“FREQUENT FLASHES OF PROPHETIC FIRE”: MELVILLE’S FIRST BOOK OF POETRY, INSPIRED BY THE CIVIL WAR
MELVILLE, Herman. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1866. Octavo, original green cloth, beveled boards, uncut. Housed in a custom clamshell box.
First edition of Melville’s first book of poetry, a collection of Civil War poems.
After an undervalued career as a novelist, Melville turned his literary skills to poetry, writing a volume which, like Whitman’s Drum-Taps, was inspired by the events of the Civil War. Written primarily after the fall of Richmond and published shortly thereafter, the poems were ill-received by readers anxious to put the events of the war behind them; fewer than 500 copies of the work were sold. However, a renewed critical interest in Melville has led many to find a new appreciation for his accomplishments as a poet. Twenty-five years after the publication of this work, the Republican would write: “No one can read Melville’s book of Battle-Pieces without much admiration for the vigor of the verse, and the frequent flashes of prophetic fire which they show.” “For Battle-Pieces to find the reception it deserves, we must open ourselves to a darker image of our Civil War than the images we are used to, and one that only the strongest literary imagination can make us see” (Lee Rust Brown). The appendix contains a prose supplement pleading for a humane and charitable Northern attitude toward Reconstruction. First edition, with “hnndred” on copyright page and blind-stamped publisher’s monogram on covers. BAL 13673. Sadleir, Excursions, 232. Contemporary gift inscription; bookplate; owner signature to title page.
Occasional scattered light foxing to interior; green ink stains to bottom edge and corner of text block. Light wear and expert restoration to original cloth.