Monthly Archives: September 2020

September in review

One of the several folders that make up the archive of Macintosh’s papers in the Archives départementales de Vaucluse.

Today marks the end of the first month of my Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship. Never have thirty days passed more swiftly! Much of the first two weeks of the Fellowship were devoted to clearing the decks—finishing outstanding review work, completing appraisal and grant-planning paperwork, attending PhD annual reviews, handing over my administrative roles, and so on—but I have, since then, been able to devote my working days (circumscribed by the school day!) increasingly to the task at hand. As my other half, also an academic, juggles the challenges of teaching in 2020/21, and as I see the flurry of departmental emails about the logistical and technological teething troubles that blended learning has thrown up for my colleagues, I feel incredibly fortunate to be in a position to focus on my research in this way.

Academia is, however, an anxiety engine—rapacious in its expectations as to the quantity and quality of the work we produce—and it is hard, therefore, not to hear the ticking of the clock and to think “Have I done enough today?”. My own curiosity about Macintosh and the impact of his ideas has always been driven, at least in part, by the complexity of his life, spanning as it did the Highlands of Scotland, the colonial Caribbean, the Early American Republic, British India, Georgian London, Revolutionary France, Enlightenment Germany, and so on. That same complexity is, of course, a considerable analytical challenge and is fuel to the anxiety engine: “Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Will I actually be able to do this?”.

As a way of keeping the anxiety engine in a low gear, I have been writing a daily diary of my research, which I have found quite a useful way of feeling I have achieved something each day (and reminding me how much longer it would have taken were it not for the Fellowship). In summary, I have:

  • Transcribed 53 pages of Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook (c. 26,500 words)
  • Verified 118 pages of letterbook transcription (c. 59,000 words) produced by Team Macintosh 2.0 in 2017
  • Written eight blog posts (including this one)

At the same time, my Dad (aka Team Macintosh 3.0) has completed a further 25 pages of transcription, bringing his total to 228 pages (or c. 114,000 words). Thanks to his efforts the letterbook is now done and dusted—all c. 244,500 words of it. While it was important to fully transcribe the letterbook (which I hope in the future might form the basis to a digitised version of it), the other manuscript material will necessitate a rather more selective and targeted approach. While I will follow Alan Hathway’s instruction to Robert A. Caro to “Turn every goddam page”, I will certainly not be transcribing ever “goddam” page—there is simply too much.

My goal for the next month of the project will be to take stock of the remainder of the archival material. This will involve collating photographs taken over the course of a number of separate visits to the archives in Avignon and bringing together transcriptions produced during the last eight years. I will seek to identify a series of priorities with respect to the reading (and selective transcription) of that material that will allow me to work through all the Caribbean papers prior to beginning writing the book’s first empirical chapter, which will cover the period of Macintosh’s political apprenticeship—from his first arrival in Antigua (c. 1754) to his final departure from Grenada (c. 1777).

The French connection(s)

Having recently completed the transcription of Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook (a task that began more than three years ago), I am now working through it in chronological order to begin filling in the details of Macintosh’s life and his commercial and political activities. The letterbook begins in 1763, which was something of a watershed moment for Macintosh as he shifted his commercial activities and geographical location, going from being a merchant in Antigua to a planter in Grenada. Central to this shift were two things: first, the cessation of the Seven Years’ War, which brought Grenada under British control and, second, the personal friendship and business relationship Macintosh developed with the owner of the Grenadian estate which he purchased, Post Royal.

Much of Macintosh’s correspondence in early 1763 concerned his purchase (for £3,333) of Post Royal from William Fouray de la Grandrie. I had, until today, struggled to find much information on Fouray but, thanks to Google Books, I found a listing in a nineteenth-century catalogue of the Nantes public library for a manuscript travel account of a journey by William and his wife to and from Grenada. Happily the same manuscript has been digitised. More happily still, it contains several references to Macintosh, most relating to the Fourays’ visit to Antigua.

Relation historique pour servir de journal au voyage de M. et Mme Fouray, de Nantes à La Grenade, et de leur retour à Nantes. Bibliothèque municipale de Nantes, ms 881, fo. 124.

On completing the purchase of the estate, Macintosh wrote to a number of friends (clearly in high spirits) to let them know that “I am commenc’d a Grenada Planter having made a very advantageous & easy purchase”. Far from suffering buyer’s remorse, Macintosh was convinced he had grabbed a bargain that would, in effect, pay for itself. Writing to one correspondent, Macintosh explained his vision thus:

I have deposited bills in the hands of a third person for 3333£ Stg to be deliverd [sic] on the 1st. of June next at 4, 6, & 8 months Sight on London, in equal proportion, & this Crop will I expect answer £1300 Stg. of which, the next payment of £1500 becomes due in London the 1st. November 1764, & 1st. January 1765, by equal halves & each Succeeding payment at equal periods untill [sic] January 1769, neither of which bear interest untill [sic] they become due; so that you may conceive each Crop will more than pay for each Successive payment

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to Michael White, 6 April 1763, fo. 25.

What particularly excited Macintosh was that the estate incorporated “the Town of Marque [i.e., Grand Marquis], which is expected to be made the Seat of trade…[and that] every House that can be built for the future therein must be built on this Land”. The subsequent history of Grand Marquis (it became St Andrew under British rule) did not quite live up to Macintosh’s expectations; the port of Grenville a few miles further north emerged as the main trading hub. The town itself has, however, been the subject recently of a fascinating blog post from the Heritage Research Group Caribbean.

Grand Marquis as it appears in Recueil de cartes et description topographique de lisle de la Grenade et dequelques petites isles des environs (1748), by Jean-Baptiste-Pierre le Romain. Bibliothèque nationale de France, IFN-53121713.

The longer history of Post Royal has been documented in great detail by UCL’s incredible Legacies of British Slave-ownership project.

100 not out

Today I have, somewhat to my surprise, reached my hundredth blog post. While there has never been any particular plan guiding my blogging (I tend to write whenever I find something that sparks my interest or curiosity ), I have found that these posts function usefully both as an aide-mémoire to the many aspects of Macintosh and his work I wish to explore in the planned book and as a first phase of analysis and interpretation. In most instances, therefore, these posts record interesting leads to be pursued further rather than definitive commentaries.

One such interesting lead presented itself today while I was consulting the digitised version of the archive of the Royal Geographical Society, to which I am fortunate to have temporary access for another purpose. Among the Society’s archives is a collection of letters and associated papers (RGS LMS M.39) written by the “soldier and adventurer” John Morrison to Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (then Lord Advocate), promoting his plans for an alliance with Persia.

Morrison, himself, is an interesting character. His life is summarised by one biographer in the following terms:

Soldier and adventurer in the second half of the 18th century: at first in the E. I. Co.’s service…In 1769 the idea came to him of re-establishing Sha Alam on his throne: about two years after resigned his post under the Company, 1771: about 1772 he entered Sha Alam’s service, and received from him the titles of “General and C. in C. of the Great Mogul’s forces,” and “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” to George III: went to England, empowered by the Great Mogul to lay before Government his proposal to invest the King of England with the absolute sovereignty of the Kingdom of Bengal, and the provinces of Bihar and Orissa, in exchange for a body of British troops to defend his throne at Delhi: to press home this scheme, Morrison wrote his Tract on The Advantages of an Alliance with the Great Mogul, published in 1774.

Dictionary of Indian Biography (1906), by C. E. Buckland, p. 300.

One of Morrison’s letters to Dundas, dated 27 October 1788, contains a number of supplementary papers in support of his plan for an alliance with Persia (Morrison notes that he has sent the same papers to the Marquess of Carmarthen [i.e., Francis Osborne, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs] and Lord Hawkesbury [i.e., Charles Jenkinson, President of the Board of Trade]). One of the enclosed papers is a very neat transcript of the forty-ninth letter from Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa which, as Morrison notes, concerns “the Trade carried on from India with the Arabian & Persian Gulphs”.

Enclosure in John Morrison to Henry Dundas, 27 October 1788. Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). LMS M.39.

This enclosure is interesting for two reasons: first, it offers additional evidence as to the readership of Macintosh’s book and the wider circulation of the ideas it contained; second, because it seems to indicate who the recipient of Macintosh’s forty-ninth letter actual was.

Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782), vol. 2, p. 135.

Although some of the recipients of Macintosh’s letters were clearly identified in Travels, many were either anonymised or disguised by means of dashes. It seems more than coincidental that Macintosh’s forty-ninth letter, addressed to “J—— M——”, was subsequently reproduced and circulated by John Morrison. Coincidence seems an even more remote possibility when one considers how similar the views of Macintosh and Morrison were with respect to a formal alliance with Shah Alam II. Indeed, in an earlier letter to J—— M—— (28 October 1779), Macintosh notes:

A partition of the sovereignty of Hindostan [sic], between Great Britain and the Emperor, and a firm alliance between these powers, would be attended with greatest advantages to both, and also with tranquillity to all the native princes of India. That the establishment of such a compact and alliance, would be productive of the greatest blessings to all these parties, will not, I imagine, admit of much dispute

Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782), vol. 1, p. 401.

What this post illustrates, I think, is the extent to which chance and serendipity play a part in my research. Under other circumstances I don’t think I would ever have known to look for Morrison’s correspondence, and certainly not at the Royal Geographical Society.

Retirement planning

A view of Charles-Town, the capital of South Carolina (1776). Library of Congress LC-DIG-pga-02794.
A view of Charles-Town, the capital of South Carolina (1776). Library of Congress LC-DIG-pga-02794.

Working through Macintosh’s correspondence reveals a number of concerns and preoccupations that offer an insight into his personality and worldview. One refrain to which Macintosh returned with increasing frequency during his time in the Caribbean was the climate, which he considered—in line with contemporary European thinking on the subject—deleterious to his physical and mental health. Over the years, Macintosh’s eye and heart were increasingly drawn not by a return to the temperate climes of Britain, but rather by North America, which he came to view with ever more certainty as the perfect environment—climatically and politically—where he might see out his days in retirement.

Something of this desire is captured in a letter Macintosh wrote to the Grenada planter Andrew Irwin, whose earlier communication from Charlestown had reignited Macintosh’s passion for the North American continent:

Your description of North America is too flattering, & bears so near a Conformity to my own partiality & favourable Ideas, as well of the Country & Climate, as of the Inhabitants, that my desires are raised to a pitch of enthusiasm & extravagance to see it for the Choice of a Spot whereon to pitch my tent; My own political tenets & the noble Strugles [sic] of the Americans conducted with propriety, Judgement & Moderation…[are such] that my motivation to finish my days in Britain, even in my favourite Devon Shire, has long ago Subsided; & I envy your happy Enjoyment now, so much, that I beg you will return, not more to attend to your Own Affairs, but partly to attend mine, while I may be regaining my Sensitive faculties as you have done, on a Soil boundless in extent, gratefull [sic] & fertile to the Husbandman, pleasing to the eye, entertaining to the Sportsman, and Joyous to the Companion; Whos [sic] Inhabitants are Just, generous & hospitable to the Stranger; and friendly to each other with all the Et Ceteras which Compose the Cardinal, and an innumerable Catalogue of inferior Virtues

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to Andrew Irwin, 1 February 1773, fo. [376].

While the American Revolutionary War, among other factors, ultimately put paid to Macintosh’s plan, he retained an interest in American politics, which eventually led to him corresponding with George Washington over the new nation’s political structure. The fact that Macintosh never quite found somewhere safe and permanent to pitch his tent was a source of frustration for him, but it rendered his life, in retrospect, all the more interesting to consider.

Macintosh without a “k”

With a name like mine, I am used to encountering all manner of misspellings and mispronunciations. When I started a part-time job working in Boots 25 years ago, I was given a name badge reading “Innes Keyman”, which I rather liked as a sort of pharmaceutical pseudonym.

I was, therefore, rather gratified to see that something similar happened to Macintosh on his appointment to the role of Comptroller of the Port of Grenville in Grenada in late 1772; rather than being listed on his appointment letter as “Macintosh”, his surname had been rendered as “Mackintosh”. Clearly perturbed, he lost no time in writing to William Senhouse, surveyor-general of Barbados and the Leeward Islands, to highlight the error:

It has happen’d that in the deputation the letter K, which I do not generally make use of in subscribing my name, has been inserted, & I should be glad if by any Application from me to you, & from your department to the Board of Comissrs: [that] I may be permitted to sign my name in my usual mode, when I act officially. I shall be much obliged to your Assistance in remedying the circumstance.

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to William Senhouse, [1772], fo. 347–348.

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.