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From Cornhill to Grand Cairo   By: (1811-1863)

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Notes on a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo

by William Makepeace Thackeray



My Dear Lewis,

After a voyage, during which the captain of the ship has displayed uncommon courage, seamanship, affability, or other good qualities, grateful passengers often present him with a token of their esteem, in the shape of teapots, tankards, trays, &c. of precious metal. Among authors, however, bullion is a much rarer commodity than paper, whereof I beg you to accept a little in the shape of this small volume. It contains a few notes of a voyage which your skill and kindness rendered doubly pleasant; and of which I don't think there is any recollection more agreeable than that it was the occasion of making your friendship.

If the noble Company in whose service you command (and whose fleet alone makes them a third rate maritime power in Europe) should appoint a few admirals in their navy, I hope to hear that your flag is hoisted on board one of the grandest of their steamers. But, I trust, even there you will not forget the "Iberia," and the delightful Mediterranean cruise we had in her in the Autumn of 1844.

Most faithfully yours, My dear Lewis, W. M. THACKERAY. LONDON: December 24, 1845.


On the 20th of August, 1844, the writer of this little book went to dine at the Club, quite unconscious of the wonderful events which Fate had in store for him.

Mr. William was there, giving a farewell dinner to his friend Mr. James (now Sir James). These two asked Mr. Titmarsh to join company with them, and the conversation naturally fell upon the tour Mr. James was about to take. The Peninsular and Oriental Company had arranged an excursion in the Mediterranean, by which, in the space of a couple of months, as many men and cities were to be seen as Ulysses surveyed and noted in ten years. Malta, Athens, Smyrna, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Cairo were to be visited, and everybody was to be back in London by Lord Mayor's Day.

The idea of beholding these famous places inflamed Mr. Titmarsh's mind; and the charms of such a journey were eloquently impressed upon him by Mr. James. "Come," said that kind and hospitable gentleman, "and make one of my family party; in all your life you will never probably have a chance again to see so much in so short a time. Consider it is as easy as a journey to Paris or to Baden." Mr. Titmarsh considered all these things; but also the difficulties of the situation: he had but six and thirty hours to get ready for so portentous a journey he had engagements at home finally, could he afford it? In spite of these objections, however, with every glass of claret the enthusiasm somehow rose, and the difficulties vanished.

But when Mr. James, to crown all, said he had no doubt that his friends, the Directors of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, would make Mr. Titmarsh the present of a berth for the voyage, all objections ceased on his part: to break his outstanding engagements to write letters to his amazed family, stating that they were not to expect him at dinner on Saturday fortnight, as he would be at Jerusalem on that day to purchase eighteen shirts and lay in a sea stock of Russia ducks, was the work of four and twenty hours; and on the 22nd of August, the "Lady Mary Wood" was sailing from Southampton with the "subject of the present memoir," quite astonished to find himself one of the passengers on board.

These important statements are made partly to convince some incredulous friends who insist still that the writer never went abroad at all, and wrote the following pages, out of pure fancy, in retirement at Putney; but mainly, to give him an opportunity of thanking the Directors of the Company in question for a delightful excursion.

It was one so easy, so charming, and I think profitable it leaves such a store of pleasant recollections for after days and creates so many new sources of interest (a newspaper letter from Beyrout, or Malta, or Algiers, has twice the interest now that it had formerly), that I can't but recommend all persons who have time and means to make a similar journey vacation idlers to extend their travels and pursue it: above all, young well educated men entering life, to take this course, we will say, after that at college; and, having their book learning fresh in their minds, see the living people and their cities, and the actual aspect of Nature, along the famous shores of the Mediterranean... Continue reading book >>

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