Dorothy Sloan -- Books

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Lot 74

Mrs. Frémont’s Copy of “The Luck of Roaring Camp”
“Created the popular perception of the California Gold Rush”—Kurutz

74. HARTE, [Francis] Bret[t]. The Luck of Roaring Camp, and Other Sketches. By Francis Bret Hart. Boston: [University Press: Welch, Bigelow, & Co., Cambridge, for] Fields, Osgood & Co., 1870. iv, [4], 239 [1, blank] pp. 12mo, publisher’s original blindstamped terracotta cloth, gilt-lettered spine with publisher’s device. A good to very good copy, with mild to moderate foxing, minor chipping to outer edge of front free endpaper, verso of front free endpaper with small abrasion at top. Title page with contemporary ink ownership inscription: “Mrs. Frémont.” Four ink check marks on contents leaf, and another ink note (“The key note of the Heathen Chineee”) on p. 229 at the conclusion to the essay “John Chinaman.” Front pastedown with small contemporarily label of booksellers Philip & Solomon’s Booksellers of Washington. Rear pastedown with Dorothy Sloan Books label.

     With this book is a very good copy in original green cloth of the second American edition, with the added short story “Brown of Calaveras” (not present in the first edition). BAL 7247. Also included is Bret Harte’s 1896 autograph letter signed (4 pp., 12mo, pale blue paper) to his wife dated at Arford House, Headley, Hants, signed “Limick.”

     First edition. Baird-Greenwood 1104. BAL 7246. Bennett, American Book Collecting, pp. 140-41. Cowan II, p. 267. Graff 1805. Grolier American Hundred 76. Hart, Companion to California, p. 178: “The first of his local-color stories of life in the mines.” Holliday 486. Howell, California 50:510: “Bret Harte’s greatest book [and] one of the cornerstones of California literature.” Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 40. Johnson, High Spots of American Literature, p. 37. LC, California Centennial 277. Norris 1497. Powell, California Classics, pp. 77-91. Sabin 30650. Streeter Sale 2925. Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier, pp. 128, 130, 261-268, 252. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 91. Wright III:1117. Zamorano 80 #40.

Gary Kurutz in Volkmann Zamorano 80 catalogue:

Bret Harte, with the publication of The Luck of Roaring Camp, created the popular perception of the California Gold Rush. His stories of rambunctious yet gentle forty-niners, slick gamblers, stagecoach drivers, and naughty ladies made the “Days of old, days of gold, the days of ’49” come alive for reading audiences for generations. Gary Scharnhorst, Harte’s most current biographer, in assessing his powerful influence wrote: “More than any other writer, Bret Harte was at the forefront of western American literature, paving the way for writers such as Mark Twain, Joaquin Miller, Ina Coolbrith, Prentice Mulford, and Charles Warren Stoddard.” California historian Andrew Rolle, in describing the impact of Harte’s short stories wrote, “He did for the miner what Owen Wister later did for the cowboy.”

      A native of Albany, New York, Harte came to California in the early 1850s, actually mined for gold, worked as an expressman, taught school, set type, and contributed articles to San Francisco’s Golden Era. He received his first major break when bookseller and publisher Anton Roman hired the up-and-coming writer to edit a new literary magazine, the Overland Monthly. Roman envisioned the Overland as the West Coast’s answer to the Atlantic Monthly. To help supply copy for the fledgling monthly, Harte, as many editors do and did, contributed his own material. For the second issue, published in August 1868, he unveiled “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” While the story about the offspring (The Luck) of Cherokee Sal (a prostitute) raised some Victorian eyebrows, it became a literary “blockbuster.” Harte followed this up with several other stories with Gold Rush settings, including “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” and “Tennessee Partner.” Using paradox as a device, his rough-hewn Dickensian characters often displayed hearts of gold and moments of tenderness. The Overland also published much of his poetry including “Plain Language from Truthful James,” a misunderstood sympathetic piece on the Chinese that became best known as “The Heathen Chinee.”

      Harte had emerged as bright star on the literary horizon and he entered into a contract to publish a selection of his Gold Rush stories in book form. He completed the preface on Christmas Eve, 1869, and early in 1870, Fields, Osgood of Boston published the anthology under the general title of The Luck of Roaring Camp. It included eight sketches, three stories, and four “fugitive pieces” from his “Bohemian Papers,” many of which had appeared previously in the Overland Monthly. A highly complimentary review appeared in the San Francisco Daily Alta California for May 15, 1870. In describing “the dainty and attractive volume,” the reviewer stressed Harte’s realism and faithfulness to history in capturing the flavor of the times. “In the domain of fiction,” enthused the reviewer, “there never has been anything so honestly and so well done for any locality, as what Mr. Harte had done for California. It will be long before anything better is done anywhere.” That same year, the Atlantic Monthly hired away this California celebrity making him the highest paid writer in America. With this prestigious post, Harte left the land of golden dreams never to return and never again to reach such prominence.

      Because of these stories, Harte has been both praised and scorned and has fallen in and out of vogue. On the one hand, through the use of “local color” he called international attention to California and its young, lusty history. Furthermore, he single-handedly gave California its own mythology, and in so doing, has been credited with establishing the “Western” as a genre. Even Hollywood transformed his characters into television programs and movies. Reflecting his importance in American literature, such literary titans as Wallace Stegner and Walter Van Tilburg Clark have contributed introductions to twentieth-century editions of Harte. Modern anthologies of Western writing invariably include an example of his Roaring Camp sketches. On the other hand, his detractors pummel his characters and plots for being too saccharine, overly romantic, and formulaic. Furthermore, revisionist historians wanting to smash the myth of the California Gold Rush are, in reality, assaulting the Harte-created stereotype. Nonetheless, as so ably pointed out by Dr. Scharnhorst, Bret Harte paved the way.

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

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