This typescript (illustrated on the back cover of our catalogue) may be one of very few copies made by Robert Ross on Wilde's instructions in 1897. Both the original manuscript (Additional MS 50141A) and a 130-page typescript copy of the manuscript (50141B) are in the British Library. While the typescript version in the British Library is 21 lines to the page, the present typescript is 34 lines to the page; it is evidently not an abbreviated version but a more finished version of the B.L. typescript with more structured paragraphs and errors corrected.
Wilde started to write a long letter of admonition to Alfred Douglas ("Dear Bosie") in January 1897, during his last months in prison. The regulations dictated that he was only allowed one folio sheet of blue prison paper to write on at a time; when each sheet was completed it was taken away for the Governor to see and replaced by another, and the sheet was also removed each evening at locking-in time. The letter, which eventually amounted to 80 ruled pages on 20 folio sheets, was completed at the end of March. On April 1st Wilde intended to dispatch it, not to Douglas but with his quarterly letter to Robert Ross, with a request that it be copied. "I send you, in a roll separate from this, my letter to Alfred Douglas," he wrote, "which I hope will arrive safe. As soon as you have read it, I want you to have it carefully copied for me. There are many reason why I wish this to be done. One will suffice. I want you to be my literary executor in case of my death and to have complete control over my plays, books and papers ... Well, if you are my literary executor, you must be in possession of the only document that really gives any explanation of my extraordinary behaviour with regard to Queensberry and Douglas." As to the mode of copying, Wilde felt that "the only thing to do is to be thoroughly modern and have it typewritten." Otherwise the letter was to be "a strict secret from the general world." Only two copies of the entire work were to be made, one for Ross, the other to be kept for Wilde himself. Additional copies of certain chosen passages -- those that were in fact later published as De Profundis -- were sent to two women friends, Miss Adela Schuster and Mrs. Frank Forbes-Robertson. Wilde's suggestion was that a girl from the agency where he has sent his last play to be typed should go to Adey's flat in London to do the work under Ross's supervision. However, Wilde found he was not allowed to send his MS to Ross. It was referred by the prison Governor, Major J. O. Nelson, to the Prison Commissioners who judged that "this correspondence cannot be allowed to go out -- it may be kept and handed over to the prisoner when he is discharged." Wilde duly received it on the day of his release six weeks later, and handed it to Ross shortly after walking down the gangway of the Newhaven ferry in Dieppe harbour. After discussing the matter with Ross, Wilde was apparently persuaded that it would be better to send Douglas one of the complete typed copies rather than the original; he himself would only keep a typed copy, and Ross would have the original. Douglas's copy was posted off on August 9, 1897, to be torn up in a rage when it arrived.
The abbreviated version of the MS was published by Ross five years after the author's death. In introducing the work to the English public, in February, 1905, Ross supplied few particulars of the original MS, beyond saying that it was Wilde's last prose work, and the only work he wrote while in prison. In the first collected edition of Wilde's writings (1908), he did intimate that the published edition was part of a larger work in the form of a letter to a friend, not himself. Towards the end of the following year, he presented the complete manuscript to the British Museum subject to the condition that it remain unopened for fifty years. Ross died in 1918 and Douglas in 1945. In 1949, Wilde's only surviving son, Vyvyan Holland, published the complete text from a typed copy which he had inherited from Ross, who had made it in accordance with Wilde's instructions while the MS was in his care.
Research into the relationship between the original manuscipt and the typescripts was subsequently conducted by H. Montgomery Hyde who published "The De Profundis Affair" in The Sunday Times, January 3rd, 1960, and from whose article much of the present information is drawn.