Vachel Lindsay's Very Rare Messianic First Book, Inscribed to Vincent Starrett


([Springfield, Illinois: Vachel Lindsay, 1909]). 240 x 158. (9 3/8 x 6 3/4"). [84] leaves, printed on rectos only. FIRST EDITION. ONE OF 300 COPIES, according to Lindsay's "War Bulletin No. 5" (Nov. 1909).

Original printed tan wrappers, assembled like a stenographer's notebook and tied with red and green cord through two holes at the top. With 12 illustrations by Lindsay, many full-page. Verso of upper wrapper with ex-libris of Josephine B. Crane; title page INSCRIBED TO VINCENT STARRETT AND SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR, dated 1 November 1909 at Springfield, Illinois. Byrd, "Check List of the Melcher Lindsay Collection" no. 9, in The Indiana University Bookman, No. 5, December 1960, pp. 71-72. Wrappers slightly worn around edges, with a few nicks, a couple light stains, and a short closed tear, a faint crease to one corner, but AN OUTSTANDING COPY OF THIS FRAGILE ITEM, with the contents in pristine condition.

Preceded only by some leaflets and broadsides and printed at the poet's own expense, this is the rare first book published by modern troubadour Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931), who tramped around America in the early decades of the 20th century performing his poems for audiences and trading his poetic broadsides for food and lodging. Raised in a religious household in Springfield, Illinois, Lindsay originally set out to be an artist, studying at the Chicago Art Institute and the New York School of Art, before turning to poetry. He continued to draw, illustrating his poems in a style influenced by William Blake and the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1904, Lindsay began to have religious visions and to write mystical poems based on these revelations. He also drew a map of his moral universe, found on p. 70 in this work, along with an explanation of its symbols--such as the Spider representing Mammon and the Butterfly representing Beauty--used in many of his verses. According to Byrd, Lindsay did not sell this book as he did his pamphlets and broadsides but said, "I will give [it] with both hands to anyone who will write to me and confess that he reads poetry, who will try to read it through twice, who will send me a brief letter when he is done. . . . I want to plant 'The Tramp's Excuse' where it will take root and grow." While it did not bring in money, the book did boost Lindsay's reputation by attracting what was perhaps the first critical notice of his career. A review in the Chicago "Evening Post" of 29 October 1909 proclaimed that "Nicholas Vachel Lindsay is something of an artist; after a fashion, a socialist; more certainly, a religious mystic; and for present purposes it must be added that he is indubitably a poet!" Lindsay's first trade publication appeared in 1914, and he enjoyed more than a decade of success in his field before his health--mental and physical--began to deteriorate and he was beset with financial difficulties. Tragically, he took his own life by drinking lye. An entry in a 1978 Randall and Windle catalogue (describing a different item) says that our work represents "the birth of an entirely new literary form in America—the itinerant troubadour well known in Europe in medieval times but whose like has not been seen here before or since. An early 'hippie,' his messianic chanting predates Ginsberg by half a century and he briefly enjoyed international acclaim before dying in virtual oblivion in his native town." The present copy is signed by Lindsay as the "Rhymer & Designer," and is warmly inscribed to the journalist and writer of supernatural fiction and mysteries, Charles Vincent Emerson Starrett (1886-1974), whom Lindsay describes here as "fond adventurer / boldest man in Chicago." Because of its strictly limited printing, ephemeral nature, and insubstantial binding, this work is very rare in the marketplace: since 1958, just two copies have been sold (a copy in very poor condition in 1991 and the Dannay copy in 1983, knocked down for an all-in price of $1,870).

Add to Cart Price: $7,500.00

PJP Catalog: WS21VF.017


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