WHITMAN, WALT. Leaves of Grass. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1881-1882. 8o, original publisher's mustard-yellow cloth, gilt-stamped signature of Walt Whitman on upper cover, gilt-blocked spine. (shaken, several quires loosening, spine discolored, front-free endleaf slightly loose at top and bottom, dampstain to lower corners of early leaves and portrait facing p.29. Half dark brown morocco slipcase. Seventh edition. Wells & Goldsmith, pp.24-25.
A PRESENTATION COPY TO WHITMAN'S SISTER, MARY, boldly inscribed in brown ink on blank flyleaf: "To Mary E Van Nostrand from her affectionate brother the author Nov. 7 1881."
Mary Whitman, a younger sister of the poet, had married a shipbuilder, Ansel Van Nostrand, against her parents' wishes. In the old whaling town of Greenport, Long Island, the couple purchased a modest whitewashed house overlooking the harbor and the hundreds of vessels which plied the Sound. The young Walt Whitman visited them frequently and spent many hours swimming, talking with local residents and "trailing for blue-fish...round me the quick veering and darting of fifty skiffs, my companions." Mary's married state seemed to him an ideal family; according to one biographer, if Whitman had anywhere "a family that corresponded to his sentimental fable of home and mother, it was Mary's" (Paul Zweig, Walt Whitman: The Making of a Poet, 1984, pp. 100, 201). Whitman told his mother that he longed for the day when "we can have our own quiet little farm and be together again and have Mary and her children come to pay us long visits." At the date of this inscription, though, the 52-year-old Whitman had been living quietly with his brother George in Camden, New Jersey, for some 9 years. The gift of this copy to his sister is recorded in a brief entry in Whitman's Daybooks: "November 7, 1881, L.of G. to Mary."
Presentation copies of any edition of Leaves of Grass are exceedingly rare, particularly when they document an intimate family association.