Maggs Bros. Ltd. of London has issued the latest in their long-running series of catalogues, number 1444, entitled Travels & Voyages. These are accounts mostly of 17th to 19th century voyages, from the Age of Discovery. With a few exceptions (such as America's Wilkes expedition) they emanated from Europe, and from there spread around the world. Maggs has divided the catalogue by destination, ranging from the Americas to Africa, Near and Far East, Australia and the Pacific, and the Arctic and Antarctica. These are the books that informed people at home about what lay beyond the horizon at a time when knowledge and understanding of far off places was limited at best. Here are some of the 227 items being offered.
One of the great mysteries for Europeans began at the other side of the Mediterranean - the source of the river Nile. Everyone knew where it ended, but it took centuries for Europeans to discern where it began. John Speke and an unbelieving Richard Burton would find it in the 1860s, but the most significant attempt prior to that came almost a century earlier. That adventure is described by explorer James Bruce in Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, in the Years 1768...1773, published in 1790. Bruce did make his way up to the source of the Blue Nile, but most people regard the White Nile as the true source of the river, hence it taking another century to answer the mystery. £4,500 (British pounds or roughly $7,000 in U.S. dollars).
Item 128 is a letter from Lord Joseph Banks to Lord Monbaddo concerning the 18th century English curiosity "Peter the Wild Boy." Peter was not from far away. He was discovered in the woods of Germany and taken back to England. Peter walked on all fours, ate vegetation found in the woods, and did not speak a word in any language. Indeed, he was brought back to England in 1726 and survived to the age of about 70 without ever learning to speak. By the time of this letter, 1782, Europe had become fascinated with the concept of the "noble savage" from far off lands - people uneducated but filled with great insights and values. Peter was none of this. He had no great thoughts, and introduction to "civilization" brought out no inner depth. However, Monboddo, one of the early pre-evolutionists, was fascinated by Peter. Monboddo believed that language was the key to a sort of intellectual evolution of humans. He believed humans started more ape-like, but language enabled them to develop. Peter might be something of an example of an earlier stage. Banks, who had traveled to far off lands on Cook's first journey, was having none of this, at least with regards to Peter. He thought Peter was just some idiot child whose parents had dumped in the woods because he was difficult to handle. Nonetheless, he here tries to help Monboddo with his research. Still, his cynicism towards stories about Peter comes through as he comments, "No extract from newspapers however carefully written will induce me to believe that a human being can exist at all upon leaves & moss while the anatomical structure of the stomack & digestive organs teach me to consider it as impossible…" Priced at £2,500 (US $3,900).