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Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century History

by Emma Rothschild Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 496 pages
AU$74.00 NZ$77.39
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They were abolitionists, speculators, slave owners, government officials, and occasional politicians. They were observers of the anxieties and dramas of empire. And they were from one family. The Inner Life of Empires tells the intimate history of the Johnstones--four sisters and seven brothers who lived in Scotland and around the globe in the fast-changing eighteenth century. Piecing together their voyages, marriages, debts, and lawsuits, and examining their ideas, sentiments, and values, renowned historian Emma Rothschild illuminates a tumultuous period that created the modern economy, the British Empire, and the philosophical Enlightenment. One of the sisters joined a rebel army, was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, and escaped in disguise in 1746. Her younger brother was a close friend of Adam Smith and David Hume. Another brother was fluent in Persian and Bengali, and married to a celebrated poet. He was the owner of a slave known only as 'Bell or Belinda,' who journeyed from Calcutta to Virginia, was accused in Scotland of infanticide, and was the last person judged to be a slave by a court in the British isles. In Grenada, India, Jamaica, and Florida, the Johnstones embodied the connections between European, American, and Asian empires. Their family history offers insights into a time when distinctions between the public and private, home and overseas, and slavery and servitude were in constant flux. Based on multiple archives, documents, and letters, The Inner Life of Empires looks at one family's complex story to describe the origins of the modern political, economic, and intellectual world.

Introduction: Ideas and Sentiments 1
Chapter One::Setting Out 11
The Four Sisters and Seven Brothers 15
Difficult Circumstances 23
Tragic News from the Indias 29
The Frontiers of Empire in the West 34
Small Congratulatory Elephants 45

Chapter Two: Coming Home 59
The Finances of the Family 60
The Politics of the East and West Indies 68
The Arts and Sciences of Enlightenment 76
The Ruins of the Indies 80
Intran Bell alias Belinda 87
Joseph Knight 91

Chapter Three:: Ending and Loss 97
The Detritus of Empire 99
The James Johnstones 105
Indian Yellow Satin 109
The Treasurer 112
Distant Destinies 116

Chapter Four:Economic Lives 121
Possible Empires 125
What Is the State? 131
What Was, and What Was Not Law 137
A Society of Persons 141
A Moderate Empire 146
Economic Theories 148

Chapter Five: Experiences of Empire 154
Slavery in the British Empire 154
"This Age of Information" 170
Family Histories 185
Connections of Things 197
Intimate Lives 202

Chapter Six: What Is Enlightenment? 210
The Sect of Philosophers 211
The Milieux of Enlightenment: Books and Booksellers 220
Legal Information 224
Clerks and Clerics 231
The Milieux of Political Thought 239
The Atmosphere of Society 247
The Enlightenment of the Johnstones 252
The Coexistence of Enlightenment and Oppression 258

Chapter Seven: Histories of Sentiments 263
The Eye of the Mind 263
The History of the Human Mind 266
Family Secrets 270
The Discontinuity of Size and Scenes 277
The Incompleteness of Information 279

Chapter Eight:: Other People 284
The Johnstones and the Mind 285
Intran Bell alias Belinda 29
Other People 299

Acknowledgments 303
Appendix 307
Abbreviations 309
Notes 311
Maps 463
Index 469

"This is . . . a brave and able book."---Gillian Tindall, Literary Review
Emma Rothschild is the Jeremy and Jane Knowles Professor of History and director of the Joint Center for History and Economics at Harvard University, and a fellow of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. She is the author of 'Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment'.