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Matching Inscribed Set of Leaves of Grass and Two Rivulets with Whitman’s Transmittal Note

WHITMAN, WALT. Leaves of Grass.

Camden, 1876. [and]

Two Rivulets Including Democratic Vistas, Centennial Songs, and Passage to India. Author’s Edition.

Camden, 1876.

Two volumes. Contemporary half cream sheep, marbled boards. Rubbed, Leaves rejointed and Two Rivulets rebacked preserving most of original spines and labels. These are the second printings, with the intercalations made on the sheets themselves, not pasted on,  in Leaves and with the extended caption on the frontispiece of Two Rivulets. Fine matching half leather cases tooled to match the original bindings.

This set of the privately-published author’s edition, is inscribed by Whitman in each volume: “Godfrey Lushington from the author.” Leaves of Grass is additionally signed by Whitman on the title-page, and Two Rivulets is signed “Walt Whitman born May 31 1819” on the frontispiece mounted albumen photograph. Godfrey Lushington (1832-1907), the recipient of these volumes, was a British civil servant and reformer who rose to Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office in 1885.

The set is accompanied by the original autograph note by Whitman, sending the books: “I to-day forward to you by mail … a set of my Books – Two Vols. Please let me know … if they reach you safely. Another set, same Vols. Will be sent you soon.”

Leaves of Grass is today recognized as “America’s second Declaration of Independence” (Bloom) and greatest work of 19th-century poetry, but in his time Whitman struggled to achieve wide recognition. By the 1870s Whitman was impoverished. William Michael Rossetti issued in England a circular describing Whitman’s plight and inviting readers to purchase the new self-published editions of Leaves of Grass and Two Rivulets. Whitman thanked Rossetti, noting that “by far the most satisfaction to me (and I think it can be done, and believe it will be) will be to live, as long as possible, on the sales, by myself, of my own works …”

Whitman later recalled, “Anything like unmitigated acceptance of my ‘Leaves of Grass’ book, and heart-felt response to it, in a popular however faint degree, bubbled forth as a fresh spring from the ground in England in 1876. … [I had] some home customers, for them, but mostly from the British Islands. I was seriously paralyzed from the Secession war, poor, in debt, was expecting death … Curiously, the sale abroad proved prompt, and what one might call copious: the names came in lists and the money with them, by foreign mail. The price was $10 a set. Both the cash and the emotional cheer were deep medicines; many paid double or treble price (Tennyson and Ruskin did)… these blessed gales from the British Islands probably (certainly) saved me. Here are some of the names, for I w’d like to preserve them …” Lushington’s name then appears on the list of purchasers.

This is a splendid pair of books inscribed by Whitman documenting a crucial turning point in his life and reputation. Matched sets in original bindings are rare in the market.

Leaves of Grass: BAL 21412 (one of 600 copies). Two Rivulets: BAL 21413 (one of 600 or 650 copies).