The Old Curiosity Shop.Philadelphia : 1842 Stock Code: 90111
NotesPresentation copy, inscribed by Dickens to William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), editor of the New York Evening Post and a leading poet of his generation, inscribed by Dickens: "William Cullen Bryant From his friend and admirer Charles Dickens", signed with his characteristic lavish underscores, and with two accompanying autograph letters signed. In the first letter Dickens writes: "With one exception (and that's Irving) you are the man I most wanted to see in America". Dickens excuses himself for not having been able to see Bryant when he called, adding though that "As I lost what I most eagerly longed for, I ask you for your sympathy and not for your forgiveness". He presses Bryant to come and breakfast with him"I don't call to leave a card at your door before asking you, because I love you too well to be ceremonious with you. I have a thumbed book at home, so well now that it has nothing of you on the back, but one gilt 'B', and the remotest possible traces of a 'y'. My credentials are in my earnest admiration of its beautiful contents". The second letter was the cover note to the gift of six American editions of Dickens's works, all similarly inscribed: "If I had any control over the accompanying books, they should be unillustrated, and in outward appearance more worthy your acceptance."
After the delays indicated by the first letter here, Dickens finally met Bryant for their first private audience on his American tour on Tuesday 22 February 1842. Bryant responded to the gift of books by presenting a copy of this own The Fountain and other Poems, his inscription using the same form of words (that copy later in the Stephen H. Wakeman collection, sold American Art Association, April 1924, lot 26, 400). Bryant was well-disposed to Dickens, at that time the most famous living author in the world, but he, like many other Americans, was dismayed by the criticisms Dickens expressed in his American Notes (1842) and in the American chapters of Martin Chuzzlewit (1844). However, he recovered sufficiently to visit Dickens as an old friend on his return to America in 1867.
The fact that this is an American edition is evocative: Dickens had strong feelings on the contentious issue of international copyright, and the subject hung over the whole trip. He mentioned it himself several times during his public engagements, eventually drawing on himself the wrath of the American press. Lea and Blanchard (successors to Cary and Lea) were Dickens's "official" American publishers and had prepared for his visit by reprinting his works to date, but the American economy was in the middle of a depression, general fiction could only be sold in the cheapest possible formats, and the cash-strapped publishers were not eager to further erode their profits by paying royalties to foreign authors.
Large octavo. Original brown vertical grain cloth, covers blind-stamped, spine with figure and title in gilt (stained, worn), inscribed to Bryant "from his friend and admirer, Charles Dickens". Housed in a quarter morocco solander box by the Chelsea Bindery.
With two autograph letters signed to the poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant, Carlton House, New York, 14 and 27 February 1842, together 3 pages, 8vo, the second with later annotation to upper margin. Provenance: by descent from the recipient.
Spine expertly repaired, with restoration at head, dampstaining to top edge of contents, boards scuffed and dampstained, foxing throughout, offsetting and oxidisation to plates, as usual with American piracies of this date, overall a good copy.
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