Two Private Press Editions of Oscar Wilde's Letters, Each One of 75 Copies


(Westminster: Beaumont Press, 1921-22). 222 x 152 mm. (8 3/4 x 6"). Two separately issued but companion volumes. FIRST EDITIONS. EACH ONE OF 75 COPIES ON JAPANESE VELLUM OF THE EDITION DE LUXE SIGNED BY THE PUBLISHER AND ARTIST (of a total of 475 copies).

Original vellum-backed decorative paper boards. Reading with vignette on title in orange and green, two plates in the same colors, one facsimile of writing in text, device on final page, stylized illustration of a tree on front and rear endpapers; "Berneval" with woodcuts of Naples and Paris printed in blue on the front and rear endpapers, two-color title page woodcut, one plate, a facsimile of a Wilde letter, and printer's woodcut device; our special deluxe version WITH THREE ADDITIONAL WOODCUTS at the back of each volume, all the woodcuts as well as the cover design by Randolph Schwabe. Ransom, p. 211; Tomkinson, p. 17. Berneval spine just a bit darkened, otherwise FINE, UNWORN COPIES that have obviously been little used, as they open stiffly and are immaculate inside and out.

Here, "After Berneval" is offered with "After Reading," its (earlier) companion volume, both of them in their deluxe form on Japanese vellum and including an extra suite of the illustrations. "Reading" comprises a set of letters, also written to Ross, by Wilde during the summer of 1897, after having just been released from two years' imprisonment in Reading Gaol. The preface to its sequel, "After Berneval," says that the earlier collection "was unprocurable almost as soon as it was published." The letters in these volumes tell the story of a tragic literary figure who fell from a precipitous height. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was born and raised in Ireland, studied classics at Trinity College, Dublin, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, before settling in London. There, he became famous for his unmatched wit and infamous for his personal eccentricities--long hair, décor at his lodgings that included peacock feathers and blue china, and, ultimately, sexual behavior that was deemed both intolerable and criminal. During the first half of the 1890s, he was enjoying remarkable social prominence and literary success with the staging of "Lady Windermere's Fan" (1892), "A Woman of No Importance" (1893), "An Ideal Husband" (1894), and the incomparable "The Importance of Being Earnest" (1895). But two months after the staging of this last play, he brought a defamation suit against the Marquess of Queensbury, the father of his intimate friend, Lord Alfred Douglas. The suit backfired: in the course of the litigation, Wilde was investigated by police, and his homosexuality was exposed, leaving his reputation destroyed. He was sentenced in May of 1895 to two years of hard labor, spending part of his time behind bars at Reading Gaol, where he produced his powerful poem, "De Profundis." After release, he moved to the Continent and died three years later in Paris of meningitis. As Day says, "Among English men of letters only Byron and Shaw have surpassed Wilde in the craft of conscious posing and self-publicizing," a fact that has made succeeding generations suspicious of the reality behind the legend that the author helped to establish. But after a period when he was treated as a kind of martyr because of his suffering at the hands of squeamish Victorianism, "it is at last possible to evaluate Wilde as the capable literary artist he actually was." In physical terms, these are modest but nevertheless pleasing products of the Beaumont Press, founded by Cyril W. Beaumont in 1917. A special feature of the Press is its patterned paper bindings, each with a design created for one title only.

Price: $1,750.00