“ONE OF THE MOST SPLENDID NARRATIVES IN THE LITERATURE OF AFRICAN TRAVEL”: 1790 “BEST” EDITION OF BRUCE’S ILLUSTRATED CLASSIC, WITH 58 FULL-PAGE ENGRAVED PLATES
BRUCE, James. Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, in the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, and 1773. Edinburgh: J. Ruthven, for G.G.J. and J. Robinson, 1790. Five volumes. Thick quarto, modern half brown calf gilt, raised bands, red morocco spine labels. $4600.
Best edition of this illustrated classic of African exploration, published the same year as the first, magnificently embellished with engraved vignette title pages, three large engraved folding maps, and 58 engraved plates of scenery, antiquities, battle plans and natural history by James Heath.
Bruce arrived in Alexandria in June 1768 committed to discovering the source of the Nile, which he thought began somewhere in Abyssinia. He traveled across the northern deserts in the guise of a Turkish sailor and finally reached Abyssinia in early 1770. In November of that year he found the previously unknown source of the Blue Nile, which he claimed mistakenly to be the Nile of the ancients and therefore more important than the larger White Nile. Bruce’s difficult return in 1771 was highlighted by another first: he became the first to trace the Blue Nile to its confluence with the White. Although his Travels was criticized by some contemporaries, “the substantial accuracy of every statement concerning his Abyssinian travels has since been amply demonstrated” (Britannica). Bruce’s account is also notable for its famous plate of the figure of a harpist in the tomb of Ramses III, “the first picture of a scene in the royal tombs to be published… it caught the imagination of many” (Romer, Valley of the Kings, 36). “The last of the great 18th-century travelers in Egypt” (Clayton, The Rediscovery of Ancient Egypt, 13). “One of the most splendid narratives in the literature of African travel” (Hallet, Africa to 1875). First published in London the same year. Bound without half titles. Cox I, 388-89. Pritzel 1256. Howgego B171.
Minor stamp removal on three title pages with small shelf numbers on versos. Interiors clean and fresh, with some stray areas of foxing in the entire set. Near-fine condition.