[ARABIA / TRAVEL] Travels in Arabia Deserta. With an Introduction by T. E. Lawrence. New and definitive edition. 2 volumes set

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DOUGHTY, CHARLES M[ONTAGU] (1843-1926), Jonathan Cape, London, 1936.

Original publisher’s brown cloth. Titles to spines in gilt. Dust wrappers. 4to. (26 x 20 cm). 2 volumes set: (674 p., 696 p., Doughty’s portrait on the frontispiece, 2 large folding maps (colour map on a folded plate at end of each volume: "A sketch map itinerarium of part of northwestern Arabia and Negd [Najd]"), folding topographic panoramas, many illustrations in text, numbered plates in colour and b/w. Slight browning and light chippings on top and lower of dust jackets. Overall, a very good set.

Scarce set in this condition, of this “new and definitive edition”, with an introduction by Lawrence of Arabia (1888-1935). This “first and indispensable work upon the Arabs of the desert -and if it has not always been referred to, or enough read, that has been because it was excessively rare-” (Lawrence), including a detailed travel account of the Middle East and perilous exploration by English poet and writer Doughty and spent some time living with the Bedouins during the 1870s.

The book was published first in 1888, then an abridged version was arranged and introduced in 1908 by editor Edward William Garnett (1868-1937). According to Richard Burton, Doughty spent ten long years -a decade in these days being equivalent to a generation- in systematically frittering away the interest of his subject; and at last, after printing delays innumerable, he comes before the world with these two large volumes [.] In July 1884, the R. G. S. of London printed (Proceedings, pp. 382-399) Doughty’s “Travels in North-Western Arabia…”, a mere abstract instead of detailed geographical and topographical descriptions as it should have been; full of misprints and mistakes, with a perverted sketch map of which the traveler complained loudly and publicly.

Doughty began his adventurous and perilous exploration on November 13, 1876, and left Arabia in the autumn of 1878. His account has brilliant descriptions of Islamic and pre-Islamic Arab culture and geography such as inscriptions, epitaphs, coins, customs, trade in the peninsula, tribes, daily life, six thousand Muslim pilgrims traveling across "wild waste earth" by camel caravan to Mecca in the autumn of 1876 and return of the Haj, nomad life in the desert, Bedouins, etc. in these voluminous books.

This book was “a bible of its kind” for Thomas Edward Lawrence. He was an avid admirer of Doughty and his writing, as shown in his introduction. Lawrence had been instrumental in having the work reprinted, with his name ensuring that Arabia Deserta reached a wider audience.

Cape and his business partner Wren Howard (1893–1968) set up the publishing house in 1921. They established a reputation for high-quality design and production and a fine list of English-language authors, fostered by the firm's editor and reader Edward Garnett. Cape's list of writers ranged from poets including Robert Frost and C. Day Lewis to children's authors such as Roald Dahl, Hugh Lofting, and Arthur Ransome, to James Bond novels by Ian Fleming, to heavyweight fiction by James Joyce and T. E. Lawrence.

The firm's first publication was widely regarded as a gamble: Cape published a new two-volume edition, at the high price of nine guineas, of C. M. Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta. The book, first published in 1888 with no success, had been out of print for 30 years. The Cape edition sold out and had to be reprinted several times. Among those who admired it was T. E. Lawrence, who became friendly with Cape, and wrote an introduction to the firm's 1926 single-volume edition of the book.[5] Jonathan Cape Ltd became Lawrence's publisher, issuing Revolt in the Desert (1927), Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1935), and The Mint (1955).

Sources: Burton, Richard F., "Review of Charles M. Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta" (1888), Academy, Vol. XXXIV (28 July), pp. 47-8., Wikipedia., "Charles Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta republished", The National, 26 August 2013.