“THE LAST GREAT ASIAN EXPLORER”: HEDIN’S MONUMENTAL MULTI-VOLUME SOUTHERN TIBET, PROFUSELY ILLUSTRATED WITH MANY HUNDREDS OF MAPS AND PLATES
HEDIN, Sven. Southern Tibet. Discoveries in Former Times Compared with My Own Researches in 1906-08. Stockholm: Lithographic Institute of the General Staff of the Swedish Army, (1917-22). Nine quarto text volumes and three folio map volumes. Quarto (9 by 12 inches): modern three-quarter blue morocco, raised bands, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, uncut. Folio( 13 by 17 inches): original paper wrappers (around original loose maps in Volumes II and III); housed in matching modern three-quarter blue morocco gilt clamshell boxes.
First edition of this extraordinary and lavish production by one of the greatest explorers of the 20th century, profusely illustrated with many hundreds of maps—many of which are folding, folio, or in color—charts, photographs and tables. With the very scarce prospectus, and with original wrappers bound in.
A great—and greatly controversial—explorer, Hedin had a life-long interest in central Asia, making journeys through the region starting in 1885 and continuing to return for an astounding 50 years. "On Hedin's greatest journey (1906-1908) he crossed Persia and Afghanistan, entered Tibet, and identified the true sources of the Indus, Sutlej, and Brahmaputra rivers. He discovered and mapped the Transhimalayan Mountains, crossing the range eight times and overcoming formidable obstacles of winter weather, mountain passes never crossed before, and hostile local tribesmen, who kept Hedin prisoner for a time" (Encyclopedia of World Biography).
Hedin is a "genuine claimant to the title of the last great Asian explorer… Hedin galloped headlong against the physical challenge of unknown Asia as though he were entering the lists of a tournament. He was the sort of man who was drawn irresistibly by the blank on the map. He craved to be the first European ever to set foot on any particular spot; and he exulted in defeating all competition…[many were convinced] that Hedin was a dangerous menace as an explorer. With some justification they pointed out the astonishing mortality that occurred among the pack-animals used on any of Hedin's expeditions. In Tibet, for example, Hedin's terrific pace killed ten out of his twelve horses and four of his seven camels, and he lost yet another native guide, dead of exposure… But those who condemned Hedin as a dangerous fraud, overlooked the fact that Hedin himself believed he had done nothing to be ashamed of, or that circumstances had not demanded. He had a thoroughly romantic view of his life, and was acting out the role of professional adventurer which he had always imagined for himself, and for which he had always prepared… Nor could Hedin's enemies deny that the Swede was phenomenally successful in opening up unknown territory. At the peak of his form Hedin criss-crossed the Gobi Desert in a series of spectacular expeditions, locating lost cities of the old caravan roads, exploring enormous areas of unknown countries, and bringing out masses of new information about the social and physical features of the Asian heartland. He was also a vivid and exciting writer… his books sold in large numbers, winning him thousands of devoted readers and making Hedin a popular hero in Germany and Scandinavia" (Severin, The Oriental Adventure, 223-226). His legacy has been significantly impacted by his enthusiastic (but not uncritical) support for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party, and controversy continues to this day over how to assess Hedin's support and his interventions on the part of numerous individuals (the Jewish geologist Alfred Philippson believed that only Hedin's influence kept him and his family alive, for example). In addition to meticulous accounts of Hedin's explorations, Southern Tibet includes extensive and detailed comparisons with the earlier works, starting with the Greek, Roman, Indian and Chinese ancients. Volume V is entirely in German; sections of Volumes VII, VIII and IX are also in German; the rest of the text is entirely in English. With the extremely rare prospectus—which itself contains numerous maps and photographs and a helpful summary of the contents of each volume—laid into the first folio volume. Quarto volumes with original wrappers bound in.
Fine condition. A stunning and rare work.