"THUS I HOLD UP GREAT VIRTUES TO THE IMITATION OF YOUTH": RARE VERY EARLY PRINTING OF PARSON WEEMS' INFLUENTIAL1800 BIOGRAPHY OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
(WASHINGTON, George) WEEMS, Rev. M.L. A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits, of General George Washington. Faithfully Taken from Authentic Documents, and, now, in a Second Edition Improved. Philadelphia: Re-printed by John Bioren… for the Author, . 12mo, contemporary three-quarter brown sheep. Housed in a custom chemise and clamshell box.
Very early edition of Weems’ beloved Life of Washington, with frontispiece portrait, likely published within months of the virtually unobtainable first edition and likewise within months of Washington's death.
Washington's iconic importance to America was enhanced after his death by Reverend Weems in his heroic biography. An itinerant bookseller and author, Weems began his biography before Washington's death; less than a month after Washington's death, Weems was writing to William Carey telling him that the book was ready for publication, and that the work shows "that the unparalleled rise and elevation were owing to his great virtues, his veneration for the Deity or religious principles, his patriotism, his magnanimity, his industry, his temperance and sobriety, his justice, etc. Thus I hold up his great virtues to the imitation of youth. All this I have lined and enlivened with anecdotes apropos interesting and entertaining." "What Weems did, asserts David D. Van Tassel, 'was to make national symbols of his subjects, legendary giants of republican virtue and bravery for a hero-starved people, heroes of recent history for a people cut off by their own volition from their heroes of legend'" (Downs, Books That Changed The South, 59). The work sold astonishingly well, and Weems continually added material to it. In a later 1806 edition, he added what has become the most famous story from the book, of a young Washington cutting down the cherry tree and demonstrating his early commitment to honesty. This edition, called the third on the title page, is quite rare (as are the other 1800 editions): OCLC only locates 12 copies held at institutions, and it has only appeared once at auction in the past 60 years. Howes W-218. Sabin 102484. Evans 39062. Gift inscription dated 1824 from Bernard Dahlgren to his wife Martha. Dahlgren served as the Swedish and Norwegian consul in Philadelphia in the early 19th century. With tipped in notice of Martha Washington's death and a newspaper reprinting of a Martha Washington letter.
Text generally in nice condition, with a bit of embrowning and some marginal chipping to last few leaves; joints splitting, with cords holding firm. Rare.