WILDE, Oscar (1854-1900) & Aubrey BEARDSLEY (1872-98, illustrator). Salome. A Tragedy in One Act: Translated from the French. London: Elkin Mathews & John Lane, 1894. 4°. Half title, frontispiece, 2 decorated borders, 9 plates and a vignette by Aubrey Beardsley (title detached, some very light mainly marginal browning and staining). Original green silk cloth decorated in gilt (lacking backstrip, spine a little worn at head and foot, some rubbing mainly at corners). ONE OF 125 COPIES [100 FOR SALE IN ENGLAND] ON JAPAN VELLUM. PRESENTATION COPY FROM THE WORK'S TRANSLATOR AND DEDICATEE, LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS, inscribed on the half-title, '"Dodo" from Bosie, 1894, June." Provenance: EDWARD FREDERICK BENSON (bookplate). Mason 351; Lasner 59.
A DE LUXE EDITION OF BEARDSLEY'S MASTERPIECE INSCRIBED BY LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS TO THE YOUNG E.F. BENSON. Oscar Wilde's play about 'that tragic daughter of passion', Salome, was first published in French in 1893 and was translated into English by Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), for the Elkin Mathews/John Lane edition, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley. The book's printed dedication -- 'To my friend Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas the translator of my play' -- hardly reflects the troubled nature of this, their only substantial artistic collaboration: in his long letter written to Douglas from Reading Gaol during the early months of 1897 and subsequently published as De Profundis, Wilde recalls 'the schoolboy faults of your attempted translation of Salome', adding: 'the translation was as unworthy of you, as an ordinary Oxonian, as it was of the work it sought to render'. Wilde revised the translation and, to defuse an escalating row, not just with Bosie, but with Beardsley and publisher John Lane, suggested that Douglas's name be omitted from the title-page in exchange for the dedication. 'The difference between the dedication of Salome to me by the author,' Douglas later wrote to Lane, 'and the appearance of my name on the title-page is the difference between a tribute of admiration from an artist and a receipt from a tradesman.'
Douglas was in Egypt when the book appeared in February 1894, having been sent to stay with the family of the Consul-General Lord Cromer on Wilde's advice to escape the gathering scandal surrounding his private life. There he met the 26-year-old E.F. Benson (1867-1940), who had scored a notable success the previous year with his first novel, Dodo, and later achieved a wide readership with his 'Mapp and Lucia' series of comic novels. 'He and Lord Alfred got on marvellously together,' noted another member of their party, novelist Robert Hichens, in his 1947 memoir Yesterday, 'the wit of one seeming to call out and polish the wit of the other.' Douglas subsequently spent a week at Benson's rooms in Athens, en route to a rapprochement with Wilde in Paris, and he brought the two men together in London in June 1894, when Wilde gave Benson an inscribed copy of his poem, The Sphinx. (Douglas's famous sonnet of the same name had been written during his Egyptian sojourn.) Shortly afterwards, Douglas gave Benson this inscribed copy of Salome: 'It is indicative of the relative closeness of their friendship that Douglas signed his presentation copy with both their nick-names' (Masters: The Life of E.F. Benson; London: Chatto & Windus, 1991). However, their association does not seem to have survived the scandal which subsequently engulfed Wilde and Douglas, and there is no mention of Douglas in Benson's memoirs.