"A REMARKABLE WORK" (T.E. LAWRENCE): FIRST EDITION OF A PILGRIMAGE TO EL-MEDINAH AND MECCAH, BURTON'S RAREST TITLE, IN SCARCE ORIGINAL BLUE CLOTH, WITH AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED BY BURTON LAID IN
BURTON, Richard Francis. Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1855-56. Three volumes. Octavo, original blue cloth with black ornamental border, uncut. Letter on single sheet of laid paper, 5-1/4 by 8-3/4 inches, folded once, penned on first and third pages.
First edition of "a most remarkable work of the highest value" (T.E. Lawrence), Burton's important illustrated narrative of his journey to Mecca, with five full-page color chromolithographs, eight tinted plates, one black-and-white plate, three plans (two folding), and a folding map. In rare original cloth, in excellent condition, with autograph letter signed by Burton laid in.
After years of studying Oriental customs and manners, Burton offered his services to the Royal Geographical Society "for the purpose of removing that opprobrium to modern adventure, the huge white blot which in our maps still notes the Eastern and Central Regions of Arabia" (Penzer, 44). Burton resolved to wend his way to Mecca to observe Muslim rites witnessed by few westerners. Donning a variety of disguises and learning the mannerisms common to Islam— how to dress, eat, sit, sleep, pray, etc.— Burton was accepted as a native. Over the course of his journey he visited the prophet Mohammed's tomb (which was located not, as many Christians had hitherto believed, in Mecca, but in Medina); commented extensively on the practice of female circumcision; and brought back the first accurate observations by a Westerner on the holiest of Muslim holy cities, Mecca. In his bibliography of Burton's works, Norman Penzer remarks, "I questioned Colonel Lawrence [i.e., "Lawrence of Arabia"] about the accuracy of Burton's description of the journey to Mecca and Medina, and he said that it was absolutely correct in every detail" (Penzer, 7).
The letter, addressed to Birmingham-based architect John Henry Chamberlain, Esq., on stationery embossed with an Arabic inscription, dated "Manchester Street [London], Nov. 28," reads "Sir, I request that you will be good enough to express my gratitude to the Council of the Midland Institute for the kind and courteous offer which has just been received from them. Nothing would please me better, especially as I have never seen Birmingham. Unfortunately at present it is quite impossible for me to name a time. I have the honor to be Yours faithfully, Richard F. Burton." The Midland Institute (now the Birmingham and Midland Institute), founded in 1854, was and still is an institution concerned with the promotion of education and learning in Birmingham. Beginning in 1869, with the election of Charles Dickens as president, the Institute would customarily invite a person of national renown to serve a one-year term as president and deliver an inaugural address. This is possibly the "offer" that Burton mentions receiving. In 1923, Penzer noted that copies in original publisher's cloth were "very rare and increasing in value" (Penzer, 50). With 24-page publisher's catalogue dated November 1855 bound at rear of Volume I. Penzer, 44-50. Bookplate, owner signature.
Light remnants of mounting glue on fourth (blank) page of otherwise fine letter. Text and plates clean and fine, with only occasional faint foxing. A few marks to front cover of Volume III, scarce original cloth fresh, gilt bright—far nicer than typically encountered. A lovely and quite desirable near-fine copy, with an autograph letter signed by Burton on his Arabic stationery laid in.