An English Bohemian in the Gold Rush
“Some of the best contemporary views of mining, cities, pueblos, and daily life in California”—Kurutz
122. RYAN, William Redmond. Personal Adventures in Upper and Lower California, in 1848-9; With the Author’s Experience at the Mines. Illustrated by Twenty-Three Drawings, Taken on the Spot. By William Redmond Ryan. In Two Volumes. London: [F. Shoberl, Jun., Printer to H. R. H. Prince Albert, Rupert St., Haymarket, for] William Shoberl, Publisher, 20, Great Marlborough Street, 1850. Vol. I: vi, , 347  pp., 10 plates. Vol. II: , 413  pp., 13 plates. Total: 2 frontispieces (lithographed scenes on toned grounds), 1 lithographed scene on toned ground, 20 woodcut plates. 2 vols., 8vo, nineteenth-century three-quarter black polished calf over marbled boards, spines gilt with raised bands (neatly rebacked, original spines preserved), matching marbled endpapers, t.e.g. Binding touched up, front pastedowns abraded from removal of bookplate, text browned due to the poor quality of paper on which the book was printed, a few leaves with light chipping to blank margins, overall a good copy, the plates very fine. Pencil notations by Ron Randall on rear pastedowns.
[Frontispiece]: The Principal street of San Francisco [Below image]: On stone by R. J. Hamerton; W. R. Ryan, del; Metchim & Co. Lith. Adam St. Strand. Lithograph on toned ground.
Monterey. Wood engraving.
A watering-place—Lower California. Wood engraving.
Mountain scenery—Lower California. Wood engraving.
Specimen of bamboo houses in general use in lower California. Wood engraving.
Sketch during the war—Lower California. Wood engraving.
San José. Wood engraving.
On the road to the mines. Wood engraving.
On the road to the mines—encamping for the night. Wood engraving.
On the road to the mines—burning trees for a campfire. Wood engraving.
[Frontispiece]: The Stanislaus mine. [Below image]: On stone by R. J. Hamerton; W. R. Ryan, del; Metchim & Co. Lith. Adam St. Strand. Lithograph on toned ground.
The “Diggings”—Sonoreans dry-washing gold. Wood engraving.
Gold rocker—washing pan—gold borer. Wood engraving.
Life at the “diggins”—supper time. Wood engraving.
Trading-post in the mines. Wood engraving.
Ranche in Upper California. Wood engraving.
Going to a fandango. Wood engraving.
Sacramento city. Lithograph on tinted ground.
How to turn a ship’s cooking-galley into a café restaurant. Wood engraving.
Gambling scene in San Francisco. Wood engraving.
One of the old Spanish houses in San Francisco—scene near “the hollow.” Wood engraving.
A serenade—Upper California. Wood engraving.
Isthmus of Panama—the return home. Wood engraving.
First edition, the issue with printer’s imprint on p.  (Kurutz 548b). Bradford 4767. Braislin 1599. Byrd 8. Cowan I, p. 197. Cowan II, p. 547: “The charming narrative of an artist and bohemian who left unrecorded but little that he saw. His descriptions are among the best of his time.” Graff 3626. Hill II:1508. Holliday 966. Howell, California 50:215. Howes R558: “Both the text and the illustrations are among the best of the period.” Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 548b. Littell 902. Norris 3340. Plath 925. Rocq 16037. Sabin 74532. Streeter Sale 2646: “Readable account of his travels and life in California, much of it being trivial but all adding up to a picture of the times.” Vail, Gold Fever, p. 22. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 173.
The lovely plates are based on Ryan’s own drawings. The woodcuts were executed by E. V. Campbell, and the lithographs by Robert Jacob Hamerton (see Bénézit). For liveliness and freshness of both literary style and observation, this is a difficult book to surpass for the period. Ryan was curious and for the most part open to the people and experiences he encountered. His emotional honesty with the reader is also unusual, and in some ways Ryan is far more candid than other Englishmen who made the same trip for the same purpose. At Vol. II, pp. 35-37, is an almost hilarious description of Ryan at one moment writhing in extended self-doubts and in the next, after his companion finds a gold nugget, concluding: “This was quite enough to drive all philosophy out of my head, and I forthwith looked out for a likely place and began to dig away as busily as the rest.”
Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 548b:
(2 vols.) ($1,000-2,000)
Ryan, an Englishman, enlisted in Colonel J. D. Stevenson’s First Regiment of New York Volunteers in 1847 and landed in Monterey with the force on the Isabella in February 1848. When the regiment disbanded, Ryan went off to the Stanislaus diggings for a brief and unsuccessful try at mining, and then returned to Monterey. Ryan devoted the first two chapters of volume II to life in the diggings. The adventurer quickly found that trading pistols and rifles reaped a much greater and less strenuous reward than mining. Consequently, his opinion of mining was negative. Cowan calls this title “the charming narrative of an artist and bohemian who left unrecorded but little that he saw.”
The plates by Ryan furnish the reader with some of the best contemporary views of mining, cities, pueblos, and daily life in California. Ryan’s preface is dated March 1850.
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