The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Oscar Wilde, "C.3.3."
The Ballad of Reading Gaol

The Ballad of Reading Gaol

London: Leonard Smithers, 1898. 1st Edition. Tall octavo, publisher's ivory cloth over mustard cloth boards, spine gilt, fore and bottom edges uncut, text printed to versos only. Housed in a custom clamshell box.

"For each men kills the thing he loves,/Yet each man does not die": first edition of Oscar Wilde's final completed work, a long poem narrating the execution of a fellow inmate in the prison where Wilde was serving two years' hard labor for "gross indecency" (i.e., homosexual offences). Wilde wrote the poem, in part a plea for penal reform, from self-imposed exile in France upon his release. The work was published anonymously out of fears that his scandalized name would hamper sales – the attribution "C.3.3." refers to Wilde's cell number. Defying expectations, it quickly sold through multiple editions, with Wilde not credited on the title-page until the 1899 seventh edition (though the third edition, of only 99 copies, was signed by him). Wilde's prison experiences, compounded by poverty and his pariah status after his release, broke him, and he died in Paris in 1900 at the age of 46. His tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery bears the following epitaph, from the last stanza of the poem's fourth section: "And alien tears will fill for him/Pity's long-broken urn,/For his mourners will be outcast men,/And outcasts always mourn." One of 800 unnumbered copies printed on handmade Van Gelder paper, from a total edition of 830. Mason 371. Endpapers embrowned from binder's glue, as is common; some foxing to ivory cloth spine, and light soiling to boards. A better than very good copy. Item #338


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