“The first book in English to relate exclusively to California”—Streeter
30. FORBES, Alexander. California: A History of Upper and Lower California from Their First Discovery to the Present Time, Comprising an Account of the Climate, Soil, Natural Productions, Agriculture, Commerce &c. A Full View of the Missionary Establishments and Condition of the Free and Domesticated Indians. With an Appendix Relating to Steam Navigation in the Pacific. Illustrated with a New Map, Plans of the Harbours, and Numerous Engravings. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1839. xvi, 352, 1-6, 3-32 (ads) pp., errata slip (p. 339), lithographic frontispiece of Father Antonio Peyri, 9 lithograph plates, folding lithographic map of California on thin paper with original outline coloring in red, green, and yellow: The Coasts of Guatimala [sic] and Mexico, from Panama to Cape Mendocino; with the Principal Harbours in California.London, Smith Elder & Co. 1839.John Arrowsmith (37 x 50 cm; 14-1/2 x 19-3/4 inches), with insets: (1) Harbour of San Francisco, by Captn. Beechey R.N.; (2) Sketch of Puerto de S. Diego by Captn. John Hall; (3) Sketch of Monterrey Harbour, by Captn.John Hall; (4) Sketch of St. Barbara Harbour by Captn. John Hall; (5) Sketch of Port S. Gabriel, or S. Pedro by Captn. John Hall. 8vo, publisher’s original blind stamped brown cloth, spine gilt-lettered. Spine a bit sunned, binding lightly stained, text block slightly cracked at pp. 192/193, otherwise very fine, the plates and map just about perfect. Preserved in a brown morocco and brown cloth clam shell case. Ron Randall’s bibliographical notes and cost code on lower flyleaf.
First edition, with the errata slip at p. 339. Barrett, Baja California 866. Cowan I, p. 88. Cowan II, p. 217. Graff 1377. Harlow, Maps of San Francisco Bay 23; Maps of the Pueblo Lands of San Diego 13. Hill, p. 107. Holliday 382. Howell 50, California 83. Howes F242. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 38. LC, California Centennial 42. Norris 1155. Streeter Sale 2491: “The first book in English to relate exclusively to California.” Van Nostrand & Coulter, California Pictorial, pp. 22-27 (illustrating one lithograph from this work and original watercolors on which two of the plates were based). Walker, A Literary History of Southern California, p. 37: “Survey of California, the rich plum of the Pacific, made by...Forbes, the English merchant at Tepic, who in his vivid and charming California (1839) did his best to persuade the English to act while there was yet time.” Zamorano 80 #38.
The map with insets of San Francisco, San Diego, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and San Pedro is important. Harlow (Maps of San Francisco Bay 23) comments on the San Francisco chart: “A detail of the Beechey chart of San Francisco Bay, including the San Francisco peninsula to south of the mission, a large part of Marin peninsula, and the east shore from Point Pinole south to San Antonio Creek. It is a selective copy, showing the approaches to the bay, soundings, and some surface details but not the amount of relief found in the original.” Forbes’s use of Beechey’s (q.v.) map is an early reworking of Beechey’s important San Francisco map (Harlow 19). Harlow (Maps of the Pueblo Lands of San Diego 13) comments on the early chart of San Diego port: “One of the charts of California ports made by the English sea captain John Hall during the visit of the Lady Blackwood to San Diego in 1822, probably for his own use, and published in 1839.... The coastal map, according to Hall and the editor of the accompanying work, was by Arrowsmith.... John Forbes, editor of his brother’s work on California, stated that the charts of Bodega, ‘Monterrey,’ Santa Barbara, San Pedro, and San Diego were from Hall’s ‘own original surveys.’”
Kurutz, in Volkmann Zamorano 80 catalogue:
British merchant Alexander Forbes wrote the first book published in English relating exclusively to California. His narrative, as observed by Hubert Howe Bancroft, was not so much a history as “a presentation by an intelligent man of business of the country’s actual condition, capabilities, institutions, and prospects.” His book, more than any other, made California known to the English-speaking world and spurred on both European and American interest in controlling this remote Mexican province.
A longtime resident of Mexico, Forbes completed the text for his book in October 1835 before sending it off to England for publication. Amazingly, Forbes had never set foot in California. A delay in publication allowed for the addition of new material up to the year 1838. His brother, Dr. John Forbes, edited the work and supervised its publication. The majority of this book consists of a history of both Baja and Alta California based on the works of Miguel Venegas, Francisco Palóu, and others. For more current affairs, Forbes relied on correspondence with Californios like José Bandini and his agents. The volume contains excellent descriptions of the region’s climate, natural productions, agriculture, and commerce. Showing his futuristic thinking, Forbes included material on steam navigation in the Pacific and advocated using the Isthmus of Panama as a more rapid means of linking Europe to the Pacific. The most fascinating component, however, is a chapter entitled “Upper California Considered As a Field of Foreign Colonization.” As British vice-consul in Tepic, Mexico, Forbes was keenly interested in the future prospects of California, writing: “Taking every circumstance into account, perhaps no country whatever can excel or hardly vie with California in natural advantages.” Sparsely settled California with its natural harbors and fertile soil, he campaigned, would be an attractive colony for English settlers and “the innumerable starving population of the Old World.” Forbes hoped that England (and not America) would acquire California in exchange for the millions of dollars owed to it by the Mexican government. He postulated that if an industrious people settled California, it “would soon be one of the most interesting and prosperous spots on the earth.”
Although called engravings on the title page, the volume is actually illustrated with ten handsome lithographs of native peoples and coastal settlements. Eight of the plates are based on watercolor sketches by William Smyth. The artist had served on Captain F. W. Beechey’s ship the Blossom when it cruised the California coastline in 1826-1827. The plate of “California Mode of Catching Cattle” was first published in Beechey (q.v.). Smyth’s images also appeared in the works by Duflot de Mofras (q.v.), Dwinelle (q.v.), and Farnham (q.v.). A folding map entitled The Coast of Guatimala [sic] and Mexico, from Panama to Cape Mendocino; with the Principal Harbors in California (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1839) graces the end of the volume. John Arrowsmith created the large coastal map. In the appendix, Forbes added Hall’s “Remarks on the Harbours of California, with Directions for Navigating Them.”
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