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WILDE, Oscar (“C.3.3.”) (1854–1900). The Ballad of Reading Gaol. London: Leonard Smithers, January 1898.

8vo. Half–title. Original cream and tan cloth, gilt–lettered spine, uncut (spine gently skewed and a trifle bit sunned, small stain on lower cover near spine). Provenance: Oscar Browning (1837–1923) engraved bookplate of this well–known Cambridge personality and English writer; Hugh Howard (armorial bookplate); Sold at the Hugh M. Howard sale, Sotheby’s 9 March 1936.

FIRST EDITION, LIMITED ISSUE, one of 800 copies on hand–made Dutch Van Gelder paper by the Chiswick Press, from a total edition of 830. PRESENTATION COPY FROM OSCAR WILDE TO OSCAR BROWNING tipped in with the “compliments of the author” slip. In a letter to his publisher Leonard Smithers on 18 February 1898, Wilde writes that he is worried of only printing 400 copies to start (originally only 400 regular copies were printed, and 30 special copies printed on Japan vellum). Smithers obliges and prints the remaining 400 bringing the total to 830 copies. Wilde further writes that he regrets not inscribing more copies (24 names were listed by Wilde as recipients for copies) so instead of sending the text blocks to Wilde to sign, Wilde suggests adding a presentation slip.

There were only a handful of acquaintances that Wilde notes in this letter to Smithers that he would like to add a printed slip “with compliments of the author” including his request of “a copy sent to Oscar Browning Esq, King’s College, Cambridge, with a slip inside”. When Wilde went to prison in May 1895 for gross indecency, Robbie Ross wrote to Browning to ask if he would be willing or able to subscribe to a sum which is being collected to annual the bankruptcy proceedings against Oscar Wilde. “The proposal to avert the bankruptcy may at first seem quixotic but it is only because the reasons are many that Oscar Wilde’s friends have decided to do so”. Ian Anstruther goes onto to explain in Oscar Browning: Biography (pp. 139–40) that “In the end the bankruptcy went ahead, the debt becoming too great for Wilde’s friends to be able to meet it [2000 GPB was required]. Those who tried to help were refunded. A note in the file from Wilde’s solicitor showed that Oscar Browning had sent him six pounds. Wilde did not forget his kindness. On release from prison he went to Paris and sent Oscar Browning, via Robbie Ross, a copy of his bitter, dramatic poem ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’”.

Oscar Browning (1837–1923) was an Eton master from 1860 to 1875, when his close attachments to some of his pupils (most notably George Curzon, future Viceroy of India) necessitated his departure from the school. From 1876 to 1909, he was a Cambridge don. He served as tutor at King’s College to Wilde’s close friend Robbie Ross in 1888–89. Wilde’s friendship with Browning was of long standing, dating to 1879. A RARE PRESENTATION COPY FROM ONE OSCAR TO ANOTHER.

 WILDE, Oscar (“C.3.3.”) (1854–1900). The Ballad of Reading ...
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