The Happy Prince and Other Tales, Oscar Wilde. First Edition, 1888. Peter Harrington Rare Books - Peter Harrington Blog

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The Happy Prince and Other Tales, Oscar Wilde. First Edition, 1888. Peter Harrington Rare Books

The Happy Prince and Other Tales, Oscar Wilde. First Edition, London: David Nutt, 1888.

Presented by Sammy Jay, Rare Books Specialist at Peter Harrington Rare Books.

Quarto. Original white boards, spine lettered in black, front cover lettered in red with design in black by Jacomb Hood, edges untrimmed. Housed in a brown linen chemise and red quarter morocco slipcase. Title page printed in red and black, 3 plates after Walter Crane (in two states), head- and tailpieces and decorations by Jacomb Hood. Boards somewhat marked and soiled, titles rubbed with partial loss of a few letters, endpapers browned, some very faint marginal marks and spotting to a few pages.

First edition, trade issue. Presentation copy, inscribed by the author to his friend and benefactor Minnie Adela (“Tiny”) Schuster on the front free endpaper: “To Tiny, from her sincere friend Oscar Wilde. Sept. 89.” The daughter of a wealthy Frankfurt banker, Adela Schuster lived with her mother in a large villa in Wimbledon called Cannizaro and spent the winters in Torquay, where she met Wilde: there Schuster frequented the Pre-Raphaelite circle of Lady Georgina Mount-Temple, whose house Babbacombe Cliff Wilde leased in November 1892. Known to her intimate friends as “Tiny”, she observed that Wilde “would not naturally know me by my real Christian name, which he has never heard in his life – he has never heard me called – or seen my name signed – by any other name than my nickname – too ridiculous to mention”. Charmed and fascinated by Wilde’s company, she wrote, “Personally I have never known anything but good of O. … and for years I have received unfailing kindness and courtesy from him – kindness because he knew how I loved to hear him talk, and whenever he came he poured out for me his lordly tales & brilliant paradoxes without stint and reserve. He gave me of his best, intellectually, and that was a kindness so great in a man so immeasurably my superior that I shall always be grateful for it.”

Wilde was deeply touched by the kindness and devotion shown in return by Schuster throughout his trial and imprisonment. At the time of his second trial, aware of his strained financial circumstances and his mother’s ill-health, Schuster sent him a cheque for £1,000, “assuring him that it cost her little even in self-sacrifice and declaring that it was only inadequate recognition of the pleasure she had through his delightful talks”. According to Frank Harris, Wilde told him that, “a very noble and cultured woman, a friend of both of us, Miss S–, a Jewess by race tho’ not by religion, had written to him asking if she could help him financially, as she had been distressed by hearing of his bankruptcy, and feared that he might be in need.”

Following Wilde’s imprisonment, she wrote to his friend More Adey, “Could not Mr. Wilde now write down some of the lovely tales he used to tell me? … I think the mere reminder of some of his tales may set his mind in that direction and stir the impulse to write.” Wilde responded to her wish via a letter to Adey: “I was greatly touched by the extract from the letter of the Lady of Wimbledon. That she should keep a gracious memory of me, and have trust or hope for me in the future, lightens for me many dreadful hours of degradation or despair.”

Schuster continued to work towards petitioning for Wilde’s release, and alleviating his suffering in prison, to the extent that she was even prepared to support bribing the doctor at Reading (though she considered the plan a dubious one) to certify the dangerous state of Wilde’s mental and physical health. In November 1896, Wilde asked Robert Ross to send “whatever of remembrance and reverence she will accept, to the Lady of Wimbledon, whose soul is a sanctuary for those who are wounded, and a house of refuge for those in pain.”

Though they never met again after his imprisonment, Wilde paid tribute to her in his De Profundis, as “one of the most beautiful personalities I have ever known: a woman, whose sympathy and noble kindness to me both before and since the tragedy of my imprisonment have been beyond power and description: one who has really assisted me … to bear the burden of my troubles more than anyone else in the whole world has”.

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