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Travels through Arabia, and other Countries in the East
Edinburgh: for R. Morison and Son, G. Mudie, and T. Vernor,, 1792. Translated into English by Robert Heron. With Notes by the Translator. 2 volumes, octavo in half-sheets (206 × 125 mm). Contemporary speckled half sheep, smooth spines gilt-ruled in compartments, red morocco labels, volume numbers gilt, marbled sides. Folding map frontispiece to each volume, respectively "Chart of the Persian Gulf" and "The Red Sea, or Arabic Gulph", further folding map of Yemen, 10 copper-engraved plates of views and costumes, mostly in Egypt or Yemen. Contemporary engraved bookplate to front pastedowns; later bookseller's ticket of Galloway and Porter, Cambridge, to vol. 1. Sides and extremities rubbed, small chip to head of vol. 1 front joint, superficial partial cracking to vol. 2 front joint, tips worn, pastedowns and free endpapers marked from adhesive used in original binding, offsetting to the latter from bookplates, a few trivial marks to text, maps lightly offset, pale marginal spotting to a few plates, closed tear to vol. 1 folding map of Yemen touching the cartouche, all lettering intact, short closed tear to bottom edge of vol. 2 sig. F1, tiny hole to S2 costing half a letter. A very good copy, complete with the half-titles and the errata leaf to the rear of vol. 1. First edition in English of the two sole eyewitness accounts of the 1761-7 Danish expedition to Arabia, the first great scientific expedition to the Middle East, by its only survivor, the German-born surveyor Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815). Complete copies with all plates, the half-titles and the errata leaf are rare. The first volume is an abridged translation of Niebuhr's Beschreibung von Arabien (1772), a description of the original expedition to Yemen. The second excerpts his Reisebeschreibung von Arabien und andern umliegenden Ländern (1774-8), and is almost entirely devoted to the peoples of Arabia and the Persian Gulf, with a brief relation of his return journey from India via Muscat and the Gulf to Bushire, and thence overland to Europe. The expedition, originally intended to "illustrate certain passages of the Old Testament … rapidly blossomed into a full-fledged scientific expedition", comprising six members (Howgego). The party left Copenhagen in early 1761, travelling via Constantinople to Alexandria and spending a year in Egypt, ascending the Nile and exploring Sinai. They then crossed from Suez to Jeddah and sailed down the Arabian coast to al-Luhayyah in Yemen, making frequent landfalls, before continuing overland to Sana'a via Mocha, with two members of the party dying en route. On returning to Mocha, the remaining four collapsed with fever and were put on a ship bound for Bombay, with only Niebuhr surviving the sea voyage. He remained in India until late 1764, when he sailed for Muscat, eventually reaching Copenhagen in November 1767, and receiving financial assistance to compile the Beschreibung, which has long been considered one of the classic accounts of the geography, people, antiquities and archaeology of the Arabian Peninsula and wider Middle East, with maps which "remained in use for over 100 years" (ibid.) The second volume is one of the most detailed English accounts of the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century. In addition to chapters on the Hejaz, the Nejd, Yemen, and Oman, and general accounts of Arabian culture, religion, science, and natural history, there is much valuable information on today's Gulf states, including a remarkable section on the "Principality of Seer" (pp. 123-4): a "sovereignty extend[ing] along the Persian Gulph" and encompassing "Dsjulfar" (Julfar, a former name for Ra's al-Khaymah), and "Scharedsje" (Sharjah). The "Prince of Seer", whose navy is "one of the most considerable in the Persian Gulf", is evidently Shaykh Rashid bin Matar Al Qasimi (r. 1760-77), the second-recorded head of the Al Qasimi dynasty, the modern rulers of the emirates of Sharjah and Ra's al-Khaymah. The territory of the Al Qasimi tribe is clearly delineated in the map frontispiece of the first volume, which also accurately situates the "Beni Ass" — the Bani Yas, antecedents of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi — in their ancestral homeland around the Liwa oasis. There are similar sections on Kuwait (pp. 127-8) and Bahrain (pp. 152-3), making this a singularly important account of the Gulf in this still-obscure period.
      [Bookseller: Peter Harrington]
Last Found On: 2017-10-08           Check availability:      Biblio    


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