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BELL, John.

Travels From St. Petersburg in Russia to Diverse Parts of Asia.

in two volumes.

Published: Glasgow: for the Author by Robert and Andrew Foulis, 1763

Stock code: 62667

Price: £3,750

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First edition of the account of the author’s “remarkable journey” from St. Petersburg through Siberia and into China on behalf of the Russian tsar. Bell’s narrative includes detailed descriptions of the manners, customs, geography and scenery in the countries visited. Little is known of Bell’s early life, but it is stated that he qualified as a doctor, and that after obtaining his degree he decided to ‘visit foreign countries.’ “He obtained letters of recommendation to Dr Areskine [a fellow Scot, this being the Russianized version of Erskine], chief physician and privy councillor to Tsar Peter I, and left London in July 1714. The tsar was at this time planning a diplomatic mission to the sophy of Persia, and on Dr Areskine’s advice Bell was engaged in the tsar’s service and included in the mission. He left St Petersburg on 15 July 1715 and proceeded to Moscow, and from there to Kazan and south along the Volga to Astrakhan. The mission then sailed down the Caspian Sea to Derbent and travelled on to Esfahan in Persia, where they arrived on 14 March 1717. They left Esfahan on 1 September and returned to St Petersburg via Saratov on 30 December 1718. On his return Bell learned of another mission, to China, on which he was included following the recommendation of the British ambassador … Bell’s account of the journey to Kazan and through Siberia to China is the most complete and interesting part of his travels. Of particular note are his descriptions of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese wall, and his residence in Peking” (ODNB). Later in life when he decided to publish the notes of his diplomatic experiences, doubting his literary abilities he approached William Robertson, the historian, “to carry out the task. Robertson, being busy, advised Bell to take Gulliver’s Travels ‘for your model, and you cannot go wrong’.” Bell entrusted the printing his Travels to the Foulis press, “whose beautiful fount of type enhances the value of the book” (Murray, Robert & Andrew Foulis and the Glasgow Press, p. 53). In 1747 Bell retired to his estates in Stirlingshire where he was noted for his “acts of charity and his predilection for riding the countryside in oriental costume” (Howgego).

2 volumes, octavo (239 181 mm). ?Publisher’s calf-backed marbled boards, contrast labels, edges sprinkled red. Folding map frontispiece to volume I, shows the route from Moscow to Peking with inset of the “North Front of Pekin.” Both front free endpapers have large ink stamp “Bond”: i.e. Col. A. R. Bond of Creech Grange, Wareham, Dorset, whose ancestor John Bond features on the list of subscribers. A little rubbed, labels chipping, slight wear at the heads of the spines, but overall a very good set.

Bibliography: Blackmer 111; Cordier Sinica 2093; Cox I, 256; Gaskell Foulis 415; Howgego, I, B62.

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