London: John Miller, John Murray, 1820. Two octavo volumes, uniform contemporary three-quarter calf gilt with floral tooling, contemporary marbled boards. Joints cracked but holding firm, some loss to spines. Early owner signature of Elizabeth Jones in both volumes, gift inscription in Volume II: "The gift of a grandfather to Mary Sophia Gurney, 5 March 1875." Bookplates of M.S. Gurney in both volumes, light pencil annotation "Washington Irvine" [sic] to title pages. Scattered foxing, heavier to endpapers and preliminaries. Item #10026
The first issue of the first book appearance of the first American bestseller, preceded only by the American serialization in seven parts. Concerned that English publishers would pirate his increasingly popular stories and essays, Irving quietly self-published Volume I in London under the imprint of John Miller in February 1820. As he later recalled: "The first volume of The Sketch Book was put to press in London as I had resolved, at my own risk, by a bookseller unknown to fame, and without any of the usual arts by which a work is trumpeted into notice. . . . my worthy bookseller failed before the first month was over, and the sale was interrupted." Irving's friend and mentor Walter Scott helped place The Sketch Book with celebrated London publisher John Murray, who reissued Volume I under his own title page, along with the second volume, later that year. Murray's Volume II contains three pieces not present in the American serialization: "Traits of Indian Character," "Philip of Pokanoket," and "L’Envoy." This copy is the rare first issue, with the Miller title page in Volume I, and the Murray title page dated 1820 in Volume II, both volumes bound to match shortly after publication. The first American book edition of The Sketch Book would not appear until 1824.
The sensational success of The Sketch Book on both sides of the Atlantic made it the first truly international work of American literature. In "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Irving effectively invented the American short story, preparing the ground for Poe, Hawthorne and Melville in the decades to come: "now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him." A desirable unrestored copy of the first book appearance of The Sketch Book, in uniform contemporary bindings. Very scarce.