STEPHENS, John Lloyd (1805-1852). Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1843.

$ 575.00

2 volumes. 8vo., (9 x 6 inches). Folding map in volume one (some browning, inexpertly repaired on verso). Folding engraved frontispiece in each volume (slightly creased, light spotting), 76 full-page plates, and numerous engraved illustrations in the text, all after Frederick Catherwood (some occasional spotting). Contemporary half straight-grained morocco over marbled boards (front cover of volume one detaching, joins weak, some wear at extremities).

Provenance: Bookplate of Mabel Choate; Burndy Library and Dibner Library (Smithsonian Institution Libraries) bookplates to front pastedown of both volumes.

First edition of Stephens’s companion volume to “Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan” first published in 1841: “Stephens provided accurate, detailed descriptions of the ruins, and he was the first to establish that the many Mayan sites were part of a single civilization that existed up to the time of the Spanish conquest and that the Indians were the direct descendants of that civilization” (ANB).

These two volumes contain the important engravings of Frederick Catherwood (1799-1854): “In 1836 he met the American traveller John Lloyd Stephens, who was attending Burford’s panorama of Jerusalem…Stephens and Catherwood developed plans to bring their travel and architectural expertise to bear on American antiquities. Rumours of cities lost in the Central American jungles had circulated since the 1820s, when the Spanish colonies won their independence and non-Hispanic European travellers visited the region in increasing numbers...In September 1839 Catherwood signed a contract with Stephens to illustrate the ruins, with Stephens supplying the written narrative… [I]n October 1839, he and Stephens at once set out for the ancient Mayan city of Copan, which lay in a remote valley near independent Honduras’s northern boundary with Guatemala. They arrived in November and commenced the first large-scale survey of Mayan ruins, visiting such other Mayan sites as Quirigua in Guatemala and Palenque in southern Mexico. Catherwood cleared away the entangled vegetation covering the ruins to enable the use of his camera lucida. At Palenque, despite suffering from malaria contracted within a month of his arrival in Central America, he made maps and over fifty drawings…

“In June 1841 Stephens published Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which instantly earned the authors great accolades on both sides of the Atlantic. According to the historian William H. Prescott, Catherwood’s copious and compelling illustrations clinched the book’s success…Stephens and Catherwood soon recommenced their explorations, turning their attention now to the Yucatan peninsula. They arrived in October 1841…bearing with them a daguerreotype machine, one of the first brought to Mexico…In June 1842 Catherwood and Stephens returned to New York, taking the daguerreotypes with them, among the first archaeological photographs produced in Spanish America. Tragically all were lost in a fire on 31 July that consumed Catherwood’s Rotunda; several priceless Mayan monuments removed by Stephens and Catherwood were also destroyed. The sketches made from the daguerreotypes, however, appeared in Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (1843)” (Robert D. Aguirre for DNB).

Mabel Choate (19??-1958) was the daughter of noted New York City lawyer Joseph Hodges Choate, who owned the Naumkeag estate in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Mabel took over much of the design decisions after her father’s death in 1917, and assumed full control after her mother’s death in 1929. Now a non-profit museum (since Mabel’s death in 1958), Naumkeag is known for its extensive gardens, which were first designed in the late 1880s by Nathan Barrett, and replanned and expanded by noted landscape designer Fletcher Steele in collaboration with Mabel between 1926 and 1956. In 1975 the main house of Naumkeag was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the entire estate was named a National Historic Landmark District in 2007.

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