MELVILLE, Herman (1819-1891). Redburn: His First Voyage. London: Richard Bentley, 1849.

"Nothing but cakes & ale": the first edition, a fine copy, of "Melville's highly autobiographical account of a young man's first voyage, designed to be a simple (and popular) adventure story" (Reese). Based on Melville's voyage to Liverpool in 1839, the manuscript for Redburn was completed in less than ten weeks and, without any attempt at polishing it, he submitted it to his American publisher Harper & Brothers for publication. After checking the proof sheets, which came out in August, he sent them along to Bentley for publication in England, where it appeared six weeks before the American edition. Rare: More than half (414) of the 750 copies printed would be remaindered.

Melville alluded to Redburn for the first time in a letter to his English publisher Richard Bentley June 5, 1849, in which he wrote that the novel would be practical rather than follow the "unwise" course of his previous novel, Mardi, which had been harshly criticized. He continues:

“I have now in preparation a thing of a widely different cast from Mardi—a plain, straightforward, amusing narrative of personal experience—the son of a gentleman on his first voyage to sea as a sailor—no metaphysics, no conic-sections, nothing but cakes & ale. I have shifted my ground from the South Seas to a different quarter of the globe—nearer home—and what I write I have almost wholly picked up by my own observations under comical circumstances” (Horth, p.132).

Melville adopted this more commercial approach to writing as his family obligations increased and his working conditions became more difficult. Living with him in the small house in New York City were his wife, child, mother, sisters, and his brother Allan with his wife and child. Melville later portrayed himself at this time as being forced to write "with duns all around him, & looking over the back of his chair—& perching on his pen & diving in his inkstand—like the devils about St. Anthony." Two years later Bentley would first publish his masterpiece The Whale. BAL 13659.

Two volumes, octavo. Original embossed blue cloth, gilt-stamped spine, white endpapers printed in blue (a couple discreet repaired tears to spine, a little rubbing at joints and to covers, touch of wear at extremities, a few minor indentations to rear cover of vol. 1). Provenance: “Egerton Leigh, High Leigh” (ownership inscription on title page) – Albert Henry Wiggin (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. 9.
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