Early Texas Fiction (or Fact?), from an Enigmatic Author

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494. [POSTL, Karl Anton, pseudonynm Charles Sealsfield or Seatsfield]. HARDMAN, Frederick (editor & adaptor). Scenes and Adventures in Central America. Edited by Frederick Hardman, Esq..... Edinburgh & London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1852. [4], [i]-ii, [4], [1] 2-298 pp. 8vo (19.8 x 13 cm), publisher’s original red and black marbled cloth, gilt-lettered and decorated spine, both covers blind-embossed with decorative motif (professionally rebacked, most of original spine retained). Fine copy of a book difficult to find in decent condition, due to its popularity. Binder’s blue and white printed ticket on lower pastedown: “Bound by Edmonds and Remnants London.”

     First edition of this compilation of adventures and experiences in Texas, Louisiana, Mexico, and South America taken from the writing of Karl Anton Postl, also known as Charles Sealsfield or Seatsfield. Agatha, Texas Prose Writings, p. 96. Dobie, Life & Literature of the Southwest, p. 48. Howes H191. Palau 112273. Raines, p. 109. Sabin 30343. Streeter 1111Bn & 1396n. It was in the preface to this work that editor Hardman revealed his authorship of several articles in the Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Previously, Hardman had been known as “The Great Unknown.” Editor Hardman (1817-1874), was an English editor and journalist; see DNB, Vol. VIII, p. 1231. Contents of the present work include the following, all adapted from Postl, including some of the Texas works: “Adventures in Louisiana,” “Adventures in Texas,” “Two Nights in Southern Mexico,” and “A Sketch in the Tropics.” The Texas section (pp. 87-214) includes plantation life on the coast, the infamous Galveston Bay & Texas Land Company scam, lynch law, the battle of San Jacinto, etc.

     Commenting on adaptations of Postl’s works into English for the U.S. and Great Britain markets, Otto Heller, comments in “A Plagiarism on Charles Sealsfield,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 7, No. 3, July 1908, pp. 131-132:

Sealsfield tempted foreign pirates not only as a good, but also as a safe prize. The reason was probably not so much...that he wrote anonymously, as that he was so little known and read outside of Germany. On this score we should not be misled by his own immoderate boasts of his enormous popularity in the United States. He never hesitated to draw the long bow when seeking to impress a solvent publisher.... The anonymous sketches first printed in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine were for the most part republished in “Travel, Adventure, and Sport from Blackwood’s Magazine” and in “Tales from Blackwood.” They also came out, selected, as a volume, twice in Great Britain and twice in America, and in these reprints authorship is owned by Frederick Hardman who was a story writer of narrowly circumscribed powers but as a literary critic possessed ability of a much higher order. It appears that, certainly from less laudable motives, the same Hardman established the actual connection between Sealsfield and English fiction of the forties. In other words, Hardman in his capacity of literary hack did not scruple to profit from his familiarity with Sealsfield’s stories.... [Footnote 3:] A fairly complete list of the English versions [of Sealsfield’s works] (for the fewest of them are close translations) is given by Faust, 1. c. p. 3. Yet he fails to mention the most elaborate Blackwood rifacimento, viz: ‘The Americans and the Aborigines. Scenes in the Short War.’ Blackw. Edinb. Mag. Vol. LIX and LX (1846) pp. 289-413 (Nr 6).

     Heller’s description of Postl’s work as “rifacimento” refers to a compositional method whereby German sources were by turns adapted and plagiarized, and a person’s life was fictionalized through an encryption of the ultra-personal.

     Streeter in entry 452 for Tokeah gives a good biography and assessment of author Postl, from whom Hardman here adapted material from one of the first four novels with Texas as the central theme:

Charles Sealsfield, Carl Anton Postl by birth, was born in a German village in Moravia on March 3, 1793. Destined by his family for the Roman Catholic Church, he entered a religious order in 1813 and a year later was ordained a priest. He was unhappy in the order and in 1823 in effect fled from it, finally making his way to the United States. This important change in his life is covered by Heller and Leon in a section of their Bibliography entitled “Flight from the Monastery.” Here he travelled extensively in the Southwest and then in 1826 went to Europe to arrange for the publication of his first book. After a stay in London he returned to the United States and in 1828 wrote Tokeah, or the White Rose. In 1830 he returned to Europe and except for a few trips to this country lived a retired life in Switzerland until his death there on May 26, 1864. His main works were all first published between the years 1827 and 1841, all of them anonymously, for he seemed to have a morbid fear of disclosing his identity. It was not until 1844 that his name appeared as author, and then it was as “Seatsfield” in a translation, probably unauthorized, published at New York by Winchester (Heller and Leon No. C. 32). It was not until a set of complete works was published at Stuttgart, 1845-1847 (Heller and Leon No. A. 20), that Sealsfield appeared on the title as author, but it was not until his death that “Sealsfield” was revealed as the German monk Postl. As noted above, Tokeah is Sealsfield’s first novel. Except for the first preliminary chapter, the scene is mostly in Texas, where Tokeah, the chief of the Oconee branch of the Creek Indians, held sway between the Neches and the Sabine rivers. White Rose was by birth a highly placed English girl, rescued from a captivity at the end of the eighteenth century when a baby by Tokeah and loved by him as a real daughter. When a grown up girl her Indian lover was the chief of the Comanche Indians, but in the end, as might be expected, she marries an English aristocrat who had been captured by Laffite, the pirate, and her real name discovered. Another well known character is General Andrew Jackson. In 1833 Sealsfield published Tokeah in German at Zurich under the title of Der Legitime und die Republikaner. For this and later editions at Stuttgart and Stockholm see entry Nos. 1140, 1140A, 1140B, and 1140C.

     To continue the practice of “borrowing” from Postl, Albert B. Faust (Charles Sealsfield...A Dissertation, Baltimore, 1892, p. 44) notes that Capt. Mayne Reid’s chapters 18-27 of Wild Life (1856, including the chapter on San Jacinto) “have been stolen outright from Sealsfield’s Cabin Book” but are taken word for word from Hardman. The present work by Hardman is cited in Faust’s bibliography on p. 5.

     And from the Handbook of Texas article by Glen Lich on Postl <>

He rose to prominence in the administration of his order, but in 1823 he suddenly disappeared. Despite the efforts of police in Prague and Vienna, no information about Postl’s subsequent whereabouts surfaced for over forty years. Even today Postl’s life remains shrouded in mystery, partly because of his flight and partly because of his work and personality.... It is not known for certain whether he traveled throughout Texas, Mexico, and the Southwest, but modern scholars have deemed it probable. Postl may have owned a plantation on the Red River at some point, but there is no definitive evidence to support it.... He immortalized Texas in his novel Das Kajütenbuch (Zurich, 1841), or The Cabin Book (New York, 1844; London, 1852). In addition to this novel about Texas, in which he portrays the fledgling republic as the world’s great hope for the future, Sealsfield wrote twelve other novels and book-length interpretations of North America and Europe..... The Cabin Book, which helped to motivate the Adelsverein and encouraged German migration to Texas, depicts a land both promising and dangerous, inhabited by legendary men, where “you sow nails at night, and find horseshoes in the morning.” The work was immensely popular and remained one of the most widely read books in Texas throughout the nineteenth century. Highly derivative of the anonymous A Visit to Texas (1834), Sealsfield’s heroic novel was the first important discussion of Texas in the German language; coupled with William Kennedy’s Goethean Texas: The Rise, Progress, and Prospects of the Republic of Texas, which appeared the same year, it presents Texas as a rich field of opportunities. Although often considered overwhelmingly exuberant and optimistic, with a heavy admixture of manifest destiny, the book also warns that change and progress can be costly, even deadly, in personal terms.


Sold. Hammer: $100.00; Price Realized: $122.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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