Monday, November 21, 2011

Oscar Wilde to Elkin Mathews -- 120 Years Ago Today -- 21 November, 1891

John Butler Yeats:  Portrait of Elkin Mathews, 1893, Charcoal and pencil.

Ms Princeton
                                                                                                                             29 boulevard des capucines

[postmark 21 November 1891]

Dear Mr Elkin Mathews, I have been in Paris for the last month, and will not be in London for some weeks longer.  With regard to Mr Ricketts, of course he must be paid for his design on its completion.  I mention this as I do not know whether it is on the question of money that he has written to you.  Pray let me know by return what he wanted done.  

     This settled, I will ask Osgood & Mcilvaine to hand you over the copies, and the book could be got out after the rush of Xmas books is over. 

     I think that as the edition will be limited each copy should be signed by the author.  This will give a special character to the edition.  I remain truly yours

                                                                                                                                Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, Poems. London, Elkin Mathews and John Lane,  1892.


1. Elkin Mathews (John Lane's partner in the Bodley Head bookselling business in Vigo Street, London) published a new edition of Wilde's Poems on May 26, 1892 using and binding unsold sheets of the 5th Bogue edition of 1882.  The work, the first under the joint imprint of Mathews and Lane, was a limited edition of 220 copies, each signed by Wilde, and priced at 15 shillings. 

2.  Wilde received all proceeds from the new edition of the Poems, less five guineas for Charles Ricketts, who designed the title page, half title and cover, five guineas for advertising and the publisher's 20 percent share.

3. Charles de Sousy Ricketts, the Swiss-born English painter, illustrator and theatrical designer, was one of the two well-known illustrators of Oscar Wilde's work.  (Aubrey Beardsley, illustrator of Salome, was the other.)  Ricketts and his life-partner Charles Haslewood Shannon were friends and supporters of Wilde, for whom Ricketts painted, in the style of Clouet, the hero of Wilde's short story The Portrait of Mr W H.  In 1932 Ricketts published the memoir Oscar Wilde:  Recollections under the pseudonym Jean Paul Raymond. 

4.  This letter, like so much of Wilde's correspondence -- whether high-flown or quotidian in subject matter -- reads as though it could have been written yesterday.  I write this as I myself prepare for the "rush of Xmas books," and the rest of the season's scuffle.

5.  Those readers interested in this, might also like This  and  This.

Charles Haslewood Shannon, Portrait of Charles de Sousy Ricketts, 1898, oil on canvas.

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