The Soul of Man Under Socialism

The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891/1895)

First published in Fortnightly Review, vol. XLIX, no. 290, February 1891, pp. 292-319. (

First published in the United States in Humboldt Library of Science, vol. 147, New York, March 1891. (

First publication under the title The Soul of Man, privately printed by Arthur L. Humphreys, London, Chiswick Press, 30 May 1895 (five days after Wilde was convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour), edition of fifty copies.


No mention of mss. in Mason’s Bibliography of Oscar Wilde. 

“My dear Wilde, Our lunch today has made me wish that you would write an Article for the March Fortnightly. Can you do this within 8 days? – An Article on Literature or any Social Subject as paradoxical as you please.“ (letter Frank Harris to Oscar Wilde, 10 February 1890, see Small, Oscar Wilde Revalued, p. 79)

“We have little concrete information either about when Wilde began this essay or how long it took him to compose. In his ‘Memories of Oscar Wilde’ (appended to the second edition of Harris’s Oscar Wilde) George Bernard Shaw claimed the credit, via Robert Ross, for inspiring the piece:
‘I delivered an address on Socialism, and at which Oscar turned up and spoke. Robert Ross surprised me greatly by telling me, long after Oscar’s death, that it was this address of mine that moved Oscar to try his hand at a similar feat by writing ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’.
Modem critics, though, have been skeptical of Shaw’s account, not least because it has proved difficult to trace precisely the lecture to which he refers.“ (Guy, Complete Works, vol. IV, pp. lxix-lxx)

“Our best source of evidence for the dating of ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’ is the single (though unfortunately incomplete) extant manuscript (…) which was used a printer’s copy for the Fortnightly Review (it is marked on the front – in a hand other than Wilde’s – ‘proof edition’ and also has Wilde’s Tite Street address pencilled under the title – again not in Wilde’s hand). It is currently held in the Berg Collection in the New York Public Library.“ (ibid., p. lxx)

“… ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’ was probably substantially written in the late autumn/early winter of 1890, and the final revisions to it were made after Wilde had begun reworking his essays Intentions (for the earliest he is likely to have agreed terms with Osgood, McIlvaine is January 1891).“ (ibid.)

“Dear Sir, there is an error of setting in my article, which pray correct at once, if possible. The passage (p. 307 [in the Fortnightly Review article]) on morbidity, beginning ‘Perhaps however’ and ending with ‘King Lear’, must be transferred to page 308 and put after ‘healthy work of art’ 17 lines from the bottom. It occurs rightly between line 18 and 17 from bottom – of course as a separate complete paragraph, as it now stands. Kindly see to this, as it is out of place at present.“ (letter to an unidentified correspondent, Complete Letters, p. 462) 

“The correction was never carried out and the error was perpetuated through every printed version of the essay until the HarperCollins centenary edition of Wilde’s works (1999).“ (ibid., p. 462n)

“In a letter to the Fortnightly offices dated January 1891 Wilde alerted the recipient (addressed as ‘Sir’ and probably Verschoyle [Frank Harris’s assistant]) to an ‘error of setting’ which he asked to be corrected ‘at once, if possible’. The addition of ‘if possible’ suggests that the error was only picked up by Wilde at a very late stage in the publication process (almost certainly, given the reference in his letter to page and line numbers of the Fortnightly, in final proofs), and that he had some doubts as to whether there would be time for the correction to be made.“ (Guy, Complete Works, vol. IV, p. lxxiii)

“Why don’t Chapman and Hall send a copy of the Fortnightly to each author who contributes to the number in question? They should do it, not merely as a matter of courtesy, and of custom, but because it enables the author to see if his work has been properly produced, and if not, to send something for an errata slip, or for incorporation, if that is possible.
In the present case I came across the Fortnightly in the Club on Saturday, and found that an entire paragraph had been misplaced, to the confusion of the sense and the reader. It is possible that the fault may have been originally mine, but I should have been given the earliest opportunity of correction. Don’t you think so? I wrote off at once to them, but received no acknowledgment of my letter. This seems to me to be wrong.“ (letter to Frank Harris, ca. 3 February, Complete Letters, p. 469 – this letter was sold for $13,912 at RR Auction, catalogue 441, Nov. 2014, item 563)

“It seems likely that the printer or typesetter had simply been confused about Wilde’s instructions, possibly because the two inserted paragraphs (which were probably written out on separate sheets interleaved with the proofs) were to have appeared so close to each other.
Intriguingly, this mistake … seems to have gone unnoticed by contemporary readers, despite the fact that the logic of the argument is disrupted. More puzzling still, the error persisted when the essay was reissued in book form in [May] 1895, a circumstance which … suggests that Wilde might have had little active involvement in this publication. In fact, it was not until 1993, when the letter quoted above was published for the first time [see Small, Oscar Wilde Revalued, p. 46, reprinted in Collected Letters, p. 462], that anyone apparently became aware of the problem …“ (Guy, Complete Works, vol. IV, p. lxxv)

“… there are only a tiny number of variants between periodical and book texts, and all relate to accidentals: there are small changes in spelling, punctuation, and capitalization of abstract nouns, and the use of italics to emphasize phrases and sentences is omitted (…). All of these details strongly indicate that on this occasion Wilde did not personally oversee proofs, and that he did not even attempt to rework the periodical text.“ (ibid., p. lxxvii-lxxviii)



Present Location



Catalogue Entries / Notes

1. Early draft


[see notes to no. 2]

2. Autograph Manuscript

59 pages


Berg Collection
New York Public Library, New York, NY

Berg Coll. MSS + Wilde 1890

no digital copy of complete ms.

digital copy of pages 1A and 1B

digital copy of page 2


“The soul of man under socialism.

59 p.; 34 cm

Manuscript in the author’s autograph with his substantial textual emendations and deletions in ink and pencil, throughout. Paginated by the author 1A and 1B-40, 42-50, 56-65.

Bound in full green morocco, gilt, and inner levant borders; doublures and end-leaves in white silk, gilt edges, by Wood.

Originally owned by John B. Stetson,, Jr. with his bookplate, and later by Alfred S. Austrian with his bookplate.

ms. (emended)“

“… the single (though unfortunately incomplete) extant manuscript (…) which was used a printer’s copy for the Fortnightly Review (it is marked on the front – in a hand other than Wilde’s – ‘proof edition’ and also has Wilde’s Tite Street address pencilled under the title – again not in Wilde’s hand). It is currently held in the Berg Collection in the New York Public Library. … it is written in ink and (as was Wilde’s habit) on one side only of his favorite lined folio notepaper. [The manuscript] is clearly a revised fair copy, with numerous insertions, cancelled passages, and deletions, as well as evidence of pages having been rewritten and renumbered, presumably to incorporate new material.“
Complete Works, vol. IV, p. lxx)

“The numbering (in Wilde’s hand) of the first two folios  of [the manuscript] – ‘1A’ and ‘1B’ respectively – suggests that the beginning of the essay was expanded and rewritten at a late stage.

“… all the corrections to [the manuscript] appear to be in Wilde’s hand; the only markings which are not in his hand are the addition of various names in the margins – almost certainly (…) references to the various typesetters who would work on the manuscript.“
(ibid., p. lxxiin)

New York Public Library / Berg Collection

“… The New York Public Library purchased The Soul of Man under Socialism manuscript directly from Christie’s in 2004.“
(Berg Collection, personal correspondence, July 21, 2021)

The Halsted B. Vander Poel Collection of English Literature, Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd., London, 3 March 2004, lot 249

“Autograph manuscript signed (on the last page, ‘Oscar Wilde’) of The Soul of Man under Socialism, n.p. [Tite Street, London], n.d. [December 1890 January1891], including numerous corrections, cancellations and emendations, written on lined paper on rectos, on pages numbered 1a-40, 42-50 and 56-65 (lacking 6 pages), 59 pages, 4to, a few annotations in pencil by the publisher (including on the first page, Wilde’s name and address, ‘Proofs Editor’ and ‘Read’), the leaves tipped on guards into an album, green morocco gilt, spine lettered in gilt, upper board with gilt facsimile of Wilde’s signature (spine and small areas of boards lightly faded, upper joints split, flyleaves detached). Provenance: Alfred S. Austrian (bookplate) — John Batterson Stetson Jr (1884-1932) (bookplate) — purchased Parke-Bernet, New York, 8 February 1940, lot 623, $220.“

“realised £83,650“ [$152,812] (incl. buyer’s premium]

“Autograph Ms, The Soul of Man under Socialism. [Dec 1890 – Jan 1891]. 59 (of 65) pp, 4to, on lined paper, tipped on guards into a mor gilt album. With numerous revisions. Vander Poel collection C March 3 (249) £70,000.“
American Book-Prices Current, vol.110, 2004. p. 148)

Halsted B. Vander Poel

“The books and manuscripts Christie’s have for sale [March 3, 2004] were bought on both sides of the Atlantic, mainly  between 1934 and 1960. … the collection is little known to scholars. Many items have never been previously recorded, or have been untraced or unallocated since the 1930s or 1940s.
… the best Wilde items were relatively cheap at a few hundred dollars each in the early 1940s.“
Times Literary Supplement, 27 Feb. 2005, p. 16)

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

“Autograph manuscript entitled ‘Soul of Man Under Socialism’, signed Oscar Wilde.

The original manuscript and first edition of The Soul of Man. 59 pp. [numbered pp. 1A and 1B-40; 42-50; 56-65]. About 10,000 words. Folio, full green levant morocco, gilt, inner levant borders; doublures and end-leaves of white watered silk, gilt edges, by Wood..

A fine manuscript, carefully preserved, and displaying a large number of corrections and deletions by the author. A few pages, as noted above, are lacking. Accompanying the manuscript is the first edition of the work entitled ‘The Soul of Man’, small 4to, original brown paper covers, uncut. London: Privately Printed, 1895. This edition, published by Arthur L. Humphreys, consisted of only fifty copies. Enclosed in a half morocco slip case. The manuscript was originally in the library of John B. Stetson, Jr. and displays the latter’s book-label, and the Alfred S. Austrian bookplate.

[sold for] USD 220“

[text from Rare Book Hub]


“Ms, Soul of Man under Socialism, 59 pp.(’39) $165, (’40) $220.“
American Book-Prices Current Index 1933 – 1940, p. 738)

Alfred S. Austrian


Gabriel Wells

purchased for $875
The New York Times, April 24, 1920, p. 32)

The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920, lot 108

“THE SOUL OF MAN UNDER SOCIALISM. Original manuscript of ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism.’ 66 pp. folio, but wanting p. 41, and 51-55 inclusive. Bound in full green levant morocco, gilt fillet back and sides, gilt edges, doublures and flys of pale green moire silk, with facsimile of Oscar Wilde’s signature on front cover, by Wood.

An important and fine manuscript entirely in the autograph of Oscar Wilde, and signed by him in full, with an additional signature and his address in pencil, on the first page.

The manuscript has been profusely corrected by Wilde, evidencing the thought given by him to this subject, and represents, in its present state, the copy materially as it appears in the printed version.“

[facsimile of page 1A, see sale catalogue, p. [23]]

“MS. of The Soul of Man under Socialism. With an additional signature and his address in pencil, on the first page, and signed in full. 66 pages, fol., wanting pages 41, and 51-55 inclusive. Bound in lev. mor., g.e. by Wood. Stetson, A., April 23, ’20. (108) $875.00.“
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXVI, 1920, p. 1041)

John B. Stetson,


Charles Cannon [Dan Rider]

purchased for £180

Valuable Books, Autograph Letters and Illuminated and Other Manuscripts, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, London, 27 July 1911, lot 195

[Subtitle: “A Collection of Autograph Manuscripts, Printed Books, Newspaper Cuttings, &c., By and Relating to Oscar Wilde, the Property of a Gentleman“ – “Lots 195 to 200, and 204 to 212, 214 and 219 uniformly bound in green morocco extra, gilt backs, line sides.“]

The Soul of Man under Socialism, part of the MS. on 60 pp. folio (numbered up to 65, but first page in duplicate, pages 41 and 51-55 missing), signed at the end ‘Oscar Wilde.’

Apparently the original MS. from which the Essay was printed in the Fortnightly Review, February 1891, the various sheets bearing the printer’s marks. The opening paragraph of the Essay has evidently been re-written from an earlier draft.“

“The Soul of Man under Socialism, part of the MS. on 60 pages, folio (numbered up to 65, but first page in duplicate,  pages 41 and 51-55 missing), signed at the end ‘Oscar Wilde’ (195) Cannon, £180“
Book-Prices Current, vol. XXV, 1911, p. 629)

fetched $900
The Sun, 28 July 1911)

Vyvyan Holland

“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 Sothebys which I made early on his behalf was not enough, & he has banked his share of his father’s estate long ago“
(letter from Robert Ross to Walter Ledger, 11 Oct. 1911, see Robert Ross Memorial Collection, MS Ross 4)

?Christopher Millard / Stuart Mason

Robert Ross

3. Autograph or Typewritten Manuscript


(?Bartholomew) Robson

Grant Richards

?Robert Ross

“You may possibly now have an opportunity of disposing the manuscript of ‘The Soul of Man’. I have written to Robson telling him you thought you would be willing to sell it at a price.

In making your quotation you ought to allow for Robson to make at least 20% on the transaction, otherwise I do not suppose there will be any deal. Please understand there is no  question of any commission to me at all.“
(letter from Robert Ross to Grant Richards, 12 July 1912, see Clark Library, Box 85, folder 10)

“Ross (Robert) Collection of autograph and related material [i – viii] comprising:

(ii) Series of seven autograph and typed letters signed to Grant Richards, explaining that the L.L. [of Wilde’s poem] was Lillie Langtry of which Ross possesses two of the four manuscripts, confirming that the pamphlet he mentions is a forgery, thanking him for his assistance, outlining his travelling ‘adventures,’ and informing him of an opportunity to sell the manuscript of ‘The Soul of the Man’,
7 pages, 4to and 8vo, c. 1900-1915.
(English Literature and History, Sotheby’s, London, 13 Dec. 1990, lot 180)

[sold for £2,200, Buyer: B. Rota]

[see also Guy, Complete Works, vol. IV,  p. lxxx n116]

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