La Légende des Siècles. [The Legend of the Ages: First Series].

Rare first edition of Victor Hugo's La Légende des Siècles: First Series; From the Library of H. Bradley Martin

La Légende des Siècles. [The Legend of the Ages: First Series].

HUGO, Victor.


Item Number: 142580

Bruxelles: 1859, Edition Hetzel.

First Brussels edition and true first edition of the first series of Hugo’s epic work. Octavo, original publisher’s cloth. Provenance: from the library of H. Bradley Martin (his sale, Sotheby’s New York, October 16-17, 1989, lot no. 901; bookplate). “The H. Bradley Martin sale of 1989-1990 was a terribly significant sale of a stupendously varied and robust library that realized some major funds as well as publicity for Sotheby’s and for Martin’s executors. It also led H. Bradley Martin into the historic pantheon of legendary great bookmen. From it, we can surmise that book collecting on a massive scale and also the book auctioning industry was/were still alive and well in late 20th century America” (Jacqueline A. Martin, New York, April 1990. Preface: Sale 6036/The Martin Library, Part IX: Books and Illuminated Manuscripts/The Library of H. Bradley Martin/Highly Important Books and Illuminated Manuscripts. Thursday, June 14, 1990). Additional library stamp of “M. J. Putsage.” In very good condition. Housed in a custom morocco-backed marbled slipcase.

La Légende des siècles, or The Legend of the Ages, is a collection of poems by Victor Hugo, conceived as an immense depiction of the history and evolution of humanity. Written intermittently between 1855 and 1876 while Hugo worked in exile on numerous other projects, the poems were published in three series in 1859, 1877, and 1883. Bearing witness to the unparalleled poetic talent evident in all Hugo's art, the Légende des Siècles is often considered the only true French epic and, according to Baudelaire's formulation, the only modern epic possible. The dreaming poet contemplates the "wall of the centuries," indistinct and terrible, on which scenes of the past, present and future are drawn, and along which the whole long procession of humanity can be seen. The poems are depictions of these scenes, fleetingly perceived and interspersed with terrifying visions. Hugo sought neither historical accuracy nor exhaustiveness; rather, he concentrated on obscure figures, usually his own inventions, who incarnated and symbolized their eras. As he proclaims in the preface to the first series, "this is history, eavesdropped upon at the door of legend." The poems, by turns lyrical, epic and satirical, form a view of the human experience, seeking less to summarize than to illustrate the history of humanity, and to bear witness to its long journey from the darkness into the light.

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