WHITMAN, WALT Leaves of Grass.
Brooklyn, New York: [Printed for the author], 1855. First edition in the first issue binding. Original green cloth, the covers with a triple gilt rule, gilt lettered at center with gilt foliage, blindstamped leaf decoration, the spine stamped and lettered in gilt, all edges gilt, marbled endpapers, housed in a green morocco backed slipcase. 11 x 7 1/2 inches (20.8 x 19 cm); engraved frontispiece by Samuel Hollyer with tissue guard (first state on heavy paper within a lightly embossed frame), [i]-xii, -95 pp., second state of copyright (2 lines) as usual, second state of p. iv ("and" corrected); without flyleaves. A highly presentable copy overall with discreet and expert restoration to the spine tips, the gilt of the cover slightly dulled but the rear cover and spine bright, old auction description neatly tipped to front free endpaper (see provenance), faint creases to portrait, the title page lightly toned and few spots within but exceptionally clean within, minor crease to lower gutter corner page 67-69, small ink spot to lower edge of final leaves.
Provenance: This copy sold in Rare Books from the Library of the late Mrs. Gertrude Cowdin of New York, 28-29 February 1916, lot 1118 (description and pencil notation to verso of endpaper, also mentioned in an New York Times article on the auction dated 27 February 1916); later with James Cummins Bookseller; Collection of Ira A. Lipman
A highly collectible copy of the first edition in the first binding of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, "America's second Declaration of Independence." This copy was sold as part of the highly respected collection of Mrs. Gertrude Cowdin of New York and was mentioned in a contemporaneous article in the New York Times. The description of the book from that time, written by Whitman's friend and first biographer Richard Maurice Bucke artfully describes the book's reception:
The First Reception of 'Leaves of Grass' by the World was about as disheartening as it could be. Of the thousand Copies of this 1855 Edition, some were given away, most of them were lost, abandoned and destroyed. It is certain that the book, quite universally, wherever it was read excited ridicule, disgust, horror, anger. It was considered meaningless, badly written, atheistic and utterly reprehensible. And yet there were a few, a very few indeed who suspected from the first that under that rough exterior might be something of extraordinary beauty, vitality and value. -R.M. Bucke
It is well-known how active Whitman was in the printing of the first edition of Leaves of Grass and Ed Folsom's census notes that: "Leaves of Grass began, of course, as a self-publication. No publisher was interested in producing what seemed an odd and inelegant group of twelve untitled poems. So Whitman did it himself: he designed the cover, chose the binding, and set some of the type." Kaplan expands on this: "Whitman was spending nearly every day there [at the printing office of James and Thomas Rome in Brooklyn] that spring [of 1855], writing, revising, reading proof, even working at the type case, just as he had done twenty years earlier as an apprentice printer. Altogether he set in type about ten of the ninety-five pages of a book that he also designed, produced, published, promoted... The 795 copies the Romes ran off on their hand press and delivered to the binder were all there were or could be of the first edition. No plates were made; the book was printed from type, and the type distributed." Meyerson notes that of the full print run of 795 copies, 337 were bound in the first binding in June and July 1855.
Monumental in importance, Leaves of Grass was the only work of literature included in the landmark exhibition Printing and the Mind of Man: "The Poet and the 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, that of 1855 intellectual."
See: Justin Kaplan, Walt Whitman: A Life, Toronto: 1982, p. 198; Folsom, Ed. The Census of the 1855 Leaves of Grass: A Preliminary Report. Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 24 (Fall 2006), 71-84; BAL 21395; Myerson A.2.1.a2; PMM 340.
C Private Collection of Barbara and Ira Lipman
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