Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life.

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Herman Melville.


Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life.


New York: Harper & Brothers,




Provenance: Presentation from the author to Henry A. Smythe.

I set out to read Herman Melville, not collect him. After hearing the writer Robert Penn Warren read the poem “Shiloh,” I resolved to read all of Melville's works. Inevitably I became a collector as well. When I began, I was frequently told that all of the great material was in institutions. Acquiring this volume convinced me to go forward; later experience has shown the naysayers were wrong. This is a presentation copy of Melville's first book, and one fraught with irony. In a special full morocco binding, it is inscribed “Henry A. Smythe Esq. with the Sincere Regards of Herman Melville, Xmas 1868.” Smythe, an admirer of Melville's works, was the collector of the Port of New York. He had just given the author a job in the Customs House, where Melville later said that he sought to “bury himself alive” for the next two decades. This was a thank-you present for the man who had allowed Melville to turn his back on writing.

Typee was Melville's first book, and a resounding success; this is a sixth edition, suggesting its ongoing popularity. Melville came to hate his most salable work, finding himself typecast as “the man who lived among cannibals.” Still, he chose it for a gift, knowing it would be more appreciated than Moby-Dick.


William S. Reese