“I AM MY OWN SOUL’S EMPEROR”: FIRST AMERICAN EDITION OF MELVILLE’S MARDI, A BEAUTIFUL COPY
MELVILLE, Herman. Mardi: and a Voyage Thither. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1849. Two volumes. Octavo, original blind-stamped green cloth gilt, yellow endpapers. Housed in custom slipcase and chemises. $5000.
Preferred first American edition of Melville’s third novel, in original cloth.
When Melville was writing Mardi he apparently intended it to be the third in the series of South Seas adventures that included Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847). “But during the composition process his intentions changed,” effecting a key transformation as Melville shifted “from entertainer to truth teller… [and the] sea yarn turned into allegorical romance” (Baym, “Melville’s Quarrel with Fiction”). Though initially praised by some for images that stretch “before us like a new world,” Mardi disappointed its public and Melville was pressured to return to a more straightforward style (New York Evening Mirror). Yet it is in Mardi that Melville reveals “the first blossoming of the intellectual growth and spiritual searching that would shape his later works” (Life and Works). This is the most desirable first American edition, set from Melville’s manuscript and published mid-April 1849. Given 19th-century copyright law and attempts to avoid piracy, the first English edition was issued, as usual, several weeks before. However, the London issue was set not from manuscript but from proofs of the American edition— therefore it is one step removed from this more valued first American issue. Second rear fly-leaf in Volume I excised (as usual), with eight pages of ads at rear of Volume II. BAL 13658 (type A cloth). Owner signature in Volume II. Bookplates.
Usual light foxing, rubbing to endpapers (more in Volume I). Exceptional original cloth in about-fine condition, with a few small chips to spines, gilt very bright. A beautiful copy.