Monday, 9 April 2012

Albania: a narrative of recent travel by Edward Frederick Knight (1880)


My bibliophile friend does not know I plan a journey by train to Belgrade and Montenegro and then by bus or car into Albania this summer but he understands my literary tastes well because he showed me a rare 1880 book that he knew I would like that begins:

One day last autumn I was sitting in my Temple chambers, wondering what I should do with myself in the Long Vacation, when I was aroused from from my reverie by the entrance of my clerk

who announces a visitor, Mr. N. who informed the author that

'three friends of mine — Brown, Jones, and Robinson — are preparing for a tour in Albania. I saw Brown this morning and he told me they wanted someone else to join their party.'

What a cracking beginning to a book. I want to read the rest. Alas, it is not on the internet. I am trying to read some of it now before i have to catch my plane but how I wish I could join the party. I want to see Albania again and intend to go back there in July to the north which is said to be the more primitive part but every traveller really wants to travel through time not space and what I really want to do is visit 1880. I've travelled a couple of times by train from Bucharest to St. Pancras but how much more exciting to buy a ticket from London Victoria to Trieste in 1880 and then by ship to Albania in the Ottoman Empire.

The author and his companions went burdened by

...a huge tent, which subsequently was christened "the White Elephant". This was packed for the journey in a long coffin- like box, and many were the wranglings and afflictions over that unfortunate package. Cab-men, railway porters, custom-house officers, police, all alike suspected it, and hindered its unhappy progress in every way.

It sounds as cumbersome and unnecessary as the luggage taken by William Boot in Scoop, including the cleft sticks that he had cloven.

We settled to leave London on the 18th of September, took through tickets to Trieste, and appointed to meet in our war-paint at Victoria Station at seven o'clock in the evening, so as to catch the eight o'clock train for the Dieppe boat.

At seven o'clock the whole length of Spiers and Pond's refreshment-bar at Victoria Station was monopolized by the travellers and the numerous friends who had come to see the last of them. " You are certain to have your throat cut, old fellow, so you might just as well have one last beverage with me, " was an oft-repeated and encouraging salute.

In sixty-two hours from the time we left London we were in Venice. We were haunted by two guilty consciences during the whole of our run across Europe. For we had to cross three frontiers, and were laden with contraband, in the shape of revolvers and rifle cartridges. In conse- quence of our suspicious appearance, our baggage was generally examined. At Modane, where is the most unpleasant frontier custom-house in Europe, the officers have instructions to confiscate alrevolvers. Thus we had to conceal our own on our persons. As they were large, and so caused a suspicious-looking protuberance of our outer clothing, we did not feel quite happy until we were again seated in a carriage, and plunged into the darkness of the Mont Cenis.

I shall have to leave the book behing me when I leave and I am only on Chapter Two - although my pal has borrowed and lost a book of mine he does not like lending his books but I did find this gem. The author has just arrived in Albania and recounts a blood feud which began between two families when one man killed another man's pig and the two families commit many murders as a result (these blood feuds still happen).

At last the two families met and settled the matter amicably, and without dishonour to either party, for it was shown that an equal amount of damage had been inflicted on both parties - ten men of one having been slain; nine men, one woman and a pig of the other.

P.S. Good news! The whole book is on the net in several places, including here:

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