Brissot and Thomson: a literary partnership?

To date, I have tended to refer to Jacques Pierre Brissot as the “translator” of the French edition of Macintosh’s book. As with all aspects of this project, the reality of the situation looks to be more complicated still: there is reason to suspect that the translation may have been undertaken by the Grub-Street hack William Thomson (who had earlier provided editorial assistance to Macintosh and Murray in the publication of the original English-language edition of the book). In his 1986 book, Commerce des lumieres: John Oswald and the British in Paris, 1790–93, David V. Erdman notes

A Thomson project of 1786, a translation into French (later said to be by Brissot) of Travels in Europe…first attributed to William Mackintosh, later to Thomson, may have benefited from some editorial help from [John] Oswald. Oswald’s own “Voyage to the East Indies in 1781, with some Account of the Manners, Customs, History, Religion, Philosophy, &c. of Hindostan,” announced in his British Mercury of 1787 (197) as “a Work intended for the Press,” apparently never got into it.

Erdman (1986), p. 36, n. 4.

Erdman (1986, p. 73) further claims that “he [Brissot] arranged with Thomson for the publication of several books and pamphlets he was writing, or translating, or editing—including the ‘Mackintosh’ Travels published by Thomson in 1786″. While it is clear that Macintosh’s book had been on Brissot’s radar for some time, since he wrote to the Société typographique de Neuchâtel on the subject as early as 1784, the working relationship he had with Thomson over the book is less obvious. In a letter dated 4 April 1786 to Charles Alexandre de Calonne, Brissot states simply that “Ja’i publié et fait publier différents ouvrages utiles pour la France
— Voyages de Makintosh [I have published and have had published various useful books for France — Makintosh’s Travels]”.

Extract of a letter from Brissot to de Calonne, 4 April 1786. Papiers du ministre ROLAND, NAF 9534, fol. 328v, Bibliothèque nationale de France.

It is clear that I have more digging to do in order to reveal fully how (and, indeed, whether) Brissot and Thomson worked together in shaping the French translation of Travels. As ever, the historical record serves to reveal the fact that texts were never the work of isolated individuals: they required many pairs of eyes and hands working in collaboration.

2 thoughts on “Brissot and Thomson: a literary partnership?

  1. Pingback: Further French readers | On the archival trail of William Macintosh

  2. Pingback: Following the footnotes | On the archival trail of William Macintosh

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