THE CORNERSTONE OF AMERICAN EXPLORATION: EXCEEDINGLY RARE FIRST EDITION IN ORIGINAL BOARDS OF THE DEFINITIVE ACCOUNT OF THE LEWIS & CLARK EXPEDITION, THE MOST IMPORTANT EXPLORATION OF THE NORTH AMERICAN CONTINENT, WITH SCARCE AND IMPORTANT LARGE FOLDING MAP
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, original three-quarter brown sheep, original marbled boards, original green morocco spine labels. Each volume housed in a custom half morocco clamshell box. $147,000.
Exceptionally rare first edition, one of only 1,417 copies printed, of the definitive account of the most important exploration of the North American continent, with the famous large folding map of the course of the expedition and five in-text maps.
"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… In 1814, the book appeared, titled The History of the Expedition Under the Commands of Captains Lewis and Clark. It was a narrative and paraphrase of the journals, completely true to the original, retaining some of the more delightful phrases, but with the spelling corrected. [As a result of the failing health of Dr. Barton, who was to do the scientific volume] Biddle did relatively little with the flora and fauna… For the next ninety years, Biddle's edition was the only printed account based on the journals. As a result, Lewis and Clark got no credit for most of their discoveries. Plants, rivers, animals, birds that they had described and named were newly discovered by naturalists, and the names that these men gave them were the ones that stuck. Lewis had cheated himself out of a rank not far below Darwin as a naturalist" (Ambrose, 469-470).
"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). Sabin 855 and 40828. Graff 2477. Wagner-Camp 13.1. Paltsits, lxxvii.
Small three-by-three inch section of map restored in fine facsimile and with repaired four-inch tear near gutter, title page of second volume and several leaves of text with short tears expertly repaired, front free endpaper of Volume I laid in loose, free endpapers absent in second volume, usual browning and foxing throughout, scarce contemporary bindings fully intact and in exceptional condition. A desirable and complete copy of the most important work in American western exploration.