Fine Books and Manuscripts

Fine Books and Manuscripts

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 162. Whitman, Walt | "For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.".

Whitman, Walt | "For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you."

Lot Closed

December 16, 09:42 PM GMT


50,000 - 70,000 USD

Lot Details


Whitman, Walt

 Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn: [For the author by Andrew and James Rome,] 1855

Small folio (282 x 197 mm). Engraved frontispiece portrait of Whitman by Samuel Hollyer after a photograph (state "A"), copyright in two lines, first state of leaf 49 reading "And the night is for you and me and all"; frontispiece quite clean but with small chip and restoration to the blank margin, tissue loosely inserted between frontispiece and title-page, title with blue ink stamp reading "Bulkley | Norwich" and repaired closed tear affecting text, edges of title frayed, repaired closed tear to pp. iii-viii each, the last affecting text, a few leaves with minor creases, a few early annotations in pencil, pale offsetting, stray smudging and soiling, scattered foxing. Publisher's dark green coarse-ribbed cloth, the state "A" binding, covers with gilt-stamped titles and triple-ruled in gilt, all edges gilt, marbled endpapers; recased reversing old repairs and closing some of the tears to the cloth near the spine, recoloring to spine, rubbed at extremities with exposure to corners, stray stains to cloth. Housed in a slipcase with folding chemise.

First edition, first issue of Leaves of Grass.

“This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,

Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,

Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best.

Night, sleep, and the stars.”

Leaves of Grass "is America's second Declaration of Independence: that of 1776 was political, this of 1855 intellectual" (Printing and the Mind of Man). One of the most attractive, if fragile, books in American literature.

Whitman's self-published poetical manifesto was at least partially type-set by the author. A run of 795 copies comprising the first edition were printed on the small handpress of the Romes on Cranberry Street in Brooklyn, with only 337 bound in this, the most ornate of the original cloth bindings. The subsequent cloth edition emphasized the blindstamping rather than gilt, an exercise in reducing costs for a volume that was subject to an extremely limited distribution, with only a handful of copies dispersed at any one time. The book was placed on sale at Fowler & Wells on Broadway in New York, and Swaynes on Fulton in Brooklyn, priced at two dollars. Sales were slow and it was later reduced to one dollar; nonetheless, sales failed to improve and Whitman ended up giving away most copies personally.

"... Newspaperman, hack writer, philosopher, patriot, remarkable and very individual poet ... 'loafer' (his own word) and enigma, he challenges curiosity as one of the few towering American literary figures" (Bennett).

"The publication of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass in July 1855 was a landmark event in literary history. Ralph Waldo Emerson judged the book 'The most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed,' saying that it had 'the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging.' … One need not discount his later poetry in order to recognize the specialness of the first edition. This was the original Whitman; this was Whitman at his freshest and, arguably, his most experimental. Nothing like the volume had ever appeared before. Everything about it—the unusual [binding] and title page, the exuberant preface, the twelve free-flowing, untitled poems embracing every ream of experience—was new" (Reynolds). 


Grolier, American 67; BAL 21395; Feinberg 269; Myerson A2.1.a1; PMM 340; Shay p. 15


William Targ (booklabel)