The “field” of Macintosh studies

I was pleased to discover recently that I am no longer the only academic working on Macintosh and his travel account; there is now a nascent “field” of Macintosh studies (albeit its population currently numbers only two).

As part of an upcoming symposium at Queen Mary University of London—”Representations of ‘Europeanness’ in the Long Eighteenth Century“—Dr Laura Tarkka-Robinson (University of Sussex) will be presenting a paper entitled “Ambition and its Others: The European Framework of William Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782)”. Sadly, marking duties mean I can not attend the symposium to hear Dr Tarkka-Robinson’s paper, but it is encouraging to know that others are taking Macintosh and his work as their focus. The abstract of Dr Tarkka-Robinson’s paper follows.

Upon the appearance of William Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa in 1782, British reviewers directed special attention to his account of how the day was ‘commonly spent by an Englishman in Bengal’. This caricature of indolence and luxury naturally contributed to public concern about British ‘nabobs’ exploiting the English East India Company’s territorial dominions. In addition, the Travels also provided some descriptions of Indian customs and manners. These, however, were already considered as familiar enough for reviewers to bypass.

The prosed paper will focus on another aspect in Macintosh’s Travels which contemporary readers had no inclination to pinpoint as either scandalous or new: representations of Europe as a system of competing commercial societies. As recently pointed out by Innes M. Keighren (2017), regardless of its epistolary form, Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa was by no means a plain travel narrative but a carefully crafted assemblage of political and economic proposals. Significantly, the eyewitness observations contained in the published work therefore became largely subservient to the argument that the British could benefit more from reforming the colonial government in Bengal than from fighting over the rebellious colonies in America. As such, the Travels also embarked on a dialogue with the political economy of Adam Smith.

Considering the implications of such explicit political motives and the underlying context of European commercial rivalry, the paper will argue that in the Travels, the European civilization was defined by a shared commercial ambition. Thus, although Macintosh’s letters also stressed the importance of peace and politeness to European prosperity, his depiction of the ‘gentle’ mindset of the Indian population served to underline the Occidental ‘ardour of improvement.’ From this perspective, various descriptions of natural, desirable and deviant behaviour in India can be read as attempts to work out a way to sustain ‘the glory of the British name’ by separating European ambitions from European avarice.

Six years on


Yesterday marked the sixth birthday of On the archival trail of William Macintosh. As ever, this is an occasion for me to reflect on what I have achieved on the project over the last twelve months and to identify (or, more accurately, face up to) what remains to be done.

Of the tasks I set myself on the occasion of the blog’s fifth birthday, I have been successful in achieving two: I have a more-or-less complete catalogue of Macintosh’s library which, with a fair wind, I’ll get off to The Library: Transactions of the Bibliographical Society of London for consideration before the end of the summer and I have completed a chapter on Macintosh for a forthcoming edited collection, Empire and mobility in the long nineteenth century.

What I have not yet done is to put together a proposal for the book I plan to write. Partly, this is a consequence of the identification last summer of a large trance of archival material that requires further processing and analysis before I can fully map out the overall shape of the book, and partly it reflects my decision to invest my time in writing another (unsuccessful) grant application.

Early this summer I will be returning to the archive in Avignon for what may be the last time. My plan is to complete my photographic record of the material held at the Archives départementales de Vaucluse and to chase up a final few references in the Bibliothèque Ceccano. Once I have had the opportunity to process that material, I should be in a better position to begin work on the book proposal. Ever the glutton for punishment, I also aim to submit another grant application in the hope that I can secure some dedicated time for writing the book itself.

A postcard from Avignon

Jake Hodder was kind enough to invite me recently to write a piece for the most recent issue of the HGRG newsletter on my archival experiences in Avignon. Reflecting on that sunny week in Provence offered a welcome escape from the grey of winter—a virtual boost of Vitamin D and a reminder of quite how fortunate I am to be on the archival trail of William Macintosh.

Footnotes on footnotes

In a recent blog post I discussed the identification of one of the titles in Macintosh’s library: The history of Tom Jones, a foundling (1749). Today, in reading through part of Macintosoh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782) in preparation for a book chapter I am writing, I found evidence of Macintosh’s familiarity with the book.

In a letter dated 5 January 1779, Macintosh details his experience aboard the French ship Favori, on which he had departed from the island of Réunion (then Île Bourbon) on 10 December 1778:

I am now placed in a society not unlike that of the stage-coach in Tom Jones; a jumble of figures, constitutions, complexions, disposition, professions, and sexes.

And thus the project progresses, footnote on footnote.

Macintosh at home, part the second

The main facade of Macintosh's town house, from Rue Grande Monnaie

The main facade of Macintosh’s town house, from Rue Grande Monnaie

Since returning from Avignon I have concentrated on completing the catalogue of Macintosh’s library, which now stands at 78 items, but have also been keen to confirm my identification of his Avignon town house.

One piece of evidence appears to confirm my suspicions—an address given by Monsieur Pierre de Brion (former member of the Vaucluse chapter of the organisation Vieilles maisons françaises) to the Franco-Scottish Society on 9 June 1990. de Brion’s address—”Sur les pas des Stuarts et des Ecossais qui vecurent a Avignon 1716–1813″—contains an account of the appearance of Macintosh’s home:

La façade de cet hôtel, qui est d’une grande pureté de lignes, comprend un rez-de-chaussée, un premier étage et un attique au-dessus d’une corniche saillante. Le tout a 5 fenêtres par étage, dont 3 perées dans un avant-corps central que surmonte, au-desses de la corniche, un fronton triangulaire. Et, comme vous pouvex le voir d’ici, dans le tympan de ce fronton figure un écusson de forme ovale et renflée où sont gravées des armoiries.

This description corresponds directly with the rear elevation of the property on Rue des 3 Testons (above), particularly the pediment with the oval escutcheon containing a coat of arms (see below).

Detail of the pediment

Detail of the pediment

de Brion’s account, which was published in Des Ecossais a Avignon (1993), is valuable because it also dates Macintosh’s purchase of the property to 15 May 1786 and records the purchase price as 11,300 French livres.

Prior to the purchase of this property, Macintosh lived, according to de Brion, “à sa campagne de Châteaubrun dans les environs d’Avignon”. Together with the inventory of Macintosh’s seized books is a list of his papers. This list includes the entry “Papiers relatifs à la Grange de chateau brun que Mr Machintosch [sic] avait affermée de Mr de Monery de Caylus 1780–1788 [papers relating to the barn, chateau brun, that Mr Macintosh had leased from Mr de Monery de Caylus 1780–1788]”.

Macintosh addressed many letters from Chateau Brun, so it is apparent that this building was more than a mere barn. Quite where it was, other than in the vicinity of Avignon (possibly near Montfavet), is not quite clear; that will require more digging. It looks likely, however, that the Monsieur de Monery de Caylus in question was Ignace-Dominique-Didier de Monery de Caylus (1726–1792). The entry for de Moneray de Caylus on Geneanet lists the following event in his timeline: “21 June 1780 : Donation-Succession – Chateaubrun, Vaucluse”. The source for this event is listed as “nice historique : Marquesan”, which I presume is a reference to the journal Nice Historique. The reference to “Chateaubrun, Vaucluse”—and its correspondence with 1780, the year Macintosh began his lease—would seem to be more than coincidental.

Wisdom of the crowd

A riddle from the inventory.

A riddle from the inventory.

Since returning from Avignon, I have been attempting to tie up the last few loose ends from my work on the inventory of Macintosh’s library. Although I had managed to decipher most of the items listed, one or two remained stubborn puzzles.

The example above was one such puzzle; appearing twice in the inventory, the book was described in two distinct ways: “histoire du tour jaunes” and “histoire de tour joue“. Neither instance appeared to make grammatical sense and I was at a loss to identify which English-language title this might be referring to. Appeals on Facebook and Twitter came up with some suggestions, but no solution.

Ultimately the puzzle was solved following an appeal to SHARP-L, the mailing list of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing. Almost immediately, one colleague—Helwi Blom from Utrecht University—recognised this for what it was: a bad transliteration of Henry Fielding’s The history of Tom Jones, a foundling (1749). “tour jaunes” was, in fact, “tom jaunes“.

This odd description is most likely a consequence of the means by which the inventory was assembled—by one individual plucking books from the shelf and reading their titles out loud to a second individual acting as a scribe. I am grateful for the wisdom of the SHARP-L crowd, and to Helwi particularly; I don’t think I would ever have deciphered this on my own.

Macintosh at home

This week I have found myself staying in a hotel less than 250 metres from the street on which Macintosh lived during his residence in Avignon: Rue des 3 Testons. I have written before about the archival evidence that records his address, but it has been interesting to explore the location in person.

The inventory of seized books states that Macintosh was “domicilié en la presente commune près des murs de la porte St Michel derrière la maison de la cidevant Société dite de Jesus maria et St Bruno”—i.e., near the gate in the old-town wall beside the Chapelle Saint-Michel and behind the former Société de Jésus Marie Joseph et Saint Bruno. Elsewhere it is specified that his address is “la rue des testons…nº 8 et 9” (i.e., 8 and 9 Rue des 3 Testons).

Rue des 3 Testons is a small street and only one side is fully built up (an undeveloped gap on the other side has recently been converted into a small community garden). Although the house numbers seem to have changed since the late eighteenth century (unsurprisingly), I strongly suspect that Macintosh lived in one of the buildings photographed above. The map below gives a sense of the overall arrangement.

Map (on an OpenStreetMap base), showing the location of Macintosh's home in Avignon.

Map (on an OpenStreetMap base), showing the location of Macintosh’s home in Avignon.

I took the opportunity of walking along Rue Baracane, where the building formally occupied by the Société de Jésus Marie Joseph et Saint Bruno is still standing at number 12 (see below). The building is now home to a rather swanky looking bed and breakfast, Les Jardins de Baracane.

12 Rue Baracane, formerly home to the Société de Jésus Marie Joseph et Saint Bruno.

12 Rue Baracane, formerly home to the Société de Jésus Marie Joseph et Saint Bruno.

Back on the trail

La bibliothèque Ceccano in the autumn sunshine.

La bibliothèque Ceccano in the autumn sunshine.

I am fortunate enough to be on sabbatical leave this term, which has given me the opportunity to return to Avignon to continue my work on Macintosh. My primary aim this week is to complete a task I started in June—that of identifying, by correct title, the books that are listed (often in a highly abbreviated forms) in the inventory that was drawn up by the revolutionary authorities when they seized Macintosh’s library in 1793.

On a practical level, this job involves deciphering the handwritten inventory (a task in which I have been greatly assisted by Dr Emily Hayes) and then attempting to identify correspondences in the catalogue of the municipal library. This is then followed by a physical examination of the specific book in order to determine whether the match between inventory and catalogue is 1) certain (i.e., it is confirmed by an ownership inscription or similar provenance), 2) probable (where the book matches the inventory description, but does not have any provenance to confirm the match with total confidence), 3) possible (where there is a match in terms of title, but not in terms of format—e.g., a book that is listed in the inventory as one volume is listed as two volumes in the library catalogue), or 4) negligible (where there is either no possible candidate for a match between the inventory and the catalogue, or there are simply too many possible matches to warrant calling up all the books for examination—e.g., where the inventory lists a generic “grammaire anglaise“).

I began in June with the low-hanging fruit: the titles I could easily decipher and which only appeared to correspond with a single item in the library catalogue. In most cases, these were English-language texts and almost all have shown some form of ownership inscription or provenance. I am moving now, however, into the more complicated territory of the possible and the negligible. Part of the reason that so may titles fall into the category of possible has to do with the fact that, presumably for ease or use or for conservation reasons, many of the books that are listed in the inventory as being en broché (i.e., unbound paper- or board-backed), have since been bound and sometimes also collated in ways that do not correspond straightforwardly with the inventory.

Matters are even more complicated in the case of serial or periodical titles, where the library tends to hold more than just the specific volumes and numbers that Macintosh owned. By way of example, item 47 in the inventory of seized books reads “bibliotheque phisico-economique dont 2 vol brochés”. This description corresponds with an annually produced book-length periodical, Bibliotheque physico-économique, instructive et amusante, issued in Paris from 1782. While the municipal library holds annual editions of the periodical between 1782 and 1792 there would, I had feared, be no way to know which two volumes specifically belonged to Macintosh. Having ploughed through the first four years of the periodical, I was delighted to discover (in the second volume of the 1786 number) a handwritten inscription on the front free endpaper—an inscription, in English, that I immediately recognised as being in Macintosh’s hand.

Inscription in Bibliotheque physico-économique, instructive et amusante, année 1786. Tome II. Bibliothèque Ceccano, P 57.

Inscription in Bibliotheque physico-économique, instructive et amusante, année 1786. Tome II. Bibliothèque Ceccano, P 57.

Macintosh’s note summarised a report in the British press describing the “remarkable properties” of the elder tree. Although it is not possible to identify which newspaper was the source of Macintosh’s summary (the properties of the elder tree were communicated in a high-profile report of the Privy Council that was widely covered by the press), the existence of this annotation is tremendously helpful in being able to make a definitive link between the inventory and the specific number of the Bibliotheque physico-économique in the municipal library that Macintosh actually owned.

Economic botany and the Macintoshes

Items in the Kew Economic Botany Collection relating to George and Charles Macintosh.

Items in the Kew Economic Botany Collection relating to George and Charles Macintosh.

I was fortunate to spend Tuesday at Kew Gardens, interviewing candidates for an AHRC-funded PhD studentship working with the Economic Botany Collection. While I was there, the keepers of the collection were kind enough to look out some specimens relating to the work of George and Charles Macintosh (respectively William Macintosh’s brother and nephew).

Clockwise from the top left, these specimens included: 1) a coutchouc ball and cup; 2) a decorated rubber bottle, 3) a specimen of Macintosh waterproofed fabric, and 4) a bottle of powdered cudbear lichen (of the sort used by George in his cudbear dying works). Most of these were donated by Charles Macintosh & Co. in the mid 1850s

Finding a home for Macintosh

The Google Street View image of Rue des Trois Testons, the possible location of Macintosh's Avignon town house.

The Google Street View image of Rue des Trois Testons, the possible location of Macintosh’s Avignon town house.

Since my return from Avignon, I have been working with Dr Emily Hayes, Honorary Research Associate at Oxford Brookes University, on the transcription of French-language sources concerning Macintosh’s period as a resident of Avignon in the 1780s and ’90s. One of the key documents is an inventory of his possessions, drawn up in 1794 in preparation for their seizure by the revolutionary authorities. The inventory is a long and fascinating document, offering a vivid sense of the home Macintosh created for himself in Provence.

Aside from the rich texture this inventory adds to our understanding of Macintosh, it also has a more prosaic value in helping to locate his homes (he had both a town house and a country residence). The inventory (see below) places his town house on “la rue des testons”.

Extract from the inventory of Macintosh's seized possessions, identifying the address of his town house. Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 3 Q 6.

Extract from the inventory of Macintosh’s seized possessions, identifying the address of his town house. Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 3 Q 6.

As far as Emily and I have been able to determine, this location corresponds to what is now Rue des Trois Testons (connecting Rue de la Grande-Monnaie and Rue de l’Aigarden). There seems to be some debate about the derivation of the street’s name (either it refers to the coin of the same name, or it refers, more crudely, to a sculpture of a female nude supposedly at that location that was possessed of “trois globes d’amour”).

An 1835 plan of Avignon (below) shows the location of Rue des Trois Teston, although here it is listed as “R. 3 tétons”. “isle 53” in the inventory above corresponds with a similar designation on the map below. On this basis, I think we can be fairly confident in pinpointing this as the site of Macintosh’s town house. Whether or not the building that currently stands there was the one in which Macintosh lived remains to be seen. As ever, there is more digging to do!

Detail from an 1835 plan of Avignon, showing the location of Rue des Trois Testons. Plan de la ville d'Avignon (1835). Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, GE C-3004.

Detail from an 1835 plan of Avignon, showing the location of Rue des Trois Testons. Plan de la ville d’Avignon (1835). Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, GE C-3004.