Monthly Archives: January 2015

What’s in an insult?

 Joseph Price's characterisation of Macintosh

Joseph Price’s characterisation of Macintosh from his “A third letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke” (1782).

The publication of Macintosh’s Travels in 1782 sparked a pamphlet war. Supporters of Warren Hastings, who took against Macintosh’s criticism of him, offered a robust counter-attack. One of the most vociferous in this respect was Joseph Price—an “avid supporter of Warren Hastings” and a leading merchant in Bengal (Nechtman, 2010, p. 133). Like may of Hastings’ supporters, Price considered Macintosh simply to be a mouthpiece for Hastings’ principal antagonist, Philip Francis. As Price noted in his 1782 A third letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Esq; on the subject of the evidence in the reports of the Select Committee of the House of Commons,

[Macintosh] had engaged at Bengal, to weave into his two volumes of his travels, all the infamous stories which Mr. Francis had collected from all the informers in India, for the space of six years preceding; and so intent was he on his subject, that in seventy-two letters which he has obtruded on the world, not one of them is free from some scandalous lying story on the character of some individual (p. 59).

Price’s deconstruction of Macintosh’s motive and veracity is almost comically venomous and drips with sarcasm. In his third letter to Edmund Burke, Price engaged in a moment of counterfactual rhetoric, imagining how the Council General in Bengal would function were it to be populated with Hastings’ incompetent opponents, including “my parboiled friend, Sawney Monsieur Cousin Mackintosh” (p. 29).

Price’s insult, here, is interesting. We might infer that his use of “parboiled” was to indicate the undercooked, half-baked nature of Macintosh’s thinking. “Sawney”, the standard eighteenth-century nickname for a Scotsman, was deployed, we might assume, as a marker of Macintosh’s difference and the honorific “Monsieur” as an indicator, perhaps, of his suspected status as a Jacobin. Equally, of course, “Monsieur Cousin” could refer to an individual I am currently unaware of. As ever, there is more digging to be done.

Nechtman, Tillman W. Nabobs: empire and identity in eighteenth-century Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.