Monthly Archives: March 2015

Macintosh in New York

The New York Society Library

The New York Society Library.

For the past week I have been in New York City with approximately 50 of our second-year human geography students who have been engaged in a range of individual research projects across the city. Having successfully installed my group in the archives at the New York Public Library, I paid a visit to the wonderful New York Society Library on East 79th Street. In addition to being the oldest library in New York (it was established in 1754) it also functioned as the de facto Library of Congress during the period in the late eighteenth century when Congress met in New York. A number of the eighteenth-century politicians who read or corresponded with Macintosh were members of the library (including George Washington and Aaron Burr).

The library has a copy of one of the Dublin editions of Macintosh’s book, which I consulted in the hope that it might contain some interesting marginal annotations or revealing details of provenance (sadly, neither proved to be the case). The book has been in the library since at least 1813 (it is listed in A catalogue of the books belonging to the New-York Society Library published in that year). An entry for Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa does appear in the 1793 catalogue but the author is (wrongly, perhaps) identified as M’Donald. In any event, the book does not appear in the library’s first circulation ledger, covering the period 1789 to 1792.

"Readers Make Their Mark" exhibition

“Readers Make Their Mark” exhibition.

Interesting marginalia was, however, much in evidence at the library’s excellent Readers Make Their Mark exhibition. The reading habits of a number of the library’s former members, including the intriguing Chinese-American artist Mai-mai Sze, were wonderfully showcased.

Macintosh in Stuttgart?

Grund Riss der Herzoglich Wirtembergischen Haupt und Ersten Residenz Stadt Stuttgardt, 1794

Grund Riss der Herzoglich Wirtembergischen Haupt und Ersten Residenz Stadt Stuttgardt, 1794. Württembergische Landesbibliothek,

Of all the shadowy and poorly understood periods of Macintosh’s life, the years he spent in what is now Germany are the most mysterious. I have written before on Macintosh’s residence in Eisenach, where he may have died (he certainly wrote his will there) at some point after 1810. The precise means and chronology of Macintosh’s relocation from Avignon (in the 1790s) to Eisenach (in the 1800s) have still to be sketched out, but there is some indication that he spent time in Stuttgart in the interim.

This fragment of information is contained in a letter sent from Berlin by Thomas Grenville (1755–1846) to his brother, William Grenville (1759–1834), on 4 March 1799. Tomas and William were sons of the late Whig prime minister George Grenville (1712–1770). Thomas, a member of parliament and privy councillor, had in 1799 been appointed ambassador to Berlin in order to broker an alliance against France as part of the War of the Second Coalition. In his letter to William, Thomas notes that

I was scarcely arrived here when I received a communication from Stutgard [sic], signed W. M’Intosh, and claiming to be known to you and to Mr. [George] Canning, which expresses the greatest apprehensions at the progress of the French principles in the duchy of Wirtemberg [sic] under the active directors of Citoyen Mengaud and Citoyen Trouvè, who are so good as to employ themselves with great zeal and success for that purpose [1]

It seems unlikely (to say the least) that Thomas’s correspondent was anyone other than William Macintosh. This fragment offers a useful further indication of Macintosh’s network of correspondents, but also opens up new lines of enquiry regarding Macintosh’s time in Stuttgart.

1. Historical Manuscripts Commission (1904) Report on the manuscripts of J. B. Fortescue, Esq., preserved at Dropmore. Vol. IV, p. 485.

The elusive beginning


Detail from John Thomson’s Atlas of Scotland (1832), showing the location of Newmore. National Library of Scotland, EMS.s.712(25).

I often joke to colleagues that William Macintosh is the most significant eighteenth-century imperial careerist and travel writer for whom there is no Wikipedia entry.  At some point I would like to remedy that omission, but only once I feel sure I know some of the basics with certainty (like when he was born and when he died).

Macintosh is listed (under the heading “Eminent Men”) in the entry for the Parish of Rosskeen in The Second (New) Statistical Account of Scotland (1834–45), written by the parish minister, David Carment in October 1838. Carment (who assumed his role in the parish in 1822) notes that Macintosh was “born at Newmore, in this parish, in the year 1738”. Carment further notes, however, that registers of births in the parish date only from 1781. It is, therefore, uncertain how much faith can be placed in the 1738 date.

Baptismal records in nearby areas list a number of potential candidates: a William Mcintosh was baptised in Nairn on 14 March 1736; another (son of James) in Dores (near Inverness) on 31 March 1737; and another (son of William and Issobell [sic]) in Petty (near Inverness) on 8 October 1738.

Whether any of these is my William Macintosh is, at the moment, difficult to say. Would Macintosh’s family have taken him the 60-mile round-trip between Newmore and Petty to be baptised when (presumably) it could have been done closer to home? Should I just give up on my attempts at triangulation and accept Carment’s date as read?

Macintosh’s date of death is, of course, a whole different question.