|Many such Englishmen and their wives were possibly attracted to service in maintaining the empire by colonial stories and poems in British literary annuals during the period 1825 to 1857. The annuals had a large export trade, and they circulated all over the world to the British Empire’s outposts. Camilla Toulmin-Crosland, an editor of several annuals, attributes the falling off in the sale of annuals to the opening up of the route to India. She writes, “the Indian empire generally afforded great markets for the annuals, and for this reason a large number of copies had always been made ready by the end of July, so as to be shipped for the long voyage around the Cape, and yet arrive at their destination in time for Christmas and New Year presents. But when communication between India and England became more rapid and frequent (with travel across the Suez), Anglo-Indians participated in the influx of cheap literature, and orders for expensive books fell off accordingly (Crosland 96).
Stories of romance in those days of the early colonial British Empire were often located in the Middle and Far East, India, or Africa. Many of these stories reflect the marginal experiences of retired colonials and wizened travelers. An early survey with the Index, when it contained primarily the 7,500 articles listed in Andrew Boyle’s An Index to the Annuals, found 274 titles that dealt with colonial subjects. Of these selections, 52 percent are located in the Middle East, 19 percent in India, 11 percent in Africa, 9 percent in the Far East, and 9 percent in the Western Hemisphere. There are undoubtedly more items on colonial subjects that this survey missed because their titles did not indicate their foreign setting. The following stories were chosen to illustrate the presence of Orientalism and characterize the colonial interests and attitudes of the early British Empire.
The following story by Benjamin Disraeli, who became Prime Minister of England in 1868, entitled “The Valley of the Thebes” from Heath’s Book of Beauty for 1840 is a good example of how knowledge creates a sense of place in Orientalism. Note how academic the tone is with explicit quantitative measurements and comparatives to English landmarks such as Stonehenge and St. Martins-in-the-Field church in London. Note also how Disraeli diminishes the present day inhabitants with respect to their ancient forbearers:
Upper Egypt is the Nile flowing through several hundred miles of desert valleys from its upper rapids to Cairo. In one of the broadest valleys, about midway, we find the most celebrated and sublime ruins of ancient Thebes. Luxoor is close to the river and is built on a lofty platform. The population of this city of a hundred gates now consists of a few Arab families, living in mud huts, clustered round gigantic columns and mighty obelisks. The entrance to the temple is through a magnificent propylon, two hundred feet in breadth, and rises sixty feet above the sand. At Karnak, the great hall is fifty-eight thousand square feet in area, large enough to hold four churches the size of our St. Martin’s-in-the-Field. The roof formed of single stones [that make Stonehenge’s look as bricks] has fallen in. The one hundred and thirty-four columns that supported the roof are over thirty feet in circumference. The arts of the Egyptians must be studied; to do this one must frequent their tombs. At one such tomb, Disraeli met Mr. Wilkinson [later, a famed English Egyptologist] who is full of knowledge, profound in Oriental manners, and thoroughly master of his subject. (Disraeli 3)
Disraeli’s description displays both his knowledge and Wilkinson’s power to know what the Arabs cannot know of their ancients. Another form of knowledge is survival skill in dangerous circumstances, an ability that most attracts adventurous souls such as found in “The Pass of Abdomim” by William Holt Yates from The Amulet for 1834:
It was the middle of August in Jerusalem, the rays of the Syrian sun darted uninterruptedly with an intensity only to be conceived by those acquainted with an Oriental climate. This is the most common cause of fever and ophthalmia in Europeans. I therefore gathered my Bedouin shawl about me, and taking my burnoose in one hand and my gun in the other greeted my escort of four ferocious, cut-throat looking men and a janizary, who carried an introductory letter to the Aga of Jericho. The soldiers wore a similar dress and carried each a brace of pistols, a scimitar, a yatighan, and a gun or a carbine slung on his back. We carried no baggage but was absolutely necessary. The pass we were to cross was the most dangerous on the journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. Its situation is highly favorable for plunder; it has been the scene of murder, both in ancient and modern times, and is called Abdomim, “the place of blood.” It was in that very place the Good Samaritan found the wounded traveler. Once through the pass, we safely lodged within the turret of Zaccheus, although the roofless old walls had nothing to afford but their shelter from the beasts of the plain and the still more savage people. (Yates 147)