TRANS-ATLANTIC Romance. - Sir Charles Augustus MURRAY (1806-1895).
The Prairie-Bird. London: Richard Bentley, 1844. 3 volumes, 12mo (7 7/8 x 4 ¾ins; 200 x 121mm). Pp. iv, 336; (2)352; (2)372. Original cloth-backed boards, paper spine labels (rubbed and some soiling, spine ends chipped and frayed, spine labels rubbed and chipped).
First edition and quite unusual in the original publisher’s binding. A romance with an authentic American ‘western’ setting, as, according to the preface, one of the author’s "chief aims has been to afford [the reader] correct information respecting the habits, condition, and character of the North American Indians and those bordering on their territory."
Charles Murray was the second son of the 5th Earl of Dunmore, and his mother was the daughter of the Duke of Hamilton. He was educated at Eton and Oriel College, Oxford. Subsequently Murray cut quite a dashing figure as an adventurer and diplomat, and achieved particular popular notoriety as being the man responsible for the first importation (during the modern era) of a hippopotamus into England. More unusually, he was also a friend, acquaintance or correspondent with many of the literary heavyweights of the day: Goethe, Fenimore Cooper, Hans Christian Andersen, William Wordsworth, Thomas Moore, inter alia.
The present work, a romantic novel, is itself part of the true-life romantic story surrounding the author’s first marriage. While it is true that it is a ‘tale of the West’ (published in 1844, but based on the several months that Murray spent with the Pawnee in 1835), it is also true that it allowed him to communicate with his American love in the only honourable way that remained open to him.
During his travels in America (in 1834, 1835 and 1836), Murray met a young well-connected American couple, Mr and Mrs James Wadsworth. Murray liked them and wrote letters of introduction for they were about to leave for Great Britain and Europe. In exchange, James Wadsworth wrote a similar letter for Murray: an introduction to his father, who lived near Niagara. Murray visited, was warmly welcomed, and met and fell in love with Wadsworth senior’s youngest child: Elise Wadsworth.
Murray subsequently returned to England, but the romance continued at a distance and for a while there was serious talk of marriage between Elise and Charles. Agreement could not be reached by the parents as to where the couple should live (the US or the UK), and finally the marriage plans were abandoned, and Elise’s father forbade any further communication. "Fourteen years later, in 1849, Mr. Wadsworth died, and Murray married his daughter in 1850. The only intercourse which had passed between them was through the indirect means of a novel [The Prairie Bird of the title is a veiled reference by Murray to Elise, and, through the narrative as a whole, he was also able]. . . to convey the assurance of his unalterable constancy." (DNB).
Sadleir 1818; Wolff 5022; Block, p. 169; Wagner-Camp 112.1; Sabin 51489; CBEL III, 952.