Original holograph manuscript of "John Law. The Mississippi Scheme and its fore Antecedent",
being chapter four of Famous Impostors.1910 Stock Code: 142880
"To the last he was a gambler" - Stoker's working manuscript for his essay on John LawA fine working manuscript, entirely in Stoker's hand, of his essay on John Law, the fourth chapter of Famous Impostors (1910), the author's curious study of duplicitous behaviour and fraudulent schemes throughout history. Law, "a gambler on a great scale" (p. 11), is for Stoker the archetypal swindler; the many textual emendations and excisions demonstrate how Stoker reworks the facts to build his case against the notorious economist.
The Scottish economist John Law (1671-1729), France's Controller General of Finances in 1720, is infamous as the architect of the Mississippi Bubble, occasioned by the collapse of his Banque Générale (later Banque Royale). Though several of Law's forward-thinking ventures were immediately successful, thus earning him a reputation as a financial genius, the speculative mania which they inevitably prompted led to disastrous repercussions. Stoker was not alone in being fascinated by Law's legend: Washington Irving, Charles Mackay, Adam Smith, and Voltaire also wrote accounts of his life and the Mississippi Scheme.
In Stoker's spidery but quite legible handwriting, the manuscript is headed "John Law. The Mississippi Scheme and its fore Antecedent" and dated at the top "13/6/10", with running dates in the left margins illustrative of when Stoker was at work (final date given "16/6"). The first seven pages present a largely objective biography of Law; the following five set out Stoker's argument for Law as the ultimate financial impostor, rather than as "a forerunner 'pioneer' in the printed text of modern statesmanship" (p. 7). As evidence Stoker details Law's schemes and their consequences, plus brief histories of relevant entities such as the East India Company, the Bank of England, and the Scottish Darien Company. Of note are striking descriptions of the "narrow street Quincampoix a seething mass day and night of spectators in a hurry to buy shares" (p. 3) and a comparison of Law with Aladdin's genie in the Arabian Nights: "he brought the whole structure tumbling about his ears. So it was with John Law and the egregious Mississippi Scheme. His idea was complete and perfect. But the high sun when it reaches its meridianal splendour begins from that instant its downward course" (p. 4).
On the whole the printed text follows faithfully the shape and content of the manuscript, though there are significant amendments and exclusions to note. Perhaps most interestingly, in the printed version the South Sea Bubble - the English phenomenon which coincided with the Mississippi Bubble, and drew in no small part from Law's actions - is mentioned just once, in a sentence on page 11: "A further danger came from the mad and maddening South Sea Scheme five years later". The manuscript, however, demonstrates that the South Sea Company and subsequent collapse were originally to play a much larger role in Law's story. "The South Sea Scheme 1711" is listed as part of page 9's list of schemes, but later crossed out; the corresponding underlined subsection on page 11, which begins to chronicle the company's formation, is also struck through.
Smaller deletions curtail unnecessary tangents. Stoker cuts a bibliographical reference (when explaining the acquit de comptant he cites "see Sir Stephen Lectures on France", p. 3); a quote from Tennyson (p. 8); a line on Colbert's protectionist policy (p. 9, crossed out in the manuscript); and biographical clarifications (no need, for example, for the aside that Lord Stair was "then English Ambassador in Paris", p. 4). His decision to cut a sizeable portion of the penultimate paragraph, in which he examines "the assessable value of the real estate conveyed under the Mississippi Scheme to-day" in francs, dollars, and pounds sterling (p. 12), saves the chapter from ending on an overly figure-heavy note.
Many of the corrections, made within the manuscript itself and between it and the printed version, refine phrasing and make simple vocabulary substitutions: rumours "easily conceivable" become "credible" (p. 4); "confiscation whole or in part" becomes "partial or wholesale" (p. 5); "generations then unborn" becomes "present and future generations" (p. 11). Two paragraphs carry significant restructuring (pp. 3, 11). The manuscript is largely free of punctuation, excepting the occasional use of en dashes for emphasis, and the sentence structure is looser.
A handful of markings in blue pencil are suggestive of editorial amendments for publication. In addition to marginal lines and the underlining of single words - perhaps for emphasis or follow-up - the blue draws attention to, for example, the correct spelling of Edward "Beau" Wilson's name (p. 6, which Stoker has otherwise written as Austin) and minor misspellings ("tried" instead of "try", p. 8). It corrects word order on page 5 and queries the use of "spectator" - either the choice itself or the slight illegibility of it - on page 3, circling it and adding a question mark in the margin.
A witty pseudohistorical survey, Famous Impostors was published simultaneously in late 1910 by Sidgwick & Jackson in London and by Sturgis & Walton in New York. It was Stoker's most popular work of nonfiction. It chronicles the lives of "impersonators, pretenders, swindlers, and humbugs of all kinds; those who have masqueraded in order to acquire wealth, position, or fame, and those who have done so merely for the love of the art" (preface). The chapters examine hoaxes and expose the schemes of various "Pretenders" and "Practitioners of Magic", historical and mythological alike - Law stands alongside the likes of Perkin Warbeck, Paracelsus, La Voisin, Mother Damnable, Hannah Snell, and Le Maupin. Sections on the Wandering Jew and Mesmer show Stoker engaging with important source material for Dracula (1897) and The Lair of the White Worm (1911) respectively. The final chapter, on the "Bisley Boy" conspiracy theory (Queen Elizabeth I as a changeling), has been praised by biographers for "demonstrating the moves Stoker makes from questioning, to imagining possibilities, to discerning probabilities, to creating imaginative realities, most successfully achieved in Dracula" (Roth, pp. 130-1).
Stoker wrote that as compiler of such stories he "aimed at dealing with his material as with the material for a novel, except that all the facts given are real and authentic. He has made no attempt to treat the subject ethically" (preface). "The materials and subjects for the study were probably both accumulated and researched throughout the years, in the British Museum and over midnight suppers in the Beefsteak Room at the Lyceum. Anecdotal in format, most of the accounts systematically detail the historical and familial events precipitating and facilitating the imposture, clarifying the nature and extent both of the deceptions and of human gullibility" (Roth, p. 129).
The Law chapter was not in the sale of Stoker's library (Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 7-8 July 1913), which included the original manuscript of five books (lots 177-181) and "Notes and Data" for Dracula (lot 182). It, alongside the Famous Impostors chapters on witchcraft, Cagliostro, and Mesmer, sold disbound at Phillips in 1988 (lot 111). Stoker manuscript material is uncommon on the open market, the most conspicuous items on record being the autograph manuscript of Lady of the Shroud (auctioned in 1924 and 1997) and the re-appearance of the long-lost Dracula manuscript in 2002.
12 leaves, small quarto (229 x 176 mm). Hand written in black ink across one side per leaf (alternating recto and verso, paginated by hand at top corners), interleaved with blanks, occasional blue pencil markings. Disbound, partly held along spine, front and last leaves loose. Housed in a dark red leatherette folder.
Light vertical crease where folded, slight signs of handling, small ink smudge to p. 10 not obscuring legibility of text; in very good condition.
Phyllis A. Roth, Bram Stoker, 1982.
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