Narrative-style writing, fiction, and the contemporary novel took grounding throughout the 19th century. Many scholars argue that the rise of the middle/working-class, “with its emphasis on social fluidity and individual self-determination,” led to increased literacy, reading, and thus production and consumption of novel-like texts (Lumen Learning). 19th century America welcomed a variety of literary genres, including novels, short stories, poetry, personal journals and letters, and writing addressing a myriad of topics like politics, science, religion, and philosophy. This page highlights a number of first editions and early editions from well-known 19th century writers: Louisa May Alcott, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving, Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman, and Maria Ward.
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott was a passionate, imaginative writer with a simple and elegant style. Born in Pennsylvania in 1832, she began writing at age eight and published her first book by age twenty two. Alcott studied under other writers like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and she was also inspired by the 19th century transcendentalist movement that both she and her parents were born into. Though Little Women is at times associated with a traditionalist outlook on womanhood, Alcott was actually progressive for her time, promoting women’s rights through her writing and becoming the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Connecticut.
Moods by Louisa May Alcott
Call Number: Children's 813.41 m
Alcott, Louisa May, et al. Moods. Loring, Publisher, 319 Washington Street, 1864.
Third edition novel by Louisa May Alcott that has often been proposed as the first. Moods was Alcott’s first novel and features the challenges of womanhood through the interactions of a “little woman,” a spinster, and “fallen Cuban beauty” (Barnes and Noble).
Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas by Herman Melville
Call Number: PS2384 .O45 1847
Melville, Herman. Omoo : A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas. First ed., Harper & Brothers, 1847.
First edition novel by Herman Melville, 19th-century American writer best known for his novel Moby-Dick, published four years later. Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas was Herman Melville’s second book, serving as a sequel to the story of Typee, his first novel. Omoo illustrates the influence of foreigners on Polynesian life. As Melville stated, “[-]t embraces adventures in the South Seas (of a totally different character from ‘Typee’) and includes an eventful cruise in an English Colonial Whaleman (a Sydney Ship) and a comical residence on the island of Tahiti” (qtd. Northwestern University Press).
Though Herman Melville is primarily known for his “novels of the sea” (Poetry Foundation), he was also a successful short story writer and poet. Melville undertook a variety of trades throughout his early life, including bank clerking, teaching, farming, and eventually seafaring, the experience which greatly inspired much of his writing.
Born with the name “Samuel Clemens,” Mark Twain was a 19th-century American writer to whom several literary classics are attributed, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Throughout his lifetime, Twain’s financial status fluctuated, as he created his own publishing company (The Charles L. Webster Company) and just a few years later suffered bankruptcy following several unsuccessful investments. During these challenging times, Twain turned to lecturing to regain financial stability, addressing dark and controversial topics in the process. Despite this adversity, Twain remains a central figure in the canon of American literature for his distinct regional style, humor, and profound thematic writing, and he is considered by writer William Faulkner to be the “Father of American Literature.”
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
Call Number: PS1312 .A1 1879
Twain, Mark, et al. The Innocents Abroad, or, the New Pilgrims' Progress : Being Some Account of the Steamship Quaker City's Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land : With Descriptions of Countries, Nations, Incidents, and Adventures As They Appeared to the Author : With Two Hundred and Thirty-Four Illustrations. American Publishing Company, 1879.
Early edition travel book written by 19th-century author Mark Twain, listed here with a shortened version of the original title (as follows): The Innocents Abroad, or, the New Pilgrims’ Progress: Being Some Account of the Steamship Quaker City’s Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land: With Descriptions of Countries, Nations, Incidents, and Adventures As They Appeared to the Author: With Two Hundred and Thirty-Four Illustrations. In this book, Twain shares his stories traveling throughout Europe, effectively embedding humor through his exaggeration and satirizing of his fellow travelers. The Innocents Abroad was Twain’s best-selling book during his lifetime.
Mark Twain's (Burlesque) Autobiography; And, First Romance by Mark Twain
Call Number: PS1322 .M37 1871
Twain, Mark, et al. Mark Twain's (Burlesque) Autobiography : And, First Romance. Sheldon & Company, 677 Broadway, Under The Grand Central Hotel, 1871.
First edition book by Mark Twain, offering a comical and inaccurate “autobiography” featuring two main figures who are allegedly part of Twain’s lineage.
A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain
Call Number: PS1321 .A1 1880
Twain, Mark, et al. A Tramp Abroad. American Pub. Co, 1880.
Early edition novel by Mark Twain covering his travels abroad in Europe. A Tramp Abroad is often considered an “unofficial sequel” to The Innocents Abroad, through which he offers sharp-witted commentary on Old World culture and takes readers on excursions rafting down the Neckar river and climbing Mont Blanc.
Representative Men: Seven Lectures by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Call Number: PS1600 .E83 1890
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Representative Men : Seven Lectures. Hurst, 1890.
A series of seven lectures written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century American writer known for his poetry, essays, lectures, and philosophical writings. According to Harvard University Press, Representative Men is “the most alien of Emerson’s books” and addresses the romantic concept of a single voice of truth realized through specific individuals. “It was an appreciation of genius as a quality distributed to the few for the benefit of many” (Harvard University Press).
Much of Emerson’s work discusses nature and is philosophically-driven with Transcendental and rationalist thinking. Emerson is known for his unprecedented exploration of Asian and Middle Eastern literature and religion. Interestingly, it is in Representative Men (specifically the lecture “Plato; or, the Philosopher” found within this collection) that critics point out Emerson’s flaws and limited understanding of the East in his writings. His use of generalizations suggest his lack of concern in distinguishing between the diverse Asian and Eastern cultures.
Compared to many of his contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving embraced a rather hopeful, lighthearted tone. While this distinguished style brought him success in his selected genres, Edwin W. Bowen of The Sewanee Review argues that Irving’s appeal to “sensibilities” and “the heart” inhibited him from obtaining a broaderliteraryspan and impact: “There are notes he never sounded, depths and heights he never reached. The tragedy of life, the profoundest problems of human existence, the realm of philosophical speculation— these were to Irving an unexplored country which his creative mind never entered” (181-182). Yet, it is undeniable that his language, content, and tone effectively capture the nature of “America,” establishing him as a notable force in American literature.
Life of Mahomet by Washington Irving
Call Number: BP75 .I7 1850
Irving, Washington. Life of Mahomet. Henry G. Pohn, 1850.
First edition written by Washington Irving, early 19th-century American writer known especially for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Life of Mahomet “covers the period of Muhammad’s birth in 571 to the Moorish invasion of Spain in 710 A.D.” (Pirages). Critics argue that the piece is flawed with biases familiar to Irving’s time regarding Islamic life and culture, and yet the interest of a 19th century American writer in Islam and his ability to spread information and awareness of this culture is significant.
Old Christmas by Washington Irving
Call Number: PS2069 .C4 1876
Irving, Washington, et al. Old Christmas : From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving. Macmillan, 1876.
First edition book celebrating old English Christmas traditions through a selection of thematic chapters: "Christmas," "The Stagecoach," "Christmas Eve," Christmas Day," and "The Christmas Dinner." This edition has several physical distinctions, including a green cloth case binding and a monochrome wood-engraved illustrated title page.
Friendship, Love & Marriage by David Henry Thoreau
Call Number: PS3051 .F7
Thoreau, Henry David. Friendship, Love & Marriage. Roycrofters, 1910.
Philosophical book written by poet, essayist, and philosopher David Henry Thoreau, author of the well-renowned Walden. Much of Thoeau’s work is transcendental and reflective in nature, partially the result of his studies under mentor and friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, a marked transcendentalist.
Thoreau was a student of the classics and was influenced by the philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, in addition to his scientific contemporaries including Humboldt and Darwin. His works provide insight into an array of different studies including philosophy, existentialism, ontology, and politics.
Even as Thoreau grew in popularity and began producing more essays and lecturing, his main priority remained his connection with nature and the reflection of these observations in his writing, living according to his transcendentalist ideals.
Complete Prose Works by Walt Whitman