Melville's first book - a copy fresher than an ocean breeze

Narrative of a Four Months' Residence Among the Native of a Valley of the Marquesas Islands; or, a Peep at Polynesian Life

Herman Melville

London, 1846


First edition of the literary virtuoso’s first book - preceding the American edition that appeared a month later under the more common title, Typee.


Original blind-stamped and gilt-lettered cloth, frontispiece map, 16 pages of inserted ads at the rear dated March, 1846. The name “Pomare” spelled correctly on page 19 rather than “Pomarea” - denoted by BAL as the second issue, but the difference now regarded as a pre-publication state. Fore-margin of E8 very slightly torn without loss, cloth trivially bumped. Lightly penciled owner inscription at the top of the title page, Stephen Cracknell, Nov. 1847. Patina of dustiness, else a sublime, Fine copy – the cloth bright and unworn, pages fresh as an ocean breeze.


The first printing was 4,048 copies, of which only around 1,500 were issued in cloth.


Typee was originally submitted to Harper & Brothers in New York, but was rejected on the grounds that it was too fantastic to be true. Melville's brother, Gansevoort, recently appointed Secretary of the American Legation in London, took the manuscript to England and persuaded John Murray to publish it - provided that Melville supply supplemental factual material to make the story seem more realistic. Despite the addition of three chapters(XX, XXI, and XXVII) of such material, many continued to doubt Melville's veracity. Much, however, was eventually done to dispel such doubts, at least in the United States, when on July 1, 1846, the Buffalo, New York, Commercial Advertiser published A Letter from Toby. This was an attestation by Melville's friend and fellow ship-jumper Richard Tobias Greene that the adventures related in the book were indeed true.


Gansevoort Melville also contacted George Putnam at the London offices of Wiley & Putnam, who agreed to publish an American edition to be typeset in New York from Murray's proof sheets. Putnam's partner John Wiley was offended by many of the passages dealing with sex and religion, but was unable to edit the book before it went to press; he subsequently pressured Melville to delete the controversial passages for the second edition. This "revised version" of the American edition was published in August of 1846, and included a "sequel" entitled The Story of Toby, an account of Greene's adventures after he managed to escape from the island.’(The Life and Works of Herman Melville)


His genius largely overlooked during his natural life, posthumous recognition would be Herman’s path to immortality. He’s an American original, a rhapsodic writer, and this is an absolutely sick copy of his literary introduction to the landlubber world.

Melville's first book - a copy fresher than an ocean breeze