Life of George Washington

George WASHINGTON   |   John MARSHALL

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“THE ONLY COMPREHENSIVE ACCOUNT BY A GREAT STATESMAN OF THE FULL FOUNDING OF THE UNITED STATES”: FIRST EDITION IN CONTEMPORARY TREE CALF OF MARSHALL’S LIFE OF WASHINGTON, WITH SCARCE ATLAS VOLUME OF THE MILITARY CAMPAIGNS IN ORIGINAL BOARDS, IN A BEAUTIFUL DISPLAY CASE

MARSHALL, John. The Life of George Washington. Philadelphia: C.P. Wayne, 1804-07. Six volumes. Thick octavo, contemporary full brown tree calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, red morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers. Quarto atlas volume, original grey paper boards, later grey cloth spine. Housed in a custom morocco-edged case with two ceramic oval portraits (circa 1900) of George and Martha Washington.

First edition of Marshall’s magisterial biography of Washington, with engraved frontispiece portrait and the companion atlas of ten strategic maps (eight double-page) depicting Washington’s major Revolutionary War campaigns. A beautiful and most desirable set in contemporary tree calf, with scarce atlas volume in original boards, housed in a beautiful morocco-lined display case with mounted portraits of Martha and George Washington.

Shortly after Marshall became Chief Justice, Washington's nephew Bushrod approached him to write the first President's official biography. Probably no man was better suited to the task. As a personal friend of Washington, Marshall had announced the President's death in 1799, offered the eulogy, chaired the committee that arranged the funeral rites, and led the commission to plan a monument in the capital city. When Marshall's Life of Washington appeared, it quickly gained such authoritative status that Washington scholar Jared Sparks suggested any new biographical undertaking would be "presumptuous" (Sparks, Washington I:12). The work "is political history as well as biography… the only comprehensive account by a great statesman of the full founding of the United States— of the founding of an independent people as well as of its government… There is no other concentrated history of the essentials by such an authority on American institutions" (Robert K. Faulkner). "If George Washington founded the country, John Marshall defined it" (Jean Edward Smith). Gilbert Stuart's famous portrait of Washington, made known to the general public through this engraved frontispiece, was produced by Philadelphia stipple-engraver David Edwin—"for upwards of 30 years, the most prolific workman in America" (Fielding, 109). This first edition, together with the first English edition of the same years, are "the only complete editions of this indispensable work, the 'Colonial History' being omitted in the later American editions" (Sabin). Occasional mispagination as issued without loss of text. Scarce companion atlas includes a 22-page list of subscribers. Howes M317. Sabin 44788. Shaw & Shoemaker 6710.

Atlas volume with far less of the offsetting than usually seen, only light scattered foxing to text. Contemporary morocco binding exceptionally handsome with spines toned, only light wear to extremities. A desirable near-fine set.

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