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Macintosh and Junius

A fleeting reference to the Letters of Junius. Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to John Townson, 10 September 1772, fo. 333

I have returned today to the task of transcribing Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook. This job, which I have been undertaking with the kind assistance of my dad, has become trickier in recent weeks as a result of a change that occurred almost 250 years ago. In 1772, for reasons that go unrecorded, Macintosh employed a new amanuensis to copy his outgoing correspondence. The previous scribe, whose writing was, for the most part, gratifyingly legible was replaced by one who favoured a rather more impenetrable scrawl. Pages that used to take me or my dad 20 or 30 minutes to transcribe now take close to an hour and, try as we might, there is no “getting your eye in” with this particular scribe—every word has to be wrestled from the page.

One of the consequences of the shift to the difficult-to-decipher scribe is that there is no opportunity for quickly scanning the pages of the letterbook for key terms or interesting-seeming snippets; it necessitates word-by-word, line-by-line interrogation. The unintended benefit of this approach, however, is that it is possible to identify short, but important, snippets of text that otherwise might easily be overlooked. One such example cropped up today in a long letter Macintosh sent to his close friend, the London merchant and later MP, John Townson in 1772. In the letter, Macintosh thanks Townson for sending out newspapers and “Junius’s Letters”. This is a reference to a famous series of letters—critical of the government and the crown—published between 1769 and 1772 in the Public Advertiser under the pseudonym Junius. The first authorised collection of these letters was issued as a two-volume set by the publisher of the Public Advertiser, Henry Sampson Woodfall, in 1772.

Junius’s letters were a cause célèbre (in much the same way that the letters that made up Macintosh’s Travels became a decade later). In addition to their incendiary content and compelling rhetorical style, considerable interest was generated by their uncertain authorship. In the two-and-a-half centuries since their publication, a scholarly industry has emerged around the question of attribution. While the list of suspects is long, the consensus has favoured Sir Philip Francis. There is, of course, an obvious connection here with Macintosh in that many contemporary critics attributed the content of Travels, particularly its criticism of Warren Hastings and the East India Company, to Francis. To his opponents, Macintosh was simply “an agent employed by Mr. Francis to traduce the character of Governor Hastings“.

It is interesting to speculate on what Macintosh’s might have made of Junius’s letters and how they shaped his own views and political writing. It is certainly possible that they provided, if not a model to follow, at least a goal to aspire to. In any event, this goes to show how important even a two-word phrase can be in shaping my understanding of Macintosh.

Back to the books

Evidence of our transactions in the East Indies
William Macintosh’s copy of “Evidence of our transactions in the East Indies” (1782).

This summer I was contacted by staff at the Bibliothèque Ceccano in Avignon to let me know that they had recently begun a new project to research the history of their collections and asking if I would be able to share my inventory of William Macintosh’s private library so that they might be able to update their own catalogue with additional provenance information.

I was, of course, delighted to know that my inventory could have a practical benefit beyond its value to me as a research tool and was even more pleased when the member of staff charged with undertaking the project—Monsieur Guilhem de Corbier—was able to identify a couple of additional titles owned by Macintosh that I had not discovered during my previous investigations.

Among the books that Monsieur de Corbier has added to my inventory are Mr Parker’s 1782 Evidence of our transactions in the East Indies (a text which highlighted the cruelty and self-interest of the British in India, and chimed with Macintosh’s philosophy in this regard) and Edward Baker’s 1785 Grammar of the English tongue for the Italians. In both cases, these books have ownership inscriptions indicating where and when Macintosh bought them; the latter is one of several texts on Italian topics that Macintosh bought in Rome in December 1790. These books are, at present, the only evidence I have that Macintosh visited Italy. While I hope further evidence of his visit might yet come to light, it is interesting to speculate on why he might have visited: was it part of a rather late-in-life Grand Tour or was he brought there by commercial interests?

I have, today, been able to incorporate Monsieur de Corbier’s additions into a version of the inventory that will be published next summer as a bibliographical note in The Library: The Transactions of the Bibliographical Society. In the longer term, knowing what Macintosh owned (and might have read) is helpful in understanding the development of his political philosophy and the various ideas that might have influenced (or challenged) it.

Endings and beginnings

Today, 1 September 2020, marks exactly ten years since I joined the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway and arrived in the Queen’s Building to begin unpacking my books and settling in. I recently returned to my office (dusty, but otherwise unchanged) for the first time since lockdown restrictions were imposed in March to bring home some of those books to help me through the next twelve months of research and writing. Today marks the start of a period of research leave generously supported by the Leverhulme Trust which will allow me, with a bit of luck, to bring to fruition the work on Macintosh I have been pursuing for much of my time at Royal Holloway.

I wrote previously about what a privilege it is to have this time to devote myself full time (at least as long as schools remain open!) to the task of research and that sense has only increased as I have watched my colleagues and my other half prepare for the challenges that teaching at university will bring in 2020/21. While I begin this period with a real sense of gratitude and excitement, I approach it also with some trepidation. The feelings of impostor syndrome that I know affect many academics are always particularly acute at the beginning of any writing project and I find myself occasionally mildly alarmed at the size and complexity of the task ahead. In the currently context—when life in general is defined by a multitude of very grave uncertainties—this is, of course, not a bad problem to have and I look forward to what I will learn as my ideas and words take shape on the page.

Turtles to Roehampton (and the Crisis of 1772)

The maintenance of friendships, alliances, and business relationships across the vast Atlantic occasionally saw Macintosh sending gifts to his correspondents. On 20 March 1772, Macintosh wrote to his friend Alexander Fordyce to say that he was sending him “a small family Turtle” and, for his wife (Lady Margaret Lindsay, whom Fordyce had married two years earlier), a few yards of “India Gauze”. Although Macintosh reckoned the fabric “may not be qualified for use in London”, he felt sure that “she at Roehampton may grace it”.

Portrait miniature of Lady Margaret Janet Fordyce (1753–1814), by Anne Mee (née Foldsone), undated.

At that point, Fordyce and Lady Margaret were perhaps Macintosh’s highest-status correspondents; Fordyce had carved out a successful career in banking and his speculations on East India Company stock had netted him a fortune, enabling the purchase of the Roehampton Park estate to the west of London.

What Macintosh could not know was that Fordyce’s success was built on sand. From 1771 Fordyce had begun to accrue losses which he concealed from his partners. By the middle of 1772, Fordyce’s losses could no longer be hidden and, on 10 June, he absconded to France, precipitating the collapse of the bank. A domino effect was triggered, resulting in the failure of a score of banks and a liquidity crisis that significantly affected Britain and other parts of Europe. In triggering the Crisis of 1772, Fordyce was the Nick Leeson cum Fred Goodwin of his day.

“A [four dice] Macaroni. Gambler”, Matthew Darly, 2 July 1772. British Museum 1915,0313.151.

In addition to becoming a subject for satire (as in the print above), Fordyce was a lightning rod for public anger. The global geopolitical consequences of Fordyce’s actions have long been debated, but it is clear that they had a direct impact on Macintosh when lines of credit dried up and he was unable to turn his Caribbean investments into a profit. The 1772 crisis marked the beginning of the end of Macintosh’s time in the Caribbean; his world, and the world in general, was beginning to tilt on its axis.

What became of the turtle is, of course, a mystery.

Travelling in style

I have written before about Macintosh’s desire to travel in comfort whilst at sea and this trait is exemplified in a long shopping list Macintosh sent to his friend Anthony Richardson on 1 March 1772. “Friendship”, Mackintosh noted, “is pleasing, but it exposes one to trouble”. This was, indeed, true for Richardson who was required, at Macintosh’s behest, to hunt down a wide range of goods: everything from “2 Guernsey Shirts, the largest sizes from Waller hosier, nearly opposite to St. Katherine Street” to “a Machine for examining the Qualities of Soil, without the labour of digging up it will penetrate into the Earth & when taken out may be opened, & each Strata of Mold is discovered within the Machine”. Macintosh’s request for a travelling case is, however, particularly interesting for what it reveals about his personal preferences and quotidian activities (especially as they relate to eating and drinking).

To bring him out, a neat & strong Travelling Case, on which Mr. R must prove his fancy, to contain a sizeable Tea Pot, a small Coffee Pot, A Milk Pot, 6 ½ Pint Cups and Saucers, 2 Pint Basons & Saucers, 6 Shallow, & 6 Soap Plates, 3 small Dishes, all of China; A Tea Bottle with a wide Mouth, a Sugar Bottle with Do., 6 pint decanters, engraved one for Syrop [sic], two for Liquor, two for Madeira & one for Claret, a Mustard, Vinegar, Pepper & oil Cruets engraved also, all with ground Stoppers; A Salt Seller contrived with a Top to preserve the Salt at Sea; 6 neat short Wine Glasses & 1 Do. wine & water Glasses, 6 Table & Tea spoons, with his Crest engraved on them; 6 Ivory handled Knives and Forks; a Pint Bottle for Bitters, with a ground Stopper, & Bitters engraved on it; several spare appartments [sic] for Towels, Medicines & fishing apparatus; two razors, & shaving utensils Combs, if a neat small Tureen of any figure could be stow’d away in it, it would be pleasing, and in that case a small Tureen silver Ladle. A small drawer to contain Ink, Sand, Wafers, Pens, and a quire of 4t Paper.—

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to Anthony Richardson, 1 March 1772, fo. 233

Slow and steady

Screenshot showing the transcription of one of William Macintosh's letters.

In the last week or so the normal torrent of work-related emails has eased sufficiently (famous last words) for me to join Team Macintosh 3.0 (aka my dad, Alex) in transcribing William Macintosh’s Caribbean letter book. Of the 498 pages in the book, we are now well past the half-way point, with 204 pages left to transcribe. Among much else, these letters offer a unique insight into Macintosh’s political apprenticeship in the Caribbean and show how his ideas about the management of empire and the nature of subjecthood were shaped.

One letter—sent to a fellow Grenadian planter, Thomas Proudfoot, on 16 November 1771—is typical in this respect. It describes Macintosh’s meeting with William Leybourne (1744—1775), the Island’s newly appointed Governor. Leybourne had been appointed to replace Robert Melvill (1723–1809) with whom Macintosh had clashed over the rights of the island’s French Catholics. Ultimately Leybourne would prove no more successful than Melvill in his attempts to ensure the effective governance of Grenada, but it is evident that Macintosh was cautiously optimistic at this stage about Leybourne’s arrival, not least because it irritated Melvill’s supporters. Read from the perspective of 2020, it would seem that Leybourne was, in his demeanour and behaviour, practised in the art of social distancing:

Governor Leybourne arrived about a fortnight ago, carries very great state, has Levee days, & shakes no hands; but he prudently keeps all at an equal distance, and is very prudently reserved. I have made my Bow, did not exchange two words with him, nor am I ambitious of a nearer intimacy[.] The Melvillians are staggering by reason of his absolute Powers over his Council, and the indispensable power of Indulgence to the R[oman]. C[atholic]. Subjects, but they threaten violently[.] I shall be steady untill the return of my friends, and then adieu Politics.—

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to Thomas Proudfoot, 16 November 1771, fo. 217

Revealing as these letters are about Macintosh’s political awakening, they are equally (if much less palatably) illuminating about his status as a slaveholder. I have long grappled with the difficultly such material presents but this issue has, very obviously, been thrown into sharper relief by recent debates about the legacies of British slavery. Although Macintosh was, by contemporary standards, somewhat egalitarian, this characteristic certainly did not stretch to include the Black Africans on whose enslaved labour he depended. This is not something I will ignore and, indeed, is vitally important when it comes to understanding how Macintosh’s ideas about individual rights fell, more often than not, along lines of racial prejudice.

It is worth mentioning, of course, that Macintosh’s letters occasionally deal with more quotidian and less contentious matters and that he possessed a rather dry sense of humour, as is evidenced in this account of a near-death experience:

I had like to have kicked the Bucket the day before yesterday by a mistake in making Creme Tarter Whey; instead of that Drug they put about 150 Grains in of Tartar Emetic into it, my Salvation was miraculous, without any Assistance than a hot Bath to soften the pangs of the Cramp & Convulsions.—

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to Thomas Proudfoot, 16 November 1771, fo. 217

Introducing Team Macintosh 3.0

Alex Keighren transcribing correspondence from Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook.

In 2016 and 2017, I was fortunate to have the assistance of four undergraduate students—Ophelia King and Lauren Muir (Team Macintosh) and Rhys Gazeres de Baradieux and Samuel Thatcher (Team Macintosh 2.0)—in the transcription of archival material I had photographed during research visits to Avignon. So extensive is Macintosh’s correspondence, however, that several hundred letters have remained untranscribed.

I am especially grateful, therefore, that my dad, Alex, has kindly volunteered his assistance with the transcription effort whilst he is confined to home during the current lockdown. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen thousands of people turn to crowd-sourced transcription projects in an effort to find a productive distraction during a time of uncertainty and disruption.

My dad will gradually be working his way through Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook, which covers the period between 1763 and 1772 when Macintosh was active in Grenada, Dominica, and Tobago and beginning to form his political views on the management of empire.

Eighth time lucky

Last Saturday marked the eighth birthday of On the archival trail of William Macintosh. So many things have changed since I began documenting my work on Macintosh that it feels like I’ve been chipping away at this project for much, much longer. The work has always been a pleasure, and is a constant source of fascination, but it has often been frustrating not to be able to carve out the concentrated time that the project really deserves.

I was, therefore, delighted to learn last week that my application to the Leverhulme Trust for a Research Fellowship had been approved. After seven failed attempts to secure grants from a range of funding bodies to support my work on Macintosh, this news came as both a wonderful surprise and a huge relief. The Fellowship will allow me to focus on the Macintosh project full time for a year from 1 September 2020. I hope in that time to make very substantial progress on the book I have long planned.

To have received this news in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—when so much else, both personally and professionally, feels strange, uncertain, and worrying—means I am particularly aware of the rare privilege that such an opportunity presents.

Proof positive

Proof of book chapter.

Despite innumerable advances in the technologies of publishing, some forms of academic writing still take a long time to proceed from screen to print. For that reason, the arrival of page proofs is always a welcome event: a material reminder that words written perhaps many years ago are soon to find their way into the world. Today I received proofs for a chapter I have written for a forthcoming edited collection, Empire and mobility in the long nineteenth century. The book had its origins in a pair of paper sessions at the 2015 International Conference of Historical Geographers, organised by its editors, Peter Merriman and David Lambert.

Although my understanding of Macintosh has developed significantly in the five years between the conference and the book, I am really very pleased with the way the chapter—”A contested vision of empire: anonymity, authority, and mobility in the reception of William Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782) “—stands up. I look forward to reading the work of the other contributors when the book is published in June.

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.