Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1848. 1st US Edition. 12mo, publisher's original olive paperboards rebacked with printed paper spine label.
"Death! that struck when I was most confiding / In my certain faith of joy to be – / Strike again, Time's withered branch dividing / From the fresh root of Eternity!" (from "Death," by Emily Brontë). First US edition of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë's pseudonymously published volume of poetry. In their first work to reach print, the sisters adopted masculine pen names to forestall the possible bias against women writers in the male-dominated literary world (while still retaining the first letter of their first and last names). The surname "Bell" is believed to have been inspired by the sound of the bells from their father's Church of St. Michael and All Angels, a short walk from the parsonage in which they lived, or possibly borrowed from their father's assistant curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. In her biographical notices of her sisters composed after their deaths, Charlotte explained the rationale of their noms de plume as such: "We did not like to declare ourselves women, because – without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine' – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice." Pseudonyms aside, the first edition was self-published in 1846 in an edition of 1000 copies, of which only 39 sold. Following the success of Charlotte's novel Jane Eyre in 1847, and the deaths of Anne and Emily, the collection was reissued in the hopes it would garner greater commercial success. The slim volume contains 19 poems by Charlotte ("Currer"), and 21 each by Emily ("Ellis") and Anne ("Acton"). According to The Oxford Companion to English Literature (Margaret Drabble, ed., 1998), Emily is "now established as much the most considerable poet of the three sisters, and one of the most original poets of the century, remembered for her lyrics..., for her passionate invocations...and her apparently more personal visionary moments...." The present copy of the 1848 first US edition (a piracy from which the sisters saw no proceeds) bears multiple holograph pencil verses transcribed by an early owner, evidently a devout and poetical 19th-century woman named Grace Knight (signature to title-page). Among the verses that appear in her elegant hand on the front and rear fly-leaves and paste-downs, one derives from an old Catholic hymn that was much in circulation in 19th-century American hymnals ("Fading, still fading, the last beam is shining"), while not a few of the others ("One sigh of thy sorrow – one look of thy love," "Whate'er I have been, or am, doth rest between Heaven and myself," "Though the rock of my last hope is shiver'd," and "From the wreck of the past which hath perished") come from Byron. Another ("Tis a little thing / To give a cup of water") is by the English Radical MP and man of letters Thomas Talfourd, while yet one more ("There is a word of plural number") is actually a popular 19th-century riddle originated by English statesman George Canning. With 24 pages of publisher's ads bound in rear. Some dampstaining and soiling to original boards, with corners rounded; intermittent foxing throughout, heavy at times, especially to prelims. A very good copy of a landmark of English poetry, with evocative contemporary American ownership markings. Item #2287