Travels To Discover the Source of the Nile,
in the years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, and 1773. In five volumes.Edinburgh: by J. Ruthven for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, London, 1790 Stock Code: 107966
Bruce's famous "immethodical miscellany" of his African travelsFirst edition of "one of the great travel accounts of the eighteenth century" (ODNB), this set untrimmed and uncommon thus. "Although the Nile was Bruce's main objective, as a polyglot, diplomat, artist, and amateur scientist, he imagined advancing all areas of learning, and in many ways he succeeded. He recorded detailed descriptions of the people, architecture, and landscape from all across North East Africa" (Mitstein).
James Bruce of Kinnaird (1730-1794) was only the second European to visit the isolated mountain kingdom of Abyssinia since the 1630s, and his fame on his return rivalled that of Captain Cook and Joseph Banks, recently returned from the Pacific, though back in London "his stories were regarded as being too fabulous to be true, and he found himself ridiculed by society, especially by Samuel Johnson who had translated the narrative of Jeronimo Lobo" (Howgego). A sceptical public had to wait sixteen years while William Logan and later Benjamin Latrobe edited Bruce's chaotic notes and journals. "In conformity with 18th-century conventions of travel writing, it is an 'immethodical miscellany', ranging from striking adventure stories, reported dialogues, and Shandean asides boasting of his success with African women, through a pedantic history of ancient Ethiopia (which occupies most of the first two volumes), to vivid sketches of contemporary Abyssinian life, politics, and natural history. It was immensely successful, most of the original edition being sold to retail booksellers within thirty-two hours, and was rapidly translated into French and German" (ODNB). The excellent plates, chiefly bound into the fifth volume, separately titled "Select Specimens of Natural History, collected in Travels to discover the Source of the Nile, in Egypt, Arabia, Abyssinia, and Nubia", are based on the drawings of Bruce and his companion Luigi Balugani, and superbly engraved by Heath.
5 volumes, quarto (305 x 235 mm). Recent brown half morocco, comb-marbled sides, raised bands to spines forming compartments, second and third gilt-lettered, central sunburst motifs to remaining compartments gilt, edges untrimmed.
Engraved vignette title to each volume, arms to dedication, 55 plates mostly of natural history subjects (occasional tissue guards tipped- or laid-in), 3 battle plans each with leaf of explanatory text, 4 leaves of Ethiopian dialects and 3 folding maps on
Title pages a touch soiled, sporadic light foxing and occasional minor spot, variable damp-staining to vols. I and IV mainly confined to margins, occasionally affecting plates, faint tide-mark to upper outer corner of a few plates of vol. V not affecting images, vol. II signatures 4A to 4G clumsily opened not affecting text, first two folding maps (Arabian Gulf and the Tract of Solomon's Fleet) each with short closed tear along inner fold but image intact, third map (Lake Tana) sometime repaired along fold on verso. A good set, handsomely bound to style.
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