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Autograph manuscript by a famous Polish adventurer in Southern Russia

Potocki, Jan count, Polish ethnologist, linguist, traveller, and adventurer (1761-1815). [Voyage dans les steps d'Astrakhan et du Caucase]. "Livre I. Année 1797". Autograph manuscript.

[Russia], 1797.

4to (198 x 230 mm). French manuscript in ink on paper. 102 written ff. (plus 30 blanks) on light blue paper, written per extensum on one side only, with occasional insertions on opposite versos; 5 small pencil and ink illustrations. Contemporary half calf over marbled boards. All edges gilt.

Original manuscript of the first part of Jan Potocki's account of his 1797-98 expedition to Southern Russia and the Caucasus region, posthumously published in 1829 in two volumes by his protégé Julius Klaproth as "Voyage dans les steps d'Astrakhan et du Caucase: Histoire primitive des peuples qui ont habité antérieurement ces contrées".

After the defeat of Poland by Russia in 1792 and the ensuing new partitions of Poland, Potocki, a noble Polish adventurer-scholar whose colourful life took him across three continents, had retired in bitterness to his castle in Lancut and then lived mostly in the German Empire. However, following the death of Catherine the Great in 1796 he aligned himself more closely with Russia and became a subject of the Tsar. Attending the coronation of Paul I in Moscow in 1797, he seized the opportunity and obtained permission to explore the Caucasus in search of the origins of the ancient Scythians. The year-long ethnographic research mission took him to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea and along the lower Volga. Potocki went on to serve Alexander I as councillor and was a member of St Peterburg's Academy of Sciences.

The present manuscript, Potocki's original travel journal, comprises the first twelve chapters of the journey, covering the entirety of the year 1797. Working from his journals and with publication in mind, Potocki after his return produced several working drafts (some of which are now in Polish archives, such as that the Archiwum Glówne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie, Archiwum po Potockich 82/II, and that in the Archiwum Wojewódzkie na Wawelu, Pot. D.2), and from these, ultimately, a fair copy in a single 437-page volume which soon made its way to the USA and still rests in the library of the American Philosophical Society (Mss.914.79.P85). When Klaproth finally published the work in Paris in 1829, the printer had to work from a new handwritten copy prepared in Philadelphia. While the published text generally agrees with that of the present travel diary, the latter contains a wealth of deletions, insertions, and other extensive changes that demonstrate how thoroughly the author revised his notes during and immediately after the tour. The present manuscript begins with the party's departure from Nowochopjorsk on 23 May 1797, but the published text includes a prefixed account of their departure from Moscow a week earlier, and the beginning of our journal corresponds to page 8 of the printed book. The ms. ends with an entry for 1 January 1798 (corresponding to the first paragraph of p. 182 in the first volume). A table of contents listing the manuscript's chapters as originally conceived is added sideways at the head of the first page.

Condition: binding somewhat rubbed; some worming to covers; extremeties bumped. Upper corner of the final leaves very slightly waterstained. A few blank leaves have torn-off corners. Most of the deleted passages are still legible, but large sections from two pages have been cut out where stricken-out text was removed, the final lines of one page have been trimmed away, and one page (pertaining to 17 Nov.) has been cut out altogether.

Provenance: stamp of the Potockis' Lancut palace library on the recto of the first page. Old library shelfmark to front pastedown, with a later Portuguese bookseller label. Aquired in the Portuguese trade.

Very rare; we have not been able to trace in auction records any manuscript in Potocki's hand. A unique example of the author's autograph journal of an important 18th century ethnographical expedition to southern Russia.