First American Edition in the Original ClothHerman Melville. White-Jacket; or the World in a Man-of-War. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1850.
First American edition, first printing (first published in England on January 23, 1850 by Richard Bentley and in the United States on March 21, 1850). Twelvemo (7.375 x 4.875 inches; 188 x 124 mm.). vii, [1, blank], -465, [1, blank], [6, publisher's advertisements] pages. No half-title called for.
Publisher's black-brown morocco-grain ("A") cloth. BAL "first cloth binding" with covers stamped in blind with an ornate border around a center device lettered: "Harper and Brothers New-York." Spine decoratively stamped in blind and lettered in gilt. Original yellow coated endpapers. Endpapers with the typical glue bleed-through of Harper's publications of the period. This copy has only three flyleaves at front and back, but no evidence of a fourth pasted under the pastedown. Recased, with spine neatly repaired at head and foot, corners bumped, boards exposed on lower edges, a few small areas of slight discoloration to cloth on front cover. Small stain to the lower edges of leaves E2-E7 (pages 99-110). Occasional light foxing and browning, a few small stains. Early pencil signature on front free endpaper. Pencil annotations on page 371. Overall, a very good copy. Chemised in a quarter dark green morocco slipcase with spine lettered in gilt with five raised bands.
This semi-autobiographical novel by Melville is based on his service on the man-of-war United States (Aug. 1843-Oct. 1844). "The narrator, a young seaman nearing the end of a three-year cruise on the U.S. frigate Neversink, is nicknamed 'White-Jacket' after he buys a white pea jacket in Callao, Peru. On the voyage around Cape Horn and up the Atlantic coast, it protects him in rough weather, distinguishes him among the crew, and nearly causes his death when it wraps about his head in a storm, so that he falls from a yardarm into the sea. There are few other catastrophes, for the interest of the tale derives not from plot but from character and observed detail. The most striking characters include Jack Chase, 'our noble first captain of the top,' handsome, cultured, 'incomparable' young officer who wins the love and admiration of White-Jacket and all the crew; Captain Claret, 'a large, portly man, a Harry the Eighth afloat, bluff and hearty'; Mr. Pert, the youthful midshipman; and Surgeon Cuticle, whose indifference to suffering and human values is shown in his unnecessary amputation of the leg of a seaman, which results in the patient's death. During the long voyage from Peru to Virginia, these officers and the diverse crew are depicted in their daily activities, including scenes of ferocious punishment for minor misdeeds, and other malpractices; and the author discusses other evils inherent in the autocratic system, the inhumane regimentation, and the degrading effects of the prevailing living conditions, partly counteracted by the exuberant joys of sea life" (The Oxford Companion to American Literature).
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