With Columbus in America

A little research is a wonderful thing.  I was intrigued recently by a small dense volume found at the bottom of box of cast off books, With Columbus in  America.  It is an illustrated account of the “romantic incidents of the discoverer’s life…worked into a fictitious narrative” and was published on the 500 year anniversary of Columbus’s “discoveries.” The profusely illustrated 1892 volume was ‘translated and adapted’ from the German by Elise L. Lathrop, and originally written by C. Falkenhorst.  Falkenhorst (1855-1913)  was the author of a series of historical, romantic fictional accounts about great explorers, including Cortez and Pissaro.

While Falkenhorst might be more interesting to some, I was intrigued by Lathrop, who translated a wide range of authors and genres from German, Spanish and French for American publishers.  Her translations were noted admiringly in reviews as ‘poetical’ , and well suited to the material she translated and adapted.  Later in life, she authored Where Shakespeare Set His Stage (1906), Early Inns and Taverns (1907), Historic Houses of Early American (1936), and Old New England Churches (1938).  These were prominent in a literature that helped to define and popularize the Colonial revival.  She was an educated, working woman whose name was known to reviewers and whose translations made light romantic fiction from abroad available to American readers.  The books she authored suggest either a deeply rooted New England past or a shrewd calculation about what would sell as each of her volumes was republished through the nineteen thirties.

One question that is worth asking is:  Did she publish and translate under her own name or a nom de guerre?  Elise uses the French spelling and accent while Lathrop hints at an older English, New England genealogy.   Some quick library and ancestry.com research has yielded little, not even dates, for Lathrop.  Was she the Elise Lathrop, pianist and mezzo who with her sister Helen, soprano, gave a Russian entertainment in Richfield Springs, New York at the Earlington Hotel during the 1895 resort season? Or was she the Elise Lathrop who wrote the New York Times in 1910 to challenge the idea that money alone defined aristocracy in American rather than “culture, ability, refinement, distinction in the arts and letters”, upholding in her words “republican doctrines”. Are they the same woman?  More research is needed, but it is the physical object, that 1892 book that started me on the trail…

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