[a dazzling set] London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1880. Original red cloth pictorially decorated in black.
First Edition of one of Hardy's least-known novels. Written during the year 1879 and serialized in the magazine Good Words (where it was bowdlerized by its Scottish clergyman editor), it is a tale in which Hardy combined the three separate strands which at that time most affected his life. One strand was his own Dorset background, and in particular the idea of a family reminiscence; another is the strand of historical study, and in particular the concentration he was then giving to the years 1804-1805 and the effect of the then-recent French Revolution.
These two strands... are firmly woven into the construction of the novel, and give it remarkable unity and a steady sense of reality. Hardy was determined that the charges of unreality, brought against The Return of the Native, should not be repeated. [quotes from Gittings]
The third strand, natural in that Hardy was then writing with an idea of how his books might appear onstage, is that the characters are "universal figures from the traditional rituals of the theatre"...
In any event, The Trumpet-Major was "a triumphant success with the critics"; however, in spite of Hardy himself drawing the two vignettes for the volumes' front covers, the novel in book form did not sell well.
On this copy the blank rear covers have a blind-stamped three-rule border: of the 1000 copies printed, 600 were issued with a two-rule-border (almost entirely to lending libraries), and then 150 (including this one) were issued with the three-rule-border a month or two later; the remaining 250 unbound quires were remaindered two years later.
This is a bright set, with the decorative bright red front covers as vivid as could be; the spines are as always slightly darkened (though their substantial gilt remains unusually bright), and there is some very faint soil on the rear covers. Vol I has a light shadow in the upper margin of the last few leaves (plus a tiny hole in the last 25 or so leaves), and Vol II has a string-indent at the front cover fore-edge. The delicate original pale-yellow endpapers are cracked, but deftly re-glued so that the volumes are tight, without any later endpapers or strips. In all, condition is near-fine. Since the three-decker format was intended to be rented rather than bought by the public (the vast majority of first edition copies going directly to lending libraries), it is becoming virtually impossible to find Hardy's pre-1894 novels in any better condition. Purdy pp 31-35. Housed in a handsome morocco-backed slipcase with three gilt-numbered chemises.
Provenance: each front paste-down bears the bookplate of Arthur B[arnette]. Spingarn (1878-1971), a lawyer who (like his elder brother, the educator Joel Spingarn) was a leader in the struggle for equal rights for African-Americans. Spingarn was one of few White Americans who, during the 1900s decade, supported the radical demands for racial justice being voiced by W.E.B. DuBois, in contrast to the gradualist views of Booker T. Washington. Until 1939 Spingarn served as the chairman of the NAACP's National Legal Committee (which also included Felix Frankfurter and Clarence Darrow), and subsequently he was NAACP president from 1939 to 1966. He had a major book and manuscript collection focused on the black American experience, which went to Howard University -- into what became the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Upon his death, eulogies were given by Thurgood Marshall and by Roy Wilkins. Item #15382