August 31, 2008

Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune

Greetings from “Up North,” Michigan where my family and I are enjoying the Labor Day weekend. I drove into Charlevoix yesterday and did a bit of “booking” at the Pine River used and rare bookstore. It was my first visit and I was pleasantly surprised. They carry a nice selection of first editions in all categories, many of which feature Brodart dust jacket protectors. That’s always a good sign for book lovers.

I ended up purchasing a pristine first printing of Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The of Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, as published by the University of Georgia Press in 1992. If you’ve seen the film Glory, then you certainly know of Shaw and his Fifty-fourth Massachusetts (Colored) Infantry. The success of that film, which garnered three Oscars, certainly helped pave the way for this volume.

Though I bought a first printing of this edition, I determined in reading the introductory matter that it should not be called a first edition. In bookman’s parlance, “first edition thus” would be the correct description as many of these letters first appeared in a now exceedingly rare volume titled RGS: Letters, which was privately published by Shaw’s family in 1864 primarily for friends and relations. First Edition Thus describes a book which has seen print previously but now offers significant new or previously unpublished material. Good luck finding a copy of RGS:Letters for it now exists only in rare book rooms or private collections. I found no copies for sale on ABE nor is the book available online at Google Book Search.

Many of Robert Gould Shaw’s letters contained personal or controversial passages which were intentionally excised by his family prior to the publication of RGS: Letters, in keeping with social norms of the era. For this 400+ page volume, editor Russell Duncan restored passages where possible, gathered up additional letters from the four manuscript respositories who hold RGS letters, and added biographical material and annotations that place Shaw’s letters in the proper historical context.

The book’s title is taken from the philosopher William James’ speech at the dedication of the Fifty-fourth Mass. / RG Shaw memorial on the Boston Commons. On a cool day in May 1897 James said, “There they march, warm-blooded champions of a better day for men. There on horseback among them, in his very habit as he lived, sits the blue-eyed child of fortune.”

No comments: