Let me take you on a trip
Around the world and back
And you won't have to move
You just sit still
Maybe I can blame the bright red flyers for Macy's that have been littering the employee lunchroom this week, or perhaps I'm unduly under the influence of St. Valentine:
I've fallen in a big way for the four-volume set of The Modern Traveller: India. Originally part of a 30-volume set issued between 1825 and 1829, the books are attributed to Josiah Conder. Our four duodecimo volumes have been rebound in full modern red calf.
While the entire 30-volume set dealt with "Geographical, Historical, and Topographical" descriptions of "Countries Around the Globe," these volumes are exclusively about India. There is a wonderful engraved map, and 15 delightful plates.
In Josiah Conder's day, travel was horribly slow, dirty, dangerous, and costly. How many years had he travelled? I had to know more about this amazing man, so I looked him up in the Dictionary of National Biography, which is the resource when you're researching Brits long dead.
Here is what I learned:
...although written by a person who never left his native land, [the series] constitutes one of the most accurate, faithful, and laborious compilations ever published respecting nearly all the parts of the world.
(DNB, Vol. IV)
Accurate? Faithful? Josiah Conder never left England, yet he produced a 30-volume series on the countries of the known world. He published a vast amount of information about places he had never seen. Today such a publication could easily make him a media whipping boy and secure him a guest spot on Oprah.
How did he do it? Josiah was the son of a bookseller and engraver. He grew up in a bookshop on Falcon Street in London (just imagine the contents of that shop!) and he possessed literary talent. His printed tour of the world is based on the works of others; there is no bibliography at the end of the India set, but there are footnotes throughout, and they are a hidden jewel.
Marsden's Marco Polo, Rennell's Memoir of a Map of Hindoostan or the Mogul Empire, Elphinstone's An Account of the Kingdom of Cabul, Pennant's Outlines of the Globe: the works Conder references are now truly rare titles. So far I've only found one that is available in a "print on demand" format, and the contemporary printings will set you back thousands.
The Modern Traveller: India is simply biblio-licious. If only this set could...
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Affordable reading recommendations:
Here are some excellent books of fiction set in India, written by people who lived there:
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Kirsten Berg has worked as a used book buyer for Powell's for more than 10 years. She is experienced with technical and general reading material, and enjoys working with out-of-print and rare material the most.
Books mentioned in this post