Leaves of Grass.

“AMERICA’S SECOND DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE”: RARE FIRST EDITION OF WALT WHITMAN’S LEAVES OF GRASS, THE MOST IMPORTANT AND INFLUENTIAL VOLUME OF AMERICAN POETRY

Leaves of Grass.

WHITMAN, Walt.

$50,000.00

Item Number: 108540

Brooklyn, New York: For the author by Andrew & James Rome, 1855.

First edition of the most important volume in American poetry, which Whitman personally financed, supervised and even in some sections hand-set the type for the small printing of 795 copies. Small folio, frontispiece engraved portrait of the author by Hollyer after the daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison, mounted opposite the title, bound in three quarters morocco over marbled boards by MacDonald, New York, gilt titles and tooling to the spine, marbled endpapers. In near fine condition. Housed in a custom full morocco clamshell chemise.

“No one knows for certain how Whitman raised the money to pay for the first Leaves of Grass… Whitman had taken his manuscript to a couple of friends, the brothers James and Thomas Rome, who had a printing shop at the corner of Fulton and Cranberry Streets. Possibly the author had tried a commercial publisher first and had the book rejected. If so, he kept quiet about it. The Romes did print a few books but specialized in the printing of legal documents. Whitman, a proud and skilled printer, moved in on them to oversee the production of Leaves. They allowed him to set type himself whenever he felt like it. Ten pages or so were his own work. He had a routine and a special chair over in the corner… The engraved portrait facing the title page (showed) a person who looked as if he might be the printer rather than the author. He was unnamed… Before a reader reached the dozen untitled poems there stood the barrier of the preface, an off-putting obstacle of ten pages of weirdly punctuated prose in close print, set in double columns. The poems themselves were in more readable type, laid across a wide format to accommodate the strangely long and irregular lines. The inking was spotty and must have given Whitman some qualms, but he had no money to spare for anything better… The centerpiece of his strange book, in the ‘rough and ragged thicket of its pages,’ was a sustained poem of fifty-two sections called ‘Song of Myself… If Emerson is, in John Dewey’s words, the philosopher of democracy, then Whitman is indisputably its poet. In Whitman we have a democrat who set out to imagine the life of the average man in average circumstances changed into something grand and heroic… He claimed that he had never been given a proper hearing, and spent his whole life trying to publish himself. A hundred years after his death, the strange fate of his book is known. He said often enough that it had been a financial failure, signed it and himself over to posterity, a ‘candidate for the future… There has never been a more remarkable poem” (Callow, From Noon to Starry Night). “Always the champion of the common man, Whitman is both the poet and the prophet of democracy… In a sense, it is America’s second Declaration of Independence: that of 1776 was political, this of 1855 intellectual” (PMM 340). The most important and influential volume of poetry written in America, Whitman’s literary masterpiece, Leaves of Grass is “one of the most magnificent fabrications of modern times… he never surrendered… his vision of himself as one who might go forth among the American people and astonish them…” (DAB). The first edition of Leaves of Grass was a failure with the public, but upon receiving a copy, Emerson responded with his famous letter. “I find it [Leaves of Grass] the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed… I greet you at the beginning of a great career.”

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unless another carrier is requested. Next-day or second-day air service is
available upon request. Shipping and insurance charges are additional.

If you are interested in an item from one of our catalogues or our website and would like more information before ordering it, please give us a call; one of our salespeople will be happy to speak with you and answer any questions that you might have. For some items, we can also email digital photographs.

All of our items are guaranteed as described and are shipped on approval. We accept MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, checks and wire transfer. For first-time buyers, we prefer a credit card and we will only ship to the billing address on the card. We do ask that if you are not satisfied with the item, you contact us by phone as quickly as possible and return the item within ten days.

We ship worldwide and all packages will be sent via UPS or Federal Express unless another carrier is requested. Next-day or second-day air service is available upon request. Shipping and insurance charges are additional.