Details
MELVILLE, Herman (1819-1891). Typee. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1865.

A presentation copy fraught with irony: a gift for the man who enabled Melville to turn his back on writing. Inscribed and signed by the author on the front free endpaper: "Henry A. Smythe, Esq. with the Sincere Regards of Herman Melville, Xmas 1868."

Henry A. Smythe (1817-1884), a merchant and banker, as well as an admirer of Melville’s works, first met the author in Switzerland in 1857 after which they traveled together in Germany, visiting Kiel, Heidelberg, and Frankfurt. In May 1866, Smythe would be appointed as the Collector of the Port of New York by Andrew Johnson. Melville’s Battle-Pieces was published later the same year and sales were meager, and while his other books were still in print, sales of these, too, were slow. Faced with this disheartening reception and needing to provide for his family, he wrote to Smythe to see about a job. His friend secured a post for him at the New York Customs Office, where he would serve in obscurity for the next twenty years (he later said that he sought to “bury himself alive”). This was Melville’s Christmas present and thank you to his erstwhile traveling companion.

Melville took his oath as the District Inspector of the United States Customs Service on 5 December 1866 and he worked six days a week on a rigid schedule—how far this must have felt from his seafaring days of travel of exploration. While Smythe had been appointed under glowing terms, by 1868—when this book was inscribed—he had fallen out of favor, accused of embezzlement, and eventually convicted of stealing millions of dollars from the city.

“Typee was Melville’s first book, and a resounding success; this is a sixth edition, suggesting its ongoing popularity. Melville came to hate his most saleable work, finding himself typecast as ‘the man who lived among cannibals.’ Still he chose it for a gift, knowing it would be more appreciated than Moby-Dick” (Reese, The Grolier Club Collects II).

Association copies of Typee are very scarce. ABPC records only two inscribed copies of his first book, the most recent selling in 1995.

Octavo (185 x 125mm). Frontispiece map. 7 pages of ads at rear. 19th century full morocco gilt presentation binding, gilt dentelles, all edges gilt (front hinge cracked, spine a touch faded with wear at head, joints rubbed). Custom quarter morocco slipcase. Provenance: Henry A. Smythe, Esq., 1817-1884, merchant and banker (authorial inscription) – George W. Woolsey (bookplate).

Exhibited: "A Herman Melville Collection ... on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his death, from the collection of William S. Reese," Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, 1991, no. 3, and "Grolier Club Collects II," The Grolier Club of New York, 2015.
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