The Monumental History of Egypt – William Osburn (1854) (1st ed)


The Monumental History of Egypt – William Osburn (1854) (1st ed)


Title: The Monumental History of Egypt as recorded in the Ruins of her Temples, Palaces, and Tombs

Author: William Osburn

Publisher: Trubner & Co., London, 1854. First edition.

Condition: 2 vols, complete. In extraordinary condition for its age. Full leather, fine binding with raised bands on spine. Covers slightly rubbed. Marbled edges and endpapers. Binding very tight, pages very clean. With numerous colour and black-and-white plates. A heavy set. Overseas shipping will cost extra.

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One of the earliest English-language books written on Egypt, with a very comprehensive discussion on the Rosetta stone and symbolism in Ancient Egypt. This book was published well before Egyptology was established as a discipline in the English-speaking world, and contains numerous colour plates, black-and-white illustrations and charts, and engraved maps.

About the author (from the Thoresby Society):

In 1824 an extraordinary event took place in Leeds, in the presence of a circle of the most eminent men of the town – the solemn opening after three thousand years of the ornate sealed coffin of the Egyptian mummy donated to the Society by the wealthy banker, Edward Blayds of Oulton Hall. The place was Philosophical Hall in Park Row, the home of the recently formed Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society.

Among those present was William Osburn, Secretary of the Society, who recorded the opening of the coffin, the slow, delicate unwrapping of the 40 layers of bandage, and the analytical examination of the body. He worked on the interpretation of the coffin’s inscriptions to reveal its secrets. His detailed account, published in 1828, remains a fine example of early research work and shows Leeds leading the way in this new area of knowledge.

William Osburn was a wine and spirit merchant, who joined his father’s business when he was 18. Educated at Leeds Grammar School, and later Cambridge University, he had a wide range of interests – in travel, other lands and cultures, history, theology.

But what absorbed him most in the 1820s were the new, exciting discoveries in Egypt, now in British possession – the first mummies from excavated or despoiled tombs were on display in London, together with the unique Rosetta stone, seized from the French. With matching inscriptions in three languages it provided the key to deciphering hieroglyphic writing. He studied the first works on the subject, acquired a cast of the stone, learnt how to interpret the characters, and was able to identify the Leeds mummy as that of the important priest Nesyamun. He wrote articles and gave public lectures on his work. And increasingly he focussed on the association between ancient Egypt and the truth of the Bible, publishing the first of several books on this subject in 1841.

Osburn himself became a rootless figure, lodging in various houses, obsessively researching and writing. He travelled, once at least to Egypt to see its wonders himself, and published five more successful books, on religion and ancient Egypt, including the comprehensive ‘Monumental History of Egypt’. He had a respected reputation, was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, still gave occasional lectures, and served on the committee for the Leeds contribution to the 1851 Great Exhibition.