Rare Book Monthly
Book Catalogue Reviews - February - 2007 Issue
Books from Northern North America from Helen R. Kahn
By Michael Stillman
Catalogue 70, the latest from Helen R. Kahn & Associates, was recently published. Kahn specializes in 16th-20th century North America, and here you can place a special emphasis on the word "north." Kahn is located in Montreal, Canada, so the majority of the works either come from or pertain to Canada or the northern part of the United States. These are works of history, exploration and discovery. There is not much fiction, although perhaps some exaggeration in "Indian captivities" and the like which border on fiction. Still, these are works that will educate as well as entertain, and contribute significantly to any serious collection of Americana. Here are a few of the items you will find inside.
Here is one of those works that lives on the border between truth and fiction: The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians. Prepared by T.D. Bonner based on Beckwourth's dictations, the man no doubt led an exciting life. Though his mother was a slave, his white father raised and educated Beckwourth. Still he found it difficult to find employment, so the young man headed west. He would become an explorer under Fremont, a trapper, and spent many years with the Crow, though his claims to be a true chief are in doubt. Some of his story is believed to be exaggeration, but it is based on fact. This book was published in 1856. Beckwourth died under mysterious circumstances a decade later after returning to the Crow. Item 18. $800.
Here is a pair of books, at least one of which must be wrong, though their authors undoubtedly each believed his was completely accurate. Item 35 is An Answer to that Part of the Narrative of...Sir Henry Clinton...which relates to the Conduct of...Cornwallis. Published in 1783. $1,100. Item 31 is A Letter from Lieut. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton... published in 1784. $375. Clinton and Cornwallis participated in a war of pamphlets back in England after the end of the American Revolution. They spent their years blaming each other for England's loss in that war.
Item 34 is a work that perhaps contained a little too much truth. The book is Memoirs of Mrs. Coghlan, written by the same (Magaret Coghlan) and published in 1795. As a young lady, probably in 1776 when she was just 13, she was seduced by Aaron Burr. At 14, she unwillingly married John Coghlan. She fled the marriage to a series of protectors, evidently some well enough placed for her to become at least casually acquainted with many notable personalities of the time, including the aforementioned Cornwallis and his enemy Washington. The book caused quite a scandal at the time. $775.
Thomas Jefferson was often attacked by his opponents for not being sufficiently religious. Jefferson was a free thinker and not one to accept unreasoned dogma. His views were attacked in this booklet in 1804 as he sought reelection -- Observations on Certain Passages in Mr. Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, which appear to have a tendency to subvert religion... This has to be true since the unnamed author was evidently Clement Moore. Moore must have been a great religious scholar. After all, he was the man who would later write "Twas the Night Before Christmas." Item 68. $650.