The Young Vigilantes: A Story of California Life in the 1850s

by Samuel Adams Drake

Purchase on Amazon  Purchase on CreateSpace

The California Gold Rush really was a bonanza. Between 1849 and 1855 more than $400 million dollars was gathered by the miners; once adjusted, it is a sum today reaching into the trillions. It was a social phenomenon marked by the carnivalesque.

In his work Roughing It (1872) Mark Twain’s protagonist remarks as his brother heads YoungVigilantesFRONTCOVERWest, “Pretty soon he would be hundreds and hundreds of miles away on the great plains and deserts, and among the mountains of the Far West, and would see buffaloes and Indians, and prairie dogs, an antelopes, and have all kinds of adventures, and may be get hanged or scalped, and have ever such a fine time, and write home and tell us all about it, and be a hero…And by and by he would become very rich, and return home by sea, and be able to talk as calmly about San Francisco and ocean, and ‘the isthmus’ as if it was nothing of any consequence to have seen those marvels face to face.”
Go they did to the Land of Golden Dreams, in the largest internal migration in American history, and the adventures and tragedies have created a large and memorable literature. The Young Vigilantes tells a story of life on ship and land, centered around California during the Gold Rush.

The Torch of Liberty

by Frederic Arnold Kummer, Illustrated by Kreigh Collins

Purchase on Amazon  |   Purchase on CreateSpace

The Torch of Liberty features several Greek stories highlighting the development of democracy. The illustrations in this volume are by Kreigh Collins (1908-1974) who created the comic strip hero Kevin the Bold, and whose papers are collected by the library of Syracuse University.

Frederic Arnold Kummer (1873-1943) was the son of a German emigrant who fought in the Civil War and helped found Kummer & Becker, the Baltimore banking firm who were agents for the North German Lloyd Steamship Line.

In he wrote The Film of Fear, the earliest known novel with a motion picture theme. Three years later he wrote the lyrics for “My Golden Girl” a popular Broadway comedy with music by Victor Herbert. Kummer’s other titles included The Green God (1911, Ladies in Hades: A Story of Hell’s Smart Set (1928) and Gentlemen in Hades: The Story of a Damned Debutante (1930). His first wife, Clare Rodman Beecher (1873-1958) was a composer and songwriter who worked with Sigmund Romberg and Jerome Kern. His son by his second wife, Marjorie McLean—Frederic Arnold Kummer Jr.—became a science fiction writer.

The collaboration of Kummer and Collins was well reviewed when it first appeared: “There have been a number of books on somewhat similar pattern – a collection of short stories designed to highlight periods in world history when the significance of freedom came to the fore. Janet Marsh’s Don’t Tread on Me, is an example. But this, though inevitably there is some overlapping, is far and away the best one that has been done. One traces the different aspects under which democracy has appeared from early Greeks to modern America, Good stories all.”


The Wizard

by H. Rider Haggard

Purchase on Amazon  |  Purchase on CreateSpace

The Wizard was serialized in the African Review and then published in full in the 1896 issue of Arrowsmith’s Christmas Annual. The hero, a missionary named Owen, has to endure various trials at the hands of African tribal magicians, and discovers his own ability to predict the future and manipulate nature. The trademark Sir Henry Rider Haggard themes are much in evidence, particularly the confrontation of the West with African traditional values.

Professor Noel Cox remarks, “The interesting thing about this story (published 1896) is that it has some similarities with the history of Uganda – though I don’t think Thomas Owen, saint and martyr (as Haggard describes him on the last page) has any particular prototype. Though it is in a seWizardCOVERFRONTnse the history of Owen, it is really about Hokosa – the “Wizard” of the title – and his conversion. It is also interesting that of the supernatural events, only one major occurrence is at the hands of the pagan wizard – the raising of the spirit of Umsuka – while Owen is responsible for several – the trial by lightning (if it can be classified as miraculous – certainly the Amasuka thought so), and the vision of the plan to murder king Umsuka, as well as his call back in England.”

Sir Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) is still widely read and his characters allegedly inspired the Indiana Jones books and movies. A Rider Haggard literary trail in South Africa includes many of his old haunts, and a Rider Haggard society in England publishes a journal on his work.

Old-World Japan: Legends of the Land of the Gods

by Frank Rinder

Purchase on Amazon  |  Purchase on CreateSpace

Frank Rinder (1863-1937) was the art correspondent of the Glasgow Herald and adviser to the National Gallery in Melbourne, Australia. He had the luck of a substantial bequest to the gallery, which enabled him to be aggressive as its agent. His other books included a history of the Royal Scottish Academy and a study of the etchings of D.Y. Cameron. He selected Thomas Heath Robins (1869-1953) to do the illustrations for his Japan book. Dr Hilary Taylor writes:

“…this book is a gem. Clearly, it reveals contemporary enthusiasm for things Japanese – a taste which had Old-World Japan: Legends of the Land of the Godsburgeoned since the 1860s and the reopening of Japan to the West – and also Robinson’s remarkable talent and agility as an illustrator. … It is also interesting to compare Robinson’s illustrations with those produced, in the same year, by the young Aubrey Beardsley for Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. Beardsley, of course, had learned much from Japanese prints…In contrast, Thomas Heath Robinson’s illustrations for Rinder’s book on Japan do not have the same static figures, tense with eroticism, that we find in Beardsley, but they do reveal a vivid exploration of the power of black and white in illustrations that are at once full of sinuous, Art Nouveau movement and rich with exoticism. Robinson and Beardsley must have been well aware of one another’s work.”

Purchase through Amazon

Hymns to the Gods & Other Poems

by Gen. Albert Pike

Purchase on Amazon  |  Purchase on CreateSpace

Hymns to the Gods & Other Poems

Albert Pike (1809-1891) began writing as a youth, and “Hymns to the Gods” was his first published poem when he was only 23. He subsequently became a contributor to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine after his book, Prose Sketches and Poems Written in the Western Country, appeared in 1834.Then, in 1872, he published an extended collection, Hymns to the Gods and Other Poems. An admirer of the work of Shelley and Cooleridge, he in turn was admired by Edgar Allan Poe.

He is primarily remembered as perhaps the leading scholar of Freemasonry in the nineteenth century but quite apart from that his verses display his incredible linguistic skills and knowledge of mythology. He is always struggling for synthesis, believing, “the great aim is to discover unity in multiplicity”. This is key to both his poetry and to the many degrees of Freemasonry that he revised and embellished.

Roads of Adventure

by Ralph D. Paine

Purchase on Amazon  |  Purchase on CreateSpace

Ralph Delahaye Paine (1871-1925) owed part of his swashbuckling success as a writer to connections Roads of Adventure COVER FRONT ONLYforged at Yale’s secret society Skull and Bones and to an early friendship with the publisher William Randolph Hearst, for whom he covered the Spanish American War as well as the Boxer Rebellion in China. His philosophy in this and his other books was, “If we wish to scale Mont Blanc, or visit a thieves kitchen in the East End, or go down in a diving dress or up in a balloon, we must be about it while we are still young…Youth is the time to go flashing from one end of the world to the other both in mind and body; to try the manners of different nations; to hear the chimes at midnight.”

Dante and His Time

Dante and His Time COVER FRONT ONLY

by Karl Federn

In Dan Brown’s book, Professor Langdon tells his Harvard class that “Dante’s Inferno is a landscape so rich in symbolism and iconography that I often dedicate an entire semester course to it.” While taking Dr. Langdon’s course on Dante is impossible, there is no better guide to the references in Brown’s novel than Karl Federn, the great Dante scholar.

Purchase through Amazon

Social Satire and the Modern Novel

Purchase through Amazon  

Arnold Bennett wrote thirty novels but has been somewhat neglected by modern critics. He was ahead of his time in appreciating Joyce, Lawrence, Faulkner and Hemingway.  His work is characterized by social irony without bitterness, and satire without nastiness. As this novel suggests, perhaps he has more in common with E.M. Forster than has been realized.


Download FREE Kindle version

Paddle Your Own Canoe

Purchase through Amazon  

Edited and Introduced by Wallace Boston

The protagonists in Horatio Alger stories are often, if one may play on a metaphor, up a creek without a paddle.  In this celebrated Alger novel, the young hero is comfortably ensconced at the Essex Classical Institute until misfortune makes his expensive education impossible. If the problem of financing an education resonates, it is because millions of Americans are frustrated in their ambitions because they now find that the price of education has soared far beyond their capacity to pay, with no prospect of an Alger quirk of fate to help.


Download FREE Kindle version.

Original Strong and Steady cover