The Importance of Being Earnest A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.

Lot Number 366
Title The Importance of Being Earnest A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.
Year Published 1899
Place Printed London: Leonard Smithers and Co.,
Printed By
Description The Importance of Being Earnest A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. London: Leonard Smithers and Co., 1899 4to (8 3 /4 x 7 ins; 22 x 180 mm). Publisher's full gilt vellum, spine title in gilt with repeated gilt feather device to sides and spine after a design by Charles Shannon; a very fine copy in half morocco and cloth case.
Comments Mason 383 (picturing this copy on p. 428) First Edition, one of only 12 copies on Japanese Vellum for presentation, numbered "3" and signed by Wilde in full on the limitation page. The dedication copy of Wilde's greatest work, inscribed to Robbie Ross, "the mirror of perfect friendship." On the half-title Wilde has penned, "To the Mirror of Perfect Friendship: Robbie: whose name I have written on the portal of this little play. Oscar. Feb '99" An association copy of profound significance, it is hard to overestimate the role Robert Ross played in Wilde's affairs. First as lover, then close friend and ardent supporter and ultimately literary executor, theirs was one of the key defining and most enduring relationships in the author's life. Robert "Robbie" Ross, was an advanced teenage scion of Canadian wealth when Wilde met him at Oxford in 1886, and was living at Wilde's Tite Street home by the following year. It was likely there that Ross initiated Wilde into the actuality of homosexuality rather than the spirit of homoeroticism that Wilde had previously confined himself to. Both later acknowledged this as Wilde's first complete sexual encounter with another man, with Ross apparently confiding to Wilde's early biographer Christopher Millard that at least part of the reason for his unwavering support through Wilde's trials and exiles, to the reclamation of the author's literary reputation and financial rights for his sons, was a feeling of responsibility for the practices he had introduced to Wilde. While they ended as lovers relatively quickly, there was no break in affection. The relationship transitioned into a steadfast friendship that Wilde depended on for an emotional bulwark (and financial support) that remained when many had deserted. It was Ross, who after watching the detectives serve a warrant against Wilde for "indecent acts," broke into Wilde's locked library to rescue what papers he could from the police or Lord's Queensberry's own detectives. (And in the matter of Queensberry, "Bosie", etc., it was Ross who ultimately titled De Profundis, invoking the hypocritical wrath and hounding unto the grave of Lord Alfred Douglas when he finally published the unexpurgated version, putting Douglas firmly in his deserved place.) It was Ross alone who managed to get himself into the hallway from Wilde's cell to the courtroom, so that his friend could see he wasn't alone as he passed to the witness box. And it was Ross, who so often served as the intermediary between Wilde and his often bewildered and stunned wife, Constance. It was to Robbie she turned when Wilde would disappear without leaving his family an address to get in touch with her husband. Ross actively worked to raise funds so that Wilde could avoid the bankruptcy that brought on the disastrous auction of his house and contents, and as Wilde fled into exile, Ross assumed an ever larger role in his financial affairs. Throughout Wilde's final exiled years in France, Ross was naturally a frequent visitor, but also managed what meager funds were due Wilde. Wilde was aware of the risk Ross constantly undertook to be associated with one of such infamy, writing to him in the first days of his exile, "I am distressed to think that I shall be looked on as careless of your own welfare and indifferent to your own good. I weep with sorrow when I think how much I need help, but weep with joy when I think I have you to give it to me." (see After Reading Letters of Wilde to Ross. Westminster, 1921, p. 10). And indeed Ross did endure much, eventually enduring even his own trial for libel at the hands of Douglas for not ignoring "Bosie's" callous and cavalier treatment of Wilde emotionally and financially. "Little Robbie" (along with Reggie Turner) were present throughout the final physical decline of Wilde in exile; it was Ross who at last decided to follow Wilde's wishes and brought a priest to the deathbed and he was beside his friend when he died on 30 November, 1900. The task of literary executor was Ross' and he managed to secure the rights to Wilde's works (languishing since the bankruptcy proceedings) on behalf of the author's sons. His role gave him a considerable influence in the shaping of Wilde's legacy, beginning with his role of editor of the first collected works in 1908. (See Ellman, Oscar Wilde, for the best account of Ross and Wilde's relationship). Laid into the present copy is an ANS by Wilde on Albemarle Club letterhead, addressed "Dear Bobbie" and signed "Oscar" making arrangements for 3 opening night tickets for Earnest for Ross and two others. Beyond its distinguished provenance, the present lot is a true Wilde rarity in issue and survival. Of the 12 Japanese Vellum copies (there were also issues of 100 and 1,000) Mason records only five known, to which a sixth was added in 2001 (that copy, inscribed to Edward Strangman, sold at Christie's New York, 22 May 2001, lot 305 $60,000). The Strangman copy is the only one of the 12 to appear at auction in the last 30 years.
Provenance Robert Ross — Edith Pyre (her sale Parke-Bernet, 6 December 1947, lot 463, $475 to Scribner's, Mrs. Pyre's distinguished collection also included as lot 459 of the sale a 1 of 600 Salome with original Beerbohm drawings presented to Ross from Wilde) — Jacq
Estimated Price USD 80,000.00 - 120,000.00
Actual Price USD 362,500.00



Auction House Sothebys
Auction Name Library of Jacques Levy
Sale Number #NO8852
Auction Date April 20, 2012 - April 20, 2012
Book Images