AUCTION 23

 
 

The Youth of a Famous, Controversial San Antonio Doctor

“One of the first Czech-born writers to publish in America”

 
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115. DIGNOWITY, Anthony M[ichael]. Bohemia under Austrian Despotism. Being an Autobiography by Anthony M. Dignowity, M.D. of San Antonio, Texas. New York: Published by the Author. For Sale by All Booksellers [verso of title page: L. Hauser, Stereotyper & Printer, 8 North William Street], 1859. [1-5] 6-236, [2, ad] pp., engraved frontispiece (View of Kuttenberg Castle, the author’s birthplace). 8vo (20.3 x 13.3 cm), original blind-embossed brown cloth, gilt-lettered spine. Spine expertly repaired with most of original gilt-lettered spine laid down. Partly unopened, but a few bolts roughly cut. Overall very good. With pencil signature of M. Weaver on front pastedown and his small whimsical ink stamp on a few pages.

     First edition of “the first English-language work about the situation of the Czechs in Austria, written and published in America” (George Kovtun, Czech Area Specialist, Library of Congress). Malin, Catalogue of Books Relating to, or Illustrating the History of the Unitas Fratrum, p. 83. Raines, p. 67. Rechcigl, Czech American Bibliography, p. 14: “One of the first Czech-born writers to publish in America.” This autobiography by the famous feisty polymathic San Antonio physician covers his early life and ends with his 1832 arrival in New York City. An Appendix, in which Dignowity displays extreme bitterness, reviews a land dispute with a local widow wherein he was found guilty of larceny but later pardoned by Governor Houston. According to an ad at the back of the book, Dignowity intended to publish another work, American Despotism: An Autobiography.

     Dignowity (1810-1875) was born in Kuttenberg, Bohemia. He became a medical doctor and traveled to San Antonio in 1846 with a group of Arkansas volunteers for the Mexican-American War. He remained to become a successful doctor and businessman. After being threatened with hanging because of his abolitionist views, he fled the state for the duration of the Civil War. He returned to San Antonio after the war but was never able to recover his health or his finances. According to Palmquist, Pioneer Photographers from the Mississippi to the Continental Divide (pp. 206-207), Dignowity advertised his services as a daguerreotypist in the Little Rock Gazette in 1842 and married a pioneer woman physician. The hill-top site where their home, Harmony House, once stood is today the site of Dignowity City Park.

     Handbook of Texas Online (Anthony Michael Dignowity):

Anthony Michael Dignowity (1810–1875), Czech-American writer and public official, was born in the mining city of Kutná Hora, Bohemia, on January 16, 1810, the tenth and last child of Wenzeslas (Václav) and Catharine Dignowity. Like many other Czechs who immigrated to the United States, he fled the Austrian conscription laws. He sailed from Hamburg for New York in 1832. In the United States he traveled from state to state, working at many different jobs.

After arriving in San Antonio with a group of Arkansas volunteers for the Mexican War, he became a successful doctor and businessman, but in the 1850s his outspoken abolitionist views made him controversial. Possibly as a result of political persecution, he was convicted of a real estate swindle, briefly imprisoned until pardoned by his friend Governor Sam Houston, and then charged with another swindle. In 1859 he published an autobiography in English, Bohemia under Austrian Despotism, to clear his name; he was one of the first Czech-born writers to publish in America. In his book Dignowity rails against the “tyranny” of American public opinion and criticizes the American legal system. Nevertheless, Bohemia is chiefly concerned with memories of his childhood and early adult life. He suffered from poverty in his youth, but his descriptions of family life and vignettes of the Bohemian countryside convey a strong sense of affection. His experiences as fugitive and rebel soldier, his boyhood occupations of pretzel vendor and birdcatcher, his stay in the Catholic Charity Hospital of Prague, and his conversion of a Hamburg prostitute to respectability are among the details that make the book interesting to a modern reader.

Dignowity’s reputation as a Unionist and abolitionist continued to plague him, and in 1861 he narrowly escaped hanging in the San Antonio plaza. He traveled by horseback to Washington, D.C., where he was employed by the federal government. His property was confiscated, and two of his sons were conscripted into the Confederate Army. The sons later escaped to Mexico, however, and joined the Union Army.

After the war Dignowity returned to Texas. He was in poor health for the rest of his life and was never able to rebuild his fortune. During Reconstruction he appealed to the Republican Congress for moderation on the behalf of the “loyal residents” of the South. Dignowity married Amanda J. McCann on February 9, 1843, in Little Rock, Arkansas. They had eight children, one of whom...was a founder of Del Rio, Texas. Dignowity died on April 22, 1875, in San Antonio.

($200-400)

Sold. Hammer: $200.00; Price Realized: $245.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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