Auctions | September 24, 2014

Whitman Manuscript Takes the Lead at Bonhams


San Francisco—A Walt Whitman manuscript of "Rain Enigma" [Voice of the Rain] was the leading lot of Bonhams’ $940,163 auction of fine books and manuscripts on September 22 in San Francisco. The manuscript, which achieved $52,500, is of a poem which appeared in the first annex “Sands at Seventy” of the 1891-1892 edition of “Leaves of Grass." In addition to the hand-written manuscript, the piece featured an autograph inscription of Horace Traubel, Whitman’s close friend and self-described "spirit child.” 

The manuscript, which was one of 268 lots offered, sold as a result of competitive bidding that continued throughout the auction. Bidders from 19 countries took part in the sale, with particularly strong phone and internet participation.


Nearly reaching the top lot spot was an early 15th century "Book of Hours," that sold for $50,000. It bears an ownership inscription by Pre-Raphaelite British artist Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), as well as his book plate. Also tied to Burne-Jones—featuring 87 of his woodcut illustration designs—was one of 425 paper copies of “The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer” printed by William Morris’ Kelmscott Press in 1896, which brought $46,250. 

Another fine press highlight was one of the finest productions of the Shakespeare Head Press, and perhaps the most difficult to acquire of its editions on vellum: "The Works" by Edmund Spenser, Oxford: Shakespeare Head Press, 1930-32, which achieved $20,000.

From the sale's section of travel, natural history and color plate books, a key work that stood out was "Illustrations of China and its People. A Series of Two Hundred Photographs, With Letterpress Description of the Places and People Represented," 1873-1874, by John Thomson (1837-1921). The first edition in special binding achieved $46,250, far exceeding its $20,000 high estimate. Another notable lot from the category was an extremely rare Jesuit manuscript on the colonization of Brazil, entitled "Historia da Companhia de Jesu da Provincia Domaranham e Para...," 1759, by Jose De Morales. Intriguingly, this copy was once nearly lost in a shipwreck. It brought $31,250.

Most successful from the art and illustration portion of the sale was a signed, limited edition of "A Book of Cats," by Tsuguharu Foujita, New York: Covici Friede, 1930, which brought $36,250, past a $30,000 high estimate.

From the Americana portion of the auction, an extremely rare broadside from 1769, regulating the number of bars, pool halls and cabarets in the young city of New Orleans, achieved $35,000, soaring past a $15,000 high estimate. It was signed by then Louisiana governor Alejandro O'Reilly (1722-1794) and was only the third broadside edict to be printed in New Orleans immediately after he arrived in the city and took formal possession of Louisiana in August of 1769. 

Additional stand-out lots from that section included "The American Woods, Exhibited by Actual Specimens and with Copious Explanatory Text," 1957, by Romeyn Beck Hough, which sold for $22,500, and a Revolutionary War map of the Battle of Long Island, 1776, which achieved $18,750, past an $8,000 high estimate.

For additional information about the sale, please visit

First image: Lot 184 

WHITMAN, WALT. 1819-1892. 
Autograph Manuscript Signed ("Walt Whitman"), titled "Rain Enigma," 1 p, 4to, [Camden, NJ, 1885], being a working draft of the poem "The Voice of the Rain," with holograph corrections, deletions, and additions by Whitman in ink and pencil, on verso of Department of Justice stationery, uneven toning, two small old stains, some fading to pencil at bottom, old vertical crease from bottom right corner, tipped to mat at top edge, matted and framed with portrait photograph, presentation inscription, and copy of the printed poem. 
Provenance: framed with presentation inscription from Whitman associate Horace Traubel: "To Wayland Hyatt Smith / with both hands /Horace Traubel / November / 1895." 

WORKING DRAFT OF "THE VOICE OF THE RAIN," WITH NUMEROUS CORRECTIONS AND EMENDATIONS IN WHITMAN'S HAND. The poem was first published in the journal Outing in August 1885, and was included in the 1888 edition of Leaves of Grass in the "Sands of Seventy" annex. In the present draft the poem bears its original title "The Rain Enigma," which has been cancelled and corrected by Whitman to its published title, "The Voice of the Rain." In addition to more than a dozen cancellations, insertions, and emendations, below Whitman's signature appear five lines in pencil with several corrections which show Whitman working out what would become the eighth line of the poem ("And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn"). 
One of Whitman's late verses, "The Voice of the Rain" finds the poet in conversation—literally—with nature. As published: 

And who art thou? said I to the soft-falling shower, 
Which, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as here translated: 
I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain, 
Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the bottomless sea, 
Upward to heaven, whence, vaguely form'd, altogether changed, 
and yet the same, 
I descend to lave the drouths, atomies, dust-layers of the globe, 
And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn; 
And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own 
origin, and make pure and beautify it; 
(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment, wander- 
Reck'd or unreck'd. duly with love returns.) 

The provenance of the present manuscript is impressive. Horace Traubel (1858-1919) was perhaps the foremost of Whitman's disciples, and the author of the nine-volume Walt Whitman in Camden, an account of the last four years of Whitman's life told through Traubel's notes of his daily conversations with the poet. As one of Whitman's literary executors Traubel tirelessly devoted himself to preserving and promoting Whitman's legacy, founding and publishing a journal dedicated to his work (The Conservator), publishing his own verse inspired by Whitman's, and founding the Walt Whitman Fellowship International. Wayland Hyatt Smith, to whom Traubel gifted the manuscript "with both hands," was a member of the Fellowship International who contributed a paper on the "Blending of Orient and Occident in Whitman" at the Fellowship's fourth annual meeting in Philadelphia on May 31, 1897. Sold for $52,500.
Second image: Lot 9 
Illuminated manuscript on vellum, Book of Hours in Latin, Use of Paris [Paris, first quarter of the fifteenth century]. 142 leaves, 188 x 139 mm. A12 B-Q8 R6 (lacking B8-C3), plus 2 blanks at front, 1 at rear. 15 lines per page. With 7 MINIATURES, plus 10 4-line decorated initials with liquid gold, red and blue, each page with miniatures and/or a 4-line initial also with bar borders and foliage in all margins (all other pages with foliage to the right-hand margins), 2- and single line initials, line fillers in red, blue, white and gold throughout. Late 16th century Parisian morocco gilt. 
Text: ff1-12 Calendar (including saints' days for Geneviève, Typhaine, Nois, Eloy, Estev[r]e, Leu, Gilles and Denis); 13 Hours of the Virgin: (13 [Matins]; 25 [Lauds]; 36 "Prime" 41v Terce; 45 Sext, but mis-titled "Prime"; 49 None; 52v Vespers; 59 Compline); 65 The Penitential Psalms; 77v The Litany; 83 The Hours of the Cross; 91 The Hours of the Holy Spirit; 98 The Office of the Dead. 
4 leaves from the text (B8, C1, C2 and C3) have been excised towards the end of Matins in the Hours of the Virgin, containing the seven lessons associated with Matins, but probably no miniature. Early deletion to parts of the text on leaves to either side of this lacuna (i.e. B7v and C4 ) containing the beginning of the first lesson ("Surge beatissimo virgo...") suggests this neat and deliberate removal was made at an early date, perhaps at the time of the sixteenth-century binding. 
Miniatures: 7 painted miniatures (all in arch-topped compartments approx. 85 ? 65 mm, except one): 
f 13 The Annunciation (slight flaking to chequered background); 
f 36 (an extended 4-line initial D opening Prime, 42 x 35 mm) The Adoration; 
f 59 The Coronation of the Virgin; 
f 65 King David; 
f 83 The Crucifixion; 
f 91 Pentecost; 
f 98 A Funeral. 
Binding: Late 16th century Parisian morocco, central wreath of branchages surrounded by a background semé with miniature fleurs-de-lys, the corners with various monograms within branchages (interlaced inverted Ms and As, interlaced phi, star-of-David), the whole enclosed by a border of repeated flower, thistle, fleur-de-lys and bunch-of-grapes devices, each within their own oval wreath, spine with 5 raised bands semé like the covers. 
There are several possible collectors who can be linked to this binding. A pencil inscription on the front free endpaper suggests Marguerite d'Angoulême (1492-1549), Duchesse de Berry and wife of Henry II, presumably based on the M and A monograms. The interlocking phi monogram has been linked to the poet Phillipe Desportes (1546-1606), as in the Abbey item referenced below, although Guigard notes that Desportes' phi marks are adjacent and that interlaced phi represent François Fouquet (Nouvel armorial du bibliophile, vol 2, p 179). 
For near-identical or identical examples of this central wreath, see: Hobson Reliures à la fanfare, pl.31 (a binding executed for Marguerite Valois that also features a star-of-David motif); lot 302 in the Abbey sale, June 22, 1965 (binding "for Philippe Desportes" but with the interlaced phi monogram as here); BL Davis 446 (attributed to the Eve Bindery). 
Provenance: SIR EDWARD BURNE-JONES, 1833-1898 (inscription to initial blank "E. Burne-Jones / London 1884" (and faint pencil inscription, also "Burne-Jones"), his bookplate from the Grange, North End Road, Fulham to front pastedown); Sotheby's, May 28, 1919, "Valuable printed books and illuminated and other manuscripts comprising the property of W.E. Thornton," lot 835, £250. Schoenberg 23948. 

A FINE PARISIAN BOOK OF HOURS FROM THE LIBRARY OF EDWARD BURNE-JONES, with illumination typical of the numerous workshops flourishing in the city in the first decades of the fifteenth century. The 7 miniatures are excellent examples of the prevalent style with a bright palette, rich starry skies and diapered backgrounds of contrasting red, blue and liquid gold. 
Burne-Jones's re-interpretation of medieval themes and compositions drawn from medieval illuminated manuscripts such as this is absolutely central to his work and that of the British Pre-Raphaelites, from large panel paintings, tapestries, furniture designs and (most obviously) the miniatures conceived for books like the Kelmscott Chaucer (1896). Sold for $50,000.