[CENTRAL ASIA / THE GREAT GAME] Bir sahte dervisin Asya-yi Vusta'da seyahati. [i.e. Travels in Central Asia]. Translated by A. H. [Abdurrahman Samipasazâde Abdülhalim]
ARMINIUS [ARMIN] VAMBERY, (1832-1913), Vakit Matbaasi, Istanbul, [AH 1295] = 1878.
Contemporary burgundy cloth bdg. Marginal stains on the front board, foxing on pages, period repairs on some papers' margins. Otherwise a good copy. Stamp of "P. I. Kaia Bibliothek" on title page. With an exceptional provenance, from the collection of "S. Kıiliççioglu", who was a collector of books in Ottoman Turkish related to Asia and China. Roy. 8vo. (24 x 17 cm). In Ottoman script (Old Turkish with Arabic letters). 192 p.
The very rare first Turkish edition of the narrative of a Hungarian-Jewish polyglot orientalist and traveler's first-hand account as a spy in the British service in disguise through Central Asia. This work was translated by Abdülhalim (1794-1882) who was the father of the famous Turkish writer Samipasazâde Sezai, fifteen years later he met Vambery first in the Rifat Pasha's Konak [ie. Mansion], while Vambery was teaching linguistics.
With his journey paid for by Baron József Eötvös, in 1857 he set off for Istanbul, where there was a network of (quarrelsome) Hungarian émigrés. He survived, first, as a cook’s lodger in Pera, then in a cold, damp cellar of the Hungarian Association. To make ends meet he sang Ottoman ballads in the meyhanes, wearing Turkish costumes and calling himself, eventually, Reshid Efendi. Then he climbed, went over to Stamboul, the old city, and was taken up by the Rifat Pasha family, to teach the sons (Raif Bey and his elder brother) Western ways.
The journey lasted six months and was very dangerous. There were deserts to cross, with bandits, extreme thirst, and sandstorms. Vámbéry and his companions were holy beggars, dependent on charity for survival, but rumours went about that “hadjis” returning from Mecca had concealed treasure, and it was difficult to find boatmen who would take them across the Caspian without being well paid. All the while Vámbéry kept up his alias as a Turkish dervish, past Russians already suspicious of interlopers; and at the end of the road were emirs, in Bokhara, Samarkand, and Khiva, who put foreigners to death or threw them into a snake pit. However, Vámbéry had the presence of mind and the panache for which Budapest Jews are famous and passed himself off.
He encountered the Emir of Khiva, who took an interest in him, and they discussed the possible links between the languages. Sorrowfully they concluded that there was nothing much in it – the music perhaps? The emir produced a court orchestra that made native noises. Vámbéry was asked to sing some of his own native music and produced excerpts from Don Giovanni. He went back via Samarkand and the tomb of Tamerlane to Iran, returned to Budapest, and then got himself to England. British representatives in Tehran had become very interested in his activities. Russian railway-building had gone ahead, and within a few years, the Russians had taken over Central Asia - Samarkand in 1868, and Khiva in 1873. The British were alarmed... (Cornucopia).
Vámbéry met Dickens (they regularly lunched at the Athenaeum) and he seems to have inspired Matthew Arnold’s most famous poem, Sohrab and Rustum. When he wrote his Travels in Central Asia, the publishers were Byron’s and Scott’s John Murray, the firm to be published by, though they drove a hard bargain. The Travels sold 24,000 copies.
"Vámbéry became an instant celebrity in London and the public's fascination with his adventures and linguistic prowess created a huge demand for his original work upon publication in 1864."
"I have divided the book into two parts; the first containing the description of my journey from Teheran to Samarcand and back, the second devoted to notices concerning the geography, statistics, politics, and social relations of Central Asia." (From the preface of Vambery for the original edition).