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Lot 117

First Gold Rush Novel——In Original Boards

117. [PECK, George Washington]. Aurifodina; or, Adventures in the Gold Region. By Cantell A. Bigly. New York: [Edward O. Jenkins, Printer, 114 Nassau Street, New York for] Baker and Scribner, No. 145 Nassau Street and 36 Park Row, 1849. 103, [1, blank], [4, ads] pp. 8vo, original plain tan paper boards. Spine chipped with losses at extremities, joints cracked but holding, covers moderately shelf worn, stained, and spotted, upper hinge neatly strengthened, interior with uniform browning and scattered foxing (somewhat heavier on title page), small remains of original printed label on spine. Given the fragile format of boards, a very good copy. Bookplate of Allen Knight (with illustration of Big Tree). Contemporary bookseller’s ticket of R. Paine of Philadelphia on front pastedown. Terracotta cloth slipcase with black leather label.

     First edition. Baird-Greenwood 1995. Cowan I, p. 175. Cowan II, p. 477. Howell, California 50:188. Norris 339. Sabin 5350. Salmonson, Lost Race Check List 136. Wright I:2030. “[Peck, author, journalist, traveller, music critic, and graduate of Brown University] in 1849...published a volume called Aurifodina, describing adventures in California among a strange people whose commonest possession was gold. Obviously modeled on Gulliver’s Travels, it also suggests Poe’s influence and in some ways is like Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”—DAB. In 1853 Peck (1817-1859) sailed for Australia to witness the excitement following the discovery of gold there and delivered the first Fourth of July address on that continent.

     Briefly stated, the author on his way east to Santa Fe stumbles upon an advanced civilization, with a capital named Aurum. After depicting his happy adventures there, he is blown east to Kentucky when his observation balloon’s tether breaks. He decides against trying to return west, and with that the story ends.

     Drawing on a literary tradition of utopias and satire that stretches back to More’s Utopia, Peck here uses the discovery of a mythical kingdom in the American West as a vehicle to satirize nineteenth-century U.S. society, particularly its lust for gold and power. Using literary techniques that were first used on America by Neville in his 1668 Isle of Pines and Matheiu Sagean in his 1755 Account of the Kingdom of Aacaniba, Peck relates that he stumbled upon a great civilization in which gold in so common as to be worthless but in which other virtues, such as civic duty, philosophy, and the Christian religion, are far advanced. The work is totally larded with puns and ironic juxtapositions. He falls in love with and marries a princess named Mideeré, for example, on whose finger he puts a ring of steel, that metal being prized far more highly than gold. In another instance, one character during a visit to a printing shop upsets some type, thereby creating a “golden pie.”

     Peck’s basic premise is carried by the juxtaposition of gold and steel. By casting the discovered civilization as one more highly prizing the latter, he seems to be indicating metaphorically that steel will play a far more important role in the advance of civilization than gold ever will, a prediction that has certainly come true. From this proper appreciation of real relative values arise the civilization’s preeminence, peace, and prosperity.

Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 490a:

According to the introduction: “The narrative will necessarily contain much that may tax credulity.” The Huntington Library copy has the following pencil inscription written below the author’s name: “Can tell a Big Lie, Geo. Washington Peck.” Sabin calls this “a satiric extravaganza.” James D. Hart calls this the “oddest” of the 1849 books. However, Peck’s book has the distinction of being the first novel based on the Gold Rush. He copyrighted the work on February 1, 1849. The setting created by Peck is the mythical city of “Aurum,” situated in the Sierra Nevada.


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