SIGNED AND INSCRIBED BY WALT WHITMAN TO CYRIL FLOWER; IN MAGNIFICENT CONTEMPORARY BINDING BY BIRDSALL.
“Walt Whitman is the only major American poet of the nineteenth century to have an intimate association with the art of bookmaking. Everyone knows Whitman as a poet and the author of one of the most studied books of American poetry, Leaves of Grass. What is less well known is that Whitman was trained as a printer and throughout his life spent time in printing shops and binderies, often setting type himself and always intimately involved in the design and production of his books. Whitman did not just write his book, he made his book, and he made it over and over again, each time producing a different material object that spoke to its readers in different ways... [Therefore] each edition of Leaves is essentially a different book, not just another version of the same book.” (Ed Folsom, “Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman”).
This edition is the first issue of the fifth edition, issued in September 1870 (but bearing an 1871 date on the title page); sometimes referred to as the “first Washington edition”. Incorporating the experience of the Civil War, it was a “new and completely restructured edition... For this edition, Whitman absorbed his Drum-Taps and Sequel poems fully into the architectonics of Leaves, creating several Civil War-related clusters of poems: ‘Drum-Taps’ (now quite different from the book Drum-Taps), ‘Marches now the War is Over,’ ‘Bathed in War's Perfume.’ Civil War poems have now been scattered through the book, indicating Whitman's desire to make all of Leaves cohere around the experience of the war.” The war represented such a point of discontinuity for Whitman that he imagined the 1871 edition to be his last: “He had absorbed the war into his book, and he felt he needed to turn to something new.” Whitman, of course, ultimately would not abandon Leaves of Grass, publishing (along with re-printings) a sixth edition in 1881 and a “Deathbed Edition” of 1891-92. (Folsom, ibid).
This first issue - with 1871 on the title page and without the later edition of “Passage to India" – is one of the rarest issues of Leaves of Grass.
The inscription and association:
Signed and inscribed in ink on the front flyleaf: "Cyril Flower from Walt Whitman, Washington, U.S.A., Dec. 1, 1870" and with Cyril Flower’s bookplate on the front pastedown. Cyril Flower, 1st Baron Battersea (1843-1907), was a well-known and well-connected British politician, patron of the arts, and generally intriguing character. Known as “a man of great charm, distinguished for taste, hospitality and extravagance,” Battersea married into the Rothschild family and became “very rich”; rich enough to become a major art collector and patron of important artists such as James McNeill Whistler and members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. (Dictionary of National Biography; Dictionary of Real People and Places in Fiction).
Bound by the famous English bindery Birdsall & Son of Northampton (with their stamp on the front free endpaper), in luxurious, heavily gilt-decorated Spanish morocco, almost certainly commissioned by Cyril Flower (with his bookplate on the front pastedown), with morocco spine label, gilt dentelles, and all edges gilt.
Washington, D.C.: [Printed for Whitman by J.S. Redfriend, New York], 1871. Octavo (approx. 5x8 inches), contemporary gilt-decorated Spanish morocco by Birdsall. With old letter from bookseller (Duttons, NY) explaining the binding and Cyril Flower association laid-in. Binding with some scuffing at joints and edges; text fine.
A BEAUTIFUL, ELEGANT SIGNED AND INSCRIBED COPY OF ONE OF THE RAREST EDITIONS OF LEAVES OF GRASS.
Price: $9,800 .