John Brown's Body by Stephen Vincent Benét, Third Edition, 1929

Benét, Stephen Vincent. John Brown’s Body. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc., 1929. Third edition. Bound by Whitman Bennet in 3/4 brown Moroccan leather and cloth boards, with gilt eagle tooling, titles, and raised bands to spines. Presented in a new archival brown cloth slipcase. 

Presented is a third edition printing of John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benét, published by Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc. in 1929. John Brown’s Body is an epic poem in eight sections about the American Civil War. The narrative begins just before John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and ends after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. In addition to historical figures such as Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, Benét’s poem includes Americans of many backgrounds, occupations, and opinions, from Southern aristocrats and their slaves, to farmers and soldiers from the North and Midwest. The book was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1929. 

In 1925, poet Stephen Vincent Benét (1898-1943) approached the Guggenheim Foundation with a proposal for a long historical poem on the Civil War, requesting a grant of $2,500 to support himself while he researched and wrote it. The foundation awarded the grant and Benét moved to Paris to work on the poem.  Benét completed his 15,000-line panorama of the Civil War in less than two years. John Brown’s Body was first published in 1928. 

The poetry reviewers immediately classified the poem as an epic, although Benét referred to it as his “cyclorama” instead. Each section is based on different characters' experiences in various battles and campaigns. The poem “begins shortly before John Brown’s raid upon Harper's Ferry,” Benét noted. Its action is continuous and mostly chronological, ending “just after the close of the war and Lincoln's assassination.” 

Each of the poem’s eight books features at least one major military event: Book one—Harper's Ferry; Book two—the firing on Fort Sumter and the first Battle of Bull Run; Book three—Shiloh; Book four—the campaigns in eastern and western Virginia; Book five—Antietam and the hard winter of 1862; Book six—the Wilderness Campaign, Grant and Sherman at Vicksburg; Book seven--Gettysburg; Book eight—Sherman’s march to the sea and the surrender at Appomattox. Included in this chronology are numerous other major events shared by the American public, including the hanging of John Brown, the election of Lincoln, the formation of the Confederate cabinet, the appointment and dismissal of various generals,  and the death of Stonewall Jackson and assassination of Lincoln.

Upon this historical framework, Benét included the personal experiences of dozens of historical and fictional characters, all equal participants in the vast conflict. As research for his poem, Benét drew on letters and diaries of actual Civil War soldiers. He studied the careers of leaders such as Lincoln, Lee, Grant, and Jackson and projected himself into their minds, giving them soliloquies. True to Benét’s vision of the poem as a transregional statement of American sentiments, it found admirers in every section of the country.

John Brown’s Body was the magnum opus that elevated Benét’s status from that of a promising young poet-storyteller to that of a national hero. The success of his poem surpassed the tremendous sales of other American poets and the recently organized Book-of-the-Month Club adopted it as one of its selections. In its first two years, the poem sold more than 130,000 copies. It has since gone through dozens of printings and remains a steady seller year after year.


Very good condition. Beautifully bound by Whitman Bennett in 3/4 brown Moroccan leather and cloth boards, with gilt eagle tooling, titles, raised bands to spines. Striking marbled endpapers and paste downs. Internally very clean, pages are healthy without marks or stains. Octavo, 377 pp. Presented in a new archival brown cloth slipcase with John Brown's portrait inlaid on front. 

Slipcase Dimensions: 8 3/4"H x 6 1/8"W x 2"D

Book Dimensions: 8 3/8"H x 6 7/8"W x 1 3/4"D

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