The Life of George Washington by John Marshall, First Edition, Five Volume Set, 1804-1807

Marshall, John. The Life of George Washington, Commander in Chief of the American Forces, During the War which Established the Independence of His Country, and First President of the United States. Philadelphia: C.P. Wayne, 1804-1807. First Edition. Five Volumes. Octavos. In later full calf, rebacked, with black and red Moroccan spine labels lettered in gilt. Books held in a new archival cloth slipcase. 

Presented is the first edition of John Marshall’s seminal biography of George Washington, in five volumes. Published in Philadelphia by C. Wayne, from 1804 to 1807, this desirable set is presented in later full-calf boards, with black and red Moroccan leather spine labels lettered in gilt and a new archival cloth slipcase.  

Shortly after Marshall became Chief Justice, he was approached by Washington’s nephew, Bushrod, to write the first president’s official biography. Probably no man was better suited to the task. As a personal friend of Washington, Marshall had been the one to announce the President’s death in 1799, offered the eulogy, chaired the committee that arranged the funeral rites, and led the commission to plan a monument in the capital city. When Marshall’s Life of Washington appeared, it was considered so authoritative that Washington scholar, Jared Sparks, suggested any new biographical undertaking would be “presumptuous” (Sparks, Washington I:12). 

The work "is political history as well as biography… the only comprehensive account by a great statesman of the full founding of the United States— of the founding of an independent people as well as of its government… There is no other concentrated history of the essentials by such an authority on American institutions" (Robert K. Faulkner). "If George Washington founded the country, John Marshall defined it" (Jean Edward Smith).  

Gilbert Stuart's famous portrait of Washington was made known to the general public through the stipple-engraved frontispiece included in this five volume set. The engraving was done by Philadelphia engraver, David Edwin. Edwin was "for upwards of 30 years, the most prolific workman in America" (Fielding, 109).  This first edition set, together with the first English edition of the same years, are "the only complete editions of this indispensable work” as the sections on colonial history were omitted in the later American editions (Sabin). The atlas volume, issued later, is not present here. 


In good condition. 5 volumes. Octavos. In later full calf , rebacked, with black and red Moroccan leather spine labels, lettered in gilt. Some rubbing to edges, scuffing to spines. Stipple-engraved frontispiece portrait. Offsetting to full title page from engraving. Interior pages are in good condition, with only scattered foxing and occasional toning to the text block. Presented with a new archival cloth slipcase, lined, with ribbon pull, gilt embossed facsimile signature and inlaid portrait of Washington on the front. Ref: Howes M317; Sabin 44788.

Slipcase dimensions: 9 1/8" H x 8 5/8" W x 5 7/8" D; Book dimensions (varies): 8 5/8" H x 5 1/2" W x 1 1/2" D.

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