FORSTER, Rev. Charles. The Historical Geography of Arabia; or The Patriarchal Evidences of Revealed Religions. London, Duncan & Malcolm, 1844.
2 vols. 8vo. Near-contemporary calf by Rivière in his typical style, marbled edges and endpapers; pp. lxxxviiii; 357, 1 folding map; vi, 509, 1 large folding map, 2 fold-out tables, one plate; a very clean and attractive set with engraved armorial bookplates by Christopher Turnon, MP, of Stoke Rochford Hall.
First and only edition of this study of pre-Islamic inscriptions, cultural history and Arabian geography. The work of Rev. Charles Forster (grandfather of E.M. Forster), who set out to prove that the entire Arab world was descended from the biblical figure Ishmael (son of Abraham). Canonically speaking, Ishmael was promised descendants 'numerous as the dusts of the earth' and he settled in what we now know as Egypt, lending credence to the suggestion for anyone inclined to fundamentalist interpretations of the Abrahamic religious texts. This included Rev Forster - his travels, notes and deductions are all geared towards asserting the truth of the genaeological point of origin as specifed in the Bible.
Much of the evidence that Forster, an able philologist, compiles is based on Himyaritic inscriptions, an extinct semitic dialect - in essence, much of his research was based in pre-Islamic Arabia, in the belief that writings since then might have been obfuscated by time. Somewhat ironically, it is the official stance of Islam that Ishamael was indeed the progenitor for the Arab race, we can probably attribute Forster's distance from Islam as a matter of principle rather than an academic quibble.
In fact, as dubious a premise as the research might be based on, it is indisputable that this research took place before that many of the explorers we commonly associate with the European investigation of Arabia. In 1844, when the Historical Geography was published, explorers such as Burton, Palgrave or Doughty had yet to cast a shadow over the field of study, and thus Forster's research was not only original but is rather comprehensive for the period.
'It seems altogether owing to the neglect of these simple, and obvious first principles of geographical investigation, that so little has been hitherto effected , towards the analysis of Arabian geography; and that what little has been done, amounts to nothing better than good guess work.' (Vol 1 p. LXII).