RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
27 August 2007
Robert Frost. A Boy's Will. 1913.
My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted grey
Is silver now with clinging mist.
The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.
(My November Guest / 1913)
Robert Frost. A BOY"S WILL. London: David Nutt 1913.
Current Selling Prices
POETRY / AMERICAN LITERATURE
The author's first book published in England where the 40 year old poet was living in a Bungalow at Beaconsfield. He had published an earlier work in 1894 called 'Twilight. Five Poems' in an edition of 2 copies one for his future bride, Elinor White, and one for himself. He destroyed his own copy. The remaining copy is at the University of Virginia. R B Russell ('First Edition Pricess 2006/7') helpfully values it at £35000. It would take a strange set of events for it to be offered for sale but RBR's estimate might be a tad cautious.
Frost is closely linked with the New England region, he attempted to catch 'the abstract vitality of our speech' in his poetry. However his first two collections were published in London - A Boy's Will (1913) and North of Boston (1914). He and his wife and children had moved to England in 1912 after he had been unable to make a living in a variety of occupations (including cobbling) or to find a publisher for his poems in America. Through his friendship with the Imagist poet F. S. Flint he made important contacts in London like Ezra Pound, Edward Thomas, T. E. Hulme and Georgian poets like Lascelles Abercrombie and Wilfrid Gibson --these were essential to Frost's publishing success. Books of poetry were usually reviewed by critics who know the author (then and now.)
When Ezra Pound's favourable review of A Boy's Will appeared in 'Poetry: A Magazine of Verse' in May of 1913, Frost reacted with mixed emotions. He knew that Pound's review would be crucial in influencing other critics in England, but he disagreed with Pound's assessment of his poetry as simple and untutored. Norman Douglas wrote, in a review, of his 'simple woodland philosopy' but there was a darker side to his poems, a combative and troubled spirit--Lionel Trilling famously called him 'a poet of terror' at a speech given on Frost's 85th birthday.
A Boy's Will is not especially scarce but there are 4 distinct states of the first London, David Nutt edition, and the first state has become hard to find and quite valuable. The 4 states are A. Bronze cloth (above). B. Cream coloured vellum paper covered boards stamped in red. C. Cream coloured linen paper wraps, stamped in black and 8 petalled flowers. D. Cream coloured linen paper wraps, stamped in black and 4 petalled flowers. There is also a signed limited edition of 135 in cream wraps. As so often with 'points' it comes down to minutiae like the number of petals on a flower. After releasing fewer than 350 copies, the book's publisher, David Nutt, went into bankruptcy after the First World War and the remaining unbound sheets were acquired by Simpkin Marshall & Co. In 1923, most of the sheets and some bound copies were purchased by Dunster House Bookshop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Those copies bound in binding variant D were thought to have been sold by Dunster House and tend to show up in the United States.
VALUE? A fine first state copy inscribed to Eleanor Farjeon is currently on the market at $30K possibly the kind of price it takes to stop it selling entirely. Eleanor Farjeon was a close friend of Edward Thomas who Frost described as 'my only brother' and it is a fine association of which much can be made. Mostly Frost prices seem to have flatlined a little since the 1990s. At the Drapkin sale where many prices went radio rental (mainly on account of the finely wrought boxes) the desirable one of 135 signed in an elaborate quarter morocco folding case with onlaid cloth and leather design made $1920, the kind of price it had been making 20 years earlier. A perusal of terrestrial auction records shows an above average number of 'buy-ins'- but poetry has always been a hard sell. Signed copies are not at all scarce but attract the highest prices--in 2001 a copy in the A binding (lower cover cockled at top outer corner) inscribed to Marie A. Hodge made £8K (then $12000.) There are usually plenty at ABE to get a fix on prices but remember they are the ones that haven't sold. [ W/Q * ]
TRIVIA. Frost was keen on all the fruits of his late fame including the honour of reading at Kennedy's inauguration--of this Edmund Wilson bitchily remarked - 'He seems to have taken up residence in Washington and is all over the place, full of faking and self - satisfaction. He wanted us to know he was a shrewd old boy - though obviously eating up the the honors being paid him by the President...'
Too many awards, gongs and sashes are unsuitable for writers and poets. The classic case is the unsaleable French writer Andre Maurois who could hardly move for medals and our own tuft hunter Stephen Spender. Donald Hall weighs in- 'For him, as he liked to say, there was room for only one at the top of the steeple: he demanded to be the only one. He was jealous of all other poets.' These quotes are from the excellent 'Bedside Book of Bigheads', my new bible. To be fair however, Frost, one of the greatest American poets, was a mere novice among writers when it comes to conceit.