The Ballad of Reading Gaol. First Edition (1898)
Book ID: 63262
The Ballad of Reading Gaol. London: Leonard Smithers, 1898. First Edition. One of Eight Hundred copies printed on handmade paper. Pp, 31, uncut. Publisher’s white linen-backed cinnamon cloth by Matthew Bell & Co., some browning to endpapers and light soiling to covers, light wear to head & tail of spine; internally a fine bright copy. Housed in collector’s solander box.
Ex Libris Gleeson White, with his Bookplate designed by Charles Ricketts on the front pastedown.
An important association copy of Wilde’s magnum opus. White was the first editor of ‘The Studio’ the wide-circulation magazine whose graphic personality dominated the fin-de-siècle art scene. Under White’s editorship, the magazine introduced the public to the bold work of artists such as Aubrey Beardsley, Charles Klinger & Charles Ricketts. Lavishly illustrated with exclusively photographic images, it made the avant garde popular, while enhancing the legitimacy and appreciation for the homoerotic works of the Uranian movement, which included artists such as Tuke and writers such John Addington Symonds and Oscar Wilde. It was thanks to The Studio’s reproductions of his black-and-white drawings that Beardsley was later commissioned to illustrate Wilde’s play Salomé (1894).
Wilde had been incarcerated in Reading Jail after being convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years’ hard labour in prison. Upon his release Wilde had begun writing his poem in exile at the Châlet Bourgevat, Berneval, near Dieppe in the summer of 1897. Smithers sent a final proof to him in Naples on 29 December, and the work was officially published on 13 February, by which time Wilde had returned to Paris. Smithers only risked printing 400 out of the projected 800 copies in January 1898, but due to demand, printed the remaining 400 early in February. C.3.3. was Wilde’s cell number. He noted to the publisher that ‘it would be better to publish there without my name. I see that it is my name that terrifies.’ After the seventh edition (1899) the publishers added his full name in brackets after C.3.3. on the title page. [Mason 371].