Life and Letters of Captain John Brown

John BROWN   |   Richard D. WEBB

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BROWN, John. The Life and Letters of Captain John Brown. Who Was Executed at Charleston, Virginia, Dec. 2, 1859, For an Armed Attack upon American Slavery… Edited by Richard D. Webb. London: Smith, Elder, 1861. Small octavo (4-1/2 by 6-3/4 inches), original blind-stamped brown cloth. Housed in a custom clamshell box.

First edition of one of the very first biographies of John Brown, published in the first year of the Civil War, including writings by Emerson and William Lloyd Garrison, correspondence, and the text of an interview with Brown after the raid at Harpers Ferry—"with the gallows staring him in the face"—featuring mounted vintage albumen frontispiece of Brown containing his printed facsimile inscription underneath, an exceptional copy in original cloth.

Brown's Harpers Ferry raid "was for many a jeremiad against a nation that defied God in tolerating human bondage. It sent tremors of horror throughout the South and gave secessionists a persuasive symbol of northern hostility. It hardened positions over slavery everywhere. It helped to discredit Stephen A. Douglas' compromise policy of popular sovereignty and to divide the Democratic party, thus ensuring the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860" (ANB). W.E.B Du Bois, in his 1909 book, John Brown, simply declared that above all: "John Brown was right" (338). "Du Bois' startling pronouncement thunders through American history… Brown sparked the war to a degree that no other American did… he kept alive the revolutionary spirit that ran from Puritan antinomianism through the founding fathers' resistance to tyranny to the self-reliant nonconformity of the Transcendentalists… Indeed, 'John Brown was right'" (Reynolds, John Brown, ix, 505-6). Editor Webb was a Dublin, Ireland printer and abolitionist. Appendix containing an excerpt from Emerson's November 18, 1859 speech at Tremont Temple (misidentified herein as December 18, 1860), along with writings by William Lloyd Garrison and other leading abolitionists, and correspondence between Brown and his family. Mounted vintage albumen frontispiece of Brown after the original daguerreotype (now lost) taken by photographer Benjamin Battels in 1855. Issued in blue cloth and brown cloth (this copy); no priority established. "Before 1880 only two major biographies of Brown had been published, Redpath's Public Life of Captain John Brown (1860) and Webb's Life and Letters of Captain John Brown (1861)" (DeCaro, John Brown, 91n). Blockson 9644. Contemporary owner signature of "T.J. Serle" above title page. While we are unable to confirm, the signature is likely that of noted London playwright and actor Thomas James Serle, a longtime friend and correspondent of Charles Dickens. Serle, who authored popular plays such as Shadow on the Wall and Master Clarke, also was a manager at Drury Lane and assistant manager to actor William C. Macready. Small bookseller tickets.

Text very fresh with only light foxing to frontispiece as is typical, rear inner hinge expertly reinforced, bright gilt-lettered cloth. A splendid about-fine copy.

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