11 October 2002
WILDE, Oscar. The Ballad of Reading Gaol. London: Leonard Smithers, 1898.
8o. Original two-toned cloth (very lightly soiled). Provenance: Robin Grey, editor of The Musician (presentation inscription).
FIRST EDITION. AN EARLY PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED SOON AFTER PUBLICATION BY WILDE TO ROBIN GREY on the blank page facing the title: "To Robin Grey with the compliments of the author. Naples. Feb. '89."
Robin Grey, editor of the British literary periodical The Musician, was one of the few people to receive an inscribed copy of Wilde's late masterpiece within days of its publication. Wilde inscribed copies in Naples, his temporary residence after being released from two years of hard labor at Reading Gaol. The book was published anonymously using the name "C.3.3.," the number Wilde was identified by at Reading prison. Despite the lack of advertisement and fear of negative associations with his name, word leaked out of the true identity and sales were successful. A second edition was issued within 11 days to satisfy sales.
Reunited with Lord Alfred Douglas in Naples, Wilde sent a letter on 9 February 1898 to the publisher Leonard Smithers arranging for the earliest presentation copies to be sent to a select few: besides Grey other recipients included Robert Ross, Ed Ricketts, Oswald Sickert, George Bernard Shaw, the Major in charge of the Reading prison and several officers who worked there (Letters, p.700). Wilde's long-suffering wife Constance received an uninscribed copy later in the month.
Grey had tempted Wilde with an offer to print an excerpt from the Ballad in The Musician and Wilde used this proposal as leverage while negotiating with Smithers. He even teased Smithers in a letter on 3 October 1897, "The Musician editor Robin Grey wants to publish the whole poem before you do in book form, but I have refused, though they offered large sums" (Letters, pp.651-2). Smithers and Wilde nonetheless reconciled, and the book became a resounding commercial success and one of Wilde's most identifiable works. Mason 371.
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