Ancient Egypt and Archaeology Web Site

Edward William Lane
The following is from Description of Egypt by Edward William Lane (ISBN 997 424 525 3), edited and with an introduction by Jason Thompson.  The editor of this excellent book is an associate professor of history at the American University in Cairo and is the author of a definitive biography of Sir Gardener Wilkinson.  Thompson has written many articles about Edward Lane and other aspects of the British encounter with Egypt.
Description of Egypt, Edward William Lane
Few Western students of the Arab world are as well known as the 19th-century British scholar Edward William Lane (1801-76). During his long career, Lane produced a number of highly influential works: An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1836), his translation of The Thousand and One Nights (1839-41), Selections from the Kuran (1843), and the Arabic-English Lexicon (1863-93). The Arabic-English Lexicon remains a pre-eminent work of its kind, and Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians is still a basic text for both Arab and Western students. Yet one of Lane's most important works was never published. This was his book-length manuscript, Description of Egypt.
Apart from the Arabic-English Lexicon, Lane worked much longer and harder on Description of Egypt than on any other project, including Modern Egyptians, and it probably affected his life more profoundly than Modern Egyptians, despite the latter work's success. His failure to publish it was a serious loss to scholarship.
Description of Egypt, which would have been Lane's first book, was the culmination of youthful ambition. Lane was working as an engraver's apprentice in London in the early 1820s when his imagination was captured by Egypt. The probable cause was Giovanni Battista Belzoni's sensational exhibit at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, which attracted enormous crowds. That, along with Belzoni's best-selling book, inspired one of the several waves of Egypt-o-mania that have swept across Britain, and indeed across western Europe. Embarking on a rigorous program, Lane read everything he could find about Egypt, both ancient and modern. He resolved to travel there one day and write an illustrated book about it.

At some point during his studies, Lane's interests took a highly original turn. Most people were fascinated by Egyptian antiquities, but Lane's primary attention moved from ancient to modern Egypt, and especially to Arabic, the language of the modern Egyptians. He also became intensely interested in their society, or to use the term current at the time, their manners and customs. It is unclear how he did so in spare hours in London during the 1820s, but he made substantial progress in Arabic-and not just classical Arabic but, even more remarkably, Egyptian colloquial Arabic as well. Yet Lane did not abandon his interest in ancient Egypt, leading to a duality of focus. Later, when he attempted to express his motives for going to Egypt in an early draft of Description of Egypt (reproduced here at the beginning of his Introduction), he had to rewrite the passage several times, finding it difficult to put the various elements into proper relationship.

Lane applied himself so assiduously to his Egyptian studies while still working as an engraver's apprentice that his health broke, rendering him susceptible to a life-threatening illness. He recovered but remained afflicted with severe chronic bronchitis for the rest of his life. Sometimes he could not walk down a London street without stopping and gasping for breath. Clearly he could not continue as an engraver, which required long hours of bending over a copper plate. It was equally clear that he needed a change of climate, both for his health and to fulfil his intellectual pursuits. On 18 July 1825, funded by a mysterious benefactor, Lane embarked for Egypt.
After a long, eventful voyage, Lane arrived at Alexandria on 17 September. Mixed emotions swept through him as he prepared to land. He remembered the moment in the first draft of Description of Egypt "As I approached the shore, I felt like an Eastern bridegroom, about to lift up the veil of his bride, and to see, for the first time, the features which were to charm, or disappoint, or disgust him. I was not visiting Egypt merely as a traveller, to examine its pyramids and temples and grottoes, and, after satisfying my curiosity, to quit it for other scenes and other pleasures: but I was about to throw myself entirely among strangers; to adopt their language, their customs and their dress; and, in associating almost exclusively with the natives, to prosecute the study of their literature. My feelings therefore, on that occasion, partook too much of anxiety to be very pleasing."

When Lane reached Cairo two weeks later he made good on his vow. Immediately he forsook Western clothing for Eastern attire, dressing in none other during the rest of his time in Egypt, for his purposes required not only that he gain an intimate knowledge of the details of Eastern society, including its material culture, but also that he not be readily recognized as a European. One should bear in mind, however, that the dress and resulting public persona that he chose were not those of a native Egyptian but of a member of Egypt's ruling Turkish elite. That facilitated his acceptance into Egyptian society and guaranteed him a degree of deference within it. Nor was Lane's commitment merely a matter of outward appearances, for he also furnished his house in Egyptian style, learned Egyptian table manners, and became perfect in Egyptian social usages. Within a year his Arabic was fluent. He developed a wide circle of Egyptian friends who knew him as Mansur, the name-and at least to some extent the identity-that he assumed in Egypt. The result fulfilled his expectations: "I was treated with respect and affability by all the natives . . . "
Lane's circle of acquaintance in Egypt was not exclusively Eastern, for he also made a few European friends, but these were people much like himself who adopted Eastern lifestyles. Some of them, such as John Gardner Wilkinson, James Burton, Robert Hay, and Lord Prudhoe, proved very helpful to Lane in his work. Otherwise, he avoided the European residents of Cairo who mostly inhabited the Frank Quarter near the city's centre. He was especially repelled by those marginal characters who went about dressed in a careless melange of Eastern and Western clothing: "In general they look a most disreputable set of vagabonds," he wrote in one of the many pithy passages in the first draft of Description of Egypt that were not retained in the final one.' Lane lived not in the Frank Quarter but in a native area near the north-western corner of Cairo, a short distance southeast of present-day Rameses Square.

Lane's research in Cairo took two main thrusts. One was direct experience. This might be through everyday activities such as shopping, dealing with servants, or visiting friends and receiving guests-basic interactions that can teach a careful observer much. He learned practical details about Islam so he could enter Cairo's mosques, something a Westerner could not easily do in those days, and pray in them, which he did both individually and with the congregation, as the Description of Egypt explicitly states. He explored the monuments and quarters of Cairo, becoming proficient in the city's urban geography, a topic left vaguely in the background in Modern Egyptians, where the focus is on society. He also visited the archaeological sites around Cairo. The days he spent living in a tomb at the Pyramids of Giza he remembered as the happiest of his life.
But Lane also studied Arabic literary sources for Egypt and Islam, accumulating a fine collection of books and manuscripts in the process. He greatly admired the productions of the pasha's printing press at Bulaq, becoming acquainted with its supervisor and with one of its primary distribution agents. The latter, Sheikh Ahmad al-Khutbi, later became a principal informant for the material in Modern Egyptians. One regrets that the list that Lane prepared of the Bulaq press's publications, along with any associated comments, is missing from the Description of Egypt. Of course, many of the works that Lane needed existed only in manuscript. Two were of special importance for Description of Egypt. The Khitat of Taqi al-Din Ahmad al-Maqrizi, one of Lane's first acquisitions, provided historical depth to the places mentioned in Description, while Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti's Aja'ib al-athar became the major source for Lane's long chapter about the history of the de facto ruler of Egypt, Muhammad All. Lane was, in fact, one of the first to appreciate al-Jabarti's historiographical accomplishment. These manuscripts, along with the many others that Lane purchased, must later have constituted one of the finest personal collections of Arabic manuscripts in 19th century Britain.
During this first trip to Egypt, Lane made two extended voyages up the Nile as far as the Second Cataract in Nubia. The first, in 1826, covered seven and a half months, from mid-March until the end of October. The second, which extended for six months from mid-June until mid-December 1827, he made in company with his friend Robert Hay. The latter voyage included an excursion of two weeks into the Fayyum. On both, though hampered by illness on the second, Lane repeatedly displayed his capacity to accomplish prodigious amounts of work within short spaces of time as he stopped at most of the major archaeological sites then known in Egypt and Nubia. One should, however, also note the limits to Lane's travel experience. He did not journey into Egypt's Eastern or Western Deserts, thereby missing the wonders, especially of the former, that so enchanted his colleagues Burton and Wilkinson. Lane also failed to visit the eastern Delta ("scarcely worthy of detailed description"), forcing him to rely on secondary sources when he wrote his chapter about it. These sources were not entirely trustworthy. Had Lane seen Tanis for himself, for example, his fine eye, so evident at Thebes, for the reuse of ancient building materials, probably would have saved him from his error of accepting the site as coeval with Rameses II. Nor did Lane ever travel in any Middle Eastern lands other than Egypt, forgoing the comparative perspectives he would have gained thereby.
The primary purpose of Lane's journeys into Upper Egypt and Nubia was to satisfy his persistent interest in ancient Egypt; as he wrote, "I had long entertained a wish to examine the antiquities of that most interesting country." The account of his travels on the Nile therefore expresses a little-known dimension of his intellectual life, for Lane was once among the foremost in the nascent science of Egyptology. Only a few years earlier had the secret of the hieroglyphic script been solved with Champollion famous "Lettre a M. Dacier." Public fascination with Egypt was at a high pitch. Yet with the exceptions of Champollion's and Lepslus' expeditions, fieldwork in Egypt during the early nineteenth century depended almost entirely on the initiative of private individuals like Wilkinson, Hay, and Lane. Had it been published when it was intended to be, Lane's Description of Egypt would have been a landmark in Egyptology.
Lane's Egyptological accomplishments assume even more impressive proportions when one considers their slight foundations, for the general state of Egyptological knowledge in his moment was rudimentary indeed. Lane's chronological framework for the Egyptian past extended only feebly into the Middle Kingdom (a term not yet invented) where he identified two monuments of Senusret I. The monarchs of the Old Kingdom were but a list of unknown kings to him. His linguistic resources were scarcely more efficacious, for although the hieroglyphic script had been deciphered-and not everyone agreed even on that point-the ancient language was far from translated. At best, and only later in his studies, Lane could identify some royal names within cartouches and analyze the morphology of a few ancient Egyptian words. Even many basic Egyptological terms and conventions (such as the word 'cartouche') had yet to be standardized, compelling Lane to invent descriptive terms on his own, which he did creatively, if sometimes naively.

Hence it is not surprising that Lane made many Egyptological mistakes, so many that it would be specious to annotate them all in his text. His king "Horus" (Horemheb), for example, certainly was not the immediate successor of Amenophis III, as Lane repeatedly asserts him to have been; but Lane could not have known that, so successfully had the record of the intervening Amarna period been erased. On the other hand, we see Lane at Tuna al-Gebel and Tell al-Amarna straining against the boundaries of current knowledge as he attempted to interpret the remaining, fragmentary evidence of Akhenaten's revolutionary innovations. Much the same could be said about his encounter with Hatshepsut, likewise unknown to him, whom he identified as a regent for Tuthmosis III and placed in the correct place in his list of kings (fig. 16o). In a note added at a later date, he accepted Wilkinson's identification of her as a Queen-Regent named "Amun-Neit-Gori." Of course, one of Lane's most important Egyptological contributions was to describe the condition of the monuments when he saw them; in some instances they were being destroyed before his very eyes.
Though mostly motivated by antiquities, Lane's record of his Nilotic travels reveals another dimension of his research experience that found little expression in Modern Egyptians: life outside of Cairo. These chapters are not just an itinerary of antiquities, but also of the towns, villages, and countryside along the way. One finds descriptions of the appearance of towns, their productions, and the state of their markets. The picture is dynamic: Fuwa flourishes because of the recent opening of the Mahmudiya Canal, but Rashid declines for the same reason, while Manfalut literally washes away, less of it remaining each time Lane sails past. Lane noted differences in the appearance and dress of the people. Since Upper Egyptian women tended to veil less, Lane could observe them more closely, but one regrets to find him occasionally hiding along the riverbank to watch them bathing. His command of Arabic enabled him to converse with the country people, or fellaheen, although the recurring topic was the oppressiveness of the pasha's government. Always in the background was Lane's developing awareness of the land of Egypt itself. He realized its close identity with the Nile and the narrow strip of fertile land along its banks. He witnessed the annual inundation spreading across the valley.

Because Lane intended to write a book from the beginning, he kept a set of diaries and notebooks. The main body of these has survived, preserved in the Griffith Institute, where they have recently been catalogued. Some of the entries are little more than hasty notes about date, place, and temperature; others are highly detailed, so much so as to contain coherent textual passages that Lane was able to incorporate into his Description of Egypt manuscript with little revision.
Lane also documented Egypt in pictures, thereby exhibiting his artistic dimension, one of the least appreciated of his many talents. Although he never became an engraver, his artistic training served him well by enabling him to sketch the things that he observed and, later, to transform his sketches into effective book illustrations. Lane, it should be remembered, came from a distinguished artistic environment. His great-uncle was the renowned artist Thomas Gainsborough; his brother, Richard J. Lane, was one of the leading lithographers of 19th century Britain. This impeccable artistic pedigree prepared him not only to execute his own work but also to appreciate and describe the art of the Egyptians, whether ancient or Islamic.
Although Lane was capable of producing tastefully finished pictures, the best of which should rank at least as minor works of art, he primarily sought accuracy. To attain this ideal, he made extensive use of a recently invented device called the camera lucida. Easily portable, it consisted of a prism and set of lenses so arranged as to enable its operator to trace the outline of a subject onto a sheet of paper, thereby providing additional control over perspective and detail. Dozens of the camera lucida sketches that Lane made in the field are still extant, many of them providing the basis for the more developed illustrations in Description of Egypt.
When Lane returned to England in June 1828, he had ample material in hand to write his book. He entitled it Description of Egypt. This was doubtless in both admiration and defiance of the great French Description de l'Egypte, but it also epitomized Lane's highly descriptive literary approach. For although Description of Egypt was basically organized as a travelogue, it contained long passages of description that bore no relation to the itinerary of his travels, foreshadowing the topical approach that served Lane so well in Modern Egyptians.
Altogether, Lane wrote Description of Egypt through three major drafts. The first, now in the Bodleian Library, was probably composed in 18 29. Recognizable as the inception of the initial fifteen chapters of the final draft, it covered his journey to Egypt, impressions of Alexandria, journey to Cairo, and first trips to Giza. Topical foci were given to Alexandria, the physical geography of Egypt, and, most of all, to Cairo. At Giza, only the Great Pyramid was treated. The draft also contained several interesting enterprises in historiography: the political history of Egypt during Islamic times, the origin and development of Cairo, and a concise account of the career of Muhammad All. There were a few pages, organized into three succinct chapters, about the modern inhabitants of Egypt, covering their
1) population and revenue
2) civil administration
3) religion and laws
These, of course, were the origin of Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, although Lane as yet had no thought of writing such a book.

The first draft of Description of Egypt was a promising literary beginning, especially for someone not yet thirty years of age. Often it displays a strong, clear style; for example, the bridegroom passage, quoted above, is as good as anything Lane ever wrote. Other passages, as he was well aware, needed revision and development. Some of the sections with their various topics sat uneasily together, but Lane was still experimenting with placement and form. As notations in the draft show, it was intended to be the first of four projected volumes that would treat the whole of his Egyptian experience, each volume to contain approximately twenty-five illustrations. Placement points for the illustrations are indicated in the text, sometimes with a rough sketch drawn into the place, such as a preliminary sketch of the Alexandrian street scene (fig. S). Another interesting sketch shows a man peering into a cistern among the ruins of ancient Alexandria with Pompey's Pillar in the background, but it was not included in the final draft.

As promising as the first was, Lane was soon at work on a second draft of Description of Egypt, the composition of which may be tentatively dated to 1830. Now among the Lane Manuscripts in the Griffith Institute,' this draft marked a number of improvements over its predecessor as chapters became more focused and substantial, while the manuscript grew in several areas. The chapter on the Pyramids of Giza was extended to include all of the major monuments at that site as well as those of Saqqara and Dahshur. The draft closed after describing the desolate, almost obliterated ruins of Memphis with a reflective quotation from the prophet Jeremiah.

Another major area of expansion was the chapter about the history of Muhammad All, which grew approximately fourfold, approaching the large size it attained in the final draft. An impressive historiographical exercise, it drew primarily on al-Jabarti's manuscript history, which Lane had acquired in Egypt, and on Mix Mengin's published account of the pasha-though leaning toward the former work-in addition to Lane's own personal observations. It shows keen discernment of source material as Lane weighed evidence carefully before moving to judicious conclusions. For example, although he seems to have accepted the old canard about Ibrahim not being Muhammad All's son, Lane observed in a footnote that the pasha always referred to Ibrahim as being so, therefore displaying unease with the unfounded yet widely accepted story. Had it been published, this chapter would have been an important contribution to the history of modern Egypt; it also would have hastened the establishment of al-Jabarti's reputation in the West.

The area that grew the most, however, was the one dealing with the modern Egyptians. The three brief chapters about population, government, and religion and law were retained, while three new, relatively short, chapters were added about Egypt's Turkish elite and Christian and Jewish minorities. I But the most significant addition was a new chapter of some eighty manuscript pages entitled "Manners and Customs of the Moos'lim Egyptians." The need to keep the new chapter within somewhat proportionate limits clearly frustrated Lane, but his aim was "conciseness," and the chapter's function was subordinate to that of the work as a whole.

Lane submitted this second draft, along with a set of drawings, to the publishing firm of John Murray in early 1831. Then under the direction of the founder's son, John Murray II, Murray's had published Burckhardt, Belzoni, and many other distinguished writers about Egypt and the Middle East. Lane was aiming high. Murray handled Lane's manuscript in a highly professional manner by sending it out to a qualified reader, Henry Hart Milman, an accomplished scholar who had recently published a perceptive if controversial history of the Jews in which he interpreted them in their Semitic context. Milman's report strongly recommended publication: Lane's was, he said, "the best work which has been written on the subject." He expressed two minor reservations, the first being that the chapters dealing with the modern Egyptians ought to be removed: they were good, Milman thought, but should be the basis for an entirely separate book. Milman's second reservation concerned the scope of the work, for he thought it should be extended to cover Lane's travels in Upper Egypt and Nubia, as Lane indeed intended. Murray was highly pleased with both the manuscript and the report, as well as the illustrations-"the more the work contained of them, the better," Murray said-which he considered the most accurate he had ever seen. He agreed to publish the book. But he insisted on a new title and compelled Lane to write it on the spot. So Description of Egypt became:
Notes and views in Egypt and Nubia,
made during the years 1825, -26,-27, and -28:
Chiefly consisting of a series of descriptions and delineations
of the monuments, scenery, &c. of those countries;
The views, with few exceptions, made with the camera-lucida:
by Edwd Wm Lane
For the sake of consistency as well as concision, however, the title Description of Egypt is retained in this Introduction. It is also retained as the title of this edition, along with the revised title, which is presented as a subtitle.  But a week after Lane and Murray met, the project was delayed when the Reform Bill was introduced in Parliament on 1 March 183 t. To a degree difficult to grasp now, public attention became fixed on that single political issue. Only publications about the Reform Bill were selling. Murray decided to postpone publication of Description of Egypt until the political crisis passed. He suggested that Lane use the delay by acting on Milman's suggestions: excising the modern Egyptians chapters and writing the new chapters about Upper Egypt and Nubia. Lane strongly opposed the changes, agreeing to them only reluctantly. It should be understood, however, that this constituted merely a delay in publication; there was no question of cancelling.

Lane returned to work with characteristic assiduity. Removing the modern Egyptians chapters was the work of a moment, doing little damage to the textual fabric of the rest of the manuscript. A much more formidable task was the composition of twenty-three new Upper Egyptian and Nubian chapters, plus a long supplement about the ancient Egyptians. The chapter on Thebes alone, by far the longest, accounted for about 50,000 words. He wrote this portion of Description of Egypt through at least two drafts, as his footnote references to a previous draft indicate. It is unfortunate that the preliminary draft has not come to light, for it contained additional material that Lane intended to publish. The structure of the Egyptian and Nubian chapters of Description of Egypt is even more emphatically the travelogue than the preceding ones. Yet it is a very contrived travel memoir, containing much more artistry than might first meet the eye. Lane compressed his two trips to Wadi Halfa and back into the narrative framework of one southward journey, ending with the preparation of his canjiah for the downstream journey: "The main-mast and yard were removed, and placed along the centre of the boat: one end resting on the roof of the cabin, and the other being lashed to the foremast. The tarankee't (or fore-sail) remained as usual."

Lane also revised the material that he had already composed. Most of these revisions were effective, resulting in memorable passages such as the description of his confusing initial experiences in Alexandria, his first impressions of Cairo, or the pleasure he took in his tomb-house at Giza. Yet some of the revisions are to be regretted, because he shortened then completely removed the Introduction that recounted his eventful voyage to Egypt. Then the beautiful passage ("I felt like an Eastern bridegroom ... ") that so memorably expressed his conflicting emotions as he prepared to set foot on Egypt for the first time was revised into a detached statement that diminished the personal element almost to the vanishing point: "I approached the beach with feelings of intense interest, though of too anxious a nature to be entirely pleasing ..." Several passing comments that expressed a vibrant, personal point of view were removed. The third draft, presented here, is naturally the most polished of the three, but the passages within it are not invariably the best that Lane wrote. Close study of the other two drafts, along with their associated manuscript materials, will richly repay further attention by researchers.

Without doubt one of Lane's largest tasks for Description of Egypt was preparing the illustrations for publication. The sheer number alone was imposing, for there were more than 150 of them, though some are missing from the manuscript and were already missing by the 1840s, when Lane's nephew, Reginald Stuart Poole, noted their absence in the margins. In pre-photographic days, reproduction of illustrative material was done by engraving, woodcutting, or the newly invented technique of lithography. Whatever medium was used-and Lane hoped to use all three-the artist's original work had to be copied anew, whether onto the engraver's metal plate, the woodcutter's block, or the lithographer's stone. Since Lane did not intend to do this himself, he needed to provide pictures as highly finished as possible to enable the appropriate craftsperson to realize his conception. This primarily required clarity of line in the case of the drawings destined to become woodcuts, where outline and contrast were paramount. But Lane hoped to have as many of them as possible rendered by metal engraving and lithography to achieve the delicacy of line and shading that those media, especially the latter, could convey. Hence the high artistic quality of many of Lane's sketches, with their delicate sepia shading and, in two instances, bright coloration.

The maps alone were a formidable undertaking, for Description of Egypt contains nine of them-thirteen if one counts each map section on the two plates that cover the Nile Valley from Giza to Wadi Halfa. The maps of the Delta and the Nile were based on W. M. Leake's Map of Egypt, which, despite numerous shortcomings, remained a standard through much of the nineteenth century.' Lane travelled along the Nile with a copy of Leake's map, from which he made the templates for his own. But Lane's maps were more than mere copies of Leake's, incorporating as they did his on-site adjustments and corrections. The same is true for the two maps of Cairo, the one of the city and its environs and the other, more detailed one of the interior of the city, which were both based upon maps in the French Description de l'Egypte. The most original of Lane's maps is the one of Thebes, the product of his extended stays at that site. It strikes a fine balance between detail and clarity that makes it an excellent reference tool for a book such as Lane's. In Lane's cartography for Description of Egypt we see yet another dimension of his talents that found no expression in his later published work.

The third draft of Description of Egypt constitutes a fair copy that would have delighted any Victorian typesetter. The wording was clear and the intent for note and figure placement unambiguous. His occasional, often inadvertent mistakes in spelling and grammar stood out sharply and would have been readily corrected. Only a few really rough edges remained, and he intended to smooth most of those away, such as an illustration annotation in chapter ten that was to be developed further, but never was. Temporary removal and subsequent misplacement was the likely fate of the missing appendix about the publications of the pasha's printing press at Bulaq. Inevitably, the close reader finds the occasional faulty detail, such as the omission of the letter J in the lettered series for the key to one of his views of Cairo, although a notch is there for it, and it apparently escaped his notice that he did not include the illustration for the face of the Third Pyramid at Giza. One will also observe that some of the notes to chapter twenty-six that Lane added after his second trip to Egypt are rougher than the others, but there can be no doubt that he would have worked them up to standard when the manuscript went to press, had the need arisen. One could go on; the fact remains that Lane's was an unusually clean manuscript. The finished work filled three volumes of text (removal of the modern Egyptians chapters reduced it from its initially projected four) and five volumes of illustrations. These constitute the third and final draft of Description of Egypt, the one presented in this edition, now housed in the British Library.

Lane submitted the revised draft to Murray, who again referred it to Milman, who in turn declared it even better than the previous one. But political conditions remained unsettled, so Murray continued to postpone publication. Although Lane agreed with the wisdom of this decision, he was frustrated by the delays, which, perhaps combined with unknown personal factors, threw him into a serious mental malaise. His thoughts returned increasingly to Egypt, where he had spent so many happy, creative moments. Letters to his friends became punctuated with expressions of longing to be there again. As he sank into depression, Description of Egypt came to his aid.
In late spring 1833 Lane decided to write a book about the manners and customs of the modern Egyptians, something Henry Hart Milman had suggested earlier. He took the chapters that had been excluded from Description of Egypt and copied them into a set of new notebooks. These he submitted to the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, an association that specialized in facilitating publication of meritorious works. The S.D.U.K. enthusiastically offered Lane a contract for the book. He accepted, but with the proviso that he return to Egypt to gather additional material, which a publication advance enabled him to do. In November 1833 Lane sailed for Egypt to write Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians.
When he reached Cairo in late December, Lane once again settled into his old neighbourhood and resumed the Eastern lifestyle that was an essential component of his research technique. Knowing exactly what he was looking for, he worked quickly. By mid-September of the following year he had gathered almost all of his data; before the end of December he began the fair copy of Modern Egyptians and was preparing to return to England. At that moment a fierce outbreak of bubonic plague erupted in Alexandria and Cairo, causing him to flee to Thebes, where he spent an additional five months living in a tomb-house on the hill of Sheikh Abd al-Qurna.
Lane's time at Thebes is difficult to account for in detail. Presumably he completed the fair copy of Modern Egyptians, if he had not done so already, but that would not have taken the entire five months. Later, he told John Murray III that he "carefully revised all that I had written on its [Thebes'] monuments" while there, but the manuscript does not show obvious signs of such heavy revision, although he may have made another draft that is not extant. Possibly Lane was merely indulging in some justifiable exaggeration to prompt the publisher to long-overdue action. It was probably also at this time that Lane rewrote most of the Cairene chapters of Description into a separate manuscript, no longer extant, that was never incorporated into the original one.

Lane returned to England in autumn 1835. He made some inquiries about the progress toward publishing Description of Egypt, but was met with evasion or silence by John Murray III, who was becoming increasingly active in the management of the firm. Lane probably should have been alarmed; instead, he considered this just another irritating delay. Soon he was deeply engaged in making the illustrations and correcting the proofs for Modern Egyptians. He assumed that the success of that work would precipitate immediate publication of Description of Egypt.

An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians was an instant success when it appeared in early December IS 36.1 The first printing sold out within two weeks; many others followed, as did several revised editions, culminating in the definitive fifth revised edition of 186o. Praised as "the most perfect picture of a people's life that has ever been written,"2 the influence of Modern Egyptians can scarcely be overstated. As Edward Said, a strong critic of Lane's, pointed out, Modern Egyptians made Lane "an authority whose use was an imperative for anyone writing or thinking about the Orient, not just about Egypt."' This remarkable book grew directly out of Description of Egypt.

It should not be assumed, however, that Modern Egyptians is a refinement of Description of Egypt or that it represents a maturation and reconsideration of Lane's research approach, in which he consciously turned away from the more diffuse effort that Description represented. Lane was still thoroughly committed to the publication of Description; the possibility that it might not be published at all had not yet occurred to him. Indeed, Description was likely the book that he cared about the most, having spent far more time and effort on it. Students of Lane's Modern Egyptians should pay close attention to Description of Egypt and its evolution, for it is the work that not only gave birth to Modern Egyptians but also defined the limits that the latter work assumed. There is little textual or pictorial overlap between the two. Had Lane known that Description would never be published, quite likely Modern Egyptians would have been different in shape and content.

Buoyed by the success of Modern Egyptians, Lane pressed John Murray III for immediate publication of Description of Egypt. Murray responded by withdrawing from the project and wishing him well with another publisher. How could such a thing have happened? The possible reasons are too complicated to set forth here in detail, but the fundamental problem lay in the passing of too much time. Big, illustrated travel books-as Lane's was probably if not entirely correctly perceived to be-had passed their heyday. Also, while Lane was in Egypt, Murray's had heavily committed itself to the publication of two books by Lane's friend and colleague, John Gardner Wilkinson: Topography of Thebes, and General View of Egypt and Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians (1837). Investment in the two books, especially the latter, had been heavy; Description of Egypt, also expensive to publish, would have competed with them. Murray's made a ruthless if unfair business decision. Lane was the loser thereby-as was the Victorian reading public.

The blow to Lane must have been devastating, even if softened by the success of Modern Egyptians. Efforts to place the work elsewhere came to naught. By the late 1830s a commercial publisher would have found Description of Egypt far too risky, while the alternative of private publication was beyond Lane's limited financial means. Lane did, however, twice try to salvage some parts of his work from the wreckage. The first attempt was a book about Thebes, based upon the Theban chapter of Description, which John Murray was considering, perhaps as a gesture of consolation. Lane set to work, completing a substantial portion of it. Although the manuscript has not surfaced, Lane jotted down a table of contents elsewhere, showing how the chapter's five sections would expand into a book of eleven chapters. Some of the later notes to the chapter, such as the references to Champollion's and Wilkinson's books, were probably added with the projected book in mind. This was also most likely the time when he added the two memoranda about inserting additional material from the supplement of Description. Lane's book about Thebes would have been a fine thing had it been realized, but when he was about one-third of the way through, he abandoned the project, explaining to Murray that he had no desire to compete with Wilkinson, whose two books covered much the same material, although Lane would have dealt with it much more fully than Wilkinson.

It especially pained Lane to see his illustrations lapse into oblivion; therefore he made another proposal to Murray for a volume of views of Egypt based upon the illustrations for Description with between loo to 150 woodcuts and a page or two of text to accompany each. "I think that it would be acceptable to a large class of persons, as illustrating many works on Egypt; especially Wilkinson's." A selection of the best of Lane's artwork from the Description would have made a magnificent volume, although the original works would have lost much in being translated from his delicate sepia washes into woodcuts. The preferable alternative of lithographing them all was probably too expensive to contemplate. A loose sheet inside Lane's copy of al-Jabarti's 'Aja'ib al-athar appears to be a preliminary estimate of the size and cost of such a work.2 On it Lane outlined a book somewhat larger than the one described in the letter to Murray, consisting of two volumes, one on the modern Egyptians and the other on "Scenery & Antiquities &c." It would contain as many as 215 woodcuts and six lithographic plates, although he also made a smaller estimate more in line with the size he had suggested to Murray. But nothing came of this idea either. By 1842, Lane had probably accepted the fact that he would never be able to publish his Description of Egypt or any significant portion of it.

Not that these were idle or unproductive years for Lane. His translation of the Arabian Nights appeared first in serialization and then in three volumes between 1838 and 1841. Though largely superseded now, Lane's reigned as the leading translation of the Arabic classic for much of the nineteenth century. Scholars still frequently consult its copious notes, much of the material for which Lane had gathered during his research for Description of Egypt. Lane's other major publication during this period was Selections from the Kuran (1843). But neither project was altogether satisfactory: the publisher for the Arabian Nights went bankrupt before paying Lane in full, while the Selections from the Kuran never received Lane's complete attention. Profound changes in Lane's personal life also occurred at about this time, such as the death of his mother and his marriage to Nefeeseh, whom he or a friend had purchased as a child in one of the slave markets of Cairo shortly before he left Egypt in 1828. Approaching midlife, Lane must have wondered what direction his career might take.

At this juncture Lane was approached by his friend Lord Prudhoe, later the 4th Duke of Northumberland. Their friendship dated from Lane's first trip to Egypt when he had been preparing Description of Egypt. Lord Prudhoe had long admired Lane's proficiency in Arabic; he had also realized from personal experience in the East the need for an authoritative Arabic-English lexicon. Now he offered to support Lane in the preparation of such a work. For Lane this was the realization of one of the youthful dreams that had impelled him to Egypt in the first place. He readily accepted Lord Prudhoe's offer and soon was preparing to return to Egypt for the necessary manuscript research and collection. His one reservation was extended separation from his sister Sophia Poole and her sons, to whom he was deeply attached. But once again Description of Egypt came to his aid. Lane made another proposal to John Murray: he would make the Description manuscript available to Sophia, who would select passages from it and recast them into a booklength series of letters ostensibly recording the impressions of an Englishwoman living in Egypt. The money from this, or at least the anticipation thereof, enabled Sophia and her family to go with Lane. In July 1842 Edward, Nefeeseh, Sophia, and Stanley and Stuart set sail on Lane's third trip to Egypt.

Lane's third trip to Egypt, 1842-49, was by far the longest of the three, but unlike the previous ones Lane travelled little during it and seldom went out into society. So enmeshed did he become in the lexicon project that he sometimes did not leave his house for months on end. Within the home, however, he was an affectionate family man, and he worked closely with Sophia, whose desk was within shouting distance of his, on her book. As planned, she selected passages from Description of Egypt, often after he had reread them and made changes in Arabic transliteration, punctuation, paragraphing, and like matters. Sometimes he updated the passages, as in the chapter about the Pyramids of Giza where Vyse and Lepsius had made important discoveries since Lane's work there.
Lane read the resulting letters, edited them, and made the final decision whether to send them to London for publication. As she found her bearings in Cairo, Sophia later acquired a stronger voice of her own, writing about experiences that were exclusively hers, especially among the women of Cairo. In the end, roughly one-third of her book's letters, really chapters, were almost entirely based on the Description, while shorter passages from it were interspersed elsewhere in the letters. Description of Egypt was therefore the genesis of Sophia's book and provided a substantial portion of its total text. The relationship between the two works should be factored into any assessment of Sophia's The Englishwoman in Egypt,, which became a classic account of women in nineteenth-century Egypt.
Lane's nephews Stanley and Stuart were also drawn into the Description manuscript, the volumes of which were necessarily often readily available around the house. Their interaction with it and the resulting conversations with their Uncle Edward were surely major factors in Stanley's ultimate development into an orientalist and Stuart's into an Egyptologist. The latter's annotations, signed "R.S.P.," are to be found among the pages, especially in regard to missing illustrations. Stuart also copied, with some updating, the mysterious manuscript in which Lane had rewritten the Cairene chapters of Description of Egypt during the previous decade. Lane had probably intended to replace the corresponding text in Description with it when the work went to press. That event never occurred.
After Lane's return to England in 1849, he devoted the rest of his life to his lexicographical work. At his death on 10 August 1876 he was in the midst of preparing its sixth volume. That and the remaining two volumes were completed by his great-nephew and biographer, Stanley Lane-Poole. Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon remains a standard reference work to this day. Like Modern Egyptians, it has never gone out of print. There is no evidence that Lane gave more than passing thought to Description of Egypt during his later years. Its manuscript, along with some of his other papers, were sold by Lane's widow to the British Museum in 1891, a few years before her own death.
Yet Lane's Description of Egypt did not fade into the archival shelves without one last glimmer. This came from the posthumous Cairo Fifty Years Ago, published under Lane's name by his great-nephew, Stanley Lane-Poole .That book was the text of the heavily revised manuscript of Lane's Cairene chapters that his nephew Stuart had copied in Cairo during the i 840s. The original manuscript later disappeared, but after Lane's death Stuart gave his copy to Stanley Lane-Poole who edited and published it in 1896.1 The publisher was John Murray.

In 1835, when Lane was preparing to leave Egypt, one of the sheikhs who was tutoring him in Arabic language and society took a piece of paper and wrote on it the shahada, or profession of faith: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." He then tore it in two, giving one part to Lane and sticking the other into a crack in Lane's house. This was to guarantee that Lane would someday return to Egypt, for God would not allow the statement forever to remain divided. In the event, Lane did return seven years later, bringing his manuscript of Description of Egypt, when he began his lexicographical studies. But perhaps the sheikh's talisman was more effective than he imagined, for the Description of Egypt has now returned to Egypt, thereby realizing even more of the force of the sheikh's desire, for Description of Egypt embodies so much of Lane, his youthful experiences, and his high ideals. Essential to any full understanding of Lane's overall life and work, it is appropriate that his first book should after all these years return to Cairo for publication.
Description of Egypt by Edward William Lane (1820s) - Edfu
Having proceeded a little above the site of Eilethyia, the two lofty towers of the pylon of the great temple of Apollinopolis Magna become visible. About three hours after our first sight of these remarkable objects we arrived before Ad'foo [Edfu], a village which occupies a part of the site of the City of Apollo. I made a view of Ad'foo and its great temple from the opposite bank of the Nile.'

The name of this place is commonly pronounced Ad'foo; but the literati of Egypt, for the sake of assimilating the incipient and final vowels, make it Ood'foo. The Coptic name was At'bo. It is a large village; the residence of a Ka'shif. It is situated at the distance of about a mile from the river, upon the front slope of a long and high ridge of mounds, the remains of Apollinopolis Magna. The village contains a mosque with a ma'd'neh; and extensive groves of palm-trees adjacent to it give it a pleasing appearance. The pylon of the great temple rises above it like a fortress. A part of the village is built upon the roof of this temple. There is also a second temple among the mounds, behind the village. At Ad'foo, the manufacture of pottery employs many families. There are a few Ckoobt [Coptic] families here; but above this place no Christians are found, excepting a very few at Aswan.

The great temple is situated at the north-western part of the village; and so crowded in front (that is, on the south), and also on the western side, by modern huts, that it is impossible to obtain a good view of it from either of these directions: but the modern huts are not the only objects which obstruct the view of this fine building; for it is, in some parts, buried nearly to the roof in rubbish. Though raised in the Ptolemaic period, when the arts of architecture and sculpture had much declined in Egypt, it is a very noble monument.
The great pylon, which forms the front, has a particularly grand appearance: each wing is above a hundred feet in breadth, and the same in height. The temple seems to have been founded, and partly sculptured, by Ptolemy Philopator [dynastic list] - his being the oldest name found upon it - but the decorations were continued under several of his successors - Philometor, Physcon and Cleopatra, and Ptolemy Alexander 1st and Berenice. The pylon was decorated by Philometor. The front is adorned with three rows of sculptured figures, representing this king offering to, and worshipping, various divinities, at the head of whom is always Aroeris [Horus], the god to whom the temple was chiefly dedicated: he generally has the head of a hawk: being identified with the Greek Apollo, the ancient town here situated was called Apollinopolis Magna by the Greeks because this god was the chief object of worship in the place. The figures of the lowest row of sculptures on the front of the pylon are about thirty feet high; but little of them is seen; for the rubbish rises nearly to their heads. The king is here represented in the act of slaying a group of prisoners before the principal god of the temple; behind whom stands Athor [Horus the Elder]. These figures are in a very bad style; greatly inferior to the sculptures executed under the Pharaohs. In the two upper rows, the same king is represented offering to several series of sitting deities; at the head of whom is Aroeris [Horus]. The back and sides of the pylon are similarly decorated.
Passing through the portal of the pylon, we enter a spacious court, I bounded on the right and left by a wall fronted by a row of columns, twelve in number. Eight other columns extend along the back of the pylon. The capitals are not uniform; but most of them are rich and elegant; and they produce, altogether, a fine effect. The walls behind the columns are decorated with sculptures, representing the usual offerings to the gods. This noble court is now used as a granary. It has been cleared of much of the rubbish by which it was encumbered; and a few heaps of corn, the property of the government, give less offence to the eye of the traveller.
A fine portico, which forms the front of the main body of the temple, is at the end of the court. It contains eighteen columns; six in front, and three deep. The capitals of these, also, are not all uniform; but those which correspond in situation are similar to each other: thus the two between which is the entrance are of the same form; the two next to these are also similar to each other; and so are the two extreme columns. Upon the architraves of the front columns are sculptured several rows of monkeys and men adoring the winged globe and the scarabxus [scarab]: this insect is represented with his ball, and with his wings expanded; and is frequently seen here, being a particular object of adoration: it was an emblem of the sun; of which Aroeris [Horus] was one personification. The interior of the portico is filled nearly to the roof with rubbish; therefore little can be seen of its sculptures; but some of those which remain visible are serious, and deserve to be mentioned. On the upper part of the left side-wall is represented a boat-sledge drawn by four jackals: Harpocrates is seated on the prow; and the boat contains several other gods. Before this curious procession are four monsters, each of which has the head of a jackal, the hands and arms of a man, and the body of a bird: the hands are raised in an attitude of adoration. Upon the opposite side-wall is another boat, supporting a circle, in the centre of which is an eye, and above and below the eye is a row of small sitting figures. The entrance of the apartments behind the portico is entirely closed with rubbish. Upon the cornice above this entrance is the winged globe; and below this is a scarabxus [scarab] enclosed in a circle, and supported by a boat. In the upper cornice is represented the same insect, also enclosed in circle, and with two heads; the head of the hawk, which is common to Aroeris [Horus], and that of the ram, which distinguishes Kneph. This device of the beetle with the heads of a hawk and ram is a common ornament on the cornices of the temple.
The roof of the interior apartments, as well as that of the portico, is covered with modern huts; most of which are inhabited. Under one of these huts is an aperture by which we may descend into one of the inner chambers. It was pointed out to me by an English traveller whom I met here on my return from the upper country; but I believe it is generally shown to travellers: I had not seen it; for I had not completed my examination of the temple. We descended together; and found ourselves obliged to worm along in a prostrate position for several feet: the rubbish, at the part where we entered, rising nearly to the roof. We observed that the chamber contained four rows of massive columns; three in each row; and that some of the capitals which were not covered by the rubbish were rich and elegant in form: of the sculptures we could scarcely see anything excepting the hieroglyphics on the architraves. This chamber we found to be the one next behind the great portico: there are several smaller apartments beyond it. On our egress from it, the inhabitants of the hut through which we had passed asked us for a present.
The whole of the exterior of the temple is covered with sculptures; as is also a high wall which surrounds the whole of the main body of the building, and of which the two side-walls of the great court form parts. This edifice is, upon the whole, a stupendous and elaborate work. Each wing of the pylon has a well-built flight of stairs by which to ascend to the summit. We enter each stair-case by a door in the back of either wing of the pylon. In ascending the stairs, we pass, successively, the entrances of a series of apartments, of which, half the number lie on the eastern, and half on the western side. These chambers were perhaps destined for the accommodation of the priests. They have no decoration. For the admission of light, they have narrow apertures, like the loopholes for musketry, but horizontal instead of being perpendicular. The whole length of the temple is about 450 feet.

At a short distance from the south-western angle of the pylon of the great temple is another Ptolemaic temple [birth house], almost buried among the mounds of rubbish. This is a monument of Physcon; but the sculptures are partly by a later Ptolemy; supposed to be Lathyrus. It is a small edifice; consisting only of two chambers, and surrounded by a colonnade. High blocks (higher than they are wide) are interposed between the capitals and the architraves, and have a figure of the pigmy monster Typhon [Bes], carved in high relief, on each of their four sides. Hence the temple has been called the Typhonium of Ad'foo. Of the cornice, little remains. The sculptures on the interior face of the architraves in front are remarkable: two rows of figures are here represented meeting together in the centre: they are all armed with various instruments of destruction; and each procession commences by a human figure with the head of a lion. The interior of the temple is more than half filled with rubbish. We enter first a small apartment. The principal object in the sculptures is Horus, or Harpocrates, who is generally represented seated on the knees of his nurse Athor [Hathor], on the walls of the second chamber, which is longer than the first. This chamber contains a single column; opposite the entrance: there was probably another column behind it, corresponding in situation; but it has been thrown down; and the fragments are either buried in the rubbish or have been removed. On the left side-wall of the second chamber, Athor [Hathor] is represented seated on a throne, from which lotuses are springing out in every direction.
Dendoo'r [Dendur], 21st May 1826
The next district, or portion of the valley, above Ab'oo Ho'r is Wa'dee Dendoo'r [Dendur].
On the western side (Ghur'b Dendoo'r) is a temple, of small dimensions, and of the same age as the main part of the great temple of Ckala'b'sheh; the reign of Augustus [30 BC-AD 14]. I landed before this temple early in the morning. It is situated almost close to the river; only a very narrow strip of cultivated land intervening; which, when I visited the spot, was covered with senna and the creeping colocynth.
The temple is built on the irregular slope of the low, rocky ridge; which is here strewed with detached masses of stone, intermixed with broken pottery, indicating that a small town stood here. My view of this edifice, is taken from the direction in which it is seen in ascending the valley. It has, in front, a small portal; before which is a square enclosure, formed by well-built walls of stone. The front-wall of this enclosure has a singular peculiarity: its exterior face being slightly concave, or curved inwards.
As the temple is unfinished, we may suppose that this enclosure was to have been filled up, so as to form a platform: indeed it is partly so filled. The portal is decorated with sculptures of the usual kind, representing offerings; but with only a mystic name, similar to that which I have mentioned in describing the great temple of Ckala'b'sheh; so that it is uncertain when the sculptures were executed. The space between this
portal and the temple itself is covered with fragments of stone; some of which formed parts of the temple, and perhaps of the two wings of a propylxum connected by the portal above mentioned. Among them I observed a small figure of a hawk; the head of which was broken off.
The portico of the temple has two small columns; between which is the entrance. The front and the interior are sculptured, with the usual subjects of offerings, and bear, throughout, the hieroglyphic name of the Emperor Augustus (Autocrator Caesar). The exterior of the temple is also similarly sculptured. The interior has been plastered and painted by early Christians: but their work has almost entirely perished. Behind the portico is a little chamber, without any sculpture, excepting round the door through which we pass into the sanctuary. This is almost as small as the former chamber, and, like it, without decoration, excepting at the end, where is sculptured a shrine, in the form of a door, in which is represented the king offering to Isis. A few feet behind the temple, but not exactly in a direct line with the axis of the building, is a small, square chamber, excavated in the rock. Before the door of this was a little porch of masonry, which is now nearly demolished.

Contact & Feedback : Egyptology and Archaeology through Images : Page last updated on 17-December-2023