The Faile family -- Thomas H., Edward G., and their sons -- were members of the business elite of New York City during the 19th century. From 1821 through the 1870s, the Failes were merchants in the highly profitable wholesale grocery trade, branching out into clothing and teas during the second generation. In 1856, two of the heirs of the family empire, Annie D. Brown and Thomas H. Faile, Jr., traveled to the desert air of the Middle East to recover their impaired health and take in the sights. From Egypt through Palestine, Syria and Lebanon and Turkey, Brown and Faile (apparently cousins; Brown may have been the daughter of Edward G. Faile) were ushered into some of the most renowned archaeological sites in the Middle East.
Fascinated by the "Oriental" and exotic, Thomas was entranced by what he perceived to be the pristine Asiatic characteristics of the residents of the Middle East, their costumes, customs, and skin color, and he was equally dismayed by the creeping influence of Europeans. In Alexandria, he seemed resentful of the intrusion of Europeans into his tourist haven, riding toward him "with horrid bandbox beavers at full gallop" and "exhibiting in the East as everywhere the active tendency & temperament of the Anglo Saxon & Frank races and their inveterate attachment to stiff black Hats..." (1856 December 11). Fortunately for Faile, Cairo held more of the attractions of the East, and as he and Annie traveled throughout the city and cruised the Nile to the archaeological sites at Beni-Hassan and Thebes, he became increasingly caught up in the splendor of the land. The relatives forestalled seeing the pyramids until the end of their stay in Cairo, after which Annie felt that she and Thomas were "done with the land of Egypt" and could set off to the Holy Land in good style (1857 February 9).
From Gaza, Thomas and Annie traveled through the desert to Jerusalem, visiting the sites they knew intimately through the Bible. Annie, in particular, thrilled to the prospect of walking on the ground on which Jesus had walked, and although travel through the desert was arduous and reputed to be dangerous, she felt that the trip had permanently restored their health. From Jerusalem, Annie and Thomas went through Nazareth, over the Golan Heights to Damascus, before passing through the Baalbek Valley into Lebanon and on to Constantinople. Rhapsodizing over the Bosporus, Thomas nevertheless argued that the beauty and natural advantages of Constantinople were balanced by its ramshackle and undeveloped appearance. "If any civilized nation possessed the country," he argued "palaces would seem crown every hill & Constantinople instead of being a sombre looking old rookery of tumble down wooden houses, would soon be the Queen City of the World." (1857 May 6).
In 1882, Thomas returned to Egypt for a second time, but could not recapture the vitality of his first impressions. "I am really sorry to have visited Egypt a second time," he wrote, "because the lapse of 25 years has so radically changed the Oriental appearance of Cairo and of the motley crowd thronging its streets, that it is not inaptly called the "Paris of the East" (1882 January 19).
The Faile-Brown papers contain eight letters written during an 1856-57 tour of Egypt and the Near East, undertaken by Thomas H. Faile, Jr., and Annie D. Brown (probably a cousin), and one letter written by Thomas during a second tour of Egypt in 1882. While only a handful of the original correspondence survives, these letters provide interesting insights into the minds of two adventurous Victorian travelers to the Near East and some equally interesting descriptions of the state of preservation of several important archaeological sites in Egypt and Israel.