[GREAT SIBERIAN ROUTE & TRAVEL TO CHINESE BORDER] Pisma o Vostochnoi Sibiri [i.e. Letters about Eastern Siberia]
Moscow: University Typ. 1827. Item #600
, 291 pp. 19x12 cm. With a copper engraved portrait frontispiece and five copper engraved plates (one folding). Period dark green quarter sheep with patterned papered boards, faded gilt tooled ornaments and gilt lettered title on the spine. Bookplate of G.E. Stakelberg on the front pastedown endpaper, Soviet bookshop’s numbers on the rear pastedown endpaper. P. 17 with paper repairs not affecting the text, but overall a very good copy in very original condition.
First and only edition. A very original copy of this early illustrated Russian account of a travel from Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk, around the southern shore of Lake Baikal to Kyakhta and across the Chinese border to Maimacheng (now Altanbulag in Mongolia), then back to Irkutsk via Selenginsk, Gusinoye Lake, Verkhneudinsk (Ulan-Ude) and the waters of Lake Baikal from the Selenga River delta to the Listvennichny Cape.
The book was written by Russian military officer Alexey Martos (1790-1842?). Alexey Martos retired from the army in 1818 and in 1821-1827 worked in the administration of the newly formed Yeniseyskaya province of the East Siberian General Governorship of the Russian Empire, with the centre in Krasnoyarsk. The book describes his voyage to Irkutsk, Lake Baikal and the Chinese border, which lasted from December 1, 1823 to the end of January 1824. Written in the form of letters, it gives a detailed overview of the famous Great Siberian Route (on the part from Kansk to Irkutsk), the Round-Baikal Route and the Great Tea Route to Kyakhta via Kultuk and the mountain ranges of Chamar Daban; Tamchinsky datsan (a Buddhist monastery) on the Gusinoye Lake which
had become the centre of Buddhism in Eastern Siberia; gives one of the first descriptions of Verkheudinsk (Ulan-Ude), Tarbatagay, Posolsky Monastery on the shore of Lake Baikal, glass factory of the Taltsinka River, cloth factory on the Telminka River, Selenginsky salt factory, Zima village etc.
Separate chapter describes the audience given to Martos by Khambo Lama, the head of the Tamchinsky datsan and since 1809 the highest Buddhist priest of Siberia (Khambo Lama’s appearance, manners, native Buryat name, interior of his chambers, home prayer room and altar) and the monastery itself. Four letters are dedicated to Irkutsk, its history, churches, the navigation school (founded in 1745), prison, Zamensky monastery with the grave to Grigory Shelekhov; Irkutsk gymnasium and library, famous mansion of a rich Irkutsk merchant Ksenofont Sibiryakov (1772-1825), more known as the “White House” where Martos stayed during his time in the city, etc. A chapter on Lake Baikal for the first time counts and classifies all rivers flowing into the lake, suggests that the lake has volcanic origin, describes Baikal’s islands and fauna. Three last letters contain a vivid account of the Chinese border town Maimacheng – tea traders (with the full text of a tea shop’s advertisement), interiors of Chinese shops and private houses, costumes and manners, a dinner in the house of the Maimacheng’ governor (conversation and different meals), etc.
A letter from Selenginsk (Novoselenginsk) dated 29 December 1823, contains an interesting account of Martos’s visit to the colony of British missionaries on the left bank of Selenga near the city. The author described the colony’s leader Edward Stallybrass (1794-1884), his first wife Sarah Robinson (1789-1833) who served a “breakfast in completely national style: there were offered tea with cream, scones and waffles” (p. 69), another missionary – Scotsman William Swan (1791- ?) and his works on the Bible’s translation into the Buryat language; there is also a description of the location and general appearance of the colony supplemented with a copper engraved view executed after the original drawing of the local artist Yanchenko (p. 68). This is practically the only known contemporary view of the missionary colony; five years later (1828) it moved to the Khodon River (Buryatiya) where Sarah Robinson died in 1833; the mission was finally suppressed by the Russian Orthodox church in 1840.
Apart from the view of the British missionary colony near Selenginsk, the book includes a portrait of the chief Chinese official from Maimaheng (after the original drawing by Y.F. Yannenko [sic!]), a
view of the statue of Buddha in the private pray chamber of Khambo Lama, a plan of Irkutsk, a folding view of the Telminskaya cloth factory (the earliest known view), and a map of Lake Baikal and lands down to the Chinese border, marking the main sites and settlements visited by Martos. Overall an interesting original early account of Irkutsk, Lake Baikal and the famous Buddhist sites of Eastern Siberia.