Shapero Rare Books has issued a catalogue entitled Literature. The title is then repeated in several different languages, a message that it is not limited to English literature. The contents are divided into four sections to make it even more understandable: British and American, Continental and Russian, Modern Firsts, and Children's. These are a few of the literary masterpieces that you will find in this collection.
We will start with Oliver Twist; or, the Parish Boy's Progress. By "Boz." We all know it actually was by Charles Dickens. This is Dickens at his Dickensian best. It is the story of an orphan boy, sold into child labor, who escapes to turn to street life and crime as do other boys of poverty. It was a look at the social ills of England in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was not a pretty picture. This is one of the scarce first edition, first issues of this book. Shapero recounts its history. When publisher Bentley decided to publish the book version of what had been running as a serial in 1838 before the final sections had been released in periodical form, illustrator George Cruikshank was forced to complete his part under a short time clock. Dickens did not have a chance to review the illustrations until the last minute. He did not like one of them, the "Fireside" plate of Rose Maylie and Oliver. A new plate was designed and substituted, but not in time to make it into the earliest copies. That is what distinguishes this copy as being from the first issue of the first edition. Item 12. Priced at £7,500 (British pounds, or approximately $9,789 U.S. dollars).
Next up is one of the greatest masterpieces of writing, the Encyclopedie of Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert (along with many other contributors). This is, naturally enough, an encyclopedia, but it proved to be much more. Originally, the publisher was looking for a mere translation of another work, but Diderot came up with a much grander plan. It would be an enormous work, covering just about everything imaginable, employing the greatest writers in France at the middle of the eighteenth century. That is what it became, 35 volumes published over 30 years, containing 2,796 plates. But, size alone does not explain the work's importance. What it became was the voice of the Enlightenment, a voice for democracy and human rights. It was so much so that by 1759, the government rescinded its approval of the project, d'Alembert dropped out, and Diderot, assisted by others equally enlightened, published the remaining volumes clandestinely. Begun in 1751, the project was completed in 1780. Item 49 is a complete set of this monumental accomplishment. £55,000 (US $71,829).
This is not the sort of item that one today associates with Isaac Newton, though it was more reflective of his fundamental beliefs than is his enormously important works on physics and optics. Item 30 is The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms... published posthumously in 1728. We remember Newton as a great scientist, but he was a philosopher, with a greater interest in theology than science. Indeed, his scientific works were intended to show the validity of his theological beliefs. While certain of Newton's religious beliefs would likely have been considered heretical in the day, and he did not allow them to be published while he was alive, he was surprisingly quite a biblical literalist. Forces like gravity, to Newton, were part of God's way of keeping the world working, though God did have to intervene on occasion so it didn't fall out of order. This book looks back at ancient times and fits them in with the history described in the Bible. £1,500 (US $1,958).
This one probably does not quite fit our description of the books in this catalogue being "literary masterpieces," but it is an interesting one nonetheless. Item 39 is The Letters of Queen Victoria. A Selection of Her Majesty's Correspondence between the years 1837 and 1861. Published by Authority of His Majesty. His Majesty in 1907, when this collection was published, was Edward VII, who authorized their publication six years after Queen Victoria died. The years described range from her ascending to the throne at the age of 18 until the death of her husband, Prince Albert. After his death, the Queen went into a lengthy period of withdrawal and deep mourning. This copy contains an inscription from King Edward to his daughter, Princess Victoria. It remained in the family after her death, ending up with Princess Margaret, the current Queen Elizabeth's sister. Margaret's collection, including this book, was sold after she died in 2002. £8,500. (US $11,101).
Here is the first book by Ernest Hemingway published in America (the second overall). It is a first American edition, and first trade edition, published in 1925 (a year after the limited run Paris edition). It is a collection of short stories, expanded from the Paris edition. The title is In Our Time, and it changed Hemingway from an unknown to a recognized and critically acclaimed writer. Shapero notes that it is "now recognized as one of the most original short story collections in twentieth century literature." The dust jacket contains boxes of positive reviews from known literary figures to encourage readers to take a chance on this unknown writer. Item 85. £17,500 (US $22,878).