THE CORNERSTONE OF AMERICAN EXPLORATION: EXCEEDINGLY RARE FIRST EDITION OF THE LEWIS & CLARK EXPEDITION, THE DEFINITIVE ACCOUNT OF THE MOST IMPORTANT EXPLORATION OF THE NORTH AMERICAN CONTINENT
LEWIS, Meriwether and CLARK, William. History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, To the Sources of the Missouri, Thence Across the Rocky Mountains and Down the River Columbia to the Pacific Ocean. Performed During the Years 1804-5-6… Prepared for the Press by Paul Allen. Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1814. Two volumes. Octavo, early 20th-century three-quarter crushed red morocco gilt, marbled endpapers. Housed in custom slipcase.
Exceptionally rare first edition, one of only 1417 copies printed, of the definitive account of the most important exploration of the North American continent, without the large folding map (“not issued with all copies”-Howes L317), but with the five full-page maps. Handsomely bound.
"First authorized and complete account of the most important western exploration and the first of many overland narratives to follow" (Howes L317). "American explorers had for the first time spanned the continental United States and had driven the first wedge toward opening up our new far western frontier" (Streeter 1777). "The importance of exploring this area [beyond the Missouri River] had been evident to Thomas Jefferson as early as 1783… but it was not until twenty years later that Jefferson, then President of the United States, saw the realization of his idea… The purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in December 1803 greatly increased the importance of the expedition, which finally began its long journey [in 1804]… They wintered in the Mandan villages in the Dakotas and in the Spring pushed on west across the Rocky Mountains and then down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. Returning by the same route nearly two-and-a-half years after they had set out they arrived back in St. Louis in September 1806 to the amazed delight of the nation which had given them up for lost. Though unsuccessful in their attempt to find a transcontinental water route, they had demonstrated the feasibility of overland travel to the western coast" (Printing and the Mind of Man, 272).
A number of years passed between the end of the expedition and the 1814 printing of the official account. Lewis had made some arrangements for publication, but upon his suicide in 1809 Clark undertook the project, which was in disarray. "This is the great mystery of Lewis's life. There is only speculation on what kept him from preparing the journals for the publisher, but no one can know the cause for certain, any more than anyone can know for certain the cause of his suicide… When Clark arrived at Monticello [where the journals had been sent], there was apparently some talk about Jefferson's taking over the journals and doing the editing to prepare them for the printer. There was no man alive who had a greater interest in the subject, or one who had better qualifications for the job. But he was sixty-five years old and desired to spend his remaining years at Monticello as a gentleman farmer… After some false starts, Clark persuaded Nicholas Biddle to undertake the work. Biddle was only 26 years old, but he was a prodigy… Biddle was the perfect choice. He threw himself into the work and did it magnificently" (Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, 469-70). The name of the copyeditor Paul Allen, appears on the title page where Biddle's should have, presumably because Biddle insisted on absolute anonymity.
"The Lewis and Clark expedition stands as a major event in American history, solidly establishing our title to the vast Louisiana Territory and later to the Oregon country. The explorations revealed a strange and unknown world, full of exciting wonders, and pointed the way to its possibilities for future development" (Downs, Books that Changed America, 40). This copy without the folding map—"not issued with all copies" (Howes L317). Sabin 855 and 40828. Graff 2477. Wagner-Camp 13.1. Paltsits, lxxvii.
Text generally quite clean, with less offsetting than often found. An extremely good copy. Among the most rare and desirable of all American books.