In many ways writing a book with a biographical focus should be easy: you simply follow an individual from birth to death and write about what comes in between; the structure being dictated by the inevitable forward progression of time. In reality, of course, it is much more difficult than that—it is necessary to identify the narrative threads and conceptual arguments that run across the book and the life, to identify the events that best exemplify those arguments and provide those threads, and to think about each chapter as a step in developing the book’s wider intellectual contribution. The task is complicated further when, as in the case of Macintosh, you don’t know for sure—until you begin the iterative process of researching and writing—where following a life will take you next. For all of those reasons, I never quite felt ready to write a book proposal. While it is normal (and perhaps best) practice to write the proposal before writing the book, or very much of the book, I was reluctant to do so when so much was still unknown and felt uncertain as a result. Nevertheless, as a result of the gentle and encouraging prompting of my prospective editor and of a colleague during my annual review, I finally bit the bullet and put together the proposal.
The act of writing a proposal is the act of making (and defending) decisions about content, structure, and focus. Persuading others about a book’s purpose, contribution, and value is, in many respects, a helpful way of boosting one’s own confidence about a book and it has certainly given me a greater sense of the role I would like to see this one play. At the same time, making solid plans about the organisation of a book—in terms of structure and production timeline—is also a useful disciplining mechanism; it imposes a deadline and a clear set of parameters within which to keep the book focussed. I won’t pretend it was an easy proposal to write (it wasn’t), but I am glad to have done it. I am even more pleased that the proposal was positively received by McGill-Queen’s University Press, who are kindly in the process of drawing up an advance contract.
The proposal locks in (more or less) an eight-chapter structure: six empirical chapters plus the (still fairly empirical) introduction and conclusion. At the moment, I have written two and a half of those (rather long) empirical chapters and will aim to write one and a half more during the remainder of my fellowship. Mindful that my writing will inevitably slow when I return to normal duties in January, I have proposed a September 2023 deadline (with two empirical chapters to be written in 2022 and the introduction and conclusion in 2023). This is, I remind myself several times a day, a marathon and not a sprint.
Although I am still deeply immersed in the Caribbean phase of Macintosh’s life, and will be so until I finish the chapter I am currently working on, I cannot resist the temptation to skip forward to glance at some of the material I will be dealing with later in the project, particularly that relating to the French Revolution and to Macintosh’s counter-revolutionary activities.
Macintosh’s writing on the Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars, for example, makes great play of his earlier on-the-ground experience in Italy and his knowledge of Italian politics. His opinions were, he told one correspondent in May 1796, “founded in a local knowledge, & studied observations on the principles of the people, in general, in the different States of Italy”. In 1790, when in Rome, Macintosh had shared his political analysis with Francesco Saverio de Zelada, the Pope’s Cardinal Secretary of State. On that occasion, Macintosh had warned de Zelada that Leopold II and Ferdinand IV were planning to “seize and annex the church territories in Italy”. “If the Court of Rome did not speedily change the mode, & soften the rigors of Government,” he told de Zelda, “the combustible matters were ready prepared to receive the matches, and that the public mind throughout his Holinesses [sic] dominions, was disposed to receive the Law from other Sovereigns, more tender & just towards the property & industry of their Subjects”.
By 1796, Macintosh’s assessment was that the annexation plan had been “hushed by the urgency of stemming the revolution in france [sic]”, and by Leopold II’s death in 1792; he nevertheless retained a deep suspicion of the government in Vienna, believing that it was advancing “an obstinate, systematic plan of secret-ambition”. In this respect, Macintosh subscribed to what was then emerging as a commonplace conspiracy theory: that the continent’s governments were “under the direction, & profound Machinations of a Select-Committee of Illumine’s [sic]”. Macintosh had written to London on this subject—the influence of the Illuminati—in 1794, but I have not yet located that report. As ever, there is a lot more digging still to do!
Although working out exactly where Macintosh lived in the countryside outside of Avignon in the 1780s is not, in any fundamental sense, vital to my research, it is a puzzle that I have found difficult to resist. Much of the impetus behind my desire to know where he was living comes from the fact that so much of his correspondence during this period was concerned with the house and with a long-running dispute with his landlords (the Messieurs Monery, father and son) over its quality and state of repair.
Thanks to Macintosh’s plans of the building, such as the one above, I have a fairly good sense of what it looked like, but where, precisely, it was has always been something of a mystery. Macintosh’s letters from the period are generally addressed to and from “Chateau Brun”, which I had taken to be the name of the building, but in one document it is referred to as “Mas des Cannes”. A clue in a twentieth-century cadastral register indicates, however, that Chateau Brun was a neighbourhood or place name—a quartier or lieux—in the district of Montfavet and that the farmhouse itself was called Mas des Cannes.
Although it appears that the farmhouse was razed during the twentieth century, I am fairly confident that it is represented as no. 110 on the 1819 plan, which would place it at what is now the intersection of Rue des Peupliers and Chemin du Cèdre in Montfavet, a little less than six kilometres as the crow files from Macintosh’s townhouse in Avignon. It is another piece of the puzzle, and by such pieces the picture takes shape.
Although I find it difficult to believe, I have now completed 10 months of my Leverhulme Research Fellowship. For all that those 10 months have been disrupted by home schooling, archive and library closures, and the general restrictions of lockdown, they have, nevertheless, been totally transformative for my work on Macintosh. Being able, as I have, to devote all or part of 202 working days to the task—including 79 spent writing—has been the greatest privilege. I now have about 66,000 words of the book (including notes) and a greater sense of confidence that it will be possible, one day, actually to complete it.
During June I was able to begin work on the book’s third empirical chapter (of six or seven; we’ll see how it goes), which deals with Macintosh’s final years in the Caribbean and his unexpected transition from planter to world traveller. This was a period of rapid ascendancy for Macintosh, which began in 1770 with the negotiation of a loan from the Dutch bank Hope & Co. and the purchase of plantations in Tobago and Dominica, but also of precipitous decline, largely as a consequence of the aftereffects of the 1772 financial crisis, which had been precipitated by Macintosh’s friend and trustee of his Dutch mortgage, Alexander Fordyce. This is also the period during which Macintosh met Olaudah Equiano and during which he reflected about the differential status of free and enslaved black bodies. It was also the period of his final efforts to challenge the political status quo in Grenada and to unseat Robert Melvill from his role as Governor. I have found Macintosh’s time in the Caribbean endlessly fascinating, and I will be sad to leave it behind when I finish this chapter, but, equally, I am keen to move the narrative along and to follow Macintosh to India.
This month, Jaz Bigden (aka Team Macintosh 4.0) completed his master’s placement with me, having compiled two very useful indices of Macintosh’s letterbooks. Since the first of these letterbooks is not in strict chronological order, having an index is extremely useful in following the threads and sequence of correspondence. If Macintosh’s letters are ever digitised, these indices will also prove extremely helpful as an organisational framework. Elsewhere in the Macintosh Expanded Universe, my dad (aka Team Macintosh 3.0) has kindly continued his beyond-the-call-of-duty transcription efforts, in attending to material from the British Library relating to Macintosh’s counterrevolutionary activities in the 1790s.
June also saw the publication—in The Library: The Transactions of the Bibliographical Society—of my catalogue of Macintosh’s private library. This was, in lots of ways, a labour of love and I’m delighted to see it out in the world.
Although (or perhaps because) I am still deeply immersed in writing about Macintosh’s experiences in the Caribbean during the 1770s, I cannot resist looking forward to the material that lies ahead. My recent visits to the British Library have allowed me to begin filling in the fascinating details of Macintosh’s counterrevolutionary activities in Switzerland and the levels of secrecy that were required in order to communicate transnationally during the French Revolution.
Alongside the use of sympathetic ink, Macintosh recommended in a memorandum to Charles Jenkinson, then President of the Board of Trade, that a common cypher (above) be used to facilitate safe communication and “to secure agents against surprise”. This period in Macintosh’s life—mysterious by design—is one that I am very much looking forward to tackling and untangling.
For a number of years I have been in discussion with a kind and encouraging editor at a university press over my planned book. His patience has been exceeded only by my slowness in formalising my ideas in a book proposal. In this respect, I have been approaching things in a rather back-to-front way; my previous practice—such as it is—has always been to tackle the proposal first before starting to write the book itself (or, at least, before having written very much of it). My slowness—or, more properly, my reluctance in this case—stems from three concerns: first, my uncertainty over the likely length of the final book and its number of chapters; second, the difficulty I have in estimating how long the book will actually take me to finish; and third, my seeming inability to identify a title for the book that I am happy with.
While I have a well-developed sense of the book’s overall structure in terms of chronology, key episodes, and themes, the fact that I am researching as I write, means that, quite naturally, I find the book’s focus shifting and its scope expanding. Where my previous books have been driven by their conceptual arguments, this book is somewhat different. It is driven, at the same time, by an act of archival recovery and an attempt to tell a particular story of empire and politics in the second half of the eighteen century through the perspective of one individual’s life. That Macintosh’s life was so varied, in terms both of historical incident and geographical experience, is what makes his story so compelling. At the same time, it is also what makes it challenging to decide how the facts of his life should be connected so as to make more than an anecdotal/empirical contribution.
While the academic “so what?” of studying Macintosh is, in some senses, easily answered in terms of what it reveals about the making and mobility of ideas of empire, about authority and influence over political decision making, about the transnational circulation of ideas, and the mechanisms and consequences of forgetting, identifying one of those as the most significant—and the one on which to hang the book’s wider conceptual contribution—is more challenging.
That Macintosh’s trajectory through life connected the geographically disparate locations of the Highlands of Scotland in the shadow of the Jacobite rising, the colonial Caribbean in the decades around the Seven Years’ War, the Early American Republic, British India, France on the eve of Revolution, counterrevolutionary Switzerland, and late-Enlightenment Saxony makes it possible to tell a comparatively transnational story of the eighteenth century, but it does also make it difficult to know how best to pitch the book—in terms of its title—in such a way as to advertise its relevance to area/period specialists. How will scholars working in these areas know that the book has something to say to them?
Almost six years ago, I thought I had hit on the right title, The forgotten radical: William Macintosh and the transnational circulation of seditious print in the Age of Revolution, but I no longer think that does quite the right job, partly because the term “Forgotten Radical” has since then been used for a collection of Peter Maurin’s essays, partly because I have come to see that Macintosh actually vacillated between radical and conformist political stances, and partly because the focus of the book has moved to encompass more than just Macintosh’s book and its reception.
While Macintosh’s historiographical anonymity is a rationale for my project, it also presents a problem: because he has no name recognition, the book’s title must do something to indicate to the prospective reader who he was and/or why he mattered. Who Macintosh was varied, of course, considerably across his lifetime; he was variously a merchant, planter, traveller, author, political commentator, counterrevolutionary agitator, spy, prisoner, émigré, and forgotten historical actor. Which of these lives best captures his interest and relevance? Macintosh’s plurality makes it difficult to decide.
These questions could, of course, continue to swirl around my mind indefinitely, but I have committed to submitting a book proposal by the middle of September, so I will keep my fingers crossed that inspiration strikes soon.
I have been fortunate to be able take advantage of the short window of time between the relaxing of lockdown regulations and the apparent arrival of the pandemic’s third wave in the UK to return home to Scotland. In addition to undertaking archival work at the National Library and the National Records of Scotland, where I was tracking down references to Macintosh’s father in the papers of the Sutherland estate, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the garden of Deirdre Grieve, William Macintosh’s great, great, great, great grandniece, whom I met first in 2014. Along with her son, Dorian, Deirdre has been an enthusiastic source of support and genealogical information since I began this project, and it was a real pleasure to bring her up to date on my work. Having spent so much time working on Macintosh in comparative isolation, being able to talk through my ideas and findings was a real confidence boost and a reminder of the fact that I am writing for a real audience (of at least two).
In the course of our chat, I was reminded that Deirdre’s own copy of Macintosh’s book contains a rather amusing marginal comment—”Blockhead”—which was clearly prompted by Macintosh’s discussion of the possibility that the earth might contain vast subsurface oceans, replete with “huge and stupendous” animals, à la Jules Verne.
The easing of lockdown restrictions in April and May has allowed me to tick off some long-overdue archival work at the British Library, the National Archives, and at the National Library of Scotland. Over a series of sessions at the BL, in particular, I have worked through a range of material from the 1770s, 1780s, and 1790s concerning Macintosh’s time, respectively, in Grenada, India, and Switzerland. These sessions have thrown up lots of interesting material that will help fuel the next few months of writing.
Although archival work has taken priority this month, I have finally manage to finish a first draft of the book’s second empirical chapter, which covers the period (roughly from 1768 to 1770) when the centre of the debate over the governance of Grenada shifted from the island itself to London and sparked a pamphlet war, much of which was coordinated by Thomas Hollis. This is also the period during which Macintosh brought legal proceedings against Richard Burke over the disputed 4 ½ percent duty on Grenada’s exports and when Alexander Johnstone’s complaints against Robert Melvill were heard by the Privy Council (a hearing during which Macintosh should have served as a star witness, but didn’t). This was a complicated chapter and it has taken many months of reading and research to figure out the basic details of what actually happened, who did what, and what effects those actions had. I am, in the end, quite happy with the way the chapter has shaped up and think it offers some genuinely new insights, particularly with respect to Thomas Hollis’s role in coordinating the anti-Catholic lobby over Grenada’s governance.
One of the real highlights of this month has been reading others’ contributions on Macintosh. Emily Hayes, on the basis of some translation work she undertook on my behalf in April, wrote three fascinating guest blog posts this month. Inspired by her engagement with Macintosh’s domestic ephemera from 1780s and 1790s Provence, Emily has written wonderfully on the themes of identity, food and consumption, and transnationality. Elsewhere, Emma Rothschild has uncovered, from her own archival investigations, a particular moment of Macintosh’s Caribbean experience of which I was totally unaware. Rothschild’s work, of which I am a huge admirer, casts a long shadow over my investigation of Macintosh and it was a real thrill to read her contribution.
Looking ahead to June, I am planning to wrap up archival work at the National Records of Scotland and the British Library before moving on to tackle the book’s third empirical chapter, which will finally follow Macintosh from the Caribbean to India.
Unlike Innes, I do not know William Macintosh intimately. Because of this, I have asked myself whether the French word rastaquouère fitted Macintosh. The term, possibly of South American origin, as Marina Warner shows, designates a flashy, or somewhat dubiously engaged, foreigner. Yet this word tells us more about the perceptions of the beholder and which are projected onto the beholden.
Certain forms of historical source are deemed to be more insightful into aspects of a life than others. Much of the Macintosh archive records its author’s own attentiveness to his material surroundings. Amidst bills for building works, foods and wine, a few words in English stand out in a letter dated 1785 about his ‘knowledge of mankind in all the stages of society, from the most savage state of nature to the highest state of civilization’, casting sudden, and what is to me a very alien, light on his outlook on to the world.
Resolving the familiar and the distant is the paradox of historical geography. Why Macintosh settled in Provence is currently unknown. The Avignon archive positions him within a network of other British and foreign expatriates in the region; people in Marseille who kept tabs on the travellers putting into Marseille to wait for favourable weather, coming and going by ship, on their ways east, north or west. Macintosh therefore exemplifies a greater historical geographical phenomenon: of people, some expatriates who, at different speeds, transited this region.
Provence has been a refuge for restless cosmopolitans for centuries. Global lives that were precluded from going home, some of their volition, others in exile or idealists and visionaries seeking an alternative home. Theirs were lives that were neither here, nor there. In reflecting upon such experiences of displacement, this last post brings together several figures connected to the region and adjacent ones.
How can historians ever imagine to have a handle on past lives, when even the people closest to us, and even our own changeable motivations, are so difficult to fathom? As a child, I puzzled over my parents’ new fascination with Robert Louis Stevenson’sTravels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1789). Today, Stevenson’s account of his journey on foot with his equine companion, Modestine, and dealings with locals, across a region just north west of Avignon, delights. In his own words, Stevenson was just “a traveller, hurrying by like a person from another planet” (p. 27). However, a number of other Scottish expatriates established longer, and more intimate, local connections.
“…both wise and fools / Wrote books, heady as wines!” A line from a poem by the Scottish natural scientist, sociologist, town planner and educationalist, Patrick Geddes which recalls Macintosh’s own inclinations. Geddes has repeatedly cropped up in my research and his resonance on turn-of-the-twentieth-century British Geography was far more pervasive than has hitherto been discerned. An international phenomenon towards whom my own inquiries have all too slowly inched, Geddes’ is a light that draws. He is best known for designing the ingenious Outlook Tower in Edinburgh. In 1924, in Montpellier—in what is now the region of Occitanie to the south west of Avignon—and building on centuries old Franco-Scottish camaraderie and transnational cooperation (established in opposition to England and the English), Geddes founded the Collège des Écossais (the Scots College). On one of the buildings there, as well as at Edinburgh’s Riddles Court, the inscription Vivendo discimus, “By living, we learn”, can be found.
The renovations and purchases of furnishings detailed in Macintosh’s papers show the extent to which he made a home for himself and his household employees in Provence. Such attentiveness to surroundings and to practicalities as well as comfort, suggests long-term settlement. But whilst Macintosh’s material life can be gleaned, the workings of his mind and motivations remain elusive. In contrast, just north of Avignon, in the Vaucluse département, Glasgow-born Kenneth White also attempted to renovate a dilapidated residence. Letters from Gourgounel (1966), named after his half-ruined property, is as much about an encounter as with place as a journey within. An interdisciplinary thinker and proponent of the terms géopoétiques and intellectual nomadism, it is France and French thought, rather than, the UK or Anglophone literature, that has allocated White a place. Macintosh’s days in Province ended as the French Revolution took effect in the region and he went into exile, first in Switzerland and then in Germany. For the fortunate, the habit and means of travel can imbue the freedom of physical as much as intellectual movement. The multiple marriages and career of Elizabeth von Arnim, an Australian-born proto-feminist crossed both the British and German Empires. Von Armin’s disregard for the restrictions of convention is pervasive throughout her now Virago-published novels, Elizabeth and Her German Garden(1898), The Caravaners(1909), and All The Dogs of My Life(1936). The latter, especially, captures her sojourn in Mougins, the oscillations of her heart and the vicissitudes of turn-of-the-century women’s transnational lives with vim and bite.
The gastronomic and oenophile tastes of Macintosh would have delighted another local transnational, the German-born writer and food and wine amateur, Sybille Bedford. After a childhood shuttling across Europe, the most physically, if not emotionally, settled periods of her teenage years were in Sanary-sur-Mer, a small port south east of Avignon on the Mediterranean coast. To the extent that she could be, she was anchored there. Her Italian stepfather set up an interior design company servicing the needs of a community of expatriates and second home owners. Aldous Huxley became a father figure to her. As World War Two turned from prospect to actuality, the region harboured a wave of immigrants from Germany and central Europe, including dissident authors such as Thomas Mann. With her Jewish ancestry, Bedford too became a refugee forced to relocate to the US. A Compass Error (1968), and other semi-autobiographical narratives about her family and social circles, shows that open-mindedness and multiculturalism are not necessarily tethered. For all her cosmopolitanism, her intellectual immersion, her non-conforming loves, she expressed what today registers as an all too pedestrian snobbery.
Nature morte is French for the English “still life”. Each term suggests quite different processes. Whichever way you read it, the former’s emphasis on death is morbid, whilst the latter conveys a sense of contemplation of a mystery. As historical geographers, we image and contour the proportions of phenomena human and non-human. We fathom, reckon and triangulate off coordinates that we think that we know, our need for certainty side-lining the weakness of resolution of our approximate and provisional quality of understanding to which artists and art historians are more acutely sensitised. In researching, we travel, explore and investigate so as to capture what can only ever be a spatially and temporally particular view of the variegated lights of past lives, including our own.
The lives of Macintosh and the latter-day transnationals (and including Jonathan Meades who, though not discussed here, shares with Macintosh and the others interests in architecture and food) were not still. Yet still they mystify and give life.
Cosmopolitan drift was often as much topographical as it was social. If you have lived abroad you will know that, as an expatriate, hierarchies of class, wealth, status and profession are shaken up. Abroad, one might become a big fish in a small pond, the opposite of the position occupied in one’s notional homeland. Macintosh’s papers show that his acquaintances crossed through the social spectrum of locals and a community of aristocratic circles. The transcending of the hierarchies of class and status, and other projected categories, was afforded to these, ultimately, everyday figures who are no more or less interesting, or significant, than any others. Fusion and confusion as they attempted to integrate and account for the shifting sums of their being, and accrual of experiences, across sliding scales of time and space, was their lot.
The social constituency (my thanks to Simon Naylor for teaching me that term) of travellers, as the Belgium-born and later French naturalised anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss knew, was only distinguished by degrees of temporal and spatial exposure, from that of explorers and, by extension, ethnographers and expatriates. Aspects of the aforementioned figures evidence that neither lifestyle (whether imposed or chosen) dictates or guarantees anything much in particular. Neither humanity, nor humility, nor open-mindedness, nor local or global concerns are automatically derived from transnationalism, nor from any other form of inherited, imposed or self-ascribed identity, or given place, education, politics or profession. And conversely, neither does staying, nor rootedness engender kindness, empathy or the investment in a locale. We choose how we perceive, think, and act in, the world and are educated and enculturated into doing so. This is not yet a global privilege or right. The precise impact of Provence and the extent of Macintosh’s inward travel there are, as yet, undiscerned. Although places, composed of people, draw us as much as we draw them, the lights that we bring transform the quality, scale and colour of our perceptions and the accents placed in our attempts to portray them. Through different materials we journey, explore, investigate and, depending on how you define home, locate and expatriate, ourselves and others. The motions of the inner compasses that guide and measure puzzle. If referents are not common then everything becomes historical geography.
William Macintosh had a restless mind and a restless pen, and the networks within which his letters and ideas circulated were large and complex. For those reasons I was always slightly surprised that I had not been able to find any evidence that he corresponded with Joseph Banks, who was, in many ways, right at the centre of late-Enlightenment networks of epistolary exchange. It seemed almost inconceivable, given the flow of letters across Banks’s desk, and Macintosh’s penchant for firing off letters to the great and the good, that there was not at least one from Macintosh. There was, of course; I had just failed to spot it.
Yesterday I noticed that the Royal Society holds a 1782 letter from Macintosh to Banks, in which he submitted to the Society’s attention a model of a rope pump. According to the letter, the machine had been shown to Macintosh in Paris the previous winter by its inventor, a man “in poor circumstances”. Macintosh claimed to have encouraged the inventor to send a model of the machine to Britain, “where the ingenuity of an alien would meet with encouragement and reward”, but not having done so, Macintosh felt himself “justified in having the model made and improving upon it”.
This letter immediately explains the presence in Macintosh’s archive of a set of calculations (above) describing the “Quantity of Water raised by the Rope-pump as improved by Mackintosh [sic]”. For years I have wondered about that document—why it was there, what it related to—and the letter to Banks finally offers an explanation. I look forward to reading the letter in full when the Royal Society’s library reopens, but, for now, I can tick off one of the thousand-or-so outstanding questions I have about Macintosh, his world, and its traces.