London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1855. First edition. Finely bound by Bayntun in half calf over cloth, with gilt to spines. Top edges brightly gilt. Marbled endpapers. Bookplate of Frederic Gulielmi to front pastedown of each volume. Internally lovely, collating [xv], , 388; , iv, 426; x, , 448: lacking the adverts in vols I and III, but including all 4 maps and plans, 5 color lithographed plates, and 8 tinted lithograph plates. A Fine set overall.
A formidable linguist, explorer, and storyteller, Burton spent decades traveling the British Empire. After years in India while stationed with the East India Company, Burton returned to England where he devised an audacious plan to undertake the sacred hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, which was forbidden to non-Muslims. He approached the Royal Geographic Society, presenting the goal of his pilgrimage as the removal of “that opprobrium to modern adventure, the huge white blot which in our maps still notes the Eastern and the Central regions of Arabia.”
With support from the Royal Geographic Society, Burton left for Egypt in 1853. He spent time in Alexandria and Cairo where he perfected his Arabic as well as observing and embracing local customs and mannerisms to lessen the chance that his ruse would be discovered. Joining a caravan whose destination was Medina, Burton participated in the associated rites with the pilgrimage before returning to Egypt where he composed Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Mecca. His narrative is remarkable both for its detail of an unfamiliar region and culture for nineteenth-century audiences as well as Burton’s reflections on his status as an interloper. For example, when he finally reached the Kaaba at the heart of the Great Mosque, Burton offers this confession: “I may truly say that, of all the worshippers who clung weeping to the curtain, or who pressed their beating hearts to the stone, none felt for the moment a deeper emotion than did the Haji from the far north. It was as if the poetical legends of the Arab spoke truth, and that the waving wings of angels, not the sweet breeze of morning, were agitating and swelling the black covering of the shrine. But, to confess humbling truth, theirs was the high feeling of religious enthusiasm, mine was the ecstasy of gratified pride.” Fine (Item #3087)