De Profundis

WILDE, Oscar


WILDE, Oscar De Profundis

Methuen and Co., 1905.

First edition. One of fifty large paper copies printed on japon. Original publisher's limp vellum binding with overlapping fore edges, decorated in gilt with vignettes by Charles Ricketts. Top edge gilt, others uncut. A near fine copy, with just a touch of spotting to the covers and dulling to the spine. Bookplate to front pastedown.

The rare deluxe limited edition of the only literary work Wilde produced while in prison, limited to 50 copies in this format, and published by Robert Ross five years after his death.
When sentenced in 1895 to two years of "first-class hard labour", prison life entailed six hours a day on the treadmill, thin gruel for meals, compulsory doses of potassium bromide, as well as silence among and separation from all other inmates. Reflecting on these conditions after his release, Wilde would write, "deprived of books, of all human intercourse, isolated from every humane and humanizing influence... the wretched man who is confined in an English prison can hardly escape becoming insane" (CL 1047).
Fortunately for Wilde, he was visited by the Liberal MP Richard Haldane in June 1896 who, after the visit, "arranged for Wilde to be sent fifteen volumes, including Augustine's Confessions and De Civitate Dei, Pascal's Pensees, [and] Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua and Grammar of Assent" which all "constituted important models for the long confessional letter that Wilde was to compose in the last six months of his sentence" (Frankel).
Wilde began writing what became De Profundis, then a letter addressed to Lord Alfred Douglas, in the last months of 1896 and worked on it until April 1897. The resulting work, had developed into, "a more purely autobiographical and meditative document, oriented to the future as much as to the past, in which Wilde laid out the preconditions and terms on which he intended to face the world once again." (Frankel).
The twenty sheets of manuscript, each folded twice to make eighty pages, were never sent to Douglas, but given instead to Robert Ross in Dieppe, the day after his release from prison in 1897, with the intention for him to one day publish it. Explaining his decision to Ross he wrote that he was "not prepared to sit in the grotesque pillory they put me into, for all time... the truth will have to be known, not necessarily in my lifetime, or Douglas's." (CL 780).
Ross published this first edition of the letter with Methuen in 1905, as "a heavily redacted version of the original manuscript to great acclaim, with the title De Profundis (meaning "From the Depths", from Psalm 130), having first carefully removed all references to Douglas or his family as well as all traces of the document's origins as a letter. Tellingly, when Douglas reviewed this 1905 publication for the Motorist and Traveller, he was unable to recognise the work's origins as a letter to himself." (Frankel)
The immediate success of this work, entering its twelfth edition by 1908, along with the popularity of his The Ballad Of Reading Gaol, helped to lift the bankruptcy of his estate by 1906.

Mason 390.

Stock ID: 37527


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