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ELPHINSTONE, Mountstuart.

An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India.

London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, & J. Murray, 1815 Stock Code: 105235
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Fundamental source on Afghanistan by the ambassador to Kabul

First edition of this superbly detailed regional study, compiled by the ambassador, and which continued to inform British policy on the north-western frontier until the 1840s, well-illustrated by a series of costume plates, which are closer to individuated portraits than the "types" usually encountered in such works.

Elphinstone stands out as one of the most remarkable figures in the establishment of British hegemony in India in the early 19th century. The son of the 11th Baron Elphinstone, he went out to India in 1795 at the age of 16 as a writer in the service of the East India Company. In 1801 he was appointed assistant to Sir Barry Close, resident at the court of Baji Rao the Peshwa at Poona. The Peshwa was virtual head of the Mahratta confederacy and is described in the first Dictionary of National Biography as "an avowed poltroon". He was overthrown by Holkar at the Battle of Poona. Holkar's refusal of British requests to reinstate the Peshwa led to the Second Mahratta War.

Elphinstone was attached to Wellington's staff in the Deccan and saw action at the battles of Assaye and Argaum and the Siege of Gawilarh. The general remarked of Elphinstone then that he had "mistaken his profession and ought to have been a soldier." Advanced to the important post of resident at the court in Nagpur in 1804, in 1808 he was favoured further with the position of ambassador to the Afghan court at Kabul where he was to assess the extent of French penetration, who had already established an embassy in the Persian capital, and to persuade Shah Shuja into a defensive alliance. "Elphinstone's mission to Kabul was formally a failure. Suspicious of the British, the Afghan court refused to allow the embassy to proceed beyond the border town of Peshawar. Shah Shuja was only prepared to make an alliance in return for substantial British aid which the envoy was unable to offer. Meanwhile, a revolt in Kashmir had made the shah's tenure of power increasingly precarious. Elphinstone did, however, return to India with a mass of new information about the Punjab and the north-west Elphinstone's subsequent Account of the Kingdom of Caubul continued to inform British policy on the north-western frontier until the 1840s" (ODNB).

Elphinstone remained in India for the next 20 years, "First as resident at Poona, then as lieutenant-governor of Bombay. As a civil administrator he served with distinction, and is often regarded as the founder of the system of state education in India. He twice refused the offer of the governor-generalship of India" (Howgego).

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Quarto (285 x 208 mm). Contemporary calf, neatly rebacked with original spine laid down, flat spine, title gilt direct.


Hand-coloured aquatint frontispiece and 12 other similar plates, one uncoloured aquatint, large folding engraved map (opening 637 x 789 mm) coloured in outline, and one similar full-page map.


Contemporary armorial bookplate of Abraham Caldecott, former Accountant General to the Bengal Presidency, to front pastedown, together with the slightly later plate of William Woodville Rockhill, American adventurer and diplomat. A little rubbed, with some judicious restoration and refurbishment at the extremities and on the joints, light browning throughout, the occasional spot of foxing, some offsetting from the plates, the large map with professional repairs at the folds and to an old tear, formerly stub-mounted, but now laid in for ease of opening, overall a very good copy.


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