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).

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