More on the library of Sir Robert Palk

Palk by Joshua Reynolds (c. 1761)
Palk by Joshua Reynolds (c. 1761)

I have written before about the identification of Sir Robert Palk as one of the owners of Macintosh’s Travels (Palk’s own copy of the book is now held by the Huntington Library in California). Travels was one of about 400 titles that formed Palk’s private library at Haldon House in Devon. I was contacted today by Iain Fraser, author of The Palk family of Haldon House and Torquay (2008), who was kind enough to pass along extracts of his book, detailing the collections (of art, objects, and books) that once existed at Haldon House. According to Fraser, Palk’s library contained, among much else, “books on Persian, European and British history, religions, philosophy, travel, poetry, heraldry, society, languages etc.” (p. 35).

Having now checked the Report on the Palk manuscripts in the possession of Mrs. Bannatyne, of Haldon, Devon (1922), I can see that Macintosh cropped up at least once in Palk’s own correspondence: in a letter from Abraham Welland, Palk’s nephew, sent from
Guttaul (now Ghatal) in India on 13 December 1785. In that letter, Welland writes

Our petition to the House of Commons against certain clauses of Mr. Pitt’s Act of Parliament [the 1784 India Act] will be ready to be sent home by the last ship of the season. A committee of fifteen gentlemen have been sitting for these six months past…The petition has been framed, and signed by most of the people here. Old [Joseph] Price, who wrote so virulently against Mr. Macintosh and Mr. Francis, has, under the feigned name of An Inhabitant of Calcutta, given every support in his power to the Bill. No person on its first arrival could say more against it than he did, and I am very certain that he was one of the party who at a drinking bout burnt it.

Welland to Palk, 13 December 1785. In Report on the Palk manuscripts, p. 377.

Welland’s letter offers an interesting insight into Price’s apparent hypocrisy on the issue of
Pitt’s India Act—a matter that will require further digging on my part. As chance would have it, a portrait of Palk by Joshua Reynolds will be shortly going under the hammer at Sotheby’s. The estimate? £20–30,000. A snip!

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