Abraham Lincoln Signed Book Formative to his Views on Slavery Later Presented and Inscribed by His Law partner Herndon with Fantastic 100 years of Provenance
This fantastic volume with amazing associations includes an ownership signature by Abraham Lincoln, as given to him by his brother-in-law, with whom he had a complicated relationship over three decades. Written by a prominent Irish literary figure, edited by one of America’s most admired nineteenth-century authors, and owned by the nation’s greatest president, it then passed from his law partner and biographer to one of the most prominent American feminist writers of the nineteenth century.
Its content includes the letters of a fictitious Chinese traveler in England, whose son Hingpo is a slave in Persia. In one letter to his father, Hingpo writes, “Is this just dealing, Heaven! to render millions wretched to swell up the happiness of a few? can not the powerful of this earth be happy without our sighs and tears? must every luxury of the great be woven from the calamities of the poor?” Though the circumstances of Hingpo’s enslavement in Persia differed from those of African Americans in the United States, Lincoln would have understood the commonalities of suffering and longing for freedom.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN, Inscription in Washington Irving, ed., The Miscellaneous Works of Oliver Goldsmith, with an Account of his Life and Writings, 1 vol. (Philadelphia: J. Crissy, and New York: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co., 1838. 527 pp., 5.5" x 8.625". Engraved frontispiece portrait; moderate foxing and staining throughout. Contemporary sheep, smooth spine lettered gilt, marbled endpapers, edges plain; rather rubbed, front free endpaper and binder’s blank loose, upper hinge weak. Morocco solander case.
In 1838, famed American author Washington Irving published this one-volume collection of poems, essays, plays, and letters by Irish novelist, playwright, and poet Oliver Goldsmith from a larger four-volume collection published in Paris in 1825. Irving went on to write a biography of Goldsmith in 1849.
Abraham Lincoln’s brother-in-law Ninian W. Edwards presented this volume to Lincoln, who signed it with the inscription:
Presented by his friend, N. W. Edwards" (“N. W. Edwards” was later stricken with ink.)
Before leaving Springfield for the Presidency, Lincoln gave this volume to his third and last law partner and biographer William H. Herndon.
After Lincoln’s death, Herndon received many calls for mementoes of the martyred president. In October 1866, he gave this volume to Boston abolitionist and women’s rights activist Caroline Healey Dall and added the inscription:
"This precious book was given to me, in the month of Feby 1861., by Abraham Lincoln who gave me at the same time a part of his Library an which I now present to my friend Mrs. C. H. Dall of Boston Mass
W H Herndon
Octr. 30th 1866"
At the time, Dall was in Springfield to deliver a lecture on Lincoln. While there, she stayed in Herndon’s home, and he let her read his “Lincoln Record” of materials gathered for a biography. What she read fascinated her, and she spent all of three days reading the material, canceling her lecture to spend more time reading. For the next several months, Herndon and Dall corresponded over her questions about these materials.
Six weeks later, Herndon presented a volume of Byron poems to the painter Francis B. Carpenter. Herndon called it “a precious present—one of infinite value to me; and to those who loved Lincoln” and explained that Ninian W. Edwards had given it to Lincoln in 1839 or 1840. He also wrote Carpenter that in January or February 1861, Lincoln had sent to Herndon’s residence “a boxful of his books—mostly political—such as patent office Rep—Congressional Globes &c—, and among them some valuable literary works—Byron—Goldsmith—Locke—Gibbon &c—. The Byron I present to you freely—only asking that you keep it in your home forever—the forever of Books.”
On page 305 of the present volume, Dall added a notation in pencil: “This pin [attaching pages 305-8] placed here by Abraham Lincoln’s hand in Springfield / C. H. D.” Those pages contain a portion of a collection of letters Goldsmith wrote under the title Letters from a Citizen of the World to His Friends in the East. Published in the Public Ledger beginning in 1760, these letters were purportedly written by a Chinese traveler, Lien Chi Altangi. Through this literary device, Goldsmith used the letters to comment on English life and manners and offer character sketches and episodes. The 123 letters comprise 150 pages of this volume.
Pages 305-6 include Letter XLVII from Lien Chi Altangi to Hingpo, a Slave in Persia. It was one of a dozen letters between Lien Chi and Hingpo in the collection. Goldsmith, as “editor,” added this note to the letter: “This letter appears to be little more than a rhapsody of sentiments from Confucius. Vide the latin translation.” As Lincoln read this letter, written by Goldsmith as a fictitious Chinese philosopher to his son enslaved in Persia, he may have gained some insights into the survival strategies of enslaved African Americans in the United States: “If we dissemble our feelings, we only artificially endeavour to persuade others that we enjoy privileges which we actually do not possess. Thus, while we endeavour to appear happy, we feel at once all the pangs of internal misery, and all the self-reproaching consciousness of endeavouring to deceive.” Slaves in the American South often wore “masks of obedience” that hid their real discontentment and anger from their masters.
In the letter, Lien Chi hopes to become Hingpo’s emancipator and closes, “I have used such means as my little fortune would admit to procure your freedom. I have lately written to the governor of Argun to pay your ransom, though at the expense of all the wealth I brought with me from China. If we become poor, we shall at least have the pleasure of bearing poverty together; for what is fatigue or famine, when weighed against friendship and freedom.” Lien Chi succeeds in buying Hingpo’s release, and Hingpo makes his way to Moscow, Russia.
Lincoln seems to have continued in his admiration of Goldsmith into his Presidency. On May 7, 1862, Benjamin B. French, the Commissioner of Public Buildings in Washington, ordered three books, including Oliver Goldsmith, Poems, for the Executive Mansion library. A variety of editions of The Poetical Works of Oliver Goldsmith were published in both London and the United States between 1800 and 1854.
Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) was born in Ireland and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1849. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and then in Belgium before settling in London in 1756. Always in debt because of his addiction to gambling, Goldsmith wrote extensively for the publishers of London. His few careful works earned the attention of Samuel Johnson, with whom he was a founding member of the “The Club,” an exclusive dining club that also included writer Edmund Burke and artist Joshua Reynolds. His most prominent works are his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770), and his plays The Good Natur’d Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1771). He may also have written the children’s tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765). Johnson wrote of Goldsmith that he “left scarcely any style of writing untouched, and touched nothing that he did not adorn.”
Washington Irving (1783-1859) was born in New York City to Scottish and English immigrant parents at the end of the Revolutionary War. His father had been a petty officer in the British Navy and became a merchant, as did several of his brothers. In 1802, Irving began writing letters under a pseudonym to the New York Morning Chronicle, which Vice President Aaron Bur co-published. From 1804 to 1806, Irving toured Europe for his health and returned to study law in New York City. A poor student, he barely passed the bar examination on in 1806 but began a literary magazine Salmagundi instead of pursuing a career in the law. In 1809, he completed A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker, a satire on self-important local history and politics. He became editor of Analectic Magazine, and was one of the first to reprint Francis Scott Key’s lyrics for the “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” later renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He left for England in mid-1815 to attempt to salvage his family’s trading company and spent the next 17 years in Europe. From Spain, he published A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1828. From 1829 to 1831, he served as secretary to the American legation in London, then returned to New York in 1832. After writing several more books on American themes, Irving served as U.S. Minister to Spain from 1842 to 1846. When he returned to his home in Tarrytown, New York, Irving worked on revised his older works for publication by George Palmer Putnam and published new biographies of Oliver Goldsmith (1849), the prophet Muhammad (1850), and George Washington (5 vols., 1855-1859). Irving is perhaps best known for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820).
Ninian W. Edwards (1809-1889) was born in Sangamon County, Illinois, to Ninian Edwards (1775-1833), the territorial and state Governor of Illinois. He married Elizabeth Todd (1813-1888), the sister of Mary Todd of Lexington. Edwards served as Illinois Attorney General from 1834 to 1835 and in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1837 to 1841. With Abraham Lincoln, Edwards was one of the “Long Nine” from Sangamon County who helped moved the state capital to Springfield. Although Edwards and his wife opposed the marriage of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd, their home was the site of the wedding in November 1842. Edwards served in the Illinois Senate from 1845 to 1849, and again in the Illinois House from 1849 to 1853. In 1851, he switched from the Whig to the Democratic Party. From 1854 to 1857, Edwards was the Illinois Superintendent of Public Instruction. Edwards supported Stephen A. Douglas in 1858 and 1860, but when Lincoln became president, Edwards pleaded for an appointment. Eventually, Lincoln appointed him as a commissary of subsistence, angering many of Lincoln’s supporters in Illinois. Despite their rocky relationship with the Lincolns, Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards rescued Mary from the asylum to which she had been committed in 1875 and took her to their home. It was in their home that she died in 1882.
William H. Herndon (1818-1891) was born in Kentucky and moved to Springfield, Illinois, with his family in 1823. After briefly attending Illinois College in Jacksonville, Herndon worked as a store clerk before studying law in the offices of Stephen T. Logan and Abraham Lincoln. After Herndon was admitted to the bar in 1844, Lincoln chose him later that year as his junior partner. The partnership of Lincoln and Herndon lasted until Lincoln’s death in 1865, and handled at least 3,200 cases in the county courts of central Illinois, the Illinois Supreme Court, and the federal courts in Illinois. After Lincoln’s assassination, Herndon began collecting reminiscences for a biography. He then shared his research with Ward Hill Lamon, who used it in his ghost-written biography. In 1889, Herndon published his own biography of Lincoln with co-author Jesse Weik.
Caroline Healey Dall (1822-1912) was born in Bosto, Massachusetts and received a comprehensive education as a young woman. While teaching at a female seminary in the autumn of 1842, Healey met Charles Dall (1816-1886), a Unitarian minister from Baltimore, who proposed a few months later. They married in 1844, and had two children. Between 1846 and 1854, he was pastor of churches in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Ontario, and they were active in the abolitionist movement. Her husband moved to Calcutta, India, as a missionary in 1855 and returned home only five times over the next 31 years. She became active in the Boston Women’s Rights movement. She helped organize the New England Women’s rights Convention and co-founded with Paulina Davis Una, a journal devoted to women’s rights. Her primary contributions to the movement were through her writing, which included Historical Pictures Retouched: A Volume of Miscellanies (1861) that highlighted women’s roles in historical events; Woman’s Rights Under the Law (1862); and The College, the Market, and the Court; or Woman’s Relation to Education, Labor, and Law (1867), which argued for women’s participation in public life. Unlike many fellow feminists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Dall supported Lincoln’s reelection in 1864. In the late 1860s, she turned her attention to other topics, including Egypt, the Civil War, and transcendentalism. She also moved to Washington, D.C., in 1879, and became a close friend of First Lady Frances Cleveland.
April 6, 1923: H. Metcalf, lot 349a
January 29, 1974: Sotheby Parke Bernet, sale 3597, lot 131
Gordon A. Block Jr.
November 24, 1980, Sotheby’s New York, lot 27A
Housed in a vintage custom made case by H. Zucker Philadelphia.
This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.
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