deaths at the hands of the state. Among them was Bell, who eventually became a Protestant and thus ‘proved’ his old opponents correct in their claim that compromise was corrupting.
Peter Lake and Michael Questier argue that Clitherow refused to plead in order to deny the authorities a propaganda victory over defiant Catholics, and so as not to exacerbate Catholic divisions. She succeeded in the former
KIRKCALDY TO CALCUTTA
THE INNER LIFE OF EMPIRES: AN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY HISTORY
By Emma Rothschild (Princeton University Press 483pp £24.95)
I WANT TO like this book. Emma Rothschild has found a potentially wonderful subject, and the amount of digging she has done in different archives in Scotland, England, France and the United States, even as far as Hawaii, is impressive. Her starting point was earlier research she had done on Adam Smith for a book about the Enlightenment, and Smith is an intermittent but presiding figure in this one. Investigating a parliamentary election in Smith’s home town of Kirkcaldy, she came across a man named John Johnstone and, through him, unearthed the letter-book of one of his elder brothers, James. This trail led to eleven Johnstone siblings, born in Lowland Scotland in the 1720s and 1730s into a family of lawyers and factors with a ramshackle country seat but no money to support a landed lifestyle. Their energy and ambition were typical in that era of burgeoning trade and empire. The Johnstones made their way in Edinburgh, in London, in the East and West Indies, in the plantations of Virginia, in military and naval service, in speculation and in politics. Spouses, in-laws and long-standing family associates (sometimes the same people) swelled their numbers, as did children (legitimate or otherwise). It is the copious correspondence of this band, their reports to various company and state departments, their wills, annuities, bonds, mortgages and marriage settlements, their representations and protests to those in higher office, their own pronouncements in Parliament (three of them were eventually MPs), other people’s pronouncements on them, their subterfuges and alliances, and their epitaphs, that form the basis for this study of the times in which they lived.
It ought to be fascinating, and, incidentally, much of it is. William, the eldest of the brothers and a fr iend in youth of Adam Smith, sought his fortune on the far side of the Atlantic, where he eventually acquired a huge amount of property, married an heiress and ended as one but not the latter. This is an uncompromising book on an uncompromising woman, with little effort to dress up new, deeply researched arguments in the guise of a popular biography. But it seethes with passion: that of the men and women who killed and were killed, and of the authors in unearthing the murky realities behind the life and death of a Catholic icon. To order this book for £15.99, see LR bookshop on page 12
of the richest men in England (and a firm supporter of slavery). John joined the East India Company in the days when those who spent years in the subcontinent became deeply ‘Indianised’; he became a sworn enemy of Clive and his attempted reforms, and applied for the job that was eventually given to Warren Hastings. However, he ended his life back in England as an opponent of slavery. Two more brothers followed him eastwards; we learn, almost in passing, that one died at the age of eighteen in the Black Hole of Calcutta.
It is clear that Rothschild does not regard this fact as particularly significant in the context of the themes that interest her – the development of trade and empire, consumer goods, economic theory, political institutions, ideas of freedom, medical science and mineralogy, the spread of information and literature, the philosophy of David Hume (who was another associate of the family): in short, everything commonly summed up by the term ‘the Enlightenment’. The Johnstone brothers were not intellectuals, but this was the ambience in which they lived, and their sisters at home were included in it too. These independent-minded women variously went in for divorce, strong Jacobite sympathies and a ferocious quarrel with Mother about the ownership of a parcel of India textiles.
Slavery was the most contentious topic of the period, and the author reverts repeatedly to the story of Bell or Belinda, who was brought by John and his wife from Bengal to Scotland and later indicted there for drowning her newborn baby. The court case provoked a law-changing debate as to whether Bell was really a slave and whether, in the United Kingdom, she was still her master’s property; it is also unclear whether or not the baby was stillborn and if putting its body in the r iver might simply have been a Hindu practice. All this is interesting – but instead of telling the tale once, fully, the author’s chosen method of writing means that she has scissored it up into many d i f f erent, repetitive par t s under headings such a s ‘Experiences of Empire’, ‘What is Enlightenment?’ and ‘Histories of Sentiments’.
She seems unable to let any of the material she has so painstakingly gathered speak for itself; she is constantly telling us what to think and, worse, watching herself write. She starts by telling us that ‘the history of the Johnstones is a story of the multiple or multiplier effects of empire’ and that her book is ‘a new kind of microhistory’. ‘The new possibility’, she claims, ‘in late-modern
LITERARY REVIEW July 2011