The Adventures of Congo

Posted on 24th April 2012 by simonbeattie

The week before last I was in New York.  Last week I was back in England, and now it’s off to Paris on Thursday.  This children’s book has similar Anglo-American-French connections.  It’s the first edition in French (1826) of The Adventures of Congo in Search of his Master; an American Tale by the children’s writer Eliza Farrar.  When it was first published in London in 1823 it was really quite a small book; the French edition is a much more luxurious affair.

‘The hero of these adventures was a young black American, not a slave but the free servant of an enlightened family living by choice in Philadelphia, “the capital of a State where no species of slavery is allowed.”  Affectionately brought up by the Stewart family, whom his father served, first as an indentured servant removed from conditions of starvation in the West Indies and thenceforth in paid employment, Congo was to accompany the youthful Charles Stewart on European travels.  A shipwreck in mid-Atlantic abruptly separated servant from master, though both were miraculously saved.  In the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties, Congo was sustained by a strong religious faith, while honesty, industry, and a happy disposition earned him friendly help in his endeavours.  The story moves swiftly, with few digressions, and the incidents are told with vivid detail’ (Catherine de Saint-Rat, ‘In search of the author of The Adventures of Congo’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 72 (1978), 353–4).  The majority of the action takes place in Ireland and Wales, which the author knew herself, before Congo and Stewart are finally reunited in London.

The daughter of Nantucket Quakers, Eliza Farrar (1791–1870) was born in Dunkirk, where the family business was whaling.  After the fall of Robespierre, they left France and set up again at Milford Haven in south Wales.  Eliza first went to America in 1819, and nine years later married the Harvard mathematics professor, John Farrar.  As well as The Adventures of Congo, she wrote The Young Lady’s Friend (Boston, 1836), which saw a number of editions.

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2 responses to “The Adventures of Congo”

  1. Kit Belgum says:

    Thanks very much for these images of the French edition and the reference to de Saint-Rat’s short note. I stumbled across a reference to Eliza Farrar’s Adventures of Congo while looking for some information about her husband, while… (it’s a long story). But I am not convinced by de Saint-Rat that Farrar was the author. She cites the claim by William Gardiner’s daughter, Mary Ann, in 1854 that her father had authored the book. And it does seem suspicious that it took her so long to make that claim, but if he did die just 2 years after it was first published, it makes sense he never could have claimed it when it became successful. Also in the de Saint-Rat’s note she quotes Farrar as suggesting that the work was sold to a publisher and even published around 1816 (in 1846, she wrote; “now after a lapse of some thirty years from its first publication in England”, de Saint-Rat, 355), but also suggests that she wrote it and sold it to a London publisher “long before” she came to US, i.e., well before 1819. But then why would it take 4 years (until 1823) to be published? Riddles upon riddles.

    • simonbeattie says:

      Well sleuthed. I’m afraid I can’t offer any further information. It’s one for a proper book historian, perhaps.

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