WILLIAM WILLIAMS (1727-1791), attrib., and NICHOLAS POCOCK (1740-1821), Illustrator
Apparently autograph manuscript of a travel narrative, 'Journal of Penrose, a Seaman', n.p. [?Bristol], n.d. [?1783], illustrated with 36 watercolours by Nicholas Pocock pasted on blank leaves or versos, approx 53 x 72mm -- 215 x 165mm, 269 leaves, folio (numbered), text on rectos only, bound with: a document signed by William Williams, Bristol, 21 April 1781, his last will and testament, appointing Thomas Eagles his executor and legatee; autograph letter signed to Thomas Eagles by BENJAMIN WEST (1738-1820), London, 10 October 1810, discussing the manuscript and his association with Williams, 7 pages, folio, and an autograph letter signed by Francis Annesley, 12 November 1810, enclosing West's letter (or a fair copy of it), adding 'you must not exhibit Mr West's orthography, you & I love him too well', one page, folio, half red morocco (rebacked). Provenance: William Williams; Thomas Eagles (left to him by Williams; by descent to his son:) -- John Eagles (introductory letter to 1815 publication) -- Boies Penrose (1860-1921, senator of Pennsylvania, bookplate, and thence by descent to the present owner).
The manuscript is illustrated with a series of watercolours by Pocock showing scenes and incidents in the narrative, ranging from small vignettes to striking action scenes, the most notable of which are: f.11 portrait of the narrator; f.15v the narrator cast away in a small boat; f.47v the narrator meets a native boy and girl; f.123 the narrator awoken by a half-naked girl; f.132v with women and children outside a cave; f.180v a group on shore viewing a ship on fire; f.239v three figures on a mountainous shore; f.260 the narrator comforted by three friends.
A THRILLING SEMI-AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NARRATIVE BY A FRIEND OF BENJAMIN WEST. West's letter, included here, firmly attributes the journal to the artist William Williams, and describes his earliest encounters with Williams in Philadelphia, Williams's crucial influence on West's fledgling career, and his knowledge of later incidents in Williams's life, including his return to England and retirement to Bristol. West considers the incidents of the journal to be 'founded on [Williams's] adventures amongst the uncivilized Aborigines in the west India Islands', and describes how Williams would often relate these same adventures to the young West: 'He spoke both the Negro, and Carrib tongue, and appeared to me to have lived amongst them for some years'.
The 'Journal' of seaman Llewellin Penrose comprises a narrative of his adventures from 1744 onwards, the early events including his first voyage to Jamaica, his capture by the Spanish and captivity on board a Spanish man-of-war, and his over-indulgence in rum in the Florida Keys. In 1747, Penrose is set adrift in a small canoe and is cast away on a shore of 'a wild country of palmetto trees' in central America; then follows a lively account, year by year, of his survival and life amongst the native Indians, with whom he forms his own family over the next twenty-seven years. Accounts of incidents, both amusing and tragic, are interspersed with detailed observations of flora and fauna.
The watercolours placed throughout the manuscript illustrate key events in the narrative; that on f.47v, for example, depicts Penrose's meeting after four solitary years with two natives whom he named Harry and Luta. Luta becomes his first wife, later dying in childbirth. The close link between manuscript and image is shown particularly in the scene depicted opposite f.133. Penrose describes the scene in painterly terms, 'I beheld it with a painter's eye, and would willingly have transformed to canvas the picture before me, but the materials were wanting' -- his description which follows, of his family set around the entrance to a large cave, is represented exactly by the accompanying watercolour. A small watercolour showing 'Toby's grave' marks the murder of Penrose's Indian companion who is killed by one of a group of marooned Dutch seaman.
The 'journal' ends with the postscript of Paul Taylor, dated New York, 2 May 1783, which presumably gives an indication of its approximate date of composition. There are annotations throughout on the blank versos, apparently in the hand of a publisher's reader, commenting sometimes on the inaccuracy of the drawings, several attributions to 'Pocock', and elsewhere on the improbability or virtues of the narrative. Penrose's Journal was published in 1815, with considerable changes made by Williams' benefactor, Thomas Eagles; included is an introductory letter by his son, John Eagles, with extracts from West's letter.
THE WORK HAS BEEN REGARDED AS THE FIRST NOVEL TO BE WRITTEN IN AMERICA.
[Together with]: The Journal of Llewellin Penrose, A Seaman. London: John Murray, 1815. 4 volumes, 16° (169 x 105mm). Half-titles. (Occasional light spotting). 19th-century half green morocco gilt, titled on spines. Provenance: Boies Penrose II (1902-1976, nephew of Boies Penrose, armorial bookplate). Sabin 60801.
Nicholas Pocock was born in Bristol in 1740 and became one of the most prolific marine artists of his generation, working in both oils and watercolours. He was apprenticed to his seaman father from 1754 and captained trading vessels out of Bristol for the Champion family from 1766, making a dozen voyages to the West Indies and America. He filled his logbooks with sketches on these voyages, and while he later pursued a career as a marine artist, with major commissions from naval patrons, and the task of illustrating Clarke and McArthur's Life of Nelson, his sketches rather than his finished pictures are now considered to be his most successful works. The present illustrations to what may be a fiction would have been an unusual commission for an artist normally prized by his demanding patrons for the accuracy of his marine paintings. In another sense though, as an artist who had spent years plying to and from the West Indies, and to whom the islands from Dominica to Antigua were well-known, he was the ideal artist to give credibility to the tale. The alleged author, Williams, as a fellow Bristolian and an artist, was presumably a friend of Pocock. (5)