Fair highlight from Douglas Stewart Fine Books
HUC, Évariste Régis, Abbé (1813-1860)
Manuscript letter written by Abbé Huc, sent from Macau in November 1846, addressed to his parents in Toulouse and reporting on his just-completed epic journey through Tartary and Tibet.
Macao, 1er. Novembre 1846. Entire letter, manuscript in ink on a single folio sheet of Chinese paper, folded to form 4 pages, written on 3½ pages; the panel on the outer side addressed to ‘Monsieur Huc, Rue Pargaminières 73, Toulouse, Haute-Garonne’, circular postal markings in black ‘Paris 8 Janv. 47’ and ‘Toulouse 11 Janv. 47’; the letter commences ‘Mes chers parents’ and is signed at the foot ‘Je vous embrasse tous filialement et fraternellement, E. Huc’; remnants of red wax seal; a couple of small closed tears at edges of the folds (no loss of text), otherwise complete, clean and legible.
A rare and important letter by the missionary and traveller Abbé Huc, containing what is surely the earliest written account of his extraordinary journey through Tartary and Tibet in 1844-46.
The French Vincentian missionary father Évariste Régis Huc (1813-1860), often referred to simply as Abbé Huc, had departed from Dolon Nor in Inner Mongolia in August 1844 with the intention of crossing into Tibet to proselytise the indigenous population and study their culture, and then travelling on to India via Sikkim. He was accompanied by Father Joseph Gabet, a fellow Vincentian. Their journey would be a perilous one. Disguised as lamas, the two men traversed the Ordos Desert, reaching the border of the Tibetan kingdom early in 1845. The pair then spent eight months studying the Tibetan language and Buddhist scriptures at the Kumbum lamasery, before joining a Tibetan embassy returning from Peking which granted them permission to travel to Lhasa. When Huc and Gabet entered Lhasa in late January 1846, they became the first westerners after Thomas Manning (1811) to visit the Forbidden City. The regent allowed them to establish a small chapel, and they began their missionary work among the Tibetans. At the end of February, however, they were expelled by the Chinese imperial commissioner, Qishan, who, suspicious of their activities and fearing that they could supply strategic information about Tibet to the British in India, ordered them to be escorted back to Canton, where they arrived in October 1846.
Huc later recorded his travels in his Souvenirs d’un voyage dans la Tartarie, le Thibet, et la Chine pendant les années 1844, 1845 et 1846, published in Paris in 1850. An English translation by William Hazlitt, Travels in Tartary, appeared soon afterwards.
In the present letter, which as far as we can ascertain has never been published, Huc provides an extensive commentary on the remarkable journey that he and Gabet had so recently made through regions largely unvisited and uncharted by Europeans. The letter, written at the Vincentian seminary in Macau on 1 November 1846, was the first piece of correspondence Huc sent to France following his travels, and thus it confirmed that he and Gabet had survived their journey. During the expedition, which had lasted almost two years, no news had been heard of the missionaries’ activity or whereabouts; the lack of correspondence from Huc had led his family and colleagues to believe him dead. In the Postscript to his Souvenirs, reflecting on the missionaries’ arrival at Macau, Huc wrote: ‘Our long and painful journey was at an end; and at last we were able, after so many tribulations, to enjoy a little quiet and repose’. Addressed to his parents at home in Toulouse, the present letter is as intimate as it is richly detailed in its account of the historic journey.