The Road to Kabul.
An Anthology.London: Quartet Books, 1981 Stock Code: 141824
Superb presentation copy of the first edition of this anthology of work by travellers in Central Asia, signed by the author, and with a letter presenting the book to Robert Heber-Percy, 'The Mad Boy', young lover of the eccentric Lord Berners, with whom de Gaury became fascinated, and who accompanied him on his delicate diplomatic mission to visit Ibn Saud in Riyadh.
De Gaury first met Robert Heber-Percy (1911-1987) - widely known and not without reason as 'The Mad Boy' - in 1935 while staying at Lord Berners's home at Faringdon House as a weekend guest. De Gaury was a 38 year-old British officer, Arabist and diplomat, who had been wounded four times on the Western Front and Gallipoli, had taught himself Arabic whilst convalescing, and subsequently travelled extensively across the Middle East, firstly as a political agent in the 1930s and then as special emissary to King Ibn Saud. However he also had a fine artistic sensibility, and had become part of the bohemian circle of friends that Lord Berners cultivated at Faringdon House; other regular visitors included Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Igor Stravinsky, and Nancy Mitford.
Shortly after their first meeting, de Gaury took Heber-Percy with him on a sensitive diplomatic mission to Riyadh. De Gaury was to escort the first British Minister at Jedda, Sir Andrew Ryan, on his journey to present Ibn Saud with the Grand Cross of Bath on behalf of George V. The British were courting the support of the Saudis, whose strategic location for British shipping along the Suez Canal and their suspected oil reserves made the new country a vital ally. But it is unclear why de Gaury agreed to take the "violently reckless" 'Mad Boy' with him on such a sensitive mission. Only two years before, Heber-Percy had "nearly killed a woman in Salzburg, attempted suicide in Venice" and would "fly into a rage" at any criticism. However it seems unlikely that an infatuation would cloud the judgement of the highly professional de Gaury. As Heber-Percy's biographer Sofka Zinovielff suggests: de Gaury "knew how much the Arabs valued good looks and de Gaury was far from immune to the charms of male youth and beauty himself. Add to this the Arabian appreciation of good breeding, courage and manliness, and the Mad Boy began to look like a useful weapon in the spy's armoury".
The Road to Kabul is an anthology of prose and verse by various European travelers who have visited Afghanistan and Central Asia over the past 500 years, including works by the Polo family, and also players of the Great Game such as the doomed British officers Stoddard and Conolly, Captain Nikolai Muraviev, Russian envoy to Khiva, and Lord Curzon, who secretly scouted the Pamirs before becoming viceroy of India. An attractive association copy hinting at the theme of intrigue in exotic locations.
Octavo. Original black boards, titles to spine in gilt. With dust jacket.
8 maps and 9 full-page illustrations.
Very slight lean to spine, ends and corners bumped, cloth clean, occasional finger soiling to contents but generally fresh and clean throughout; a near-fine copy in the jacket, spine slightly toned, rear cover lightly creased with blemishes but free from chips.
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