WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892. Leaves of Grass Brooklyn: [For the author], 1855.

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Lot 16
WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892.
Leaves of Grass Brooklyn: [For the author], 1855.

US$ 50,000 - 70,000
£ 38,000 - 54,000
WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892.
Leaves of Grass Brooklyn: [For the author], 1855.
Folio (279 x 196 mm). Engraved frontispiece portrait of Whitman by Samuel Hollyer on heavy paper, original tissue guard. Original green cloth stamped in gilt and blind, gilt edges, marbled endpapers, custom green quarter morocco box, skillfully rebacked, maintaining much of original spine, the rest supplied in facsimile, expertly refurbished, resewn and repaired.
Provenance: Fowlers, Wells & Co., Phrenologists and Publishers (bookseller's ticket); Mark Hofmann; Lyn Jacobs; Sam Weller; sold to Forrest Baker (all from provenance letter laid-in).

FIRST EDITION, first binding, of "America's second declaration of independence: that of 1776 was political, that of 1855 intellectual" (PMM 340). According to Myerson, 795 copies of the first edition were bound: 337 in Binding "A" in June and July of 1855; 262 in Binding "B" in December, 1855 and January, 1856; and 196 copies in two other binding styles, becoming increasingly less elaborate as the reality of printing and binding costs set in. This original first issue binding has been expertly repaired, with a note from the restorer Lyn R. Jacobs detailing her work laid-in. With 1st state of frontispiece, and, as usual, the 2nd state of copyright page and 2nd state of p iv. Significantly, this copy contains the first state of "the first known revision from the thousands Whitman was to make in Leaves of Grass over the following thirty-seven years" (Schmidgall, 1855: A Stop-press Revision, Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 18, Summer, 2000).

Whitman spent nearly every day of the spring of 1855, at the printing offices of James and Thomas Rome, "writing, revising, reading proof, even working the type case ... Altogether he set in type about ten of the ninety-five pages of a book that he also designed, produced, published, promoted" (Kaplan, Walt Whitman: A Life, New York, 1980). The resulting first edition of Leaves of Grass contained just 12 poems (and 95 pages), all untitled, under the repeated header "Leaves of Grass." Just one year later, the second edition added another 20 poems and ran to an astounding 356 pages. Whitman continued adding and revising throughout his life, "As Leaves of Grass grew through its five subsequent editions into a hefty book of 389 poems (with the addition of the two annexes), it gained much in variety and complexity, but Whitman's distinctive voice was never stronger, his vision never clearer, and his design never more improvisational than in the twelve poems of the first edition" (Marki, from The Walt Whitman Encyclopedia, Garland, 1999).

In all, a solid, clean copy of the most American of American books, in its spirit, its content and its production. "The importance of the first edition of Leaves of Grass to American literary history is impossible to exaggerate. The slender volume introduced the poet who, celebrating the nation by celebrating himself, has since remained at the heart of America's cultural memory because in the world of his imagination Americans have learned to recognize and possibly understand their own" (Marki). BAL 21395; Grolier American 67; Myerson A2.I.a1; PMM 340.

Footnotes

  • I too am not a bit tamed — ... — I too am untranslatable,
    I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."
Contacts
WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892. Leaves of Grass Brooklyn: [For the author], 1855.
WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892. Leaves of Grass Brooklyn: [For the author], 1855.
WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892. Leaves of Grass Brooklyn: [For the author], 1855.
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