Moscow: O-vo rasprostraneniya polez. knig, 1892. Item #833
XII, 77 pp., 10 ill., map. 22.3x16cm. Period half-leather binding. Worn, lower part of the spine lacks a fragment, pre-revolutionary private library stamp (The Library of Prokhorov) on the title-page and p.12. Otherwise in a very good condition.
Extremely scarce first edition of the first account of Kate Marsden’s travel to Yakutia. Her own book came out in English in 1892.
The book tells a story of Kate Marsden (1859-1931), a British missionary, explorer and nursing heroine who trekked thousands of miles across Siberia to find a cure for leprosy. This, at the time, unprecedented journey for a European woman was made 13 years after Kate’s first encounter with the disease in Bulgaria (Marsden was sent there to take care of the Russian wounded during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/1878): “The emotions aroused by the sight of two poor, mutilated, and helpless Bulgarians cannot be fully described… my mission in life is to minister to those who received the smallest attention and care of all God’s creatures”. Kate decided to focus her missionary work on Yakutia (and particularly Viluisk) when she heard about the existence of an unspecified herb that was rumored to help treat leprosy and the horrific conditions under which Russian lepers were compelled to live: “Once a man is known to be tainted with leprosy he is thrust out from his people, and driven away, as if he were some noxious animal, into a lonely spot in the forest, or on the marshes, where he is doomed to a living death”. Arriving to Moscow in November 1890, Marsden managed to arrange an audience with the Tsaritsa who gave her a letter encouraging all to assist Marsden with her plans to investigate leprosy in the region and find a medical relief to Russia’s forgotten wounded.
Marsden set off on a journey to Siberia with a Russian-speaking friend, Ada Field on 1st February, 1891. At the time, the trans-Siberian railway was still in the planning stage, and Kate (ill-health forced Ada to give up the journey in Omsk) had no other choice but to travel on sledge and horse. An 11-months journey to the “coldest place in the world” proved to be extremely challenging for the 31 years-old nurse: “When constant pain brought on fits of depression, I felt that I should never live to carry out any of my cherished plans, but that was only in times of weakness”. In her journey from Yakutia to Viluisk, Kate was accompanied by a cavalcade of fifteen men: “It was absolutely necessary to employ them … as a means of protection against the dangers to be encountered, not the least amongst them being the bears”. After reaching her destination Marsden visited more than 80 lepers in their shacks and checked various settlements in search of a place where the future hospital could be erected. She also managed to find out that the herb for leprosy did not prove to have a curative effect, though it provided certain relief in some cases. Having received all the necessary information, Marsden returned to St. Petersburg in December, 1891 where she reported her observations and collected money for the sufferers (a total of 20000 rubles). On her arrival to England, Marsden continued raising funds and support for further work in Siberia. With the aid of a London committee, she succeeded in raising £2400 for a leprosy hospital, which was opened in Viluisk in 1897.
In spite of Marsden’s immense contribution to the study of leprosy, both before and after her journey to Siberia she was beset by campaigns to discredit her. She was accused of being a political spy and embezzling from the funds she raised for charity. The committees investigating Marsden were unable to find any true improprieties in the finances of her Siberia trip. Instead, the authorities chose to sanction her for the disclosures about her personal life - specifically that some of her relationships with women had been sexual. The controversy surrounding Marsden was not resolved and she finished her life suffering from dropsy and senile decay in 1931. After her death, the Bexhill Museum, which Marsden co-founded in 1914, refused to place her portrait in the building under the claims of her not being “a fit person”.
The book features 10 illustrations by O. Renar depicting Kate Marsden and various episodes from the travel: departure from Yakutia, Kate Marsden with her cavalcade camping out at midnight in the forest, tent life among the lepers, etc. There are also interesting illustrations showing lepers and the woeful conditions they lived in. A map featured in the edition displays leprosy dissemination around the world.
Aimed at raising funds for the construction of a lepers’ hospital in Viluisk, Miss Marsden’s Journey to Yakutia was written by an unknown author. Yet, it can be suggested that the edition was ordered by the Irkutsk or Yakutian Leprosy Committees that were formed by Marsden and intended to “evoke sympathy for people whose woeful condition was almost unknown”.
The book also features 5 letters addressed to Kate Marsden (from the Irkutsk Bishop (1); Ivan Prokofiev – a man who accompanied Kate from Irkutsk to Viluisk (1); a Viluisk official – Griorgiy Eremtiev (2); V. Paromonov (1)) and an article “What is Leprosy?” by A. I. Pospilov.