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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 November 2008


Khalil Sarkis (1842–1915) was an eminent figure in late Ottoman Beirut and an important contributor to the nahḍa, the Arab literary-cultural “awakening” that began in the latter part of the 19th century. Less known to Western scholarship than Butrus al-Bustani, Faris al-Shidyaq, or Jurji Zaydan, he is not usually regarded as a pillar of that awakening. He may not have been, but he certainly was an indispensable brick in its edifice. Born in 1842, when the most exciting changes were still in the future, Sarkis spent all his life in the service of his country's cultural betterment. He is mostly remembered for his newspaper, Lisan al-Hal, which was launched in 1877 and for many decades was one of the most credible Arabic organs. More than a journalist, however, Sarkis was a pioneering printer, a prolific publisher, and the author of nine books. In the last quarter of the 19th century he built one of Beirut's largest printing businesses, which turned out several journals, hundreds of books, and numerous publications. In the 19th-century Middle East, being a printer often meant being a publisher; Khalil Sarkis was both on a grand scale.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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Author's note: Research for this study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 473/05), which I acknowledge with gratitude. I am grateful to Beth Baron for acting as my first audience in this and for many valuable suggestions, to Yaron Ayalon for procuring some of the sources quoted here, and to the three anonymous IJMES reviewers for their helpful comments.

1 Of the many studies dealing with the nahḍa, the following deserve note: Hourani, Albert, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1789–1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962)Google Scholar; Zaydan, Jurji, Taʾrikh Adab al-Lugha al-ʿArabiyya (Beirut: Maktabat al-Haya, 1967), vol. 4Google Scholar; Buheiry, Marwan, Ed., Intellectual Life in the Arab East, 1890–1939 (Beirut: American University, 1981)Google Scholar; and more recently published, Zachs, Fruma, The Making of a Syrian Identity (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2005)Google Scholar.

2 Shaykhu, Luis, Taʾrikh Fann al-Tibaʿa fi al-Mashriq (Beirut: Dar al-Mashriq, 1995)Google Scholar. The book was first serialized in Shaykhu's journal, al-Mashriq, from 1900 onward. Works published in Lebanon are listed on pp. 43–149. The list is partial, for Shaykhu mentions only works known to him and excludes products of certain categories, such as Protestant religious tracts, which he deems useless; see pp. 49–50, 126. For convenience, I use “Lebanon” throughout to refer to areas encompassed by the 20th-century state of that name.

3 Di Tarrazi, Philipp, Taʾrikh al-Sihafa al-ʿArabiyya, 4 vols. (Beirut: al-Matbaʿa al-Adabiyya, 1913–33), 4:48, 24–40, 106–8Google Scholar.

4 Nusayr, ʿAyida Ibrahim, Harakat Nashr al-Kutub fi Misr fi al-Qarn al-Tasiʿ ʿAshar (Cairo: al-Hayʾa al-Misriyya al-ʿAmma li-l-Kitab, 1994), 5398Google Scholar. The estimated number of copies from 1850 to 1900 was more than ten times the output of 724,000 predominantly government publications printed before midcentury.

5 Di Tarrazi, Taʾrikh al-Sihafa, 4:162–78, 214–22, 230–38, 274–88, 324–26.

6 Nusayr, Harakat Nashr, 401–49. Nusayr's survey, however, seems to be less than complete; see n. 8.

7 Di Tarrazi, Taʾrikh al-Sihafa, 4:8–14, 24–40, 108–12, 118–26 (Lebanon); 178–96, 222–26, 230–42, 288–306, 326–46 (Egypt).

8 Searching vols. 3–7 of the Egyptian national library catalogue, I came across forty-nine pre-1900 presses not included in Nusayr's list of presses. al-Misriyya, Dar al-Kutub, Fihrist al-Kutub al-ʿArabiyya al-Mawjuda fi al-Dar, 2nd ed. (Cairo, 1927–35)Google Scholar, vols. 3–7, covering history, literature, language, geography, agriculture, trade, crafts, and “general knowledge.”

9 That is, if we disregard some inconsequential attempts in the 17th century. The late adoption of printing in the Middle East is an intricate question that touches upon deep aspects of cultural disparities. For an intriguing attempt at an explanation, see Gdoura, Wahid, Le début de l'imprimerie Arabe à Istanbul et en Syrie: Evolution de l'environnement culturel (1706–1787) (Tunis: l'Institut supérieur de documentation, 1985), 71122Google Scholar.

10 al-Shayyal, Jamal al-Din, Taʾrikh al-Tarjama wa-l-Haraka al-Thaqafiyya fi Misr fi ʿAhd Muhammad ʿAli (Cairo: Maktabat al-Thaqafa al-Diniyya, 2000)Google Scholar; Nusayr, Harakat Nashr, 54–62, 89–93, 179–98, 243–59.

11 Tibawi, A. L., “The American Missionaries in Beirut and Butrus al-Bustani,” St. Antony's Papers 16 (1963): 137–82Google Scholar; Shaykhu, Taʾrikh Fann al-Tibaʿa fi al-Mashriq, 46–93.

12 Lebanon's best known association was al-Jamʿiyya al-Suriyya (later al-Jamʿiyya al-ʿIlmiyya al-Suriyya) in the 1850s and 1860s, which published a handful of works. See al-Jamʿiyya al-Suriyya li-l-ʿUlum wa-l-Funun 1848–1852 (Beirut: Dar al-Hamraʾ, 1990); Zaydan, Taʾrikh Adab, 4: 428–54. In Egypt there were several such groups during the second half of the century, notably, the French-inspired al-Majmaʿ al-ʿIlmi, whose total output of printed books is reported to have been seventy-six, that is, about 0.8 percent of the country's production after midcentury. Nusayr, Harakat Nashr, 424–30.

13 A similar fluidity characterized publishing practices in Turkish Central Asia around the same time. See Khalid, Adeeb, “Printing, Publishing, and Reform in Tsarist Central Asia,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 26 (1994), esp. 189–91Google Scholar. Khalid describes that reality as “chaotic.”

14 See Yubil Lisan al-Hal al-Dhahabi 1877–1927 (Beirut: al-Matbaʿa al-Adabiyya, 1927), a treasure trove of accounts about Sarkis's life and accomplishments; Di Tarrazi, Taʾrikh al-Sihafa, 2:129–38.

15 Al-Bustani, a leading 19th-century Arab thinker and a cornerstone of the nahḍa, had by then acquired fame as cofounder of the Syrian Society (1847), author of the patriotic broadsheet Nafir Suriya (1860–61), and founder of the important al-Madrasa al-Waṭaniyya in Beirut (1866). Khuri, Yusuf Quzma, al-Muʿallim Butrus al-Bustani (Beirut: Baysan, 1995)Google Scholar.

16 Text in Yubil Lisan al-Hal, 5–8.

17 Matbaʿat al-Qadis Jawurjiyus, from the mid-18th century; the American missionary press, al-Matbaʿa al-Amirikiyya, from 1834; and the Jesuit press, al-Matbaʿa al-Kathulikiyya, from 1848. Shaykhu, Taʾrikh Fann al-Tibaʿa fi al-Mashriq, 43–93.

18 Ibid., 93–113. The important ones were al-Matbaʿa al-Suriyya (1857), of Khalil al-Khuri, owner of the newspaper Hadiqat al-Akhbar, and al-Matbaʿa al-ʿUmumiyya (1861), of Yusuf al-Shalfun, which printed several journals and some books.


19 Shaykhu, Taʾrikh Fann al-Tibaʿa fi al-Mashriq, 113–15.

20 Ibid., 93–113. A search of the bibliographic database WorldCat (, accessed 20 July 2007), covering some 10,000 libraries in the West, turned up only fifty-five items printed in Arabic in Beirut during these years. The holdings of Western libraries are not necessarily a credible mirror of the actual production, of course, but they might indicate a general scale. If so, the figures support the assessment that Sarkis's overall output was large for the time.


21 Matbaʿat al-Maʿarif was operated by the al-Bustanis into the 1880s. Among other products, it printed the first eight volumes of al-Bustani's Encyclopedia, Daʾirat al-Maʿarif.

22 Details in Di Tarrazi, Taʾrikh al-Sihafa, 2:27–33; also see Ghalib, ʿAbd al-Rahim, Miʾat ʿAm min Taʾrikh al-Sihafa: Lisan al-Hal (Beirut: Jarrus Press, 1988)Google Scholar.

23 Among others, al-Matbaʿa al-Adabiyya printed the religious weekly al-Manar (1898, not to be confused with Rashid Rida's Cairo journal by that name, from 1897), the scholarly monthly al-Kawthar (1909), and the literary quarterly al-Mawrid al-Safi (1910). Sarkis's Lisan al-Hal became a daily newspaper in 1895. A detailed description of the press and its equipment in that year appears in Lisan al-Hal, 19 September 1895, 1.

24 Di Tarrazi, Taʾrikh al-Sihafa, 2:133. Sarkis may have counted recurrent printings or editions as multiple items.

25 See n. 20.

26 Dar al-Kutub, Fihrist, vols. 3–7. Volumes 1–2 of the catalogue list works in the Qurʾan, hadith, tafsīr, fiqh, and other religious subjects, and there is a slim chance that they contain publications by Sarkis's press.

27 Sarkis, Yusuf Iliyan, Muʿjam al-Matbuʿat al-ʿArabiyya wa-l-Muʿarraba (Cairo: Maktabat Yusuf Ilyan Sarkis, 1928)Google Scholar. This compendium is less than complete, and items extant in various libraries are absent from it. Both this work and the Dar al-Kutub catalogue contain numerous entries published in Beirut with no indication of a publisher's or printer's name.

28 They also seem to confirm another assessment. Because Shaykhu's list of Sarkis's works (180) is much smaller than our ascertained pre-1900 output (310), Shaykhu's overall list of 1,516 entries printed in pre-1900 Lebanon must embody only a small share of the actual total yield.

29 According to ʿAyida Nusayr's survey (Harakat Nashr, 434–43), Egypt's busiest private press until 1900 was al-Matbaʿa al-Sharafiyya, with a total turnout of 332 titles from 1859 to 1900—an average annual production lower than Sarkis's, even when counting only his documented products.

30 Salasil al-Qiraʾa, 6 vols. (1901–6); Kitab al-ʿAdat fi al-Ziyarat wa-l-Walaʾim wa-l-Aʿras wa-l-Maʿatim wa-Adab al-Mahafil wa-Ghayriha Mimma Huwwa Jarin wa-Mutallaʿ ʿalayhi ʿind al-Shuʿub al-Mutamaddina (1909); Tadhkirat al-Khawatin wa-Ustadh al-Tabbakhin (1885; an abridged edition appeared in 1905 under the title Mukhtasar Ustadh al-Tabbakhin).

31 For some examples, see Nazili, Muhammad Haqqi, Khazinat al-Asrar, Jalilat al-Adhkar (Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Tijariyya al-Kubra, 1286 [1869])Google Scholar; ibn ʿAli Buni, Ahmad, Shams al-Maʿarif al-Kubra (Cairo: Maktabat ʿAbd al-Rahman Muhammad, 1291 [1874])Google Scholar; al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar fi Aʿyan al-Qarn al-Thani ʿAshar, 2 vols. (Cairo: Maktabat al-ʿArabi, 1291–1301 [1874–83]); al-Yaziji, Nasif, Fakihat al-Nudamaʾ fi Murasalat al-Udabaʾ (Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Misriyya, 1889)Google Scholar; al-Isfahani, Abu al-Qasim, Tafsil al-Nashʿatayn (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-Ahliyya, 1319 [1901])Google Scholar; Jindi, Amin, Diwan (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-Unsiyya, 1903)Google Scholar; Qaddumi, ʿAbdallah, al-Rihla al-Hijaziyya wa-l-Riyad al-Unsiyya (Nablus: Maktabat ʿAbd al-Fattah Hajjawi, 1906)Google Scholar.

32 Sharif, Hikmat, Saʿadat al-Miʿad fi Mukhtasar Sharh Banat Suʿad (Tripoli: al-Maktaba al-Rifaʿiyya, n.d.)Google Scholar. There are indications that the book was published during the last Ottoman decade.

33 On occasion the sponsor is said to “retain reprinting rights” (iʿādat al-ṭabʿ maḥfūʾa lahu), which may have been part of the deal. See, for example, Diwan Abi Firas al-Hamdani (Beirut: al-Matbaʿa al-Adabiyya, 1900), edited and partly financed by Nakhla Qalfat, who “retain[ed] the right of reprinting.” The practical meaning of the formula “printing rights reserved,” which sometimes appears in books of this period, remains to be explored.

34 For Lebanon see, for example, Mustaqtaf al-Mustatraf (Beirut: al-Matbaʿa al-ʿUmumiyya, 1864), “ʿalā nafaqat jāmiʿihi al-muʿallim Jirjis Shahīn al-Iblī” (title page and colophon on p. 62); al-Qawanin al-Tijariyya (Beirut: al-Matbaʿa al-Sharqiyya, 1868), “ṭubiʿa . . . bi-nafaqat al-khawājā Naṣrallāh Jiddī.” For Egypt see, for example, Riwayat Husn al-ʿAwaqib, by Ismaʿil ʿAsim (Cairo: al-Matbaʿa al-ʿAbbasiyya, 1894), “multazim al-ṭabʿ ʿAlī ʿĀṣim al-Khalwatī”; Taʾrikh al-Amir Haydar Ahmad al-Shihabi (Cairo: Matbaʿat al-Salam, 1900), “multazim ṭabʿihi Naʿūm Mughabghab.”

35 See Nusayr, Harakat Nashr, list on pp. 445–46. Out of twenty-three individuals sponsoring books in Egypt before 1900, eighteen apparently did so only once.

36 There were exceptions. One Ahmad Rifaʿi was the multazim of three books by Najib Haddad published in Alexandria in 1904 and of a work Haddad translated and published there the following year. See Najib al-Haddad, Riwayat al-Tabib al-Maghsub, Riwayat Hilm al-Muluk, and Riwayat al-Sayyid (all three in Alexandria, 1904); Riwayat Udib (a translation of Voltaire's Edipus, Alexandria, 1905). Nakhla Qalfat (variably also Qalfaʾ), the author of several books, sponsored the printing of Safyi al-Din al-Hilli's Diwan and cosponsored the printing of Abu Firas al-Hamdani's Diwan, which he edited and annotated (n. 33). For further discussion of economic aspects in the development of Arabic publishing, see Ayalon, Ami, The Press in the Arab Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Chapter 7.

37 See quotation in Nusayr, Harakat Nashr, 443; Ayalon, The Press, 199, 219.

38 Quoted in Di Tarrazi, Taʾrikh al-Sihafa, 2:133.

39 Muhammad al-Maqbili, al-ʿAlam al-Shamikh fi Tafdil al-Haqq ʿala al-Abaʾ wa-l-Mashaʾikh ([Cairo], 1328/1910), “ṭubiʿa ʿalā nafaqat jamāʿa min al-ḥijāziyīn wa-l-sūriyyīn ʿan nuskha manqūla min maktabat shaykh al-Islām.

40 For example, Dhakhirat al-Miʿad, published by Muhammad al-ʿUbaysi al-Rifaʿi (Cairo: Matbaʿat Muhammad Mustafa, 1307/1889; colophon on p. 61). Such seems to have been the case with al-Sayyadi's Hadiqat al-Maʿani (n.d.), Rahat al-Arwah (1903), and Riyadat al-Asmaʿ (1907), all sponsored by Muhammad Sharif al-Haniji, an Egyptian bookseller with a business in Istanbul.

41 Lisan al-Hal, 9 June 1880, 4, and 9 April 1881, 4.

42 Alston, R. C. et al. , A Check-List of Eighteenth-Century Books Containing Lists of Subscribers (Newcastle: Avero, 1983)Google Scholar. See also Curwen, Henry, A History of Booksellers, the Old and the New (London: Thoemmes, 1996), 16ffGoogle Scholar; Tebbel, John, A History of Book Publishing in the United States, vol. 1 (New York: Bowker, 1972), 158–60Google Scholar; Darnton, Robert, The Business of Enlightenment (Cambridge: Belknap, 1979)Google Scholar, chap. 6 and pass.

43 Hadiqat al-Akhbar, 29 February 1866, 4.

44 Hadiqat al-Akhbar, 7 August 1866, 3; al-Jinan, January 1870, inside back cover. See also June 1870, announcement facing page 352, and 1 March 1871, inner back cover. Al-Bustani used the same routine to produce and market the abridged version of this dictionary, Qutr al-Muhit.

45 Al-Jinan, 15 May 1874, announcement facing page 329; 1 November 1874, inside front cover. For the subscription to and conditions and production of Daʾirat al-Maʿarif, see Ayalon, Ami, “Modern Texts and their Readers in Late Ottoman Palestine,” Middle Eastern Studies 38, no. 4 (2002): 1740CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Hourani, Albert, “Bustani's Encyclopaedia,” Journal of Islamic Studies 1 (1990): 111–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

46 For example, Nakhla Qalfaz's six-part Miʾa Hikaya wa-Hikaya in al-Jinan, 1 February 1878, inside back cover; Salim ʿAnhuri's contemplated eight-volume work, in al-Jinan, 1 April 1878, inside front and back cover; a planned publication of ʿAli Pasha Mubarak's four-volume ʿAlam al-Din, in al-Muqtataf, August 1881: 79 and June 1882: 31; a Coptic–Arabic, Arabic–Coptic dictionary in al-Hilal, 1 October 1894, inside front cover.

47 For these examples, see al-Muqtataf, October 1878, inside back cover; October 1885: 64; Lisan al-Hal, 9 June 1880, 4; 4 January 1897, 8; 26 June 1897, 4; al-Bayan (Cairo), 16 December 1897, 544. For more examples, see Hadiqat al-Akhbar, 29 February 1866, 4; 22 March 1866, 3; al-Jinan, 1 May 1873, back cover; 1 November 1878, inside front cover; al-Ahram, 7 April 1877, 4; al-Muqtataf, November 1879, 168; February 1885, 320; October 1885, 64; Thamarat al-Funun, 14 January 1883, 4; al-Watan (Cairo), 21 April 1883, 4; al-Tabib (Cairo), 31 December 1884, 400; and al-Muʾayyad, 20 January 1900, 4.

48 Hadiqat al-Akhbar, 22 March 1866, 3. For fifty qurush on an annual basis, Shalfun could apparently offer his subscribers small booklets rather than bulky books.

49 For example, Hadiqat al-Akhbar, 7 August 1858, 4; 16 May 1859, 4; 29 March 1860, 4; and 1 February 1868, 3. Khuri also referred buyers to book dealers in the city. Later on he opened his own bookshop in Beirut. See al-Hilal, 1 July 1894, inside back cover; and 15 August 1894, inside back cover.

50 For example, al-Jinan, 1 May 1873, inside front cover; 1 September 1873, inside back cover; 1 February 1874, inside front and back covers (advertising no fewer than 113 titles); and al-Janna, 23 January 1884, 4 (and nearly every issue of that year).

51 Al-Najah (Beirut), 29 May 1871, 601–3.

52 For example, Butiyar, al-Qass (Priest Boutiére), Kitab al-Falsafa (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-ʿUmumiyya, 1883)Google Scholar, with a back-cover list of some twenty titles sold in the same shop. A book by Jawish, Sulayman, al-Tuhfa al-Saniyya fi Taʾrikh al-Qustantiniyya (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-ʿUmumiyya, 1887)Google Scholar, announced on its last page the sale of “all books published in Syria and Egypt” and urged customers to order the sales catalogue. For more examples, see al-Tilmisani, Shams al-Din, Diwan al-Shabb al-Zarif (Beirut: al-Matbaʿa al-Ahliyya, 1900)Google Scholar; al-Suyuti, Jalal al-Din, al-Mazhar fi ʿUlum al-Lugha wa-Anwaʿiha (Cairo: Matbaʿat Muhammad ʿAli Sabih, 190?)Google Scholar; al-Haddad, Najib, Riwayat al-Tabib al-Maghsub (Alexandria: Matbaʿat Jurji Gharzuzi, 1904)Google Scholar; and Sharif, Saʿadat al-Miʿad. All these books publicized titles for sale on their back covers or last pages (the last one also advertised other goods).

53 Namla, ʿAli al-Din Ibrahim, Al-Wiraqa wa-Ashhar Aʿlam al-Warraqin: Dirasa fi al-Nashr al-Qadim wa-Naql al-Maʿlumat (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Malik Fahd al-Wataniyya, 1995)Google Scholar; al-Qasimi, Muhammad Saʿid, Qamus al-Sinaʿat al-Shamiyya (Paris: Mouton, 1960)Google Scholar, s.v. kutubī, ṣaḥḥāf; Di Tarrazi, Philipp, Khazaʾin al-Kutub al-ʿArabiyya fi al-Khafiqayn (Beirut: Matbaʿat Juzif Sayqali, 1948), 3:916Google Scholar.

54 For these examples, see Hadiqat al-Akhbar, 23 April 1859, 3; 8 September 1859, 4; 29 December 1859, 4; and 13 November 1863, 4. For similar examples, see Hadiqat al-Akhbar, 15 December 1859, 3; 15 March 1860, 3; 19 January 1865, 3; and 29 February 1866, 4. Also see al-Najah, 29 May 1871, 604; and al-Ahram, 7 April 1877, 4, and 11 May 1877, 4. In Tunis the word for “shop” was ḥanūt, for example, al-Raʾid al-Tunisi, 26 Shawwal 1279 [1862], 4; 5 April 1865, 4; and 12 April 1872, 4.

55 Hadiqat al-Akhbar, 29 December 1859, 4, and 15 March 1860, 4. Similarly, al-Jawa'ib, 3 September 1868, 4; 8 March 1870, 4.

56 Ad in Ibrahim al-Masih, ʿAbd, ed., Dalil Wadi al-Nil 1891, 1892 (Cairo: 1892), inside back coverGoogle Scholar.

57 In Europe and North America, bookshops carried “shoes, spades, sugar, and pork” and many other items until the mid-19th century. In small places the practice continued into the 20th. Shaylor, Joseph, The Fascination of Books (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1912), 136Google Scholar (18th-century England, reference to a practice continuing into the 20th century); Wiseman, John A., “Silent Companions: The Dissemination of Books and Periodicals in Nineteenth-Century Ontario,” Publishing History 12 (1982): 1819Google Scholar.

58 Rasaʾil Abi al-Fadl Badiʿ al-Zaman al-Hamadhani (1898) was the first or one of the earliest titles printed by this shop. In its 1892 ad (n. 56), Hindiyya's shop offers many goods and services, but printing is not listed as one of them.

59 For example, al-Maktaba al-Kuliyya of Nakhla Qalfat and Salim Maydani in Beirut, Lisan al-Hal, 3 May 1901, 1.

60 See the debate between Elizabeth L. Eisenstein and Adrian Johns in American Historical Review 107 (2002): 87–128, and the concluding chapter in Eisenstein, Elizabeth L., The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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