New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880. 12 pp undated ads. Original light blue-grey cloth florally decorated in red, light blue, green and black.
First Edition of one of the American bestsellers of the Nineteenth Century. Lew Wallace, a Hoosier, was a prominent military man in the Mexican War and in the Civil War, during which he rose to the rank of major general. Thereafter he returned to Indiana to practice law and to write -- first in 1873 with THE FAIR GOD (regarding the Spanish conquest of Mexico), and then with BEN-HUR...
Against the background of the life of Jesus is told the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish patrician youth wrongly accused by his former friend Messala of attempting to kill the Roman governor of Judea. He is sent to the galleys for life, and his mother and sister are imprisoned. Escaping, Ben-Hur returns as a Roman officer, and enters the chariot race in which Messala has wagered heavily upon himself. Messala hopes to ruin Ben-Hur, but instead is seriously injured during the race. His cruelties are discovered, and he is slain by his wife Isas. Ben-Hur rescues his mother and sister, now hopeless lepers, and all three are converted to Christianity after the disease is cured through the intervention of Jesus. [OCAL]
BEN-HUR was successfully adapted for the stage by William Young in 1899, but is today best known for William Wyler's 1959 Oscar-winning film starring Charlton Heston, one of the landmarks in movie history.
The crucial issue point for the first printing of this book is NOT, as is often believed, the length of the dedication; instead it is the presence of the date 1880 on the FRONT of the title page. For subsequent printings from 1880 through early 1884, there is no date on the title page but the "short" dedication "To | the Wife of My Youth" remains. (Originally Wallace had asked his wife for the dedication language she would like, and she provided what appears here in the early printings. However, readers assumed that she had died -- and some female readers offered that they "could be induced to help him overlook his loss"; he then told his wife to get him out of the mess she had created, so, for printings after late 1884, she added "who | still abides with me.") Copies bound in dark blue cloth with a star-burst are later still.
Condition is very good-plus (spine slightly sunned, a little fraying at the foot of the spine); the original grey endpapers are intact, and there is no foxing on the leaves within. Blanck 20798 (indicating decoration in color on front cover and spine only; the rear cover also has color decoration); Johnson's "High Spots of American Literature" page 75. Housed in a cloth slipcase with inner chemise. Item #15002