[ARNOLD, Matthew (1822-1888)]. Alaric at Rome. A prize poem recited in Rugby School. June XII, MDCCCXL. Rugby: Combe and Crossley, 1840.
8° (212 x 136mm). Woodcut arms of the school on title. Original pink printed wrappers with arms repeated on front cover (corners of front cover a trifle creased), red straight-grained morocco slipcase. Provenance: presentation copy from Arnold to Edward Armitage (front cover inscribed in Arnold's hand 'E. Armitage Esq:-re/From the Author') -- Dr. J.B. Clemens of New Jersey (two typed letters to Clemens, as prospective purchaser of the book, from Arthur S. Livingston of Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, dated 17 August and 7 September, 1905, loosely inserted), sold Parke-Bernet, New York, 8 January 1945, lot 57 for $400 (£100). Exhibited: Grolier Club (1950s exhibition label).
FIRST EDITION, PRESENTATION COPY OF ARNOLD'S VERY RARE, FIRST PUBLISHED WORK. Arnold only acknowledged the anonymously printed poem in a short letter to Edmund Gosse, written on February 19, 1888, just two months before his death: 'Yes, "Alaric at Rome" is my Rugby prize poem, and I think it is better than my Oxford one, "Cromwell"; only you will see that I had been very much reading "Childe Harold"' (Letters of Matthew Arnold, edited by Cecil Y. Lang, 6: 346). In the poem, Alaric, the leader of the Goths who sacked Rome in the 5th century A.D., is represented as a 'lonely conqueror,' meditating on human mortality and transience. Little is known of Edward Armitage, the recipient of this copy, beyond the fact that he was a fellow pupil of Arnold's at Rugby.
Thomas Smart, Arnold's bibliographer, knew only of Edmund Gosse's copy. Wise claimed to be aware of ten examples, while passing off copies of his 1893 facsimile reprint as genuine examples of the first edition. The present copy is described on the Grolier Club exhibition label as 'the only presentation copy known.' Before purchasing it, Dr. Clemens evidently asked Dodd, Mead & Company to authenticate Arnold's handwriting. Luther S. Livingston not only gave this guarantee from 'Mr. Dodd' but, in his second letter, sent a transcription of a letter from the English bookseller who had sold it to the New York firm. Besides further authenticating the inscription, this pointed out that Thomas Wise possessed 'a very interesting document -- the Master of Rugby's report of the said Armitage's studentship, &c. at Rugby -- signed "T. Arnold" ... He [Wise] wished very much to buy the "Alaric" as his own has no cover & is not quite (tho' very near) as large, & it of course has no presentation inscription.' The last copy to be recorded at auction was the Houghton copy, sold in these rooms 13 June 1979, for £3400. Ashley I, p. 8: 'holds a high place in the rank of modern poetical rarities'; Hayward 255; Smart p. 1.