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[SHACKLETON, Ernest (1874–1922)]. –– BROWNING, Robert (1812–1889). Poetical Works of… London: Smith and Elder, 1906.

2 volumes in one, 8vo. Early half olive green leather gilt, spine in 6 compartments with 5 raised bands, gilt centerpieces in 5 compartments, gilt–lettering in remainder (some staining to covers, rubbing to bands, wear indicative to polar climates).

Provenance: PRESENTED TO SHACKLETON AND THE OFFICERS OF THE NIMROD BY A MEMBER OF THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY, inscribed on the front flyleaf: “To Lieut. E.H. Shackleton, & the Officers of the ‘Nimrod’, with very best wishes for a happy & successful voyage, from Agnes S. Fox, September 1907”. Additional notations on flyleaves of motivational quotes by famous authors to help guide Shackleton on his voyages to the South Pole: “The man who is great of soul is one who counts himself worthy, being worthy of great things” (Dante); “So nigh to grandeur is our dust, so nigh is God to man, where duty whispers low ‘the must’, the soul replies – ‘I can’–” (Emerson); “After he had patiently endured he obtained” (Paul); and a pair of quotes by his favorite author, Robert Browning: “One who never turned his back but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better. Sleep to wake…” and “Let a man contend to the uttermost for his life’s set prize” (this last quote is inscribed on the back of Shackleton’s gravestone in Grytviken Harbour, South Georgia).

Fox was a member of the Royal Geographical Society and possibly a sponsor to the expedition. In correspondence obtained by an heir, Shackleton writes to Fox, most likely in response to the inscribed poem Fox wrote in the book: “We are going to win through. If it had all been easy even the months of getting the money together the game would not be so good to my mind. I just love these Browning words: ‘a man should strive to the uttermost for his life set prize’. Yours ever sincerely, Ernest Shackleton”. On 30 September 1907, Shackleton wrote a postcard to Fox: “I think this is the best shot of the ‘Nimrod’ she is leaving Torquay”. On 7 August 1907, Shackleton sets sail for New Zealand which would be the starting point for the expedition to Antarctica. On New Year’s Day 1908, the Nimrod would make its way further south to establish camp at Cape Royds in the McMurdo Sounds. Agnes Fox would have sent this book to Shackleton while he was stationed in New Zealand as the inscription dates “September 1907” and the correspondence between the two also date to this month. The Nimrod Expedition or the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907–1909 was the first of three successful expeditions to the Antarctic led by Shackleton. Its main target was to be first to the South Pole. Although this was not attained, Shackleton and crew reached a Farthest South latitude 88° 23’ S, just 97.5 nautical miles (180.6 km; 112.2 mi) from the pole. This was by far the longest southern polar journey to that date and a record convergence on either Pole.

Though Shackleton is best known for his Polar expeditions, Shackleton’s love of poetry, especially Browning’s poetry, is also well documented. In a story reported by the journalist Harold Begbie in 1922, it was stated that Shackleton once described himself as one of those rough spirits for whom school is chafing and that one fine day, he stuffed a Browning into his pocket, took all of his savings and went to Liverpool, shipping out on a vessel at a shilling a month. Although Lady Shackleton claimed responsibility for Ernest’s love of Browning, she once recalled that his cousin, Canon Woosnam, remembered seeing him board his first ship and noticed a volume of Browning sticking out of his pocket. “Shackleton could laud Browning’s intellectual insights into mysteries of the human condition. He could revel in the poet’s lyricism and embrace Browning’s troubadour spirit singing of romantic love. He could celebrate the nature elements of many poems, and he would have been captivated by the heroic characters Browning so vividly portrayed” (Daly, Shackleton’s Affinity for the Poetry of Browning in Nimrod: The Journal of the Ernest Shackleton Autumn School Vol. 6, October 2012).

In July 1909, Shackleton was invited to the Browning Settlement in Walworth where he was presented with the badge of the Settlement, bearing the words from his favorite poem; “Prospice” which in Latin means “look forward!” or “take care!”. This embodies Shackleton’s own philosophy: “Shackleton, like Browning, would not scorn any of life’s challenges. Danger was to him the breath of life. He would meet fight with clear eyes and would face all the pain and darkness… His peers are the ‘heroes of old’ who have tasted the whole of life. He is willing to bear the brunt of pain, darkness and cold to savour experience, even the experience of death. But he knows that even in the process of arriving at this most solemn destination, it is entirely possible that ‘sudden the worst turns the best to the brave’” (Daly). There are several letters and telegrams from Shackleton to his wife, Emily, which either include a reference to or conclude with the word “Prospice”. Both Mill and the Fishers suggest that Sir Ernest Shackleton used the word as a symbol of devotion and hope. It is only fitting that on p. 599 of this book, is a dogeared page and the only thumb soiling of margins in the entire book, which contains the poem: “Prospice”.

At this same lecture, he hailed the working men as brothers for he had been a worker ever since he shoveled coal at Iquique on the deck of his first ship. “Amongst these people he found himself at his best, because he was in touch both with reality and poetry as he never was at the grand Society functions”. Sometime in the spring of 1913, Shackleton was appointed President of the Browning Settlement “where he assured the assembled working men of the help which Browning’s cheery optimism had always been to him, and promised to name a mountain after the poet if he should discover new peaks in the forthcoming expedition” (Mill, The Life of Sir Ernest Shackleton p. 199). A few months later in December 1913, Shackleton would make a public announcement of his Imperial Trans–Antarctic Expedition aboard the Endurance (regretfully none of the books in his cabin that Frank Hurley famously photographed survived as Shackleton and crew were forced to leave behind nonessential items as they made their trek to safety).

That same year on 28 September 1913, Shackleton would give a lecture to the Browning Settlement about his love for the poet and his time spent at the Pole: “Browning was not only a poet of religion and of ethics in general: he was a man of action. All the men who were with me in the South, all of us confessed to reading and enjoying poetry. It is a curious thing that men of action, men whose lives are laid in hard places, love poetry, and especially the poetry of love and beauty… Poetry expresses what we can only feel. I find that to be the case more with Browning than with any other poet. We had Browning with us in the hut at the Antarctic. We had our daily trials, and reading him helped us through them… I feel about Robert Browning that he is always egging us on to face difficulties. In the Antarctic it was always a fight: and we found that from Browning we always got encouragement”. Upon the conclusion of the lecture, Shackleton gifts his copy of Browning’s Poems: “On leaving Settlement House, where Lady Shackleton and he took tea with the staff, Sir Ernest presented the Settlement with the actual volume – the bound copy of Browning’s complete works in a single India paper volume – which he had taken with him on his Antarctic journey, and which had been, as he told us, the comfort and inspiration of himself and the rest of the exploring party during their long sojourn in the hut under Polar darkness. Among the growing number of Browning treasures few will be prized by the Settlement more than this historic volume” (Fellowship: The Monthly Journal of the Robert Browning Settlement, Vol. VIII No. 10, 15 October 1913).

WITH AN AUTOGRAPH NOTE SIGNED BY SHACKLETON (165 x 127 mm), on personal letterhead from his home at Heathview Gardens further solidifying the provenance: “This copy of Browning’s complete works in single india paper volume, was taken by us on our Antarctic Expedition in 1907–09. We had it with us during our stay in the hut under the Polar night. Ernest Shackleton”. The book has only exchanged hands twice since Shackleton’s ownership: Shackleton received the book from Agnus Fox while stationed in New Zealand aboard the Nimrod in 1907 and owned it up until 1913 when he presented it to the Browning Settlement which they owned until 2022 – a span of 109 years until it reached the auction block in our rooms today. THIS IS THE ONLY KNOWN SURVIVING COPY OF A BOOK OWNED BY SHACKLETON THAT WAS TAKEN ON ONE OF HIS MAJOR EXPEDITIONS.

 [SHACKLETON, Ernest (1874–1922), his copy]. –– BROWNING, Robert (1812...
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