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The “Pope” of Holland House
Sir James Mackintosh to John Whishaw, 13 August 1811

Chapter I: 1813
Chapter II: 1814
Chapter III: 1815
Chapter IV: 1816
Chapter V: 1817
Chapter VI: 1818
Chapter VII: 1819
Chapter VIII: 1820
Chapter IX: 1821
Chapter X: 1822
Chapter XI: 1824-33
Chapter XII: 1833-35
Chapter XIII: 1806-40
Chapter XIV: Appendix
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Bombay, Aug. 13, 1811.

My dear Whishaw,—I have always considerable apprehension that my language may not be thought at a sufficient distance from hyperbole when I write to a person of your vigilant good sense. I need all the force of such a restraint to moderate the expression of my gratitude to you for your attention to Lady Mackintosh. As she went home for me such attention was the most delicate sort of kindness to me. To tell you the truth, I thought this sentiment joined to her merit would have procured more attention and from more people than it seems to have done. My obligation to you is so much the greater.

Your excellent letter in October would itself have been a sufficient reason for thanks. Your calm views of literature and politics are peculiarly adapted to satisfy a distant observer. Mere remoteness exempts
us from those passions which it requires all the soundness of your sense to escape. This country is a school of Toryism. The tendency of the system of government gives slavish principles and habits to men of naturally active understanding and high spirit whose character was destined for liberty.

Your letters are the only compositions which, though always at war with their prejudices, I have observed to compel their approbation if not their assent.

I should like to have had a précis of the discussion and intrigues occasioned by the Regency from such a pen as yours. Of the intrigues I, of course, know nothing. The general question of legal metaphysics seems to be shortly this—whether there be a right to be Regent by legal analogy in the next heir, or whether a right by necessity to create a Regent devolved on the remaining members of the supreme power? At first sight there seems to be some distinction. But it vanishes almost at the next glance, for it is admitted that the two houses were morally bound to nominate the next heir. If that duty had been imposed by his superior merit, it would only have amounted to a conscientious exercise of an elective right. But this is not pretended, they are bound to nominate the next heir as such; that is, they nominate him because there is a parity of expediency and an analogy of law between hereditary Regency and hereditary Monarchy. Then the question is, whether the analogy is so strong as to justify the decision of a court of law, or only so strong as to be a motive for an exercise of a discretionary power. But the partisans of the two Houses allow that their right can only be exerted in one way
From Sir James Mackintosh
in all ordinary cases, and the partisans of the heir admit that there are extraordinary cases in which he may be excluded from the Regency as well as from the Monarchy.

The question in this form and with these reciprocal admissions must be left to the decision of some legal Aquinas. Yet stript of all the exaggerations of passion and eloquence to this it seems to be reduced.

The project of limitations, the avowed existence of a Government without a King for three months, the strange discovery of Royal power exercised in his name without a power of consent, and the general suspicion that will now attend the King during his life, are all circumstances that will one day powerfully act against Monarchy. That day, indeed, we shall never see. Military despotism will be the prevalent system of our times.

But the time will come when this combination of circumstances, but especially the anecdotes of the state of George III. during Lord Eldon’s reign in 1804, will have a great effect in dispelling monarchical illusions. Hereditary Monarchy is an absurdity established to prevent inconvenience. As such I approve it and think it necessary in the present state of Europe. But the seat of the throne is in the imagination and feelings of men. These anecdotes are little spoken of at present, but the next time the current sets towards democracy they will be valuable materials for the Tom Paine of the day.

There are no facts in history that tend so palpably and personally to destroy all reverence for Royalty. When Kings are said to do without understanding,
nations will begin to think that they can do without Kings.
Lord Eldon and Perceval will thus obtain a name in history of which they have otherwise so little chance.

The Regency from which I anticipate these effects has retarded my return to England, and may do so for a few months longer.

If the Regency continue for any time either the Ministers must slide into the Prince’s confidence, or the pledge of such a publicly proclaimed distrust with the daily irritation of a forced intercourse, must widen the breach and render it utterly irreparable.

I should not think the former event impossible, but if the latter takes place it will throw the Prince more completely into the hands of the Opposition than any other combination of circumstances, and render them more certainly and permanently his Ministers on his accession than if they had been in power during the Regency. If I rightly recollect, the Princess Charlotte will be of age at eighteen. It will, therefore, be of considerable and perhaps lasting consequence whether the King lives for these three years in which time the Prince may die. The system of her reign may be decided by the hands into which she first falls.

I speculate pretty dispassionately on these contingencies. I see no chance that I shall be tempted to quit my own plans of studious retirement. My project is the history of Great Britain from the English Revolution of 1688 to the French Revolution of 1789. I hope that it may be contained in three quartos. The first from the Revolution to the Accession.1 It

1 Of George the First.

From Sir James Mackintosh
is a very great subject, the establishment of a free Government in England completed by the Accession and the security of the liberties of Europe imperfectly obtained by the Peace of Utrecht. When the character of
King William is delivered from misconception, and that of Lord Somers displayed in its proper lustre, these noble objects will appear to be pursued by able counsels at home and glorious undertakings abroad, with disappointment and vicissitude enough to exercise and prove the fortitude of the great statesmen and captains who are the heroes of this action. The second volume will extend from the Accession to the Treaty of Paris in 1763, and will represent the quiet and prosperous administration of that free Government closing with the brilliant war of Lord Chatham, and clouded just at the end by a second Peace of Utrecht. The third is a struggle between the principles of all established authority and the rising spirit of the age, terminated by all the preparations for the tremendous contest which occupied the next twenty years.

The histories of North America, of Ireland, and of British India are scarcely episodes. Such sketches of the great events of Continental history as an English reader requires appear indispensable to render the history of England interesting.

Whether I shall be able to combine the outline of events which alone remains in the memory of posterity with the occasional particularity which makes description interesting, how far I may succeed in weaving into one narrative the distant and dissimilar transactions of a modern State which the form of
annals throws into utter confusion, and above all whether I may catch any portion of the simplicity and majesty of the historical style, these are matters on which I cannot think without the greatest apprehension of failure. But it is almost presumptuous to express such fears, for what are they but apprehensions that I do not possess the historical genius, and shall not be placed among the few historians whose works will continue to be read by a distant age. Without these qualities of the highest class I may write a book that may serve for a time as the popular history, and after it ceases to be read by the public may be useful to the historian.

I have some advantages of a secondary kind. My understanding has been chiefly employed on speculating on history. The Government and general laws of England have been my principal study for twenty years. All the studies of my life have been preparations for such a work. All the fragments of my undertakings will be materials for it. An historian ought to mix active life with business. I have seen colonial establishments and the manners of nations the most dissimilar to those of Europe. My curiosity has been a little directed to the theory of land and sea war. I have reflected on commerce and revenue. I at least know enough of these subjects to abridge what the masters of each art have taught in such a manner as to be intelligible to the general reader, and more would be misplaced in history. I may apply the same observation to criticism on works of science, or literature, of which the appearance is in reality an historical event when they affect general opinion and
From Sir James Mackintosh
conduct, or even characterise general sentiment and display the condition of a people. I know a little of the manner in which foreigners regard English transactions, and I can avail myself of those materials of European history which are contained in the principal languages of Europe, and which have been unknown or neglected by former English writers.

These are some of my substitutes for historical genius. The plan will require the whole of my life. A situation which would add a little to my income and yet leave me some leisure would undoubtedly be most desirable.

But I expect nothing. I must live either near enough to London for access to books on which my demand will be immense, or in London, notwithstanding the expense, for the sake of my children’s education.

On the choice I should wish to be much guided by you.

I need not say how anxious I shall be to see the papers of Aston in my scene. The Marlborough or Spencer families or both must have most curious papers of the great Duke and of the two Sunderlands. I do not quite believe the common story of the perfidy of Sunderland the father. His character requires to be explained. Lord Hardwicke must still have unpublished paper, some, perhaps, of Lord Somers, but certainly many of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke. The collection of the Grenville family are unquestionably large. Would there be any possibility of access to that of Lord Chatham? Who has those of the Duke of Newcastle and Mr. Pelham? Have Lord Stanhope
Lord Harrington any? I dare not at present hint at any more modern.

It would be the greatest of all favours if you were to do what you can before I return towards ascertaining what papers exist and what might be accessible to me.

Besides my own plans I have little novelty to send you from India. In the eleventh volume of the “Asiatic Researches” the true source of the Ganges seems to be ascertained. Several hundred miles of an imaginary course are obliterated. I read the paper with pleasure, not only as ascertaining an important position, but as an additional blow to the credit of Hindoo legends and monks. Colebrooke,1 who is the Sanscrit Porson, is shortly going home and leaves the throne vacant. Leyden2 has a most unparalleled talent for classifying languages which I daresay he abuses. He has no minute, perhaps no accurate, knowledge of any language, for which some exact students charge him with imposture without considering that this minute knowledge would be an impediment to the success of his plan. He takes a glance at the general features of a language that he may class it according to its family likeness. Linnaeus did not study comparative anatomy like Cuvier or Home.3

1 Henry Thomas Colebrooke, 1765-1837, was the first great Sanscrit scholar in Europe. His essay on the “Vedas” was the first authentic amount of those ancient Scriptures.

2 John Leyden, 1775-1811, celebrated Eastern linguist, settled in Calcutta in 1806. Accompanied Lord Minto to Java as interpreter, and wrote grammars of and translations from Malay and many other languages. 3 Sir Everard Home.

From Sir James Mackintosh

Mr. Elphinstone (brother of Lord Elphinstone), now Resident at Poonah, has been employed on a mission to the King of Cabul which will add much to our knowledge of the globe and of mankind. He did not penetrate beyond Peishawer, but he collected much information. His survey extends with more or less accuracy from 24 to 40 N.L. and from 60 to 78 E.L., or, in other words, from the mouth of the Indus to the sources of the Jaxartes1 and from a line drawn along the western frontier of Chinese Toorkestaun and the eastern frontier of the Punjaub to Persian Khorassan and the desert separating Ballochistan and Segestan from Persia. He was attended by two uncommon men, Lieutenant Macartney, who constructed his map, and who to the manners of a wild Irishman adds a sagacity in conjecturing bearings and distances which Danville would have noticed with approbation, and Lieutenant Irving a Scotch “Feelowzoofer” who came to India to philosophise on manners, and who has drawn up a physical survey and philosophical statement of the characters of the tribes of this vast country to which I know nothing equal but Volney.2

Elphinstone3 will publish all this if the hyper-Chinese jealousy of the Court of Leadenhall Street does not strangle it. My friend and neighbour, General

1 Now known as the Sir-Daria.

2 Volney, Comte Constantin, 1757-1820—French scholar and traveller—author of “Recherches nouvelles sur l’histoire ancienne” and other works.

3 Mountstewart Elphinstone, 1779-1859—Indian administrator and traveller—author of “History of India,” and other works.

Malcolm, will also publish a very entertaining book on Persia, and fill up the chasm between Elphinstone and the Tigris. I do all I can to keep him from useless and fabulous nonsense, and as he is a very lively and acute man, I have no doubt of his success in painting manners and relating the untold part of Persian history. His materials for Persian geography, both from the actual survey of European officers and the innumerable routes of native travellers, far surpass anything before brought to Europe, at least since the time of Chardin.1

I take the liberty of enclosing a Bombay newspaper, which contains (what I hoped at the time would be) my farewell charge to my grand jury, in which you will see the result of a seven years’ administration without a capital punishment. I offer it as my small experiment. It proves that no immediate mischief has arisen, that the experiment may, therefore, with safety be more and more enlarged till at length it may afford some great result to be used in a better age.

You may use the charge in any manner you please. Perhaps the fact may interest Romilly, or may be thought worth publication in some magazine.

Remember me with great kindness and esteem to Scarlett and Lushington. I long very much to see you, and I am, my dear Whishaw,

Your most obliged and grateful Friend,
J. Mackintosh.