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An American Sporting Classic—Plates by Darley, including Texas Scenes

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539.     THORPE, T[homas] B[angs]. The Hive of “The Bee-Hunter,” A Repository of Sketches, Including Peculiar American Character, Scenery, and Rural Sports. By T.B. Thorpe, of Louisiana. Author of “Tom Owen, The Bee-Hunter”; “Mysteries of the Backwoods,” Etc. Etc. Illustrated by Sketches from Nature. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 346 & 348 Broadway; London: 16 Little Britain, 1854. [1-5] 6-312 pp., 9 wood-engraved plates (by F.O.C. Darley, et al.), a few text illustrations. 12mo (20.5 x 13.8 cm), original brown blind-stamped cloth, gilt-pictorial spine with illustration of Tom Owen. Light wear to spinal extremities, some light stains to binding, lower hinge cracked, light to moderate foxing to text, overall very good. 1885 ownership inscription of George E. Whiting (DAB).

     First edition. Bennett, American Book Collecting, p. 115. De Menil, p. 138. Graff 4146. Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators 1610. Howes T233. Kelsey, Engraved Prints of Texas, 1554-1900, p. 87 (identifying three plates as Texas scenes: 4.88 The Wild Turkey Hunter; 4.89 Bob Herring’s Camp-Fire; and 4.90 The Bowman Draws His Arrow to the Head). Phillips, American Sporting Books, p. 376. Wright II:2495.

     This American sporting classic contains the author’s adventures and natural history observations in Texas and the South. Included is a chapter on buffalo hunting in Texas, with details on Comanche practices. “Writer and painter, Thorpe [was] the most versatile of the humorists of the Old Southwest” (Lamar, Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, pp. 1179-1180). In many ways, the work displays the tension between man’s need to live in the wilderness and his concomitant need to damage it to do so, thereby making it an early environmental work that predicts the loss of American primeval innocence. While admiring bee hunter Tom Owen, for example, he ruefully remarks that to gain his prize, Tom must fell a giant, ancient oak, an act that Thorpe clearly sees as a natural loss. In his chapter on turkey hunting, he captures the inherent conflict between a wary game bird and a slightly more crafty marksman. As he makes clear, the magnificent tom turkey was doing only what comes naturally, only to be snuffed out in his innocence, betrayed by man’s wiles and man’s need to eat. As with the bee hunter, the turkey hunter did what he had to do to live, even if it meant other things must die. Such themes run through many of the short stories herein.

     Thomas Bangs Thorpe, antebellum humorist and painter (1815-1878), was a transplanted Yankee who moved to Louisiana in 1837 for his health, where he painted portraits for a living. Because of his exposure to Southern plantation life, he began to write sporting stories, featuring Southern themes and characters, of which “Tom Owen” and “The Big Bear of Arkansas” are two of the most famous. During his career he published six books and almost two hundred other shorter works. He was also a newspaper editor but is best known as a humorist and author of sporting fiction. Thorpe is said to have influenced William Faulkner, who considered Thorpe’s story “The Big Bear of Arkansas” (pp. 72-93 in the present book) a masterpiece and likely drew from it the bear-hunting episodes of Go Down, Moses.

     Some of the illustrations are the work of Felix Octavius Carr Darley (Samuels, Encyclopedia of the Artists of the American West, pp. 122-123). Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators, p. 101, remarks on Darley: “A most prolific illustrator, Darley drew both for the steel plate and the wood block. From the standpoint of the designer rather than the engraver, he is the best known of all early American illustrators…. Throughout his career he was essentially American, although foreign influences can from time to time be traced in his work. As Weitenkampf says, in his “Illustrated by Darley” (International Studio, March, 1925), “Darley was at his best in American subjects. His art was indigenous to the soil and most at home when standing fairly on it.”


Sold. Hammer: $150.00; Price Realized: $180.00

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