Rare Book Monthly
Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2007 Issue
France and America from Helen R. Kahn Rare Books
By Michael Stillman
The 71st catalogue from Montreal bookseller Helen R. Kahn and Associates Rare Books, Maps and Manuscripts is entitled France and America Sixteenth to Twentieth Centuries. The works in this catalogue are older than most we find in a typical catalogue of Americana, but that reflects the fact that France was most active on the North American continent during its first century and a half of settlement. During that period, most of the discoveries in America's heartland, from the Ohio to the Mississippi valleys, and of course Canada, were made by the French. After the conclusion of the French and Indian War, the French presence on the continent was reduced to less than a shadow of what it had been. However, there are also many French titles concerning the American Revolution, where the French finally saw their British rivals receive their due comeuppance, and others relating to France's very brief reappearance on the continent, retaking Louisiana from the Spanish just long enough to sell it to the Americans. Here are some of the historic titles you will find being offered by Helen Kahn Rare Books.
Some of the earliest reports about the American interior came from Father Louis Hennepin. Actually, many of the earliest reports came from Jesuit missionaries such as he. Hennepin traveled through the backcountry of the Great Lakes area and Mississippi during the 17th century. He provides some of the earliest views of the territory and its indigenous peoples. Item 30 is Nouveau Voyage d'un Pais grande que Europe..., a first edition of his third and final book, published in 1698. This work includes his description of the killing of La Salle in Texas in 1687, and the taking of Quebec by the English in 1629 (it was restored to France in 1632). Item 30. $11,000.
One of the most notable books about the interior of America in the 17th century came from Baron Louis Armand Lahontan. He served the French in Canada, but in 1688, he set out on a journey to the Great Lakes, Mississippi, and beyond. No one is quite sure how much territory was encompassed by his travels, how much by his imagination. Some of the peoples he discovered were not found by others, nor was the "Long River," which extended from the Mississippi River to a far-off mountain range and large lake. Lahontan may have exaggerated to sell books, especially since such a long river would have raised hopes of finding a land route to the Pacific. Despite its weaknesses, his work provides us with some of the earliest information about the upper Midwest. His book was first published in 1703 and became an immediate bestseller. Item 38 is the second English edition of 1735 of New Voyages to North-America... $3,850.
Item 4 is an anonymous work with a British point of view published in 1755 and written during the first year of the French and Indian War: State of the British and French Colonies in North America... The author warns against the French encircling the British colonies, expresses concern that their poor treatment of the Indians will work to France's advantage, discusses George Washington's mission against the French early in the war, and proposes a boundary between British and French colonies through the middle of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. The report is presented as two letters, dated December 10, 1754, and March 4, 1755. $3,250.