London: David Nutt, 1913. First edition. Hardcover. This is an elusive prize - the first edition, first printing, first binding state of Robert Frost’s first published book, signed by the author.
First published in England in 1913, the publication history of A Boy’s Will is complicated by the fact that the reported 1,000 first edition sheets saw two issues in four variant bindings. These many iterations were bound and sold over a period of three decades, owing in part to the bankruptcy of the original publisher (Nutt) and sale of remaining first edition sheets during the subsequent liquidation.
It is estimated that “no more than 350 copies” and plausibly as few as 284 were issued thus, in the publisher’s original shiny bronzed brown pebbled cloth “used to bind the first books that appeared.” Known to Frost bibliographers and collectors as “binding A”, these copies “were bound by the Leighton-Straker Bookbinding Co. before 1 April 1913.”
Rendering this copy of “binding A” even more compelling than scarcity warrants is Frost’s signature “Robert Frost” on the upper right of the half-title page. Ink, nib, and hand all indicate that Frost’s signature is contemporaneous.
Condition of the book is good plus – sound, complete, and unrestored, though showing some befittingly venerable signs of age. The bronzed brown cloth binding is tight, clean, and retains its hue and sheen on the majority of both covers. The spine is sunned, as are the inner edges of both boards adjacent to the hinges. There is lesser toning to a strip of the upper rear cover and the fore edges. The front cover gilt print and decoration remains bright. The cloth shows minor shelf wear to extremities, most notably some fraying at the spine ends. The first issue contents are marked only by the author; we find no previous ownership marks. Spotting is intermittent and light within, more evident on the untrimmed page edges. The signature connecting the half title and title page leaves remains uncut.
Iconic American poet and four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Lee Frost (1874-1963), the quintessential poetic voice of New England, was actually born in San Francisco and first published in England. When Frost was eleven, his newly widowed mother moved east to New Hampshire. There Frost swiftly found his poetic voice, infused by New England scenes and sensibilities. Promising as both a student and writer, Frost nonetheless dropped out of both Dartmouth and Harvard, supporting himself and a young family by teaching and farming.
Ironically, a 1912 move to England with his wife and children – “the place to be poor and to write poems” – catalyzed Frost’s recognition as a noteworthy American poet. The manuscript of A Boy’s Will was completed in England and published by David Nutt in April 1913. “Yeats pronounced the poetry “the best written in America for some time” and Frost received “two extraordinary tributes in the Nation and the Chicago Dial and a superb review in the Academy.”" (ANB) A convocation of critical recognition, introduction to other writers, and creative energy supported the English publication of Frost’s second book, North of Boston, in 1914, after which “Frost’s reputation as a leading poet had been firmly established in England, and Henry Holt of New York had agreed to publish his books in America.”
Accolades met Frost’s return to America at the end of 1914. By 1917 a move to Amherst “launched him on the twofold career he would lead for the rest of his life: teaching whatever “subjects” he pleased at a congenial college… and “barding around,” his term for “saying” poems in a conversational performance.” (ANB) In 1924 he won the first of an eventual four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry (1931, 1937, and 1943). Frost spent his final decades as “the most highly esteemed American poet of the twentieth century” with a host of academic and civic honors to his credit. Two years before his death he became the first poet to read in the program of a U.S. Presidential inauguration (Kennedy, January 1961).
Reference: Crane A2. Item #006307