"AN IMPACT ON THE COURSE OF NATIONAL EVENTS MATCHED BY FEW IN AMERICAN HISTORY": FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST BIOGRAPHY OF JOHN BROWN, PUBLISHED WITHIN WEEKS OF HIS EXECUTION
(BROWN, John) REDPATH, James. The Public Life of Capt. John Brown… With an Auto-Biography of his Childhood and Youth. Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860. Octavo, original blindstamped brown cloth. $950.
First edition of the profoundly influential first biography of John Brown, authored by his close friend, leading journalist and abolitionist James Redpath, who produced this biography 40 days after Brown's death while evading arrest for his own suspected participation in the Harpers Ferry raid, with engraved frontispiece of Brown and two engraved plates featuring scenes from Harpers Ferry and Brown's trial.
John Brown sparked the Civil War "to a degree that no other American did… he had an impact on the course of national events matched by few in American history." In the words of Frederick Douglass: "If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did, at least, begin the war that ended slavery" (Reynolds, John Brown, ix-x). This pivotal biography of Brown, by Scottish-born journalist Redpath, "was the very first… published just 40 days after Brown's execution" (McKivigan, Forgotten Firebrand, xii). The two men met in 1856 when Redpath chanced upon Brown's wilderness camp, prompting Redpath to observe he had just met "the predestined leader of the second and the holier American Revolution'… Redpath was not the sort of man easily taken in by a gun-toting, Bible-quoting charlatan. He saw something in Brown that harmonized with his own crusade for the abolition of slavery" (Gilpin, John Brown Still Lives, 25). "After the failure of Brown's attack on Harpers Ferry, in October 1859, Redpath assisted raiders who had eluded capture to reach safety. Also sought by authorities as a suspected accomplice in the raid, Redpath evaded arrest. While in hiding, he produced the first biography of Brown" (McKivigan, x).
Redpath's Public Life of John Brown was his "most popular and influential work" (Knight, Writers of the American Renaissance, 310). While "there is no evidence that Brown asked Redpath to participate in his raid on the Harpers Ferry arsenal, there is considerable evidence that Redpath knew many details of Brown's plan. Besides his personal conversations with Brown, Redpath had discussed Brown's intentions with [journalist] Richard Hinton as early as fall 1858…[and] knew enough to recruit his friend Merriam for Brown's raiding party… Redpath's commitment to full black rights never wavered" (McKivigan, 47, xii). In his many-storied career, he played "a role in almost every meaningful reform movement of his day. Along the way he… worked for the governments of Haiti and the United States, went undercover among the slaves of the Old South, agitated for Irish rights [and] fought in Bleeding Kansas" (Edward E. Baptist). With engraved frontispiece of Brown containing printed facsimile inscription; two engraved plates displaying scenes from the Harpers Ferry raid and Brown's trial; dedication to Wendell Phillips, Emerson and Thoreau. Containing detailed accounts of Harpers Ferry, Lawrence and Osawatomie, newspaper reports, extensive correspondence, transcripts from Brown's arrest and trial, and an account of his execution. Sabin 68528. BAL 3146. See Blockson 3818.
Interior generally fresh with light foxing, mild edge-wear, soiling to binding. Desirable in original cloth.