Book Covers and Robinsonades: Exploring the Crusoe Collection

This month’s blog post was written by Chloe Wallaker, a final year BA English Literature and Film student at the University of Reading. Chloe has been researching our Crusoe Collection as part of her Spring Term academic placement based at Special Collections. 

Today marks the 299th anniversary of the publication of one of our favourite novels – Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. It is one of the most popular and widely published books today. The University of Reading Special Collections holds hundreds of editions and imitations of the novel as part of their Crusoe Collection, so I decided to visit and explore what the archives have to offer.

For a novel that was intended for adult readers, it was striking to discover the vast number of publications of Robinson Crusoe that were aimed at children. Different editions emphasise different aspects within the story and aim at children of different ages. I have chosen to showcase some of my favourite modern editions of the text that are aimed at children and published in the twentieth century.

A red book cover including pirates, dragons, Alice in Wonderland and a Knight.

The Rand-McNally edition of Life and adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954)– CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1954.

I came across the edition published by Mcnally and Company (above), which includes the modernised text of Robinson Crusoe, with minor abridgements. The cover includes different illustrations referencing classical children’s literature, including Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland, that was also published in the eighteenth century and forms a part of popular culture today. The edition categorized Robinson Crusoe amongst famous children’s fairy tales and recognised it as an adventure story for young readers.

A book cover showing an island and the sea, with Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday sat together.

Nelson (1960), Robinson Crusoe – CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1960

There are many adaptations of the novel that are shortened for younger children. I discovered Nelson’s adaption of the text. The edition is published to be told to children by adults, demonstrating how the story is constructed for very young readers as well as older children. This edition stood out to me as the cover focuses on the more mature and violent themes of the novel, including slavery and death, than the covers intended for older children. This made me question the appropriateness of the story in challenging its young children

The adaptation published by Hunia (above, left) encourages young children to read the story for themselves, instead of being read to. The cover suggests the story focuses on the relationship between Crusoe and Friday, as opposed to focusing on the adventure story which most of the publications adopt to appeal to children. This demonstrates how Robinson Crusoe not only appeals to children through entertainment, but teaches moral lessons, highlighting the pedagogical value of the novel.

Most of the children’s adaptations use illustrations to appeal to children. Wilkes’s edition (above, right) seems to construct the text to resemble a picture book. As well as focusing on the adventure aspects of the text, the publication focuses on the spiritual themes embedded within the novel, with its cover illustration resembling the biblical story of Noah’s Ark.

The publications I found most interesting were the imitations of the text, commonly described as ‘Robinsonades’, which reveal how Robinson Crusoe was not just a popular novel, but became an identifiable piece of popular culture. Crocket’s imitation of the text constructs Crusoe as a child figure, creating an identifiable protagonist for children. The edition takes the themes of adventure from the original text and constructs a version of the novel that is perhaps more suitable for children.

Perhaps the most interesting imitation of the novel is Ballantyne’s edition. This edition focuses on the relationship between a dog and his master, resembling the relationship between Crusoe and his man Friday. The edition removes the mature and violent themes of slavery, which could be considered inappropriate aspects of the novel, and constructs a pet-master relationship, which would appeal to children and in terms they could understand.

Some of the editions that stayed more true to the novel seemed to present problematic themes for children. This made me question the appropriateness of a novel that was intended for adults, being read by children. I found it interesting how each edition focused on different aspects and themes of the novel, demonstrating the number of ways in which the novel can be read and used to educate and entertain children. This investigation into the children’s editions of Robinson Crusoe has reminded me why the novel has remained a favourite read for people of all ages and continues to be published today.

For more information on our Crusoe Collection, visit the Special Collections website, or email us at specialcollections@reading.ac.uk.  

References:

 

Ballantyne, R.M (1970), The dog Crusoe, London: Abbey Classics, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1942-2013 [BOX].

Crockett, S.R (1905), Sir Toady Crusoe, London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. Ltd, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1905.

Defoe, Daniel (1954), Life and adventures of Robinson Crusoe, New York: Rand McNally & Company, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1954.

Defoe, Daniel (196-), Robinson Crusoe, London : Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1960

Hunia, Fran (1978), Robinson Crusoe, London: Collins, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1954.

Wilkes, Angela (1981), The adventures of Robinson Crusoe, London: Usborne Publishing, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1981.

Travel Thursday – The Great New York

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Front cover of The Great New York - Pennell (1911)

The Great New York – Pennell (1911)

One of the world’s top tourist destinations, New York has been attracting travellers for many years.  This week’s Travel Thursday looks at the Big Apple from two uniquely different perspectives; that of a poet and that of an artist.

Australian born critic and poet, W.J. Turner (1889-1946) moved to London to pursue writing in 1907 and alongside friend, Siegfried Sassoon, became a member of the Georgian poets group when his work was published as part of a Georgian Poet anthology (Hawkes, 2004).  Turner visited New York in the 1920s and penned a short travelogue detailing his time there, giving his thoughts on the city and all manner of related topics including, the wonderful character of American women, the Americanisation of Europe and advice on the perfect piece of luggage, the American trunk:

a trunk which stands upright, can be pushed along on rollers, fits in beside the driver of a taxi […] so easily accessible that he need never unpack during his whole journey.

American artist, Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) was an eminent etcher and lithographer, who championed and revived the art of print making in the early 20th Century (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016).  Although he travelled widely, Pennell lived in New York from 1918-1926 (Library of Congress, 2016) and created several beautiful drawings of the city.

For Pennell, New York was the ‘Unbelievable City’, a marvel of the modern world owing to its immense size and towering buildings, which are beautifully captured in his sketch of the city’s magnificent skyline.

New York Skyline by Pennell

New York Skyline by Pennell

Turner too is immediately in awe at the sight of New York on the horizon; on his arrival he proclaims:

There is no thrill at the end of any voyage upon this planet like the thrill at the first sight of New York rising like a bed of rock crystals out of the sea.

However, on closer inspection, Turner’s opinion of the city is not always the most enthusiastic, the smell he ascribes it for example is, “a blending of ice-cream and patchouli – a sickly mixture,” and he describes the general atmosphere as a terrifying mixture of noisy traffic and towering sky scrapers

Building a Skyscraper - Pennell

Building a Skyscraper – Pennell

that vomit, “from six to ten thousand people into the street,” all accompanied by a constant series of explosions caused by the underground work on subways and building foundations.  The heavy building programme in New York during the 1920s was also captured by Pennell, though instead of complaining about the noise he marvels at the speed at which the skyscrapers are completed:

The work goes on by night as well as by day. A few months will see a skyscraper in place, equipped and occupied.

Statue of Liberty - Pennell

Statue of Liberty – Pennell

Both men also differ on their views of the iconic Statue of Liberty; for Pennell it is an “effective feature,” which “greets the incoming ships from the sea” while for Turner, the statue is decidedly, “stumpy and ungraceful.”

Turner further complains about his subway journey, describing the carriages as, “small, cheaply fitted, sordid, and uncomfortable,” whereas Pennell praises the linked elevated railway as a “pleasant mode of conveyance outside the rush hours.”  However, despite his spirited complaining, Turner does give some interesting insights into the New York of the 1920s, for example although he dislikes the experience; he does explain how the subway system works:

The Elevated - Pennell

The Elevated – Pennell

To get quickly up-town it is necessary to take the subway.  You go underground.  There is an office where you can get change and then, putting in a nickel (five cents), you pass through clanging turnstiles on to the platform.  There are no ticket collectors nor porters.

and he provides this description of the newly implemented, modern marvel – traffic lights:

Red and green lamps are placed on pillars at these intersections and by them traffic is regulated.  In broad daylight up until 2a.m. these green and red lights are flashing in the streets.  All the accidents – as a taxi driver explained to me – take place after 2 a.m.

Also, according to Turner, one of the advantages of such a large city that swarms with people is the anonymity and indifference afforded to its visitors:

There is in New York no public opinion, no curiosity.  The complete impersonality of the big hotel and the big store where no one watches you to see that you spend something is very soothing.

Although only small details, you begin to get a vivid impression of a busy, crowded city that is full potential and growth.  It is a city of the future and indeed it inspired Turner to philosophise about progress and the future of cities and civilisation.  In his musings Turner even predicts the invention of mobile phones:

it is possible for me to predict that in much less than a hundred years from now one will be able to speak to any person in any part of the world by just taking a wireless receiver and transmitter out of one’s coat pocket.

Overall, regardless of its traffic and noise, both Turner and Pennell recognised that it is the architectural beauty of New York that really shines, it is a city designed to inspire and amaze and delight:

sketch of Cortland Street Ferry and the Brooklyn Bridge by Pennell

Cortland Street Ferry and the Brooklyn Bridge by Pennell

The sky-scrapers were slender pinnacles of light, across the river crawled in every direction ferry-boats that were just many-tiered electric palaces, and Brooklyn was one vast blaze netted with dark lines glittering beside the water.

 

Sources:
  • Pennell, J (1911) The Great New York. London: T.N. Foulis [Reserve 917.47 PEN]
  • Turner, W.J. (1929) A trip to New York and a Poem. London: Mandrake Press [Reserve 821.912 TUR]
  • Jacquetta Hawkes, (2004) ‘Turner, Walter James Redfern (1889–1946)’, rev. Sayoni Basu, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36589, accessed 24 Aug 2016]
  • Library of Congress, (2016) Drawing (Master). Available from:http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/drwgma/pennell.html
  • Encyclopedia Britannica (2016) Joseph Pennell.  Available from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Joseph-Pennell

 

National Allotment Week: Top tips for green fingers!

Wright, and Wright (c.1909) The Vegetable Grower’s Guide.

Wright, and Wright (c.1909) The Vegetable Grower’s Guide.

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

 

It is not uncommon for inexperienced people to be guilty of omissions in providing for the establishment of a garden which strike horticulturists as almost ludicrous.

(Wright and Wright, 1909)

In honour of National Allotment Week we have dug up some handy horticultural tips from our collections to help turn us all into green-fingered gardeners!

 

 

Let’s start with some basics:

Tip #1: Setting out your plot the right way can make a big difference:

“All kitchen garden students should be taught the simple rule of arranging their plots so that the rows of vegetables run north and south.  This permits of sun rays getting free access to the rows.  When they run east to west the sun is kept from the inner rows by the outer ones in the case of tall crops.” (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Wright and Wright (1909) also suggest that a parallelogram shaped plot is best and emphasise not to forget planning in space for paths when designing your allotment garden!

 

Gardening Tools (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Gardening Tools (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Tip #2: Always have the right equipment for the job!

“Garden equipment cannot be provided without expense, and it is wise to face what is entailed resolutely.” (Wright and Wright, 1909)

There certainly is a lot to consider but this helpful illustration (right) should help you know your dibble from your bill-hook!

 

Tip #3: Make sure your plants get enough water at the right time:

When it comes to watering plants, Moore (1881) cautions that, “it is a wrong though common practice to press the surface of the soil in the pot in order to feel if it is moist enough, this soon consolidates it, and prevents it from getting the full benefit of aeration.”

While Garton (1769) helpfully adds, “whilst the nights are frosty water your plants in the morning; in warm weather water than in the evening, before the sun goes down.”

 

Now we have the hang of the fundamentals, how do we go about growing some vegetables?

Carrots (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Carrots (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Tip #4: Getting the soil right is very important!

According to Moore (1881) the enrichment of soil is often overlooked so when planting onions for example, remember, “a portion of good soil should be provided for each plant, and heavy mulchings of manure should be placed upon the surface as soon as practical after planting to prevent the soil becoming dry and parched.”

While for carrots, Wright and Wright (1909) suggest that, “the land best suited […] is unquestionably a deep, sandy loam. […] They are best grown after celery or some other fibrous-rooted crop for which the ground was manured the previous year.”

 

Tip #5: Not any old carrot will do, make sure yours are the cream of the crop with this advice from Wright and Wright (1909):

“Thinning is of the first importance, as on it turns not only the question of getting shapely roots, but also of baffling the maggot.  […] Carrots should always be thinned twice; the first time a few days after they have come through, the second when they are about the size of radishes.”

To make sure your carrots are a rich bright red, try mixing soot and wood ashes “into the drills when the seed is sown.” (Wright and Wright, 1909)

 

Tip #6: Protect your plants and keep garden enemies at bay:

To fight against an attack by slugs and snails, Wright and Wright (1909) suggest that as, “they are principally night feeders, […] an attack can be stopped by looking over the beds at night with the aid of a lantern, dropping any slugs into a jar of brine.  Lime dusted round the outsides of the bed will stop the approach of fresh hordes.”

 

Onions (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Onions (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Tip #7: Harvest your crops with care:

You have chosen the right soil, fought off the slugs, tended your plants with care and it’s finally time to reap your rewards but while some vegetables can be easily pulled up Wright and Wright (1909) suggest a different method for large onions:

“The authors find it a good plan to gently heave the best bulbs from side to side with the hands day after day for a week, breaking a few roots each time, and thus bringing growth to a standstill by degrees.  This answers much better than forking them straight out of the ground at one operation.”

 

Great advice, now what should we be doing in our allotments during August?

In his, ‘The Practical Gardener and Gentleman’s Directory, for Every Month in the Year,’ Garton (1769) makes some useful suggestions:

  • “Cauliflower-seed to produce an early crop next summer must be sown between the 18th and 24th of this month, which will be ready to plant under frames in the last week in October, to remain there till the latter end of February, or beginning of March.”
  • “Weed and keep clean the asparagus beds, and the plants sown in the spring. Do this work with the hand only.”
  • “Sow carrots for spring use. Do this in the 3rd or 4th week of this month, and don’t sow this seed too thick.”
  • “This being the season for pickling cucumbers; they must be well watered in dry weather, three or four times a week; and be gathered at proper sizes three times a week.”

Finally, according to Mrs Loudon (1870), August is “about the best time of the year to visit famous gardens, one of the best ways of improving our knowledge of the art of gardening.”

Frontpieve from 'The Complete Gardener' by Thomas Mawe and John Abercrombie, 1854 [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE--4756-MAW]

Frontpieve from ‘The Complete Gardener’ by Thomas Mawe and John Abercrombie, 1854 [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE–4756-MAW]

You can find more advice on allotments and growing your own food at the National Allotment Society webpage.

 

Sources:

Moore, Thomas (1881) Epitome of Gardening. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE–4756-MOO]

Wright, J. and Wright, H. J. (c.1909) The Vegetable Grower’s Guide. London: Virtue and Co. [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE–4752-WRI]

Garton, James (1769) The Practical Gardener and Gentleman’s Directory, for Every Month in the Year.  London: E and C Dilly [RESERVE– ]

Mrs Loudon (1870) The Amateur Gardener’s Calendar.  London: Frederick Warne and Co. [RESERVE–635-LOU]

All items are available upon request.

Travel Thursday – Hungary and Transylvania

John Paget

John Paget

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Born in Leicestershire in 1808, John Paget studied medicine at Edinburgh University before travelling extensively on the continent (Czigány).  His travelogue, ‘Hungary and Transylvania: with remarks on their Condition, Social, Political and Economical’ published in 1839 was formed from his visits to the region during 1835-36 and was illustrated by George Hering, an artist who accompanied him on his journey.

The travelogue provides a plethora of careful insights, humorous accounts and details of historic interest.  It is considered to be of great cultural importance and achieved particular prominence during the Hungarian War of independence in 1848-9 where it was consulted as a reliable source of background information on the country (Czigány).  Indeed, Paget promises in his preface to the work to give an accurate picture of the countries he describes:

I know there are those who think, that “to write up a country,” a traveller should describe everything in its most favourable light; I am not of that opinion, -I do believe that a false impression can ever effect any lasting good.

And there is plenty of evidence that he held to his oath.  He holds nothing back, for example, when describing the poor social behaviour of some guests at a dinner party in Presburg :

a well-polished floor, on which, I am sorry to say, I observed more than one of the guests very unceremoniously expectorate.

Map of Hungary and Transylvania

Map of Hungary and Transylvania

While Paget gives the usual details of landscapes and buildings, he is very much a natural storyteller.  His writing is engaging, imaginative and beautifully descriptive; this passage evokes a sunset over the plains of Puszta–

It is just as the bright orb has disappeared below the level of the horizon; while yet some red tints, like glow-worm traces, mark the pathway he has followed; just when the busy hum of insects is hushed as by a charm…

Although he commended Hering for capturing “whatever might be distinctive, or curious, or beautiful,” on their journey, Paget’s writing is equally captivating – never more so than when he is recounting some of the myths and legends of the

Castle Csejta

Castle Csejta

region (sadly, nothing to do with Vampires).  For example, he recounts a gruesome true story on visiting Castle Csejta; describing the horrendous murders committed by Elizabeth Báthori in 1610.  Believing that bathing in a maiden’s blood would grant her eternal life, “no less than three hundred maidens were sacrificed at the shrine of vanity and superstition” with Elizabeth luring them through a secret passageway from the castle to the cottage of her two accomplices.

Paget’s describes his encounters with the local people with equal animation, honesty and a little bit of sarcastic wit; such as the old man posing for Hering, who, “allowed a limb to be replaced in its former position, when accidentally moved [… ] though he did not seem to have the slightest idea of what was going on,” Or his

Baths of Sliács

Baths of Sliács

experience at the baths of  Sliács, near Neusohl:

but conceive my horror, precise reader, when some very pretty ladies quietly informed me that they took their second bath in the evening and hoped I would join them!

(And join them he did, once he was properly supplied with an appropriate bathing-dress –  “I do assure you delicate reader, that, as far as I could see, nothing occurred that could shock anyone.”)

Paget later married a Hungarian Baroness, Polyxena Wesselényi, the estranged wife of a Hungarian magnate, Baron László Bánffy, and lived with his family in Transylvania at Gyéres.  He was granted Hungarian citizenship in 1847. Paget became a keen agriculturist and focused his efforts on improving his wife’s estate by applying new agricultural methods and using modern machinery: “A regular visitor to, and adjudicator at, international agricultural fairs, in 1878 he was awarded the Légion d’honneur at the World Exhibition in Paris,” (Czigány).

 

Sources and Further Reading:

Paget, J. (1839) Hungary and Transylvania. With remarks on their Condition, Social, Political and Economical. London: John Murray. [Available on request – Overstone 27A/13]

Lóránt Czigány, ‘Paget, John (1808–1892)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com.idpproxy.reading.ac.uk/view/article/21115, accessed 17 Feb 2016]

John Paget Biographies

Diary of John Paget

Travel Thursday – The Voyages of the Alceste

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

This week’s Travel Thursday follows the voyages of the ship Alceste as recounted by the ship’s surgeon,

Captain Maxwell

Captain Maxwell

John McLeod in his ‘Voyage of His Majesty’s Ship Alceste to China, Corea, and the Island of Lewchew with an account of her shipwreck’ (3rd ed, 1820) [Reserve 915.1].  Under the command of Captain Murray Maxwell, the Alceste was one of the first British vessels to visit Okinawa Island (Lewchew), the largest of the Ryukyu Islands of Japan.

The purpose of the voyage was to transport Ambassador, Lord Amherst to the court of the Chinese Emperor at Peking, in an attempt to open trade with China.  The Alceste sailed in 1816, travelling via Rio de Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope to China.  Once the Ambassador and his delegation had disembarked, the Captain and crew continued on to explore the region.

Unfortunately, their visits were not always welcomed by the local people, particularly off the West coast of Korea:  “The natives here exhibited, by signs and gestures, the greatest aversion to the landing of a party of ships, making cut throat motions by drawing their

Chart showing the track and discoveries of the Alceste

Chart showing the track and discoveries of the Alceste

hands across their necks and pushing the boats away from the beach.”

It seems as though the Korean people had been forbidden from welcoming strangers to their shores, for when the crew did make land, a chief they had befriended at sea,”clasped his hands in mournful silence; at last bursting into a fit of crying” then seemed to “intimate that in four days […] he should lose his head’’ and refused to welcome them beyond the beach.

They had a more friendly reception on the Island of Lewchew (Okinawa) where, after a cautious introduction, some officers were invited ashore and hospitably entertained, “Many loyal and friendly toasts, applicable to both countries were given and drank with enthusiasm.”

The crew spent several months with the island people, learning about their language, customs and traditions.  McLeod reports for example on the nature of their dance: “The mode of dancing of these people may, strictly speaking, be termed hopping” but the crew did their best to join in forming “a grotesque assembly”.

'Lewchewan' Chief

‘Lewchewan’ Chief

The surgeon also reports on the medical practices of the islanders, noting that when Captain Maxwell injured his finger, the island people were keen to help, sending for one of their surgical professors…“The injury having being examined […] a fowl was killed with much form, and skinned, and a composition of flour and eggs, with some warm ingredients about the consistence of dough, was put around the fractured part, (Which had the effect of retaining it in its position) and the whole enclosed in the skin of the fowl.”

One of the happiest occasions occurred on 25th October when the people came together to celebrate the anniversary of the coronation of George III.  The islanders, “sent on board the ship a great number of coloured paper lanterns, for the purpose of illuminating her at night, in honour of our King.” McLeod states that the day was so remarkable that it would, “often be recalled with delight by all who witnessed the pleasing scene of two people […] harmoniously united in hearty good will and convivial friendship.”

Shortly after, the Alceste left the island and returned to China to collect Lord Amherst, whose delegation had been an unfortunate failure.  From there, the crew’s return journey was fraught with a number of difficulties; not only were they shipwrecked and

Fort Maxwell - the fort built after the Alceste was shipwrecked, named for her captain.

Fort Maxwell – the fort built after the Alceste was shipwrecked, named for her captain.

attacked by ferocious Malay pirates but their rescue ship, the Caesar, also caught fire!

The voyage home further saw the arrival of two interesting passengers when they made port at Batavia, “a snake of that species called Boa Constrictor; the other an Ourang-Outang.”  McLeod recounts the occasion of them feeding the snake a goat with great fascination, explaining that, “the whole operation of completely gorging the goat occupied about two hours and twenty minutes.”  The ship’s officers also encountered Napoleon Buonaparte at St Helen’s.  Of the French military officer, McLeod states: “Whatever may be his general habit, he can behave himself very prettily if he pleases.”

The crew finally reached home in the autumn of 1817 after a journey of twenty months (Beijing Center).  McLeod published his account of the voyage shortly after his return; a popular work, second and third editions were later released in 1819 and 1820 respectively, (Beijing Center).

 

Sources:

Beijing Center – Voyage of His Majesty’s Ship Alceste

Office of the Historian – Lew Chew

Naval Military Press

Travel Thursday – Egypt and Nubia

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

David Roberts Series

David Roberts Series

This Travel Thursday post features the masterful landscape illustrations of Scottish painter and traveller, David Roberts. Presented in six volumes, both ‘The Holy Land’ and ‘Egypt and Nubia’ [OVERSTONE–SHELF LARGE 34I/07] were published between 1842 and 1849 by F.G. Moon. These hefty tomes contain detailed drawings alongside historical descriptions of various sites of interest in the Middle East. The prints, created by Louis Haghe, a prolific and renowned lithographer,  have “come to be regarded as the chef d’oeuvre of the tinted lithograph,” (Price).

In the early 19th Century, travel was both difficult and expensive so few people were able to venture beyond their own towns and while photography was beginning to develop, “printed books of landscape and travel drawings were for most people their only window to the outside world,” (Medina Arts).

Portico of the Temple of Edfou - Upper Egypt

Portico of the Temple of Edfou – Upper Egypt

However, even the artists creating such drawings tended to rely on inaccurate or incomplete descriptions from travellers when composing their landscapes of foreign locations. Roberts was one of the first professional artists to visit the Middle East and compose his landscapes ‘on the spot’. He believed that, “there would be a great market in England and Europe for images of such exotic subjects,” (Medina Arts) and with subscribers to his work including Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Queen Victoria and Tsar Nicholas 1 of Russia– Roberts was proved correct. His works continue to have importance today, giving a glimpse into monuments unseen by many and preserving some views that have been lost to time forever.

Setting out in 1838, Roberts sailed from Alexandria and travelled for eleven months up the Nile River, through Egypt and the Holy Land, recording “his impressions of landscapes, temples, ruins, and people in three sketchbooks and more than 272 watercolors,” (Metropolitan Museum). He also kept a journal of his travels, sections of which are quoted in the historical descriptions written by Reverend George Croly in the published volumes:

Colossal Figures in Front of the Great temple of Aboo-Simbel

Colossal Figures in Front of the Great temple of Aboo-Simbel

The ‘Colossal Figures in Front of the Great temple of Aboo-Simbel’, which represent Rameses II, are described by Croly as being, “the most beautiful colossi yet found in any of the Egyptian ruins,” and he notes the vitriol Roberts showed in his journal toward the, “contemptable relic-hunters, who have been led by their vanity to smear their vulgar names on the very foreheads of the Egyptian deities.”

The height of these enormous statutes is recorded at over fifty-one feet yet despite their size, Roberts affords them minute and careful detail in his artwork. It is therefore no wonder that leading English art critic, John Ruskin is quoted as saying that Roberts’ drawings, “make “true portraiture of scenes of historical and religious interest. They are faithful and laborious beyond any outlines from nature I have ever seen,” (Metropolitan Museum).

However, it is perhaps clear that Roberts was motivated to produce such beautiful drawings as he was inspired by the beauty of the landscapes and objects themselves. In the description accompanying his drawing of the ‘Central Avenue of the Great Hall of Columns in Karnak’ he is quoted as saying:

Central Avenue of the Great Hall of Columns in Karnak

Central Avenue of the Great Hall of Columns in Karnak

It is only […] on coming near that you are overwhelmed with astonishment: you must be under these stupendous masses – you must look […] to them, and walk around them – before you can feel that neither language nor painting can convey a just idea of the emotions they excite.

Indeed the introductory text to the collection celebrates the fact that, thanks to the efforts of previous explorers, “a visit to the Nile is not an adventure but an excursion.” The world of the Middle East had become more accessible and a journey there was more than worth the effort:

A voyage from Alexandria to Wady Halfa, will reward the traveller, by the emotions which the scenes and objects will excite, far beyond any power of promise.

 

 

Sources and Further Reading:

Metropolitan Museum

Medina Arts

David Walker Price

Thornton’s Books

BBC – David Roberts

David Brass Rare Books