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    [Walt Whitman]. Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn, New York: 1855. First edition, first printing, with second-state copyright page featuring printed copyright notice, correction at page iv, column 2, line 4 reading "cities and..." and slightly shifted type on pages 45, 50, and 93 (as noted in BAL). Small folio (11 x 7.625 inches; 280 x 196 mm.). xii, [13]-95, [1, blank] pages. Portrait frontispiece of Whitman in first state, printed directly onto heavy paper. Publisher's green A cloth, spine lettered in gilt with five gilt-stamped floral decorations, boards with title decoratively stamped in gilt with gilt triple-ruled border and blind-stamped floral ornaments; all text block edges trimmed and gilt; marbled endpapers (BAL binding A). Backstrip darkened just a shade, gilding lightly rubbed and tarnished; wear at spine ends resulting in slight loss and fraying to cloth, with what appears to be a subtle repair at foot; boards very lightly rubbed and soiled, with just a hint of tarnishing to gilt ruling; trace of edge wear and bumping to board edges and corners, with boards peeking through cloth in a few small spots. Cracking just starting along hinges, though both still very sound; evidence of label or bookplate removal at front pastedown. A few flecks of gilt loss at text block edges; first and last few pages of text block pushed a bit beyond fore-edge of text block, likely from pressure on binding while shelved at some point in the volume's life; very minor foxing to portrait frontispiece and tissue guard; title and first few leaves of text block softly toned; barely perceptible tear repaired along lower gutter of title-page; gutter over-opened between pages iv and v; tiny amount of marginal staining and soiling to preface; faint ink stamp, mostly effaced, at foot of final page of text, else remarkably clean and bright. Despite these minor flaws, a near fine copy of the slim, unassuming volume of poetry that would introduce America to itself for the very first time, and not only reshape existing notions of poetry as a form of expression, but also lay the foundations for a uniquely "American literature." Housed in custom green cloth clamshell, book-backed in green morocco lettered in gilt, with some minor insect damage to cloth and wear at extremities. Accompanied by a check made out to Whitman in 1889 for one hundred dollars, as well as the preface and frontispiece from a 1900 Philadelphia edition of Leaves of Grass.

    Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892) was born in Huntington, Long Island and early in his life "he plied a variety of trades, working as a school teacher, printer, home builder, and journalist and editor for a host of newspapers" (official press release for NYPL's Walt Whitman: America's Poet). Whitman used his own money to publish Leaves of Grass on July 4, 1855, answering Ralph Waldo Emerson's call to represent the young nation and its people in verse. Here, in its first appearance, Leaves of Grass features a prose preface and twelve untitled poems. Despite struggles from the outset with low sales figures, Whitman was incredibly confident in the work referred to in Printing and the Mind of Man as his "favorite child." The volume would be edited and expanded several times throughout Whitman's life, culminating in the so-called "Deathbed" edition published the year of Whitman's death, containing almost 400 poems broken down into fourteen sections. "Always the champion of the common man, Whitman is both the poet and prophet of democracy. The whole of Leaves of Grass is imbued with the spirit of brotherhood and a pride in the democracy of the young American nation. In a sense, it is America's second Declaration of Independence: that of 1776 was political, this of 1855 intellectual. As the preface to the first edition puts it, the poems are saturated 'with a vehemence of pride and audacity of freedom necessary to loosen the mind of still-to-be-formed America from the folds, the superstitions, and all the long, tenacious, and stifling anti-democratic authorities of Asiatic and European past'. To the young nation, only just becoming aware of an individual literary identity distinct from its European origins, Whitman's message and his outspoken confidence came at the decisive moment" (PMM). To celebrate the bicentennial of Whitman's birth, the New York Public Library held an exhibition titled Walt Whitman: America's Poet) from March to September 2019, and sums up his enduring legacy best: "Two hundred years after his birth, Walt Whitman remains one of America's most influential writers, arguably our national poet. His life's work, Leaves of Grass, is a perennial best-seller, and Whitman himself has attained the status of cultural icon, his name nearly a byword for notions of inclusivity, equality, sensuality, and the value of the individual" (nypl.org/events/exhibitions/waltwhitman). BAL 21395; Myerson A 2.1.a1; PMM 340.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    March, 2020
    4th Wednesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
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