[London]: Printed by W. Iaggard, and Henry Featherston. 1616 but actually ca. 1730.
Quarto: 20.6 x 16.8 cm. , 56 p. Collation: A4 (-A1), B-H4. (A1 cancelled)
SECOND EDITION (1st 1616). A type facsimile executed around 1730. The original had "Fetherston" in imprint. An eighteenth-century factotum on p. 44 is one of many clues to its true date.
A very nice, broad-margined copy bound in 19th c. straight-grained Morocco, boards with a double gold filet, title and date tooled in gold on the spine. A broad-margined copy. Persistent though mainly light dampstain, a bit darker in the final gathering. Illustrated with 4 woodcuts: a unicorn, an antelope, the author walking in the woods, and another of him riding an Indian elephant (the last of these printed three times.).
Both editions are rare. 5 copies in North America institutions, 6 in the U.K. The first edition is also held by 4 North America institutions, 6 in the U.K.
Second edition of these letters from India, written by the extraordinary itinerant adventurer and eccentric Thomas Coryate, in which the author describes episodes from his three-year trek through Syria, Persia, the Levant, and India. The letters were written at Ajmer, India, seat of the Mughal court, and brought to England for publication by the East India Company’s chaplain at Ajmer, Peter Rogers. The letters are addressed to Sir Edward Philips, Laurence Whitaker, the High Seneschal, and Coryate’s mother.
It was Coryate who sent instructions for the publisher to include an image of the author riding an elephant, a wish that Coryate expressed in the letter to his mother (found in this volume), “I have rid upon an elephant since I came to this Court, determining one day (by Gods leave) to have my picture expressed in my next Booke, sitting upon an Elephant”.
“Born in the sleepy village of Odcombe in Somerset towards the end of the 1570s, Thomas Coryate (c. 1577-1617) was one of the most widely traveled Englishmen of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His wanderings around Europe and Asia from 1608, much of which he carried out on foot, captured the imaginations of his compatriots, and gave expression to a growing desire among many of them to explore distant and unfamiliar territories, particularly within the Islamic empires to the east, stretching as far as the Mughal Empire in northern India.
“Coryate was also one of very few Englishmen from this period who traveled overseas for reasons unconnected to diplomacy, religion, or trade. His travels were therefore unusual insofar as they were motivated primarily by curiosity and a sense of wanderlust, as well as by a desire for personal celebrity and fame. This second point is crucial, for Coryate used his travels within the Islamic world, and within Mughal India specifically, to project a certain image of himself to his countrymen at home, which highlighted qualities such as bravery, learning, eccentricity and an ability to charm the rich and powerful, including the Mughal emperor of the day, the celebrated Jahangir (r. 1605-27).
In 1612, after his extensive travels in Europe, “Coryate sailed for Istanbul, where he lived until 1614. He subsequently traveled throughout Syria and the Holy Land, and to India via the Safavid Empire in Persia, arriving in Agra, the capital of the Mughal Empire, in the middle of July 1615. Coryate never saw England again, dying two years later in Surat, on the north-western coast of the Indian subcontinent… From 1616 onwards, many of Coryate’s letters from India appeared increasingly in print, along with extracts of his writings which had found their way back to England.”(Charlie Beirouti, “A backpacker in the age of Shakespeare: Thomas Coryate at the court of the Mughal emperor”, Folger Shakespeare Library)
“In the autumn of 1612 Coryate left England, for what would prove to be the last time, en route for the East. Sometime before leaving he bequeathed his old travelling shoes to the parish church at Odcombe. They were still to be seen hanging there in the 18th century. Having meandered around Asia Minor and the Holy Land for some time, he set out from Jerusalem for lesser-known territories in April 1614. At Aleppo he waited for a caravan; he wrote up some notes on his journey, a few of which survive, and some letters which are lost. He set out, en caravane, in September 1614, and within a few days crossed the Euphrates into Mesopotamia. He visited Ur (or Orfah), ‘a very delicate and pleasant city’. It was the birthplace of the biblical Abraham, but the diligent enquirer ‘could see no part of the ruins of the house where that faithful servant of God was born’. Four days out of Ur he waded across the Tigris, finding it ‘so shallow that it reached no higher than the calf of my leg’. From there he travelled through Armenia and Persia to ‘Spahan’ (Isfahan), where he waited once more ‘for an opportunity of caravans to travel withal’. The caravan he joined consisted of two thousand camels, fifteen hundred horses, eighteen hundred mules and asses and six thousand people.
“Four months out of Isfahan, Coryate crossed ‘the famous river Indus which is as broad again as our Thames at London’ and not long after arrived at Lahore, which he found to be ‘one of the largest cities in the whole universe, for it containeth at least xvi miles in compass, and exceedeth Constantinople itself in greatness’. Having rested here he set off for Agra, the capital of the Mughal empire. He found it a ‘goodly city’ (although he could not see its chief attraction of today, the Taj Mahal, which was only built in the 1620s by Emperor Jahangir’s son, Shah Jahan). From Agra he turned west to Ajmer, where the itinerant Mughal court was currently established. He arrived around the middle of July 1615, and was hospitably received by the small group of English merchants resident there. Here, at the English ‘factory’, he set up his staff and settled in to rest – and to write – after this incredibly tough journey.
“From Jerusalem to Ajmer, he estimated, was a distance of 2700 miles, and he had ‘traced all this tedious way afoot’. It had taken him ‘fifteen months and odd days’, though nearly six months of this was spent waiting for caravans in Aleppo and Isfahan. He was on the road for about nine months, covering an average of seventy miles a week in extremely harsh conditions. He is particularly emphatic about the economies of his travel. ‘Betwixt Aleppo and the Mughal’s court’, he spent just three pounds, ‘yet fared reasonably well every day’. Of that three pounds, moreover, he was ‘cozened of no less than ten shillings by certain lewd Christians of the Armenian nation’.
“In November 1615, he despatched four long newsletters to England giving the details of his itinerary. One of them is addressed to the ‘Fraternitie of Sireniacal Gentlemen that meet the first Fridaie of every month at the signe of the Mere-maid in Bread streete in London’. This is the only documentary reference to the much-bruited Mermaid ‘club’, whose membership has been imaginatively expanded to include Shakespeare. These newsletters were collected and printed in a short pamphlet entitled ‘Thomas Coriate, Traveller for the English Witts: Greeting’. The title-page has a woodcut of Coryate riding an elephant.
“Coryate stayed at Ajmer for over a year, an honoured guest (or inveterate sponger), ‘not spending one little piece of money’… In early 1617 he was wandering again – to Hardwar, to celebrate the Hindu new year, and to Kangra, where he visited the temples of Mata Devi and ‘Jallamakee’ (Jawala Mukki). He was back in Agra by early July.
In August or September 1617, Coryate arrived in the city of Mandu in central India. In November, he headed for Surat, where he died and was buried.
“The route of his last lonely trudge can only be surmised. A probable route would be to strike south-west from Dhar, via the village of Bagh, to rejoin the Narbada river which flows past Mandu. There he could take passage down into the coastal lowlands of Gujarat, to the small but ancient river-port of Bharuch (now often called by its Anglicised form, Broach) and from there by the caravan-road to Surat.
All we actually know of the journey is that he made it to his destination, that he was suffering badly from dysentery, and that he died a few days after his arrival. Terry gives the circumstances as follows:
‘He lived to come safely thither, but there being over-kindly used by some of the English, who gave him sack which they had brought from England; he calling for it as soon as he first heard of it, and crying: ‘Sack, sack, is there such a thing as sack? I pray give me some sack’; and drinking of it (though, I conceive, moderately, for he was a very temperate man), it increased his flux which he had then upon him. And this caused him within a few days, after his very tedious and troublesome travels (for he went most on foot) at this place to come to his journey’s end; for here he overtook Death in the month of December 1617. Sic exit Coryatus, and so must all after him, for if one should go to the extremest part of the world East, another West, another North and another South, they must all meet at last together in the Field of Bones, wherein our Traveller hath now taken up his lodging.’
“Almost everything about Coryate’s last journey is doubtful. Its precise route cannot be traced, its circumstances cannot be recovered. He disappears from view in the plains below Mandu; he turns up later on the riverfront at Surat. One glimpses him out of dusty bus windows: a ragged man walking alone down a road.”(Charles Nicholl, “Field of Bones”, London Review of Books, Vol. 21 No. 17, 2 Sept. 1999).