De Profundis.London, Methuen and Co., 1905 Stock Code: 140889
NotesFirst edition, one of 200 copies of the deluxe issue on handmade paper and specially bound, this being a particularly scarce presentation copy from Robert Ross with his compliments slip laid in.
De Profundis was the only literary work Wilde produced during his two years in Reading Gaol (1895-97), being eventually published five years after his death by his literary executor Robert Ross. Wilde began writing what became De Profundis, but was then a letter addressed to Lord Alfred Douglas, in the last months of 1896 and worked on it until April 1897. The resulting manuscript, which developed from simply a letter 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, p. 68). Though Wilde instructed Ross to send the twenty hand written sheets to Douglas, after first having two typewritten duplicates made, Ross instead retained it, having realised its literary value. Ross published this first edition of the letter with Methuen in 1905, as "a heavily redacted version of the 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 Traveler, he was unable to recognise the work's origins in a letter to himself" (Frankel, p. 69). The manuscript was eventually deposited in the British Library in 1909, on condition that access was restricted for fifty years.
A later compliments slip from "the private secretary to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster" gives a possible clue to the original recipient of Ross's presentation, though we have not been able to trace it.
Octavo. Original white cloth, titles to spine in gilt, gilt designs to front cover by Charles Ricketts of a bird flying through prison bars and through a night sky, top edge gilt, others untrimmed.
Buckram toned and a little rubbed, light spotting to endpapers and deckle edges, very good condition.
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