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    The Exceedingly Rare True First Edition of Moby-Dick

    Herman Melville. The Whale. In Three Volumes. London: Richard Bentley, 1851.

    The true first edition of Moby-Dick, preceding the New York (Harper & Brothers) one-volume edition by about four weeks. Three twelvemo volumes (7.4375 x 4.8125 inches; 189 x 122 mm.). viii, 312; iv, 303, [1, blank]; iv, 328 pages. Complete with half-title in Volume I (no half-titles called for in Volumes II and III).

    Early twentieth-century green cloth. Covers with single blind rule border, spines ruled in gilt and blind and lettered in gilt. Pale yellow endpapers. Spines very slightly faded, light rubbing to corners and spine extremities, upper corner of rear cover of Volume III bumped, affecting the upper corner of the text block, with a slight crease to the upper corner of the last eight leaves (pp. [313]-328), free endpapers very slightly browned. Some light foxing and occasional marginal soiling. Volume I with two tiny tears to the outer margin of the title leaf, leaf D4 (pp. 55/56) creased, just affecting a couple of letters, several leaves poorly opened, a few tiny marginal tears. Volume II with a tiny piece missing from the upper edge of the title leaf, faint stain to the last two gatherings (pp. 289-[304]), most noticeable on the last leaf. Volume III with a paper repair (measuring approximately one-and-a-half by one-and-a-half inches) to the lower gutter margin of the title, not affecting any text, a few tiny marginal tears, faint intermittent staining to the outer margin, heaviest in the last three gatherings. A very good copy.

    "The English edition, The Whale, Bentley, London, 3 vols....was published October 18 against the American November 19. This edition was set up from Harper proof-sheets, which were edited to some extent by Bentley, without Melville's knowledge. The editing consisted of toning down profanity and some alleged irreverent references; also, the 'Epilogue' was omitted, which caused at least one English review to comment on the impossibility of a first-person narrative, when everyone on the Pequod was killed by the white whale's attack...Moby Dick is the great conundrum-book. Is it a profound allegory with the white whale the embodiment of moral evil, or merely the finest story of the sea ever written? Whichever it is, now rediscovered, it stirs and stimulates each succeeding generation, whether reading it for pleasure or with a scalpel. Within its pages can be found the sound and scents, the very flavor, of the maritime life of our whaling ancestors" (Grolier, 100 American).

    "This book was expurgated for publication in England, the American text containing thirty-five passages not included in Bentley's edition" (Sadleir, Excursions in Victorian Bibliography, p. 339).

    BAL 13663. Grolier, 100 American, 60. Sadleir 1685 ("one of the rarest of three-deckers").

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    Auction Dates
    June, 2008
    4th-5th Wednesday-Thursday
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