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

Team Macintosh 2.0 revisited

Last summer I was fortunate enough to have two undergraduate students (Rhys Gazeres de Baradieux and Sam Thatcher) working with me in transcribing some of Macintosh’s letters sent from the Caribbean in the 1770s. Rhys and Sam were interviewed by another student, Matthew Phillips, who has since then produced a great video (above), highlighting the experience of undertaking a research placement in the department. I am grateful to Rhys and Sam for their hard work, which was instrumental in supporting a book chapter I wrote last autumn, and to Matthew for producing the video.

The value of receipts

William Macintosh was an inveterate keeper of bills, invoices, and receipts. These ephemeral items are present in great abundance in his archive, but it is often difficult to determine their significance and evidential value given their overwhelming number—it is tricky, in that sense, to see the wood for the trees. On one level, these items offer an interesting insight into what Macintosh (and his family) consumed—food, fabric, books, stationery, furniture, wine, jewellery, medicine, etc.—and how much was spent. More prosaically, however, they are also often helpful in placing Macintosh in time and space (given how peripatetic he was, it is useful to know for sure where he was at a particular time).

Bill from William Nicoll, 5 February 1770.

Bill from William Nicoll, 5 February 1770.

As I was photographing these items today (they number in the hundreds) one bill stood out: a 1770 invoice from the London bookseller and publisher, William Nicoll, for what appears to be six calf-bound copies of the pamphlet Audi Alteram Partem (1770). As I have written before, there is reason to believe Macintosh was one of the anonymous authors of that work. While this bill is clearly not proof of authorship, it is circumstantially suggestive and at the very least demonstrates that Macintosh owned a copy (well, several copies) of the pamphlet. Those six pamphlets, purchased then for £1 4s., would be worth about $4,500 today (if current prices are a guide).

Macintosh’s bed

I’m back in Avignon this week: my third visit in the space of 12 months and one focused this time on filling in the gaps in my photographic record of Macintosh’s archival material. When I first visited Avignon in 2012, I was fairly targeted and selective in what I chose to transcribe and photograph, reflecting a narrower vision of the project. As the project has grown, so has the range of material in the archive that might be considered relevant. My task this week, then, is to get as near a complete photographic record of Macintosh’s archive as I can, to limit the need for return visits (as much as I enjoy them, they cost money and necessitate complicated childcare arrangements).

Detail of a sketch of Macintosh's ship-board bed, undated (c. 1770s).

A sketch of Macintosh’s ship-board bed, undated (c. 1770s). Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2 E Titres de famille 83, “Pieces de comptabilite”.

Although I am primarily photographing, rather than reading, material this week, one item jumped out at me: a set of instructions Macintosh issued in the 1770s, commissioning certain items of furniture (“Sea necessaries on an Eastern Voyage” as they are described). The document sets out Macintosh’s requirements for, among other things, a “Sea and East India Desk & Book Case” (mahogany exterior, red cedar interior). More interesting, perhaps, is his description (and drawing) of his wished-for bed. He asked for “A Bed, upon a Commodious Construction, with six drawers underneath on each side”. “4 of the drawers”, Macintosh went on, “[were] to contain Linens…the other two to Contain Liquor in handsome Square Bottles & decanters”. The drawers on the other side of the bed were “for the Bidet [à] serin[gu]e, and Chamber Pot”. With a setup like that, who’d ever want to get out of bed?

I took more than 500 photographs today, getting through about sixty percent of one of the six main bundles of Macintosh’s archive. The scale and diversity of the collection is somewhat bewildering, but it is full of interesting surprises. Onward, ever onward…