A FAREWELL TO DOUGHTY.

For six months I read Charles Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta to my wife at bedtime, and Friday night we finally got him to Jidda and a respite from dates and danger. To celebrate his, and our, deliverance, here are some quotes of linguistic interest from Vol. II (I quoted an earlier one here):

And there are phrases which, like their brand-marks, declare the tribes of nomads: these were, I believe, northern men. One, as I came, showed me to his rafik, with this word: Urraie urraie, hu hu! ‘Look there! he (is) he, this is the Nasrâny.’ — Cheyf Nasrâny? (I heard the other answer, with the hollow drought of the desert in his manly throat), agûl! weysh yúnsurhu? He would say, “How is this man victorious, what giveth him the victory?” In this strange word to him the poor Beduwy thought he heard nasr, which is victory. (p. 69)
…And opening the sheet, which was folded in our manner, I found a letter from the Pasha of Medina! written (imperfectly) as follows, in the French language; with the date of the Christian year, and signed in the end with his name, — Sabry. [Ad literam.] Le 11 janvier 1878 [Medine] D’après l’avertissement de l’autorité local, nous sommes saché votre arrivée a Khaiber… Mohammed asked ‘What had the Pasha written? he would hear me read his letter in the Nasrâny language:’ and he stood to listen with great admiration. ‘Pitta-pitta-pitta! is such their speech?’ laughed he; and this was his new mirth in the next coffee meetings. (pp. 221-3)
Finally the good Sherîf said, I spoke well in Arabic: where had I learned? (I pronounced, in the Nejd manner, the nûn in the end of nouns used indifferently, and sometimes the Beduin plurals; which might be pleasant in a townsman’s hearing.) (p. 555)
The living language of the Arabs dispersed through so vast regions is without end, and can never be all learned; the colocynth gourd hámthal of the western Arabians, shérry in middle Nejd, is here [at Taif] called el-hádduj. (pp. 560-1)

And there were all manner of unusual words and meanings to send me to the dictionary, such as anatomy ‘skeleton,’ nonage ‘legal infancy,’ and mawkish ‘nauseating,’ not to mention “the enigmatology of Solomon.”


Of historical rather than linguistic interest, this mistaken prophecy sent a shiver down my spine:

By the loss of the horses [in a battle with 'Uteyba] the Waháby rule, which had lasted an hundred years, was weakened to death; never — such is the opinion in Nejd — to rise again! (p. 454)

Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud proved that opinion wrong in 1902.
After over 1,200 pages of Doughty, we thought about switching to some lightweight book to cleanse our palates, but then we decided no, the heck with it, let’s go for broke. So last night we started on Proust.

Comments

  1. Of historical rather than linguistic interest, this mistaken prophecy sent a shiver down my spine: By the loss of the horses [in a battle with 'Uteyba] the Waháby rule, which had lasted an hundred years, was weakened to death; never — such is the opinion in Nejd — to rise again!
    It is so weird that in 2006 Muhammad Iqbal is deemed a heretic and that those who do the deeming are internationally powerful. Oh well, just one more datum in the external experiment as to whether economics matter.

  2. I read that T.E. Lawrence was responsible for bringing Arabia Deserta back into print after years of obscurity. After reading these passages, I can see why he was so taken with the book.

  3. Reading to a partner is a very sweet thing to do. I hope and trust it earns you credits. I recall getting through one of the Tolkein series with a (one book) long departed, but not forgotten lass.
    An Arabian travel story puts me in mind of the womanizing, death-ridden intrigue surrounding Carsten Neibuhr’s ill-fated trip to the region in the 1770s. I’m not necessarily sure Neibuhr’s own book is worth the effort but I wouldn’t mind getting hold of Hansen’s 1964 book “Arabia Felix..” – referenced in this review
    Proust? Does the strength of a relationship dictate the length of the night reader? I should have realized early on that I had picked [a] one-Tolkein girl..

  4. I’m not so sure that Lawrence brought it back from obscurity, or “rediscovered” it as the Wikipedia puts it. Granted the 1888 edition was out of print, and granted Lawrence was largely responsible for the 1920 edition, but he so much as says in his Introduction that it was so well known that it was just “Doughty” to Arabists. He probably did a lot of popularize it as travel / adventure literature for the broader audience, as his own work would be. And he reminded people that Doughty was still alive (after being himself surprised), since as so often happens with classic works, he was assumed to be long since dead.

  5. I have read some criticism that Doughty wrote in an arch, cod-period style, unnecessarily flowery. I do find him a little heavy going in this respect,at least in the two-volume edition I have.
    Hat – what do you think of this aspect ?

  6. I love it, but I recognize it’s a minority taste. I wouldn’t call it “arch,” though; the recovery of old words and usages was in the air in the late 19th century — cf. the writers discussed in this post.

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