Travels in Ethiopia, above the second cataract of the Nile: exhibiting the state of that country, and its various inhabitants, under the dominion of Mohammed Ali and illustrating the antiquities, arts, and history of the ancient kingdom of Meroe.
Author: Hoskins, George Alexander Year: 1835 Edition: First edition Publisher: London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman Category: Africa North Price: € 3,750.-
First Edition. 4to, pp. xix, 1, folding map, 367, 1,
A large folding map plus 53 ƒƒ of plates, of which 2 finely coloured by hand, 4 chromolithographed and 1 ƒ printed on both sides, resulting in a total of 54 lithographs. There are 6 double page plates and 35 woodcuts in the text. The 2 leaves coloured by hand have 2 plates each and are exquisite. Some of the b/w lithographs have 2 plates as well. The chromolithographs present are the earliest in an English printed book (¹). Largely uncut, and untrimmed; various pages unopened, original publisher's blind-stamped, gilded, cloth binding, bumped at corners, light soiling, skillfully rebacked with the original spine laid down with loss of approximately the lower 20 per cent, original free-end-pages preserved. Internally very clean, light discoloration of the edges of exposed pages; minor foxing to some of the plates, usually toward the edges. Folding map, which shows the course of the Nile in this part of Africa, has a small tear at the center fold.
Plates lithographed by John Arrowsmith, Robert Jacob Hamerton, W.L. Walton, Joseph Bonomi, and William P. Sherlock; after G.A. Hoskins and L. Bandoni. Plates printed by Charles Joseph Hullmandel. A nice copy of an important source on Egyptology, the Soudan (Nubia), Ethiopia, and Meroe.
With a map, and ninety illustrations of the temples, pyramids, etc. of Meroe, Gibel el Birkel, Solib, etc., from drawings finished on the spot, by the author, and an artist whom he employed.
Edgar Allan Poe; Critical Notices, from Southern Literary Messenger, August 1835, p. 714:
“Mr. Hoskins' Travels in Ethiopia above the Second Cataract of the Nile, are very highly spoken of. The work is a large quarto; and the expense of getting it up has been so great, as to leave its author no chance of remuneration. It contains ninety illustrations, by a Neapolitan artist of great eminence. The risk attending the publication of so valuable a book, will operate to deter any American bookseller from attempting it.” (Actually it was Hullmandel who was left no chance of remuneration as Mr. Hoskins, after 125 copies of the chromolithographs had been printed, was not satisfied with the colour of the skull caps of the Nubians depicted on the first one, where there should be blue skullcaps instead of black ones, and Hullmandel had to change two stones (²) .)
The retail price of this book at the time was set at £3 13s 6d, which was an excessive price for a book in those days, and thus obtainable only for the wealthy.
The British archaeologist George Alexander Hoskins (1802 - 1863), visited Egypt and the Sudan for the first time in 1833. He toured the northern region, making archaeological drawings and notes throughout his tour resulting in this book. Afterwards two more books were published: "Visit to the Great Oasis of the Libyan Desert" in 1837 and "A Winter in Upper and Lower Egypt" in 1863. After his encounter with the Arab tribes of northern Sudan, he had this to say, sharing the view of other European travellers, that an Arab accepts whatever comes across his way with unquestioned resignation:
“Endowed with an imperturbable stock of apathy more comfortable perhaps, although not so intellectual as European philosophy, they submit to a distressing accident, which would throw one of our countrymen almost into fever, without allowing their equanimity to be in the least disturbed. ‘Mactub min Allah’, it is written, 'it is the will of God,’ they explain with placid resignation, and instead of brooding over their misfortune, become immediately reconciled to it, and with amazing facility banish it from their thoughts.”
In this book Mr. Hoskins writes on the commerce of Meroe at p. 344:
“In a country where the arts are now totally unknown, and which is become little better than a desert, it is not surprising to find commerce reduced to the mere exchange of the most absolute necessaries of life, and a few trifling superfluities. Small caravans occasionally go from Shendy to Abyssinia. Sometimes the rulers of the latter country do not permit them to enter their dominions, and civil wars not unfrequently put an entire stop to the trade ; but when, as is generally the case, the merchants succeed in procuring an entrance, they inform me that the profits on their Cairo goods are enormous. They receive in exchange a little ivory ; gold, the value of which is several dollars per ounce lower there than in Egypt ; a very fine species of cotton scarf, much esteemed and worn by the Abyssinian women in the Turkish harems, and the Abyssinian coffee; which, although not equal to the Mocha, is almost the only kind drunk in Nubia : but their chief return is in slaves. The wars which generally distract that unfortunate country furnish to each state abundance of these victims, which, like cattle, are exchanged with the merchant for the luxuries of Egypt ; few are the Turks who have not Abyssinian girls in their harems, and I have seen numerous eunuchs brought from that country. It is horrid to think that beings called Christians should be guilty of such enormities ; but there is no doubt of the fact. The slaves, whether girls or boys, by compulsion or inclination, invariably become Mahometans.”
This scarce book is of primary importance as a source of knowledge for Egypt, Nubia and Meroe. The plates depict landscapes, people, plants, ruins, etc. There are plans of the sites visited and much of it has disappeared. Moreover it is an important book in the history of English bookprinting as it contains 4 magnificent colour litho’s, being the first colour lithographs ever printed in the United Kingdom (¹)..
(¹) Bamber Gascoigne (1997): "Milestones in colour printing 1457-1859", p.31ƒƒ. While researching the story behind these first chromolithographs printed in the UK, Mr. Gascoigne found out that there were 525 copies printed of this book and that the number of colours used in part of the process (²) was eight instead of the expected four. Till then it was considered a fact that the first chromolithographs done in the UK were those published by Owen Jones in 1836.
(²) Note by Mr. Hoskins: "I regret that in some few of the impressions the caps were printed black." Mr. Gascoigne: "He would be distressed to know that these 'few impressions' are probably the majority of those surviving a century and a half later." According to Mr. Gascoigne there were four colours used for the first series of the chromolithographs depicting the skullcaps in black. These chromolithographs were finished by handcolouring, while Hullmandel, due to the experience he gained with the first series of 125 copies, used eight colours for the remainder with the blue skullcaps, which plates are far superior to those finished by handcolouring (according to Mr. Gascoigne).
In our copy the Nubians are depicted with blue skullcaps (please see picture #5) and there are colour changes to some or more skullcaps in all four chromolithographs. By clicking the link here below, you can see a picture of Nubians with black skullcaps from the copy in the New York Public Library.
A mesmerizing book, only seldom found in its original publisher's binding. Gay 2574, Hess & Coger 1376, Prince Ibrahim-Hilmy I, p. 310.