Educating Master Macintosh

Bill for the schooling of Master Macintosh.

Bill for the schooling of Master Macintosh (1772). Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2 E Titres de famille 83, “John Townson / 1768″.

Macintosh was, for much of their early lives, geographically remote from his children: a daughter and at least one son. Although Macintosh’s daughter survived to adulthood and was married, I know very little about his son (indeed, whether there was more than one). Master Macintosh (assuming there was only one) was not referred to in his father’s will, which indicates, sadly, that he was no longer alive at the point at which the will was drafted.

It is clear, however, that Macintosh cared very greatly about the education of his son and paid rather handsomely for it. Macintosh had placed his son under the “tender & conscientious care & guardianship of men of virtue, friendship, & liberality of sentiment” in Britain, in the hope that Master Macintosh might have a stable upbringing and an effective education. Macintosh set out (in a letter to his son from Madras in 1779) his views as to a correct education for a child of his station. They are worth quoting at length:

A knowledge of the Latin is indispensably necessary to give you a true idea of your nature tongue, besides that it is a language universally understood in Europe, although not practiced in conversation. If you were younger (than 11 years) I would wish you to know the rudiments of Greek, because many scientific terms & words of our own language are derived from it; but I despair at this. Every gentleman ought to understand orthography, unexceptionally. To {indecipherable} & distinctly. All the common rules of arithmetic. Book-keeping as practiced by merchants, with double entry. The principles of mathematics. Geography. A just idea of astronomy. The principles of laws. And ancient and modern histories. Indeed, a man of business, cannot be competent without them; otherwise, buy acting without, any fixed principle, he will be continually exposed to errors & impositions, & success can only be the effect of chance. And without them a man in public station, while each successive measure betrays ignorance which will justly expose him to ridicule & contempt, may be misled in that degree that, the security, or at least the prosperity, of the stake may be sapped & endangered. Dancing & fencing are not only graceful, but useful accomplishments; the one enables a man to be at his ease in company, & the other may secure him from insults. Riding, according to rule, has its utility & gracefulness also. It is not possible to convey all the advantages resulting from these qualifications, through the several stages of life, in the circumscribed compass of a letter. I deliver you the texts, & leave the expositions to friends, & to your own heart. Let the latter be your universal monitor.

Macintosh’s habit of keeping detailed financial accounts, as well as invoices and receipts, means that we have some sense about what it cost to educate Master Macintosh. A bill dated July 1772 (above) sets out the principal costs associated with Master Macintosh’s schooling. These included:

  • “6 Months board and Instruction” at £10;
  • “Board in the Christmas Vacation” at £1 12s.;
  • “a Hatt [sic]” at 2s. 9d.;
  • “Cutting of Hair & Cleaning of Shoes” at 2s.;
  • and “a Spelling Book” at 10d.

Instruction, and the necessities of life, amounted to £15 14s. 6d. for six months.

Macintosh’s concern for his son, and for his education, is evident and touching. His letter from Madras (which runs to more than twenty pages and offers his son a series of life lessons) is both fascinating and deeply moving. My principal task for the summer will be to recommence the systematic transcription of the archival material I was able to photograph in Avignon in 2012, paying particular attention, in the first instance, to the materials relating to Macintosh’s time in the Caribbean.

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  1. Pingback: Macintosh’s reading list | On the archival trail of William Macintosh

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