AUDEN, Wystan Hugh (1907-1973). Poems. [London:] S[tephen] H. S[pender], 1928.
16o. Original reddish orange printed wrappers (short tear along front joint, else fine). Provenance: Winifred (presentation inscription from the publisher and author); John Johnson (presentation inscription).
FIRST EDITION OF THIS NOTED RARITY, ONE OF APPROXIMATELY THIRTY COPIES ONLY, this copy number 12. DOUBLE PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED BY SPENDER AND AUDEN on the front free endpaper: "Winifred from S.H.S." and "With love also from the author." FURTHER INSCRIBED BY AUDEN beneath his inscription to Winifred: "And with love now to John Johnson from Wystan Auden." Several printing errors have been corrected in autograph, including the insertion of two lines on p.10.
Auden met Spender at Oxford in the late 1920s and the two had a brief affair. While home in London for a holiday, Spender intended to print Poems, a collection Auden had composed the previous year and a half. The amateurish hand-press he had purchased proved insufficient, and Spender later admitted to bibliographer B.C. Bloomfield that he was forced to break type after page 23 "and took the rest of the book to the Holywell Press Oxford who finished it and bound it for me." Copies of the finished book were distributed to friends, almost always with corrections of some of the typographical errors. Most contained emendations as well, for, as Spender later recounted Auden's poetics, "The subject of the poem was only a peg on which to hang the poetry. A poet was a kind of chemist who mixed his poems out of words, whilst remaining detached from his own feelings. Feelings and emotional experiences were only the occasion which precipitated into his mind the idea of the poem." Though their romance was brief, Auden and Spender remained close personal and literary friends, as evidenced by the number of further presentation copies which follow this lot.
Although the limitation is printed in the book as "about 45 copies," both Spender and Auden's bibliographers agree that the correct count is closer to thirty. Bloomfield and Mendelson traced 11 copies, including the present. A number of these copies contain an inserted errata leaf, which is not present in this copy.
The second recipient most likely the John Johnson who was Printer to the University of Oxford from 1925 to 1946. He amassed a large collection of ephemera, including a historically significant collection of book prospectuses, in order to illustrate the social and cultural history of England during the last two hundred years. The collection is now at the Bodleian Library. Three Auden manuscripts are also listed as being in his possession by Bloomfield and Mendelson. No identification of Winifred, the earlier recipient, has been made. Bloomfield and Mendelson A1; Hayward 340.