In this impressively detailed work, Higman analyzes the literary and intellectual contributions of eighteenth-century Scottish Anglican priest John Lindsay, who produced "a substantial corpus of writing in a range of genres in which he is forthright in expressing his opinions and beliefs," placing him within the wider historical context of the Atlantic world (xiv). Higman utilizes geographical and archival sources (including birth records, church registers, and shipping logs), Lindsay's publications and manuscripts, and an array of secondary sources to reconstruct the personal, local, regional, and national histories that affected Lindsay's prospects and perspectives. Using Lindsay's experiences in Scotland, North Africa, North America, and Jamaica as a prism, Higman discusses major historical moments, figures and intellectual concerns to reconstruct the historical Atlantic world.
One of Higman's methods of analysis is a dissection of the plot, themes, and ideas in Lindsay's novel—Memoirs of Sir Thomas Hughson and Mr. Joseph Williams (London, 1757)—which was "among the first flurry of works published in the 1740s and 1750s that firmly established the novel as a literary genre" (27). Since this fictional work also included historical figures and events, according to Higman, "Lindsay's texts raise questions about the relationship between truth and fiction, reality and [End Page 119] the world of the imagination" (3). This methodological and analytic fluidity is also apparent in Higman's examination of Lindsay's publication about his "voyage" to theWest African coast—A Voyage to the Coast of Africa in 1758 (London, 1759); he explains the area's geography and its role as "a centre of the French slave trade across the Atlantic" (81). Higman carefully evaluates the illustrations in both of these works, as well as those that appear in Lindsay's unpublished illustrated volumes about the "natural history" of Jamaica. The unpublished volumes spoke to Lindsay's fascination with "science," as did his published, illustrated letters, which offered explanations of such phenomena as "water-spouts" and whirlwinds (158-166). Higman uses the occasion of Lindsay's migration to Jamaica to offer significant detail about the colony in the eighteenth century. He examines the priest's mindset through two published sermons and "a manuscript devoted to an investigation of the origins of human diversity and a justification of slavery" (168). As Higman argues, although they challenged some Christian doctrine, Lindsay's ideas helped him to explain, justify, and preserve the privileges that he enjoyed in Jamaican slave society.
Proslavery Priest makes innovative use of a wide variety of sources, methodologies, and means of reconstruction. Analyses of autobiographies, fiction, social history, geographical explorations, and illustrations are woven together to create multiple histories—personal, local, regional, imperial, ecclesiastical, and natural—and Lindsay's "religious-scientific" explanations of human origins that ultimately justified the system of human bondage. As Higman argues, "Although the transatlantic life lived by Lindsay is not particularly remarkable in itself, he did rise high in the hierarchy of the Church of England within the constrained sphere of Jamaican slave society; and he did contribute to the intellectual world of the eighteenth-century Atlantic in an unusual combination of fields" (239).