SHEIL, Mary Leonora, Lady.

Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia.

With Notes on Russia, Koords, Toorkomans, Nestorians, Khiva, and Persia.

London: John Murray, 1856 Stock Code: 139756

The first travel book on Persia by a woman

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First and only contemporary edition of the "first travel book on Persia by a woman" (Nash, Travellers to the Middle East from Burckhardt to Thesiger, p. 114), with additional strategic comment from her husband. Mary Anne Leonora Woulfe (1825-69) married Capt. Justin Sheil (18031871), an Indian Army officer in 1847. Her husband had had a distinguished career, educated Stonyhurst, he was commissioned ensign 3rd Bengal infantry in 1820, exchanged to the 35th Bengal infantry and saw service at the siege of Bharatpur in 1826. Promoted captain in 1830, he was appointed second in command of troops in Persia under Colonel Passmore, who had specifically requested the Governor General for him in this connection, he was, he said "sensible, well-informed, and conciliatory" (ODNB). Six years later he was appointed secretary to the British legation in Persia, in 1844 succeeding Sir John McNeill as envoy and minister at the shah's court, a post he held he until he retired in 1854.

In 1849, the couple travelled out to Tehran together, their route passing through Poland, Russia and Circassia, a journey of some three months. "Mary Sheil believed that, while existence in Persia was tiresome enough for a man, to a woman it was still more dreary. However, she believed she had one advantage over previous travellers in Persia: she was able to see the harems of the Shah and others, and to judge the condition of woman" (Theakstone). While Robinson is typically dismissive - "there was nothing else to do but write a book; that done and safely home again, Lady Sheil could comfortably forget about the whole dismal experience" - and certainly Sheil may not fulfil the ideal of a roving investigative reporter, but she does provide an engaging and detailed account from the point of view of the of a well-informed and inquisitive woman of events in Tehran, at that time one of the major diplomatic hotspots in the Great Game. Also, aware of her potential shortcomings, she included her husband's more typically masculine reportage; "There are in Persia many subjects not accessible to female enquiry; yet the absence of all allusion to them, even in a trifling production like this, would render these pages more incomplete than, it may be feared, they actually are" (Preface). Capt. Sheil's notes includes such subjects as "Russian Military Influence in the East", "The Koords and Koordistan", descriptions of Khiva and Afghanistan, "Silk Manufacture of Persia" and notes on the Persian Army and revenues, and the various tribes of the region.

An excellent copy, highly desirable in the original cloth.

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Octavo. Original moderate green morocco-grained cloth, title gilt to the spine, panels in blind to the boards, oval Persian-style device gilt to the centre of the front board, terracotta surface-paper endpapers.


Engraved frontispiece with tissue-guard and 6 similar plates.


Slightly rubbed particularly at the extremities, the spine darkened, a little mottled on the boards, mildly cocked, pale toning to the text, a very good copy.


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