empire. An Infinite History is also a family story, but one that focuses on five generations of a family from Angoulême in the south west of France (all descendants of one illiterate woman, Marie Aymard) from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Although the source material for An Infinite History is different—drawing largely from civic records and notarial acts and less from correspondence—it is equally compelling and in many ways quite beautiful. (I can also recommend the audiobook, which is excellent).

Macintosh serves as an interesting connection between Rothschild’s books, and the families she discusses; he was a friend of one Johnstone brother (Alexander) and a business partner of another (William) and was involved in Grenadian politics with the man who employed Marie Aymard’s husband, Jean-Alexandre Cazaud. Six degrees of separation, indeed! Together, Rothschild’s books represent the kind of history I aspire to write, but to which I know I will never come close. It matters, though, to have something to aim towards.

Caro’s book, on the other hand, is inspiring in a slightly different way. In his reflections on the lengthy (indeed, very lengthy) process of writing two biographies—one on the roguish “master builder” Robert Moses, the other on Lyndon B. Johnson—Caro makes the ultimate case for slow scholarship. Part of me wishes it were possible for me to follow his example, and to invest another decade in turning every page of Macintosh’s archive and in chasing down every lead, but part of me realises that my work, and this book I am writing, cannot be definitive. It can be as good as I can make it in the time and with the resources I have, but should start a conversation about Macintosh, not be the last word on him.

History hangs on a comma; Or, on the anatomy of an error

Last week, as often happens, I found myself disappearing down a scholarly rabbit hole as I tried to resolve a familiar problem: the issue that arises when two or more secondary sources conflict about a matter of historical fact. Divergence in the historical literature is, of course, entirely normal, but it does force any writer to make a decision about which “side” they think is the most reliable. In this instance, the divergence came down to a simple issue of whether or not a comma was present in the manuscript annotation of a 1765 letter. The annotation could be read in two different ways depending upon whether the comma was there or not. This was a puzzle that, as a perfectionist and a pedant, I couldn’t resist, even though it was not central to any of the arguments I was trying to make.

The annotation, which is typically attributed to Edmund Burke, appears on a copy of a circular letter that had been composed in concert between the Marquess of Rockingham, then Prime Minister, and merchant/political lobbyist Barlow Trecothick, in an effort to solicit petitions against the 1764 Stamp Act, which the pair were then seeking to repeal. The circular was very successful and prompted a deluge of petitions that significantly helped efforts to repeal the Act. Given the significance of the Stamp Act, and resistance to it, for historians of the American Revolution, this letter has been written about a great deal in the secondary literature, and the annotation which appears on it has been cited many, many times.

Detail from “General Letter from Comee. of North American Merchants (about Trade) to the outports & to the manufacturing Towns,” 6 December 1765, Sheffield City Archives, WWM/R1/535.

The annotation, above, reads:

N. B. This Letter concerted between the Marquess of R. & Mr. Trecothick The principal instrument in the happy repeal of the Stamp Act, wh. witht. giving up the British authority quieted the Empire

Although there is clearly not a comma after “Trecothick”, several sources—such as Kammen, writing in A Rope of Sand (1968), below—have assumed there was. In that case, the “principal instrument” becomes Trecothick, rather than the letter itself.

Michael G. Kammen, A Rope of Sand: The Colonial Agents, British Politics, and the American Revolution (1968), p. 29.

This is not, however, Kammen’s error. If we look at his footnotes, we see that he was, in fact, quoting from Carl B. Cone’s 1957 book Burke and the Nature of Politics: The Age of the American Revolution, see below.

Carl B. Cone, Burke and the Nature of Politics: The Age of the American Revolution (1957), p. 95.

As it turns out, the error was not in fact Cone’s; he was merely quoting from yet another source: the Earl of Albermarle’s Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham and His Contemporaries, below. Here, Albemarle, despite referring to the original manuscript, had inserted a comma after “Trecothick”, changing the meaning of the quotation as a result.

George Thomas, Earl of Albemarle, Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham and His Contemporaries, vol. 1 (1852), p. 319.

In a way, none of this really matters, but it does highlight a problem that is almost impossible to avoid in writing history: since we never have the opportunity to trace everything back to primary sources, we must rely on the work of others. Sometimes that work will be mistaken, even in a tiny way as it is here, and we will inevitably, although unintentionally, replicate that error. Although doing so goes against every fibre of perfectionism in my body, I have gradually been making peace with the inescapable nature of this problem. It is impossible to be free from error in any historical research, and primary sources themselves are never straightforward mirrors of reality, so all we can do is to treat our sources critically, seek confirmation and corroboration where we can, and write with care rather than certainty.

A question of (mis)attribution

Joseph Price’s description of Macintosh in “Some observations and remarks on a late publication, intitled, Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa” (1782)

Shortly after the publication of Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa, its explosive criticism of the East India Company under Warren Hastings attracted a vociferous counterblast from one of Hasting’s supporters, Joseph Price. Aside from seeking to refute Macintosh’s criticisms, Price also presented a number of ad-homenim attacks, one of which—that Macintosh was mixed race—was intended to undermine Macintosh’s credibility among a readership whose prejudices would have understood rationality and authority as running along racial lines.

Although Macintosh’s subsequent appearance in the historical literature is extremely patchy, it is remarkable how often Price’s mischaracterisation of him has been parroted uncritically in nineteenth- and twentieth-century historical scholarship. More than the reproduction of a factual error, however, the echoing of Price’s description often serves to bias scholars’ reading of Macintosh as a historical actor.

A related problem is the erroneous conflation of Macintosh with others of a similar name. This tendency has, for example, seen the authorship of Travels attributed to James Mackintosh (1765–1832)—rather improbable as Mackintosh would have been a precocious seventeen years old at the time of the book’s publication—and Macintosh confused with William Mackintosh, with whom Alexander Johnstone (1727–1783) seems to have quarrelled. A further conflation has occurred in relation to a “Captain Macintosh” who appears in the memoirs of William Hickey and was characterised by him as a lascivious drunkard, gambler, and persistent debtor. Whether Hickey’s Macintosh and Johnstone’s Mackintosh are one and the same is a question I shall leave for others.

These twin problems of error and conflation are exemplified, to an almost parodic extent, in a biography of Lauchlin Macleane (1728/9–1778)—Reward is Secondary: The Life of a Political Adventurer and an Inquiry into the Mystery of ‘Junius’ (1962), by James N. M. Maclean—which I have been reading lately. The following extracts from the book illustrate the repetition of Price’s lie (or, in this case, a repetition of someone else’s repetition of it), the conflation of Macintosh with others, and the effect of these misattributions on the book’s analysis of him.

Before leaving the West Indies Lauchlin had chosen as his ‘attorney’ and land steward a rogue of the deepest dye. He was a quadroon [i.e., one quarter black] named William Macintosh—”a swarthy and ill-looking man as any that is to be seen on the Portuguese Walk in the Royal Exchange. He was a man of colour born in the West Indies and a great impostor, assuming acquaintance with all manner of distinguished persons.” This shifty son of a Highland Father and a mulatto mother was invaluable to the syndicate [i.e., Macleane’s land purchase in Grenada]. Macintosh knew how to control and get the best of out negro slave labour, he knew a lot about sugar crops and he was crooked and capable enough to falsify land titles. He was, however, too dangerous to be left without some sort of supervision. p. 90.

…William Macintosh, the villainous land steward… p. 176.

With these new appointments, Macleane’s personal domination of the West India land syndicate and its employees came to an end. Only the Scottish French-Creole quadroon William Macintosh, a rogue cast in the Macleane mould but without the master-adventurer’s powerful intellect, finesse and sense of timing, was left as a representative of the old gang. p. 251.

As Colonel Lauchlin Macleane left the shores of Britain for the East Indies, ‘Captain’ [here the author is conflating] William Macintosh was approaching them from the West Indies. Earlier in the year Macintosh had informed [Robert] Orme that young William Ridge was dead, that Thomas Vanderdussen was temporarily managing the Grenada estates, and that he, Macintosh, felt that the time had come for him to meet the trustees for whom he worked. Orme formed a high opinion of Macintosh and continued to hold that opinion. Nearly everyone else who met this unmitigated scoundrel were initially impressed by his plausible manners, fine clothes and bogus military rank but, unlike Orme, they quickly saw that he was a vainglorious mountebank without the necessary abilities to match his pretentions. p. 318.

…the disreputable William Macintosh, who had been making a thorough nuisance of himself… p. 432.

In William Hickey’s opinion nobody was ‘so mean and despicable a wretch as the dirty dog calling himself Captain Macintosh’. He was ‘an errant pickpocket blackguard’ and a ‘dirty vagabond’. To the end of his days Macintosh was an intriguer. As late as 1796 he was working in Berne, Switzerland, as a secret agent for George Chalmers. What happened to him after this date is not known, but he was getting old and probably did not live very much longer. His exploits in India as a henchman of Francis were exposed in a book produced by a fiery sea-captain named Joseph Price. p. 434.

The factual errors and erroneous conflations evidenced above are, from a practical point of view, frustrating since they introduce unreliability into what is otherwise a very detailed and well-supported biography of Maclean, but they are also illustrative of the broader historiographical processes by which Macintosh’s role as a historical actor have been distorted by fundamental uncertainties about who he was. In one way, this is all grist to the mill for my own research, but, in another, it is a reminder about the centrality of source criticism in my efforts to understand who Macintosh actually was.

Somewhat ironically, James N. M. Maclean was aware, in general, of the problems of conflation and misattribution; his entertaining and very honest introduction to the book highlights this issue: “Many of the men in this book have hitherto been confused with one another, or they have been merged to form a composite character” (p. xii). Plus ça change!

Introducing Team Macintosh 4.0

I have been fortunate, at various intervals during the nine-or-so years I have been working on this project, to be able to draw on the assistance of others—Team Macintosh, Team Macintosh 2.0, and Team Macintosh 3.0—in producing transcriptions of Macintosh’s correspondence. I am very pleased, therefore, to be able to introduce the latest recruit to the extended “Team Macintosh” family, Jaz Bigden.

Jaz Bigden (aka Team Macintosh 4.0)

Jaz is currently enrolled in the MSc in Global Futures in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London and, as part of a placement module, will be working to produce transcriptions of letters Macintosh sent from Grenada in the mid 1770s. This is a period that followed Macintosh’s very public clashes with Grenada’s former governor, Robert Melvill, and encompassed his time as Comptroller of His Majesty’s Customs for the Port of Grenville. It was, in that sense, a time that saw Macintosh’s role evolve from being an agitator to a colonial authority. I very much look forward to seeing what Jaz’s work reveals.

January in review

Time always seems to take on an elastic quality in January; the month can appear to stretch so that, by its end, it’s hard to believe we haven’t really moved on and are still stuck in the middle of winter. The sense of time taking on a different meaning in January has certainly been reinforced by how much seems to have taken place in the outside world in the space of thirty-one days; already the month is divided up, in my mind at least, into the “before” and “after” of major political events and the reimposition, here, of a national lockdown. It has been a month in which feelings of fear and sadness have oscillated with those of hope and optimism. January 2021 has, it seems, been the entirety of 2020—its best and its worst—distilled down into a single month.

On a more practical level, time has become increasingly precious this month as my partner and I, like millions of other parents, juggle work, home schooling, and the challenging joy of 24/7 childcare. Here, we have returned to a pattern we adopted last spring: we divide the day into two four-hour shifts (08:30–12:30 and 13:00–17:00) for work and home schooling/childcare, come together to cook and eat at mealtimes, and try to keep on top of emails when our daughter has gone to bed (although that point in the evening has been creeping ever later). For us, this is the least-worst model, but it is, of course, far from ideal—while the time available for work has halved, the amount of work remains the same. It is a familiar frustration.

I was very fortunate at the beginning of January to take part in a virtual writing retreat organised by Dr Joanne Norcup for the Historical Geography Research Group of the RGS-IBG. The retreat—which operated via Twitter and Zoom—was a great opportunity for participants to set writing goals, report on their progress, and, at the end of the retreat, to discuss strategies and to share hints and tips. I have tried, as far as possible, to maintain the momentum the retreat gave me. The retreat was also helpful in reminding me that, while the length of my working day has been halved as a result of home schooling, I am still able to devote four uninterrupted hours to research and writing each working day—something that feels like a real privilege under the circumstances.

Progress reduced to its basic unit of measurement: words per day.

Unsurprisingly, given the circumstances, I have been increasingly less productive (at least in terms of raw word count) as time has progressed. In November, I was averaging 930 words per day. By December, this had reduced to 865, and in January it was down to 650. By and large, this is a simple function of having less time each day in which to work, but is also—perhaps inevitably—the consequence of the accumulating fatigue that each week of home schooling adds. Trying to write a historical monograph in four-hour bursts is also far from ideal; I find it takes me at least an hour each day to get back into the rhythm and thinking from the previous day and that I only really begin to hit my stride when it’s time to stop. All that being said, I am closing in on the 25,000-word mark. Although this is a welcome (although entirely arbitrary) milestone, it is giving me some cause for concern; currently each of those 25,000 words is part of the book’s first empirical chapter which is, itself, a long way from being finished. At this stage, however, I am putting that worry to the back of my mind and focusing on moving the book forward, certain in the knowledge that a good deal of restructuring will be required at a later stage. Looking ahead to February, my main task will be to bring this Caribbean chapter to a final close and to turn, then, to follow Macintosh to India.

Found in translation

Reading almost any historical source can, at times, feel like an exercise in translation, as you work to make sense of a document written using a syntax and grammar, or in a particular social context, that might render it opaque. This metaphor, of course, becomes literal when dealing with sources written in another language—and the task of interpretation almost invariably become more complex still. I was reminded of these difficulties recently when trying to make sense of a legal deed, written in Paris in 1781, that concerns Macintosh’s involvement with Catherine Grand, who, in the late 1770s, had been at the centre of a scandalous and widely publicised trial in India following an affair she had had with Philip Francis, an East India Company colleague of her husband, George Grand.

Catherine Grand in 1783, by Vigée Le Brun. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 50.135.2.

Under circumstances that I do not yet fully understand, Macintosh became involved in ensuring Catherine’s welfare after her separation from George (this may have been at the request of Francis, who seems to have been keen to end the affair and to dispatch Catherine to Europe as rapidly as possible). While some historical sources suggest that Macintosh accompanied Catherine on her return voyage, I have not been able (thus far) to establish the accuracy of that claim. What is undisputed, however, is that on that journey Catherine struck up an intimate friendship with a Madras civil servant, Thomas Lewin, and that the pair enjoyed a brief romance, living together first in London and then in Paris. The relationship was short-lived, but Lewin provided an annuity for Catherine to afford her a degree of financial security.

Extract from a deed of annuity, 9 December 1781. Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2 E Titres de famille 85.

I knew that the deed (above)—which I had found among Macintosh’s papers some years ago—concerned this annuity, but I had struggled to read it due to 1) my woefully limited French, 2) some contractions I was unfamiliar with, and 3) the particular legal phrasing employed in parts of it. Keen not to admit defeat, I wrote to a number of historians of eighteenth-century France and was eventually put in touch with the freelance researcher Dominique Lussier, a regular contributor to the work of the Voltaire Foundation, who was kind enough to agree to produce a transcription and a translation of the deed.

Even with Dominique’s help, however, parts of the deed resisted straightforward interpretation, being either obviously in error (it describes Catherine as Macintosh’s brother, for example), or hard to disentangle as a consequence of its use of long sentences with many conditional clauses and legal phrases. In this last context, I was, on the recommendation of a colleague, able to draw on the insights of a legal historian, Michael Lobban, who was kind enough to cast his eye over the deed and offer me his reading of it.

Although I still have some work to do on the document, it does, at least, establish Macintosh’s connection with Catherine unambiguously. The deed shows that the annuity had been purchased by “a close relative of the aforementioned Mrs Grand that did not wish to be named [une personne proche parente de lad. De. Grand qui n’a voulu être nommée]” (i.e., Lewin). The deed also imposed conditions, and stated that Catherine was permitted to draw on the annuity throughout her life only “If she does not take Holy orders and does not go back to her husband [Si elle n’embrasse pas l’état religieux et ne se reunit point avec son mari]”. If Grand were to fail to satisfy these conditions, the deed seems to indicate that the annuity would pass to Macintosh.