Q: "ship of the desert"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Nov 11 21:26:57 UTC 2013

Is anyone interested in trying to trace "ship of
the desert" (or closely similar)?  I am hoping
for something back to at least 1735.  It was
apparently used in print in 1782, and early uses
from then on into the 1830s hint that the
expression may have been well
known.  Additionally, the expression was used and
I suppose common in Arabic writings; how early it
may have come from such sources, printed or oral,
to England or the Continent (esp. Holland) I do not know.

The following from Google Books.

1)  1782 --  An 1832 book, Dictionary of the Holy
Bible, by Augustin Calmet et al., has:

" Mr. Bruce comes in to our assistance, by saying
[p. 388, vol. 1] 'What enables the shepherd to
perform the long and toilsome journeys across
Africa, is the camel, emphatically called, by the
Arabs, the ship of the desert! He seems to have
been created for this very trade," &c.' "

This is Peter Henry Bruce, 1692--1757, whose
memoirs appeared posthumously in 1782.  (_Memoirs
of Peter Henry Bruce, esq.: ... containing an
account of his travels in Germany, Russia,
Tartary, Turkey, the West Indies, &œ
..._.)  According to
he was in the service of Peter the Great of
Russia in 1711, in Constantinople that year, and
along the Caspian Sea in 1722; and translated his memoirs into English in 1755.

2)  1791 -- Philosophical Transactions vol. 81,
for 1791, Part 2 (presumably; apparently quoted
in a 1792 review of that issue).  "If the camel
is with propriety called the 'ship of the desert' ...".

3)  1792 --  [several sources]  "the camel, which
the Arabians emphatically call The Ship of the Desert ...".

Thus "ship of the desert" was used in England in
1782, and perhaps among a few by 1755, and
perhaps earlier at least orally by those familiar
with the Arabic expression.  How much earlier can
it be found  in print in England or on the Continent (esp. Holland)?


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