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1016

Melville, Herman | "And God created great whales."

Melville, Herman | "And God created great whales."

Melville, Herman | "And God created great whales."

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Melville, Herman

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851


12mo (190 x 125 mm). Six pages of publisher's advertisements including author’s other works at end; only light foxing. Publisher’s first binding of blue green cloth, spine gilt-lettered, boards stamped with central publisher's device, orange coated endpapers, gilt bright, hinges unusually sound; bottom extremities a little shelfworn, but in all a superior copy. In morocco-backed slipcase with folding chemise.


The first American edition of Melville's greatest achievement, this edition contains 35 passages and the "Epilogue" not present in the English first edition. It sold poorly and copies remained with the publisher. In 1853 a major fire destroyed the Harper & Brothers warehouse and with it some 297 remaining copies of this volume; few, perhaps no more than 60, survived.


It is also worth noting how closely, in ideological terms, the opening passage of Bleak House (see the following lot) parallels that of Moby-Dick. Published in England in October of 1851, Moby-Dick preceded the first instalment of Bleak House by about six months. An example of American Romanticism, or of the American Renaissance, Moby-Dick’s plot takes its narrator away from the urban, but the genesis of the narrative is rooted in the very fractiousness that Bleak House is so preoccupied with:


"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principal to prevent me from knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to the sea as soon as I can. [….] There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf" (Moby-Dick 1).


As Melville’s narrator posits, the sea offers a respite from this—physical removal and Romantic land- or seascapes are the solution. For the dwellers of Dickens’ London, however, there is very little sense of escape. In humoral medicine, the spleen was the organ associated with melancholy, and a lack of compassion, the threats that a bustling city—whether it be the London or Manhattan Island of the 1850s—engender for Dickens and Melville alike.


Moby-Dick vanished in Melville’s own lifetime, and resurfaced in the 1920s, when it was reappraised and subsequently regarded as a stunning work of Modernism before the movement was invented. Subversive, prophetic, and lyrical in equal measure, Ishmael’s voice serves as the embodiment of human endurance, and the desire to discover all that lies beyond the horizon. (See lot 1029.)


It was a sight full of quick wonder and awe! The vast swells of the omnipotent sea…


REFERENCE:

BAL 13664; Grolier, American 60; Sadleir, Excursions 229

Condition as described in catalogue entry.


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