Paris, Firmin Didot, 1833.
8vo [208 x 126 mm] of xv pp., (1) bl. p., 472 pp., 6 plates including 2 folding. Eggplant half-calf, flat spine decorated with gilt fillets, marbled edges. Contemporary binding.
Rare first edition.
Avery Architectural Library, 185 ; Graesse, Trésor des livres rares, II, 116 ; Brunet, I, 1780
After the publication of his « Précis du système hiéroglyphique », young pupils, passionate admirers of his works, eager to follow in his footsteps, trained around him.
In Italy, a large emulation also stirred elite men. This fraternity of noble wishes helped Champollion think about welcoming a scientific trip to Egypt to explore again the region often badly perceived and ill-understood by the scholars of the first expedition, as well as the French and Tuscan governments.
Champollion left Paris on July 16 1828, arrived in Lyons on the 18th, in Toulon on the 24th, and sailed the sea on the Églé on the 31st of the same month, after having escaped a few hours only a letter from Mr. Drovetti compelling him to postpone his trip, and a telegram from Paris suspending his departure.
He freighted in Alexandria two maasch or large boats from the Nile, that he named the Isis and the Athôr, after the names of two Egyptian goddesses. He also found in this harbor natives from the country necessary to the expedition, the sailors, the interpreter, the staff, and by order of the vice-Roy of Egypt two janissaries in charge of protecting in his name the travelers and their works.
« There is in this volume, as a natural preamble to the ‘Lettres écrites d’Égypte’, the ‘Mémoire’ given to the king by Mr. the Duke of Blacas. This memoir might be useful to other travelers, and help their research in a favorable way. It is followed by the ‘Extract’ of letters written between the departure from Paris and the landing in Alexandria: this extract seemed necessary for the complete history of the travel.
The first nineteen ‘Letters’ written from Egypt have been printed together or into fragments in various literary collections, and in the ‘Moniteur’; some proof sheets copies printed separately have been preserved by a watchful eye: these same letters are being reproduced here with some corrections in the proper names; the twentieth letter and the following ones had not yet been published. The seven plates which illustrate this volume only give more interest to the book. »
This volume gathers the 31 letters written by Champollion to his brother during his trip to Egypt, the last 12 appearing here for the first time.
It is known that this trip, which enabled him to check that his hieroglyphic system worked, eventually caused his death. Having caught tuberculosis and schistosomiasis, he came back to France to get treated, but he died in 1832 at 41 years old.
These letters were published a few months after the author’s death by his elder brother, Jacques-Joseph Champollion-Figeac. They express his emotion in front of the marvels he saw when he was at the head of a team of scholars and of drawers mapping monuments from Alexandria to Aswan.
In a letter written from Thebes on May 18 1829, Champollion wrote to his brother:
« In your last letter, I found out that my letters might interest some people, and that I should send them successively to various well-known individuals. I find very useful to borrow names entirely uninvolved with archeological matters that I am having; for that matter my letters contain piled results; there are pure and simple notes, some kind of indications, and not letters such as it should be for these persons; they were made for scholars and not aristocrats. I think you will agree, and if you had the precaution of writing down your name, since they are addressed to you, no one else tried to write down its own. I keep this wrong for you only. »
A beautiful copy particularly wide-margined (208 mm high), preserved in its contemporary binding.