[WILLIAMS, William]. The Journal of Llewellin Penrose, A Seaman. London: Murray, 1815.
Four volumes in two, 12mo. Contemporary black half-morocco over marbled boards, spine lettered in gilt, ornamented in blind; a very good copy, bound without half-titles, as usual.
Scarce first edition of the first American novel, written by the teacher and friend of Benjamin West (the book's dedicatee), a book highly admired by Byron.
'Long neglected as the first American novel, Mr. Penrose narrates the adventures of a British youth who flees an unhappy home life to seek his fortune on the high seas. Having learned the sailor’s trade, Penrose survives a series of nautical mishaps, only to be cast adrift on the Mosquito Coast. When rescue finally comes, Penrose refuses to abandon the new home he has made among the Indians. Equal parts travel narrative, adventure tale, and natural history, the novel reflects on some of the most pressing moral and social issues of its time: imperialism, racial equality, religious freedom, and the nature of ethical, responsible government. Mr. Penrose contains the first unequivocal critique of slavery in a transatlantic novel and the most realistic portrayals of Native Americans in early American fiction. In the afterword to this paperback edition, Sarah Wadsworth imparts new research on the author and his career, shedding light on the novel’s subjects and timely themes, and situating Mr. Penrose at the forefront of the American literary canon' (Introduction to a Indiana University Press edition, online).
'This is the account of the privateer William Williams’s adventures after being marooned upon the Miskito Coast. It is the first story of a message in a bottle, of buried treasure, the first novel written in America, and incredibly anti-slavery, at a time when America’s first three presidents owned slaves. The descriptions of flora and fauna are unparalleled, and some of Williams’ stories of mammoth bones and inscribed basalt pillars have only been discovered to be factual in the last two decades' (Cambria Publishing advertisement for the e-book edition). Not too much is known about the author. Bristol-born Williams settled in Philadelphia after seafaring in 1747. There he ran an art sudio, taught young Benjamin West painting, was instrumental in building America's first theatre, and was associated with Benjamin Franklin. After travelling in the Caribbean he returned to England in 1776. He died in the Merchants' and Sailors' Almshouse in Bristol in 1791.