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Prince Zaleski.

London: John Lane, 1895 Stock Code: 136029
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Shiel's first book

First edition of Shiel's first book, a collection of three stories, with a remarkable elucidatory inscription by the author on the front free endpaper: "A trinity here: the first about a father, the second about a son, or scion, the third about a ghostly hole; yet, as the Athanasian creed says, 'there are not three omniscients, but one omniscient,' who, lying on a couch, argues, seeing through walls. But there is no detective but the detective and father of detectives, the 'Dupin' of Poe, of whom this Zaleski is a legitimate son, and the notorious Holmes a bastard son. 1924. M. P. Shiel".

It appears that in 1924 a collector approached Shiel and requested that he inscribe a comment in each of the books with which he was presented. This is mentioned by George Locke in A Spectrum of Fantasy (Vol. I p. 194), who notes that a group of fourteen books were so inscribed, "at the request of the owner, who equally obviously asked him Shiel to make a cogent comment about each one. The collection, whose ultimate provenance is unknown to me, was bought by Otto Penzler of New York, who sold most of them to Vernon Lay who, in turn, sold them to a number of people". The origin of Shiel's inscription in Prince Zaleski can be found in a letter to the publisher John Lane, dated 9 August, 1894 (held among the John Lane Company Records at Harry Ransom Center; it is cited by Kirsten MacLeod in her Fictions of British Decadence: High Art, Popular Writing, and the Fin de Siecle (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

Prince Zaleski, three mysteries solved by an eccentric Russian, comprises "The Race of Orven", "The Stone of the Edmundsbury Monks", and "The S.S.". Shiel's bibliographer, A. Reynolds Morse, gives a colourful overview of the book: "The narrator tells of hunting out the voluntary exile, Zaleski, in his exotic lair, and of three extraordinary - and incredible - mysteries which the Prince proceeds to solve. The stories are connected primarily by the presence of the narrator and Zaleski. In the first, the Prince, clears a murderess under unusual circumstances; in the second, he investigates the theft of a gem with mysterious properties; and in the third he breaks up a world-wide murder ring destined to rid the world of the unfit. In the first two stories, the detective solves the crimes without even leaving his couch, where he lies partially under the influence of drugs and surrounded by oriental bric-a-brac. Stylistically this... is not easy to analyze. I would not say it was typical, but it will haunt the memory... Shiel admits Poe's influence, but far outdistances him in the magic flight of a wholly original style. Like Poe's Dupin, Shiel's Zaleski appeared only in three stories".

Provenance: attractive armorial bookplate of one Leonard James Shrubsall (?1879-1952), who had a discerning taste in private press books and the literature of the 1890s. He emerges as being probably the "Leonard J. Shrubsall (London, S. W.)" who won a special commendation in a ballad competition run by The Bookman in March 1913; his father, George Shrubsall, was a JP and president of Pearl Assurance.

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Octavo. Original purple cloth, gilt lettered spine decorated in white with publisher's "Keynotes" motif (incorporating Shiel's initials), front cover lettered and decorated in white with panels of trailing pomegranate motifs from a design by Aubrey Beardsley, "Keynotes" motif repeated on back cover, untrimmed. Housed in a custom orange quarter morocco slipcase and matching cloth chemise.


Title page decoration by Beardsley.


Spine rolled and a little sunned, extremities gently bumped and lightly rubbed, hinges starting but firm, general signs of handling, traces of label sometime removed from front pastedown, a few leaves a little carelessly opened (pp. 145-46 torn at head), closed-tears to head of a couple of leaves in the terminal advertisements, yet this remains a good copy, with the publisher's 8pp. of ads for the Keynotes Series and 16 pp. catalogue (dated 1895).


A Haycraft Queen Cornerstone; Locke I p. 186; Morse pp. 32-34; Queen's Quorum 19.


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