Getting to know Macintosh’s readers: James Cox (1751–1834)

William Macintosh’s 1782 text, Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa, passed through various editions (in London and Dublin) and was translated into French and German. As such, its readership was large and varied—encompassing British politicians, German humanists, French revolutionaries, and at least two American presidents (more on this later). To properly trace the influence and impact of Macintosh’s book means reconstructing his audience—identifying who read the book and what they made of it.

One method by which Macintosh’s audience can be recovered is by examining the surviving copies of his book for indications of provenance. First, though, it is necessary to identify where copies of the book exist. This is something I will be doing systematically when the project begins in earnest, but I have begun to assemble some information from the English Short-Title Catalogue (which has a partial list of holdings of English-language books published in or before 1800); the OCLC’s WorldCat union catalogue; and Copac. Having identified where copies of the book survive—in London, Dublin, Leipzig, or Paris editions—it is then possible to examine them for traces of ownership.

Bookplate of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Bookplate of James Cox in Dublin edition of Macintosh’s text. Library Company of Philadelphia, U Eur Maci 4510.D (Cox).

My former Royal Holloway colleague, David Lambert, is currently Barra Foundation International Fellow at the Library Company of Philadelphia and Historical Society of Pennsylvania and was kind enough to take a look at some of the surviving copies of Macintosh’s book in Philadelphia. The image above is taken from one of those at the Library Company of Philadelphia, and contains a bookplate which indicates the volume was purcahsed from the Philadelphia artist and book collector, James Cox (1751–1834). Cox was born in England, but spent most of his life in Philadelphia, where he offered occasional tutoring in painting and draftsmanship, but mainly indulged his passion for book collecting.

Cox was, clearly, a character—one obituary describes him as a “solitary being of extremely eccentric habits”. In addition to his books, Cox found company in a dog and a macaw, the latter animal remarkable for its “splendid plumage, its loquacity, and mischievous disposition”. Cox’s library consisted of some five thousand volumes and would have been one of the largest private collections in Philadelphia at that time. Cox’s books were stored in somewhat ramshackle conditions: “on shelves in double and treble rows, and covered with cobwebs and dust, while the floor was strewn with portfolios of drawings, scraps of music, broken instruments, hour-glasses, plaster casts, &c, with not a few evidences of the inroads of vermin of sundry descriptions”. Cox eventually donated his collection to the Library Company of Philadelphia, in return for an annual pension of $400. The bookplate in the image above was inserted into each book Cox donated. His copy of Remarks on a tour through the different countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa (the second Dublin edition was titled thus) was number 4,510.

Oil painting of James Cox

James Cox (1751–1834). Library Company of Philadelphia, OBJ 252.

This is all very interesting, of course, but it does not tell us a great deal yet about the impact and influence of Macintosh’s writing on Cox (if any). It does, however, offer us insight into the transnational flow of the different editions of Macintosh’s text. Most American readers of the book seem to have encountered it in the Dublin edition. Quite why this was, is a question I will be exploring. What can we say about Cox for now, other than that he clearly had a nose for a good book?

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