In 1810, the orientalist scholar Charles Stewart translated and published an extraordinary travel narrative written by a Persian-speaking Indian poet and scholar named Mirza Abu Talib Khan. At the turn of the century, Abu Talib travelled from India to Africa, and on to Ireland, England, and France, where he recorded his observations of European culture with wit and precision. The narrative’s vital and controversial account of British imperial society is one of the earliest examples of a colonial subject addressing the cultural dynamics of metropolitan Britain, and its complex critique of empire challenges many preconceptions about intercultural relations during this era. Following his European sojourn, Abu Talib’s remarkable Shi’ite pilgrimage through present day Turkey and Iraq further enhances his meditation on the encounter between Islam and European modernity.
This Broadview edition includes a critical introduction and chronologies of the lives and works of Mirza Abu Talib and Charles Stewart. The appendices offer contemporary reviews of the narrative, selections of British orientalist discourse, and examples of proto-ethnographic writing from the period.
“Eighteenth-century readers were so familiar with the fiction of ‘reverse ethnography’ (the record of travels to Europe by a traveller from a different culture) that reviewers were at first suspicious about the authenticity of these learned, witty, and often satirical writings. As they did for contemporary readers, they have much to tell us now—about political cultures, social interactions, the colonial context, and the attractions as well as fears of the European metropolis. Translated with sympathy by the distinguished early nineteenth-century orientalist Charles Stewart, the first-person account of Abu Talib’s travels and residency in London offers a subtle ironic commentary on the expectations and prejudices of the period—to which Daniel O’Quinn’s expert introduction and selection of contextual material draw the modern reader’s attention.” — Ros Ballaster, Mansfield College, Oxford University
“The Travels of Mirza Abu Taleb Khan is perhaps the most significant ‘reverse travelogue’ published in Europe during the Romantic era, and one of the first published accounts of Britain by an Asian author. Abu Talib casts a fresh eye on the sites and personalities of Georgian London, combining a sense of wonder at the technical and aesthetic achievements of Britain at the dawn of the nineteenth century with a sharp social and moral critique of the new masters of Bengal. Daniel O’Quinn’s edition brings this sparkling narrative to life, complete with a new introductory essay, footnotes, and appendices that make this long-forgotten book accessible to both students and the general reader.” — Nigel Leask, University of Glasgow