[Cons and Cheats:] Out of the Depths. The Redemption of Jack Donovan. The Boy Thief, the Professional Pugilist, Actor, Gambler, Confidence Man, and Fugitive from Justice.
Autobiographical memoir of a life of crime and a catalog of vice
Scarce first edition of Jack Donovan’s autobiography which begins with a stark catalog of vice which took him down into “the depths”:
(1) A thief from earliest childhood. (2) Expelled from parochial school. (3) A bartender at the age of thirteen. (4) In the professional prize ring at seventeen. (5) An actor of note for twenty years. (6) A man having many aliases. (7) A demon-possessed gambler, confidence man with hypnotic powers. (8) Guilty of intention to murder, in a drunken brawl. (9) A swindler of widows. (10) A humbug psychologist and fake artist. (11) A diamond shark. (12) Victim of the “Third Degree,” in solitary confinement and the “Tank.” (13) Photographed for the Rogues’ Gallery and the Bertillon system. (14) Hunted by detectives, arrested eight times. (15) Saved from Sing Sing Prison by money and influence. (p)
This memoir of crime and vice (followed by religious repemtpion) is written in the third person as though the author was separating himself from his past. His story is a conversion narrative. His criminal past easily led him downward; his worldly associations, innocent enough at first (boxing, theatrical acting, drinking) went too far, so they too are part of his descent into “the depths.”
The title of Donovan’s book certainly evokes Oscar Wilde’s posthumously published De Profundis (Out of the Depths), but it is unlikely he knew Wilde’s story. Their lives, however different, have some parallels—dissolute living followed by spiritual awakening.
Donovan, firmly “a man of the underworld,” describes a particularly brutal boxing match:
In the fifth round Jack had his man up against the wall, landing upper cuts. ... In spite of these disadvantages Jeff Powers was knocked out in the thirteenth round, remaining down for thirteen seconds. ... The battle became dreadful. Jack’s arm was ridged with great welts from guarding the heavy blows, his face was bloody, swollen and misshaped. A part of the time he drank his own blood. In the twentieth round, Duncan C. Harrison, [heavyweight boxer] John L Sullivan’s manager, offered each of them one hundred dollars to stop the slaughter. Both staggered like drunken man. When they came against the white wall, their imprint was left in blood. The mob was wild with excitement. (pp17–18)
Donovan’s lust for gambling—craps, stud poker—lead him to bet a case of diamonds on the turn of a red card. Even anti-semitism is part of his quiver of faults:
Where did he get so many diamonds? One of Cincinnati’s large jewelers practiced “shady” methods of business. Jack sold diamonds for him. Every so often there is a mass meeting of Jews in New York. There, goods which have been bought from crooks and thieves at a price for below value are sold in sealed packages. Along with them are diamonds with carbon spots, some that are in perfectly cut, others that are off color. When a merchant price these packages, he doesn’t know what is inside; but he is sure that he is getting more value in diamonds than what he pays for them. ... Selling diamonds, acting and gambling all went together. (pp31–32 and 33)
Confidence tricks, disguises and elaborate deceptions mark the path of his descent into vice:
At San Diego, California, Armand Du Val, alias Jack Golden (Jack Donovan) stepped up to the chief of police and asked for a permit to practice as a psychologist. The chief did not know what I psychologist was. Well, neither did Jack for that matter; but what is a little thing like that when one is entering the profession? He made some explanation in got the license. Of course there were dupes a-plenty in San Diego who really believed that Armand Du Val had supernatural powers and could read their innermost thoughts. (pp38–39)
As a memoir, this technique of plumbing the depths of vice works; climbing from a deep hole is a much better story than vague regrets and pious promises. To know the worst is to give hope, if not for the best, at least for the better.
Description: [Cons and Cheats:] Out of the Depths. The Redemption of Jack Donovan. The Boy Thief, the Professional Pugilist, Actor, Gambler, Confidence Man, and Fugitive from Justice.
Frankfort, Indiana. [Privately Printed]. (1920). First Edition. 109, [1 (Conclusion)], [2 (blank)]pp. Small 8vo. Publisher’s gilt-lettered light brown cloth, modestly stamped in blind, without jacket, likely as issued. Gilt lettering dulled; faint pale gutter stains to title-leaf and between subsequent two leaves; a very good copy clean copy.
Seven OCLC holdings, but only one at a major library, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. We have seen some copies with a portrait frontispiece