Rare Book Highlights: Marginalia in Hasselquist’s Voyages and Travels in the Levant

Map of the Mediterranean Sea surrounded by the Greek islands, Anatolia, Cyrpus, the Near East, and Northern Africa.

Map of Hasselquist’s Travels to the Levant from the year 1749 to 1752.

Hasselquist, Fredrik. Voyages and Travels in the Levant; in the Years 1749, 50, 51, 52. London: Printed for L. Davis and C. Reymers, 1766. Call number: QH43 H27iE

The former owner of this book left no record of his (or her?) identity; there is no bookplate or owner signature to tell us who the arm chair traveler was. But he left traces of his musings in the marginal notes and underlinings scattered through the book.

The book describes the Levant, a historical geographic term referring to the Eastern Mediterranean countries, and Hasselquist began his travels in Smyrna, an ancient Turkish city now called İzmir, and continued through Egypt and the modern-day countries of Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria, and Cyprus. Hasselquist was an 18th century Swedish naturalist and student of Carl Linnaeus, the botanist who developed the modern scientific system of naming organisms by genus and species called binomial nomenclature. Linnaeus gave a lecture in which he lamented that the natural history of the Holy Land was little known, prompting Hasselquist, at the age of 27, to undertake the voyage for scientific study. He traveled for four years, collecting natural history specimens and taking notes on the natural history and the customs of the countries’ inhabitants, but he died in Smyra on his way home. His notes and collections reached Sweden, where Linneas published his notes in 1757 under the title Iter Palæstinum, Eller Resa til Heliga Landet, Förrättad Ifrån år 1749 til 1752. The book was translated into English in 1766.

The owner of our copy seems to have been most interested in the areas of Turkey and Egypt, given the concentration of marginalia in those sections of the book.

Here are some markings of note:

Two pages of printed text. Includes pointing hands drawn in ink in margins and a handwritten note that is not entirely legible.

Marginalia: pointing hands called “manicules” and marginal note, “Similar to the dance [?] amongst the Spaniards V. Barett’s Travels”. [click for larger image]

Our reader used manicules, or hands with pointing fingers, to point out passages comparing the roads in Smyrna unfavorably to the roads in Sweden, and describing the country estate of the Dutch Consul Hochpied containing a variety of exotic birds. On the facing page, he highlights a passage describing a traditional dance and notes its similarities to a Spanish dance described in another travel book.

Note reads, “n.b. women’s howl compared to frogs croak.” [click for larger image]

In the chapter describing Alexandria, Hasselquist describes a group of women giving invitations to a feast, who walked along making loud noises described as “shrill” and “quavering,” meant, as he was told, to signify the women’s joy. In a gloss on the text, the reader has written, “Women’s howl compared to frog’s croak.”

Notes read, “a good observation of an Arabian” and “n.b. – hospitality of the Arabs” [click for larger image]

Referring to a description of the moderate eating habits of some local men, the reader has noted, “* a good observation of an Arabian.” Later he notes a passage describing the “hospitality of the Arabs.”

Who was our mysterious book owner? Clearly, it was someone avidly interested in the customs of cultures foreign to his own. This was no passive reader, but one who wished to return to specific passages of interest. Living at the tail end of the Age of Exploration, there would have been many books to feed his interest in exotic locales. Can you imagine how fascinating it would be to discover other books from this reader’s library, to find out which regions and countries were of particular interest? This book provides just a glimpse.

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