"TRUTH IS FAR GREATER THAN FICTION… IT CHILLS THE BLOOD" (FREDERICK DOUGLASS): RARE FIRST EDITION OF SOLOMON NORTHUP'S TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, 1853, IN ORIGINAL CLOTH WITH ENGRAVED FRONTISPIECE AND SIX FULL-PAGE ENGRAVED PLATES
(NORTHUP, Solomon). Twelve Years a Slave. Narrative of Solomon Northup, A Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, And Rescued in 1853, From a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana. Auburn: Derby and Miller. Buffalo: Derby, Orton and Mulligan. Cincinnati: Henry W. Derby, 1853. Octavo, original blindstamped brown cloth. Housed in a custom slipcase.
First edition, rare first printing, of Northup's powerful first-hand account—"one of the most authentic descriptions of slavery from the viewpoint of the slave"—documenting slavery's brutality and electrified by his resolve "to portray the institution of slavery as I have seen and known it," with engraved frontispiece and six full-page engravings of his torture in a slave pen, his near-escape from a lynching and much more, in original cloth.
Northup, born a free man in New York, was kidnapped into slavery in 1841, leaving behind a wife and young children. He writes of being drugged and suddenly waking up in a Washington D.C., where he was imprisoned in a "slave pen within the very shadow of the Capitol!" Viciously whipped and beaten for refusing to "give in to the foul lie that I was a slave," Northup was sold into slavery in Louisiana for 12 years before he found a way to send news home, leading to his return to freedom in 1853. Twelve Years A Slave, published that same year, is "one of the most authentic descriptions of slavery from the viewpoint of the slave himself" (Lieblich, Cultural Significance of… Twelve Years a Slave). One of the longest slave narratives, it remains one of the nation's most searing examinations of slavery's relentless inhumanity.
Twelve Years is, as well, a "story about survival and the triumph of the human spirit… a richly detailed, suspenseful narrative, and a seemingly impossible saga that nevertheless rings with an unwavering authenticity… Because Northup remained a keen observer throughout his ordeal, his compelling saga reveals to us myriad details of… the life of a slave experiencing the dictates of harsh, arbitrary and brutal masters… the importance of Northup's story is that it comes from the perspective of a person who grew up free and therefore had the assumptions and values of a free society" (Fisk, Brown & Seligman, Solomon Northup, xiii-xiv, 4). "To counter critics who would have discredited his narrative as fabrication, Northup… loaded his account with specifics. He cited actual names, places and dates so that his readers could identify and bring his captors to trial. Twelve Years he declared, would 'portray the institution of slavery as I have seen and known it.'" In his "accurate, first-hand account… Northup emphasizes that the slave owner's authority was only maintained by terrorizing enslaved black people they owned with relentless physical and psychological violence." When Harriet Beecher Stowe published her Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin the same year, she wrote: "It is a singular coincidence, that Solomon Northup was carried to a plantation in the Red River county—that same region where the scene of Uncle Tom's captivity was laid—and his account of this plantation, and the mode of life there, and some incidents which he describes, form a striking parallel to that history."
When newspapers began to offer "reports of Northup's rescue from slavery, Henry Northup (a white attorney and lifelong friend from New York whose family had once owned Solomon's father), Solomon Northup" and David Wilson, an antislavery lawyer, worked to bring Twelve Years to publication quickly (Lieblich). Historians agree "that it is very clear it is Northup's tale, not that of [Wilson]. Told from Northup's perspective, the narrative line is his. His factual assertions check out… Most of all it is his literalism that structures and styles the tale. Wilson states in his introduction to Twelve Years that Northup 'carefully perused the manuscript, dictating an alteration wherever the most trivial inaccuracy has appeared.' This attention to detail… makes the story ring true, and creates a work of timeless value" (Fisk, Brown & Seligman, 4-5). On publication Frederick Douglass praised Twelve Years as a work whose "truth is far greater than fiction… It chills the blood." Basis for the award-winning 2013 film that earned three Academy Awards, including Best Film. First edition, first printing with no statement of printings above title page; 1853 on title page and on copyright page with no mention of London edition; four-pages of publisher's advertisements bound between front pastedown and free endpaper with four titles of subscription books from Derby & Miller on first page (first printing). Containing engraved frontispiece and six full-page engraved illustrations. Sabin 55847. Brigano 448. See Blockson 10165. Early inked date of "1854." Later owner inkstamp. Faint trace of bookplate removal.
Interior generally fresh with scattered foxing and light embrowning, expert restoration to text block and original cloth.