Jonathan Sharp; or, The Adventures of a Kentuckian. Written by Himself
London: 1845. 3 vols. x, 336; , 320; , 334, pp.
Original boards, printed paper labels. Some minor chipping to spine ends, hinges cracked but solid, backstrip detached from front hinge of volume one. Bookplates on front pastedowns. In a half morocco and cloth clamshell case.
A remarkable work of Frontier fiction.
Much of the story relates to Texas during the early 1840s, especially the events leading up to Annexation. Half of the first volume and all of the third volume are set in Texas, which the narrator describes as populated by swindlers, cowards and rascals. There are good descriptions of the various factions involved in a period of great turbulence, including the Mexicans, Indians, and the colorful characters both major and minor who dwelled in Texas during the period of independence. At the end the author accurately predicts the impending war with Mexico and urges the British to intervene: "I think it opportune for the legislators of wealthy England to exercise the whole of their influence to prevent the annexation of Texas to the United States." The story begins in the narrator's native Kentucky, but the scene soon shifts to New Orleans and Cuba, and then to Wisconsin, where Sharp is involved in a successful mining venture and makes his fortune. A considerable subplot revolves around his encounters with the early Mormons. In the second volume he has a long interview with Joseph Smith, or "Joe Smith," as he calls him, and subsequent adventures take him back to Nauvoo around the time of the anti-Mormon uprisings there. The story includes vivid details of Mormon character types just prior to the abandonment of Nauvoo in 1846, and westward migration in 1847. The identity of the author of this novel has never been determined. There is some similarity to the fiction and travel writing of Capt. Marryat, but it seems likely nonetheless that the author was in fact American. His account of life on the American frontier provides a vivid and highly critical picture of rampant speculation, lawlessness, immorality, and general chaos. There are interesting and quite sympathetic comments as well on the plight of both Indians and Blacks. The dialogue, characters, and local color all suggest a considerable first-hand acquaintance with the world described. At the same time, this is a novel with a message: the portrayal of the United States as a land of immense promise, debased by dishonesty and greed. As the author explains in the preface, his jaundiced view of a beloved Far West corrupted by "the deadly bowie-knife, and the cowardly 'Colt's six-barrel-self-revolving pistol'" led him to publish in London. The novel was, in fact, never printed in America. "The story is of real Texas interest because of the unrestrained bitterness of its portrayal of Texas customs, morals, and people...From some comments it appears to have been written by a disgruntled Englishman, quite likely one who held Mexican bonds secured by Texas lands. From time to time there are attacks on the proposed annexation of Texas by the United States and the final sentence of the third volume is a plea that England's influence be used to prevent annexation" - Streeter. Very rare on the market, this copy is only the third that we have encountered. Not listed in Woolf, Block or Sabin.
Coleman, Bibliography of Kentucky History 2170; Streeter Texas 1609.