Melville’s Masterpiece, in Red Cloth
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851.
First American edition. 1 vols. 8vo. Melville’s Masterpiece, in Red Cloth. Publisher's red cloth, cover bordered in blind and with central Harper & Brother's circular stamp in blind, spine lettered in gilt BAL 13664; Grolier, One Hundred American Books, 60; Johnson High Spots 57; Wright II:1701; Tanselle 2; Sadleir Excursions 229. Item #324034
First American edition of the greatest American novel. This edition was technically preceded by the extremely rare English edition (Richard Bentley) two months earlier, but textually this is the far more important of the two, having been printed from Melville’s manuscript, whereas the Bentley edition was set up from the sheets of the American edition. Furthermore, for political or editorial reasons, Bentley made some thirty-five unauthorized deletions from the original, and the American edition remains the standard text, never having been further revised. Printed on cheap wood-pulp paper and in one bulky volume, Moby Dick rarely survives without foxing, and is generally found chipped and shaken.
"[Melville's] great book, Moby Dick, was a complete practical failure, misunderstood by the critics and ignored by the public; and in 1853 the Harpers' fire destroyed the plates of all of his books and most of the copies remaining in stock [only about sixty copies survived the fire] ... Melville's permanent fame must always rest on the great prose epic of Moby Dick, a book that has no equal in American literature for variety and splendor of style and for depth of feeling" (Dictionary of American Biography).
"Moby Dick is the great conundrum-book. Is it a profound allegory with the white whale the embodiment of moral evil, or merely the finest story of the sea ever written?" (Grolier, American).
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