IDEAS AND SENTIMENTS
The age of revolutions of the eighteenth century was a time of transformation in political and economic relationships, and in ways of thinking about the world. This book is about some of the changes of the times, from the point of view of a large, odd, and enterprising family, the Johnstones, and of their households, friends, servants, and slaves.
The four Johnstone sisters and seven Johnstone brothers grew up in Scotland in the 1720s and 1730s and made their way, in imagination or in reality, to the extremities of the British, French, Spanish, and Mughal empires. Two of the brothers became rich, in many scenes and over many setbacks. The family lived at the edges of the enlightenment, and they were friends, at least from time to time, of David Hume, Adam Smith, and the poet James “Ossian” Macpherson. They were unusually intemperate, unusually literary, and there were unusually many of them.
All I knew about the Johnstones, when I came across the oldest brother's letter book in a library in Edinburgh, was that another brother, John, had been a candidate in a contested parliamentary election in 1774, in Adam Smith's home town of Kirkaldy.1 They were not a celebrated family, even at the moments of their greatest successes. But they lived amidst new empires, and they were confronted throughout their lives with large and abstract questions about commerce and the state, laws and regulations, and slavery and servitude. They were expressive