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First Books by American Writers, 1786 – 1984

Howard W. Gunlocke Rare Book and Special Collections Room
March 15, 1997
June 15, 1997

 

Introduction:

 An author's first book, as often as not, marks something of a watershed in his life. If, as is usual, he (or she) goes on to publish again, the maiden effort may end up something of an embarrassment in later years. But that maiden effort may be an only effort, too, as is the case with Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind or John Parke's Lyrics of Horace. All too frequently the "first book" takes the ephemeral form of a slim pamphlet. Or it embodies work far removed from that for which its author later will be best known. But to the collector of first editions, it is, whatever its form, the first of the first. And yet, of course, the collector must seek Ann Beattie's first two books, a novel and a volume of short stories published on the same day.

Perhaps because of that very heterodoxy, the "first book" exerts a special attraction for the collector, the catalogs of Seven Gables and Quill & Brush the holy writ he needs in the chase, the siren song of Fanshawe and Tamerlane the lure that takes him upon the rocks, for he will come to discover that although Hawthorne's and Poe's works are more famous, they are neither more common nor more often read than Jesse Stuart's Harvest of Youth. Though certainly far, far more expensive.

This exhibit focuses on American writers who have launched careers during almost the entire extent of our country's history. An effort has been made to include writers who, if not household names, have at some point in their careers commanded considerable critical attention and/or popular acclaim. By the same token, writers beginning outside the normal "main stream" are included, whether their initial handicap consisted of race, sexual preference, or simple isolation from the urban literary society. Each, in his or her way, has a legitimate claim on our attention.

This exhibit would not be possible were it not for the series of gifts which brought to Georgetown in recent years books from the collections of Washington bookseller-brothers David and Paul Pearlman and New York collector Gerard Previn Meyer. These generous gifts provide the books which make up the heart of the exhibit. They are supplemented by additional gifts from other sources as well as from three en bloc purchases made in the mid-80s (the collection of American literature formed by Irving Levy, the library of James P. J. Murphy, and the rare book collection of the University of Detroit Library). In fact, of the 63 first editions included in the exhibit only four, those by Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, John Pendleton Kennedy, and Ellen Glasgow, were among Georgetown's collections prior to 1970.

George M. Barringer
Georgetown University Library

Items in the Exhibition:

Poems

Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 1809-1894
Boston: Otis, Broaders, and Company
1836

Original embossed cloth. Purchase (Levy).

Class poem

Lowell, James Russell, 1819-1891
Cambridge Press: Metcalf, Torry, and Ballou
1838

Original wrappers (upper panel supplied in photocopy). Published anonymously. Purchase (Levy).

Two years before the mast : a personal narrative of life at sea

Dana, Richard Henry, Jr.
New-York: Harper & Brothers
1840

Original gilt-stamped cloth. Published anonymously. With copyright notice and running head on page 9 in the later forms. Purchase (Detroit).

Narrative of a four months' residence among the natives of a valley of the Marquesas Islands : or, a peep at Polynesian life

Melville, Herman, 1819-1891
London: John Murray
1846

Original gilt-stamped cloth. The so-called "second issue," in binding variant C as listed by BAL. Purchase (Levy).

A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

Thoreau, Henry David, 1817-1862
Boston and Cambridge: James Munroe and Company [et al.]
1849

Original gilt-stamped cloth. Presentation copy, inscribed by Thoreau on the front free endleaf: "Rev. O. A. Brownson with the Regards of the author," not dated. Top edges of text block remain unopened after page 272. Purchase (Detroit).

Passion-flowers

Howe, Julia Ward, 1819-1910
Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields
1854

Original gilt-stamped cloth. Published anonymously. Gift of Maurice Adelman, Jr.

Josh Billings, his sayings, with comic illustrations

Billings, Josh, 1818-1885
New York: Carleton
1866

Original gilt-stamped cloth. The binding in the state with upright capitals in the spine imprint, but, unusually, with the binder's ticket of George W. Alexander of New York at end. Gift of Eugene and Sandy Pearlman Meyer.

Tiger-lilies : a novel

Lanier, Sidney, 1842-1881
New York: Published by Hurd and Houghton
1867

Original gilt-stamped cloth. Two copies, one with an integral title leaf and one with a cancel, representing two of the three known colors of the binding. All copies have the misprint "Lillies" for "Lilies" on the spine. Gift of Edith S. Mayfield.

A passionate pilgrim, and other tales

James, Henry
Boston: James R. Osgood and Company
1875

Original gilt-stamped cloth. In the earliest state of the binding, with the Osgood imprint at the foot of the spine. Gift of Eugene Meyer and Deborah Meyer DeWan.

The front cover of Uncle Remus his songs and his sayings, with rabbit smoking a long pipe in gold on a green background

Uncle Remus his songs and his sayings : the folk-lore of the old plantation. . . . with illustrations by Frederick S. Church and James H. Moser

Harris, Joel Chandler, 1848-1908
New York: D. Appleton and Company
1881

Original decorated cloth. Third state, with reviews of this title on page [233]. Gift of Mrs. William Zimmerman.

The descendant : a novel

Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson, 1873-1945
New York: Harper & Brothers
1897

Original decorated cloth. Published anonymously. In the first state of the binding (later bindings put the author's name on the spine). Provenance undetermined, but in the collection prior to 1970.

A book of verses

Masters, Edgar Lee, 1868-1950
Chicago: Way & Williams
1898

Original boards with paper labels. Purchase.

April twilights, poems

Cather, Willa, 1873-1947
Boston: Richard G. Badger The Gorham Press
1903

Original boards and paper labels. Gift of Maurice Adelman, Jr.

The front cover of Cabbages and Kings, showing the four kings from playing cards in a row with gold crowns, and a large head of cabbage

Cabbages and kings by O. Henry

Henry, O., 1862-1910
New York: McClure, Phillips & Co.
1904

Original decorated cloth. First state of the binding, with the publisher's imprint on the spine. Gift of Eugene Meyer and Deborah Meyer DeWan.

Flagons and apples, by John Robinson Jeffers

Jeffers, Robinson, 1887-1962
Los Angeles: Grafton Publishing Company
1912

Original half cloth and boards. Gift of Edith S. Mayfield.

Danny's own story. . . . illustrated by E. W. Kemble

Marquis, Don, 1878-1937
Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Company
1912

Original cloth with printed paper onlay. Gift of Gerard Previn Meyer.

Enjoyment of poetry

Eastman, Max, 1883-1969
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons
1913

Original cloth. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Randolph Biddle.

Poems

Moore, Marianne, 1887-1972
London: The Egoist Press
1921

Original printed wrappers. Inscribed on the first (blank) leaf: "With the wish that good may come to Mr. James P. J. Murphy, -- and much happiness. Marianne Moore / February 4 1951," and with some minor pen corrections by her in the text. Purchase (Murphy).

The enormous room

Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962
New York: Boni and Liveright
[1922]

Original cloth. Earliest state of the text, with the word "shit" not obliterated in the bottom line of page 219. Gift of Eugene Meyer and Deborah Meyer DeWan.

Body of this death, poems

Bogan, Louise, 1897-1970
New York: Robert M. McBride & Company
1923

Original half cloth and boards, in dust jacket. Inscribed on the front free endleaf: "For Gerard Previn Meyer / Louise Bogan -- January 25, 1945." Gift of Eugene Meyer and Deborah Meyer DeWan.

The dust jacket for Harmonium, rather plain with red text on yellow paper and the Alfred A. Knopf logo

Harmonium

Stevens, Wallace, 1879-1955
New York: Alfred A. Knopf
1923

Original half cloth and printed boards, in dust jacket. In the earliest of three binding variants. Inscribed on the half-title: "For James P. J. Murphy Wallace Stevens March 3, 1954 (This is a 1st Edition)." Purchase (Murphy).

Those not elect

Adams, Léonie, 1899-1988
New York: Robert M. McBride & Company
1925

Original boards. Signed by Adams on the front free endpaper and dated October 3, 1966. Gift of Eugene Meyer and Deborah Meyer DeWan.

Color

Cullen, Countee, 1903-1946
New York & London: Harper & Brothers
1925

Original half cloth and boards. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Randolph Biddle.

White buildings : poems. . . . with a foreword by Allen Tate

Crane, Hart, 1899-1932
[New York]: Boni & Liveright
1926

Original half cloth and boards, in dust jacket. Second state of the title, with Tate's first name spelled correctly. Together with a corrected typescript of "Voyages IV" (printed on pages 53-54). Gifts of Bernard M. Wagner.

Dust jacket of The Weary Blues, showing a man playing the piano with his head raised, with a gas light illuminating the scene

The weary blues. . . . with an introduction by Carl Van Vechten

Hughes, Langston, 1902-1967
New York: Alfred A. Knopf
1926

Original half cloth and boards, in first state dust jacket. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Randolph Biddle.

The bastard. . . . illustrations by Ty Mahon

Caldwell, Erskine, 1903-1987
New York: Heron Press
[1929]

Copy #648 of 1,100. Original cloth. Inscribed on the dedication leaf: "For Mary -- although I didn't write it -- because it is mine Helen Caldwell." But further inscribed on the front free endpaper: "for John S. Mayfield in spite of Virgil Steed, John S. Sumner, Ralph Ingalls, and many others. yours in crime Erskine Caldwell / Portland, Maine 2/21/30." Together with a publisher's dummy for the book, in a smaller format, only the first few pages printed. Gifts of Edith S. Mayfield.

Is sex necessary? or why you feel the way you do, by . . . and E. B. White

Thurber, James, 1894-1961
New York and London: Harper & Brothers
1929

Original half cloth and boards. Gift of Gerard Previn Meyer.

Harvest of youth

Stuart, Jesse, 1906-1984
Howe, OK: The Scroll Press
[1930]

Original half cloth and boards. Presentation copy. Inscribed on the front free endpaper: "To Murray L. Marshall a brother Craftsman and friendly editor / Jesse Stuart." Together with a typescript of "My Mountain Home" (printed on page 50) and a typed letter to Marshall requesting permission to use three poems published in Marshall's magazine, Sonnet Sequences, in Harvest of Youth. Gifts of Hazel Marshall Seebode.

Gods' man : a novel in woodcuts

Ward, Lynd, 1905-1985
New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith
[1930]

Copy #99 of 409, signed. Original cloth, in slipcase. The "special edition," printed from the author/artist's original wood engraved blocks. The ordinary trade edition published in 1929 (a copy of which is also at Georgetown) was produced from electrotypes. Purchase.

Permit me voyage. . . . with a foreword by Archibald MacLeish

Agee, James, 1909-1955
New Haven: Yale University Press
1934

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Randolph Biddle.

Jonah's gourd vine. . . . with an introduction by Fanny Hurst

Hurston, Zora Neale
Philadelphia, London: J. B. Lippincott Company
1934

Original cloth. Presentation copy. Inscribed on the front free endpaper: "To My Godmother [Mrs. Osgood Mason] -- Who is one of the low-flying angels, and her harp sings silver in the wind breezes. She puts music into mud-sills, and wings onto clods. She is a battle-axe in the time of trouble and a shelter in the time of storm. With Devotion, Zora / Longwood, Fla. May 18, 1934, when Godmother is 80 years old." Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Randolph Biddle.

Call it sleep

Roth, Henry
New York: Robert O. Ballou
[1934]

Original cloth. Gift of Gerard Previn Meyer.

The daring young man on the flying trapeze and other stories

Saroyan, William, 1908-1981
New York: Random House
1934

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Signed by the author on a blank leaf at the front. Gift of Eugene Meyer and Deborah Meyer DeWan.

Front cover of the pamphlet These are the Ravens, with an ornamental design on the left side and the author's inscription and signature below the title

These are the ravens by Bill Everson

Everson, William, 1912-1994
San Leandro: Greater West Publishing Co.
1935

Original self-wrappers. Inscribed on the upper cover: "for the University of Detroit Library December 1961 / Brother Antoninus (William Everson)." Purchase (Detroit).

Gone with the Wind

Mitchell, Margaret, 1900-1949
New York: The Macmillan Company
1936

Original cloth, in dust jacket. In the first state dust jacket. Inscribed on the front free endpaper: "To Major L. A. Codd from Margaret Mitchell." Bequest of Gertrude Jane Codd.

Before the brave

Patchen, Kenneth, 1911-1972
New York: Random House
[1936]

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Gift of Eugene Meyer and Deborah Meyer DeWan.

In dreams begin responsibilities

Schwartz, Delmore, 1913-1966
Norfolk: New Directions
[1938]

One of 1,000 copies. Original cloth, in dust jacket. Gift of Eugene Meyer and Deborah Meyer DeWan.

front cover of the advance reading copy of The Big Sleep, black text on green paper with the Alfred A. Knopf logo

The big sleep

Chandler, Raymond, 1888-1959
New York: Alfred A. Knopf
1939

Original wrappers. Advance reading copy, the cover blurb comparing Chandler to Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain. Gift of Eugene and Sandy Pearlman Meyer.

The way some people live

Cheever, John
New York: Random House
[1943]

Original cloth. Gift of Gerard Previn Meyer.

Land of unlikeness, poems. . . . introduction by Allen Tate

Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977
Cummington, MA: The Cummington Press
1944

One of 250 copies. Original boards. Purchase (Detroit).

Thirty poems

Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968
Norfolk, CT: New Directions
[1944]

Original wrappers. Bequest of Gertrude Jane Cobb.

The double image by Denise Levertoff

Levertov, Denise, 1923-1997
London: The Cresset Press
1946

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Inscribed on the front free endpaper: "'I love to see, in golden matchlight, / intimate contours of a face / like discovered innocence / in dusty annals of disgrace.' Denise Levertov Inscribed for James P. J. Murphy." Purchase (Murphy).

The image and the law

Nemerov, Howard
[New York]: Henry Holt and Company
[1947]

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Review copy, publisher's slip laid in. Gift of Gerard Previn Meyer.

Other voices, other rooms

Capote, Truman, 1924-1984
New York: Random House
[1948]

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Gift of Eugene Meyer and Deborah Meyer DeWan.

Come back, little Sheba

Inge, William
New York: Random House
[1950]

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Gift of Gerard Previn Meyer.

Dust jacket from The Town and the City, showing a small town nestled in the hills

The town & the city

Kerouac, Jack, 1922-1969
New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company
[1950]

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Gift of Shirley Pearlman Leva.

From here to eternity

Jones, James
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons
1951

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Gift of Shirley Pearlman Leva.

Lie down in darkness : a novel

Styron, William, 1925-2006
Indianapolis, New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company
[1951]

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Inscribed on the front free endpaper: "For James P. J. Murphy with best wishes Wm Styron New York February 1952." Purchase (Murphy).

Wise blood

O'Connor, Flannery
New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company
[1952]

Original cloth. Gift of Eugene Meyer and Deborah Meyer DeWan.

The night of the hunter

Grubb, Davis, 1919-1980
[New York]: Harper & Brothers
[1953]

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Inscribed on the front free endpaper: "'After supper that Chrismas eve the children gathered round Rachel at the kitchen table and she told them the Christmas legend and they listened gravely because it was their own story . . . .' Davis Grubb -- Christmas, 1955. -- For James Murphy --" Purchase (Murphy).

A summoning of stones

Hecht, Anthony, 1923-2004
New York: The Macmillan Company
1954

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Review copy, publisher's slip laid in. Inscribed on the front free endpaper: "With cordial good wishes Anthony Hecht." Gift of Gerard Previn Meyer.

The dust jacket from The Spoil of the Flowers, showing a group of schoolgirls and teachers below the bottom of a painting of a woman with an open book in her lap

The spoil of the flowers

Grumbach, Doris
Garden City: Doubleday & Company
1962

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Bequest of Riley Hughes.

City of night

Rechy, John
New York: Grove Press
[1963]

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Bequest of Roland N. Harman.

The cover of Cruelty, showing a woman wear a fuzzy coat with the back of her hand to her forehead

Cruelty

Ai [Florence Anthony Ogawa]
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company
1973

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Gift of Philip I. Herzbrun.

Chilly scenes of winter

Beattie, Ann
Garden City: Doubleday & Company
1976

Original half cloth and boards, in dust jacket. Distortions. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1976. Original half cloth and boards, in dust jacket. A novel and a volume of short stories, respectively, the author's first two books published on the same day. Bequest of Roland N. Harman.

The hunt for red October

Clancy, Tom, 1947-
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press
[1984]

Original cloth, in dust jacket. Inscribed on the half-title: "To Fr Ron Murphy SJ Regards to a Master Teacher Tom Clancy 3/22/85." Gift of Fr. Murphy.

The Lyric Works of Horace, translated into English Verse : to which is added, a number of original poems, by a native of America

John Parke (1754-1789)
Philadelphia: Printed by Eleazer Oswald, 1786

Bound in contemporary calf, rebacked. Published pseudonymously. Parke's major original effort (present here with its own title page) is Virginia: a Pastoral Drama, on the Birth-Day of an Illustrious Personage and the Return of Peace, February 11, 1784. The "personage," of course, is George Washington, to whom the volume is dedicated. With the text in the scarce enlarged state. Gift of Joseph G. E. Hopkins.

A Voyage to the Eastern Part of Terra Firma, or the Spanish Main, in South America, during the Years 1801, 1802, 1803, and 1804. . . . by F. DePons. . . . translated by an American gentleman

Washington Irving (1783-1859)
New-York: Printed by and for I. Riley and Co., 1806

3 volumes. Rebound in half brown morocco and cloth boards. The "American gentleman" was Washington Irving, whose efforts at translation were assisted by Peter Irving and George Caines. Purchase (1939).

Precaution : A Novel

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)
New-York: Published by A. T. Goodrich & Co., 1820

2 volumes. In the original paper boards. Published anonymously. Provenance undetermined, but in the collection prior to 1970.

Front cover of A Review of Mr. Cambreleng's Report from the Committee of Commerce, plain black text on yellowing paper with various annotations in pencil

A Review of Mr. Cambreleng's Report from the Committee of Commerce, in the House of Representatives, at the first session of the twenty first Congress. by Mephistopheles

John Pendleton Kennedy (1795-1870)
Baltimore: Printed by Wm. Ogden Niles, 1830

Unbound, stitched as issued. The future novelist's pseudonymously published tract against free trade. Provenance undetermined, but in the collection prior to 1970.

Legends of New-England

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
Hartford: Published by Hanmer and Phelps, 1831
Original cloth-backed boards, paper label on spine.
Lacking pagination on the verso of the third leaf of the preliminaries, a state not noticed by BAL. Purchase (Levy).