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NIEBUHR, Carsten.

Beschreibung von Arabien.

Aus eigenen Beobachtungen und im Lande selbst gesammelten Nachrichten abgefasset.

Published: Copenhagen: printed at the Hofbuchdruckerey by Nicolaus Möller, 1772

Stock code: 46821

Price: £3,750

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First edition. Niebuhr trained as a surveyor in order to support himself into his majority, then receiving a small inheritance. He next studied mathematics at Göttingen before joining the Hanoverian corps of engineers. In 1760 he was invited to join the scientific expedition being sent out by Frederick V of Denmark. Originally intended for the purpose of illustrating certain passages from the Old Testament, it developed truly encyclopaedic ambitions, the party consisting of Niebuhr as surveyor, Friedrich Christian von Haven, a Danish linguist and orientalist, Peter Forrskål, a Linnaean naturalist, Christian Carl Kramer, a doctor and zoologist, Georg Baurenfeind, the expeditions artist, and Berggren, a Swedish ex-soldier. In the event Niebuhr was the only one to return. From Constantinople they proceeded to Egypt and spent a year there, ascending the Nile and visiting Suez and Mount Sinai. “Disguised as pilgrims … they left Suez in October 1762 for Jiddah, from where they advanced down the coast in a tarrad (an open boat), making frequent landings as far as Al Luhayyah in Northern Yemen” (Howgego). On their way to Mocha, Niebuhr and Forrskål contracted malaria, and on arrival von Haven died, swiftly followed by Forrskål, and by late 1763 the whole party were so ill that they were carried onto a vessel bound for Bombay. On the voyage Berggren and Baurenfeind died, followed by Kramer in early 1764, leaving Niebuhr as the only survivor, seemingly protected by his adoption of native dress and diet. Continuing alone he visited Muscat, Bushire, Shiraz, Persepolis, Babylon, Baghdad, Mosul, Aleppo, Cyprus, and Jerusalem. “Niebuhr described the town and its inhabitants in minute detail and made a map of the surrounding area. Continuing northward along the coast, he crossed the Taurus mountains of Turkey to Brusa and Constantinople, then made his way homeward through Poland and Germany.” Niebuhr published in Denmark, under the patronage of the schizophrenic king, Christian VII, to whom the book is dedicated, the cost of the plates being defrayed by the government. Niebuhr was a remarkably conscientious and accurate observer, and this official account of his travels has long been considered one of the classic accounts of the geography, people, antiquities and archaeology of the region, his maps remaining in use for over 100 years.

Quarto (249 186 mm). Modern pale tan half morocco on marbled boards, darker tan label to spine, floral devices gilt in compartments, red edge-stain. Title page vignette of Geography and Astronomy, arms of the House Oldenburg as head-piece to the dedication, 18 plates, 4 of them folding, 2 of these coloured, 7 maps, all but one of them folding, the large map of Yemen at the rear being coloured in outline. Small library stamps of “Bibliothek Prof. Engels” to title and verso of the dedication leaf, light browning, occasional foxing, but overall a very good copy.

Bibliography: Brunet IV 74; Cox I, pp.237-8; Graesse IV, p.674; Howgego N24.

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