Introductory Notes

1. MANUSCRIPTS – THE WAY THINGS GO

The Tite Street Sale

On 24 April 1895, less than three weeks after the failure of Oscar Wilde’s libel suit against Lord Queensberry and his subsequent arrest, one of the most undignified spectacles ever seen at an auction occurred in Wilde’s house in Tite Street, Chelsea. Declared bankrupt and charged with indecency after having lost his libel action, Wilde was forced to witness how all his possessions and those of his family were thrown to a scandal-hungry mob. His wife Constance had fled to her friend Lady Mount Temple in Torquay a few days before with her son Vyvyan; her elder son Cyril had been sent to her family in Ireland.1Moyle, Franny Constance, The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde, London, 2011, pp. 270-2.

Robert Ross, Wilde’s friend and later his literary executor, had tried together with Reginald Turner, to secure Wilde’s most important papers, letters and manuscripts after his arrest, but found that others had already searched the house: “A remarkable feature of the case was that all the published MSS. were lying about in various fragmentary states, and it was perfectly obvious that someone familiar with the author’s writing had been there before us.”2Ross, Robert, “Introductory Note“, in Wilde, Oscar, A Florentine Tragedy, Boston, 1908, pp. v-vi. Apparently, private detectives engaged by Lord Queensberry’s solicitor Charles Russel had searched Wilde’s house and library for incriminating material to be used against Wilde.3Bristow, Joseph, and Mitchell, Rebecca, “The Provenance of Oscar Wilde’s ’Decay of Lying’“, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 111, no. 2, June 2017, pp. 225-6.

On the day of the auction, there was no question of keeping any kind of order. “Serious purchasers were far outnumbered by a mob of curious and sensation-seeking idlers whom neither the auctioneer nor the representatives of the court could control.”4Munby, A. N. L. (ed.), Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons: Poets and Men of Letters, vol. 1, London and New York, 1971, p. 371. “For a time the Street was partially blocked by four-wheeled cabs and hansoms, but there were few private carriages to be seen, and the rough element was by no means conspicuous by its absence, the auctioneer having on more than one occasion to call attention to the fact that the language indulged in was not suited to the ears of the ladies present.”5The Globe, 25 April 1895, p. 7. An Irish publisher saw in a room whose lock had been broken open that the contents of various cupboards and drawers had been dumped on the floor: “It was thickly strewn with Oscar’s manuscripts and letters addressed to him which people were examining.”6Mead, Donald, “Oscar’s Finances: The Pillage of the House Beautiful; Chapter Six; The Bankruptcy Sale“, The Wildean, no. 4, July 2015, p. 40. In this turbulent atmosphere, friends of Oscar Wilde tried to save what they could of his possessions, but often in vain. Ultimately, few of those present had a clear idea of what had been sold and what had been stolen.

The catalogue of this 24 April auction reflects the haste and the dilettantism with which pictures, furniture, china, rugs, children’s toys, books and letters of Constance and Oscar Wilde, to say nothing of Wilde’s manuscripts, were jumbled together into 246 lots:

  • Lot 53: “Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince and other Tales, large paper (75 copies only printed), The Sphinx, 3 copies, bound vellum, Lady Windermere’s Fan, large paper, 2 copies, Salome (2 copies), and A Woman of no Importance”.
  • Lots 71, 72, 73, 77, 81, 83, 86: “French Novels”, each in 2 parcels of 40 or 42 volumes.
  • Lot 112: “A Japanese Book on Fishes, coloured plates, Oscar Wilde’s Salome, bound in silk, 3 Nos. The Spirit Lamp, Japanese Tales, and large paper copies of Wilde’s Poems, &c., some presentation copies”, 20 items in all.

The children’s toys are grouped together in lot 237: “A very large quantity of toys”.

Lot 70 contains what we may call the soul of Wilde’s assets: “Manuscripts, a parcel.” Just “manuscripts” – not a single title named or known. No one even knows how many were bundled together in this lot. The Hampshire Telegraph writes: “In a chest of drawers in this bedroom … lay a choice selection of Oscar Wilde’s MSS., said to include a yet unpublished play” – all of them are stated to have been typescripts.7Hampshire Telegraph, 27 April 1895, p. 5. An eyewitness had observed people stuffing their pockets with whatever papers lay around, most of which seemed to be manuscripts of Wilde’s plays.8Mackie, Gregory, Beautiful Untrue Things: Forging Oscar Wilde’s Extraordinary Afterlife, Toronto, 2019, p. 23. The manuscripts did not cause any sensation at auction, as an article in The Globe reports: “Some manuscript and typewritten copy of ‘A Woman of No Importance’ fetched £5 15s.”9The Globe, 25 April 1895, p. 7. That amount, the equivalent of about £750 today, was the total price of lot 70.10I.e., as of December 2020. This and subsequent conversions are from U.K. Inflation Calculator. It is not known who the buyer of those “Manuscripts, a parcel” was, nor what became of them afterward.

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1 Moyle, Franny Constance, The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde, London, 2011, pp. 270-2.

2 Ross, Robert, “Introductory Note“, in Wilde, Oscar, A Florentine Tragedy, Boston, 1908, pp. v-vi.

3 Bristow, Joseph, and Mitchell, Rebecca, “The Provenance of Oscar Wilde’s ’Decay of Lying’“, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 111, no. 2, June 2017, pp. 225-6.

4 Munby, A. N. L. (ed.), Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons: Poets and Men of Letters, vol. 1, London and New York, 1971, p. 371.

5 The Globe, 25 April 1895, p. 7.

6 Mead, Donald, “Oscar’s Finances: The Pillage of the House Beautiful; Chapter Six; The Bankruptcy Sale“, The Wildean, no. 4, July 2015, p. 40.

7 Hampshire Telegraph, 27 April 1895, p. 5.

8 Mackie, Gregory, Beautiful Untrue Things: Forging Oscar Wilde’s Extraordinary Afterlife, Toronto, 2019, p. 23.

9 The Globe, 25 April 1895, p. 7.

10 I.e., as of December 2020. This and subsequent conversions are from U.K. Inflation Calculator.

After the Sale

The first trophies of the auction turned up in the London bookshops soon after that tumult, including some of Wilde’s manuscripts. The novelist and critic Wilfred Hugh Chesson, for example, was able to buy various objects from the auction from a dealer: “After 16 Tite Street, Chelsea, had been ransacked and despoiled to pay his creditors, a resident of 5 Tite Street, Chelsea, entered a bookshop in the adjacent Queen’s Road. The resident was I. There I bought Wilde’s beribboned Bible, some leaves of his MSS., the copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets which he had studied before writing ‘Mr W. H.,’ a private copy of Duchess of Padua and a corrected copy of Vera the Nihilist [sic]”.11Chesson, Wilfred Hugh, “A Reminiscence of 1898“, The Bookman, XXXIV, December 1911, p. 389. Chesson later returned some of the objects to Wilde in Paris.

An unnamed but at the time well known publisher recounts to the Evening Mail in 1916: “A few days ago … I found the greater part of the manuscript of ’The Fisherman and his Soul’ among some medicine bottles in a box at home. I bought it some years ago, and kept it, with other Wilde manuscripts, for a long time. It must have got separated from them during a removal and I had forgotten its existence. If I recollect it aright I bought it from a local bookseller, who gave a pound or two for it when Wilde was sold up. Only a few pages of it are missing.”12Evening Mail, 11 October 1916, p. 8. Many more of Wilde’s works and manuscripts no doubt had similar fates in the years following the Tite Street sale.

Walter Spencer, a London bookseller and a constant seeker after Wildeana at auctions, remembers: “After Wilde’s death I purchased the MSS. of Lady Windermere’s Fan and A Woman of No Importance, by private treaty. The two plays were written in ordinary cheap exercise books. They were purchased for very small sums, and I sold them for very small sums.”13Spencer, Walter T., Forty Years in My Bookshop, London, 1923, pp. 248-9. In later years, even Vyvyan Holland, Wilde’s son,14In October 1895 Constance had determined to change her name and that of her sons to Holland deposited a parcel of 27 of his father’s manuscripts in Spencer’s shop, to the dealer’s great joy.15Spencer, p. xxxiii.

It was not long before American collectors too discovered Oscar Wilde and bought whatever could be had of his. The 1906 May catalogue of the Merwin-Clayton Sales Company lists 63 items under Wilde, including these:

  • A typewritten manuscript of Act I of “Lady Windermere’s Fan”.
  • An autograph draft of Act III of “Lady Windermere’s Fan”.
  • Typewritten manuscripts of Acts III and IV of “A Woman of No Importance”.
  • A typewritten manuscript of Act III of “An Ideal Husband”.16Catalogue of Extremely Rare Books, First and Scarce Editions of Famous Authors, Early Printed Books, Rare Bindings and Manuscripts, Private Press Editions, The Merwin-Clayton Sales Company, New York, May 16-18, 1906

The Philadelphia dealer and collector Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach, one of the most successful and unusual booksellers in the first half of the 20th century, had made a speciality of rare books and manuscripts early on in his career. His business soon became the most important institution on both sides of the Atlantic for manuscripts, letters, first editions and presentation copies by Oscar Wilde. Rosenbach maintained close contacts with the London booksellers, especially Bernard Quaritch, and also with the auctioneers Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge (later Sotheby & Co.). Into the 1940s, he was synonymous with the flourishing trade in Wilde manuscripts.

Felix Isman of Philadelphia, a real estate dealer, was one of the first collectors in America to discover Oscar Wilde, and purposefully accumulated a collection of his books and manuscripts. He commissioned A. S. W. Rosenbach to comb the London bookshops for Wilde materials. From the early 1900s, Isman thus obtained original manuscripts of “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Vera; or, The Nihilists”, presentation copies of Wilde’s works, and everything else Rosenbach was able to lay hands on in connection with Oscar Wilde.17Wolf, Edwin, and Fleming, John F., Rosenbach: A Biography, London, 1960, p. 53. When Felix Isman fell on financial hard times, Rosenbach bought back his Wilde collection, and then sold it to John B. Stetson Jr., who was among the most important of the private Wilde collectors.

In New York, Richard Butler Glaenzer began collecting Wilde about the same time as Isman. Glaenzer, a poet and a bibliophile, offered his first editions and other Wilde treasures for sale at auction, over 130 articles in all, as early as 1905.18Catalogue of the Library of Mr. Richard Butler Glaenzer, The Merwin-Clayton Sales Company, New York, December 7, 1905. Six years later, in November 1911, he auctioned almost 90 more items,19Two Hundred Books from the Library of Richard Glaenzer, The Anderson Auction Company, New York, November 28, 1911. including letters and manuscripts by Wilde, such as these:

  • Autograph manuscripts of Acts I and III of “Lady Windermere’s Fan”.
  • An autograph manuscript of Act IV of “An Ideal Husband”.
  • Typescripts of Acts III and IV of “A Woman of No Importance”.

It was plain from this and other auctions that many of Wilde’s manuscripts appeared on the market not in their entirety, but divided into individual acts or chapters, or even individual pages, as in the later cases of “The Duchess of Padua” and “The Sphinx”. The chaos of the Tite Street sale had left its regrettable mark.

Richard Le Gallienne, not really a Wilde collector, but a friend of Wilde’s who had emigrated to the USA and a writer himself, had his Wilde collection sold at auction before Glaenzer’s, in June of 1905. He is known to have had various “bound manuscripts of Oscar Wilde” in the bookshelves of his house in England.20Whittington-Egan, Richard, and Smerdon, Geoffrey, The Quest of the Golden Boy: The Life and Letters of Richard Le Gallienne, Barre, Mass., 1962, p. 237. Le Gallienne had obtained them directly from Wilde, and was forced to sell most of them to pay off his debts. Among the 16 items relating to Wilde were the following:

  • The autograph manuscript of “The Birthday of the Little Princess” [The Birthday of the Infanta].
  • An autograph manuscript of “On the Decay of Lying” (20 pages).
  • The complete autograph manuscript of “Dogmas” [Dogmas for the Use of the Aged].
  • The galley proof, with Wilde’s manuscript corrections, of four chapters of “The Fisherman and His Soul”.21Books, Letters and Manuscripts from the Private Library of Richard Le Gallienne, The Anderson Auction Company, New York, June 5-7, 1905. Le Gallienne also possessed, but did not sell, the typescript of Act III of “An Ideal Husband“ which is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library.

In 1909, at the auction of the library of Louis J. Haber in New York, the collectors’ market was offered the complete autograph manuscript of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” as it had been published in 1890 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine.22The Library of Louis J. Haber of New York City, Part II, The Anderson Auction Company, New York, Dec. 7-8, 1909. It is probably not entirely by coincidence that Arthur Conan Doyle’s manuscript of “The Sign of the Four” was sold at the same auction. J. M. Stoddart, the managing editor of Lippincott, had commissioned the work at a meeting with both Doyle and Wilde in August of 1889, and had long had the manuscript, like that of “Dorian Gray”, in his possession. Both of these manuscripts seem to have come to the auction through Stoddart’s friend Ferdinand J. Haber, the son of Louis J. Haber.23Frankel, Nicholas (ed.), The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition, Cambridge, Mass., 2012, p. 43. Joseph F. Sabin bought “Dorian Gray” for $1,000 for the collector and banker Eugene Meyer, Jr., who later became the publisher of The Washington Post. The Pierpont Morgan Library acquired the manuscript from Eugene Meyer, Jr. in 1913.

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11 Chesson, Wilfred Hugh, “A Reminiscence of 1898“, The Bookman, XXXIV, December 1911, p. 389.

12 Evening Mail, 11 October 1916, p. 8.

13 Spencer, Walter T., Forty Years in My Bookshop, London, 1923, pp. 248-9.

14 In October 1895 Constance had determined to change her name and that of her sons to Holland

15 Spencer, p. xxxiii.

16 Catalogue of Extremely Rare Books, First and Scarce Editions of Famous Authors, Early Printed Books, Rare Bindings and Manuscripts, Private Press Editions, The Merwin-Clayton Sales Company, New York, May 16-18, 1906.

17 Wolf, Edwin, and Fleming, John F., Rosenbach: A Biography, London, 1960, p. 53.

18 Catalogue of the Library of Mr. Richard Butler Glaenzer, The Merwin-Clayton Sales Company, New York, December 7, 1905.

19 Two Hundred Books from the Library of Richard Glaenzer, The Anderson Auction Company, New York, November 28, 1911.

20 Whittington-Egan, Richard, and Smerdon, Geoffrey, The Quest of the Golden Boy: The Life and Letters of Richard Le Gallienne, Barre, Mass., 1962, p. 237.

21 Books, Letters and Manuscripts from the Private Library of Richard Le Gallienne, The Anderson Auction Company, New York, June 5-7, 1905. Le Gallienne also possessed, but did not sell, the typescript of Act III of “An Ideal Husband“ which is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library.

22 The Library of Louis J. Haber of New York City, Part II, The Anderson Auction Company, New York, Dec. 7-8, 1909.

23 Frankel, Nicholas (ed.), The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition, Cambridge, Mass., 2012, p. 43.

Robert Ross and the Collectors’ Circle

In order to save Wilde’s lost papers from being scattered to the four winds, Robert Ross and the industrious Christopher Millard24Wilde’s first bibliographer (under his pseudonym Stuart Mason), rare book collector and antiquarian book dealer and Walter Ledger25Bibliophile and bibliographer, collector of Wilde’s literary works, friend of Robert Ross, worked with Christopher Millard to produce his Bibliography of Oscar Wilde, creator of the Robert Ross Memorial Collection, University College, Oxford soon formed “a sort of early ‘Collectors Circle’ of Oscar Wilde’s works”.26McDonnell, Andrew, Oscar Wilde At Oxford, Oxford, 1996, p. 22. Their goal was to recover and conserve important pieces with a view to preparing the first authorized Collected Edition of Oscar Wilde, published in 1908. “It is amazing that even though Oscar’s house was virtually ransacked during the bankruptcy sale, Robbie appears to have located the whereabouts of manuscripts of first editions of all the known works.”27Ibid.

It is not easy to guess, however, which manuscripts and other objects the “collectors’ circle” was actually able to purchase, and which manuscripts Robert Ross had been able to acquire in the immediate aftermath of the Tite Street sale in April 1895. These were very probably more numerous than even Ross’s own statements would suggest. Between 5 April, the day of Wilde’s arrest, and Ross’s departure for France (either for fear of being “taken to court for homosexuality“,28Bristow and Mitchell, p. 225. like Wilde, or “by the fact that he had been subpoenaed by the crown to give evidence against Wilde“29Sturgis, Matthew, Oscar Wilde, London, 2018, p. 565.), Ross had several days’ time in which to take important documents from Wilde’s house in Tite Street. It is safe to assume that he made his best efforts to do so: “Wilde’s servant, Arthur, was there, and helped Ross to break into the bedroom and pack a bag.“30Ellmann, Richard, Oscar Wilde, London, 1987, p. 429

As early as 1909, Ross gave important manuscripts by Wilde to the Library of the British Museum, including autograph and typewritten manuscripts of all four society comedies and “The Sphinx”. As far as is known at present, none of those manuscripts had been previously offered by any dealer or auctioneer. Thus it appears probable that they were in Ross’s possession since Wilde’s arrest. In 1910, Ross also gave the British Library Wilde’s own privately printed copies of Vera; or, The Nihilists and The Duchess of Padua, containing his handwritten notes.

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24 Wilde’s first bibliographer (under his pseudonym Stuart Mason), rare book collector and antiquarian book dealer

25 Bibliophile and bibliographer, collector of Wilde’s literary works, friend of Robert Ross, worked with Christopher Millard to produce his Bibliography of Oscar Wilde, creator of the Robert Ross Memorial Collection, University College, Oxford

26 McDonnell, Andrew, Oscar Wilde At Oxford, Oxford, 1996, p. 22.

27 Ibid.

28 Bristow and Mitchell, p. 225.

29 Sturgis, Matthew, Oscar Wilde, London, 2018, p. 565.

30 Ellmann, Richard, Oscar Wilde, London, 1987, p. 429

Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, July 191131Valuable Books, Autograph Letters and Illuminated and Other Manuscripts, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, London, 27 July 1911.

In July 1911, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge offered for sale “Very Important Manuscripts in Prose & Verse by Oscar Wilde: The Property of A Gentleman”. These manuscripts too had never been offered at auction or by booksellers. They included the following:

  • Part of the autograph manuscript of “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”.
  • An early autograph draft of “The True Function and Value of Criticism” (The Critic as Artist).
  • The original manuscripts of chapters 3, 14 and 15 for the book edition of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.
  • Portions of the autograph manuscript of “A Florentine Tragedy”.
  • An early autograph and a typewritten draft of “The Sphinx”.
  • The autograph manuscripts of the poem “Les Ballons” and the sonnet “On the Sale by Auction of Keats’ Love Letters”.

The gentleman in question was Robert Ross, who was apparently auctioning the manuscripts for Vyvyan Holland. In October 1911, Ross wrote to Walter Ledger: “Forgive me for having … [?] you. Poor Vyvyan Holland has come a fearful smash [?]. He has been repudiated by his broker & I have had to send him off to Spain, which has made a sudden & unpleasant strain on my resources. The sale at Sotheby’s which I made early on his behalf was not enough, & he has banked his share of his father’s estate long ago.”32Letter from Robert Ross to Walter Ledger, 11 Oct. 1911, Robert Ross Memorial Collection, MS Ross 4.

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31 Valuable Books, Autograph Letters and Illuminated and Other Manuscripts, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, London, 27 July 1911.

32 Letter from Robert Ross to Walter Ledger, 11 Oct. 1911, Robert Ross Memorial Collection, MS Ross 4.

Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, April 192333Valuable Books and Autograph Letters … A Collection of Autograph Manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, London, 23-24 April 1923.

Furthermore, the Sotheby auction of “Valuable Books and Autograph Letters … A Collection of Autograph Manuscripts by Oscar Wilde” in April of 1923 included a total of 16 manuscripts, several hundred pages of notebooks, and more than 40 pages of notes which were also probably being sold by Christopher Millard and Vyvyan Holland (Robert Ross had died in 1918). Among these papers were:

  • The autograph chapter 4 (i.e. 5) for the book edition of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (chapters 3, 14 and 15 had already been auctioned in 1911, as noted above).
  • Several autograph pages of “A Florentine Tragedy”.
  • Several autograph pages of “The Fisherman and His Soul”.
  • Autograph manuscripts of various articles, essays and lectures (“The English Renaissance”, “Art and the Handicraftsman”, “Lecture to Art Students”, “Impressions of America”, “Hellenism”, “Women’s Dress”, “More Radical Ideas upon Dress-Reform”, “The Women of Homer”, “Plato’s Psychology”, “Irish Poets of Forty-Eight”, “Amiel and Lord Beaconsfield”).

The 24 items fetched a total of £476,34The Scotsman, 25 April 1923, p. 10. worth about £29,000 today.35U.K. Inflation Calculator.

Millard’s bookplates are found in several of these manuscripts.36See The Prescott Collection: Printed Books and Manuscripts, Including an Extensive Collection of Books and Manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, Feb. 6, 1981, pp. 169, 183. In 1906, he had published Wilde’s lecture “Impressions of America”. In 1908, Robert Ross wrote in his preface to the volume Miscellanies of the Collected Edition of Oscar Wilde: “I have included only those lectures of which I possess or could obtain manuscript.”37Ross, Robert, “Introduction“, in Oscar Wilde, Miscellanies, London, 1908, p. xiv. In addition, Ross himself had made copies, or had copies made, of the various essays and lectures which he possessed in manuscript.38Small, Ian, Oscar Wilde Revalued: An Essay on New Materials and Methods of Research, Greensboro, NC, 1993, p. 150. Once again, it is not certain which of these manuscripts Robert Ross acquired in cooperation with Christopher Millard and Walter Ledger, and which he had already possessed beforehand.

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33 Valuable Books and Autograph Letters … A Collection of Autograph Manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, London, 23-24 April 1923.

34 The Scotsman, 25 April 1923, p. 10.

35 U.K. Inflation Calculator.

36 See The Prescott Collection: Printed Books and Manuscripts, Including an Extensive Collection of Books and Manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, Feb. 6, 1981, pp. 169, 183.

37 Ross, Robert, “Introduction“, in Oscar Wilde, Miscellanies, London, 1908, p. xiv.

38 Small, Ian, Oscar Wilde Revalued: An Essay on New Materials and Methods of Research, Greensboro, NC, 1993, p. 150.

Stuart Mason, Art and Morality (1907)39Mason, Stuart, Art and Morality, London, 1908, 1912 (reprinted 1971). and Bibliography (1914)40Mason, Stuart, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde, London, 1914.

Numerous facsimile pages of autograph manuscripts are reproduced in Stuart Mason’s (Christopher Millard’s) Art and Morality (1907) and Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1914). They also lend credence to the assumption that the originals were in the hands of the “collectors’ circle” (unless they were lent out for reproduction by a dealer or an auctioneer). For example, Millard’s two works present the following:

  • The first autograph page of “Dorian Gray” (1890).41Mason, Art and Morality, facing p. 120.
  • The first autograph pages of chapter 342Ibid., facing p. 152.and chapter 4 (i.e. 5)43Mason, Bibliography, p. 354.of “Dorian Gray” (1891). (As noted above, chapter 3 was sold at auction by Sotheby’s in 1911; chapter 4 in 1923.)
  • The autograph stanzas of “The Harlot’s House”,44Ibid., pp. 56-7. “Le Jardin des Tuileries”,45Ibid., facing p. 124.“To my friend Luther Munday”,46Ibid., p. 176. “L’Envoi”,47Ibid., p. 183. “The Sphinx”48Ibid., pp. 396-7. and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”.49Ibid., facing p. 416.
  • The autograph title page of “The Duchess of Padua”.50Ibid., p. 328.
  • An autograph page of “De Profundis“.51Ibid., pp. 448-9.
  • An autograph page of “A Florentine Tragedy”.52Ibid., p. 462.
  • The autograph first page of “The English Renaissance of Art”.53Ibid., p. 489.

Christopher Millard wrote to William Andrews Clark, Jr., in October 1922 that Vyvyan Holland too possessed numerous valuable manuscripts and books of his father’s for a long time: “Mr. Holland is a keen bibliophile and has a wonderful collection of presentation copies of his father’s works which was bequeathed to him by Robert Ross.54Robert Ross had died on 5 October 1918. … He also has a valuable collection of his father’s manuscripts including large portions of ‘Vera’ and ‘The Duchess of Padua’ and indeed nearly all those mentioned in my Bibliography.”55Quoted in Hyde, Montgomery H., Christopher Sclater Millard (Stuart Mason): Bibliographer & Antiquarian Book Dealer, New York, 1990, p. 84. Financial considerations induced Vyvyan Holland again and again to give up parts of his private collection, as we have seen in regard to the auctions of 1911 and 1923; he did so in later years as well.

Christopher Millard, himself a book dealer, repeatedly offered Wildeana in his 16 catalogues issued between 1919 and 1927, including (probably on consignment) the famous full-length portrait of Oscar Wilde painted by Harper Pennington. Bought at the Tite Street auction for £14 by Wilde’s friend Ernest Leverson, the oil painting passed to More Adey and Robert Ross before being offered in Millard’s catalogue No. 6 for £200.56“No. 6. Modern Books, Belles Lettres and First Editions … and the Original Oil-painting of Oscar Wilde by Harper Pennington, £200“. Book-Auction Records, vol. 19, 1920-1921, p. XV. It subsequently came into the possession of the American collector William Andrews Clark, Jr., and continues to hold a prominent place in his famous Wilde collection today. Millard was not financially able to acquire the most valuable Oscar Wilde pieces for his own collection, however: “Millard lacked the capital to buy heavily at auction sales or, indeed, to secure any of the well-known ‘high spots’ for his stock.”57Sims, George, “Three Booksellers and their Catalogues“, The Book Collector, vol. 4, no. 4, winter 1955, p. 291.

In the trial of Methuen & Co. versus Christopher Millard in 1926, which was concerned with the publication of For Love of the King,58This work had been attributed to Wilde, published by Methuen in 1922, but written by a forger, Mary Mabel Chan-Toon Wodehouse Pearse, known as Mrs Chan-Toon. It is the only work not written by Wilde in the list of his works under the imprint of his authorized publisher, Methuen. “Millard’s zeal in denouncing the play and its publishers ultimately led to a libel suit, filed against him by Methuen.“ (Mackie, p. 170) Millard told the court that Robert Ross (who had died in October of 1918) had left him “a large tin box containing the manuscripts of all that Wilde had written”.59“Oscar Wilde’s Works: Alleged Forgery; Publisher Sues for Libel“, The Scotsman, 11 November 1926, p. 10. The newspaper account continues: “Wilde appeared to have hoarded up all the scraps on which he had put pen to paper from the days he was at Oxford.”

Of course it is impossible to say now with certainty what was contained in that tin box. It is evident, however, that many of Wilde’s manuscripts were in the hands of Robert Ross, and were not lost during the tumult in Tite Street.

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39 Mason, Stuart, Art and Morality, London, 1908, 1912 (reprinted 1971).

40 Mason, Stuart, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde, London, 1914.

41 Mason, Art and Morality, facing p. 120.

42 Ibid., facing p. 152.

43 Mason, Bibliography, p. 354.

44 Ibid., pp. 56-7.

45 Ibid., facing p. 124.

46 Ibid., p. 176.

47 Ibid., p. 183.

48 Ibid., pp. 396-7.

49 Ibid., facing p. 416.     

50 Ibid., p. 328.

51 Ibid., pp. 448-9.

52 Ibid., p. 462.

53 Ibid., p. 489.

54 Robert Ross had died on 5 October 1918.

55 Quoted in Hyde, Montgomery H., Christopher Sclater Millard (Stuart Mason): Bibliographer & Antiquarian Book Dealer, New York, 1990, p. 84.

56 “No. 6. Modern Books, Belles Lettres and First Editions … and the Original Oil-painting of Oscar Wilde by Harper Pennington, £200“. Book-Auction Records, vol. 19, 1920-1921, p. XV.

57 Sims, George, “Three Booksellers and their Catalogues“, The Book Collector, vol. 4, no. 4, winter 1955, p. 291.

58 This work had been attributed to Wilde, published by Methuen in 1922, but written by a forger, Mary Mabel Chan-Toon Wodehouse Pearse, known as Mrs Chan-Toon. It is the only work not written by Wilde in the list of his works under the imprint of his authorized publisher, Methuen. “Millard’s zeal in denouncing the play and its publishers ultimately led to a libel suit, filed against him by Methuen.“ (Mackie, p. 170)

59 “Oscar Wilde’s Works: Alleged Forgery; Publisher Sues for Libel“, The Scotsman, 11 November 1926, p. 10.

The Dulau Sale, 192860A Collection of Original Manuscripts, Letters and Books of Oscar Wilde, Including His Letters Written to Robert Ross from Reading Gaol and Unpublished Letters, Poems & Plays Formerly in the Possession of Robert Ross, C. S. Millard (Stuart Mason) and the Younger Son of Oscar Wilde, Dulau & Company [Catalogue 161], London, n. d. [1928].

In November 1928, ten years after Ross’s death and a year after Millard’s, Dulau and Co. of London presented a sale catalogue containing only Wilde papers.61The catalogue was not connected with an auction, as has often been assumed. All of them had been in the possession of Ross and Millard, and now belonged to Vyvyan Holland, who had in the meantime taken on his father’s literary estate.62His elder brother Cyril had died in the First World War. Among the offerings were such important pieces as these:

  • An early autograph manuscript of “An Ideal Husband”.
  • Manuscripts notes to “A Woman of No Importance” and “The Importance of Being Earnest”.
  • Manuscript pages of “The Duchess of Padua”.
  • The only manuscript of “A Wife’s Tragedy”.
  • The original manuscript of “The Rise of Historical Criticism” (exercise books 2 and 3).63Exercise book 1 had been sold by the New York dealer S. B. Luyster in 1905 and auctioned at the Stetson sale in 1920.
  • The original typescripts of “The English Renaissance” and of a major portion of “Art and the Handicraftsman”.64These two autograph manuscripts had been auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1923.
  • Autograph manuscripts of a total of 21 poems, including published and unpublished ones.
  • Exercise books used by Wilde while at university.

The seller’s express wish was for the collection to remain together.65Daily Express, 5 December 1928, p. 11. And it did.66“We are pleased to be able to announce that the collection of Manuscripts and Letters of Oscar Wilde – as offered for sale by us in our Catalogue 161 – has been sold in its entirety. While regretting that this will cause disappointment to those of our customers who had ordered separate items if the collection had to be divided, we feel that they will quite agree as to the desirability of keeping intact such a wonderful collection.“ (See Books from the Library of John Lane, Publisher, including First Editions and MSS. of Modern Authors; Also First Editions of the Nineties Privately Purchased from a Gentleman’s Library, Dulau & Company [Catalogue 165], London, n. d. [1929], p. 148.) William Andrews Clark, Jr., already known among Wildeans, bought almost all of it for his collection.

In late 1928, Vyvyan Holland also offered some unpublished letters of Wilde’s through a London dealer, along with the manuscript of an unfinished and unpublished play, deletions from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”, and many notes to friends which Wilde had scribbled on bits of paper to be smuggled out of prison. Vyvyan had received these as a gift from Robert Ross. The New York publisher Crosby Gaige bought all of these offerings.67New York Times, 8 December 1928, p. 10. Their present whereabouts are unknown.

As these sales and auctions of material directly from the hands of Ross, Millard and Vyvyan Holland were going on in England, a parallel and extremely dynamic collectors’ market had developed in America.

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60 A Collection of Original Manuscripts, Letters and Books of Oscar Wilde, Including His Letters Written to Robert Ross from Reading Gaol and Unpublished Letters, Poems & Plays Formerly in the Possession of Robert Ross, C. S. Millard (Stuart Mason) and the Younger Son of Oscar Wilde, Dulau & Company [Catalogue 161], London, n. d. [1928].

61 The catalogue was not connected with an auction, as has often been assumed.

62 His elder brother Cyril had died in the First World War.

63 Exercise book 1 had been sold by the New York dealer S. B. Luyster in 1905 and auctioned at the Stetson sale in 1920.

64 These two autograph manuscripts had been auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1923.

65 Daily Express, 5 December 1928, p. 11.

66 “We are pleased to be able to announce that the collection of Manuscripts and Letters of Oscar Wilde – as offered for sale by us in our Catalogue 161 – has been sold in its entirety. While regretting that this will cause disappointment to those of our customers who had ordered separate items if the collection had to be divided, we feel that they will quite agree as to the desirability of keeping intact such a wonderful collection.“ (See Books from the Library of John Lane, Publisher, including First Editions and MSS. of Modern Authors; Also First Editions of the Nineties Privately Purchased from a Gentleman’s Library, Dulau & Company [Catalogue 165], London, n. d. [1929], p. 148.)

67 New York Times, 8 December 1928, p. 10.

The Stetson Sale, April 192068The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920.

Twenty-five years almost to the day after the chaos of the Tite Street sale, Anderson Galleries of New York presented a collection of 423 pieces connected with Oscar Wilde. The impressiveness of the catalogue cannot be overstated even today. John B. Stetson, Jr., World War I pilot, collector, later a diplomat and a broker, was the son of the famous hatmaker John B. Stetson. He had intended to publish a series of volumes based on his collection, but the pressure of other interests compelled him to abandon this idea and to sell the collection.69Ibid., “Introduction“. At the time, it was considered the most comprehensive and valuable collection of Wilde’s manuscripts, letters and books anywhere.

Stetson had been accumulating it since about 1910 with the support of A. S. W. Rosenbach.70Wolf and Fleming, Rosenbach, p. 66. Rosenbach had obtained the most valuable pieces from the Felix Isman collection, as well as “the most sensational lot of Wilde material that had passed through his hands”:71Ibid., pp. 85-6. through his connections to England, Rosenbach had in 1914 obtained from Bernard Quaritch “some manuscripts, proof sheets of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, letters to Wilde’s wife written before their marriage, and the notorious ‘love letters’ from Oscar to his dear ‘Bosie,’ Lord Alfred Douglas”,72Ibid. a total of 25 pieces, which he had then sold to Stetson.73Further research in the Rosenbach archives in Philadelphia would be necessary to determine the true volume of Rosenbach’s sales to Stetson.

The more than 400 items in Stetson’s catalogue included letters to and from Wilde, first editions and presentation copies, and more than 50 original autograph and typewritten manuscripts and proof copies, many of them complete, of nearly all of Oscar Wilde’s works. Among the presentation copies were nine given to Lord Alfred Douglas (“The few remaining letters written by Oscar Wilde to me which I did not destroy … were sold by me, directly after the Ransome case [1913], to the late Mr Bernard Quaritch … I sold them because I was, for the time being, ruined and penniless … At the time I sold the letters (and also, for two or three hundred pounds, all the autographed copies of his own books which Oscar Wilde had given me) I hated the very name of Wilde.“74Douglas, Lord Alfred, The Autobiography of Lord Alfred Douglas, London, Martin Secker, 1929, p. 203)

The principal purchaser at the Stetson sale was once again A. S. W. Rosenbach. Among the pieces he bought were:

  • Two autograph manuscripts of “Vera; or, The Nihilists”.
  • The autograph manuscripts of chapters 3 and 15 (and probably chapter 14 too) of “The Picture Dorian Gray” (1891).
  • The complete typewritten manuscript of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.
  • A complete typewritten manuscript of “A Good Woman” (Lady Windermere’s Fan).
  • A complete typewritten manuscript of “Mrs Arbuthnot” (A Woman of No Importance).
  • A complete typewritten manuscript of “An Ideal Husband”.
  • A complete typewritten manuscript of “Lady Lancing” (The Importance of Being Earnest).
  • The 55-page autograph manuscript of “The Decay of Lying”.
  • The autograph manuscript of a 19-page portion of “The True Function and Value of Criticism”.
  • Portions of the autograph manuscript of “A Florentine Tragedy”.
  • An autograph manuscript of ninety stanzas of “The Sphinx”.
  • Various autograph stanzas and the corrected proof sheets of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”.

Furthermore, Rosenbach repurchased numerous poems and Wilde’s love letters to Douglas, which he himself had sold to Stetson a few years earlier. He already had a new customer in mind for his acquisitions: a “Noted Philadelphia Collector” named Colonel H. D. Hughes.

The Stetson sale cemented America’s position as the decisive market for Wildeana. When the gems from the Dulau sale landed in the collection of William Andrews Clark a few years later, it was clear that the trade in Wilde’s manuscripts, first editions and presentation copies was based in America.75This was the case not only for Oscar Wilde, but also for his contemporaries Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling, and later for Joseph Conrad.

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68 The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920.

69 Ibid., “Introduction“.

70 Wolf and Fleming, Rosenbach, p. 66.

71 Ibid., pp. 85-6.

72 Ibid.

73 Further research in the Rosenbach archives in Philadelphia would be necessary to determine the true volume of Rosenbach’s sales to Stetson.

74 Douglas, Lord Alfred, The Autobiography of Lord Alfred Douglas, London, Martin Secker, 1929, p. 203

75 This was the case not only for Oscar Wilde, but also for his contemporaries Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling, and later for Joseph Conrad.

A Noted Philadelphia Collector (Colonel H. D. Hughes), April 192376Books; Manuscripts; Drawings of Superlative Importance Acquired by or for a Noted Philadelphia Collector, American Art Association, New York, April 16-18, 1923.

Colonel H. D. Hughes was an influential banker and art collector from Philadelphia. He had commissioned A. S. W. Rosenbach to buy generously at the Stetson sale.77Ibid., p. 135. Thus the majority of the objects Rosenbach bought, over fifty in all, were destined for Colonel Hughes’s Wilde collection.78(https://rosenbach.org/blog/). Rosenbach also bought for his own stock, as he always did at auctions.

It was only three years before Colonel Hughes’s death brought his Wilde collection to the market once again. The auction of his collection in April 1923 in New York included all the valuable pieces that Rosenbach had acquired for him at the Stetson sale, along with other Wilde objects. Besides letters, first editions and presentation copies, these included the following manuscripts:

  • Two autograph manuscripts of “Vera; or, The Nihilists”.
  • An autograph manuscript of “The Duchess of Padua”.
  • The additional autograph chapters 3, 14 and 15 of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.
  • The complete typewritten manuscript of “A Good Woman” (Lady Windermere’s Fan).
  • The complete typewritten manuscript of “Mrs Arbuthnot” (A Woman of No Importance).
  • The complete typewritten manuscript of “An Ideal Husband”.
  • The complete typescript of “Lady Lancing” (The Importance of Being Earnest).
  • The complete typescript of “The Importance of Being Earnest”.
  • The autograph manuscript of a 19-page portion of “The True Function and Value of Criticism”.
  • The 152-page autograph manuscript of “The True Function and Value of Criticism”.
  • Portions of the autograph manuscript of “A Florentine Tragedy”.
  • The autograph manuscript of ninety stanzas of “The Sphinx”.
  • A typewritten manuscript of “The Sphinx”.

And, once again, it was Rosenbach who bought back the important pieces; and again, as a rare book dealer, Rosenbach was only an intermediate owner. After the Hughes sale, most of these objects found their final home in the collection of William Andrews Clark, Jr.

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76 Books; Manuscripts; Drawings of Superlative Importance Acquired by or for a Noted Philadelphia Collector, American Art Association, New York, April 16-18, 1923.

77 Ibid., p. 135.

78 Mitchell, Rebecca and Haas, Kelly, “The Decay of Lying“, The Rosenbach, 23 January 2015 (https://rosenbach.org/blog/).

A Prominent Pennsylvania Collector, April79Rare Books and Manuscripts, many of Superlative Importance, including the Property of a Prominent Pennsylvania Collector, American Art Association, New York, 22-24 April 1924. and December 192480Fine Books and Manuscripts of the Greatest Rarity and Interest, Including the Further Property of a Prominent Pennsylvania Collector, American Art Association, New York, 1-2 December 1924.

The collection of an anonymous collector from Pennsylvania – whose name is still not known81Further research in the Rosenbach archives would be necessary to identify the owner. – was offered for sale the following year, in April of 1924. Among the Wilde objects were the following:

  • Several autograph poems.
  • The complete typescript of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1890). (This had been bought by Rosenbach at the Stetson sale and probably resold directly to the “prominent Pennsylvania collector”.)
  • The autograph and typewritten manuscript of Act IV of “An Ideal Husband”.
  • The typewritten manuscript of “The Sphinx”. (The Pennsylvania collector had obtained this via Stetson-Rosenbach-Colonel Hughes-Rosenbach. Now Rosenbach bought it a third time, to place it in the collection of William Andrews Clark, Jr.)
  • The autograph manuscript of a 19-page portion of “The True Function and Value of Criticism”.
  • 18 autograph pages of “Notes for a Lecture on America”.

At a second auction which drew on the same collection in December of that year, several items already offered in April were presented again, including Act IV of “An Ideal Husband”, 55 autograph pages of the essay “The Decay of Lying” and, in addition, 140 pages of drafts of poems (see Stetson sale, lot 219).

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79 Rare Books and Manuscripts, many of Superlative Importance, including the Property of a Prominent Pennsylvania Collector, American Art Association, New York, 22-24 April 1924.

80 Fine Books and Manuscripts of the Greatest Rarity and Interest, Including the Further Property of a Prominent Pennsylvania Collector, American Art Association, New York, 1-2 December 1924.

81 Further research in the Rosenbach archives would be necessary to identify the owner.

The Library of John C. Tomlinson, January 192882The Library of the Late John C. Tomlinson, Anderson Galleries, New York, January 17-18, 1928.

The auction of John C. Tomlinson’s library in January of 1928 demonstrated once more that numerous private collectors, including some who were not well known among Wilde connoisseurs, had assembled impressive collections. Of course, the nearly 60 lots concerning Wilde include letters, first editions and presentation copies. But they also included the following:

  • The proof sheets of pages 31-34 of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.
  • The complete autograph manuscript of “Dogmas”.
  • The autograph manuscript of a portion of Act III of “Lady Windermere’s Fan”.
  • A typewritten manuscript of Act III of “An Ideal Husband”.
  • The 20-page autograph manuscript) of “On the Decay of Lying”. (First auctioned at the 1905 Richard Le Gallienne sale.)
  • The proof sheets of four chapters of “The Fisherman and His Soul”.

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82 The Library of the Late John C. Tomlinson, Anderson Galleries, New York, January 17-18, 1928.

The Library of Edward Dean Richmond, November 193383The Splendid Library formed by the late Edward Dean Richmond: A Remarkable Collection of Oscar Wilde; Manuscripts, First Editions, and Associated Items, American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, New York, November 2-3, 1933.

The American fascination with Oscar Wilde is also evident in the Edward Dean Richmond collection, with nearly 100 items by Wilde. After Richmond’s death, they appeared on the market in November 1933. A. S. W. Rosenbach had acquired the typescript of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” almost 10 years earlier, and now he bought it again for the collection of William Andrews Clark. Richmond’s collection also contained complete typescripts of “A Woman of No Importance” and “An Ideal Husband”.

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83 The Splendid Library formed by the late Edward Dean Richmond: A Remarkable Collection of Oscar Wilde; Manuscripts, First Editions, and Associated Items, American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, New York, November 2-3, 1933.

The Prescott Collection, February 198184The Prescott Collection: Printed Books and Manuscripts, Including an Extensive Collection of Books and Manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, February 6, 1981.

1981 was another special year for Wilde collectors. In February, Christie’s of New York auctioned “The Prescott Collection: Printed Books and Manuscripts”, with nearly 80 Wilde items from the estate of Marjorie Wiggin Prescott, including 28 manuscripts. The catalogue itself is a pearl for collectors, with extraordinarily complete and well-researched descriptions of every single lot, including their provenances. The manuscripts include:

  • An autograph notebook of more than 130 pages from Wilde’s student years at Magdalen College, Oxford.
  • Poems.
  • Articles, essays and lectures.
  • Two autograph pages of “The Duchess of Padua”.
  • The autograph manuscript of an early draft of Act III of “Lady Windermere’s Fan”.
  • Autograph working notes for “A Woman of No Importance”.
  • A typescript of Act III of “An Ideal Husband”.
  • The autograph/typewritten Act IV of “An Ideal Husband”.
  • A complete typescript of the four-act version of “The Importance of Being Earnest”.
  • The complete autograph manuscript of “Dogmas”.

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84 The Prescott Collection: Printed Books and Manuscripts, Including an Extensive Collection of Books and Manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, February 6, 1981.

Sotheby’s and Others

Sotheby’s in England has repeatedly come up with minor and major Wilde treasures. In April of 1950, Sotheby’s brought a total of 10 manuscripts to market which had originally belonged to Arthur CIifton, a close friend of Oscar Wilde’s and his trustee in the matter of his bankruptcy. These included autograph and typewritten manuscripts of “Salomé”, “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, and “The Importance of Being Earnest”.85Valuable Printed Books, Important Literary Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, etc. … and a Very Remarkable Series of Manuscripts of Oscar Wilde, Sotheby’s, London, 3-4 April 1950. In December of 1990, Sotheby’s presented nearly 50 Wilde pieces, including many from the period after his release from Reading Gaol.86English Literature and History, Sotheby’s, London, 13 December 1990. In 2004, on the occasion of his 150th birthday, Sotheby’s devoted a special catalogue of over 100 lots to Wilde.87Oscar Wilde, Sotheby’s, London, 29 October 2004. It was the auction of a private collection accumulated over twenty years.88“Brisk bidding for rare Wilde memorabilia“, Irish Independent, 30 October 2004.
(https://bit.ly/3EN3OMG)
In 1989, Bernard Shapero also devoted a catalogue to Wilde;89Oscar Wilde: A Collection, Bernard Shapero, London, 1989. and in 1994, Rick Gekoski issued a catalogue on Wilde, Beardsley and the 1890s.90Catalogue of Rare Books, Offered for Sale from the Collection of Giles Gordon: Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley and the 1890s, no. 18, R. A. Gekoski, London, 1994. The Wilde collection of Jeremy Mason, parts of which were presented by Bonhams in a special catalogue,91Oscar Wilde: A Man for Our Times; A Catalogue of Selected Items from the Collection of Jeremy Mason, Bonhams, London, 2021. and that of Philip K. Cohen, presented by Maggs, followed in 2021.92Oscar Wilde & His Circle: The Cohen Collection, Part 1, no. 1512, Maggs Bros. Ltd., London, 2021.

The market for Oscar Wilde manuscripts, letters, presentation copies, first editions and memorabilia has developed continuously in England and especially in America since the Tite Street sale. Although many such objects are now held in publicly owned collections and libraries, attractive Oscar Wilde pieces still enter the market from time to time. Their prices sometimes reach dizzying heights, but collectors pay.

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85 Valuable Printed Books, Important Literary Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, etc. … and a Very Remarkable Series of Manuscripts of Oscar Wilde, Sotheby’s, London, 3-4 April 1950.

86 English Literature and History, Sotheby’s, London, 13 December 1990.

87 Oscar Wilde, Sotheby’s, London, 29 October 2004.

88 “Brisk bidding for rare Wilde memorabilia“, Irish Independent, 30 October 2004. (https://bit.ly/3EN3OMG)

89 Oscar Wilde: A Collection, Bernard Shapero, London, 1989.

90 Catalogue of Rare Books, Offered for Sale from the Collection of Giles Gordon: Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley and the 1890s, no. 18, R. A. Gekoski, London, 1994.

91 Oscar Wilde: A Man for Our Times; A Catalogue of Selected Items from the Collection of Jeremy Mason, Bonhams, London, 2021.

92 Oscar Wilde & His Circle: The Cohen Collection, Part 1, no. 1512, Maggs Bros. Ltd., London, 2021.

2. MANUSCRIPTS AND PROVENANCES

Manuscripts

Wilde’s process of writing involved multiple rounds of editing. This process resulted in a number of manuscripts and typescripts relating to each work. As we have seen, many of these are extant, although not all of them are complete. Of the ten manuscripts offered at the Sotheby’s auction of July 1911, for example, only two were complete: those of two poems.

However, the papers Robert Ross had rescued before the Tite Street sale, those that he collected afterwards together with Christopher Millard and Walter Ledger, and those manuscripts which were in circulation among dealers and collectors added up to a great deal more than might have been feared, and has generally been assumed, after the chaos of April 24, 1895.

Each of these manuscripts has its own story, even if there are gaps in the documentation of many of their histories. They have taken varied and eventful paths over the years. Some seemed to have been lost and then suddenly resurfaced, then disappeared again or took their place in a collection or library. Others continued to serve as more or less speculative investments, to be sold or auctioned again.

When manuscripts of Wilde’s returned to the market, or when they unexpectedly turned up in archives, it has commonly the case that little or nothing was usually known about their origins and their whereabouts in the meantime. Notable among such cases is that of the autograph manuscript of “The Soul of Man under Socialism”. It is not clear how it came into Stetson’s possession, and after the 1920 Stetson sale, the manuscript “disappeared” until 20 years later, when it was offered again at an auction by Parke-Bernet Galleries.93First Editions of English & American Authors: Library of Mr. & Mrs. Edward Sedgwick, Beverly Hills, Calif., Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 7-8 February 1940, lot 623. After that, it slumbered in a private archive again for many years before leaving the sphere of private collectors with the 2004 Christie’s auction of the Halsted B. Vander Poel Collection.94The Halsted B. Vander Poel Collection of English Literature, Christie’s, London, 3 March 2004, lot 249. Today it is in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library.95Shelfmark: Berg Coll. MSS+ Wilde 1890.

In August of 2020, the collector Ömer Koç bought at auction the first scenario of The Importance of Being Earnest, which Wilde had sent to the theatre manager George Alexander.96Books and Manuscripts: A Summer Miscellany, Sotheby’s, London, 28 July-4 August 2020, lot 168. His wife had previously had it auctioned in 1933;97Catalogue of Valuable Printed Books, Fine Illuminated and Other Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, Historical Documents, Literary Manuscripts and Relics, Sotheby’s, London, 3-5 July 1933. it was offered for sale again in 1949 as part of the estate of the rare book dealer Gabriel Wells;98Miscellaneous: Rare Books, First Editions, Autographs, from the Estate of the late Gabriel Wells, catalogue no. 3, Charles S. Boesen, New York, n. d. [1949], item 414. then it was lost to public eyes for 50 years before being sold at auction again in 1999, to a private collector.99Fine Books and Manuscripts, including Americana, Sotheby’s, New York, 7 December 1999, lot 299. Another 20 years later, it came into the possession of Ömer Koç.

In 2014, after more than 35 years, the only known extant manuscript of “Salomé“ was rediscovered in the Free Library of Philadelphia: it had been catalogued, but was entirely unknown to the scholarly world.100Donohue, Joseph, “Wilde in France“, Times Literary Supplement, London, no. 5867, 11 September 2015, pp. 14-15. With it were a draft of part of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” and a notebook of 140 pages filled with drafts, sketches and both published and unpublished poetry. In 2017, the Robert Ross Memorial Collection at the library of University College, Oxford, was found to possess various autograph sheets of “The Duchess of Padua”.101https://www.univ.ox.ac.uk/news/). Also in 2017, several proof sheets of “Dorian Gray” which had been thought lost since the late 1940s were sold at auction.102Fine Literary Manuscripts, Bonhams, New York, 9 March 2017, lot 26. The autograph chapter 16, last auctioned in 2004,103Oscar Wilde, Sotheby’s, London, 29 October 2004, lot 42. is surely in the hands of an unknown private collector today. It had been offered for sale once before, in 1996, after more than 70 years in private ownership.

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93 First Editions of English & American Authors: Library of Mr. & Mrs. Edward Sedgwick, Beverly Hills, Calif., Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 7-8 February 1940, lot 623.

94 The Halsted B. Vander Poel Collection of English Literature, Christie’s, London, 3 March 2004, lot 249.

95 Shelfmark: Berg Coll. MSS+ Wilde 1890.

96 Books and Manuscripts: A Summer Miscellany, Sotheby’s, London, 28 July-4 August 2020, lot 168.

97 Catalogue of Valuable Printed Books, Fine Illuminated and Other Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, Historical Documents, Literary Manuscripts and Relics, Sotheby’s, London, 3-5 July 1933.

98 Miscellaneous: Rare Books, First Editions, Autographs, from the Estate of the late Gabriel Wells, catalogue no. 3, Charles S. Boesen, New York, n. d. [1949], item 414.

99 Fine Books and Manuscripts, including Americana, Sotheby’s, New York, 7 December 1999, lot 299.

100 Donohue, Joseph, “Wilde in France“, Times Literary Supplement, London, no. 5867, 11 September 2015, pp. 14-15.

101 “A Wilde Discovery“, University College Oxford (https://www.univ.ox.ac.uk/news/).

102 Fine Literary Manuscripts, Bonhams, New York, 9 March 2017, lot 26.

103 Oscar Wilde, Sotheby’s, London, 29 October 2004, lot 42.

Missing Manuscripts and Unknown Locations

The whereabouts of many manuscripts are not known today, including some which were sold at the best-known auctions such as the Richard B. Glaenzer or the John B. Stetson, Jr., sales. Some of these are in private collections; others apparently have never been placed on the market. It is possible that they are lost completely. In any case, they cannot be located today. But these manuscripts too are important puzzle pieces, and can serve in their way to fill in gaps in the complete understanding of each work. The examples that follow are limited to the works included in this paper. The references in square brackets indicate the pertinent version number in the attached spreadsheets:

  • “Vera; or, The Nihilists”, autograph manuscript, 24 pages [Vera, no. 3]104The references in square brackets indicate the pertinent version number in the attached spreadsheet.
    Bought at an auction of the Anderson Auction Company in New York in May 1914 by A. S. W. Rosenbach; resold to John B. Stetson, Jr.; offered at the Stetson sale in April 1920, where the buyer was Rosenbach once again; presented three years later at the sale of “a noted Philadelphia collector (Colonel H. D. Hughes); then seen for the last time in an auction room in 1939. Since then there has been no trace of the manuscript.
  • “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, a missing first draft of the novel (1890) [TPODG, no. 1]
    In his article “Oscar Wilde’s Manuscript of The Picture of Dorian Gray”, Donald L. Lawler demonstrates by numerous examples that there must have been at least one draft of the novel before the autograph manuscript which is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.105Donald L. Lawler, “Oscar Wilde’s First Manuscript of The Picture of Dorian Gray“, Studies in Bibliography, vol. 25, 1972, pp. 125-135. This pre-existing draft has never been seen, neither in the market nor in any archive.
  • “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, missing pages from the additional chapter 5 (1891) [cf. TPODG, nos. 5 and 6]
    Of this chapter 5, there exist only the autograph manuscript pages corresponding to pp. 88 to 96 of the 1891 edition. The pages from 96 to the end of the chapter on page 106 are missing, and have not been offered at an auction or by any dealer to date, to my knowledge.
  • “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, proof sheets of pages 31-34 (Lippincott’s, 1890), beginning of chapter IV (1890)/chapter 6 (1891) [TPODG, no. 7]
    Entered in the Sotheby’s auction of July 1911 by Robert Ross; sold by Bernard Quaritch (1912) and Stetson (1920); auctioned in 1928, 1931, 1944 and finally with Bonhams in New York in 2017. It was bought then by a private collector; its present location is unknown.
  • “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, autograph manuscript of chapter 15 (i.e. 16) [TPODG, no. 9]
    Likewise entered in the Sotheby’s auction of July 1911 by Robert Ross; sold by Bernard Quaritch (1912), Stetson (1920), Hughes (1923) and Jerome Kern (1929); bought at a Sotheby’s auction in December 1996 by a private collector who outbid the Clark Library,106Milton, Pat, “Oscar Wilde collection, including handwritten ‘Dorian Gray’ chapter, goes on auction block“, Lawrence.com, 10 October 2004 (http://www.lawrence.com/news/). and auctioned by Sotheby’s again in 2004. The present owner is unknown.
  • “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, autograph manuscripts of chapters 17 and 18 [TPODG, nos. 10 and 11]
    Unlike the other additional chapters of the 1891 book version – chapters 3, 5, 15 and 16 – the two autograph chapters 17 and 18 have never been offered, to my knowledge, by auctioneers or booksellers.
  • “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, typescripts and proof pages of the additional chapters 3, 5, 15, 16, 17 and 18
    Typescripts of these chapters are not mentioned in any sale or library catalogue, to my knowledge, nor in any academic work. And yet it is not unlikely, in view of Wilde’s customary procedure in drafting and correcting his works, that typescripts or proof pages of these chapters existed.
    On his lecture tour of America in 1882, Wilde was glad to have typed versions of his lectures for subsequent correction.107Morse, W. F., “American Lectures“, in The Writings of Oscar Wilde, vol. 10, New York, 1907, p. 95. Beginning with “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, he had a professional typing service make typescripts of all his autograph manuscripts. He then corrected the typed version, had it retyped, and corrected it again before submitting the typescript to the typesetters. The differences between the manuscript and book versions, for example in chapter 3, in the proof pages 31-34 (see above), and in chapter 16, permit the surmise that there were probably typescripts, and at least further proof pages, of the six new chapters.
  • “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, autograph manuscripts of Acts I-II and IV [cf. LWF, no. 1 and nos. 2-4]
    Act III is in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. There is no record of the corresponding Acts I, II and IV ever having appeared on the market.
  • “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, typescripts of Acts III and IV [cf. LWF, no. 7 and nos. 8-9]
    Acts I and II are held by Magdalen College, Oxford. Apparently, the corresponding Acts III and IV have never been offered for sale.
  • “A Woman of No Importance”, autograph notes, 45 pages [AWONI, no. 2], together with manuscript notes of “The Importance of Being Earnest”
    This “manuscript of a second draft” (according to the catalogue description) was sold at auction by Hodgson & Co. in London in June 1924. It has not been heard of since.
  • “A Woman of No Importance”, typescripts of Acts III and IV in two volumes [AWONI, no. 9]
    Richard Butler Glaenzer bought these two typescripts from the Merwin-Clayton Sales Company in New York in May 1906, and sold them in November 1911. No trace has been found of them since.
  • “A Woman of No Importance”, typescripts of Acts I and II, corresponding to Acts III and IV above [AWONI, no. 8]
    As far as is known to date, these seem never to have been offered by any auctioneer or dealer. It is conceivable that Act II corresponds to one of the three versions now in the possession of the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas [AWONI, no. 10].
  • “An Ideal Husband”, typescript of Act II [AIH, no. 6]
    Although copies exist of Act I (in two versions, Harvard Theatre Collection) [AIH, no. 5], Act III (Pierpont Morgan Library) [AIH, no. 7] and Act IV (Clark Memorial Library) [AIH, no. 8], no separate Act II is known to have been offered by any auctioneer or bookseller. And in any case, it is beyond the scope of this paper to determine whether these four scattered acts belong to the same version. Their provenances do not indicate any common origin.
  • “The Importance of Being Earnest”, typescripts of Acts I and II, circa September 1894, corresponding to the Acts III and IV now in the George Arents Collection of the New York Public Library [TIOBE, nos. 8 and 9]
    From the information currently available, these typescripts have never been offered for sale. No further details are known about them.
  • “The Importance of Being Earnest”, typescripts of Acts I-IV [TIOBE, no. 11]
    In addition to the known typescripts, Joseph Donohue proposes “the existence of a no-longer-extant typescript based on the annotated 3 [i.e., 8] October typescript [TIOBE, no. 10], which Wilde then further annotated and returned to Mrs Marshall [i.e., her typewriting office] so as to become the copy-text for the final typescript of 31 October [TIOBE, no. 12].”108Donohue, Joseph (ed.), The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, vol. IX, Plays 2: Lady Lancing, Oxford, 2019, p. 121.
  • “The Importance of Being Earnest”, typescripts of Acts II, III, and IV, circa November 1894 [TIOBE, no. 15]
    The almost certainly corresponding Act I is in the George Arents Collection of the New York Public Library [TIOBE, no. 14]. The complete typescript was probably the final draft before printing. As far as is known to date, the missing acts have never been offered for sale, separately or together.
  • “The Importance of Being Earnest”, a typescript of the 3-act version [TIOBE, no. 22]
    The Chicago bookseller Walter Hill offered this manuscript in December 1902 as the “author’s own typewritten copy”. After passing through the hands of Stetson (1920) and A. S. W. Rosenbach, it was entered in the Colonel Hughes auction (1923). After that, its trail is lost. It was probably not bought back by Rosenbach, and it did not find its way into the Clark Collection, as so many other Wilde manuscripts did that followed the same path from Stetson to Hughes.
  • “The Importance of Being Earnest”, typescript, 4 acts [TIOBE, no. 27]
    Robert Ross sent this manuscript to a German publisher for translation. There is no information as to what became of it afterwards.
  • “The Sphinx”, 6½  autograph pages of an early draft [Sphinx, no. 1]
    Sold at auction for £210 in July 1912 by Bernard Quaritch, who had bought it a year before at the Sotheby’s auction of Robert Ross’s and Vyvyan Holland’s Wilde manuscripts. These manuscript pages have not been heard of since 1912.
  • “A Florentine Tragedy”, two sequences of 4½ autograph pages [FT, nos. 8 and 9]
    Auctioned by Sotheby’s in April 1923, possibly on consignment from Vyvyan Holland. There has been no known sighting since then.

The unlocated manuscripts listed here are just as important as the manuscripts with known locations for a complete understanding of Wilde’s works, and their whereabouts merit further research. Thus they have their particular place in the present project, and are documented with as much of their history as possible.

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104 The references in square brackets indicate the pertinent version number in the attached spreadsheet.

105 Donald L. Lawler, “Oscar Wilde’s First Manuscript of The Picture of Dorian Gray“, Studies in Bibliography, vol. 25, 1972, pp. 125-135.

106 Milton, Pat, “Oscar Wilde collection, including handwritten ‘Dorian Gray’ chapter, goes on auction block“, Lawrence.com, 10 October 2004 (http://www.lawrence.com/news/).

107 Morse, W. F., “American Lectures“, in The Writings of Oscar Wilde, vol. 10, New York, 1907, p. 95.

108 Donohue, Joseph (ed.), The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, vol. IX, Plays 2: Lady Lancing, Oxford, 2019, p. 121.

Provenance

Manuscripts offer insights into Wilde’s thinking, his ways of developing his works and, not least, how he adapted them again and again to different circumstances. They shed light on Wilde’s creative phases and working processes, his ideas and thoughts during the development of his works, how he edited, corrected, improved, shortened and expanded his texts. The missing manuscripts also permit tentative conclusions on his composition, although mainly based on hypotheses. The provenances of the manuscripts allow us to identify gaps, and sometimes to fill them in.

The history of a manuscript permits observations on the different drafts and versions. Provenances indicate which hands a manuscript has passed through, which dealer and which auctioneer has offered the manuscript for sale and who bought it. How are such histories to be understood and evaluated in regard to specific objects? How do they relate to the overall context and to the other manuscript versions of the same work?

An important question which always arises in this context is that of the authenticity of a given manuscript. Although its authenticity has not yet been doubted from an academic point of view a look at the not fully known provenance of the typescript of “A Good Woman” (Lady Windermere’s Fan), 4 acts [LWF, no. 6], in the Clark Library109Shelfmark: W6721M2 LI 57 [1892?], boxed. raises certain questions: the Chicago bookseller Walter Hill listed this manuscript in his February 1909 catalogue for $750 (equivalent to over $21,000 today)110U. S. Inflation Calculator. with the information: “This Manuscript was given by Lady Wilde to the owner, an authoress who writes under the nom de plume of Princesse Chan-Toon, and in whose possession it has been until recently.”111Catalogue of a Choice Collection of Autograph Letters and Manuscripts, Walter M. Hill, Chicago, no. XXVI, February 1909, item 171. Said “princesse” was Mabel Wodehouse Pearse, the notorious forger of a work repeatedly attributed to Wilde, For Love of the King. Walter Hill’s typescript found its way, whether directly or via an unknown intermediate owner, into the collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., and was auctioned in the April 1920 sale as lot 83. A. S. W. Rosenbach bought it for Colonel Hughes. At the auction of Hughes’s estate in April 1923, Rosenbach acquired the typescript again (as lot 982), and sold it to William Andrews Clark, Jr., in whose collection it has been ever since; there it is held to be genuine.

A number of major manuscripts of Wilde’s works were offered at an auction in New York in February 1932. The catalogue contained no information about their prior history.112Books, Autographs, Manuscripts from the Libraries of Mrs. DePeyster, New York City, James M. Kennedy, Garden City, L. I., and Others, American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, New York, 9 February 1932. They were withdrawn before the day of the auction, however.113“Six Oscar Wilde items were withdrawn yesterday afternoon from an auction sale of rare books, autographs and manuscripts at the American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, Inc. The galleries declined to reveal the name of the owner but announced that he had withdrawn them, because of ‘a question of title’.“ New York Times, 10 February 1932, p. 21. Two facsimile pages in the catalogue, one from “The Importance of Being Earnest” (lot 273) and one from “The Happy Prince” (lot 276), indicate the probable reason for this action. The handwriting of both pages shows that they are almost certainly forgeries. That observation was no doubt communicated to the auctioneers, or they may have made it themselves, before the sale. In any case, the dubious merchandise was withdrawn. Whether any of the other manuscripts in the catalogue were forgeries cannot be determined with certainty today. However, none of them has ever been presented at another auction since.114https://bit.ly/3fu033s

In Beautiful Untrue Things: Forging Oscar Wilde’s Extraordinary Afterlife (2019), Gregory Mackie presents a whole gallery of forgers and their attempts to counterfeit Wilde’s works and manuscripts.115Mackie, Gregory, Beautiful Untrue Things: Forging Oscar Wilde’s Extraordinary Afterlife, Toronto, 2019. It was evidently a lucrative business in the early decades of the 20th century, and collectors and dealers have been fooled by such forgeries time and time again. Detailed provenances – historical information in the dealers’ and auctioneers’ descriptions of items in their catalogues – help to identify such forgeries and their perpetrators. The reputation of the previous owners, auctioneers and booksellers is of critical importance in evaluating an object’s provenance. In the present work too, there is no perfect certainty that individual manuscripts will not later prove to be forgeries after further analysis. Nevertheless, the broader and more exact the available information, the more reliable the conclusions that can be drawn.

The most important source of all is naturally the individual manuscript itself. A direct comparison of the manuscript with the other autograph and typewritten manuscripts of the work in question can answer important questions about its history and its overall context. Besides the text itself, with its insertions, deletions and corrections, every manuscript also provides a great deal of information which sheds light on its origins, for example: the type of paper on which Wilde wrote (country of provenance, watermarks, lined or unlined sheets); Wilde’s writing implements (pencil, pen, ink colour); pagination (continuous or missing page numbers, inserted pages); annotations, names or addresses, comments or annotations by other persons; typing offices’ stamps on typescripts; bindings, wrappings; and, not least, dates in any form.

In the ideal case, this information is provided not only by the manuscripts themselves, but also by the catalogues of institutions, booksellers and auctioneers. Unfortunately, the information documented by archives and libraries is often insufficient in scope or in precision to permit a correct positioning of the object in the work’s history. Dealers’ and auctioneers’ catalogues are often better sources. They usually contain more complete and more reliable information, not least with the purpose of justifying the value of the object offered for sale. For the present work, precisely these details are necessary in order to make credible statements about Wilde’s manuscripts and their provenances.

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109 Shelfmark: W6721M2 LI 57 [1892?], boxed.

110 U. S. Inflation Calculator.

111 Catalogue of a Choice Collection of Autograph Letters and Manuscripts, Walter M. Hill, Chicago, no. XXVI, February 1909, item 171.

112 Books, Autographs, Manuscripts from the Libraries of Mrs. DePeyster, New York City, James M. Kennedy, Garden City, L. I., and Others, American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, New York, 9 February 1932.

113 “Six Oscar Wilde items were withdrawn yesterday afternoon from an auction sale of rare books, autographs and manuscripts at the American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, Inc. The galleries declined to reveal the name of the owner but announced that he had withdrawn them, because of ‘a question of title’.“ New York Times, 10 February 1932, p. 21.

114 But see Gardner, Anthony, “The Oscar Wilde Forgeries“, Sunday Times Magazine, [8 July] 2007, https://bit.ly/3fu033s

115 Mackie, Gregory, Beautiful Untrue Things: Forging Oscar Wilde’s Extraordinary Afterlife, Toronto, 2019.

3. SOURCES

Auction and Sales Catalogues

The catalogues of booksellers, rare book dealers and auction houses are extremely valuable sources for a thorough documentation of Wilde’s manuscripts. The ur-catalogue, so to speak, and the point of departure in the itineraries of Wilde’s manuscripts, is the catalogue of the Tite Street auction sale of Wilde’s possessions on 24 April 1895. It contains the first offering of Wilde’s manuscripts, designated “Manuscripts, a parcel”.

At that time, booksellers very rarely issued catalogues of their stock-in-trade. Usually, they resorted to advertisements in pertinent publications. The name “Oscar Wilde”, carrying negative connotations because of the criminal judgement against him, was often not mentioned in such advertisements. Thus the London booksellers were rather hesitant to tout Wildeana. This makes it difficult to find traces of the manuscripts particularly in the early years following the Tite Street sale.

We know from A. S. W. Rosenbach that he acquired his first Wilde manuscripts “under the counter”: “I remember my brother Philip telling me that directly after the trial, he went into a famous bookshop in London, looking for manuscripts of Oscar Wilde. Although he asked for them in an ordinary tone, the clerk replied in a whisper, and immediately called the proprietor. Sheepishly they let him into a back room, closing the door tightly. To his surprise he saw on a table the original drafts of Wilde’s three plays ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, ’An Ideal Husband’, and ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’. – ‘Why all this mystery?’ exclaimed Philip, now thoroughly astonished. – The bookseller behaved as though the room contained contraband. It was obvious that the sooner he got those manuscripts out of his shop, the better he would feel. So my brother bought them immediately.”116Rosenbach, A. S. W., A Book Hunter’s Holiday: Adventures with Books and Manuscripts, Cambridge, 1936, p. 7. Sadly, it is not known which specific manuscripts of the three comedies the passage refers to.

Soon after the turn of the century, however, auction houses in England, and still more in the US, began marketing Wilde works more energetically. These included everything from Wilde’s pen – even many pirated editions, as copyright protection was lacking – but especially signed editions and presentation copies.

Many of the old catalogues can be found by an Internet search, although access to those issued after 1923 is often limited for reasons of copyright. The catalogue collection of the Grolier Club, New York, is also invaluable and fills in many gaps.117I am indebted to Prof. Joseph Bristow for this reference. Reference works such as the Rare Book Hub, Book-Prices Current, American Book-Prices Current, Books-Auction Records etc. supply further valuable information on sales and auctions, as do newspapers and trade magazines. All of these sources have the drawback, however, that they usually list only the major auction houses. They do not document the smaller dealers and auction houses, who had valuable pieces from Wilde’s property particularly in the very early 1900s. Furthermore, buyers are not named except in rare cases. Because it is not possible to cover every possible catalogue, some gaps are almost bound to remain in the provenances.

It is hardly possible to view the many sources on site and in person. Furthermore, almost all privately held MSS are inaccessible to scholars. Research is therefore to a high degree dependent on Internet sources, the catalogues mentioned above, the information provided by collections and libraries, specialist literature and personal contacts.

Details remain incomplete where information is missing, inaccessible or difficult to establish. For that very reason the present work is to be understood as a work in progress, as a kind of living edition. Further building blocks must be added, with the help of Wilde scholars and experts and other interested parties.

_______________________

116 Rosenbach, A. S. W., A Book Hunter’s Holiday: Adventures with Books and Manuscripts, Cambridge, 1936, p. 7.

117 I am indebted to Prof. Joseph Bristow for this reference.

Libraries, Collections and Collectors, Auctioneers and Dealers

On their meandering paths through the hands of dealers, auctioneers and collectors, most of Wilde’s manuscripts have eventually found a place in one of the world’s larger libraries or publicly accessible collections. These are the ideal locations, as far as researchers and the academic community are concerned. Collectors on the other hand can no longer aspire to acquire these enticing objects. Conversely, researchers are deprived of important sources when manuscripts lie inaccessible in private hands for many years. Whether and when they will return to public view, in a dealer’s stock or in an auction room, is always uncertain. Only very rarely are auction houses able to present originals by Oscar Wilde to the public today.

The most important locations of manuscripts by Wilde are now the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at the University of California, Los Angeles; the British Library with its Eccles Collection; the George Arents Collection, the Berg Collection and the Burnside-Frohman Collection, all at the New York Public Library; the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York; the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin; The Rosenbach (formerly the Rosenbach Foundation), Philadelphia, together with the Free Library of Philadelphia; the Harvard Theatre Collection at Harvard University’s Houghton Library; the Robert H. Taylor Collection at Princeton University; the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University; the Fay and Geoffrey Elliott Collection at Leeds University; and the Bodmer Library in Geneva.

Most of the manuscripts found their way to those libraries through wealthy collectors, some of whom are well-known and others less so, including: Felix Isman, Clarence S. Bement, Louis J. Haber, Richard Butler Glaenzer, Eugene Meyer, Jr., J. Pierpont Morgan, Jr., Albert A. and Henry W. Berg, George Arents, Henry W. Poor, John B. Stetson, Jr., Colonel H. D. Hughes, William Andrews Clark, Jr., John Quinn, John C. Tomlinson, Jerome Kern, Paul Hyde Bonner, Edward Dean Richmond, John A. Spoor, Andre de Coppet, Michael Sadleir, Martin Bodmer, Richard A. Gimbel, T. E. Hanley, Marjorie Wiggin Prescott, Katherine S. Dreier, Mary Hyde (later Lady Eccles) and her husband Donald Hyde, Faye and Geoffrey Elliott, Frederick R. Koch, W. H. T. Howe, Halsted B. Vander Poel, Julia Rosenthal, James Owen Edwards, John Simpson, Jeremy Mason, Ömer Koç. The list is incomplete.

But the driving force behind the trade in Wilde manuscripts, first editions and letters has always been the rare book dealers and auction houses on both sides of the Atlantic. In England, these include Bernard Quaritch, Maggs Bros., Wright & Jones, J. Jacobs, Francis Edwards, Walter T. Spencer, Bertram Dobell, Pickering & Chatto, Henry Stevens, Sons and Stiles, Hatchards, Frank T. Sabin, Charles Cannon and his successor Dan J. Rider, Jacob Schwartz, Bertram Rota, Bernard Shapero, Rick Gekoski and Peter Harrington. In America, they include A. S. W. Rosenbach, Gabriel Wells, James F. Drake, Walter Hill, Dodd, Mead & Co., Thomas Kirby, Mitchell Kennerley, Joseph F. Sabin, Patrick F. Madigan, Lew D. Feldman (“El Dieff”), John Fleming, Charles Goodspeed, and Glen Horowitz. Many London booksellers dealing in Wildeana, especially in the first years after the Tite Street sale, are difficult to identify.

Among the auction houses, the English Wilde trade has been dominated by Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge (later Sotheby & Co., on both sides of the Atlantic), Christie, Mason & Woods (later Christie’s), Puttick & Simpson, Hodgson & Co., and Bonhams, alongside many smaller houses; and the American trade by the Merwin-Clayton Sales Company, the Anderson Auction Company, the American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, Parke-Bernet Galleries and the Swann Galleries.

4. PROJECT DESCRIPTION

Although many of Wilde’s manuscripts are now in public collections and libraries, and thus accessible to researchers, every search still involves a great deal of work. At present, Wilde scholars and collectors have no systematic and comprehensive census of Wilde’s manuscripts and their provenances, much less one available in a complete and well-organized form.

lan Small compiled a partial list of what was catalogued at that time in the various institutions and libraries in the chapter “Manuscripts” in his 1993 Oscar Wilde Revalued.118Small, lan, Oscar Wilde Revalued: An Essay on New Materials and Methods of Research, Greensboro, NC, 1993. Similarly, Karl Beckson briefly listed the known manuscripts of Wilde’s works in his 1998 Oscar Wilde Encyclopedia.119Beckson, Karl, The Oscar Wilde Encyclopedia, New York, 1998. Other manuscripts by Wilde have surfaced since then, however. Furthermore, Internet search technology has significantly improved. The move towards online catalogues, for example, has facilitated research into the sale and current location of manuscripts immensely.

And, of course, Wilde studies too have made great progress in the meantime. The critical Oxford English Texts Edition ofThe Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, although not yet complete, has recalibrated Wilde research and placed it on much broader footing since the publication of its first volume in 2000. As of August 2021, 11 volumes have appeared. Their editors have attempted to draw on all of the available manuscripts in their editions of the respective works and in the critical discussion. Provenances, however, are only rarely cited in the Complete Works.

Nor are the Complete Works affordable to all interested parties – not to most students and unaffiliated Wildeans, for example. The individual volumes cost from £170 to £270, and are not always available even in university libraries.

The object of the present work is therefore to make Wilde’s manuscripts and their provenances available not only to the scholarly community, but also to a broader public – including librarians, booksellers and auctioneers, known and unknown collectors, and last but not least the numerous people who are interested in Oscar Wilde and his work in general.

Because of the great number of manuscripts of Wilde’s works, I have initially restricted the project to a manageable number of those works. Those included in the project are:

A spreadsheet is attached on each of these works. Each spreadsheet contains the following sections:

First, an introduction to the genesis of the given work based on the state of current research and drawing on extant primary sources, i.e. Wilde’s own statements and letters, and/or those of his contemporaries.

Next, a table of the currently known and possible unknown manuscripts of each work. The table presents details on each manuscript in five fields:

  • Version;
  • Present Location;
  • Shelfmark;
  • Provenance;
  • Catalogue Entries; Notes.

The use of each field is described below.

_______________________

118 Small, lan, Oscar Wilde Revalued: An Essay on New Materials and Methods of Research, Greensboro, NC, 1993.

119 Beckson, Karl, The Oscar Wilde Encyclopedia, New York, 1998.

Version

This field lists all the known manuscript versions of the given work. The available information is arranged in chronological order, to the extent possible. The chronology is sometimes uncertain, for example in regard to the social comedies: when manuscripts are extant only in isolated acts they can only be attributed to a given version by a thorough analysis.

A special case is that of Wilde’s first two plays, Vera; or, The Nihilists and The Duchess of Padua. There are no typescripts of these plays, although in later works Wilde always used typescripts for his corrections and additions, and as the typesetter’s copy. Wilde commissioned private printings of both versions of Vera (1880 and 1882) and of The Duchess of Padua.120Five copies of the 1880 version of Vera are known to be extant, and 9 copies of the 1882 version. It is not known how many copies of the first edition were printed; the second edition is thought to have been printed in about 25 copies. Twenty copies of The Duchess of Padua are thought to have been printed. He gave these copies to prominent actors, theatre managers and friends,121Holland, Merlin and Hart-Davis, Rupert (eds.), The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, London, 2000, p. 96n, p. 183n. both to make his name better known and to arouse the recipients’ interest in performing the plays. These privately printed versions are relevant to the present work inasmuch as Wilde made further corrections in them, using them as he later used typescripts. Thus to a certain extent they have character of a manuscript.122The 1883 first edition of The Duchess of Padua is explicitly labelled “Privately Printed as Manuscript“.

The order in which these privately printed copies are presented here is determined by the following criteria:

  • The present whereabouts are known.
  • The copy is documented in a dealer’s or auction house’s catalogue (with the most recent occurrence first, followed by all earlier mentions).
  • The copy can be identified with a specific person (ordered by a direct reference in a verifiable source).
  • Finally, licence or copyright copies for the United Kingdom and the USA are shown (as for all other plays).

Manuscript versions of all works listed are specified as one of the following:

  • Autograph manuscript; autograph notebook; autograph notes; autograph draft;
  • Typewritten manuscript; proof sheet; proof pages; proof copy;
  • Acting version; acting edition; prompt book;
  • Lord Chamberlain’s licence copy;
  • Library of Congress copyright copy.

Where possible, the objects are further identified by:

  • Title or working title;
  • Version, act, chapter, volume, folio, leaf, sheet, page, verse, stanza;
  • Date;
  • Additional details in square brackets.

_______________________

120 Five copies of the 1880 version of Vera are known to be extant, and 9 copies of the 1882 version. It is not known how many copies of the first edition were printed; the second edition is thought to have been printed in about 25 copies. Twenty copies of The Duchess of Padua are thought to have been printed.

121 Holland, Merlin and Hart-Davis, Rupert (eds.), The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, London, 2000, p. 96n, p. 183n.

122 The 1883 first edition of The Duchess of Padua is explicitly labelled “Privately Printed as Manuscript“.

Present Location

The present location of each manuscript is given with all possible precision, including the name and place of the institution, or as “unknown” where appropriate.

“Unknown” may mean that nothing is known about the whereabouts of the manuscript – it can be considered lost, or may never have existed – or that the manuscript is probably in an unknown private collection. Private collections are listed if known.

Shelfmark

The shelfmark or call number under which a manuscript can be found in the stacks or archives of an institution is given here. If a digitized copy of all or part of the manuscript is also present, it is indicated with a link. If no digitized copy is available, this is also indicated. Microfilm copies are listed if known.

Not all manuscripts in libraries or collections have a shelfmark.

Provenance

This field lists all the known facts about the history of a manuscript. The information is in reverse chronological order, from the most recent to the earliest.

  • Where the present location of the manuscript is known, the year of its acquisition by the collection or library is given, if possible, along with the name of the person who transferred the manuscript to the institution.
  • The previous owners or buyers are then listed. A question mark before a name indicates a plausible but not entirely certain identification.123A separate list of all the names and actors is included in the appendix.
  • All the auction or sale catalogues in which the manuscript is known to have been offered are listed with the following details: title, name of the auction house or dealer, place, date, lot or item number.

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123 A separate list of all the names and actors is included in the appendix.

Catalogue Entries; Notes

The last field contains, verbatim, the corresponding entries in the catalogues of the institutions where the manuscripts are housed today. Each catalogue entry is delimited by quotation marks.

The initial catalogue entry is followed by notes relating the current state of research on the given manuscript.124Complete references to the sources are listed in the bibliography at the end of this work.

Listed after the initial entry are earlier entries from auction or sale catalogues. These are also reproduced verbatim if possible. They are often the key that allows the manuscripts to be identified in relation to one another. Furthermore, they reflect the state of knowledge on the given manuscript at the time of a specific auction or sale.

Where possible, the catalogue entries are followed by entries from reference works such as Book-Prices Current, American Book-Prices Current, Book-Auction Records, etc. These works briefly list the given manuscript, the auction, the date of the auction, the sale price and the buyer, if known. This information too is useful in setting items in relation to one another.

The entries are followed by additional notes and references where appropriate.

Notes and references inserted by the author in square brackets and italics, [thus]. Font styles and punctuation are those of the original source wherever possible.

The titles of Wilde’s works are set in quotation marks where they refer to manuscripts and in italics where they refer to printed versions.

An appendix to this work contains the following:

  • Index of Names;
  • Auction Houses;
  • Bibliography;
  • Bibliography of Auction and Sales Catalogues;
  • Reference Works.

The Bibliography, Bibliography of Auction and Sales Catalogues and Reference Works contain links to those items which are available online. Where links are no longer current, the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive (archive.org) can be consulted.

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124 Complete references to the sources are listed in the bibliography at the end of this work.

5. INTERACTIVE WILDEANS

It is a natural idea to open up this “Annotated Bibliography of Manuscripts and their Provenances” to discussion. This will allow the Wilde community to fill in gaps, correct errors, and improve the reliability of the data. Users are therefore invited to contribute their knowledge.

Users’ comments, additions and improvements are welcomed, and can be sent directly to the author by e-mail. Such mails should contain complete information as to sender, sources and, wherever possible, the pertinent evidence. As the information is verified, it will be added to the database.

The web platform also provides a forum for all kinds of comments, suggestions and criticism.

6. FINAL REMARKS

The present work is an attempt to compile a concise documentation of Wilde’s manuscripts and present the state of current research findings to a critical readership. This is by no means the end of the road. The missing pieces in the overall knowledge of the field call for the work to continue. Moreover, this initial compilation excludes a number of Wilde’s works. This work is not an evaluation or an interpretation of the findings, however – although the current state of research has been included where relevant. Interpretation would be a subsequent step.

Bibliographies always bring with them their particular challenges, and a bibliography of Wilde’s manuscripts and their provenances is a case in point. But these documents are the pillars on which Wilde’s oeuvre stands, and are indispensable for an understanding of his works. Wilde himself evidently appreciated the value of his manuscripts, as Guy and Small observe: “Of course the very fact that so many early drafts of Wilde’s works have survived at all is strong evidence of the value that he placed on them. He seems to have been reluctant to discard any of the material he wrote, and was always alert to the possibility that lines composed for, and then deleted from, one work could at a future date be transposed into another.”125Guy and Small, Studying Oscar Wilde, p. 55n; see also note 53 above.

This project is a kind of literary detective work with the goal of collecting the most reliable, verifiable information possible on the extant manuscripts of Oscar Wilde – as well as those which cannot be located today – with their provenances. The mosaic of manuscripts which thus appears can only be completed with further information from primary sources and from the research community. I am aware that this work involves gathering information and clues which may sometimes be incomplete. This is inevitable given the multitude of possible sources.

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125 Guy and Small, Studying Oscar Wilde, p. 55n; see also note 59 above.

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