HOUSMAN, Alfred Edward (1859-1936). A Shropshire Lad. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1896.
8o. Half-title. Title printed in red and black. (Endleaves lightly toned as usual.) Original vellum-backed boards, paper spine label (Carter and Sparrow A, no priority established), uncut and partly unopened (edges of spine slightly darkened, generally very fine). Provenance: Marjorie Wiggin Prescott (presentation inscription; letters from Housman and others laid-in; her sale, Christie's New York, 6 February 1981, lot 163); Anonymous owner (sold Sotheby's New York, 17 May 1984, lot 629); Frederick R. Koch Foundation (sold Christie's New York, 7 June 1990, lot 58).
FIRST EDITION, one of 350 copies (an additional 150 copies were issued in America with an 1897 title-page). PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED BY HOUSMAN TO MARJORIE WIGGIN PRESCOTT on the half-title: "Presented to Mrs. Sherburne Prescott by A.E. Housman in gratitude of an expensive act of kindness."
HOUSMAN, A.E. Two autograph letters signed to Mrs. Prescott, Trinity College, Cambridge, 26 December 1930 and 3 January 1931. 3½ pages, 12mo. Regarding the present copy of A Shropshire Lad. -- AUBURN, H.W. Typed letter signed to James H. Gannon, London, 6 January 1931. 2 pages, 4o. Auburn was Mrs. Prescott's emissary and here tells the story of his visit to Housman. -- CARTER, John. Autograph letter signed to Mrs. Prescott, London, 22 December 1964. 1 page, 8o. Enclosing a signed carbon typed draft of "Housmania."
THE CELEBRATED PRESCOTT COPY. John Carter, in the Summer 1965 issue of The Book Collector, published an essay called "Housmania" in which the present copy is described: "... [Mrs. Prescott] had once been offered [in 1930] an inscribed copy of A Shropshire Lad by a bookseller who had bought it from Laurence Housman. She was given to understand that [A.E. Housman] knew of this and was incensed. So she bought the book and wrote to AEH offering to return it to him; coupling with the offer the suggestion that he should write some verses in a second copy in her possession. Housman replied that while he could not do that he would inscribe a copy for her. When the emissary [Mr. Auburn] took the book to Cambridge, Housman put it contemptuously in the fire and replaced it from the cupboard with a brand new copy (in its glassine jacket, which Mrs Prescott... discarded), inscribing it as above."
Housman's letters further illuminate the story: "I am ashamed and disgusted at the price which you have paid on my account for the Shropshire Lad with the sham inscription, but all the more grateful. I am not clear whether the copy which I am to inscribe is the copy which I am giving you in exchange or another copy already in your possession" (26 December 1930). And after Auburn's visit he writes: "Mr. H.W. Auburn called here today and brought me your copy of A Shropshire Lad which you were so kind as to recover for me, and I handed to him the copy which I promised you in exchange, gratefully inscribing it to you..." Auburn's letter to Gannon reveals that Housman cut the inscribed leaf out of the copy he had brought and, "putting it into the open fire, said 'Now you can assure Mrs. Prescott that I have destroyed it, and that I am feeling much better for her having made this possible.'"
AN ESPECIALLY FINE COPY. Presentation copies of A Shropshire Lad are very rare, with only 4 copies with contemporary inscriptions apparently known. Carter and Sparrow 11; Hayward 305; Tinker 1243. (5)