Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile
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Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, In the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 and 1773 is a multi-volume account of the Scottish traveller James Bruce (1730–94) of his journeys in the Horn of Africa, which includes an eye-witness account of Ethiopian history and culture, as well as a description of that country and the neighboring kingdom of Sennar and the Ottoman province of Habesh.
Bruce and his sensational stories were received with incredulity upon his return to London in 1774 after more than a dozen years of travel in North Africa and Abyssinia (Ethiopia) where he traced the Blue Nile.
His Travels was issued in 1790, after he retired to his home at Kinnaird, at the urging of his friend Daines Barrington. It was published in five octavo volumes, lavishly illustrated, but was ridiculed by scholars and other travellers as being exaggerated nonsense. An example of the criticism his account received would be the comments of Henry Salt, who after visiting Ethiopia and interviewing a number of inhabitants who knew him, wrote:
- The most material points (besides those noticed in a former part of this work) which affect Mr. Bruce's veracity, are those, of his never having received any district or command; his not having been engaged in the battles of Serbraxos – the overthrow of his pretensions to an almost intuitive knowledge of the languages of the country – his mis-statements respecting Guanguol, Amha Yasous, and the living feast, and the unpardonable concealment of the fact, that Balugani attended him on his journey to the sources of the Nile.
However, the substantial accuracy of his Abyssinian travels was later confirmed by explorers who included William George Browne and E.D. Clarke, and it is considered that he made a real addition to the geographical knowledge of his day.
A new edition of the Travels was prepared by Alexander Murray in 1813, who added copious footnotes and appendices on Bruce's sources and accuracy, as well as a portion of Bruce's autobiography. Murray's most notable revision to Bruce's account was replacing his chapter on Emperor Bakaffa, removing the semi-legendary accounts of how Bakaffa met his future queen Mentewab and her important supporter Waragna with a factual drawn from the Royal Chronicles of the ruler.
Of the 19th century abridgments, the best is that of Major (afterwards Sir) Francis Head, the author of a well-informed Life of Bruce (London, 1830).
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- Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, In the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 and 1773. Five Volumes, G.G.J. and J. Robinson, London, 1790.
- Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, In the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 and 1773, Second edition, Ed., Alexander Murray, 1805.
- Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, In the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 and 1773, Third edition, 8 volumes; Ed., Alexander Murray; Edinburgh, 1813.
- Travels. Abridged edition, by Major Francis Head, 1830.
- Travels. Abridged edition, by C.F. Beckingham. Horizon Press, New York, 1964.
- Salt, Henry (1816), A Voyage to Abyssinia; Philadelphia and Boston, pg 202.
- See the discussion in J.M. Reid, Traveller Extraordinary: The Life of James Bruce of Kinnaird (New York: Norton, 1968), pp. 310–316