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.