Dorothy Sloan -- Books

Copyright 2000- by Dorothy Sloan-Rare Books Inc. for all materials on this site. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.



Lot 33

“Glittering epistles”—Kurutz
With two leaves of manuscript written by Dame Shirley

33. [CLAPPE, Louise Amelia Knapp Smith]. Volume One [Two] California in 1851 The Letters of Dame Shirley Introduction and Notes by Carl I. Wheat. San Francisco: The Grabhorn Press, 1933. Vol. I: xviii, [2], 142, [6] pp. Vol. II: xviii, [2], 143 [1, blank], [6] pp. 25 line illustrations on pale blue grounds (from California pictorial letter sheets). Both vols. with printed folder laid in, each containing leaf of manuscript on art history written by Clappe on ruled paper. 2 vols., 8vo, publisher’s original slate blue cloth over pale blue boards, upper covers with ornamental oval containing title, pale blue printed paper spine labels. Other than very light browning to endpapers and folders, a superb set, in very fine dust jackets.

     Limited edition (500 copies, only 50 of which contained the original manuscript material by Dame Shirley). Grabhorn 178 & 179. Howell, California 50:1307. Howes C427. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 133b. Rocq 6354. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 39n. Zamorano 80 #69n.

Kurutz in the Volkmann Zamorano 80 catalogue:

Her glittering epistles from the mines certainly may be regarded as the most famous publication associated with the Gold Rush, and with the ever growing interest in the role of women, appreciation of her letters has soared....

      Her letters rightly receive such high acclaim not only for featuring a woman’s viewpoint but also for recording in beautifully crafted language a realistic picture of life in the mines. No other woman wrote with such immediacy and resoluteness about the gritty atmosphere of a hardscrabble mining camp populated by few women and hundreds of men of every hue and stripe. Furthermore, unlike Borthwick, Taylor, Marryat, and the other great eyewitness authors, Dame Shirley’s experience is confined primarily to a specific geographic area, giving it a unique sense of emotional attachment. Every detail caught her eye from her new home’s natural beauty to the complex and noisy mining machinery used to extract the precious nuggets. Sometimes expressing exhaustion in composing these letters, she confided to her sister that she wrote in a “minutely particular” manner.

      It is these particulars that make her words so readable, so well studied, and so often quoted. Her descriptions of the makeshift appointments of her “log palace” in Indian Bar, the interior of a mining camp hotel (the Humboldt), and the physical appearance of other women arriving from the Overland Trail exhibit a gentlewoman’s perspective not to found elsewhere. As with many observers, the mashing together of so many racial and ethnic groups in one place invited comment and wondrous delight. In telling her sister of this polyglot land she composed the following poetic litany: “You will hear in the same day, almost at the same time, the lofty melody of the Spanish language, the piquant polish of the French, the silver, changing clearness of the Italian, the harsh gangle [sic] of the German, the hissing precision of the English, the liquid sweetness of the Kanaka, and the sleep-inspiring languor of the East Indian.”

      She put her “scribbling powers” to great effect in recounting a variety of situations including a Christmas season Saturnalia where female-starved miners whooped it up for four straight days before collapsing in “drunken heaps” and commencing a “most unearthly howling,” where “some barked like dogs, some roared like bulls, and others hissed like serpents and geese.” She told of the grotesque and unjust hanging of William Brown; the white-hot racial tension between American and Hispanic miners; and the reckless violence meted out by the “moguls,” a group of thugs who took the law into their own hands. The arrival of the express with its bounty of supplies and letters was always a cause for celebration. Despite the harshness of her surroundings, she adapted well and confessed to Molly her growing attachment to Indian Bar and its people. When the mines played out, Fayette and Louise had to move on, but she composed one last letter that beautifully expressed her feelings. She lamented, “My heart is heavy at the thought of departing forever from this place. I like this wild and barbarous life; I leave it with regret.”

(2 vols.) ($750-1,500)

Image (click to enlarge)

<<Previous Lot (32) | Back to Auction 16 Abstracts | Next Lot (34) >>

Home | Auction 16 | Auction 17 | Auction 18