WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892. Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn: [Printed for the author], 1855.

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Lot 2028
WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892.
Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn: [Printed for the author], 1855.

US$ 200,000 - 300,000
£ 140,000 - 220,000
WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892.
Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn: [Printed for the author], 1855.
Folio (287 x 205 mm). Engraved portrait frontispiece. Original green cloth, title in gilt with sprouting leaf motif, with leaf and floral pattern in blind, designed by Whitman. Paper repair to upper corner of title page (see provenance), binding expertly conserved, rebacked with original spine laid down, the first two leaves of the preface repaired and re-inserted, pencil marginalia to four pages (unidentifiable hand, but given the provenance, either Whitman, Linton, or Skiff).
Provenance: Walt Whitman (lettered signature, his "working copy," 2 pp autograph account of the book's provenance from Frederick Skiff); William J. Linton (autograph note); Frederick Skiff (bookplate, autograph note); Estelle Doheny (bookplate, sold The Estelle Doheny Collection of American Literature at St. Mary's Seminary in Perryville, MO, Christies New York, 14 December 2001, lot 390).

"...America's second Declaration of Independence: that of 1776 was political, this of 1855 intellectual." (PMM)

FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE OF "THE ESSENTIAL AMERICAN BOOK" BOLDLY SIGNED BY WHITMAN IN BLOCK LETTERS ON THE TITLE PAGE, AND CALLED BY WHITMAN "HIS WORKING COPY," an astonishing copy with remarkable historical provenance. A revolution in world literature, Leaves of Grass celebrated the self and the spirit of democracy ̶ uttering forth with a voice "transcendent and new," a stream-of-consciousness free verse, distinctly American. The poet of the American ideal, Whitman is "the greatest artist his nation has brought forth. Indeed, no comparable figure in the arts has emerged in the last 400 years in the Americas..." (Bloom, "Introduction to Leaves of Grass," New York, 2005, p xi). Leaves of Grass is the only work of modern literature included in Printing and the Mind of Man ̶ that landmark catalogue of the most influential printed works in history ̶ where it is justly called "America's second Declaration of Independence."

According to a long autograph provenance statement by the great bibliophile and Americana expert Frederick W. Skiff, Whitman called this book his own "working copy" and he presented it to William James Linton, the noted English artist who engraved Whitman's portrait for the 1876 edition of Leaves. Skiff was Linton's neighbor in Hamden/New Haven, and Skiff states that Linton directly related to him how this particular copy of Leaves of Grass came into his hands. Linton considered Whitman "the outstanding writer in the English language outside of Shakespeare," and one of the first things he Linton undertook when he set foot in America in the 1860s was to pay a visit to Whitman," arranged by Linton's friend William Michael Rossetti, the noted English man of letters, Whitman's foremost champion in England and the editor of the 1868 London edition of Leaves of Grass During this visit, Skiff reports, Linton asked Whitman for "a copy of the original edition of Leaves of Grass," and in replying to Linton, Skiff writes, Whitman stated that "he only had his working copy [The volume he had printed himself]". Though Whitman was perhaps initially reluctant to fulfill Linton's request, Skiff reports that Whitman – with what we take to be his characteristic generosity of spirit -- finally presented this "working copy" to Linton "after first writing (or printing) his name upon the title page. Whitman then added his presentation inscription at the upper right hand corner of the title-page." Many years after Linton related this history to Skiff, Skiff was informed of Linton's death and of the fact that Linton's daughter was selling her father's library. She agreed to sell Skiff this copy of Leaves of Grass, "but before delivering it to me," Skiff writes, "she tore the inscription to her father from the title page – remarking when so doing that her father's name must be removed from the book."

Very few signed copies of the first edition exist, and the present copy, attested to as Whitman's personal cloth-bound copy by one of the great collectors of the 20th century is unique among them, not only for its provenance and block-lettered signature, but also for being in the first-state of the binding. The penciled notations, bracketing specific passages, echo some of Whitman's notations in the 1860 "Blue Book," but are not distinct enough to discern whose hand made them, but certainly either Whitman, Linton, of Skiff. Touting a remarkable provenance, from Whitman to Linton to Skiff, who sold this copy, together with the choicest parts of his American literature collection, in 1942 to Estelle Doheny, the greatest female book collector of the 20th-century, this is superb Whitman item to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman's birth. Grolier American 67; Myerson A2.I.a1; PMM 340.


"I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one's self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy
Walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud ..."

WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892. Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn: [Printed for the author], 1855.
WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892. Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn: [Printed for the author], 1855.
WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892. Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn: [Printed for the author], 1855.
WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892. Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn: [Printed for the author], 1855.
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