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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…

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.