Sunday, July 26, 2009

"I'm a Thinker from Thinkersville": Peck's Bad Boy and His Pa

To celebrate my grandfather’s eightieth birthday, this week’s book is one he recently gave to me for my birthday and which centers around a character whose adventures my grandfather tells me he used to read when he was a boy.

The book is actually two volumes in one. The first is Peck’s Bad Boy and His Pa and Compendium of Fun, Profusely Illustrated, a collection of stories written by George Wilbur Peck (1840-1916) and published by Stanton and Van Vliet, Co. of Chicago, in 1911. The title page proclaims that this is the “Complete Edition” and is accompanied by 100 illustrations by True W. Williams (1839-1897), who gained his own fame as illustrator for stories by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). The book was first published in 1883 under the title Mirth for the Million: Peck’s Compendium of Fun, Comprising the Immortal Deeds of Peck’s Bad Boy and His Pa, and All the Choice Gems of Wit, Humor, Sarcasm, and Pathos. In the same year, the first edition was followed by a stand-alone narrative, The Grocery Man and Peck’s Bad Boy. The stories themselves had almost all first appeared, however, in Peck’s weekly newspaper, The Sun, beginning in 1874. The Bad Boy quickly gained famed far beyond Wisconsin, however, and a Canadian edition followed in 1884, a Swedish edition in 1898, and additional U.S. editions in 1893, 1895 1900, 1905, 1907, and 1911, along with a scattering of other Bad Boy adventures published separately (including the collection of songs “Peck’s bad boy songster” in 1884 and, in 1907, Peck's bad boy with the cowboys: relating the amusing experiences and laughable incidents of this strenuous American boy and his pa while among the cowboys and Indians in the Far West).

In 1885 the character was so well known and loved that Atkinson’s Comedy Company, at the Boston Theatre, on Washington Street in Boston, presented “scenes in the every day life of Peck’s bad boy and his pa, without plot, but with a purpose, to make people laugh, the only authorized dramatic version, in three acts, of the celebrated Bad boy sketches, by Geo. W. Peck”, adapted for the stage by Charles F. Pidgin. Even after Peck’s death, other American writers continued the Bad Boy’s adventures, such as James Austin’s Return of Peck’s Bad Boy between 1920 and 1952. Several modern publishers have also released contemporary reprint editions, ensuring that the Bad Boy can continue to entertain readers. Besides the Bad Boy’s appearance on stage, he was also to be seen on the silver screen three times (1921, 1934, and 1938) and was, along with Austin’s unauthorized sequel, the inspiration for a short-lived comedy television series in 1959, Peck’s Bad Girl, which ran for only 14 episodes.

In his own day, Peck made quite a name for himself beyond his humorous stories. Born in New York, he moved to Wisconsin at a very young age and stayed there the rest of his life. He took to the newspaper life and founded his own papers in Ripon and later La Crosse. In 1878, the La Crosse paper -- The Sun -- moved with Peck to Milwaukee and became Peck’s Sun. Peck’s love of his new hometown led him to run for mayor on the Democratic ticket and win -- despite the fact the majority of voters in Milwaukee were Republican. His electoral success in the metropolis was then translated by the Party into a successful bid for governor in 1890, a position he held until 1894.

The book is hardback bound in red cloth, with an illustration of the titular character smoking a cigarette and chatting with an older man; a closer look at the Bad Boy’s grinning face appears on the spine. The pages are, with the exception of the photographic plate of the author, unfortunately printed on an old acid-based paper. The stock of this paper was quite flimsy to begin with and it has since faded over time -- though the illustrations and text are still clear. Beside this fading and some chipping to some pages, though, the book is in good shape. It was printed in small octavo format, but there are no signatures to mark the gatherings so I’ll spare us all the trouble of jotting down a collational formula for this one. 

As noted above, the book actually consists of two parts. The first is Peck’s Bad Boy and His Pa, which is itself divided into two volumes (36 chapters in the first; 27 in the second). The second part of the books is Peck’s Sunshine: A Collection of Articles Generally Calculated to Throw Sunshine Instead of Clouds on the Faces of Those Who Read Them, consisting of 59 chapters and a number of additional illustrations as well. These stories are not about the Bad Boy but are in the same vein of anecdotal humor, all of the tales -- some true, some fictional -- first appeared at various times in Peck’s newspapers. The illustrations for this volume were done by “Hopkins” (whomever that might be). Peck’s Sunshine was originally published by Belford, Clarke, & Co. in 1882, followed by later editions in 1892, 1893, and 1900 by other publishers and has also been more recently reprinted by modern publishers as well.

The preliminaries of the first volume are paginated [i]-[xvii], with a blank flyleaf and the photographic plate inserted between the first [i-ii] and second [iii-iv] leaves of the gathering. The first volume’s contents are paginated 23-347 and I’m not sure why the numbering starts so oddly. The pagination in the second volume is equally inexplicable; the preliminaries run [i]-iv, followed by an author’s note (“Not Guilty”) numbered 23 in the lower inside corner and then the contents of the volume, which run 1, 8-124. The final page is a blank fly made of heavier stock. One intriguing feature of the table of contents in the second part and the lists of illustrations in both parts is that they are provided in alphabetical order, rather than in sequence. This likely points to the episodic nature of the book: it was intended for readers (many of whom may have already been familiar with many of the stories and may have deliberately sought out certain titles) to pick through the stories intermittently and selectively, rather than to read straight through the chapters consecutively.

The only indications of previous readership are an owner’s name illegibly inscribed on the recto of the front fly (“D. Je<   >l<>”) and a folded piece of old lined paper used to mark a reader’s place between pages 60 and 61 of the second volume (the story that starts on page 61 being “Woman-Dozing a Democrat”).

At the head of both volumes are author’s notes that put the book into its proper context and thus deserve quoting in full. The first, “A Card from the Author”, states:

Gents—If you have made up your minds that the world will cease to move unless these "Bad Boy" articles are given to the public in book form, why go ahead, and peace to your ashes. The "Bad Boy" is not a "myth," though there may be some stretches of imagination in the articles. The counterpart of this boy is located in every city, village and country hamlet throughout the land. He is wide awake, full of vinegar and is ready to crawl under- the canvas of a circus or repeat a hundred verses of the New Testament in Sunday School He knows where every melon patch in the neighborhood is located, and at what hours the dog is chained up. He will tie an oyster can to a dog's tail to give the dog exercise, or will fight at the drop of the hat to protect the smaller boy or a school girl. He gets in his work everywhere there is a fair prospect of fun, and his heart is easily touched by an appeal in the right way, though his coat-tail is oftener touched with a boot than his heart is by kindness. But he shuffles through life until the time comes for him to make a mark in the world, and then he buckles on the harness and goes to the front, and becomes successful, and then those who said he would bring up in State Prison, remember that he always was a mighty smart lad, and they never tire of telling of some of his deviltry when he was a boy, though they thought he was pretty tough at the time. This book is respectfully dedicated to boys, to the men who have been boys themselves, to the girls who like the boys, and to the mothers, bless them, who like both the boys and the girls.

Very respectfully,


Peck's Sunshine begins with the following address:

Gentlemen of the Jury:

I stand before you charged with an attempt to "remove" the people of America by the publication of a new book, and I enter a plea of "Not Guilty." While admitting that the case looks strong against me, there are extenuating circumstances, which, if you will weigh them carefully, will go far towards acquitting me of this dreadful charge. The facts are that I am not responsible. I was sane enough up to the day that I decided to publish this book and have been since; but on that particular day I was taken possession of by an unseen power—a Chicago publisher—who filled my alleged mind with the belief that the country demanded the sacrifice, and that there would be money in it. If the thing is a failure, I want it understood that I was instigated by the Chicago man; but if it is a success, then, of course, it was an inspiration of my own.

The book contains nothing but good nature, pleasantly told yarns, jokes on my friends ; and, through it all, there is not intended to be a line or a word can cause pain or sorrow—nothing but happiness.

Laughter is the best medicine known to the world for the cure of many diseases that mankind is subject to, and it has been prescribed with success by some of our best practitioners. It opens up the pores, and restores the circulation of the blood and the despondent patient that smiles is in a fair way to recovery. While this book is not recommended as an infallible cure for consumption, if I can throw the patient into the blues by the pictures, I can knock the blues out by vaccinating with the reading matter.

To those who are inclined to look upon the bright side of life, this book is most respectfully dedicated by the author.


The book is, of course, a product of its day and contains some language that modern readers would find offensive (racial epithets, for example) and some situational humor that modern readers would find distasteful (a running thread throughout the Bad Boy’s early adventures are his attempts -- sometimes malicious, sometimes guileless -- to catch his Pa in the old man’s attempts to engage in extramarital romantic escapades...attempts that often succeed spectacularly but that also almost always end with Pa giving the boy a sound beating out in the woodshed and the boy speculating on a life on the road, in the circus, in a hotel, etc.). Equally dated is Peck’s manner of telling the Bad Boy stories in what he took to be the dialect of young boys of the time and place (the stories are told in the first person from the Bad Boy’s point of view), an informing detail in revealing how an older man heard and interpreted the slang and speech-patterns of boys of his day.

The nature of some of the narratives can be suggested by reference to some of the more telling chapter titles and their under-headings, such as the title of this post. For example, chapter four of the first part of the book, “The Bad Boy’s Fourth of July”:

Pa is a Pointer, not a Setter -- Special Arrangements for the Fourth of July -- A Grand Supply of Fireworks -- The Explosion -- The Air Full of Pa and Dog and Rockets -- The New Hell -- A Scene that Beggar’s Description

Or chapter five, “The Bad Boy’s Ma Comes Home”:

No Deviltry, Only a Little Fun -- The Boy’s Chum -- A Lady’s Wardrobe in the Old Man’s Room -- Ma’s Unexpected Arrival -- Where is the Hussy? -- Damfino! -- The Bad Boy Wants to Travel with a Circus

Or chapter twenty-three of the second volume, in which the Bad Boy, his Pa, and the Grocer and Minister (both also targets of the Bad Boy’s shenanigans) get involved with amateur dramatics in “The Grocery Man and the Ghost”:

Ghosts Don’t Steal Wormy Figs -- A Grand Rehearsal -- The Minister Murders Hamlet -- The Watermelon Knife -- The Old Man Wanted to Rehearse the Drunken Scene in Rip Van Winkle -- No Hugging Allowed -- Hamlet Wouldn’t Have Two Ghosts -- “How Would You Like to be an Idiot?”

The chapter headings of the second part of the book are also revealing and include such gems as “A Bald-Headed Man Most Crazy”, “An Aesthetic Female Club Busted”, “Female Doctors Will Never Do”, “Fooling with the Bible”, “Shall There Be Hugging in the Parks”, and “The Naughty but Nice Church Choir”.

Overall, the stories glorify the eccentric and sometimes cruel nature of boyhood in late nineteenth-century and early-twentieth century middle America -- a tradition from which emerged not just Peck’s Bad Boy but those other iconic rapscallions who embodied our nation’s own larger transition from the whimsical fantasies and devious pranks of childhood to the dark humor and often frustrating inequalities one becomes aware of in the process of maturing to adulthood, the immortal Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, and How Good Writers Don't Necessarily Make Good Scholars

This week’s entry is for a book whose title jumped out at me from my bookcase.

This is a first edition of Samuel Clemens’s (a.k.a. Mark Twain’s) provocatively named book Is Shakespeare Dead ???? (yes, the cover title does include four question marks, though the histrionic punctuation is muted to only one everywhere else the title appears in the book). The text of the book was first part of Twain’s so-called Autobiography, which was actually not published in book-format until after his death; instead, during his life he published various “chapters” as articles, serial-style, in twenty-five issues of The American Review between 1906 and 1907.

Evidently Twain thought this “chapter” worthy of full book-format publication and in April 1909, one year before the author’s death, Harper & Brothers Publishers of New York and London released the first edition in at least three issues (see below). Twain took the opportunity also to add some material and expand on some original material in the original serial version of the essay, but it is largely the same as the The American Review version. Since then it has reappeared in many editions, both bibliographically independent and as part of anthologies or collections of Twain’s works.

The book is hard-bound in green cloth with gilt lettering on the front board and spine. I do not believe that it was released with a dust-jacket, though some dealers online specify that their copy is “without dust-jacket”, which may indicate that it was. My copy has a slight scuffed stain on the lower outside corner of the front board and the corners are bumped slightly; otherwise it is in very good condition, with no marks inside the book itself. The binding is stitched and still quite tight.

The pages measure 13.5cm x 21cm and are of a heavy cream stock. The fore-edges are rough, indicating that the book was sold uncut originally and it was opened by an early owner. The top-edge of the pages is gilded, though whether this was original to the edition or added later I cannot determine.

As far as the book’s printing goes, the signatures are signed numerically (see photo) and its collation may be expressed as crown 8o: [#] [18]-108 [π]; $1. The pagination begins on the first page of the book’s content (14r) and runs 1-[150]. Inserted between the blank 11 and the title page (12) are two facing black-and-white photographic plates, one of a drawing of William Shakespeare on the verso and one of a statue of Francis Bacon (Twain’s favored son regarding the “authorship question” -- see below) on the recto. As usual, the initial leaf and ultimate leaf are blank flies conjugate to the front and rear paste-downs respectively. The verso of the title page -- facing the recto half-title -- is an advertising list of other books by Twain, with their prices and options for binding. Some printing tricks had to be employed to make the content stretch to fill an entire book and there is much white space throughout, mostly in the form of very wide margins (especially the lower margin) which consume at least one-third of each page.

Judging from copies currently being offered by dealers online, the first edition of the book appears in two distinct states. The true first included two pages of publisher’s advertisements at the back and a telling typographic error on p. 55 (the word “equipped” was erroneously set as “epuipped”). The second issue does not include the advertisements and has corrected the p. 55 error (see photo). Based on this evidence, my copy is of the first edition’s second issue and thus is valued at between $30 and $50. There is no table of contents, but the text is broken up into thirteen chapters

Twain’s book is a digressive and largely unscholarly tangent defending his personal take on the so-called “authorship question” regarding the plays of William Shakespeare. The start of the book provides some connection to the putative objective of “autobiography” that the essay was originally part of by explaining how Twain came to be concerned with the authorship issue. As a young man, undergoing steamboat pilot training on the Mississippi, he would regularly fall into intense arguments with an older pilot about the issue. The remainder of the book follows this up with what Twain takes to be evidence against “the man from Stratford” and generally in favor of Francis Bacon. His evidence, while wittily presented (as one would expect from Twain), is quite shallow.

First, he contends that little is actually known with any reliability about Shakespeare’s life and that most biographies written about him are purely speculative. In response, see Sam Schoenbaum’s magisterial William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life, which brings together nearly all of the extant documentary evidence about the man (all of which, it is immediately obvious to even a casual reader, supports the fact that the man from Stratford wrote the plays). It should also be noted that, contrary to popular mythology, we actually know quite a bit more about Shakespeare than we do about many of his contemporaries. As evidence that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare, of course, our lack of biographical evidence is largely irrelevant, particularly given the absolute wealth of bibliographical evidence that shows that he did. And against Bacon we might also urge the volumes of evidence, derived from what we know about the London theatre industry of the day, that would render his candidacy considerably more improbable than that of Shakespeare’s.

Second, Twain notes the number of legal professionals who have suggested, based on legal references in the plays, the dramatist must have been familiar with the law -- something that, Twain states, the man from Stratford was largely inexperienced in but that Bacon had in spades. This argument neglects one of the most important qualities of Shakespeare’s writing -- its ability to be all things to all people. We know that Shakespeare read very widely and that he was able to incorporate ideas and language from dozens upon dozens of different sources into his work. The result has been that members of various professions (soldiers, lawyers, doctors, scholars, actors, etc.) have all claimed Shakespeare as their own, even though there is no external evidence of the fact (except, of course, for claimants who assign him to the ranks of glove-maker or actor). A tally of imagery in Shakespeare’s plays shows that he uses, for example, military language as much as legal language, but Twain does not use this fact to suggest the plays were written by Walter Morgan Wolff.

Third, and most ridiculous, is Twain’s suggestion that small communities, like Stratford, would never given up on celebrating a famous son. To support this argument he draws evidence from his own life and his continued celebrity in his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. He suggests that if Shakespeare from Stratford were really so famous, he would have been as well-known in modern day Stratford as Twain was in modern day Hannibal. Setting aside the fact that Twain was alive when he wrote this and Shakespeare had been dead for two-hundred and ninety-three years, and the fact that applying standards of modern social conduct to an early modern community is grossly ahistorical and thus irrelevant, anyone who has been to Stratford-upon-Avon today will find little evidence that the town has forgotten (or at any point since 1616 did forget) its most famous resident.

Besides the weakness of the evidence underlying his arguments, Twain’s book is also marked by a high degree of personal vitriol and ad hominem attacks upon Stratfordians. In particular, he chastises his opponents as mindless slaves and draws direct comparisons between them and the followers of cultic prophets and messianic religious figures. Ironically, what particularly irritates him is how Stratfordians employed the very same terms of condescension and disregard against Bacon’s supporters; that he was tarring himself with the same brush was either of no great concern to him (some commentators suggest the entire book is meant to be satirical) or something he was simply too blind with polemicism to realize.

Although my copy does not have any of the usual marginalia that I enjoy, it does have an intriguing news clipping inserted that reveals a previous owner possessed the book because he or she was a Twain fan and not, like me, interested in Shakespeare. The clipping is a television review written by Lawrence Laurent, an extremely influential media critic who helped define the field when he wrote both reviews and industry news for The Washington Post in the 1960s and 1970s. His prerequisites for effective criticism were formative for writers, both then and now; as James A. Brown of the Museum of Broadcast Communications summarizes it, Laurent demanded, “sensitivity and reasoned judgment, a renaissance knowledge, coupled with exposure to a broad range of art, culture, technology, business, law, economics, ethics, and social studies all fused with an incisive writing style causing commentary to leap off the page into the reader's consciousness, possibly influencing their TV behavior as viewers or as professional practitioners.”

The review is a glowing account of Emmy- and Tony-winning performer Hal Holbrook’s “long overdue” performance of his ninety-minute one-man play Mark Twain Tonight!, which aired on CBS on March 6, 1967 (Holbrook is shown to the right; Clemens, in 1909 when Is Shakespeare Dead? came out, is below). Directed by Paul Bogart and produced by David Susskind, the play was written by Holbrook using published and archival material from the estate of Samuel Clemens. It was one of the staples of Holbrook’s development as an actor, a part he had been playing and constantly refining since 1947, when he was twenty-two (the depiction of Clemens, in his play, is at the age of seventy!). In 1966, his Broadway revival of the play won him a Tony and ushered in a new popular genre of one-person biographical drama. For the CBS performance, Holbrook took the liberty of adding even more material, particularly content that highlighted Twain’s eloquent disapproval of war -- something that directly reflected the actor’s own outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War. After the broadcast, Holbrook continued to play the role, logging more than 2,000 performances after 1967. For those who don’t know him, Holbrook is known to fans (including this blogger) of Aaron Sorkin’s celebrated television series The West Wing as the curmudgeonly but avuncular Assistant Secretary of State Albie Duncan, from the 2001 and 2002 seasons.

To whomever it was that owned this book in 1967, Holbrook’s performance as Twain merited preservation in the form of a small reminder -- Laurent’s Washington Post review -- tucked safely within the covers of Is Shakespeare Dead... a book that ended up in Tarquin Tar’s Bookcase for an entirely different reason: namely, the book’s topic, and not so much its author (though I must admit that, since I have little patience for “authorship” controversy books, the only reason I can stomach owning this particular one is because of its author). This little discordance in the book’s ownership history comforts me to a certain degree -- a reminder that all literature, whether a play by a sixteenth-century English icon or a close-minded harangue by a nineteenth-century American icon, can mean different things to different people. Indeed, I would argue that that is the very definition of literature.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

When is a First Edition Not a First Edition?

I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant—
Among other things—or one way of putting the same thing:
That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,
Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened. 
(T. S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages”)

I’ve been reading Nicholas Basbanes’s collection of anecdotes, biographies, and stories from book-collecting history A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), and this week’s book was chosen to highlight one of Basbanes’s main points: the often bizarre and sometimes personal idiosyncrasies of book collectors can translate into extremely particular metrics for value. Sometimes these metrics are useful (the collection of first editions of books later revised by their authors, for example, provides a useful tool for scholars to study the creative process of these writers) and sometimes these metrics are actually damaging (such as the mindless mania for “perfect” copies that resulted in “preservationists” of the nineteenth and early twentieth century literally bleaching the margins of old books to “clean” the pages of early readers’ marginalia). In this case, the idiosyncrasy in question is that of issues.

Most successful books printed in the modern era (an era that for bibliographers begins in 1850, with the introduction of the machine press) are actually issued in several different printings over the course of a single “edition”. If copies sell well, the publisher may decide that the print run should be extended to meet the unanticipated demand. Most die-hard collectors of first editions that appeared in this kind of multiple-issue printing process are only really interested in the first issue of the first edition (the "first state", “first first”, or “true first” as it’s called). This predilection can do incredibly inequitable things to the assessed value of a book and many nascent collectors fall into the trap of buying a “first edition” at what seems like a fantastically low price only to find that it’s not a “true first” (a pitfall all too easy to stumble into when buying in an environment in which there is limited information or access to the copy...such as eBay). Always research in advance the “points” (that is, specific identifiable features of the printing) of a true first and compare them rigorously to the copy you are considering purchasing before you make an offer or pay.

One of the easiest points to find in a modern book is the printer’s code -- the sequence of numbers, and sometimes letters, that appears near the publisher’s imprint (on the verso of most title pages), used by the printer to identify the print run to which the copy belongs. This week’s book is a good example of the difference a printer’s code can make in the value of a book.

This is a first edition of the landmark collection of four poems Four Quartets by the enormously influential (and conservative) Nobel-winning dramatist, literary critic, and poet T. S. Eliot (1888-1965; shown here in one of his rare cheerful humors), published by Harcourt, Brace and Company of 383 Madison Avenue, New York, in 1943. The four poems, which explore(mostly Christian) theological and philosophical themes and which Eliot wrote over the course of six years between 1936 and 1942 , are “Burnt Norton” (first published as the final poem in Eliot’s Collected Poems, 1909-1935), “East Coker” (first published in America in 1940 in The Partisan Review), “The Dry Salvages” (also first published in The Partisan Review in 1941), and “Little Gidding” (making its first appearance in print in this book). The book sold for $2.00 in 1943 (the equivalent of approximately $24 today). 

My copy has no marginalia (usually something in its favor in terms of collector's value... depending on the collector), though it does have an elaborate bookplate on the recto of the blank flyleaf: a man holding a sheaf of wheat in one hand and a book in the other, stands in profile, with a city in the background and stars above; beneath the picture is the name “Barbara Grigsby Brady”.

The pages measure 14cm x 21cm and are bound in a simple black cloth with gilt lettering on the spine; the dust-jacket has a simple three-toned design on the front and advertisements for other Eliot books on the back (the front flap summarizes the book’s contents, the back flap is blank). The collation may be expressed as 8o: [#] [A8-C8] [π]. None of the pages are signed; the initial leaf and final are flies conjugate with the paste-downs on the inside of the front and back covers. Pagination begins with the “Burnt Norton” interior title page [A5r] and runs [1]-39, ending on the final page of “Little Gidding” [C8r]. The contents include a half-title [A1r] with a list of other works by Eliot [A1v], the title page [A2r] and imprint [A2v], the dedication to John Hayward [A3r], a table of contents [A4r], and the poems (their pagination, including their individual interior title pages: “Burnt Norton” runs from pp. 1-8 [A5r-A8v]; “East Coker” from pp. 9-17 [B1r-B5r], “The Dry Salvages” from pp. 19-28 [B6r-C2v], and “Little Gidding” from pp. 29-39 [C3r-C8r]). The book is in good condition, with very minimum moisture damage and foxing; the dust-jacket is also good, with only minor chipping and creases.

Though I normally try to avoid directing my readers to Wikipedia, the entry for Four Quartets is actually quite good at summarizing the poems and their history; it is also, importantly, thoroughly documented with citations and references. Rather than be redundant, I will simply suggest glancing at that page for more information on the poems themselves.

But back to the reason I chose this book this week. My copy has almost all the aspects (good condition, original dust-jacket, no markings in the text) that would make it worth well over $4,000. That is, if it were a true first...of which Harcourt only printed 788 copies and which are labelled on the copyright page as “first American edition”. But even if it were a second printing of the first edition, identifiable as such because it would lack a printer’s code entirely, it would be worth over $600. My copy, however, does have a code: [d.7.43]. I’m not entirely certain where this falls in the print run of the first edition; one dealer claims that this code indicates the third printing of the first edition, but there is another code on some copies that would seem to precede this: [c.6.43]. In either case, because my copy is not a true first it is worth only $30-$80; in other words, though it is still considered a first edition, my copy is worth only about 1% of a true first. 

Nonetheless, considering that this is another one of those books that I rescued from our local transfer station’s free book shed, and because I’m not one of those compulsive collectors who will only own a book if it’s a true first, I’m perfectly happy with my copy of Eliot’s Four Quartets -- both as an investment and, perhaps more importantly, as a good copy of an essential book in the history of English poetry.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Contemporary Account of America's Civil War

It’s the Fourth of July weekend -- an unfortunate time to discover the paucity of Americana in my collection. Still, I think that this book -- which I unearthed at an antiques store with a fairly good book section in nearby Deerfield -- speaks to a crucial moment in our nation’s history that, while not dating all the way back to our founding, still centers on what has come to be known as the last real battle of the American Revolution.

The book is The Great Rebellion; A History of the Civil War in the United States, written by New Yorker Joel Tyler Headley (1813-1897) and published by the American Publishing Company (APC) through their headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut, as well as their branch office in Columbus, Ohio, and their affiliate R. C. Treat in Chicago. On the title page, APC claims that the book was sold “by subscription only”, meaning it was retailed directly from the publisher to buyers who had seen it advertised and pre-paid for their copy. This copy is of the 1866 edition and includes two volumes sold as one book. Volume I was originally published by the firm of Hurlbut, Williams, & Company in 1862 (only two years into the war, making the use of the term “History” in the title slightly optative). About the 1862 edition of Volume I, Bisonscat Books notes:

At this volume’s publication Volume II was still being fought on the battlefields. According to the Publisher's Notice before the Preface, "Volume I contains a history of the origin of the war and its progress during a period of eighteen months, up to the last of the June, 1862. Volume II completing the history and containing valuable statistics, will be prepared as fast as the receipt of authentic material by the author will permit, and be issued within six months after the close of the war, or sooner if practicable and deemed expedient." This notice was dated Nov. 1st 1862, between the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg. You get the impression they did not think the war would last another two and a half years.

There is, unsurprisingly, no publisher’s notice before Volume I of the 1866 edition. Subsequent editions of Volume I, published again by Hurlbut, appeared in 1863 and 1864. An independent edition of Volume II first appeared in 1866, designed to accompany the 1864 edition of Volume I. Simultaneously, the two-volumes-in-one 1866 edition (to which my copy belongs) appeared. Many later reprints followed, from various publishers. Headley’s work was evidently to the satisfaction of his readers because it was followed by similar works, from various other publishers, in the ensuing thirty years (Heroes and Battles of the War, 1861-1865; Our Navy in the Great Rebellion; Our Army in the Great Rebellion; Farragut, and Our Naval Commanders; Grant and Sherman; etc.).

While Volume I of the 1866 dual edition lacks the publisher’s notice Bisonscat speaks of, there is one at the start of Volume II, in which APC delineates its patriotic vision for the book, speaks with extravagant praise of their product, allude to its publication delay (and ensuing cost overruns), and dismiss the competition. The notice is long, but worth quoting in full:

It is with no ordinary satisfaction and confidence that we issue this Second Volume of the History of the Great Rebellion. No other History of this mighty and memorable conflict, has won so large a favor from the American people. Mr. Headley's genius has here found a subject worthy of, and demanding its amplest resources; and he has successfully risen to the height of the great occasion. He here completes a historic record, that will be read with amazement and the deepest interest by present and future generations—the record of the sacrifices and successes of a people, sacredly cherishing the traditions and legacies of the Fathers and Founders of their Republic, and shrinking from no cost of treasure and blood necessary to subdue the most causeless and criminal insurrection against human rights and human freedom, that ever challenged a nation to the bitter and bloody arbitration of the battle field.

Ours is no dry and dreary compilation, which, even if read, can be of little profit, save to a few minds. It is not the speculations of the political theorist or philosopher, upon the causes and obscure agencies culminating in this atrocious conspiracy against the best human Government. But, it is the vivid and faithful portraiture—by an author of surpassing genius for historic delineation—of all the important events in our Civil War. From it may be got the clearest and most adequate idea of the spirit of the nation, and of the sweep and shock of its armies during these four eventful years of heroism and glory. It is a splendid and faithful panorama of a great people in arms, inspired with a sublime enthusiasm for Law and Liberty. It shows the prominent actors in the Tragedy which has held the gaze of the civilized world—some of them incompetent or unfaithful and disappearing in defeat or dishonor—others grand, heroic, moving to victory or honorable death, blessed with the prayers and love of all true patriots, and crowned with their gratitude and homage.

The delay in the completion of the work, though a pecuniary detriment to us, will however be compensated by important advantages to our subscribers. If it had been issued at the close of the conflict, it must have been written, as were some other Histories, without the aid of the official reports of Generals Grant and Sherman—the only reliable sources of information respecting the last, great and decisive campaigns of the War.

No History can possess perfect accuracy. Authorities of apparently equal claims for credence often differ, and time not infrequently makes disclosures that modify statements and judgments once regarded correct. Special effort has been made to authenticate the statements of this work by a comparison with every accessible authority, and we are confident that it has no superior, and, we think, no equal in fidelity of historical narration.

The official reports of Generals Grant and Sherman are documents of such national and enduring interest and value, that every reader of this History will desire to have them in a permanent form. We have thought that such would be grateful to us for furnishing them, and fitly associating them with the concluding part of the History of a War, which these able Chieftains by their strategy and leadership brought to a glorious end.

We have employed the very best Artists in the production of the fine steel engravings which embellish this volume, and though these have been executed during the period of high prices, no expense has been spared to secure in them the highest degree of excellence. The engravings of the two volumes taken together constitute a series of elegant and varied illustrations unequaled in any other History of the War.

In view of its size, its valuable portraits and other illustrations, its elegant typography, and the general excellence of its mechanical execution, we are conscious of having more than fulfilled the pledges made to our subscribers, and in anticipation of their entire satisfaction, send forth this work.

The 1864 edition of Volume I -- which was bound directly into the 1866 dual edition -- also included a statement of the publisher’s intentions for the venture, but this was in the form of an advertisement and series of testimonials (similar to the blurbs on modern book-jackets, but these much longer and less diplomatically vague) that appeared on the last printed leaf of the book (interestingly paginated as the first leaf of Volume II in the 1866 dual edition). The endorsements come from newspapers across the northeast (especially New York) and also include words of praise from Reverend C. B. Crane and Reverend Dr. M. B. Anderson (president of Rochester University). Again, because of the details it offers about the book’s goals and value (as advertised by the publisher), its implied view of historiographic procedure (reduction, clarification, comprehensiveness [which is apparently not considered at odds with reduction or clarification], proximity, and evocation) and the importance of what we today would call the “embedded” reporter, and, finally, some telling words about the printing history itself (including, for example, its simultaneous publication in a foreign language to ensure accessibility to one of the largest immigrant demographics in the northeast at the time), I believe the advertisement also bears quoting in full:

The magnitude of the subject of the present work -- the Great Rebellion in the United States -- being not only the Great Event in American History, but the most fearful tragedy of modern times, is of itself calculated to render this book one of the most exciting and interesting ever offered to the public. The publishers, fortunately, have been enabled to enlist the eminent and splendid talents of the Hon. J. T. Headley, who is well known to the public as the most brilliant and popular writer of Military History of modern times. In depicting the numerous battles and warlike scenes of the present contest, his power of vigorous and stirring description finds full scope. His great and remarkable talent for condensation by which he is enabled to render his narratives vivid, comprehensive, and full, in fewer words than almost any other writer, is invaluable in disposing of the immense mass of materials relating to the present subject. To more fully qualify himself for the work, he passed several months with our armies and obtained valuable information through his acquaintance with many of the most distinguished officers of the Army and Navy.

The work will embrace a comprehensive account of the whole contest, neatly printed from a beautiful, clear, new type, on good paper, and will be illustrated with numerous fine Steel Engravings, representing the most important and exciting scenes in the war, from original Designs by Darley and other eminent artists, together with life-like Portraits of leading actors on both sides; engraved expressly for this work, at great expense. It will contain over one thousand pages, royal octavo, handsomely bound in two volumes, and be furnished to order, only through our authorized traveling Agents.

To meet the wants of a portion of the public the publishers have prepared an edition of the work in the German language, which will be issued in the same style as the English.

In view of the above facts, the undersigned offer the present work, believing that they are thus rendering an important and valuable service to a discerning public. Confident that it will secure a patronage in some degree commensurate with its merits, they offer to intelligent, energetic agents, who will engage in its sale, a very profitable and useful employment.

The advertisement is signed by Hurlbut, Williams, & Co. of Hartford and E. B. & R. C. Treat of Chicago. I find the final paragraph’s commingling of nationalistic duty with a profit-guarantee to the firm’s booksellers an appropriately American touch.

The man in whom Hurlbut & Co. invested so much praise was a native New Yorker and the son of a Presbyterian preacher. Headley (shown to the right) followed in his father’s footsteps at first, graduating from Union College in 1839 and enrolling at Auburn Theological Seminary, where he was eventually ordained. His attempts to provide devotional leadership to a congregation in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, however, ended up inducing a nervous disorder and gave up the occupation to travel in Europe in 1842. Upon his return, he took up his pen and began to write history books about America and New York in particular, and he ended up as associate editor of the New York Tribune (a job he secured through the abolitionist who would later write a competitive account of the Civil War, Horace Greeley). In October, 1850, his book Sacred Mountains was famously skewered by Edgar Allen Poe in a rather cruel review in the Southern Literary Messenger that took issue, most of all, with the author’s religious credentials and their influence upon his writing:

THE Reverend MR. HEADLEY — (why will he not put his full title in his title-pages?) has in his "Sacred Mountains" been reversing the facts of the old fable about the mountains that brought forth the mouse — parturiunt montes nascetur ridiculus mus — for in this instance it appears to be the mouse — the little ridiculus mus — that has been bringing forth the "Mountains," and a great litter of them, too. The epithet, funny, however, is perhaps the only one which can be considered as thoroughly applicable to the book. We say that a book is a "funny" book, and nothing else, when it spreads over two hundred pages an amount of matter which could be conveniently presented in twenty of a magazine: that a book is a "funny" book — "only this and nothing more" — when it is written in that kind of phraseology, in which John Philpot Curran, when drunk, would have made a speech at a public dinner: and, moreover, we do say, emphatically, that a book is a "funny" book, and nothing but a funny book, whenever it happens to be penned by Mr. Headley.   

    We should like to give some account of "The Sacred Mountains," if the thing were only possible — but we cannot conceive that it is. Mr. Headley belongs to that numerous class of authors, who must be read to be understood, and who, for that reason, very seldom are as thoroughly comprehended as they should be. Let us endeavor, however, to give some general idea of the work. "The design," says the author, in his preface, "is to render more familiar and life-like, some of the scenes of the Bible." Here, in the very first sentence of his preface, we suspect the Reverend Mr. Headley of fibbing: for his design, as it appears to ordinary apprehension, is merely that of making a little money by selling a little book. 


"Quack" is a word that sounds well only in the mouth of a duck; and upon our honor we feel a scruple in using it: — nevertheless the truth should be told; and the simple fact is, that the author of the "Sacred Mountains" is the Autocrat of all the Quacks. In saying this, we beg not to be misunderstood. We mean no disparagement to Mr. Headley. We admire that gentleman as much as any individual ever did except that gentleman himself. He looks remarkably well at all points — although perhaps best, EXAS — at a distance — as the lying Pindar says he saw Archilochus, who died ages before the vagabond was born: — the reader will excuse the digression; but talking of one great man is very apt to put us in mind of another. We were saying — were we not? — that Mr. Headley is by no means to be sneered at as a quack. This might be justifiable, indeed, were he only a quack in a small way — a quack doing business by retail. But the wholesale dealer is entitled to respect. Besides, the Reverend author of "Napoleon and his Marshals" was a quack to some purpose. He knows what he is about. We like perfection wherever we see it. We readily forgive a man for being a fool if he only be a perfect fool — and this is a particular in which we cannot put our hands upon our hearts and say that Mr. Headley is deficient. He acts upon the principle that if a thing is worth doing at all it is worth doing well: — and the thing that he "does" especially well is the public. [zing!]

In 1855 Headley took a break from writing and began a career in politics as a member of the New York State Assembly, leading to his appointment as New York’s Secretary of State from 1856 to 1857. Upon leaving politics, Headley returned to the writing that had given him so much comfort after his stressful days as a preacher, and he took up a medical practice in Linn County, Iowa. It is from this period that his account of the Civil War dates and many of the accounts that are given in his Great Rebellion first appeared in newspapers and serial publications of the 1860s, including many in Harper’s Magazine. Up until his death in 1897, Headley apparently also travelled around the country, delivering lectures on historical and religious topics (on April 10, 1896 he gave an address titled “The Sunny Side of Life” at a high school commencement in Greenfield, Indiana; it was, according to the town history, “not very kindly received by a great many people” and letters protesting the speech continued to appear in the local paper up to two years after the event).

As every bibliophile knows, the appearance of a book is only part of its appeal: a truly desirable volume has something to offer, also, to the senses of touch and smell. My copy of Headley’s Great Rebellion certainly satisfies those criteria; it is pleasingly hefty but tightly bound in a full sheep leather that has become, with age, remarkably soft and smooth, and its odor is one of antique authority, that musty exhalation of paper and ink that is more than a century old. Black morocco labels and thin gold bands hug the spine, with the title and author in all majuscules.

The pages measure 15.5cm x 23cm, and while the publisher’s advertisement may have stipulated that the book would be printed on “good paper”, the stock used was evidently highly acidic (nearly every copy for which I can find a description -- including mine -- is plagued by a high degree of foxing throughout) and particularly prone to adverse reactions from the steel-plate engravings (though the usual sheet of tissue paper was bound in between the illustrations and the facing page of text, the chemicals from the engraving were so strong that they have seeped through multiple pages, both before and after the plate, resulting often in ghostly images of the war haunting some of the pages like persistent specters).

The signatures of the gatherings are expressed numerically. Not counting the illustrative plates, which have been inserted at various places within and between gatherings, the book may be collated as 8o royal: [#2] [18]-[318] 328-746; $1. Two blank fly-leaves, an initial and final, are also present, conjugate to the front and back paste-downs. The unsigned middle gathering (gathering 31) is the initial gathering of Volume II. The sequential signatures reveal that the book, though following the previous editions of both volumes for its copy, was printed as a whole in one volume as one job. The printer maintained the pagination of the original two separate volumes, however, with the first running from [1]-506, inclusive of the blank # gathering and the preliminaries, and the second running [1]-702, inclusive of the publisher’s advertisement between the two volumes. 

The 74 illustrations (36 in Volume I, 38 in Volume II) may have been newly engraved for the book, as the publisher proclaims, but they were based on a number of various works of art, some well known and some very obscure. The engraver was George E. Perine of New York, a fairly prolific steel-engraver of the nineteenth century who seems to have specialized in historic scenes and portraits. The sources of Perine’s engravings range from German-born landscape painter, lithographer, and newspaper and book illustrator William Momberger to Bostonian portrait engraver and banknote designer Oliver Pelton, amongst a host of others (lending the book's illustrations a slightly disconnected feel in terms of style). Approximately two-thirds of the plates present portraits of generals, officers, and politicians connected to the conflict (Union and “Rebel” -- Headley scrupulously avoids the term “Confederate”, captioning the portrait of Jefferson Davis as “President of the so called ‘Confederate States’”), the remainder showing key battles and gatherings of troops, such as the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, the Bombardment of Fort Sumter, the Battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac (“First Conflict between Iron-Clad Vessels”), Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and the entrance of the Fifty-Fifth Massachusetts Regiment (“Colored”) into Charleston (shown at the top of this post). The frontispiece of Volume I is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln; the frontispiece of Volume II is a portrait of his Vice President, and subsequently President following Lincoln’s assassination (thus, President when Volume II was completed and published), Andrew Johnson.

As noted above, the text-block of the book is tight and the binding sound, though there is foxing throughout. Besides this, there is no damage to the pages at all. The front board is beginning to come slightly loose and the cords are beginning to show from the inside. The cover has the usual chipping and the spine has a few small tears in the leather. The sole reader’s mark in the book is a contemporary-hand inked “The” on the upper outer corner of the inside front cover. However, an early reader did leave a make-shift bookmark -- a scrap of fabric with a blue and red pattern printed on it -- stuffed between pages 202 and 203 of Volume I (the Union’s capture of the fort during the battle of Belmont).

The book itself follows a detailed chronological structure in relating the events of the War. Thoughout, the account is extremely biased, showing an unquestioned loyalty to the Union cause (as well as Headley's propensity, loathed by Poe, to be overly-florid and hyperbolically poetic -- consider his account of Lincoln's assassination, shown below), even though Headley apparently harbored some racist sympathies of his own (during his time in office he was a member of what was called, at the time, the American Party, a group founded originally as the “Know Nothing Party”, whose principal platform planks centered on instituting state-sanctioned Protestantism, protecting “middle-class values”, promoting nativism, anti-Catholicism, and anti-immigration legislation, and banning alcohol; the party fractured over the issue of slavery, with many devout Protestants unable to reconcile their faith’s disapproval of the practice with the party’s claims of white supremacy).

The chapters are each broken into small sections explicating the specific events that occurred on the dates for that chapter. Volume I consists of 39 chapters covering the events before 1861 that led to the War up to McClellan’s assault on Richmond in June, 1862. The volume begins with the author’s four page preface on the horrors of civil war and a summary of what led to the conflict (“Those make a great mistake who suppose it grew out of a desire merely to perpetuate slavery. Slavery was used as a means to an end -- a bugbear to frighten the timid into obedience, and a rallying cry for the ignorant, deluded masses. The accursed lust of power lay at the bottom of it.... The great, moving cause was the desire of power--slavery the platform on which they worked their diabolical machinery.”) At the end there is an appendix on the agreement regarding the exchange of prisoners, reached by General Dix (Union) and General Hill (Confederate) at Haxall’s Landing on July 22, 1862. 

Volume II spans 42 chapters, resuming the narrative in June, 1862 with the events leading up to the Battle of Gaines’ Mill and ending in May, 1865, just after the assassination of Lincoln and with the return of Grant and Sherman’s armies to Washington and the issuance of Secretary Stanton’s armistice order. The volume concludes with several appendices, including a chart detailing -- for purposes of the impending Reconstruction -- the national debt as of February 1, 1866 (a gross amount of $2.7 billion, but a net of only $107 million after the nation’s coin and currency reserves were factored in), Grant’s official 49-page report of July 22, 1865 on the events of the War’s final years (including copies of correspondence between generals on both sides), Sherman’s official January 1, 1865 report on his extremely controversial campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas, and a chart giving the total number of men committed to the Union army by each state since April 1, 1861, helpfully broken down into columns showing the appropriate number furnished on the date of each of the 11 calls-to-arms issued by the government (in total, New York tops the list at 381,686 and “Dakota” is at the bottom with 181; Massachusetts  ranks sixth with 123,844).

Headley's work was not the only one to claim a comprehensive account of the War, but it was certainly among the most popular and, to his credit, probably the most comprehensive and thoroughly documented of its time. Its closest competitors in the year after the fighting ended would have been Thomas Kettell’s History of the Great Rebellion (also issued with steel engravings and with maps, which Headley’s book lacks) published in Hartford by L. Stebbins in 1865 and of course Horace Greeley’s enormously influential The American Conflict (which looked beyond the military and political events of interest to Headley and Kettell and included a substantial, damning “moral” study of the “drift and progress of American opinion respecting Human Slavery from 1776 to the close of the War for the Union), published also in Hartford (!) by O. D. Case in 1866. If there were time -- or if I were so inclined -- it may be of interest to put some of the events of the War, as presented in these three books, side-by-side for comparison’s sake...though, of course, since all three books were written by “the winners” (as the cliche goes about the writing of history) and since all three drew from the same documentary sources, I presume they will be mostly concordant in their details.

Very often when we seek historical information about an important event, we turn for convenience’s sake to the secondary sources of modern scholarship; while these can be illuminating and can help put things into perspective, there is nothing quite as rewarding as returning to a primary source, like Headley’s account of the Civil War, or those of Kettell and Greeley -- books written, not just in the aftermath of the conflict, but actually in the midst of it.