“UTMOST CANDOR”: SONNINI’S TRAVELS IN EGYPT, 1800, WITH 27 ENGRAVED PLATES
(EGYPT) SONNINI, Charles Sigisbert. Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt, Undertaken by Order of the Old Government of France. London: J. Debrett, 1800. Thick quarto, contemporary three-quarter brown calf, marbled boards. $2200.
First quarto edition, published just one year after the octavo edition, complete with frontispiece portrait, folding map and 27 engraved plates of views, antiquities, zoology, botany and portraits.
Sonnini set out with Baron de Tott’s expedition in 1777 to collect rare Egyptian birds. On arrival at Alexandria he found orders to explore Egypt from Louis XVI awaiting him. He clearly took an interest in local customs: “This work treats of matter usually excluded from circulating libraries, but here related with the utmost candor: such as Egyptian female circumcision, serpent eating, Egyptian lesbianism, women’s cosmetics and use of depilatories, sensuality and effeminacy of the baths, red leprosy, masculine beauty, Egyptian homosexuality, circumcision of boys, etc.” (Cox I, 395). Sonnini returned to France in 1780; he only published his important work two decades after his return in an attempt to counter the financial ruin he suffered as a result of the French Revolution. This first quarto edition was published just one year after the first edition in English—a three-volume octavo edition—and the Paris first edition, both issued in 1799. The earlier edition in English was translated by Henry Hunter. The translator of this quarto edition, William Combe, made a new translation from the French and included an appendix, titled “Hilaria Hunteriana,” in which he satirizes Hunter’s translation. With list of plates, errata, and one page of publisher’s advertisements. Bound without half title. Hilmy II, 245. Blackmer 1573. Gay 2250. Lowndes, 2450. Armorial bookplate. Contemporary bookbinder’s ticket.
Faint embrowning to text; plates clean and fine. Joints and corners with expert repairs. An attractive copy in contemporary calf and marbled boards.