Getting to know Macintosh’s French readers

The lure of Macintosh’s archival trail is sometimes irresistible. Although my research energies have been focused largely on completing a co-authored monograph on the history of Macintosh’s publisher, John Murray, the urge to pick up Macintosh’s trail (if only briefly) is hard to ignore.

A translation of Macintosh’s book by Jacques Pierre Brissot was published in Paris in 1786 under the title Voyages en Europe, en Asie et en Afrique. Reconstructing the audience for Macintosh’s book in its French-language guise (heavily edited by Brissot and supplemented by two contemporary travel accounts) is among my aims. The Bibliothèque nationale de France’s digital library, Gallica, is helping in this respect, not least by pointing to the library catalogues of various French philosophers, travellers, and statesmen who possessed a copy of the text. Among their number are:

Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach (1723–1789)

Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach (1723–1789).

Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach (1723–1789) who, it might be assumed, read Macintosh’s reflections on the government of British India in light of his views on ethics and the state: ethocracy.

Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville (1729–1811)

Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville (1729–1811)

Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville (1729–1811), naval commander, circumnavigator, and veteran of the American War of Independence may well have seen parallels between his own travels—described in Voyage autour du monde (1771)—and those of Macintosh (although each dealt with the concept of the “noble savage” in different ways).

Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (1721–1794)

Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (1721–1794)

Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (1721–1794), statesman, botanist, and victim of the guillotine read Macintosh, we might suppose, for his reflections on judicial and governmental matters as much as for his relation of geographical curiosities.

Proving ownership of a text is not, of course, straightforwardly proof of its reading, not is it alone any indication of how the text was read. Such information, should it exist, is likely to be hidden from easy view among letters and diaries. At times like this, I wish my French were better than it is!

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