It takes a village; or, reflections on (collaborative) lone-wolf scholarship

Christian Slater as Adso in “The Name of the Rose” (1986)

Although research can often feel like quite an isolated business, especially in the context of a pandemic, it is rarely truly solitary. Even though my work on Macintosh might seem to epitomise lone-wolf scholarship, it is, in fact, collaborative and depends on the assistance and guidance of many people. I have been particularly aware of the collaborative nature of my work in the last week or so as I have sought to chase up various archival leads accumulated during the last eight-and-a-half years.

In firing off a dozen or so reference requests to libraries and archives in the UK, France, and the US, I have frequently been amazed at the rapidity and helpfulness of the responses. Although the website of the Archives nationales in Paris warned that it might take months to process my request for a reproduction of material, the photographs arrived within two working days, free of charge. This incredible efficiency was beaten only by the staff of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania, who answered a query about the George Macartney Papers at 6.30 a.m. on the day of my enquiry and later provided gratis reproductions.

This week I have also benefited from the language skills of a number of colleagues: Dr Dominik Hünniger pointed me in the direction of some German-language reviews of Macintosh’s Travels that I hadn’t seen before, including an interesting one by Georg ForsterDr Elizabeth Haines and Dr Emily Hayes together helped me untangle a French source on Macintosh’s counter-revolutionary activities in Switzerland; and Dr Susan Pickford kindly offered to help out if my request to the Archives nationales did not materialise. Meanwhile, my PhD student, Ed Armston-Sheret, was able to ferret out a source through an Adam Matthew database to which he currently has access via a fantastic Royal Historical Society scheme.

One thing is clear: I’m going to need to set aside quite a bit of time to write the acknowledgements section of my eventual book.

Down the rabbit hole to Switzerland; or, was Macintosh a spy?

The French invasion of Bern in 1798. Indiana University Libraries (VAC1755-01109).

Although my main task this week has been to consolidate the archival photographs I took in Avignon between 2012 and 2018 (an eye-watering 4,141 in total) in order to help me identify and prioritise the next stages of my reading and analysis, I couldn’t help returning to consider some of the many unanswered questions about Macintosh’s life that have been piquing my curiosity.

I have long been interested in what happened to Macintosh between his exile from Avignon in the mid 1790s and the point at which he appears in the historical record as a resident of Eisenach. I was aware that Macintosh had some dealings with the British spymasters William Wickham and James Talbot in this intervening period, and that he had spent some time in Switzerland (specifically at Estavayer on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel), but my earlier attempts to identify surviving correspondence came to naught. The work of Michael Durey and Elizabeth Sparrow on Britain’s spy network during the French Revolution has, however, allowed me to narrow my focus and to identity some surviving correspondence in the Hampshire Record Office and at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, which I look forward to consulting. The footnotes in Durey and Sparrow’s work are sufficient, in the meantime, to lead me to understand that Macintosh was, indeed, part of Wickham and Talbot’s circle and that, moreover, he was supporting the counter-revolutionary cause from Bern.

Much to my surprise, I have learned that Macintosh was, in effect, the de facto British ambassador to Bern from 1797. As one historian of the period has noted, after Wickham (Minister Plenipotentiary) and Talbot (Chargé d’affaires) were compelled to leave the country, British representation in Bern fell—during the crucial period leading up to the French invasion—to “einem Agenten ohne diplomatischen Charakter William MacIntosh [an agent without diplomatic character William MacIntosh]”.

Knowing that Macintosh was in Bern in 1797 has allowed me to identify a range of other interesting snippets of information, such as his dealings with the journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan whose periodical, the Mercure Britannique, was established on Macintosh’s suggestion. More interesting, perhaps, is that Macintosh’s activities in Bern had come to the attention of the Revolutionary authorities in Paris. One dispatch from Switzerland (now in the Archives nationales in Paris) describes Macintosh as an “agent de Wickham” who was “autrefois séjournant dans le Midi et y jouant les patriotes [formerly staying in the South and playing the patriots there]”.

It is evident that the author of the finding aid at the Archives nationales was intrigued about Macintosh’s identity, noting that he “semble plutôt être français qu’anglais [seems to be French rather than English]” and that he was evidently not the more famous James Mackintosh, who had not been in Switzerland at that time. A week ago, I knew none of this. Even after more than eight years on Macintosh’s archival trail, I’m constantly amazed by his ability to take me by surprise.

So, was Macintosh a spy? The revolutionary authorities certainly thought so and he moved in the same circles as Wickham and Talbot. On the basis of the “If it walks like a duck…” logic, then, yes, Macintosh was a spy. The question is, What kind of spy? What, exactly, did he do for Wickham and Talbot? How did he take his vodka martini? As ever, more digging is required!

The (online) inventory of Macintosh’s confiscated library

Inventory of Macintosh’s confiscated library. Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 1 L 461, fol. 3.

Over a number of years I have been working to reconstruct Macintosh’s private library, which was seized by the authorities during the French Revolution. My work on this was undertaken using the inventory drawn up in Macintosh’s home by the individuals charged with taking possession of his books. That document (1 L 452 in the archive) is somewhat rough and ready and translating and transcribing it was rather tricky (although I was, thankfully, helped in this task greatly by Dr Elizabeth Haines and Dr Emily Hayes).

I noticed today that, since my last visit, the Archives départementales de Vaucluse has made available a digitised version of that same inventory, albeit a rather tidier and more legible version (1 L 461 in the archive). It must have been written up later at the point at which the inventory was handed over to the district archivist, Jean-Étienne Néry. It would, of course, have been good to know about this version a few years ago (it might have saved a few headaches), but it’s nevertheless good to know that it exists and is easily accessible.

The (expanding) field of Macintosh studies

I mentioned in an earlier blog post, that I am not entirely alone in my work on Macintosh’s Travels. Laura Tarkka-Robinson from the University of Turku has also been exploring the meaning and significance of Travels in relation to ideas of national character and how those ideas intersected with key debates in colonial policy and political economy.

She has recently published a very interesting book chapter, “An empire of renewed ambitions: political economy and national character in the Travels (1782) of William Macintosh“, which looks at the relationship between the ideas espoused by Macintosh in Travels and those of Adam Smith, particularly as expressed in The Wealth of Nations (a book Macintosh read en route to India and to which he responded directly).

Ann Montague

Notice of the death of Macintosh’s wife, Ann, in The Monthly Magazine, 1806.

The character of the archival material that survives from Macintosh’s life, being primarily concerned with business and politics, means that his family—brothers, parents, wife, and children—are something of an absent presence: glimpsed from time to time, but rarely occupying centre stage. The nature of Macintosh’s marriage is long something I have wondered about. It was touched by tragedy, including the death of children, and defined by alternating periods of separation and reconciliation. It was not, however, until this weekend—more than eight years after setting out on the archival trail—that I finally learned the name of Macintosh’s wife: Ann Montague. Having a name means that I have some hope of filling in the details that Macintosh’s correspondence omits.

Detail from Richard Horwood’s “Plan of the cities of London and Westminster” (1792–99).

Although they were never divorced (as far as I can tell), it is evident that William and Ann lived separately for a number of years, both voluntarily and involuntarily. When Ann died, at Francis Street (now Torrington Place) in Bloomsbury, in 1806, Macintosh was in exile in Eisenach and would not have been able to return to London for the funeral. Ann’s death was, however, noted in The Monthly Magazine as one of London’s “distinguished Characters recently deceased”.

September in review

One of the several folders that make up the archive of Macintosh’s papers in the Archives départementales de Vaucluse.

Today marks the end of the first month of my Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship. Never have thirty days passed more swiftly! Much of the first two weeks of the Fellowship were devoted to clearing the decks—finishing outstanding review work, completing appraisal and grant-planning paperwork, attending PhD annual reviews, handing over my administrative roles, and so on—but I have, since then, been able to devote my working days (circumscribed by the school day!) increasingly to the task at hand. As my other half, also an academic, juggles the challenges of teaching in 2020/21, and as I see the flurry of departmental emails about the logistical and technological teething troubles that blended learning has thrown up for my colleagues, I feel incredibly fortunate to be in a position to focus on my research in this way.

Academia is, however, an anxiety engine—rapacious in its expectations as to the quantity and quality of the work we produce—and it is hard, therefore, not to hear the ticking of the clock and to think “Have I done enough today?”. My own curiosity about Macintosh and the impact of his ideas has always been driven, at least in part, by the complexity of his life, spanning as it did the Highlands of Scotland, the colonial Caribbean, the Early American Republic, British India, Georgian London, Revolutionary France, Enlightenment Germany, and so on. That same complexity is, of course, a considerable analytical challenge and is fuel to the anxiety engine: “Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Will I actually be able to do this?”.

As a way of keeping the anxiety engine in a low gear, I have been writing a daily diary of my research, which I have found quite a useful way of feeling I have achieved something each day (and reminding me how much longer it would have taken were it not for the Fellowship). In summary, I have:

  • Transcribed 53 pages of Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook (c. 26,500 words)
  • Verified 118 pages of letterbook transcription (c. 59,000 words) produced by Team Macintosh 2.0 in 2017
  • Written eight blog posts (including this one)

At the same time, my Dad (aka Team Macintosh 3.0) has completed a further 25 pages of transcription, bringing his total to 228 pages (or c. 114,000 words). Thanks to his efforts the letterbook is now done and dusted—all c. 244,500 words of it. While it was important to fully transcribe the letterbook (which I hope in the future might form the basis to a digitised version of it), the other manuscript material will necessitate a rather more selective and targeted approach. While I will follow Alan Hathway’s instruction to Robert A. Caro to “Turn every goddam page”, I will certainly not be transcribing ever “goddam” page—there is simply too much.

My goal for the next month of the project will be to take stock of the remainder of the archival material. This will involve collating photographs taken over the course of a number of separate visits to the archives in Avignon and bringing together transcriptions produced during the last eight years. I will seek to identify a series of priorities with respect to the reading (and selective transcription) of that material that will allow me to work through all the Caribbean papers prior to beginning writing the book’s first empirical chapter, which will cover the period of Macintosh’s political apprenticeship—from his first arrival in Antigua (c. 1754) to his final departure from Grenada (c. 1777).

The French connection(s)

Having recently completed the transcription of Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook (a task that began more than three years ago), I am now working through it in chronological order to begin filling in the details of Macintosh’s life and his commercial and political activities. The letterbook begins in 1763, which was something of a watershed moment for Macintosh as he shifted his commercial activities and geographical location, going from being a merchant in Antigua to a planter in Grenada. Central to this shift were two things: first, the cessation of the Seven Years’ War, which brought Grenada under British control and, second, the personal friendship and business relationship Macintosh developed with the owner of the Grenadian estate which he purchased, Post Royal.

Much of Macintosh’s correspondence in early 1773 concerned his purchase (for £3,333) of Post Royal from William Fouray de la Grandrie. I had, until today, struggled to find much information on Fouray but, thanks to Google Books, I found a listing in a nineteenth-century catalogue of the Nantes public library for a manuscript travel account of a journey by William and his wife to and from Grenada. Happily the same manuscript has been digitised. More happily still, it contains several references to Macintosh, most relating to the Fourays’ visit to Antigua.

Relation historique pour servir de journal au voyage de M. et Mme Fouray, de Nantes à La Grenade, et de leur retour à Nantes. Bibliothèque municipale de Nantes, ms 881, fo. 124.

On completing the purchase of the estate, Macintosh wrote to a number of friends (clearly in high spirits) to let them know that “I am commenc’d a Grenada Planter having made a very advantageous & easy purchase”. Far from suffering buyer’s remorse, Macintosh was convinced he had grabbed a bargain that would, in effect, pay for itself. Writing to one correspondent, Macintosh explained his vision thus:

I have deposited bills in the hands of a third person for 3333£ Stg to be deliverd [sic] on the 1st. of June next at 4, 6, & 8 months Sight on London, in equal proportion, & this Crop will I expect answer £1300 Stg. of which, the next payment of £1500 becomes due in London the 1st. November 1764, & 1st. January 1765, by equal halves & each Succeeding payment at equal periods untill [sic] January 1769, neither of which bear interest untill [sic] they become due; so that you may conceive each Crop will more than pay for each Successive payment

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to Michael White, 6 April 1763, fo. 25.

What particularly excited Macintosh was that the estate incorporated “the Town of Marque [i.e., Grand Marquis], which is expected to be made the Seat of trade…[and that] every House that can be built for the future therein must be built on this Land”. The subsequent history of Grand Marquis (it became St Andrew under British rule) did not quite live up to Macintosh’s expectations; the port of Grenville a few miles further north emerged as the main trading hub. The town itself has, however, been the subject recently of a fascinating blog post from the Heritage Research Group Caribbean.

Grand Marquis as it appears in Recueil de cartes et description topographique de lisle de la Grenade et dequelques petites isles des environs (1748), by Jean-Baptiste-Pierre le Romain. Bibliothèque nationale de France, IFN-53121713.

The longer history of Post Royal has been documented in great detail by UCL’s incredible Legacies of British Slave-ownership project.

100 not out

Today I have, somewhat to my surprise, reached my hundredth blog post. While there has never been any particular plan guiding my blogging (I tend to write whenever I find something that sparks my interest or curiosity ), I have found that these posts function usefully both as an aide-mémoire to the many aspects of Macintosh and his work I wish to explore in the planned book and as a first phase of analysis and interpretation. In most instances, therefore, these posts record interesting leads to be pursued further rather than definitive commentaries.

One such interesting lead presented itself today while I was consulting the digitised version of the archive of the Royal Geographical Society, to which I am fortunate to have temporary access for another purpose. Among the Society’s archives is a collection of letters and associated papers (RGS LMS M.39) written by the “soldier and adventurer” John Morrison to Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (then Lord Advocate), promoting his plans for an alliance with Persia.

Morrison, himself, is an interesting character. His life is summarised by one biographer in the following terms:

Soldier and adventurer in the second half of the 18th century: at first in the E. I. Co.’s service…In 1769 the idea came to him of re-establishing Sha Alam on his throne: about two years after resigned his post under the Company, 1771: about 1772 he entered Sha Alam’s service, and received from him the titles of “General and C. in C. of the Great Mogul’s forces,” and “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” to George III: went to England, empowered by the Great Mogul to lay before Government his proposal to invest the King of England with the absolute sovereignty of the Kingdom of Bengal, and the provinces of Bihar and Orissa, in exchange for a body of British troops to defend his throne at Delhi: to press home this scheme, Morrison wrote his Tract on The Advantages of an Alliance with the Great Mogul, published in 1774.

Dictionary of Indian Biography (1906), by C. E. Buckland, p. 300.

One of Morrison’s letters to Dundas, dated 27 October 1788, contains a number of supplementary papers in support of his plan for an alliance with Persia (Morrison notes that he has sent the same papers to the Marquess of Carmarthen [i.e., Francis Osborne, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs] and Lord Hawkesbury [i.e., Charles Jenkinson, President of the Board of Trade]). One of the enclosed papers is a very neat transcript of the forty-ninth letter from Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa which, as Morrison notes, concerns “the Trade carried on from India with the Arabian & Persian Gulphs”.

Enclosure in John Morrison to Henry Dundas, 27 October 1788. Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). LMS M.39.

This enclosure is interesting for two reasons: first, it offers additional evidence as to the readership of Macintosh’s book and the wider circulation of the ideas it contained; second, because it seems to indicate who the recipient of Macintosh’s forty-ninth letter actual was.

Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782), vol. 2, p. 135.

Although some of the recipients of Macintosh’s letters were clearly identified in Travels, many were either anonymised or disguised by means of dashes. It seems more than coincidental that Macintosh’s forty-ninth letter, addressed to “J—— M——”, was subsequently reproduced and circulated by John Morrison. Coincidence seems an even more remote possibility when one considers how similar the views of Macintosh and Morrison were with respect to a formal alliance with Shah Alam II. Indeed, in an earlier letter to J—— M—— (28 October 1779), Macintosh notes:

A partition of the sovereignty of Hindostan [sic], between Great Britain and the Emperor, and a firm alliance between these powers, would be attended with greatest advantages to both, and also with tranquillity to all the native princes of India. That the establishment of such a compact and alliance, would be productive of the greatest blessings to all these parties, will not, I imagine, admit of much dispute

Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782), vol. 1, p. 401.

What this post illustrates, I think, is the extent to which chance and serendipity play a part in my research. Under other circumstances I don’t think I would ever have known to look for Morrison’s correspondence, and certainly not at the Royal Geographical Society.

Retirement planning

A view of Charles-Town, the capital of South Carolina (1776). Library of Congress LC-DIG-pga-02794.
A view of Charles-Town, the capital of South Carolina (1776). Library of Congress LC-DIG-pga-02794.

Working through Macintosh’s correspondence reveals a number of concerns and preoccupations that offer an insight into his personality and worldview. One refrain to which Macintosh returned with increasing frequency during his time in the Caribbean was the climate, which he considered—in line with contemporary European thinking on the subject—deleterious to his physical and mental health. Over the years, Macintosh’s eye and heart were increasingly drawn not by a return to the temperate climes of Britain, but rather by North America, which he came to view with ever more certainty as the perfect environment—climatically and politically—where he might see out his days in retirement.

Something of this desire is captured in a letter Macintosh wrote to the Charleston-based merchant Andrew Irwin, whose earlier communication from that city had reignited Macintosh’s passion for the North American continent:

Your description of North America is too flattering, & bears so near a Conformity to my own partiality & favourable Ideas, as well of the Country & Climate, as of the Inhabitants, that my desires are raised to a pitch of enthusiasm & extravagance to see it for the Choice of a Spot whereon to pitch my tent; My own political tenets & the noble Strugles [sic] of the Americans conducted with propriety, Judgement & Moderation…[are such] that my motivation to finish my days in Britain, even in my favourite Devon Shire, has long ago Subsided; & I envy your happy Enjoyment now, so much, that I beg you will return, not more to attend to your Own Affairs, but partly to attend mine, while I may be regaining my Sensitive faculties as you have done, on a Soil boundless in extent, gratefull [sic] & fertile to the Husbandman, pleasing to the eye, entertaining to the Sportsman, and Joyous to the Companion; Whos [sic] Inhabitants are Just, generous & hospitable to the Stranger; and friendly to each other with all the Et Ceteras which Compose the Cardinal, and an innumerable Catalogue of inferior Virtues

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to Andrew Irwin, 1 February 1773, fo. [376].

While the American Revolutionary War, among other factors, ultimately put paid to Macintosh’s plan, he retained an interest in American politics, which eventually led to him corresponding with George Washington over the new nation’s political structure. The fact that Macintosh never quite found somewhere safe and permanent to pitch his tent was a source of frustration for him, but it rendered his life, in retrospect, all the more interesting to consider.

Macintosh without a “k”

With a name like mine, I am used to encountering all manner of misspellings and mispronunciations. When I started a part-time job working in Boots 25 years ago, I was given a name badge reading “Innes Keyman”, which I rather liked as a sort of pharmaceutical pseudonym.

I was, therefore, rather gratified to see that something similar happened to Macintosh on his appointment to the role of Comptroller of the Port of Grenville in Grenada in late 1772; rather than being listed on his appointment letter as “Macintosh”, his surname had been rendered as “Mackintosh”. Clearly perturbed, he lost no time in writing to William Senhouse, surveyor-general of Barbados and the Leeward Islands, to highlight the error:

It has happen’d that in the deputation the letter K, which I do not generally make use of in subscribing my name, has been inserted, & I should be glad if by any Application from me to you, & from your department to the Board of Comissrs: [that] I may be permitted to sign my name in my usual mode, when I act officially. I shall be much obliged to your Assistance in remedying the circumstance.

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to William Senhouse, [1772], fo. 347–348.