DescriptionCharles Wilkes. Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. In Five Volumes, and an Atlas. Vol. I[-II]. Philadelphia: Printed by C. Sherman, 1844. First edition, rare first official Congressional issue, one of only 100 sets printed, of which twenty-five were destroyed by fire, with Sherman's name on the title-pages, but a variant, without "By Authority of Congress" on the half-titles. Volumes I and II only (of six). Two thick large quarto volumes (12.4375 x 9.4375 inches; 316 x 240 mm.). lxvi, [1, fly-title], [1, blank], 455, [1, blank]; xvi, 505, [1, blank] pages. Volume I covers South America; Volume II covers the South Pacific and Antarctica. Volume I with steel-engraved frontispiece portrait of Commander Charles Wilkes by R. W. Dodson after T. Sully; seven steel-engraved plates after Joseph Drayton and Alfred T. Agate; fifteen steel-engraved vignettes; fifty-four wood engravings and occasional music in the text; and one double-page engraved map ("Low Archipelago or Paumoto Group by the U.S. Ex. Ex. 1839" between pages  and ). Volume II with steel-engraved frontispiece portrait of Commander William L. Hudson by Jordan and Halpin after A. T. Agate; thirteen steel-engraved plates after J. Drayton and A. T. Agate; fourteen steel-engraved vignettes; forty-six wood engravings and occasional music in the text; and three double-page engraved maps ("Island of Tahiti" between pages  and ; "Samoan or Navigator Islands by the U.S. Ex. Ex. 1839" between pages  and ; and "Australia [and] "Settled Part of New South Wales 1840" between pages 208 and ). Most engraved plates and vignettes in the text with tissue guards.
Contemporary half polished calf, decoratively tooled in blind, over marbled-paper covered thick wooden boards. Recently rebacked, with calf spine ruled and lettered in gilt and decoratively tooled in blind in compartments with five raised bands. Marbled edges and matching marbled endpapers. The bindings are rubbed, with a few scratches and scuff marks; corners rubbed, with boards exposed; marbled endleaves browned at edges from leather turn-ins; hinges renewed with non-matching marbled paper. Volume I front board with what appears to be a curved line of stitching from top edge two-thirds of the way down; evidence of dampstaining, or some kind of damage to the rear cover, especially at top and bottom; small portion of both upper and lower corners chipped away from rear endleaves; foxing, edge browning, and dampstaining to flyleaves. Volume II with four horizontal indentations across rear board and repaired vertical split to marbled boards (where the board was detached); rear cover with slight indentation and small area of surface loss at board edge. There is occasional light offsetting from the steel engravings; occasional marginal dampstaining, particularly on plates, but generally quite clean internally. Volume I with half-inch tear to outer edge of half-title; dampstaining and browning to margins of frontispiece and tissue guard; smudging on tissue guard and title, and a few small stains in the blank portion of the title. Volume II with occasional smudging or staining in the outer margin, and staining across the plate facing page 420 and its tissue guard, possibly caused by the edge marbling.
"The official edition of the great American scientific voyage of the nineteenth century, issued by the United States Congress to announce America's scientific coming of age. The United States Exploring Expedition, comprised of the naval sloops of war Vincennes and Peacock, the brig Porpoise, the Relief (a store ship sent home from Callao), and the tenders Flying Fish and Sea Gull (wrecked in 1839), sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, for the Pacific, on August 18, 1838. It was the first American scientific expedition of any size, charged to 'extend the bounds of Science and promote the acquisition of knowledge,' and was one of the most ambitious Pacific expeditions ever attempted." (Forbes II, pages 428-429).
Ferguson, Australia, 3954; Forbes, Hawaii, 1517 (and 1573); Haskell 1 (and 2A); Hill 1866; Howes W414, "c." ("The first United States scientific expedition by sea"); Pilling 4124; Sabin 103994; Tweney, Washington, 83.
"The chief fields of exploration in this expedition were the coast of the Antarctic continent, the islands of the Pacific Ocean, and the American northwest coast. In total some 280 islands in the Pacific and adjacent waters and 800 miles of streams and coasts in the Oregon country were surveyed, and 1,600 miles of the coast of Antarctica were charted. After leaving Hampton Roads in 1838, the expedition visited Madeira, the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, Patagonia, the South Shetland Islands and Peter I Island, Chile, and Peru, before proceeding to the Tuamotu or the low Archipelago, the Samoa Islands, and New South Wales. From Sydney, Wilkes sailed into the region now known as Wilkesland. He visited Tonga, the Fiji group, and the Hawaiian Islands in 1840, and in 1841 explored the west coast of North America. Much valuable information is given on the Columbia River, the Willamette Valley, Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Sacramento Valley, and the findings on the northwest coast of America proved timely in light of the dispute with Great Britain over the Oregon Territory. The Wilkes expedition also visited San Francisco bay and the Sacramento River. Crossing the Pacific, Wilkes called at the Philippine Islands, the Sulu Archipelago, Borneo, Singapore, and, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, finally reached New York in 1842, having sailed round the world" (Hill, page 662).
"The official issue consisted of 100 copies, of which 25 were destroyed by a fire at the Library of Congress in 1851 but later replaced by buying back unofficial copies from Lea & Blanchard. Sherman printed a new title page for the replacement copies to match the original official copies and Gaskill bound them. The first twelve copies (text and atlas) of the official issue were sent from the binder to the Dept. of State for distribution on April 16, 1845; further copies were sent in April and May. The unofficial issue (Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1845; Haskell 2A) consisted of 150 copies. Wilkes was the only author allowed to claim the copyright to his work; the others were owned by the government. Due to popular interest in expeditions and new discoveries, numerous trade editions were published after the official and unofficial issues" (Leslie K. Overstreet, "The Publications Of The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1844-1874, Bibliographic Description," page 2).
"This is the official issue, published by order of Congress in 24 quarto vols and 11 atlases. Only 100 were ordered, some of which were distributed as follows; Captain Wilkes, Hudson, and Ringgold, 1 copy each; Library of Congress, 1 copy; Naval Lyceum at Brooklyn, 1 copy; each state of the Union, 1 copy; and 1 copy to each of the friendly foreign Powers, France and Great Britain each receiving a second copy. When the work was partially completed, several volumes were destroyed by fire, and when the work was completed, with the exception of four volumes, in 1874, it had cost nearly $350,000" (Ferguson, Australia).
"[Charles Wilkes's] most important command, the U.S. Exploring and Surveying Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and South Seas, 1838-1842, represented the first governmental sponsorship of scientific endeavor and was instrumental in the nation's westward expansion. Specimens gathered by expedition scientists became the foundation collections of the Smithsonian Institution. Significant American contributions in the fields of geology, botany, conchology, anthropology, and linguistics came from the scientific work of the expedition. Wilkes's evaluations of his landfalls influenced later U.S. positions in those areas" (Roberta A. Sprague, in American National Biography Online, at http://www.anb.org/articles/20/20-01124.html).
"Despite its failings, Wilkes's Narrative garnered plenty of positive reviews and sold surprisingly well; fourteen different editions would be published in the years prior to the Civil War. The book would also have an impact on some of America's most important and influential writers. James Fenimore Cooper, an old family friend of the Wilkes's, would integrate information from the Narrative into at least two of his sea novels. Herman Melville would purchase his own copy of Wilkes's book, and scholars have found traces of the U.S. Exploring Expedition throughout his masterpiece Moby-Dick. Melville appears to have been most taken with the book's illustrations. For example, his description of Ishmael's Polynesian companion Queequeg has been attributed to an engraving of a tattooed Maori chief in volume two. In an age before the widespread use of photography, the pages of the Narrative provided a visual link with the exotic world of the South Pacific (as well as Antarctica and the Pacific Northwest) that no other American book could match" (Nathaniel Philbrick, "The Scientific Legacy of the U.S. Exploring Expedition," at http://www.sil.si.edu/DigitalCollections/usexex/learn/Philbrick.htm).
"The official edition of the great American scientific voyage of the nineteenth century, issued by the United States Congress to announce America's scientific coming of age. The United States Exploring Expedition, comprised of the naval sloops of war Vincennes and Peacock, the brig Porpoise, the Relief (a store ship sent home from Callao), and the tenders Flying Fish and Sea Gull (wrecked in 1839), sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, for the Pacific, on August 18, 1838. It was the first American scientific expedition of any size, charged to 'extend the bounds of Science and promote the acquisition of knowledge,' and was one of the most ambitious Pacific expeditions ever attempted. The ships made stops at Rio and Madeira, then continued around Cape Horn. Here two of the vessels were dispatched to investigate Palmer Land and other Antarctic regions. Rejoining the squadron, they continued to Valparaiso and Callao. Important investigations of the South American coast followed. The expedition then set sail for Sydney, Australia, taking a southerly route, in the course of which they investigated Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji, visiting island groups and settlements, collecting specimens, and wherever possible examining the prospects of advancing American whale fisheries...Long stops were made at Australia and New Zealand. One of the great achievements of the voyage was the expedition into the Antarctic in the winter of 1839-1840. Leaving Sydney the last week of December 1839, Wilkes spent January and February 1840 following the coastline of Antarctica long enough to prove on January 19, 1840, its continental character. Wilkes turned back to Sydney on the February 22 and published the first news of his discovery in the Sydney Morning Herald, March 13, 1840" (Forbes II, pages 428-429).
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