Monthly Archives: September 2014

Commodities and afterlives

Whilst my interest in Macintosh’s Travels centres primarily on its contemporary significance and reading, the status of the book as a commodity points to no-less-interesting questions to do with its afterlife (that is to say, with what happened to the book—and to Macintosh’s ideas—when they had lost their contemporary currency). That a market for Travels continued to exist after Macintosh’s death is evidenced not only by its current status as a rare and collectable book, but by its circulation in the nineteenth century.

Advertisement in The Publishers' Circular (1850).

Advertisement in The Publishers’ Circular (1850).

A classified advertisement placed in the “Books Wanted to Purchase” section of The Publishers’ Circular (1 June 1850) by the London firm Taylor, Walton, and Maberly indicates, for example, that nearly three-quarters of a century after the original publication of Travels, there was a market for it (albeit a market that was somewhat uncertain with regard to the book’s bibliographical specifics). Given that Taylor, Walton, and Maberly was official bookseller and publisher to University College, London, it is possible that the firm had been commissioned in its search for Travels by an academic member of staff at the college. Whatever motivation lay behind the search for Travels in this case, it is yet another suggestive fragment of evidence which helps to illuminate something of the book’s afterlife.

Follow the thing

The auction catalogues of library sales are (as I have previously noted) often a useful source in reconstructing the ownership (and inferring the readership) of a particular text. One of the many nineteenth-century auction catalogues in which Macintosh’s Travels was listed for sale was that drawn up in 1823 to dispose of the enormous (20,000-volume) library which William Beckford (1760–1844) had assembled in his equally enormous Fonthill Abbey.

William Beckford (1760–1844).

William Beckford (1760–1844).

Beckford’s collection, listed in The valuable library of books in Fonthill Abbey (1823) and sold by the London auctioneer Harry Phillips, included a 1782 first edition of Macintosh’s Travels and a copy of Joseph Price’s critical response.

Whilst it is possible that Beckford purchased these texts at the time of their publication, it seems more probable that these were originally part of the private library of Edward Gibbon (1737–1794)—parliamentarian and author of The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88)—which was sold to Beckford following Gibbon’s death.

Edward Gibbon (1737–1794).

Edward Gibbon (1737–1794).

There are a number of interesting connections between Gibbon and Warren Hastings. Both were alumni of Westminster School and Gibbon was present at Hastings’ parliamentary trial—an event he described as a ‘persecution’, motivated by party politics. Whether or not Gibbon’s sympathy for Hastings was motivated by their shared educational background is unclear. It would clearly be interesting to know, however, what Gibbon thought of Macintosh’s criticism of Hastings (assuming Gibbon was the original owner of the copy of Travels auctioned off in London in 1823).