SUKHUM / AQW'A -- Douglas Freshfield's two-volume work, "The Exploration of the Caucasus" in English was donated to the National Library of Abkhazia by George Hewitt, a British linguist and Emeritus Professor of Caucasian languages. The National Library shared the news on social media.
In a letter, Hewitt stated that he was introduced to the book through a brief article by the late William Allen, a British diplomat and historian of the South Caucasus. Allen had previously donated a copy of "The Exploration of the Caucasus" to the Mest'ia Museum in Svanetia.
"From a short article published in 1968 by the late millionaire businessman, historian (especially of Transcaucasia) and sometime-official of the British Foreign Office W.E.D. Allen 1 knew that on a visit to Svanetia he had presented to the Mest'ia Museum on behalf jointly of the British Museum and the Royal Geographical Society a 1st edition of the rather rare and magnificent Exploration of the Caucasus (1896, in two large volumes) by Douglas Freshfield, first known conqueror of such Caucasian peaks as Elbrus and Ushba. On my second visit to Mest'ia I requested of the then-Director, Tsiala Chartolani, permission to see and hold these books, which were kept in her office. I determined at once that some day somehow I would have to find the money to acquire my own copy of this deservedly famous work. It took me several years to locate a copy that was within my budget (in an online-store based in Derbyshire which specialised in mountaineering publications), and it was a great thrill when the weighty parcel was delivered. Having recently found another copy that also fell within our means, my wife Zaira and I agreed that I should buy it and donate the earlier purchase to Abkhazia's National Library in Sukhum — after all, volume two contains a chapter entitled The Solitude of Abkhazia, reflecting the depopulated state of the country following the makhadzhirstvo tragedy. Thus it is only fitting that the Republic should possess a set of its own. Interestingly, the aforementioned three copies of the work (my two acquisitions plus the one in Mest’ia) are the sole examples of the 1st edition that I have ever actually seen..."
"Thanks to the kind efforts of Rustam and Milana Butba-Ansha, who acted as couriers to deliver the books safely from England to Abkhazia, Zaira and I are delighted to be able to say: These two volumes are hereby presented to readers of the National Library of the Republic of Abkhazia with deep respect and humility."
— George Hewitt & Zaira Khiba
The Wikipedia-entry for Douglas William Freshfield begins like this: ‘Douglas William Freshfield (27 April 1845 – 9 February 1934) was a British lawyer, mountaineer and author, who edited Journal from 1872 to 1880. He was an active member of the Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club and served as President of both organisations.’ He came from a prominent family and was educated at Eton College and Oxford University, being called to the bar in 1870.
With reference to the Caucasus, his fame resides in the fact that he is credited with having been the first person to conquer Europe’s highest peak (Mt. Elbrus, N.W. Caucasus) and also the North Central Caucasian peak, Mt. Kazbek, to which the legend stated Prometheus was bound. His and his team’s exploits in the Caucasus were described in his magnificent work ‘Exploration of the Caucasus’, which appeared in two sumptuous volumes in 1896, the somewhat less luxurious 2nd edition dating to 1902. Included in the volumes are: 80 plates (comprising: 1 folding line-drawn key-plate, 2 half-tone plates [1 folding] and 77 photogravures [including 3 folding panoramas]), 4 folding maps printed in colours (one in pocket at end of vol.II, as issued), numerous half-tone illustrations, most from photographs by Vittorio Sella, M. de Déchy, Hermann Woolley and Clinton Dent.
The solitude of Abkhazia
Of particular interest to visitors to this website is the section in volume 2 entitled ‘The solitude of Abkhazia’ (pp.191-220), where Freshfield affectionately describes not only the wonderful scenery but also the sad desolation following the migration of the bulk of Abkhazia’s autochthonous population to Ottoman lands following the end of the great Caucasian war (1864) and the Russo-Turkish war (1877-78).
What is to be the future of this Earthly Paradise? Its ancient and primaeval inhabitants are gone. They have been exiled for a quarter of a century; their dwellings and their tombs are alike lost in the glorious vegetation that feeds nothing but bears and mosquitoes and fevers. A people that had lived the same life in the same place since the beginning of history has been dispersed or destroyed.
— Douglas W. Freshfield
The solitude of Abkhazia (1896)