PALGRAVE'S ARABIA AND THE QUARTERLY REVIEW.
[To THE EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR."] SIR,—In the absence of my brother, Mr. W. G. Palgrave, I ask your leave to make a few remarks on the attack brought against him by the reviewer of his Arabian Travels, in the January number of the Quarterly, so far as it assumes a personal character. The editor and proprietor of that Review are men of high character for honour, and it has for a long time been distinguished by its fair and liberal treatment of literary subjects. This adds much to my regret in making the following statement, which I have as far as possible given in the words of the reviewer and the author.
I complain of no fairly supported criticism on the book, however severe. "At the best, but imperfect outlines," as the author calls them, they were written from inevitably hasty notes, in some parts from memory (Vol. II., p. 352) ; and containing a vast number of statements of fact, they must be open to correction, and have been criticized accordingly by competent writers. Objections have been also made to the author's arrangement, choice of subject, and inferences from what he saw. Against fair literary criticism of this kind I should have nothing to object, but it is otherwise should a reviewer bring accusations of unfounded claims to dis- covery and suppression of the previous evidence, or sum up with a verdict of general untrustworthiness, except upon clear and convincing proofs. Unless such are supplied, it is a man's right to protest at once against the verdict. The matter passes into a more serious sphere than the literary. Honneur oblige : nor, in such a case, is it the honour of the writer reviewed which is alone in question.
The reviewer, after enumerating the coast provinces of Arabia, and stating that they have all been fully described, notices the travellers who had previously visited or written upon the interior. He sums up thus :-
"Such were the accounts of Nejd which had been laid before the European public previous to 1860 ; and although much atten- tion had not been recently directed to the affairs of a region so remote, yet the truth is, that of all the provinces of Arabia, Nejd, —instead of being, as Mr. Palgrave represents it, and as it was at first taken (by ourselves among others) upon his authority to be, as a blank to be filled up in the map of Asia, an unknown and virgin soil,—was undoubtedly the province regarding which there existed, previous to his journey, the most extensive, various, and minute information, in relation both to the country and its inhabitants. But no one from reading Mr. Palgrave's book could discover that the country had ever been explored before he penetrated into it."
And afterwards the reviewer speaks of " This misapprehension as to . . . . what was already known of Nejd, which gives him throughout the air of a man who expects to get credit for having been the first to discover what other writers had previously made known to the public." I. The question how far Central Arabia had been described by prior travellers, or how much my brother's narrative has, or has not, added to our knowledge, I leave to judges more competent and less partial than I may naturally be considered, referring the reader only to the remarks by judges such as Sir R. Murchison and Sir H. Rawlinson in the proceedings of the Royal Geographi- cal Society (April 28, 1864), and to the general verdict of other reviewers. Having quitted Europe in youth, my brother had been unable, " from want, not of will, but of leisure," to inquire, before he started, into the descriptions already existing ; nor can it be maintained that such knowledge, however useful, was an essential precondition of the journey. On his return to England, he read at once all that he could obtain, and was much interested to observe how far they had anticipated his own observations, regret- ting only that he had not had the advantage of this information before he went himself.
My business is, however, limited to the assertions that my bro- ther represents Central Arabia " as a blank to be filled up in the map of Asia, an unknown and virgin soil ; that he has " through- out the air of a man who expects to get credit for having been the first to discover what other writers had previously made known to the public." These assertions, in the sense intended by the reviewer, are unsupported by the facts. For the truth of this statement, I refer my readers to the book. In the whole of it the author has made no such representation ; has never laid claim to be a discoverer of new lands, or given grounds for the assertion that he has represented Central Arabia as " an unknown and virgin soil." 1 do not think that he has once even used such a phrase as that he was the first European who had visited this or that place, or made such and such an observation, although he has of course occasionally noticed facts which were new to him, such as the civilization of the interior and the infrequency of Bedouinism.
The words above italicised, and on which the reviewer appears to rely, are taken from the first paragraph of the book. " Of the interior of this vast region, of its plains and mountains, its tribes and cities, &c what do we as yet really know, save from accounts necessarily wanting in fulness and precision? It is time to fill up this blank in the map of Asia." All that the reviewer has omitted to add are the words which immediately follow : " Such were my thoughts," when the traveller found himself on the edge of the desert. And such must necessarily have been the thoughts of any one who, as he has stated in his preface, was unacquainted at the time with the narratives then in existence.
My brother probably believed that he was the first European traveller who had enjoyed such advantages, and resided so long in Central Arabia as to be able to offer a detailed account of the interior life of the inhabitants. This, however, is quite a different matter from representing it as "an unknown and virgin soil;" and whether his belief was correct or not, I do not see that it is contested by the reviewer.
H. Against the reviewer's next statement, that " no one, from reading Mr. Palgrave's book, could discover that the country had ever been explored before he penetrated into it," I have simply to refer to pp. x. and xi. of the preface, and to p. 137 of the first volume. In these passages he has mentioned with'discriminating praise all the chief previous travellers in Arabia—Niebuhr, Well- sted, Wallin, Pococke, and Burckhardt. Other scattered refer- ences occur elsewhere, as the occasion required. Having made no profession of doing more than to add greater fulness to exist- ing descriptions, and to tell what a year had enabled him to observe, there was really no reason why he should recapitulate or analyze preceding narratives, thinking that, " considering the difficulties in their way, we should be more ready to praise European investigators for what they have done than to criticize them for omissions." (Preface, p. xi.) HI. The reviewer next proceeds to give his readers " an oppor- tunity of judging of the manner in which he relates historical events." Nearly ten pages are filled with a comparison between a portion of the Wahabee history given by my brother (p. 38, &c., Vol. H.) and another version of the same events. For the accuracy of this other version the reviewer cites hardly any authority ; I presume that it is derived from the book of M. Mengin, giving the Egyptian side of the story, named at the head of the article.
The reviewer considers that he is able, on 'several points, to convict my brother of great inaccuracy. Examples :— " The storm of Kateef did not take place subsequent to 1800, as Mr. Palgrave imagines, but in 1791. The attack on Meshid Alice was not made, as Mr. Palgrave alleges, prior to 1801, nor
till six years thereafter—that is, in 1807 After such a specimen of the manner in which he deals with historical facts, incident, by assuming what there is not a tittle of evidence to substantiate, by attributing impossible motives, and by drawing
upon his own imagination, or that of his Arab friends, for such
materials as the facts did not supply, he has made up a picturesque story, which he intends should be accepted as history." And allud- ing to this portion of his criticism, he concludes his review with the remark that " a very moderate acquaintance with the authentic information that was available would have enabled him to correct the errors to which he has given currency, and which must pre- vent his book from ewer being regarded as an authority."
This last charge is of even graver and more serious import than the two former, and would hence seem to require more irrefragable proof. And the history on which the reviewer relies for supporting it, if M. 31engin's, is probably more accurate than that contained in my brother's book. But with this I have nothing to do ; for the whole of the narrative in question is prefaced thus, in words to which I request the reader's particular attention : -
" In the following sketch of the Wahabee dynasty, I shall simply and exactly follow the account given inc by the people of the land. That such an account may contain several discrepancies in dates, and even in persons, from what has been by others reported or publishel on these topics, I well know ; nor yet do I intend to claim for it the merit of superior accuracy, though it seems to me in some points clearer." . . . After saying that the conversations, &c., though with a " still feebler title to unreserved belief," are in his opinion worth recording "as lively representa- tionis of men and manners," he sums up :—" In the following historical digression I shall merit, in a critical point of view, neither blame nor praise, giving merely what I hare heard, without attempt at examination, analysis, or distinction."
It must be noticed that this passage immediately precedes the narrative he has quoted and criticized, and that a similar general caution has been given in the preface. I repeat, every one of the examples which the reviewer describes as perversions, assumptions, and inventions of my brother's, and intended by him to " be accepted as history," are contained in that narrative against a historical reliance on which he has expressly guarded his readers, and which, on account of its curiosity, he has given " without attempt at examination, analysis, or distinction."
No one can regret more than I that I have had to make the above statement, or that the defence of my brother's good faith and trustworthiness should not have fallen to more capable hands. Friends, however, who have examined and approve of the justi- fication I have above attempted (I am allowed to name Dean Stanley, Lord Strangford, and Mr. W. Spottiswoode), consider that I am bound, in the circumstances, to speak on his behalf. It has long been well and publicly known that my brother is officially located in Egypt, in readiness should his services be required, to undertake a perilous mission for the rescue of an imprisoned Englishman. Against any attack published at the present moment he must be incapable of defending himself for a considerable time. For my excuse in coming forward thus I must therefore appeal to the reader's generosity.—Obediently yours,
5 York Gate, January 22, 1866. F. T. VALOR kVE.