KINNEAR, John. Cairo, Petra and Damascus in 1839.

London, John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1841


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. pp. (xi) 2-348 [12]. Roman letter. A well-margined, uncut, clean copy in original panelled blue cloth binding. Light age yellowing, small damage to head and tail of spine and joint, with remnants of the contemporary label.

This personal and informative set of 12 letters from Scottish banker John Gardiner Kinnear (1800-1866) provides fascinating insight into contemporary feelings in the West towards the government and culture of the Near East. Each letter is summarised under a number of headings, laid out after the preface and the reader can track Kinnear’s movements moment by moment from his arrival in Alexandria on the 16th of January 1839 until his quarantine on Malta, as he returned home, on the 15th of September 1839, on his initially ‘entirely mercantile’ (p. vii) expedition. His observations, descriptions and personal responses are laid out in most intimate detail, addressing themes ranging from culture and religion to taxes and politics. In particular, he mentions the religious tolerance under the current government, specifically towards Jews and Christians, and also acknowledges the government’s faults in his fairly eulogistic discourse, but admits they are ‘by no means so bad as is supposed in England’. He blames many of their problems on the traditional form of government, rather than the rule of Mehemet Ali (1767-1849) himself. The collection was compiled in honour of his friend Roberts, to memorialise the ‘interesting scenes through which we passed last year’.

Kinnear’s positive comments about the government of Mehemet Ali, the ruler of Egypt and Syria at the time, are admittedly ‘more favourable than those entertained by many persons in this country’ (pp. viii). Ali had initially been the pasha of Ottoman Egypt, founding a dynasty which lasted until the mid-20th C, but he poached Syria from Ottoman control in 1839, until he was ousted in 1841. He revolutionised the traditional political and economic structure of Egypt, building on the foundations left by the Napoleonic occupation.

The dedicatee, and Kinnear’s travelling companion, was the Scottish painter David Roberts (1796-1864), who exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time in 1824 and often journeyed in search of ‘exotic or impressive subjects’, making him one of the ‘first independent and British artists to experience the Orient at hand’. A striking contemporary account contrary to the popular western view held at the time.

Blackmer 739. Not in Lowndes.