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LEVSHIN, Aleksey Iraklievich.

Opisaniye Kirgiz-Kazach'ikh, ili Kirgiz-Kaysatskikh ord i stepey

[Description of the Kyrgyz-Cossack, or Kyrgyz-Kaisatsky, Hordes and Steppes].

Saint Petersburg : Karl Kray, 1832 Stock Code: 143194
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An excellent copy of a cornerstone of Kazakh historiography

Rare and important. The first account of Kazakhstan as a geographic entity and of the Kazakhs as a people, containing the most accurate map of the region to date. Print run of just 400 copies; 10 copies traced institutionally world-wide, genuinely scarce on the market. A complete and extremely pretty copy of this highly desirable Kazakh cornerstone.

Kazakh historian Shokan Ualikhanov called Levshin (1799-1879) the "Herodotus of the Kazakh nation" on account of this foundational publication. Born at Khomutovka, Kursk Oblast, Levshin was an imperial bureaucrat and a scion of both the nobility and the merchant class, his father a land-owning noble, and his mother the daughter of a fabric manufacturer. Educated at the Voronezh Gymnasium and the University of Kharkov, he entered the Asian Department from 1820 working with the Boundary Commission based at Orenburg, advising on relations with the Kazakhs. This detailed study of the Kazakh people, the first to fully recognise and particularise their ethnicity, was based on scrupulous work in the Asian Department's archives at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where Levshin worked from 1818 to 1820 and afterwards at Orenburg, where documentation of the "Hordes" had been maintained since the Russians began to consolidate their regional influence in the 1730s. His systematic synthesis of this latter, previously untapped resource, was perhaps his greatest achievement.

The map featured in the book, the first detailed map of its kind, was prepared by Levshin with reference to the accumulated records left by the military officers, engineers, and geologists who had carried out expeditions into the steppe over "the last 15 years". While employed on constructing it Levshin realised the complete inaccuracy of almost all of the the printed maps of the region, and decided rely solely on that produced by Meyendorff, and on these manuscript sources. Those parts of the map formerly subject to speculation he left blank in the absence of solid surveys.

He is probably better known in Russia and the Ukraine for his achievements in later life. From 1823-31, he served on special assignment with Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov, governor general of Novorossiya and viceroy of Bessarabia, he was one of the founders of The Odessa Herald and served as editor, and from 1831-7 mayor of Odessa. He became a senator in 1855, and in 1861 was centrally involved in preparations for the liberation of the serfs. Levshin was one of the founder members of the Russian Geographical Society in 1845, and became a member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in 1856.

Russian bibliographies published in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century already remarked on the scarcity of the book, Grigoriy Gennadiy noting in Russian Book Rarities (1872) that it 'became rare soon after it was printed' and Nikolay Berezin writing in his similarly named listing (1902-3) that it is "rare especially with all its plates and the map".

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3 volumes octavo (210 x130 mm). Slightly later (c.1870s) Russian pale green half hard-grained morocco, dark green, black and vermilion Papier Tourniquet boards, title gilt direct to spines with arabesque gilt decoration, edges sprinkled red, pale cream endpapers, green silk page-markers intact. Housed in a green quarter morocco solander box by the Chelsea Bindery.


Engraved additional title page to each, volume I, the Geographical Account, with an engraved folding section and large folding map (opens 486 x 642 mm), dissected into 21 panels and mounted on linen, in end-pocket; 2 engraved pedigrees in vol. II, tables


Modern collector's bookplate of Sinyatsevskiy to each pastedown. A little rubbed, spines and corners sunned, mild foxing throughout, plates a touch browned and cropped a little tight at fore margin, near contemporary private library stamps verso of title page. A very good set.


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