Our Notes & References
A fresh and uncut example of the first edition of this rare, early, and illustrated account of Siberia and the Chinese border, unusually describing the second British mission in Russia and highly praised by contemporaries.
During the winter 1823-24 Martos undertook a trip around Baykal from Krasnoiarsk to Maimachyn, a Chinese border town. In his book, written in the form of a diary, Martos provides a picturesque description of nature, life and culture in Eastern Siberia, populated predominantly with Buriats. Visiting salt, porcelain and fabrics factories the author witnessed the development of production and trade in the region. Martos focuses in particular on Irkutsk, giving not only statistical information on the city but also detailing its founding and further development.
To Martos’s own surprise he discovered a British mission in Seleginsk, a village on Eastern side of the Baykal, in the heart of Chinggis Khan’s Motherland. It was formed by an Englishman and two Scottish with their families, who decided “despite all the scaring rumours about Siberia” to settle down there, thus forming a second British mission after Astrakhan. Interestingly, one of the plates shows the view of the mission.
In the end of his journey Martos experienced culture, life and outstanding trading skills of the Chinese at Maymachyn. The superintendent of the border town, whose portrait is engraved on the frontispiece, introduced the author to Chinese food and traditions.
Before Pisma o Vostochnoi Sibiri was published very few works about Siberia were available in Russian. Considering this, Nikolai Polevoi noted in his review (Moscow Telegraph, 15, 1827) that Martos’ book “was a true gift for the readers”. Indeed, the book immediately generated interest. Gogol in his letter from 13 December 1827 expressed his admiration: “If only more books like this were published”.
Aleksei Martos (1790 – 1842), writer and historian, was the son of Ivan, a sculptor of some fame who created the Duke Richelieu in Odessa, Lomonosov in Arkhangelsk, and the celebrated group of Minin and Pozharskii in Moscow. Aleksey took part in the Russo-Turkish war and then resigned to undertake State service. Subsequently, he was granted the title of Actual State Counsellor, which provided him with hereditary nobility.