In 1846 while at Oxford Gifford Palgrave made up his mind to join the Indian Army. In April 1848 he became Frere William Gifford Palgrave, a novice at a Jesuit College in the Madras presidency, and there he passed the next four years. In Zahleh four Jesuits were murdered by the Druses, and Palgrave, who was in Sidon when a Druse mob entered the town to burn and kill, narrowly escaped with his own life. The immediate result was that Palgrave was summoned to an audience with Napoleon III. But the demarche in Cairo proved abortive, and Palgrave sailed on to Lebanon, where he spent the autumn of 1861 in general advance planning for his journey. To Palgrave the Italian scholar, the Nafud brought to mind a passage from Dante’s Inferno, where one of the circles of hell is conceived as a plain of burning sand.