Vera; or, The Nihilists

Vera; or, The Nihilists (1880/1882)

First published as privately printed manuscript in 1880 by Ranken & Co., London. 

Second, revised edition, with a prologue, published as privately printed manuscript, New York, 1882.

Never published in book form in Wilde’s lifetime. 

First produced at the Union Square Theatre, New York, August 20, 1883, with Marie Prescott in the title role. Oscar Wilde was present at the premiere – the play was withdrawn after six nights – It was the first-ever production of a play of Oscar Wilde.


GENESIS

“… ’Vera, the Nihilist,’ [sic] – which he [Wilde] is said to have written as early as 1876.“ (Le Gallienne, “Introduction,“ p. xxviii)

“We do not know exactly when Wilde began composing Vera, but it was unlikely to have been much before the winter of 1879-80, with the play most probably having been drafted mainly in spring 1880, as part of a strategy to establish himself as a professional writer.“ (Guy, Complete Works, vol, XI, p. 39) 

“It is not possible to know how long it took Wilde to compose Vera; the surviving manuscript evidence (…) suggests that the play went through multiple drafts, with elements of some acts being worked on separately. This evidence also suggests that for Wilde, at least in this point in his career, playwriting began with dialogue, rather than with plot or action – with sequences of exchanges being the elements he drafted first, sometimes in isolation, and apparently without a clear sense of how to link them together.“ (ibid., p. 42)

“At the coming Christmas Mr. Wilde purposes bringing out  a blank verse tragedy in four acts, some essays on Greek art, and a collection of poems.“ (“Oscar Wilde,“ in Biograph and Review, August 1880, p. 135)

“Wilde completed Vera in 1880, and immediately set about finding a management willing to produce it. With a youthful combination of hubris and humility, he modestly solicited advice from famous actors and actresses, while simultaneously urging them to perform or produce the play.“ (Eltis, Revising Wilde, p. 28)

“Wilde’s first publication in book form was the melodrama Vera, or the [sic] Nihilists (1880), printed, probably at the author’s expense, as a script for circulation among potential producers and performers and (all being well) for use in rehearsal.“ (Jackson “Wilde and his Editors,“ pp. 365-6)

“The manuscript that served as printer’s copy is unfortunately not extant.“ (Guy, Complete Works, vol. XI, p. 45n)

“Dear Miss Ellen Terry, Will you accept the first copy of my first play, a drama on modern Russia. Perhaps some day I shall be fortunate enough to write something worthy of your playing.“ (letter to Ellen Terry, c. September 1880, Complete Letters, p. 96)

“Dear Madam, Permit me to send you a copy of a new and original drama I have written: the character of the heroine is drawn in all those varying moods and notes of passion which you can so well touch. Your great fame, which has long ago passed over here, and a suggestion of a friend Mr Dion Boucicault have emboldened me, being a very young writer, to send you my first play, and if you don’t think it suitable for dramatic representation in America, at any rate accept it as a homage to your genius.“ (letter to Clara Morris, c. September 1880, Complete Letters, p. 97)

“Dear Sir, At the suggestion of my friend, Mr Dion Boucicault I beg to forward you a copy of a new and original drama on Russia. The note through which the passion of the play is expressed is democratic and for that reason it is unthinkable to act it in London, and yet the tragedy, the essence of the play is human. There are two fine men’s parts for character acting – the old Prince Metternich sort of statesman, full of epigram and unscrupulousness, and the Czar. The hero is a young enthusiast; and the heroine who gives the name to the play is conceived in all the many moods of passion that a study of Sarah Bernhardt could suggest.
I shall be very happy if you approve of the play, to correspond on the subject of its production.“ (letter to an unidentified correspondent, ca. September 1882, ibid., pp. 97-8 [the original letter was sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 2-16 July 2021, lot 177])

“Wilde wrote Vera at a moment in his life when he was deeply fascinated by various diva actresses, including Lillie Langtry, Sarah Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, and Helen Modjeska, and the character of Vera Sabouroff reflects his profound interest in the power and potentially dangerous glamour of the woman on stage.“ (Miller, p. 68)

“Dear Mr Pigott, I send you a copy of my first play, which you kindly said you would like to see. Its literary merit is very slight, but in an acting age perhaps the best test of a good play is that it should not read well.“ (letter to Edward F. Smyth-Pigott, Examiner of Plays for the Lord Chamberlain, September 1880,  Complete Letters, p. 98) 

“Dear Mr Pigott, Will you allow me to call you tomorrow at one o’clock. I am anxious to consult you with reference to the tragedy I sent you some time ago.“
(November 1881, ibid., p. 117)

“Arrangements were eventually made for a morning performance at the Adelphi Theatre on 17 December 1881, in which Mrs Bernard Beere (…) was to play the title role [supposed to be produced by Dion Boucicault (see The New York Times, Dec. 26, 1881, p. 8)], but three weeks beforehand the production was cancelled, ‘considering the present state of political feeling in England’.“ (ibid., p. 98n)

“Considering the present state of political feeling in England, Mr Oscar Wilde has decided on postponing for a time the production of his drama Vera.“ (The World – A Journal for Men and Women, London, 30 Nov. 1881, p. 12)

“More recently, a new reason for the play’s unacceptability, certainly for English audiences, has been offered: its alleged allusions to Irish terrorism at a time when tensions between the two countries were escalating over the Irish Land War. … Nihilism itself—the play’s ostensible, and for most modern readers, obscure subject-matter—becomes, as Newton phrases it, ‘a mask’ for a more familiar (and current) concern with Irish nationalism and republicanism.“ (Guy, “Vera,” pp. 349-50)

“Nihilism was a convoluted but not obscure topic in early 1880s British and American culture. It could be, and often was, the subject of serious analysis, as commentators struggled to come to terms with a country and culture that both fascinated and repelled, Russophilia and Russophobia coexisting side-by-side. But Nihilism was also, and arguably as frequently, an opportunity for a comically exaggerated literature of terror, with any threats Nihilists posed in real life being cathartically removed through their inevitable annihilation. The sense that Nihilism was so slippery a term that it could stand in for any sort of terrorist act, Irish included, may seem to gain purchase from this discursive melee, lending weight to the politicized readings of Vera that have recently gained currency. … We cannot rule out the possibility that political sensitivities over Ireland may have contributed to Vera’s lack of success on both the London and America stage, as well as to Wilde’s own discarding of this work.“ (ibid., pp. 368-9)

“In fact, the most probable, if prosaic explanation for the cancelled production … was simple lack of finance. Such a circumstance would help explain why, and when compared with his later discussions with Marie Prescott, no details about the planned December production seem to have survived in Wilde’s correspondence during summer and autumn of 1881 – an absence of evidence which strongly suggests that plans for that staging can never have been far advanced.“ (Guy, Complete Works, vol. XI, p. 50)

“[Richard D’Oyly] Carte arranged for a new, revised, edition (with the prologue added) to be printed in America while Wilde was there.“ (Complete Letters, p. 150n)

“Dear Mr Carte, I have received your letter about the play. I agree to place it entirely in your hands for production on the terms of my receiving half-profits and a guarantee of £200 paid down to me on occasion of its production … Prologue follows soon: have been so tired – too tired to write.“ (16 March 1882, ibid., pp. 150-1)

“Dear Mr Carte, I send you the prologue: if it is too long cut it. I have introduced Prince Paul Maralkoffski in it as a simple Colonel: this will give a dramatic point to his meeting Vera among the Nihilists in the third act, where I will introduce a little speech about it. I will also give Vera a few sentences about her brother being sent to Siberia to show the connection of the prologue. This will be a matter of a few minutes only, when I get to New York.
The first act, which at present stands ‘Tomb of the Kings at Moscow’, has too operatic a title: it is to be called ’99 Rue Tchernavaza, Moscow’ …“ (March 1882, ibid., p. 151)

“Dear Mr Carte, As regards any changes in the play, pray rest assured that any suggestions I will be only too glad to get. The play is meant, not to be read, but to be acted, and the actor has always a right to object and to suggest.“ (March 1882, ibid., p. 151)

“I send you the play-prologue; please let me know latest particulars. I am very tired and worn out.“ (letter to W. F. Morse, 21 March 1882, ibid., p. 156)

“Mr Wilde returned to New York at the end of May [1882] to arrange, if possible, for the production of his play, ‘Vera, or the Nihilists.’ The play was privately printed under my copyright, and sent to several of the leading actors and managers for consideration, but no definite arrangements could then be made for it.“ (Morse, “American Lectures,“ p. 90)  

“During the first visit to America I copyrighted under my name Mr. Wilde’s play, ‘Vera, or, the Nihilists,’ and fifty copies were printed for private use.“ (ibid., p. 113)

“Thank you for sending the play to Washington. I think to copyright under your name would be a very good plan. I wish you would send one to the manager you spoke of here, Mr Field [of the Boston Museum Theatre]. Also one to Rose Coghlan at Wallack’s, and one to Wallack himself. Also one to Mr Henderson: I think he might buy it.“ (letter to W. F. Morse, late September 1882, Complete Letters, p. 183)

“The copies of ‘Vera,’ twelve in all, were distributed by me as directed by Mr. Wilde. The remainder were delivered to Mr. Wilde by me personally on his return to New York.“ (Morse, “American Lectures,“ p. 114) 

EDITIONS PRIVATELY PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR: VERA; OR, THE NIHILISTS. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. [New York] 1882.“ (Mason “Bibliography“ in Wilde, Miscellanies, p. 329)

“The text that served as printer’s copy for 1882 is not extant.“ (Guy, Complete Works, vol. XI, p. 53)

“My dear Steele, I have spoken to the Griffin and to the lovely creature he guards – and told them that you might be induced to accept the superintendence and management of the production of my tragedy – the Duchess of Padua. I explained to them that you must have absolute control of everything and everybody. They agreed:
Now she [Mary Anderson] wants this produced on January 22nd, and I think we might bring this out first – as it affords real opportunity for artistic setting and mounting which the Nihilist Drama does not. They or rather she is ready to spend any money on it. She is dreadfully alarmed at the prospect of its non-production – and I told her it could not be produced unless a great deal of money was spent on it.
Now I want you to write and make an appointment with her at Fifth Avenue Hotel this week. He is a brute – a γρυφον – a padded horror – with none but the showman’s idea – but she is simple and good, and tractable and lovable – and with you as the practical manager success will be assured. After this we will do the Nihilists – and then the world is at our feet!
But to begin with the Nihilists would be very foolish; as it affords no opportunity for artistic and beautiful setting. (letter to Steele MacKaye, Sept. 26, 1882, in MacKaye, p. 446 [not in Complete Letters])

“I will be back in a fortnight; and we will settle matters about The Duchess and about Vera. Any and all of your suggestions will be most valuable. I am glad you like it and if we can get Miss Mather [American actress] it will be a great thing.“ (letter to Steele Mackaye, 11 October 1882, Complete Letters, p. 186)

“A statement of account from R. D’Oyly Carte, the manager of his tour, includes the item: – ‘Nov. Paid for Printing Play $69.’“ (Mason, Bibliography, p. 253)

“Will you join Mr. Mackaye – my husband with myself – at breakfast tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock at Delmonico’s. By that time I will have read – Vera – .“ (letter Marie Prescott to Oscar Wilde, Nov. 11, 1882, see ibid., p. 258)

“First, I must apologize for not sending you the MSS of Vera long ago. When I wrote you in Chicago that I would send it, the next day I found that our trunks had been sent to Boston – consequently this delay.“ (letter Marie Prescott to Oscar Wilde, January 9, 1883, see ibid., p. 260)

“On his return from America, Oscar spent several months in Paris [February till May 1883], working assiduously on The Duchess of Padua by 15 March 1883, and making necessary alterations to Vera. A friend of his mother, Clarisse Moore, invited him to visit her in Rome, but he declined the invitation. ‘Were I less busy, it would give me pleasure to accept,’ he wrote. ‘But at present I am deep in literary work, and cannot stir from my little rooms over the Seine until I have finished two plays.’“ (Amor, “Heading for Desaster,“ p. 53)

“I am very much pleased to know that my directions as regards scenery and costume have been carried out.“ (letter to Marie Prescott, ?July 1883, Complete Letters, pp. 214-5)

“After long negotiations, Prescott had purchased from Wilde the exclusive rights to produce Vera in the United States, and she was the play’s director as well as its star.“ (Miller, p. 69)

Vera, on its first printing in 1880 and in the prompt copy of 1882, was entitled Vera; or, The Nihilists. The playbill accompanying the 1883 production in New York City gives the title as Vera; or. The Nihilist, keeping Nihilist in the singular [see https://bit.ly/3l2erSZ]. In the original draft of the play and in its earlier versions, Wilde gave more emphasis to the Nihilists as a group; in the later version and in the New York production, the focus is on Vera, the one Nihilist. Hence the change in title, which, when we consider the care he devoted to every detail of production, must have been authorized by Wilde.“ (Reed, “Oscar Wilde’s Vera,“ p. 175n)

“The play was advertised not as Vera; or, The Nihilists but as Vera; or, The Nihilist: a small but significant difference which reflected the shift of interest from revolutionary politics to the more personal struggle of Vera herself, with nihilism providing little more than a backdrop.“ (Eltis, Revising Wilde, p. 48)

“… the prologue provides Wilde’s most explicit challenge in the conventional image of the nihilist as a villain and sets the scene for a far more sympathetic portrayal of Russia’s revolutionaries. The 1880 edition also presents the conspirators as considerably more bloodthirsty and ruthless than in the final version.“ (ibid., p. 47)

“Wilde continued revising the play after the second edition was printed in 1882, and, in preparation for the 1883 production, revised further, renaming the Prologue as Act I and now referring to Vera as a play in five acts rather than with a Prologue and four acts.“ (Beckson, Encyclopedia, p. 396)

“’Vera’ is a prose play in five acts, which I wrote seven years ago. It was not produced in England because its political sentiments would not have found favor there. … When I saw Miss Marie Prescott playing Emilia to Salvini’s Othello, I felt she was the artist I wanted to create the heroine for my play. … We shall have a rehearsal in the theatre on Monday [13 August]. I designed the scenery and the costumes myself. … A scene is a work of art, not a piece of archaeology.“ (“Oscar Wilde Returns“, The World, New York, 12 August 1883, quoted in Mikhail, Interviews and Recollections, p. 115)

“You have several times spoken of the difficulty of running ‘an untried play;’ now the attraction of ‘Vera’ is that it is new. You say ‘it is entirely your risk,’ now this is not so – the risk is at least as much mine as yours; for the play I received down a certain sum, which of course has no reference to the value of my work and time. My profits on the play depends on how you produce it and how it is acted; if it is not well produced  and well acted my play is gone, and you know of course that if a play fails no one blames the actors, but they blame the author!“ (letter to Marie Prescott, cited in The Daily Graphic, New York, Aug. 11, 1883,  https://bit.ly/3p2wXNj)

“Meanwhile, Wilde reported to the play’s rehearsals ‘in a velvet coat and straw hat’ and was observed ‘seated on an old lounge at the footlights, leisurely overlooking the preliminary work of actors’ and ‘giving way to most’ of Prescott’s suggestions.“ (Dearinger, p. 135)

After the first night, Aug. 20, 1883: “I consider that the play was a success. Of course, it has some faults, but I will correct them. For one thing, Vera is too long. I shall cut it judiciously. When I have altered the play and shortened the last act a great deal it will be more successful.” (“Our New York Letter,” in Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, Pa, Aug. 22, 1883, p. 7, quoted in Marland, Complete Interviews, p. 558)

“Indeed, Wilde made cuts and revisions in the final scene of the play, and performances of Vera at the Union Square Theatre continued, but as the week progressed, the company played to diminishing numbers.“ (Dearinger, p. 143)

“By far the most significant emendations made for the performance text of Vera relate to the running time of the play, and the need to re-write scenes, typically at the beginning and ending of each act, that were not delivering the emotional and dramatic punch Wilde had envisaged.“ (Guy, Complete Works, vol. XI, p. 103)

“A clear pattern emerges from a comparison of the different versions of Vera. The changes between the 1880 and 1882 editions of the play and Wilde’s autograph corrections to the latter edition show a careful progress towards a politically and dramatically more complex play which is simultaneously more radical in its implications. The changes made on Marie Prescott’s advice for the 1883 performance, however, work in the opposite direction, suggesting a tension between Wilde’s own intentions and the demands of the popular stage. In 1883 the young writer willingly compromised his creation to secure an audience; in later years he was to develop more subtle methods in order to satisfy both his own tastes and those of the public.“ (Eltis, Revising Wilde, p. 45)

“One marked difference between the two early editions and the final 1908 version is that the earlier editions place the action of the play in 1800. The 1882 edition also includes a prologue set in 1795. In his autograph corrections to the 1882 edition Wilde deleted all reference to the year the play is set in, and the 1908 edition therefore does not specify the date.“ (ibid.)

“… the changes which Wilde made on Marie Prescott’s advice for her American production of Vera had the effect of rendering the play more traditionally romantic and conventional.“ (ibid., p. 48) 

“Despite a life-long habit of reusing and reshuffling material from earlier works, Wilde apparently made no further efforts to revive his first performed play, revisiting its subject matter only fleetingly … . Vera was not named in the contract Wilde signed in August 1893 when he went into partnership with Elkin Matthews [sic] and John Lane of the Bodley Head, and which included commitments (not in the event fulfilled) to publish earlier works: an expanded version of ‘The Portrait of Mr W. H.“ and The Duchess of Padua.
After 1883 Wilde, somewhat uncharacteristically, apparently lost interest in Vera … .“ (Guy, “Vera,” p. 348) 

1st edition, 1880: copies that survived (5): Genevieve Ward (Bruce Ingram’s copy); Bernard Quaritch;  Walt Whitman; Ellen Terry; Johnston Forbes-Robertson; copies that seem not to have survived (7): Mrs Bernard Beere (who was supposed to play the title role in the London production scheduled for December 1881); Clara Morris;  Norman Forbes-Robertson; Hermann Vezin; ?Dion Boucicault; an unidentified correspondent; possibly the copy of Edward F. Smyth-Pigott, examiner of plays for the Lord Chamberlain (see also Complete Letters, pp. 96-100).

“In case of the first,1880 printing of Vera, we do not know exactly the numbers of copies Wilde had ordered, only that in the autumn of that year he sent out at least seven volumes of his ‘new and original drama’ with the aim of securing a staging of it.“ (Guy, Complete Works, vol. XI, p. 46)

2nd edition, 1882: “Vera was entered for copyright at the Library of Congress, Washington, on 2 October 1882 in Wilde’s name. This acting edition, which differed considerably from the 1880 version, consisted of some twenty-five copies only. At the end of this letter [late September 1882] W. F. Morse has pencilled in a list of the recipients: Wilde 2, Mackaye 2, Forbes 2, Coghlan 1, Wallack 1, Field 1, Henderson 1, Stoddart 1, Morse 1.“ (Complete Letters, p. 183n)

Copies of the 1882 edition that survived (10): Wilde (2); Robert Ross/Vyvyan Holland; Walter Ledger; W. F. Morse; Gilbert Burgess; Berg Collection (2); Charles L. F. Robinson; Garvan Collection, Yale University; copies that seem not to have survived (18): Eleanor Calhoun; Julia Ward Howe; Mary Anderson; Steele MacKaye (2); Norman Forbes-Robertson (2); Rose Coghlan; John Johnstone Wallack; R. M. Field; (?William) Henderson; J. M. Stoddart; ?Dion Boucicault; several copies sold at auctions but whereabouts are unknown.

“At the sale of Wilde’s effects, under an order of the Sheriff, at 16 Tite Street, Chelsea, on April 24, 1895, lot 133, including eight copies of this edition [Vera], was sold for 22s. Some of these copies have since been sold at Sotheby’s, one realising £12 on January 21, 1909 [see below, American edition, no. 26], and another one £15 on July 27, 1911 [see below, American edition, no. 13]. A third copy (sold at Sotheby’s for £26 on July 21, 1907 [see below, American edition, no. 1]) contained numerous erasions and additions in the author’s handwriting. It was probably this copy which Leonard Smithers had used for his unauthorized edition in 1904 [i.e. 1902]. From another copy, containing the author’s manuscript corrections, the play was published in Methuen’s first collected edition of Wilde’s works in 1908 … . This copy was presented by Robert Ross in 1910 to the British Museum (Catalogue of Printed Books, C. 60 K.8) .“ (Mason, Bibliography, pp. 254)

Vera; or, The Nihilists ‘is nothing more than a bibliographical curiosity,’ wrote Robert Ross in 1910, in a note accompanying his gift to the British Library of his 1882 prompt copy [see below, American Edition, no. 2]. ‘It was the first play Wilde wrote (1879-1880); when he was twenty-six. It is worthless as literature or drama.’“ (Reed (ed.), p. xxxiv) 

NOTES, DRAFTS, MANUSCRIPTS

Version

Present Location

Shelfmark

Provenance

Catalogue Entries / Notes

1. Autograph Notebook

29 pages / in all about 87 pages

[?1879]

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Yale University, New Haven, CT

GEN MSS 275 Series III
Box: 1, Folder: 24

digital copy
https://bit.ly/2ZFRawP

folder available on microfilm:
MS Vault Microfilms 397

digital copy of the two pages of aphorisms:
https://bit.ly/2DuF5TF

gift of Mr. and Mrs. W. Robert Blum, 1953

[Notebook], holograph / n.d.

“Notes on Roman history: miscellaneous notes, possibly unpublished; “Vera, or, the Nihilists“: early draft of the play privately printed in 1880; and 2 p. of aphorisms on love.“

“Manuscript Note-Book

A Note-Book, or Common-place book containing

[1] NOTES ON ROMAN HISTORY &c. 56 pages

[2] VERA, OR THE NIHILISTS, [a first draft] 29 pp.

[3] APHORISMS 2 pages.

The first portion is written, for the most part, in ink on the rectos of the leaves, but in a few instances the versos are partially inscribed with notes.

The second is written in pencil, in reverse order to the first. For the most part only one side of each leaf is employed, but on a few leaves both sides are inscribed. These are very hurriedly and sketchily written, and there are several corrections.

Small quarto size, green leather-bound note-book. 

The rough drafts of the two other subjects contained in this note-book do not appear to have ever been expanded for the purpose of publication. No evidence of anything even remotely resembling the titles or contents is apparent from Mason’s “Bibliography“ and several biographies.“

“This [manuscript] takes the form of a rough draft, in pencil, of exchanges relating to the end of Act I, from the moment when Michael accuses Alexis of being a spy. [It] contains material, chiefly some exchanges between Alexis and the General (in this draft named Trepoff), that is not found in [the Clark manuscript, no. 2], 1880, or 1882. Unfortunately, it is not possible to be certain whether [this draft] pre- or post-dates [the Clark manuscript].“
(Guy,
Complete Works, vol. XI, p. 90)

“[The notebook] consists of a draft of part of Act I of Vera, written in pencil, mainly on one side of the page only (the recto) the other (the verso) being left blank, as was Wilde’s habit in [the Clark manuscript]. It forms part of the material in a small quarto-sized notebook, the first fifty-six pages of which contain neatly penned notes, also generally on the recto only, on Roman history. The Vera dialogue takes up the next twenty-nine pages of the notebook, with two pages at the end containing neatly written drafts of aphorisms (also in pen). The notebook itself probably dates from Wilde’s studies as an undergraduate, with the material on Vera almost certainly having been added later, Wilde presumably using up the blank pages of a notebook he had to hand.“
(ibid., p. [203])

“The [Beinecke manuscript] furnished a first draft of an incident that closes Act II of Vera [but see above Guy] an incident not found in the Clark manuscript [see no. 2].“
(Reed (ed.), p. xiii)

“One [notebook], now housed at Yale University, begins with extensive notes in ink from Theodor Mommsen’s The History of Rome, and also contains an early draft of Wilde’s play Vera, or the Nihilists (1880), hastily scrawled in pencil on the pages remaining after the Mommsen notes but written from the back toward the front of the notebook.“
(Smith, Helfand,  p. 222n) 

Mrs. and Mr. W. Robert Blum

?Katherine S. Dreier

?Abel Cary Thomas

Books, Manuscripts and Bindings, Maggs Bros., no. 456, London, 1924, item 463

[library stamp first page Nov. 22, ’24]

“Wilde (Oscar). His Manuscript Note Book, comprising:

Notes on Roman History, etc. 56 pp.

Vera; or, the Nihilists. A first draft on 29 pp. 

Aphorisms. 2 pp. 

Together 87 pp. in a 4to note book, original covers. 

£48.

This Manuscript Note Book was formerly in the possession of Robert Ross, Oscar Wilde’s Executor.“

A Catalogue of a Collection of Rare English Black-Letter Books, the Property of a Gentleman; Valuable Books from the Library of the late Rt. Hon. C. G. Milnes Gaskell, with Other Properties, Hodgson & Co, London, 26-27 June 1924, lot 318

Original Manuscript of the first draft of ‘Vera; or, The Nihilists,’ 1880 (of the original printed version of which, only 2 copies are known), written in pencil on 29 pp. of a quarto note-book, which Wilde had used at Oxford for notes of lectures on Roman History, Society and Literature, etc., the latter {in ink) covering 56 pp., with 2 pp. of Aphorisms, in all about 87 pp. .“

“Besides the unpublished Wilde manuscript [‘The Woman Covered with Jewels’] in the sale at Hodgson’s there are the holograph manuscripts of the last part of Wilde’s essay ‘The Rise of Historical Criticism’; the greater part of the manuscript of ‘The Duchess of Padua’; the original first draft of ‘Vera; or, The Nihilists’; the first draft of ‘A Woman of No Importance’ and the second draft, with the first  inception of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ which Wilde commenced under the title of ‘The Guardian’; an early sketch of ‘An Ideal Husband’ and the typescript of the first act, together with a typed revision. … It is notable that in the first copy the title is deleted and ‘The foolish Journalist’ substituted, and afterwards struck out. In the revised copy the title is omitted altogether.“
(
The Bookman, vol. LIX, August 1924, [p. 782])

[Gaskell was probably not the owner of Wilde’s manuscripts, judging by the catalogue entry: “Other Properties“

sold for £25 to Maggs
(
The Times, 28 June 1924, p. 14)

?Vyvyan Holland

 

?Christopher Millard / Stuart Mason

Robert Ross 

2. Autograph Notebook

169 pages (plus two foolscaps of part of the Prologue [1882], not in Wilde’s hand)

[1879]

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
University of California, Los Angeles, CA

Wilde W6721M2 V473

no digital copy

purchased in 1923, from A.S.W. Rosenbach

Wilde, Oscar.
Vera or The Nihilists.
Boxed; Rosenbach: ’23; English; Wilde W6721M2 V473.
Reel: 23, Item No. 12

Vera or the Nihilists. 1880
Ms. 169 p. Notebook. In full red morocco slip-case, by Hyman Zucker. Early manuscript draft. At the other end of notebook another 55 pages of blank verses and miscellaneous writings. With this: written agreement between Wilde and the actress Maria Prescott Perzel , and a few variant pages of the play in a different hand.“

[unnumbered]

“Vera or the Nihilists.
Ms. 169 p. Notebook.  10-3/4×8
1/2x1 in.

Early manuscript draft. At the other end of notebook another 55 pages of blank verses and miscellaneous writings [i.e. “The Cardinal of Avignon“].
With this: written agreement between Oscar Wilde and Marie Prescott Perzel, and a few variant pages of the play in a different hand.
In full red morocco slip-case, 11-3/4×9-1/4×1-3/4 in. by Hyman Zucker.“
(
Finzi 2499)

“This 169-page autograph notebook, with lined paper, is familiar from manuscripts of other early works. It contains heavily corrected drafts, in varying stages of completion, of Acts I, II, III and IV of Vera, and clearly predates the draft that would have been used as printer’s copy for 1880. … At the other end of this same notebook, working back until it meets up with the end of the Vera draft, are thirty-two leaves of material comprising early notes and drafts for the unfinished verse drama ‘The Cardinal of Avignon’. [The manuscript] contains material that is not found in either 1880 or 1882, as well as material which is ordered differently from the way it appears in 1880 and 1882.“
(Guy,
Complete Works, vol. XI, p. 90) 

“Two foolscap pages [two folios, F1 and F2] of American origin are included with the boxed Clark MS notebook, tucked within the end covers; they contain drafts of exchanges that belong to different parts of the Prologue [see below American Edition]. Each are in a different hand, neither of which is that of Wilde. However, there is strong circumstantial evidence pointing towards the material in F1 and F2 having originated with him. … the handwriting on both F1 and F2 is exceptionally neat, with almost no errors or crossing-out, and give the appearance of having been transcribed from another document or documents. That these were probably in Wilde’s own hands is strongly suggested by the manner of punctuation in F1 and F2 … . “
(ibid., pp. 97-8)

“… comparison with [Marie] Prescott’s letters indicates that Prescott drafted the second fragment herself. That Prescott drafted F2 and appears to have commissioned the drafting of F1, and that he fragments can be linked to Wilde’s holograph manuscript emendations in MSBerg [no. 4], is evidence supportive of Guy’s hypothesis that the material in F1 and F2 ‘likely derived from […] a series of hand-written corrections Wilde forwarded to Prescott for [the] first performance’ (Guy, 98).“
(Marland, “Unnoted Textual Differences“, p. 449 n16)

“The writing on these two sheets is not Wilde’s hand, but the matter therein is referred to by Wilde in letters sent during his tour of the American West, which was made during 1882. Long after Wilde’s death, the two foolscaps were discovered with the Clark Vera Manuscript, and they together with the 82 Prologue complete the revised first Act that belongs to the production of 83 … .“
(Reed (ed.), p. xii)

[see below notes American Edition]

“Early AMS draft in 169 page notebook with lined paper. In ink and pencil with numerous revisions and additions both on copy and facing verso. Much earlier than that printed by Ross, but not the first draft. At the other end of notebook another 55 pages (on verso and recto) of drafts for a verse drama (which Rodney Shewan [1977] has called a draft of ’Beatrice and Astone Manfredi’ [“The Cardinal of Avignon“]) and miscellaneous writings. … . 

Also written agreement between Wilde and Marie Prescott Perzel; and drafts for two sections of prologue to be added to 1882 version.“
(Small,
Oscar Wilde Revalued, p. 153)

“In keeping with many other Wilde manuscripts, there is evidence of initial drafting in ink, mainly on one side of the page (recto) only, which is followed by extensive corrections often (but not exclusively) in pencil, and frequently involving the provision of additional material on the facing versos, which were presumably left blank for precisely this purpose. There is rarely a clear indication as to where additional lines or exchanges are to be inserted, or what text they are intended to replace; and there are occasions where they do not fit with the dialogue opposite or alongside.“
{Guy,
Complete Works, vol. XI, p. [157]

A.S.W. Rosenbach

purchased for $775

“While he [Rosenbach] had been in England, a telegram had come to the New York office from William Andrews Clark, Jr., asking Rosenbachs to buy for him a considerable group of Oscar Wilde manuscripts offered for sale at the American Art Association [April 1923]. Jerome Brooks was then in charge of the Madison Avenue store, but he was fairly new in his position and had no previous rare book training. He dutiful executed Clark’s commissions and obtained all the desired lots.“
(Wolf and Fleming, p. 177)

Books – Manuscripts – Drawings of Superlative Importance Acquired by or for a Noted Philadelphia Collector, American Art Association, New York, April 16-18, 1923, lot 983

i.e. “Mr Hughes“
(
The Bookman’s Journal and Print Collector, vol. VIII, June 1923, p. 99)

Original Autograph Manuscript of his drama, – ‘Vera; or, the Nihilists.’ Manuscript of about Eighteen Thousand Words written in ink and pencil on about 175 pages or parts of pages (103 leaves) of a 4to blank book, with 56 pages (31 leaves) of additional Manuscript prose and verse at the end, written Entirely in the Autograph of Wilde, 4to, boards, cloth back. Enclosed in a fire-proofed slander case of full crimson levant morocco, gilt lettered back, with inner cloth protecting wrapper, by h. zucker.

Extremely Valuable Manuscript Containing What Is without Doubt Wilde’s First Writing of His First Drama, Showing Many Variations from the Printed Text of the First Edition (1880), which initial printing was materially altered in the second edition. The names of the characters is a striking example of the variations from the printed version, … .

The original writing of the Manuscript has been carefully revised by Wilde, as shown by the numerous pencil and ink additions, alterations and notes written on the opposite blank pages throughout the volume and also many similar cancellations and changes in the original lines. At the end of the Drama are some 30 leaves of additional Manuscript verse and prose, also in Wilde’s Autograph, much of which is probably unpublished.

Laid in is an Original Manuscript Agreement between Wilde and Marie Prescott (Mrs. William Perzél), the American actress who first produced ‘Vera,’ signed by Miss Prescott, but not by Wilde; also 7 pp. of Manuscript (not in Wilde’s autograph) of variations in the play, agreeing in part with those described by Stuart Mason in his Bibliography, no. 303.

From the John B. Stetson,, Jr., collection, with his bookplate.“

[facsimiles of page no. 19 and of one unnumbered page, see sale catalogue]

“The Rosenbach Company acquired several Wilde items. Among those was the original autograph manuscript of Oscar Wilde’s poem ‘The Sphinx,’ $1,050; the original autograph manuscript, signed, of the article ‘The true Function and Value of Criticism,’ $1,050; the original autograph manuscript of the drama  ‘Vera; – or, the Nihilists,’ $755.“
(
The New York Times, April 19, 1923, p. 20)

“MS., Drama,  – ‘Vera; or the Nihilists.’ About 18,000 words on 175 pp. (103 leaves) of 4to blank-book, with 36 pp. of additional MS., also in Wilde’s hand. In cl. folder and hf. mor. case, by Zucker. MS. agreement with Marie Prescott, and 7 pp. in another hand laid in. From J. B. Stetson collection. G., April 16, ’23. (983) $775.00.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXIX, 1923, p. 915)

Colonel H. D. Hughes

sold to Hughes, April 30, 1920
(see The Rosenbach, personal correspondence, Jan. 21, 2022)

“Many of these items [of the Stetson sale] – fifty-one of Rosenbach’s purchases at the auction, in fact – were destined for Colonel H. D. Hughes, as is clear from the extensive listing in Rosenbach’s sales records. … Hughes, a collector for Pennsylvania, curiously paid off his sizable balance primarily through daily installments of $100.00.“
(Mitchell and Haas, see https://bit.ly/3xpXd8k)

A.S.W. Rosenbach

purchased for $925 

“At the sale of the Stetson collection of Oscar Wilde at the end of April, 1920, Dr. Rosenbach swept the board almost clean, taking virtually every item of real importance. He had been a Wilde enthusiast since his college days, when it was avant-garde to be mauve. His enthusiasm had been shared by Colonel H. D. Hughes of Philadelphia, who spent over $10,000 at the sale, wisely entrusting his bids to the Doctor.“
(Wolf and Fleming, p. 135)

The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York,  April 23, 1920, lot 6

“VERA. Original autograph manuscript of ‘Vera; or, the Nihilist’ [sic]. Written in a thick 4to blank book, on 175 pp. Preserved in a full crimson levant morocco solander case, fire-proofed.

This Valuable and Extremely Interesting Manuscript is undoubtedly Wilde’s Earliest Draft of This Play, showing many variations from the printed text. The interpolations on the opposite blank pages, memoranda, notes, etc., bear evidence to the author’s thorough revisions.

At the end are 55 pages of Manuscript verse and prose, in Wilde’s hand, some of which may be unpublished.“

“MS. of ‘Vera; or, the Nihilist [sic].’ In a 4to blank book, on 175 pages. In lev. mor. case. At the end are 55 pages of MS. verse and prose. Stetson, A., April 23, ’20. (6) $925.00.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXVI, 1920, p. 1041)

John B. Stetson, Jr.

bookplate

?A.S.W. Rosenbach

?Felix Isman

3. Autograph Manuscript

24 leaves

unknown

1939

“Ms., portion of the play Vera, or the Nihilists, 24 pp. (’39) $150“
(
American Book-Prices Current Index 1933 – 1940,  p. 738)

Books – Manuscripts – Drawings of Superlative Importance Acquired by or for a Noted Philadelphia Collector, American Art Association, New York, April 16-18, 1923, lot 984

i.e. “Mr Hughes“
(
The Bookman’s Journal and Print Collector, vol. VIII, June 1923, p. 99)

Original Autograph Manuscript of a portion of his play, – ‘Vera; or, the Nihilists.’ Manuscript of about Sixteen Hundred Words written in ink on 24 quarto leaves. Loose sheets laid in green cloth folder, in full green morocco slip-case.

Unusually Fine Autograph Manuscript, in Exceptionally Fresh Condition. The sheets comprise 10 leaves of the scene between Vera, Nicholas, Michael and Peter; and 14 leaves of the love scene between Vera and the Czar, several being duplicate leaves with different renderings of the dialogue … . 

Laid in is a letter, signed, from Coudert Brothers, New York, August 22, 1883, to Mr Wilde, advising him that they had received a check from Mrs William Perzél (Marie Prescott) for $50.00; representing royalty for the first performance of ‘Vera,’ which Miss Prescott produced in New York, in August, 1883.

From the collection of John B. Stetson,, Jr., with his bookplate.“ 

Colonel H. D. Hughes

sold to Hughes, April 30, 1920
(see The Rosenbach, personal correspondence, Jan. 21, 2022)

“Many of these items [of the Stetson sale] – fifty-one of Rosenbach’s purchases at the auction, in fact – were destined for Colonel H. D. Hughes, as is clear from the extensive listing in Rosenbach’s sales records. … Hughes, a collector for Pennsylvania, curiously paid off his sizable balance primarily through daily installments of $100.00.“
(Mitchell and Haas, see https://bit.ly/3xpXd8k)

A.S.W. Rosenbach

purchased for $340

“At the sale of the Stetson collection of Oscar Wilde at the end of April, 1920, Dr. Rosenbach swept the board almost clean, taking virtually every item of real importance. He had been a Wilde enthusiast since his college days, when it was avant-garde to be mauve. His enthusiasm had been shared by Colonel H. D. Hughes of Philadelphia, who spent over $10,000 at the sale, wisely entrusting his bids to the Doctor.“
(Wolf and Fleming, p. 135)

The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920, lot 7

“VERA. Original autograph manuscript of 24 leaves of ’Vera; the Nihilist[sic].’ 4to, with corrections here and there in Wilde’s hand.“

“MS. of 24 pages of ‘Vera; the Nihilist [sic].’ 4to. Stetson, A., April 23, ’20. (7) $340.00.“
(American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXVI, 1920, p. 1041)

John B. Stetson, Jr.

bookplate

A.S.W. Rosenbach

“The sale of books and autographs from the collection of Mrs Henry P. Quincy and J. Maus Schermerhorn at the Anderson Galleries May 25-26, totaled $9,807. One of the most interesting sales was that of the original Ms. of Oscar Wilde’s play, ‘Vera, or the Nihilists,’ on loose leaves from a notebook, for which Dr. Rosenbach of Philadelphia paid $257.“
(
American Art News, vol. 12, no. 34, 1914, p. 8)

Books and Autographs from the Collections of Mrs Henry P. Quincy, of Boston, Mr J. Maus Schermerhorn, of New York, and from Other Collections, Anderson Auction Company, New York, May 25-26, 1914, lot 584

Original Manuscript. 24 leaves of the Original Manuscript of his Play ‘Vera; or, The Nihilists.’ On loose leaves from a note book, 4to, not dated or signed, but entirely in the handwriting of Oscar Wilde.

The text is not consecutive, but shows interesting variations from the printed text, and some unpublished passages.“

“Original Autograph Manuscript, 24 leaves of Vera; or, The Nihilists, 4to, not consecutive. Quincy & Schermerhorn, A., May 25, ’14 (584) $257.00.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol XX, 1914, p. 833)

?Mrs Henry Quincey / ?Mr J. Maus Schermerhorn

?Felix Isman

4. Autograph Manuscript

33 pages

1883

Berg Collection
New York Public Library, New York, NY

cased

no digital copy

acquired in 1940, as part of the W. T. Howe collection

“Vera; or, The nihilists

Holograph corrections and additions to the play, apparently made for the performance of Vera in New York in 1883.“

[manuscript pages are cased together with the corresponding items of the auction (b-g), see below]

[about 28 pages correspond to the transcription by Mason on pages 274-281 in his Bibliography

[all pages in ink. The numbering is from 1 to 27; the first page is not numbered (Mason in his Bibliography transcribes this page on p. 274), the second page starts with number 1 (see ibid.: ‘page 9. line 10.’). A non-consecutively numbered leaf is inserted after page 12 and has the page number 40, in pencil, in a different hand (see ibid., p. 278: ‘Act III …’). Another unnumbered leaf is inserted after page 25, with only two lines of text (see ibid., p. 281: ‘Vera: Our wedding night / Czar: [no text]’). The last two pages of the manuscript are also not numbered consecutively; both bear the number [58] in square brackets, in pencil. The second page is torn off at the bottom. Millard, who transcribes 28 pages of this manuscript, does not give these two pages]

[these two pages are transcribed and discussed in Marland, “Unnoted Textual Differences“, p. 450]

W. T. Howe

Valuable Books and Autograph Letters … A Collection of Autograph Manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, London, 23-24 April 1923, lot 528

[“All bound in boards, with paper labels on top covers, except where otherwise stated“]

“Vera, or The Nihilists. A most interesting volume containing:

(a) About 28 pp. 4to of auto. corrections and additions to the play, apparently made for the performance of Vera in New York in 1883, but only in a few cases inserted in published editions of the play (Mason op cit p. 274).

(b) A. L. s. 3 pp. 4to, n.d., to Mr. R. D’Oyly Carte, about the play (Mason, p. 256): …

(c) L. s. April 5, 1882, to Wilde from W. F. Morse, referring to the Prologue (Mason, p. 257).

(d) A series of letters to Wilde about Vera, from Marie Prescott, tragedienne, who produced the play in New York. 10 letters, several imperfect, but several of great length (Mason, pp. 257-271).

(e) Letter to Wilde from Messrs. Coudert, about the contract with Miss Prescott.

(f) Two auto scraps, opening of a letter to Miss Prescott, and of an agreement with her.

(g) Copy of a letter from Mr. Hulette, claiming copyright in the name Vera, etc. (Mason, pp. 256-271).“

[handwritten note in catalogue: Morgan £42]

“Vera, or the Nihilists, a volume containing about 28 pp. 4to. of auto. corrections and additions to the play, apparently made for the performance of Vera in New York in 1883, but only in a few cases inserted in published editions of the play (Mason op cit p. 274), several auto. letters laid in to Mr R. D’Oyley Carte (528), April 23, Sotheby – £42“
(
Book-Prices Current, vol. XXXVII, 1923, p. 842)

 “A collection of twenty-four autograph manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, sold separately, realized £476.“
(
The Scotsman, 25 April 1923, p. 10)

?Vyvyan Holland

“He [Vyvyan Holland] 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.“
(letter Christopher Millard to William Andrews Clarke, 9 Oct. 1922, see Hyde
Christopher Millard, p. 84)

“In the previous April [1922] Vyvyan Holland told Millard that he had been offered £600 for the ‘four exercise books containing the plays,’ presumably Vera and The Duchess of Padua and he asked Millard whether he ought to accept. Apparently Millard advised him to hold his hand with the result that Clark was able to secure them and they are now in the Clark Memorial Library.“
(ibid., p. 85)

[but: there is no mention of any exercise books in either description of Vera or The Duchess in the Clark Library catalogue. If Holland had his copy still in his hands in 1922, this cannot be the copy in the Clark Library which came into its possession via the Stetson sale in 1920]

?Christopher Millard / Stuart Mason

“The following additions contained on 28 quarto leaves of handmade paper are entirely in the autograph of the author. They appear to have been made for the performance of Vera in New York in 1883 and only a few are included in published editions of the play.“ [additions follow on pages 274-281]
(Mason
Bibliography, pp. 274)

[this could indicate that the manuscript was actually in Mason’s / Ross’ hands at that time]

?Robert Ross

5. Autograph Manuscript

Act IV

1 leaf

Robert Ross Memorial Collection
University College, Oxford

Box 4: Ross Env. e.78.ix

no digital copy

rediscovered around March / April 2017

Wilde manuscript (1 leaf). Written on the recto in Oscar Wilde’s hand: ‘where should kings sit. But sit at the feet of some democracy casting their crowns before it (sets crown at her feet) O royal, O republican,’ Annotated in the bottom left-hand corner of the recto in Ledger’s hand: ‘(Possibly intended for ‘Vera’? W.E.L. [Walter Edwin Ledger] From R. R. [Robert Ross] to C. S. M. [Christopher Sclater Millard] to W. E. L. {Walter Edwin Ledger] 17 Nov.1919’. Paper watermark: ‘De La Rue & Co. London’

[this leaf was once tucked into Walter Ledger’s copy of The Duchess of Padua, 1883 (see The Duchess of Padua no. 19), together with nos. 6-7 of The Duchess. After Ledger’s death, they were housed in envelopes labelled with the book’s shelfmark “Ross e.78“]

“Whilst cataloguing the Robert Ross Memorial Collection, our Librarians have recently [2017] unearthed a literary treat in the form of three manuscript pages by Oscar Wilde. Once in the possession of Wilde’s literary executor Robert Ross, the pages found their way to Walter Ledger’s collection via mutual friend Christopher Millard. In Wilde’s unmistakable scrawl, the pages contain a dedication of The Duchess of Padua to American actress Mary Anderson (1859-1940), lines perhaps intended for Vera; or the Nihilists, and lines from The Duchess of Padua.“
{“A Wilde Discovery“ https://bit.ly/2AQcYfW)

Walter Ledger

Christopher Millard / Stuart Mason

Robert Ross

privately-printed Editions

English edition, 1880

Vera; / or, The Nihilists. / A Drama / in a Prologue and Four Acts. / By / Oscar Wilde. / London: / Ranken & Co., Printers, Drury House, / St. Mary-le-Strand, W. C. / 1880.

Crown 8vo (71/4 by 41/4 in.); pp. 52.“
(Mason,
Bibliography, p. 249)

[facsimile of wrapper, see ibid., p. 250]

“This was a small acting-edition, the exact number of copies printed being unknown.“
(ibid., p. 252)

“Although it is not known how many copies of this acting edition were printed, it is unlikely to have been more than twenty or so.“
(Guy,
Complete Works, vol. XI, p. 91)

1) First Privately Printed Edition

Geneviève Ward’s / Bruce Ingram’s copy

4 Acts

52 pages

1880

Eccles Collection
British Library
London

Eccles 353

bequeathed to the BL in 2003

“Vera; or, the Nihilists : a drama in four acts / by Oscar Wilde.

‘Strictly Private.’ – Front cover.

Interleaved throughout with [28] leaves of white wove paper. One of a small acting ed., the exact number of copies unknown.

52 p. ; 19 cm.

Ownership: Copy at Eccles 353. With manuscript inscription on front-cover: To Miss Genevieve Ward from her sincere friend and admirer the Author Sept. 1880. With a manuscript note concerning provenance by H. Montgomery Hyde, explaining that the book formerly belonged to Sir Bruce Ingram who acquired it for a nominal sum from Dobell, the dealer. The description in Mason is based on this copy. 

Binding information: Copy at Eccles 353. Grey printed paper wrappers. In a green cloth box.“

Eccles Collection

“The Eccles Vera is an acting edition, inscribed  by the author to Genevieve Ward, a celebrated nineteenth-century singer and actress – highlighting Wilde’s connections to many fashionable individuals of his day.“
(Lloyd, “Lady Eccles Oscar Wilde Collection“, p. 2)

Mary Hyde / Viscountess Eccles

see Complete Letters, p. 96n

H. Montgomery Hyde

Bruce Ingram

“Only two copies of this edition are known. One was in the possession of Bernard Quaritch in 1912 and passed from him to a collector. The other one is in the collection of Mr Bruce Ingram, from which this description [in Mason’s Bibliography] is made.“
(Mason,
Bibliography, p. 249)

Catalogue of Books Printed for Private Circulation, Collected by Bertram Dobell, London, no. XIII, 1906, p. 193

“Wilde’s (Oscar) Vera, or, the Nihilists: a Drama. 12mo, pp. 52, £1 1s 1880

This drama is made up of cleverness, absurdity, wit, attempted wit, impossible incidents, in- credible characters, and effective situations; in fact it is a delightful compound of Oscar Wildishness. If only a little human nature had been mixed up with the other ingredients one could not have helped admiring it with all its faults; but that is a commodity Mr. Wilde does not deal in. Imagination one cannot deny to him, for who but he would ever have dared to introduce the Czarevitch of Russia as one of a band of conspirators who are engaged in plotting the assasination [sic] of his father, the Czar! Add that he is in love with Vera, the Nihilist heroine, who is commanded to kill him, and who starts out intending to execute the command, but ultimately stabs herself in order to save his life; and it becomes quite evident that our author does not allow any craven fear of making himself ridiculous to interfere with his determination to reach the height of sublimity.“

“In the present work only such books are catalogued, as are, or have been, actually in my possession.“
(“Introductory Note“, ibid. [p. 2])

“Of the first edition, printed in London, 1880, only two copies are known to exist. One of these appeared in the late Bertram Dobell’s ‘Catalogue of Books Printed for Private Circulation’ (1906) … with a somewhat depreciatory description in Mr Dobell’s incisive style. The wrapper is inscribed in Wilde’s handwriting To Geneviève Ward from her sincere friend and admirer the author, Sept. 1880. It is now in the collection of Mr Bruce Ingram, editor of the Illustrated London News …“
(Mason, “Oscar Wilde’s Lost Play“, p. 995)

Bertram Dobell

Geneviève Ward

“Only three other copies [besides Ellen Terry’s copy, see below] are known to have survived; one in the Hyde collection inscribed ‘To Genevieve Ward from her sincere friend and admirer the author, Sept. 1880’; one at the University of Texas inscribed to the actor Johnston Forbes-Robertson; and one in the Clark Library, Los Angeles, inscribed “From the author to a beautiful poet, a sincere republican and a charming friend’ and thought to be Walt Whitman’s copy.“
(
Complete Letters, p. 96n)

2) same

[Bernard Quaritch’s copy]

The Huntington
San Marino, Ca.

call no. 110376

“Vera; or The Nihilists: A Drama in four acts / by O Wilde. First Edition. London: Ranken & Co., printers, 1880

52 pages; 12mo

At head of front paper cover:  <Strictly Private>
One of two known copies (Mason, no. 302 [
p. 249])

Original gray paper covers (back cover missing). With red cloth protective cover, in a red levant morocco case of book form 

With ex-libris of John B. Stetson, Jr

From A.A.A. sale, 22-24 April 1924, no. 845 

FEX“

Henry E. Huntington

Rare Books and Manuscripts, Many of Superlative Importance, Including the Property of a Prominent Pennsylvania Collector, American Art Association, New York, April, 22-24, 1924, lot 845

“Vera, or the Nihilists. A Drama in Four Acts. 12mo, original front wrapper (last one wanting). Enclosed in silk protection wrappers and full crimson levant morocco box case, silk lined. London, Ranken & Co., 1880.

First Edition. One of only two copies known, the other being in the possession of Mr Bruce Ingram. 

From the collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., with his book-label.“

“Vera, or the Nihilists, a Drama in Four Acts, first ed., orig. front wrapper (last one wanting), enclosed in silk protection wrappers and full crimson levant mor. box case, silk lined, London, Ranken & Co., 1880. 12mo. (845), Apr. 22, American Art Association – $710.

[One of only two copies known, the other being in the possession of Mr Bruce Ingram. From the collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., with his book-plate.]“
(
Book-Prices Current, vol. XXXVIII, 1924, p. 899)

Colonel H. D. Hughes

sold to Hughes, April 30, 1920
(see The Rosenbach, personal correspondence, Jan. 21, 2022)

“Many of these items [of the Stetson sale] – fifty-one of Rosenbach’s purchases at the auction, in fact – were destined for Colonel H. D. Hughes, as is clear from the extensive listing in Rosenbach’s sales records. … Hughes, a collector for Pennsylvania, curiously paid off his sizable balance primarily through daily installments of $100.00.“
(Mitchell and Haas, see https://bit.ly/3xpXd8k)

A.S.W. Rosenbach

purchased for $510

“At the sale of the Stetson collection of Oscar Wilde at the end of April, 1920, Dr. Rosenbach swept the board almost clean, taking virtually every item of real importance. He had been a Wilde enthusiast since his college days, when it was avant-garde to be mauve. His enthusiasm had been shared by Colonel H. D. Hughes of Philadelphia, who spent over $10,000 at the sale, wisely entrusting his bids to the Doctor.“
(Wolf and Fleming, p. 135)

The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920, lot 3

“VERA; or, The Nihilists. A Drama in Four Acts. 12mo, original front wrapper (last one wanting), preserved in a full red levant morocco case, silk-lined. London: Ranken & Co. 1880.

One of only two copies known, the other being in the possession of Mr. Bruce Ingram.“

Vera; or, The Nihilists. Lond., 1880. 12mo. Orig. front paper cover, in lev. mor. case, Stetson, A., April 23, ’20. (3) $510.00.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXVI, 1920, p. 945)

$510 / £102
(see
Book-Auction Records, vol. 17, 1920, p. 515)

“Only two copies are known, one in the Bruce Ingram coll., the other sold in 1912 by Quaritch and resold $570 Stetson (April 1920, n. 3).“
(De Ricci,
The Book Collector’s Guide, p. 630)

“There was a copy sold in the John B. Stetson, sale …without inscription on the cover, and this copy was imperfect.“
(Clark/Cowen, vol. 1, p. 33)

John B. Stetson, Jr.

?A.S.W. Rosenbach

Bernard Quaritch

“Only two copies of this edition are known. One was in the possession of Bernard Quaritch in 1912 and passed from him to an American collector. The second is in the collection of Mr Bruce Ingram …“
(Mason,
Bibliography, p. 249)

[bookstall near Charing Cross Road, London]

“The other known copy [of the two known] was picked up for a shilling a few years ago on a bookstall near the Charing Cross Road. The lucky finder disposed of it to the late Bernard Quaritch for about £15. It is now in America.“
(Mason, Stuart “Oscar Wilde’s Lost Play. To the Editor of
The Bookseller“, The Bookseller, November 5, 1915, p. 995)

3) same 

[Walt Whitman’s copy]

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
University of California, Los Angeles, CA

*PR5820 V471

Microfilm 633

no acquisition date

“Vera, or, The nihilists.: A drama in four acts. Ranken & Co., printer. 1880

52 pages; 19 cm

Not interleaved. Inscribed by Oscar Wilde ‘to a beautiful poet, a sincere republican, and a charming friend,’ [i.e. Walt Whitman (unnamed)] on cover. Bound in original, printed gray paper wrapper, housed in modern linen clamshell box with black morocco spine; title in gilt. local“

“Stuart Mason identifies this as the first edition. At head of cover title: ‘Strictly private.’

Interleaved [by the printer].

This [Clark’s] copy not interleaved. 

Bound in original gray paper covers, in brown half-morocco case.

References: Mason, S. Bib. of Oscar Wilde, [no.] 302“

“Vera; // Or, The Nihilists. // A Drama // In Four Acts. // By //Oscar Wilde. // London: // Ranken & Co., Printers, Drury House, // St.-Mary-Le-Strand, W.C. // 1880.

Condition: 80, gray printed wrappers. Size of leaf, 7 1/4 by 4 1/4 inches.

First Edition.

Collation: Cover-title as above within a double ruled border, above which is ‘[Strictly Private],’ … . 

On the cover in Wilde’s handwriting is the following: ‘from the author, to a beautiful poet, a sincere republican, and a charming friend -‘ This copy is not interleaved. It is a small acting edition, the exact number of copies printed being unknown.

Mason in his bibliography on page 249 says that only two copies of this edition are known, but apparently he is in error. The Bruce Ingram copy, from which Mason takes his description, has on its cover an inscription in Wilde’s handwriting; so has this copy.“
(Clark/Cowen, vol. 1, p. 33)

“… inscribed ‘From the author to a beautiful poet, a sincere republican and a charming friend’ and thought to be Walt Whitman’s copy.“
 (
Complete Letters p. 96n)

Bernard Quaritch

Quaritch, £50“
(
Book-Prices Current, vol. XXXIV, 1920, p. 717)

The Library of Rev. J. W. Platt, and other Properties, Puttick & Simpson, London, Nov. 25-26, 1919, lot 422

“Vera, or, the Nihilists, a Drama in four Acts, first ed., orig. printed wrappers, presentation copy, 1880, 8vo. (422), Nov. 25, Puttick – Quaritch, £50.

The front wrapper of this copy bears the author’s autograph inscription ‘from the author, to a beautiful poet, a sincere republican and a charming friend.“
(
Book-Prices Current, vol. XXXIV, 1920, p. 717)

Walt Whitman

4) same

Johnston Forbes-Robertson’s copy

Harry Ransom Center University of Texas, Austin, TX

PR 5820 V3 1880

catalogued in 1983

Vera, or, The Nihilists.: A drama in four acts / by Oscar Wilde. London: Ranken & Co., printers, 1880. 52 p.; 19 cm.

Stuart Mason identifies this as the first edition. At head of cover title: Strictly private. Interleaved.

In paper wrappers. Author’s inscribed presentation copy to Johnston Forbes-Robertson.“

[the inscription on the title page reads: “Johnston Forbes-Robertson / from his friend / the author“]

First Editions: Fine Bindings, Modern French Illustrated Books, Art Reference Works, Illuminated Manuscripts. Collection of Jay C. Leff, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, Nov. 18, 1958, lot 592

Presentation copy from the author to Johnston Forbes-Robertson.

Vera; or, the Nihilists. A Drama in Four Acts. 12mo, original wrappers; small piece torn from the back wrapper. In a morocco-backed case.                          London, 1880

The excessively rare first edition. only two copies are recorded in american and english auction records. the present volume is a fine association copy, being a presentation copy from the author to Johnston Forbes-Robertson, inscribed on the front wrapper: ‘Johnston Forbes-Robertson from his friend the Author.’ Believed to be one of two presentation copies in existence, and appeared in a sale at Sotheby & Co. in May 16, 1939. Interleaved, as issued. The only other copy recorded (uninscribed) appeared in the John B. Stetson, Jr. sale in New York, 1920. 

Regarding this edition, Stuart Mason in his work Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (vol. II, p. 249, London, 1914) states ‘Only two copies of this edition are known. One was in the possession of Bernard Quaritch in 1912 and passed from him to an American collector (probably John B. Stetson, Jr.). The second is in the collection of Mr. Bruce Ingram, from which this description is made.’“

[sold for USD 650, see Rare Book Hub]

Jay C. Leff

Incunabula – Americana, Association Books – Standard Sets, Autograph and Manuscripts … Various Private Collectors and Other Owners, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, Jan. 29-30, 1951, lot 637

Presentation copy from the author to Johnston Forbes-Robertson.

Vera; or, the Nihilists. A Drama in Four Acts. 12mo, original wrappers; small piece torn from the back wrapper. In a morocco-backed case. (N.Y. Private Collector)  London, 1880

The excessively rare first edition. only two copies are recorded in american and english auction records. the present volume is a fine association copy, being a presentation copy from the author to Johnston Forbes-Robertson, inscribed on the front wrapper: ‘Johnston Forbes-Robertson from his friend the Author.’ Believed to be one of two presentation copies in existence, and appeared in a sale at Sotheby & Co. in May 16, 1939. Interleaved, as issued. The only other copy recorded (uninscribed) appeared in the John B. Stetson, Jr. sale in New York, 1920. 

Regarding this edition, Stuart Mason in his work Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (vol. II, p. 249, London, 1914) states ‘Only two copies of this edition are known. One was in the possession of Bernard Quaritch in 1912 and passed from him to an American collector (probably John B. Stetson, Jr.). The second is in the collection of Mr. Bruce Ingram, from which this description is made.’“

[sold for USD 375, see Rare Book Hub]

[with a reproduction of the inscribed title page]

C. A. Stonehill

Catalogue of Valuable Printed Books, Autograph Letters and Historical Documents, etc. … The Property of Lady Forbes-Robertson, Sotheby’s, London, 15-16 May 1939, lot 232

Vera: or, the Nihilists. A Drama in Four Acts, First Edition, interleaved as issued, original grey wrapper, the lower cover defective              12mo, Ranken & Co., 1880.

Presentation Copy, the upper cover inscribed by the author: ‘Johnston Forbes-Robertson from his friend the author’. 

Exceedingly rare. Only 2 copies were known to stuart mason in 1914. One belonged to John B. Stetson, Jr., the other to Bruce Ingram. The former was sold in New York on 23rd April, 1920, lot 3. Another copy was sold at Puttick’s on 26th Nov., 1919, lot 422. There are no other auction records. 

Stuart Mason states : ‘This was a small acting-edition, the exact number of copies printed being unknown’.“

[buyer: Stonehill, £42, see Sotheby’s price-list]

Lady Forbes-Robertson

Johnson Forbes-Robertson

“Only three other copies are known to have survived; one in the Hyde collection inscribed ‘To Genevieve Ward from her sincere friend and admirer the author, Sept. 1880’; one at the University of Texas inscribed to the actor Johnston Forbes-Robertson; and one in the Clark Library, Los Angeles, inscribed “From the author to a beautiful poet, a sincere republican and a charming friend’ and thought to be Walt Whitman’s copy.“
(
Complete Letters p. 96n)

5) same 

Ellen Terry’s copy

Smallhythe Place Library Collection, Smallhythe, Tenterden, Kent

https://bit.ly/3nAWv42

“A copy … which Wilde had had specially bound in dark red leather, with Ellen Terry’s name stamped in gold on the binding. The book is inscribed ‘From her sincere admirer the Author’ . … Only three other copies are known to have survived; one in the Hyde collection inscribed ‘To Genevieve Ward from her sincere friend and admirer the author, Sept. 1880’; one at the University of Texas inscribed to the actor Johnston Forbes-Robertson; and one in the Clark Library, Los Angeles, inscribed “From the author to a beautiful poet, a sincere republican and a charming friend’ and thought to be Walt Whitman’s copy.“
(
Complete Letters, p. 96n)

Ellen Terry

“Dear Miss Ellen Terry, Will you accept the first copy of my first play, a drama on modern Russia.“
(c. September 1880,
Complete Letters, p. 96)

6) same

[?Mrs Bernard Beere’s copy]

unknown

?Mrs Bernard Beere

“Arrangements were eventually made for a morning performance [of Vera] at the Adelphi Theatre on 17 December 1881, in which Mrs Bernard Beere (…) was to play the title role, but three weeks beforehand the production was cancelled … .“
(
Complete Letters, p. 98n)

7) same

[Clara Morris’ copy]

unknown

Clara Morris

“Dear Madam, Permit me to send you a copy of a new and original drama I have written … Your great fame, which has long ago passed over here, and a suggestion of a friend Mr Dion Boucicault have emboldened me, being a very young writer, to send you my first play, and if you don’t think it suitable for dramatic representation in America, at any rate accept it as a homage to your genius.“
(letter to Clara Morris, c. September 1880,
Complete Letters, p. 97)

“As regards the cast: I am sure you see yourself how well the part will suit Clara Morris: I am however quite aware how difficile she is, and what practical dangers may attend the periling of it on her.“
(letter to Richard D’Oyly Carte, 16 March 1882, ibid., p. 150)

“Mr. Wilde was asked if his play [Vera] was to be produced in this country. ‘I cannot tell yet. I brought it with me, and Miss Clara Morris has it. She is one of the greatest actresses I have seen anywhere, here or in Europe.’“
(“Oscar Wilde“,
The Sunday Herald, Boston, Jan. 29, 1883, p. 7, quoted in Marland, Complete Interviews, p. 126)

8) same

[Norman Forbes-Robertson’s copy]

unknown

Norman Forbes-Robertson

“My dear Norman, I am so glad you have not forgotten about the play and send you a copy with great pleasure. I hope you are getting stronger as your dear mother was rather anxious about you. I have not yet finished furnishing my rooms, and have spent all my money over it already, so if no manager gives me gold for the Nihilists I don’t know what I shall do …“
(letter to Norman Forbes-Robertson, c. 1 October 1880,
Complete Letters,  p. 99)

9) same

[Hermann Vezin’s copy]

unknown

Hermann Vezin

“My dear Vezin, I send you a copy of my drama which you were kind enough to hear me read some months ago; any suggestions about situations or dialogue I should be so glad to get from such an experienced artist as yourself: I have just found out what a difficult craft playwriting is.“
(letter to Hermann Vezin, 4 October 1880,
Complete Letters, pp. 99-100)

10) same

[?Dion Boucicault’s copy]

unknown

Dion Boucicault

“My dear Oscar, Your play reached me last night. I read it this morning. …“
(letter Dion Boucicault to Oscar Wilde, 51 Victoria Sq., n.d., quoted in Small
Oscar Wilde Revalued, pp. 96-7)

[it cannot be said with certainty if Wilde presented Boucicault with a copy of the 1880 or the 1882 version, see American Edition, no. 28]

“I brought ‘Vera’ over here with me two years ago and offered it to Mr. Stetson, of Boston, but, after reading it over, he concluded that he could do nothing with it.“
(interview with Dion Boucicault, “Now and then“,
The Cleveland Leader, Sept. 3, 1883, p. 8)

“It appears that John Stetson refused the play of ‘Vera’ two years ago because he could not understand it. Boucicault brought the book to this country because he had some admiration for Wilde … Miss Prescott was then a member of Mr. Stetson’s company, and may have first heard of the play through that medium.“
(
The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Sept. 3, 1883, p. 5)

11) same

[unidentified correspondent]

unknown

unidentified

“Dear Sir, at the suggestion of my friend, Mr Dion Boucicault I beg to forward you a copy of a new and original drama on Russia. … I shall be very happy if you approve of the play, to correspond with you on the subject of its production,. Your obedient servant Oscar Wilde.“
(letter to an unidentified correspondent, c. September 1880,
Complete Letters, pp. 97-8)

[the original letter sold at Sotheby’s, New York, “Fine Autograph Letters and Manuscripts from a Distinguished Private Collection: Part II – Music, Americana, English and Continental Literature“, Dec. 13, 2018, lot 308]

American edition, with prologue, 1882

Vera; / or, The Nihilists. / A Drama / in a Prologue and Four Acts. / By / Oscar Wilde. / 1882.

Crown 8vo (73/4 by 41/2 in.); pp. 59.“
{Mason,
Bibliography, p. 253)

“In this edition the Prologue, pp. [5] to 11, is printed for the first time, and the text throughout shows many variations from the edition of 1880 … .

Grey paper wrappers with the lettering of the title-page printed within a double-ruled border, above which is [Strictly Private], all printed in black.
This edition was printed in America …“
(ibid.)

“On p. 17 the first letter of the word Act and the square bracket are dropped.“
(ibid., p. 253n)

“There is no printer’s or publisher’s name.“
(ibid., p. 254)

[facsimile of wrapper, see ibid., p. 251]

“During the first visit to America I copyrighted under my name Mr. Wilde’s play, ‘Vera, or, the Nihilists,’ and fifty copies were printed for private use.“
(Morse “American Lectures“, p. 113)

“At the sale of Wilde’s effects, under an order of the Sheriff, at 16 Tite Street, Chelsea, on April 24, 1895, lot 133, including eight copies of this edition, was sold for 22s. Some of these copies have since been sold at Sotheby’s, one realising £12 on January 21, 1909 [see American Edition, no. 26], and another one £15 on July 27, 1911 [see American Edition, no. 13]. A third copy (sold at Sotheby’s for £26 on July 21, 1907 [see American Edition1, no. 1] contained numerous erasions and additions in the author’s handwriting. It was probably this copy which Leonard Smithers had used for his unauthorized edition in 1904 [i.e. 1902]. From another copy, containing the author’s manuscript corrections, the play was published in Methuen’s first collected edition of Wilde’s works in 1908 (…). This copy was presented by Robert Ross in 1910 to the British Museum. [see American Edition, no. 2]“
(Mason,
Bibliography, p. 254 and p. 551) 

“Three  copies turned up in the sale rooms during the last years. One, containing some manuscript alterations by the author, was sold for £26 …“
(Millard “Sketch of Oscar Wilde’s Life …“,  p. 133)

“As soon as [the 1882 edition] came off the press, Wilde characteristically began emending it. Later, on the advice of Marie Prescott, he made further changes, explaining them in letters, sending them down in a separate list, on two sheets of foolscap, and interlineating an 82 edition. After the performances of August 1883, these various documents were scattered.“
(Reed (ed.), p. [xi])

“A second list of changes, made by Wilde …, is not extant [but see above, no. 3, “Autograph Manuscript, Berg Collection“], but is reprinted in Mason and was according to him ‘contained on 28 quarto leaves of handmade paper … entirely in the autograph of the author.’“
(ibid., p. xii)

“Several other corrections … were listed by Smithers [1902, pirated edition] at the end of his volume and keyed to their position in the text. Because many of these changed were mentioned by Prescott, they may be considered valid.“
(ibid.)

“This acting edition, which differed considerably from the 1880 version, consisted of some twenty-five copies only. At the end of this letter [late September 1882] W. F. Morse has pencilled in a list of the recipients: Wilde 2, Mackaye 2, Forbes 2, Coghlan 1, Wallack 1, Field 1, Henderson 1, Stoddart 1, Morse 1.“ 

(Complete Letters, p. 183n)

“At the sale of Wilde’s effects, under an order of the Sheriff, at 16 Tite Street, Chelsea, on April 24, 1895, lot 133, including eight copies of this edition, was sold for 22s. Some of these copies have since been sold at Sotheby’s, one realising £12 on January 21, 1909 [see no. 25], and another one £15 on July 27, 1911 [see no. 13]. A third copy (sold at Sotheby’s for £26 on July 21, 1907 [see no. 1] contained numerous erasions and additions in the author’s handwriting. It was probably this copy which Leonard Smithers had used for his unauthorized edition in 1904 [i.e. 1902, see https://bit.ly/34KMW8w].“
Mason,
Bibliography, p. 254)

“This was the second, American printing of a revised text of Vera (Crown 8vo), consisting of twenty-five copies [but see above, Morse “American Lectures“, p. 113: Morse speaks of 50 copies]. Neither printer’s nor publisher’s name is given, but the volume format is the same as 1880, suggesting that a marked-up copy of 1880 with additional interleaved material, including the new Prologue, probably served as printer’s copy.“
(Guy,
Complete Works, vol. XI, p. 91)

1) Second, Privately Printed Edition

Wilde’s own copy

4 Acts with a Prologue

59 pages

1882

The Morgan Library & Museum
New York, NY

PML 129596

Purchased on the Gordon N. Ray Fund and the Carl Selden Fund, 2004

“Interleaved with 28 leaves of paper watermarked Arlington Mills. 

Lacking the final leaf, replaced in manuscript.
With the autograph revisions of Oscar Wilde in text and on the inserted leaves.

Possibly the rehearsal copy used by Wilde in preparation for the premiere in New York, 20 August 1883, and sold with other personal effects at the Tite Street Sale, 24 April 1895. With the ownership inscription of Wilfrid [sic] Hugh Chesson and the book-label of J. O. Edwards.“

Bernard Quaritch

purchased for £42,000 [$92,000 see The New York Times, Oct. 30, 2004, p. 10]

Oscar Wilde, Sotheby’s, London, 29 Oct. 2004, lot 18

Vera; or, The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. [USA: privately printed], 1882

Provenance: W. H. Chesson, ownership inscription; J.O. Edwards, book-label

Mason [no.] 303 (referring to this copy: ‘It was probably this copy which Leonard Smithers had used for his unauthorised edition in 1904 [i.e. 1902]’)

The correspondence that survives between Wilde and Marie Prescott demonstrates that, whether at the author’s or actor’s behest, there were constant changes to the text of the play during 1883. New speeches, and even characters, were introduced, and the present annotated copy suggests that copious alterations were occurring right up until the last moment. The cuts and additions, all in Wilde’s hand, are done rather untidily. Chunks of text are scored through or scribbled out, new phrases or passages are inserted, sometimes in near scrawl. The seemingly impromptu nature of the amendments suggests that this may well be Wilde’s rehearsal copy. Although the vast majority of the annotations are revisions to the text, there are a number that may be related to incidents in rehearsal. …

The early history of this copy is well documented. It remained in Wilde’s possession until the time of his disgrace, and was sold as part of lot 133 in the Tite Street Sale of 24 April 1895. A bookseller then sold it to Wilfred Hugh Chesson, whose ownership signature is on the front endpaper. It was apparently Chesson’s wife Nora who wrote in manuscript the last, lost page of text. This amounted to four leaves and was mounted at the end of the volume. The book was sold in these rooms on 21 July 1907 for £26. From a comparison of the text it was probably this copy that Leonard Smithers used for his unauthorised edition in 1904 [i.e. 1902].

“… an interleaved copy of the American acting edition of his failed play Vera; or the Nihilists 1882, apparently marked with revisions during rehearsals, fetched £42,000 (Quaritch)…“
(
The Book Collector, vol. 54, no. 1, Spring 2005, p. 84)

“sold for £50,400 (€72,449) to a UK dealer“ [incl. buyers’s premium]
(
Irish Independent, 30 Oct. 2004, p. 9)

John Simpson

Vera; or, The Nihilists, privately printed, n.p. [USA], 1882. (Mason [no.] 303). OSCAR WILDE’S OWN HEAVILY ANNOTATED COPY OF THE VERA ‘ACTING EDITION,’ printed in America in a few copies in 1882. In this edition the prologue appears for the first time. The text differs considerably from the first edition of 1880. The copy is interleaved (like all copies) and annotated by Oscar Wilde on the interleaved pages. He has also extensively revised the text. Its early history is recorded in the December 1911 issue of the New York Bookman. in which Wilfred Hugh Chesson described buying the copy from a bookshop after Wilde’s house at Tite Street had been ‘ransacked and despoiled to pay his creditors’. According to Mason, this is likely the copy used by Smithers for his unauthorized edition of 1904. THE SEEMINGLY IMPROMPTU AND UNTIDY NATURE OF THE ANNOTATIONS STRONGLY SUGGESTS THAT THIS IS WILDE’S REHEARSAL COPY. Some of the comments and insertions are clearly ironic, and many are clearly related to rehearsal, such as ‘pause’ or ‘that is not the right knock’ or ‘every man has his price – but he was really expensive,’ or ‘no laugh’. These no doubt indicate that Wilde was still writing as the play was being rehearsed. This copy was sold by Sotheby’s in 1907. Chesson has signed the book on the front free endpaper, and the last page of text is supplied on four leaves, mounted at the end, apparently in the hand of Nora Chesson. ONE OF THE RAREST OF WLDE EDITIONS, AND A UNIQUE INSIGHT INTO WILDE’S THOUGHTS AS HE WAS WATCHING ONE OF HIS OWN PLAYS.“
(Gekoski,
The John Simpson Collection, p. 26, item 45)

?Rick Gekoski

J. O. Edwards

book-label

Maggs

purchased for £4,600
(see
American Book-Prices Current, vol 97, 1991, pp. 222 and 1073)

English Literature and History, Sotheby, London, 13 Dec. 1990, lot 151

Vera, with extensive autograph deletions, Additions and emendations by the author, interleaved, lacking final leaf of text (see note), blank lower outer corner of first three leaves torn away and with tears at inner margin, corner of the fourth leaf stained, a few other leaves similarly torn to a lesser extent, somewhat soiled and stained, cloth, calf-backed book-form box, lettered in gilt, spine faded, [Mason [no.] 303, with a note on this copy], 8vo, [USA, Privately Printed], 1882

According to Mason, it is likely that this copy was used by Leonard Smithers for his unauthorised edition of 1904 [1902]. The seemingly impromptu and untidy nature of the annotations strongly suggest that this is in fact Wilde’s rehearsal copy

In the edition above the prologue appears for the first time, although Wilde here has changed “Act I“ to “Act 2“ as though the prologue were to be the first act (subsequent act numbers are unchanged, however) and the text in any case differs in many ways from the edition of 1880. A comparison with the Methuen edition of 1908, for which another corrected copy was used, is instructive. It incorporates most of the text deleted here and ignores most of the changes [examples follow].

This copy [see below] was sold in our rooms in 1907, having been originally purchased by Mr. W.H. Chesson of Tite Street, shortly after the sale of Wilde’s effects at number 16 Tite Street. His ownership signature can be seen on the front free endpaper whilst the last page of text is supplied on four leaves, mounted at the end, apparently in the hand of Nora Chesson. £5,000 – 7,000.“

[£5,060 incl. buyer’s premium, Rare Book Hub]

“Vera; or, the Nihilists. [N.Y.]. 1882. 1st American Ed. 8vo, cloth. Lacking final leadoff text; lower outer corner of 1st 3 leaves torn away & with tears at inner margin; corner of 4th leaf stained; some leaves torn. S Dec 13 (151) £4,600 [Maggs]“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol 97, 1991, p. 1073)

“[An interleaved copy of his play Vera, 1882. 8vo, with extensive autograph deletions, additions & emendations, imperf., sold at S on 13 Dec 1990, lot 151, for £4,600 to Maggs.]“
(
American Book Prices Current, vol 97, 1991, p. 222)

Gordon

£26.00

Catalogue of Books & Autograph Letters, and Musical & Other Manuscripts, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, London, 18-19 July 1907, lot 284

Vera: or, The Nihilists, a Drama, in a Prologue and Four Acts, the original privately printed first draft of the play, interleaved, and having numerous MS. erasions, alterations and additions in Wilde’s hand, the last 4 pp. supplied in MS. by Nora Chesson   1882

This interesting and unique  copy of Wilde’s Nihilistic play was acquired by M. W H. Chesson, of 5, Tite Street, Chelsea, just after the sale of Wilde’s effects at his residence No. 16, Tite Street. The emendations are guaranteed to be in Wilde’s hand.“

“Vera: or, The Nihilists, a Drama, the originally privately-printed first draft of the play, interleaved, and having MS. erasions, alterations and additions in Wilde’s hand, the last 4 pages supplied in MS. [by Nora Chesson], 1882, 8vo. (284) Gordon, £26.

[This copy of Wilde’s Nihilistic play was acquired by Mr W. H. Chesson, of 5, Tite Street, Chelsea, just after the sale of Wilde’s effects at his residence, No. 16, Tite Street. – Catalogue.]“
(
Book-Prices Current, vol. XXI, 1907, p. 694)

“Vera: or, The Nihilists, a Drama, in a Prologue and Four Acts, the originally privately-printed first draft of the play, interleaved, and having MS erasions, alterations and additions in Wilde’s hands [sic]; the last 4 pp. supplied in MS by Nora Chesson, 1882. Gordon  £26.
This interesting and unique copy of Wilde’s Nihilistic play was acquired by Mr W. H. Chesson, of 5, Tite Street, Chelsea, just after the sale of Wilde’s effects at his residence, No. 16, Tite Street. The emendations are guaranteed to be in Wilde’s hand. –
catalogue.“
(
Book-Auction Records, vol 4, 1907, p. 565)

“£26 … the author’s copy with autograph corrections“
(De Ricci,
The Book Collector’s Guide, p. 630)

“Some of these copies have since been sold at Sotheby’s … A third copy (sold at Sotheby’s for £26 on July 21 [i.e. 19], 1907) contained numerous erasions and additions in the author’s handwriting. It was probably this copy which Leonard Smithers had used for his unauthorized edition in 1904 [i.e. 1902].“
(Mason,
Bibliography, p. 254, see ibid., p. 551)

Wilfred Hugh Chesson

“There [in a bookshop in Queen’s Road, after the Tite St. sale] 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], a tragedy which he wrote when he was seventeen. … Among the penciled marginalia of Vera I found this variant on an epigram attributed to Sir Robert Walpole. ‘Every man has his price – but he was really quite expensive.’ In The Duchess of Padua this witticism reappears in blank verse: ‘Why every man among them has his price, although, to do  them justice, some of them are quite expensive.’“
(Chesson, p.[389])

book dealer, Queen’s Rd., London

Tite Street Sale, April 24, 1895, lot 133

2) same

Wilde’s own copy

1882

British Library
London

C.60.k.8

1910, presented by Robert Ross

“Vera; or, the Nihilists: a drama in a prologue and four acts / by Oscar Wilde

‘Strictly Private.’ – Front cover.

Interleaved throughout with [28] leaves of white wove paper watermarked Arlington Mills. 

One of a limited number of prompt copies printed in New York

Presentation copy to Robert Ross with author’s MS. corrections throughout, which served as the text for Methuen’s uniform ed. of Wilde’s works. With typescript introduction by Robert Ross tipped in. Imperfect; wanting the last leaf, which is supplied in MS.

Binding information: Grey printed paper wrappers.“

“This copy of 1882 was presented to the British Library by Robert Ross in 1910 with a typed note explaining its provenance: that it had been given to Ross ‘by the author’ and was used by Ross in the preparation of the 1908 First Collected Edition. It contains what Ross describes as ‘the author’s corrections’. In addition, Ross reports that the ‘last leaf was always missing since it came into my possession … . The revisions marked up to [this copy] in pen in Wilde’s hand are numerous, if small-scale. Sometimes they are marked on the text itself, but more often on the blank interleaved pages, which were routinely included in editions for precisely this purpose. Generally, these emendations involve stylistic changes. …
(Guy,
Complete Works, vol. XI, p. 92)

“Wilde appears to have first begun his revising of [the 1882 edition] with only minor changes, marking up the text of a copy of 82 [1882 edition], which was later to be the gift of Robert Ross to the British Library.“
(Reed (ed.), p. xii)

“… there are 28 interleaved pages. The volume is imperfect, missing the final page, and a handwritten facsimile has been substituted.“
(ibid., p. xliv n6)

Robert Ross

“From another copy, containing the author’s manuscript corrections, the play was published in Methuen’s first collected edition of Wilde’s works in 1908. This copy was presented by Robert Ross in 1910 to the British Museum (Catalogue of Printed Books, C.60. K.8).“
(Mason,
Bibliography, p. 254, see ibid., p. 462)

“Robert Ross in his letter accompanying his 1910 gift to the British Library … refers obliquely to [Leonard Smither’s ‘pirated’ edition of 1902]: ‘“Vera“ was never published until 1908 in the uniform edition of Wilde’s works, though a pirated edition was printed and circulated in or after the year 1901.’“
(Reed (ed.), p. xliii)

3) same

[Wilde’s own copy]

1882

Berg Collection
New York Public Library, New York, NY

acquired in 1940, as part of the W. T. Howe collection [one of Berg’s founding collections]

“Vera; or, The nihilists. [New York] 1882. 191/2 cm.
Two copies:
1. John Quinn bookplate. H. [
see American Edition, no. 6]
2. Author’s copy with his ms. notes and corrections. H.“

[described only in the Berg’s card catalog. H. stands for Howe; no bookplates or any other owner’s reference]

“The Berg Collection has a privately printed text of the play dated 1882 with a few revisions and additions for Act IV in Wilde’s hand, presumably for the 1883 New York performance.“
(Beckson
Encyclopedia, p. 400)

[all emendations are listed in Marland, “Unnoted Textual Differences“, p. 450]

W. T. Howe

First Editions, Autographs and Press Books of American and English Authors Mainly of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, Including a Portion of the Library of Stuart W. Jackson of Montclair, N. J., American Art Association, New York, April 15-16, 1929, lot 918

“Vera; or, The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. VERY RARE – AUTHOR’S OWN COPY, WITH HIS AUTOGRAPH NOTES 12mo, original printed wrappers (backbone chipped; slight tears in wrappers, and on lower margins of title and last page, not affecting the text).

First American Edition. Very Scarce. This edition was printed for Wilde by his manager when he was lecturing in America. The imprint is sometimes erroneously described as London. But the London edition was printed in 1880, and but two copies have survived. Author’s Own Interleaved Copy. On two of these leaves appear changes of text in Wilde’s autograph, amounting to about 80 words, in all. On the leaf opposite page 52 appear autograph changes to be made in two places in the printed text, as indicated by signs. On the leaf opposite page 57, Wilde has written an additional speech for the Czar, that does not appear in the text.“ 

[text from Rare Book Hub]

Vera; or, The Nihilists. [N.Y.] 1882. 12mo. 

Orig paper (backbone chipped, tears in wrappers, and in margins of title and last page, not affecting text; Wilde’s copy, interleaved, with corrections in his hand) XX (918) $470.00.“
(American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXXV, 1929, p. 676)

???

Wilde’s own copy

unknown

Fine Books and Manuscripts of the Greatest Rarity and Interest, Including the Further Property of a Prominent Pennsylvania Collector, American Art Association, New York, Dec. 1-2, 1924, lot 361

“Vera; or, the Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 12mo, three-quarter olive levant morocco, gilt back, gilt top, original wrappers bound in, by hatchards. Enclosed in a full green levant morocco solander case. [London] 1882.

An Excessively Rare Item. One of a Very Small Number of Copies Issued in an Acting Edition. The words ‘Strictly Private’ appear at the top of the front wrapper.

Also an Interesting Association Item, Being Oscar Wilde’s Own Copy, with Three Corrections in His Hand, two on page 29 on the margin, and at page 50 on the interleaf, a change of three words.

These Changes are Absent in the Printed Version of the Collected Works.

The John B. Stetson, Jr. copy, with bookplate.“

“Vera, or The Nihilists, a Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts, olive mor., gt. back, g.t. urig. wrappers bound in, by Hatchard’s, London, 1882, 12mo. (361), Dec. 1, American Art Association $200

[One of a very small number of copies issued in an Acting Edition. The words ‘Strictly Private’ appear at th etop of the front wrapper. Oscar Wilde’s own copy with three corrections in his hand. These changes are absent in the printed version of the Collected Works. The John B. Stetson, Jun., copy, with bookplate.]“
(
Book-Prices Current, vol. XXXIX, 1925, p. 975)

Colonel H. D. Hughes

sold to Hughes, April 30, 1920
(see The Rosenbach, personal correspondence, Jan. 21, 2022)

“Many of these items [of the Stetson sale] – fifty-one of Rosenbach’s purchases at the auction, in fact – were destined for Colonel H. D. Hughes, as is clear from the extensive listing in Rosenbach’s sales records. … Hughes, a collector for Pennsylvania, curiously paid off his sizable balance primarily through daily installments of $100.00.“
(Mitchell and Haas, see https://bit.ly/3xpXd8k)

A.S.W. Rosenbach

purchased for $240

“At the sale of the Stetson collection of Oscar Wilde at the end of April, 1920, Dr. Rosenbach swept the board almost clean, taking virtually every item of real importance. He had been a Wilde enthusiast since his college days, when it was avant-garde to be mauve. His enthusiasm had been shared by Colonel H. D. Hughes of Philadelphia, who spent over $10,000 at the sale, wisely entrusting his bids to the Doctor.“
(Wolf and Fleming, p. 135)

The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920, lot 4

“VERA; or, The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 12mo, three-quarter olive levant morocco, gilt back, gilt top, original wrappers bound in, by Hatchards. Enclosed in a full  green levant morocco slip case, [London], 1882.

One of a very small number of copies issued in an acting edition. At the top of front wrapper ‘Strictly Private.’ The Author’s own copy, with three corrections in his hand, two on page 29 on the margin, and at page 50 on the interleaf, a change of three words. 

These changes do not occur in the printed version of the collected works.“

Vera; or, The Nihilists. [Lond.] 1882. 12mo. Lev. mor., g.t., in lev. moron. case, by Hatchards (acting edition, Wilde’s own copy, with 3 corrections by him), Stetson, A., April 23, ’20 (4) $240.00.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXVI, 1920, p. 945)

“… three-quarter levant mor., g. t., orig. wrappers  bound in, in mor.case, 1882 (An. Apr. 23; 4) $240 (£48).

At the top of front wrapper: ‘Strictly private.’ The author’s copy, with corrections in his hand.“
(
Book-Auction Records, vol. 17, 1920, p. 515)

John B. Stetson, Jr.

?A.S.W. Rosenbach

A Catalogue of Rare and Valuable Books and Autograph Documents and Letters, Bernard Quaritch, no. 286, London, March 1910, item 1330

“Vera: or, The Nihilists. A Drama, in a Prologue and Four Acts. Post 8vo., original edition, half green levant morocco, with the front portion of the tinted wrapper bound in. Strictly private, 1882, 21-0-0.

Very Scarce. Only a few copies were printed for presentation to friends. This copy has some small corrections on pages 29, 48 and 50 in the Author’s Autograph which have not been made in any edition subsequently published.“

A Catalogue of Rare and Valuable Works, Bernard Quaritch, no. 281, London, October 1909, item 321

Vera: or, The Nihilists. A Drama, in a Prologue and Four Acts. Post 8vo., original edition, half green levant morocco, with the front portion of the tinted wrapper bound in. Strictly private, 1882, 21-0-0.

Very scarce. Only a few copies were printed for presentation to friends. This copy has some small corrections on pages 29, 48 and 50 in the author’s autograph which have not been made in any edition subsequently published.“

4) same

Robert Ross’ / Vyvyan Holland’s copy

1882

Eccles Collection
British Library
London

Eccles 354

partly digitised:
https://bit.ly/2lJd6Gt

bequeathed to the BL in 2003

“Vera; or, the Nihilists: a drama in a prologue and four acts / by Oscar Wilde

‘Strictly Private.’ – Front cover.

Interleaved throughout with [28] leaves of white wove paper watermarked Arlington Mills. 

One of a limited number of prompt copies printed in New York

As the letter and note inserted into it explain, this copy of Vera originally belonged to Robert Ross (1869–1918), who bequeathed items including this book to Wilde’s son Vyvyan Holland (Constance, Wilde’s wife, had changed the family name to Holland).

This copy would have been worth more to booksellers as it has been expensively bound in full olive-green levant morocco. As the letter [to H. Montgomery Hyde] inserted into the book explained, in 1953, Vyvyan found himself ‘more than usually hard-up, pending the release of some funds’ and ‘laboriously working’ on his autobiography,’ and made enquiries about selling the book to keep himself going. Via the collection of Sir Herbert Leon (named on the bookplate), the book subsequently found its way into the Eccles Collection, and then the British Library.“

[if this copy of Vera has Sir Herbert Leon’s bookplate, and if Vyvyan Holland says that he had Vera in his possession until 1953, then the 1937 Sotheby’s auction of Leon’s Vera does not quite fit into the chronological sequence]

Eccles Collection

Mary Hyde / Viscountess Eccles

William Heffer

Catalogue of the Valuable Library, formed by the late Sir Herbert Leon, Sotheby’s, London, 19-21 July 1937, lot 777

Poems, first edition, half morocco, 1881; Vera; or the Nihilists, A Drama. green morocco gilt, original covers preserved, 8vo (2), 1882.“

[puchased by William Heffer, £2]

Herbert Leon

bookplate

[possibly the financier and politician Sir Herbert Leon (1850-1926) who, in that case, must have owned this copy before Robert Ross acquired it, eventually from a bookseller or at an auction]

Vyvyan Holland

in his possession till at least July 1953
(
see enclosed letter by Vyvyan Holland to H. Montgomery Hyde, July 5, 1953)

Robert Ross

5) same

Walter Ledger’s copy

1882

Robert Ross Memorial Collection
University College, Oxford

e 77

77 / [Wilde (O.)]: Vera / 1882

Walter Ledger

Reginald Turner sold his copy of Vera to Walter Ledger for £12 [8 March 1912]
(see Roberts
Millard, p. 102)

Reginald Turner

Robert Ross Collection, Box 4, Ross Env e.77:
“Ross states that he has received the sum of £12 on behalf of Reginald Tuner for a copy of
Vera, 8th March 1912. An annotated manuscript note is written at the bottom of the recto of the first leaf in Walter Ledger’s hand. The note explains that this copy was given by Wilde to Turner who in turn sold it to Ledger.“

6) same

[W. F. Morse’s copy]

1882

Fales Manuscript Collection, Fales Library of English and American Literature
New York University, New York, NY

Record Number 1349245

1957

“Vera, or, The nihilists : a drama in a prologue and four acts / by Oscar Wilde. [S.l. : s.n.], 1882. 59 p. ;  20 cm. 

‘Strictly private’–Cover. 

Fales Brit copy has bookplate: Ex Libris John A. Spoor. Copy features as no.1147 in the Parke-Bernet sale catalog for the library of John A. Spoor, 1939. Copy housed in custom red levant morocco slip case, with gilt embossed coat of arms. Original gray printed wrappers, with the bookplate of John A. Spoor on the inner cover.

Second edition, but first with the prologue. Complete with 28 interleaves, as issued. Copy originally with a 6 page A.L.s. by Wilde to Col. W.F. Morse of Boston, dated September 1882, removed to the Fales Manuscript Collection, MSS 001.“

DeCoursey Fales

First Editions of English Literature, 19th and 20th Centuries, Maggs Bros., no. 820, London, 1954, item 826

Vera; or, the Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. The Privately Issued edition printed at top of wrapper ‘Strictly Private,’ and at foot the date 1882. Post 8vo, original grey printed wrappers.

With six page autograph letter.

This was first issued in London in 1880, and only 2 copies are known of this small Acting edition (according to Mason’s Bibliography). 

The 1882 issue, likewise privately issued was printed in America when Wilde was lecturing. 

Loosely inserted is a 6 page autograph letter of Oscar Wilde to Col. Morse, business manager for R. D’Oyly Carte, concerning his lecture Tour and complaining that the lectures were arranged very largely in ‘wretched villages’ and further writing about his play ‘Vera’ and suggesting names to send a copy. 

The play is enclosed in a full red morocco book-case, with the arms in gold of the Marquis of Queensbury.

[sold for] GPB 38.“

[text from Rare Book Hub]

Maggs

Catalogue of Valuable Printed Books, Autograph Letters, Historical Documents, etc., Sotheby’s, London, 10-11 March 1952, lot 270

“Vera: or, The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts, second edition, original wrappers, a little torn, bookplate of John E. Spoor, 12mo no place or printer [Printed in America], 1882

In this edition the Prologue appears for the first time.

Inserted is an A.L.s. from the author to Col. Morse [R. D’Oyly Carte’s business manager] discussing his lecture tour in America and referring to ‘Vera’ and its possible production, 6 pp., 8vo, Boston [1882].“

[sold to Maggs for £28-0-0, see Sotheby’s price-list]

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 626

“Vera; or, The Nihilists. A drama in a Prologue and Four Acts.

Privately printed Edition of Vera, with an important autograph letter. 12mo, original printed gray wrappers; tiny portion of upper (blank) cover missing. In a full red levant morocco slip case.

Second edition, but the first with the prologue of this very rare privately printed acting edition, of which but a small number were issued. A nice copy of what is considered one of the finest of Wilde’s writings. In this edition there are many variations in the text from that of the edition of 1880. At the top of the front wrapper is printed ‘Strictly Private.’ This copy is complete with the 28 interleaves as issued. On p. 17 the first letter of the word Act and the brackets are dropped. Mason, in his bibliography of Wilde, states that this edition was printed in America in 1882, during a lecture tour by Wilde.

Inserted is a 6 page A. L. s. by Oscar Wilde, of about 240 words, addressed to Col. W. F. Morse from Boston, [September, 1882]. An important and interesting letter, referring to the trials of the lecturer, his projected tour in the Far East, and the fortunes of ‘Vera’: Mr. Moore paid only 250 dollars–and no expenses at all. I did not like to stop lecturing as he entreated me to go on. I thought it best then that our side of the contract should be perfectly carried out . . . I think our only chance is to give him two weeks at 700 a week. . . . Hayman from Australia has not arrived yet. If Anderson takes my play I could not go . . . Thank you for sending the play to Washington. I think to copyright under your name would be a very good plan. I wish you would send one to the manager you spoke of here–Mr. Field–also one to Rose Coghlan at Wallach’s–and one to Wallach himself . . .At the foot of page 6 of the letter, the names of the recipients of copies of ‘Vera’ have been jotted down in pencil, with the following note, initialed by Col. Morse: This memo is for copies of Wilde’s Play ‘Vera’ which was copyrighted by me and sent out as directed by Wilde. 

With the John A. Spoor bookplate.

[sold for] $100.“

[text from Rare Book Hub]

“(’40) sold for $100 (with A.L.s.)“
(
American Book-Prices Current Index 1933 -1940, p. 639)

First Editions of English XVIII-XIX Century and American XIX Century Authors, Autograph Letters and Manuscripts, The Renowned Library of the late John A. Spoor, Chicago, Part II, M-Z,  Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, pt. II, May 3-5, 1939, lot 1147

“Vera; or, The Nihilists. A drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 12mo, original printed gray wrappers; tiny portion of  upper (blank) cover missing. In a full red levant morocco slip case. N.p., 1882.

Second edition, but the first with the prologue of this very rare privately printed acting edition, of which but a small number were issued. A nice copy of what is considered one of the finest of Wilde’s writings. In this edition there are many variations in the text from that of the edition of 1880. At the top of the front wrapper is printed ‘Strictly Private’. This copy is complete with the 28 interleaves as issued. On p. 17 the first letter of the word ‘Act’ and the brackets are dropped. Mason, in his bibliography of Wilde, states that this edition was printed in America in 1882, during a lecture tour by Wilde. 

Inserted is a 6 page A. L. s. by Oscar Wilde, of about 240 words, addressed to Col. W. F. Morse from Boston, [September 1882]. An important and interesting letter, referring to the trials of the lecturer, his projected tour of the Far East, and the fortunes of ‘Vera’. …

At the foot of page 6 of the letter, the names of the recipients of copies of ‘Vera’ have been jotted down in pencil, with the following note, initialed by Col. Morse: ‘This memo is for copies of Wilde’s Play ‘Vera’ which was copyrighted by me and sent out as directed by Wilde.’“ 

(see also Complete Letters, p. 183)

“(’39) sold for $210 (with A.L.s.)“
(
American Book-Prices Current Index 1933 -1940, p. 639)

John A. Spoor

bookplate

W. F. Morse

7) same

Gilbert Burgess’ copy

1882

Houghton Library – Harry Elkins Widener Collection
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

HEW 12.10.17

“Vera, or, The nihilists : a drama in a prologue, and four acts / by Oscar Wilde.
[New York? s.n.], 1882.
59 p. ; 20 cm.

‘Strictly private’ – Front cover.

Interleaved with 28 leaves of paper watermarked ‘Arlington Mills’.

Burgess, Gilbert, active 1882 [former owner]“

A Catalogue of the Books and Manuscripts of Harry Elkins Widener, pt. II, A.S.W. Rosenbach, Philadelphia, 1918 p. 277 

“Vera; / or, The Nihilists. / A Drama / In a Prologue and Four Acts. / By / Oscar Wilde. / 1882.

8vo, bound in blue morocco, with the original gray paper wrappers preserved, by Riviere.

Presentation copy, inscribed: ‘Gilbert Burgess from his friend Oscar Wilde.’ Only about 12 copies were printed of this ‘trial’ edition.

Collation: pp. 1-59-[60]; interleaved throughout from p. 4.“

Harry Elkins Widener

Gilbert Burgess

presentation copy from OW

When Burgess did an interview with OW after the first night of An Ideal Husband, Wilde said to him: “I am sure that you must have a great future in literature before you. … Because you seem to be such a bad interviewer. I feel sure that you must write poetry.“
(
Complete Letters, p. 790-1n)

8) same

[John Quinn’s copy]

1882

Berg Collection
New York Public Library, New York, NY

acquired in 1940, as part of the W. T. Howe collection

“Vera; or, The nihilists. [New York] 1882. 191/2 cm.
Two copies:
1. John Quinn bookplate. H.
2. Author’s copy with his ms. notes and corrections. H.“ [
see American Edition,  no. 7]

[described only in the Berg’s card catalog, H. stands for Howe]

W. T. Howe

The Library of John Quinn, part 5, Anderson Galleries, New York, March 17-20, 1924, lot 11060

Vera; or, The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 12mo, wrappers. In a half brown morocco slip case. [London] 1882. 

Extremely scarce. One of a very small number of copies issued in an ‘Acting Edition,’ interleaved. At the top of the front wrapper is printed ‘[Strictly Private.]’“

Vera; or, The Nihilists. Acting Edition. Interleaved. 1882. 12mo. Paper, in hf. mor. case, Quinn, A., March 17, ’24 (11060) $110.00“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXX, 1924, p. 758)

John Quinn

bookplate

9) same

[Charles L. F. Robinson’s copy]

1882

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
University of California, Los Angeles, CA

*PR5820 V471 1882 

purchased in April 1919, from Gabriel Wells

“Vera, or, The nihilists : a drama in a prologue and four acts

A promptbook.

‘Strictly private’–Cover.

Interleaved.

Clark Library copy in original gray paper covers, in blue morocco solander.“

“Vera; // Or, The Nihilists. // A Drama // In a Prologue And Four Acts. // By //Oscar Wilde. // 1882.

Condition: 80, gray printed wrappers, enclosed in a dark blue crushed levant morocco case, gilt, gilt black, with blue watered-silk doublures. The C. L. F. Robinson copy with bookplate. Size of leaf, 75/8 by 41/2 inches. 

Second Edition.

Collation: Cover-title as above within a double ruled border, above which is ‘[Strictly Private],’ … . 

The book is interleaved throughout with twenty-seven leaves of white wove paper-water-marked ‘Arlington Mills.’ There is neither printer’s nor Publishers’ name given.

In this edition the prologue is printed for the first time and the text shows many variations from that of 1880. It was printed in America, where Wilde was lecturing during the greater part of 1882.“
(Clark/Cowen, vol. 1,  p. 35)

Gabriel Wells

(see Clark Library, personal correspondence, Sept. 10, 2021)

Catalogue of Rare Books Comprising the Valuable Library of the late Col. Charles L. F.  Robinson of Hartford, Conn., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 30, May 1, 1917, lot 673

“Vera; or, the Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 12mo, original covers, in night blue morocco case. [N.Y.] 1882.

Strictly private prompt copy. Ten printed and interleaved.“

220 $
(De Ricci,
The Book Collector’s Guide, p. 630)

“Vera; or, the Nihilists, orig. covers, in morocco case, (private prompt copy. Ten copies printed and interleaved) [N.Y.], 1882 (An., April 30; 673. $220.00 (£44)“
(
Book-Auction Records, vol. 14, 1917, p. 411)

Charles L. F. Robinson

“The C. L. F. Robinsons copy with bookplate.“
(Clark/Cowen, vol. 1, p. 35)

10) same

1882

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Yale University, New Haven, CT

Ip W644 880b

“Vera, or, The nihilists : a drama in a prologue, and four acts / by Oscar Wilde.
[n.p.], 1882.
59 p. ; 20 cm.

Original paper wrappers bound in. Interleaved.“

Garvan Collection

[donated to Yale University Library around ?1932]

Francis P. Garvan

11) same

Eleanor Calhoun’s copy

1882

unknown

The Prescott Collection: Printed Books and Manuscripts, including an extensive collection of books and manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, Christie, Manson & Woods (Christie’s), New York, February 6, 1981, lot 367

“Vera; or The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts, n.p. []New York?] 1882, small 8vo, original light gray printed wrappers, wrappers lightly foxed, tiny tear at lower hinge, brown morocco gilt solander case. Second edition of Wilde’s second book and his first dramatic composition. author’s autograph presentation copy, inscribed on front wrapper ‘Miss Calhoun with the author’s compliments.’ Mason [no.] 303. …

provenance: Jerome Kern, bookplate (sale, Anderson Galleries, January 24, 1929, lot 1446)“

[sold for $2,200, see Christie’s’ price-list]

[facsimile of title-page, see sale catalogue, p. [158]]

Marjorie Wiggin Prescott

The Library of Jerome Kern, Part Two, J-Z, Anderson Galleries, New York, Jan. 21-24, 1929, lot 1446

“Vera; or, the Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. [London], 1882.

12mo, original gray printed wrappers. In a brown levant morocco slipcase. One of a very small numbers of copies issued in an acting edition. At the top of the front wrapper are the words ‘[Strictly Private.]’

Autograph presentation copy, inscribed on the front cover: Miss Calhoun with the author’s compliments.

[fetched $375, handwritten note in catalogue, see https://bit.ly/32gdrl7]

Vera; or, The Nihilists. Acting Edition [London.] 1882. 12mo.

Orig paper, in lev mor case (presentation copy, to Miss Calhoun). Z (1446) $375.00“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXXV, 1929, p. 676)

Jerome Kern

bookplate

Eleanor Calhoun

12) same

[?Mrs Julia Ward Howe’s copy]

1882

unknown

First Editions, Autograph Manuscripts of British Authors, from the Library of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., Sold by His Order, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, Feb. 26-27, 1952, lot 366

“Vera; or, The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 12mo, original wrappers; very small wrapper defects. In a half purple morocco-backed cloth case. N.p., 1882

Second edition, but the first with the prologue of this very rare privately printed acting edition, of which but a small number were issued. A nice copy of what is considered one of the finest of Wilde’s writings. In this edition there are many variations in the text from that of the edition of 1880. At the top of the front wrapper is printed ‘[Strictly Private]’. In this copy the first letter of the word ‘Act’ and the bracket are dropped. Mason in his bibliography of Wilde, states that this edition was printed in America in 1882, during a lecture tour by Wilde. With the F. Spiegelberg bookplate.“

Walter P. Chrysler

Early English Literature, Incunabula and Americana …: The Splendid Library of the late Honorable Frederick Spiegelberg, American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, Nov. 3-4, 1937, lot 735

“Vera; or, The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 12mo, original printed gray wrappers. In a half purple straight-grain morocco slip case. N.p., 1882

Second edition, but the first with the prologue of this very rare privately printed acting edition, of which but a small number were issued. A good copy of what is considered one of the finest of Wilde’s writings. In this edition there are many variations in the text from that of the edition of 1880. At the top of the front wrapper is printed ‘Strictly Private’. The present copy is complete with the 28 interleaves as issued. On p. 17 the first letter of the word ‘Act’ and the brackets are dropped. Mason, in his bibliography of Wilde, states that this edition was printed in America in 1882, during a lecture tour by Wilde.

Laid in is an A.L.s. by the author, 4 pp., 12mo. Brunswick Hotel [New York, 1883]. To Mrs. Howe, to whom he extends an invitation to see the above play at the Union Square Theatre: ‘I hope if you are in New York this autumn you will give me the pleasure of coming to see my play at the Union Square Theatre …“ 

Unfortunately the optimism displayed by Wilde for an extended run of the drama judging from the above letter) did not materialize, for after running only a week in the latter part of August, the play was withdrawn—a failure.“

[Julia Howe Ward was Wilde’s hostess at Newport on his American tour in 1882]

Vera; or, the Nihilists; A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 28 interleaves. n.p., 1882

Orig. wraps. (A.L.S. laid in). J (735) $37.“
(
American Book Prices Current, vol XLIV, 1938, p. 459)

Frederick Spiegelberg

The Splendid Library formed by the late Edward Dean Richmond, American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, New York, Nov. 2-3, 1933, lot 355

“Vera; or, The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 12mo, original printed gray wrappers. In a half purple straight-grain morocco slip case. N.p., 1882

Second edition, but the first with the prologue of this very rare privately printed acting edition, of which but a small number were issued. A nice copy of what is considered one of the finest of Wilde’s writings. In this edition there are many variations in the text from that of the edition of 1880. At the top of the front wrapper is printed ‘Strictly Private’. The above copy is complete with the 28 interleaves as issued. On p. 17 the first letter of the word ‘Act’ and the brackets are dropped. Mason, in his bibliography of Wilde, states that this edition was printed in America in 1882, during a lecture tour by Wilde.

Laid in is an A.L.s. by the author, 4 pp., 12mo. Brunswick Hotel [New York, 1883]. To Mrs. Howe, to whom he extends an invitation to see the above play at the Union Square Theatre: ‘I hope if you are in New York this autumn you will give me the pleasure of coming to see my play at the Union Square Theatre …’ 

Unfortunately the optimism displayed by Wilde for an extended run (judging from the above letter) of the drama did not materialize, for after running but a week in the latter part of August, the play was withdrawn—a failure.“

Vera; or, the Nihilists: a Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 28 interleaves. n.p., 1882. 12mo.

Orig. paper, in hf. mor. case (laid in is A.L.S.). n (355) $77.50.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XL, 1935, p. 567)

Edward Dean Richmond

?Julia Ward Howe

Rare and Valuable Autographs from the Correspondence of Julia Ward Howe and Dr. Samuel G. Howe, Anderson Galleries, New York, Dec. 20-21, 1917, lot 121

“A.L.S., 4 pp. 12mo. Brunswick Hotel, Fifth Avenue [New York, 1883], referring, apparently, to his play, “Vera“, produced in Union Square Theatre, New York,i883. 

To Julia Ward Howe. ‘Dear Mrs. Howe, I hope if you are in New York this autumn that you will give me the pleasure of coming to see my play at the Union Square Theatre. A box will be always at your disposal. I left Uncle Sam the un’ crowned King of London,’ &c.“

[no copy of Vera was sold at this auction]

13) same

[?Vyvyan Holland’s copy]

1882

unknown

Maggs

purchased for £15
(see
Book-Prices Current, vol. XXV, 1911, p. 631)

Valuable Books, Autograph Letters and Illuminated and Other Manuscripts, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, London, 27 July 1911, lot 214

[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.“]

“Vera, or the Nihilists, a Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts, Original edition, uncut, the original paper covers bound in, 8vo, n.p. (New York), 1882“

“Vera, or the Nihilists, a Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts, orig. ed., uncut, orig. paper covers bound in, n.p., (New York), 1882, 8vo. (214) Maggs, £15“
(
Book-Prices Current, vol. XXV, 1911, p. 631)

£15 
(De Ricci,
The Book Collector’s Guide, p. 630)

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)

?Robert Ross

14) same

[Norman Colbeck’s copy]

1882

?Rare Books & Special Collections
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC

A Bookman’s Catalogue: The Norman Colbeck Collection of Nineteenth-Century and Edwardian Poetry and Belles-Lettres, vol. 2, M-End, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1987, no. 6, p. 934

Vera, or, The Nihilists: A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. [no publisher] 1882. 60 pages, printed on wove paper, all edges cut and interleaved throughout with 28 leaves of white wove paper watermarked ‘Arlington Mills.’ The last page is blank. Grey wrappers with the lettering of the title-page on upper side but within a double rule border, with ‘[Strictly Private]’ at top. Preserved in a blue linen folder and half blue morocco drop-case.“

Norman Colbeck

15) same

1882

unknown

English Literature and History, Sotheby’s, London, 12 July 2005, lot 124

Vera; or, the Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. [USA:], privately printed, 1882.

8vo, the rare second edition of the author’s first play, one of approximately 20 copies, with the 28 interleaved blank leaves as issued, original grey paper wrappers printed in black, quarter maroon morocco folding case, one of the interleaved blank leaves torn, part of the first gathering loose, missing three very small fragments from the top of the wrappers and one tiny fragment from the top edge of the title-page (none affecting text), wrappers very slightly darkened

one of the greatest rarities in the wilde canon. The first edition of Wilde’s disastrous political play, printed two years previously, is thought to have comprised only six prompt copies. The printing of this, the second edition, was arranged by Richard D’Oyly Carte during Wilde’s lecture tour of America in 1882. After a cancelled opening in London Vera was eventually produced in New York in August 1883. Despite a well-publicised opening attended by many of Wilde’s friends reviews were unfavourable, and the play closed after two weeks.“

sold for £4,800

English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations, Sotheby’s, London, 11 Dec. 2003, lot 106

Vera; or, the Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. [USA:], privately printed, 1882

8vo, the rare second edition of the author’s first play, one of approximately 20 copies, with the 28 interleaved blank leaves as issued, original grey paper wrappers printed in black, quarter maroon morocco folding case, one of the interleaved blank leaves torn, part of the first gathering loose, missing three very small fragments from the top of the wrappers and one tiny fragment from the top edge of the title-page (none affecting text), wrappers very slightly darkened

one of the greatest rarities in the wilde canon. The first edition of Wilde’s disastrous political play, printed two years previously, is thought to have comprised only six prompt copies. The printing of this, the second edition, was arranged by Richard D’Oyly Carte during Wilde’s lecture tour of America in 1882. After a cancelled opening in London Vera was eventually produced in New York in August 1883. Despite a well-publicised opening attended by many of Wilde’s friends reviews were unfavourable, and the play closed after two weeks.“

est. price GBP 6,000 – 8,000, not sold

English Literature, History, Fine Bindings, Private Press Books, Children’s Books and Drawings, Sotheby’s, London, 10 July 2003, lot 160

Vera; or, the Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. [USA:], privately printed, 1882

8vo, the rare second edition of the author’s first play, one of approximately 20 copies, with the 28 interleaved blank leaves as issued, original grey paper wrappers printed in black, quarter maroon morocco folding case, one of the interleaved blank leaves torn, part of the first gathering loose, missing three very small fragments from the top of the wrappers and one tiny fragment from the top edge of the title-page (none affecting text), wrappers very slightly darkened

one of the greatest rarities in the wilde canon. The first edition of Wilde’s disastrous political play, printed two years previously, is thought to have comprised only six prompt copies. The printing of this, the second edition, was arranged by Richard D’Oyly Carte during Wilde’s lecture tour of America in 1882. After a cancelled opening in London Vera was eventually produced in New York in August 1883. Despite a well-publicised opening attended by many of Wilde’s friends reviews were unfavourable, and the play closed after two weeks.“

est. price GBP 10,00 – 15,000, not sold.

English Literature and History, Sotheby’s, London, 19 Dec. 2000, lot 115

Vera; or, the Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. [USA:], privately printed, 1882

The rare second edition of the author’s first play, one of approximately 20 copies, with the 28 interleaved blank leaves as issued, original grey paper wrappers printed in black, quarter maroon morocco folding case, one of the interleaved blank leaves torn, part of the first gathering loose, missing three very small fragments from the top of the wrappers (not affecting text), wrappers very slightly darkened, 8vo

One of the greatest rarities in the Wilde canon. The first edition of Wilde’s disastrous political play, printed two years previously, is thought to have comprised only six prompt copies. The printing of this, the second edition, was arranged by Richard D’Oyly Carte during Wilde’s lecture tour of America in 1882. After a cancelled opening in London Vera was eventually produced in New York in August 1883. Despite a well-publicised opening attended by many of Wilde’s friends reviews were unfavourable, and the play closed after two weeks.“

sold for £14,050, incl. buyer’s premium

“Vera; or, The Nihilists. [N.Y.], 1882. 1st American Ed. 8vo, orig wraps: 3 small fragments missing from top of wraps. With the 28 interleaved blanks as issued. Part of 1st gathering loose.; 1 of the interleaved blanks torn. S Dec 19 (115) £12,000“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. 107, 2001, p. 1080)

16) same

1882

unknown

Catalogue of Rare Books, Offered for Sale from the Collection of Giles Gordon: Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley and the 1890s, R. A. Gekoski, London, no. 18, 1994, item 142

Vera; or. The Nihilists, Privately printed, n.p. [USA], 1882. One of approximately 20 copies comprising the second edition of Wilde’s first play, the first edition having comprised, it is thought, four prompt copies. Only six copies of this edition, the printing of which was arranged by Richard D’Oyly Carte during Wilde’s lecture tour of America during 1881-2, are located. (Mason 303 [p. 253ff].) Lacking a small triangular chip, about three-quarters of an inch, from upper wrapper extending around head of spine to lower wrapper, slightly chipped at foot of spine, some splitting of wrappers at spine edge, one or two small creases, but a very good copy.      £10000“

Giles Gordon

17) same

1882

unknown

19th & 20th Century Literature, Swann Galleries, New York, sg 1024, 1976, lot 524

“Vera; or, the Nihilists. [N.Y.] 1882. 1st American Ed. 8vo, wraps. Interleaved. sg 1024 (524) $190.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. 82, 1976, p. 1041)

18) same 

1882

unknown

First Editions of English and American Authors, Incunabula and Press Publications, Library of Mrs Samuel F. Leber, formerly of South Orange, N.J., Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, March 29-30, 1948, lot 547

“Vera; or, The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 1882. 12mo, original printed gray wrappers; wrappers soiled. In a morocco-backed slip case.

Second edition, but the first with the prologue of this very rare privately printed edition, of which but a small number were issued. In this edition there are many variations in the text from that of the edition of 1880. At the top of the front wrapper is printed ‘Strictly Private.’ This copy is complete with the 28 interleaves as issued. On p. 17 of the first letter of the word Act and the brackets are dropped. Mason, in his bibliography of Wilde, states that this edition was printed in America in 1882, during a lecture tour by Wilde.“

$55

19) same

1882

unknown

Choice Books & Autographs … Sold by Order of the Various Owners, American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, New York, Feb. 9-10, 1938, lot 456

“Vera; or, The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 1882. 12mo, original printed gray wrappers. In a half purple straight-grain morocco slip case.

Second edition, but the first with the prologue of this very rare privately printed acting edition, of which but a small number were issued. A good copy of what is considered one of the finest of Wilde’s writings. In this edition there are many variations in the text from that of the edition of 1880. At the top of the front wrapper is printed ‘Strictly Private.’ The present copy is complete with the 28 interleaves as issued. On p. 17 the first letter of the word Act and the brackets are dropped. Mason, in his bibliography of Wilde, states that this edition was printed in America in 1882, during a lecture tour by Wilde.

[sold for] USD 9.“

[text from Rare Book Hub]

20) same

1882

unknown

English Literature of the 19th & 20th Centuries, Maggs Bros., London, no. 487, 1927, item 2438

Vera; or, The Nihilists. A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts. 

Post 8vo, original wrappers. (Strictly private). 1882. £42

This is the second Private Issue and is No. 303 in Mason’s Bibliography of Oscar Wilde.“

Maggs

Valuable Standard Books, Hodgson & Co., London, 13-15 Jan. 1926, lot 163

Vera; or, The Nihilists, a Drama, 2nd edn., containing the orig. interleaves, with watermark ‘Arlington MIlls,’ hf. mor., t. e. g., orig. grey wraps. bnd. in [New York], 1882 (H. Jan. 13; 163) Maggs, £23″
(
Book-Auction Records, vol. 23, 1926, p. 317)

21) same

1882

unknown

Smith