Reflections on a week at the coalface

Palais des Papes at sunset.

Palais des Papes at sunset.

After a busy week of archival and library research I have made good headway in understanding and reconstructing Macintosh’s lost library. Of its c. 70 titles, I have physically inspected around a third (often spanning multiple volumes) and have transcribed about three quarters of the inventory of seized books. The staff at the bibliothèque municipale have been very supportive and encouraging and are keen to explore the possibilities of incorporating my findings into their catalogue or otherwise making Macintosh’s library more visible and accessible.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery this week was the letterbook of Macintosh’s outgoing correspondence that is now housed in the bibliothèque municipale. On this occasion I haven’t had the opportunity to do more than skim (and photograph) the letterbook; it’s large (490 pages) and contains somewhere in the region of 300 letters. The task of reading and distilling those will have to wait for another time.

In some respects, much of the content of Macintosh’s library is unsurprising; there are a range of books relating to India and America, several addressing the trial of Warren Hastings, and a number exploring the topic of revolution. Perhaps more surprising is the almost total absence of travel texts; Vonley’s Voyage en Syrie et en Égypte (1787) being the only example of that genre. Rather more abundant are dictionaries and grammars relating to the Italian language (one of which books Macintosh acquired in Rome in 1790). Quite what he was doing in Rome, and why he appeared to be learning Italian (something that I should be doing at the moment), are, as yet, mysteries.

So, this week has been a real step forward. There is, of course, a huge amount still to do (I’m hoping to come back for a week in October), but I am beginning to feel that I have at least seen where the limits of the primary material lie.

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