Wednesday, August 6, 2014

158. The Puzzling Reprint of Dorian Gray

Sorting out a pile of books and magazines, I came across the February 2014 issue of Intentions, the news journal of The Oscar Wilde Society. For some reason, I had put it aside; now, reading some of the announcements again, I remembered why. There was an unsigned piece by the editor, Michael Seeney, about 'A Bibliographical Puzzle', and I had wanted to consult my Ricketts files for a possible answer.

Charles Ricketts, design for Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray,ordinary edition (1891) [detail]
Michael Seeney wrote about Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray that was published by Ward, Lock & Co in 1891 in a large paper edition and an ordinary edition. Ricketts designed covers for both issues. But there was also a second edition, said to be published in 1895, a year that saw Wilde's arrest and conviction. After a libel trial, Wilde was arrested on 5 April, and on 25 May he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. The Picture of Dorian Gray was used to underline the charges made against him. After the trial, publishers and stage managers avoided to mention Wilde's name.

Seeney quotes a passage from Stuart Mason's Oscar Wilde, Art & Morality (London 1912). Mason (is Christopher Millard) was to become Wilde's bibliographer, and this book contained a first glimpse into his sense for detail. However, his 'facts' about the second edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray are confusing.

Mason argued that 'the [new] edition seems to have been prepared for publication towards the end of 1894. The date of publication, according to the English Catalogue, is October 1895.' He added that it was probable that this new edition - the publishers had changed their name and the title page had to undergo a small alteration - 'was not ready till March 1895, and that Wilde's arrest a few weeks later made it inadvisable to bring it out, though the demand for the book at that time was considerable.' He then concluded that the book was remaindered in September 1896.

Advertisement in The Publishers' Circular, 26 October 1895
The year 1896 in his conclusion is unlikely. Edward Baker of Birmingham, in an advertisement of 26 October 1895, offered remaindered copies for sale a year earlier. Baker asserted: 'This book [...] was suppressed by the publishers, who declined to sell another copy, although they were inundated with orders [...]. It is now entirely out-of-print at the publishers [...] I have now purchased the whole of the few existing copies that were left on sale.'

The advertisement can not be taken for granted entirely. Edward Baker was not as knowledgeable about the book, as was Mason, and he argued that 'the binding is half parchment [correct], and it is ornamented and lettered after an aesthetic and curious design [correct] by the author [incorrect].' Clearly, he was speaking about the edition designed by Ricketts.

However, this advert is confusing. Is Baker speaking about the first or the second edition? Or both? He included his terms: 'cash - 4 copies, 5s each; 25 copies, 4s. 6d. each. Large Paper copies (signed by the author himself) 21s'. These large paper copies must have been from the first edition.  

Seeney supposes that Edward Baker had acquired 'the second edition immediately on publication'. He then introduces another possibility, coming from more confusing information in a letter from Mason/Millard to Walter Ledger (December 1904) in which the second edition is dated 'Oct 1st 1894'. One of the keys to the puzzle must be the publication date of the second edition. There is no date in the book.

Edward Baker was a second-hand book dealer from Birmingham, who issued catalogues on several subjects (topography, theology, poetry, etc.), and advertised 'out-of-print books', maintaining that his firm was 'patronised by the nobility'. The Edward Baker Great Book Shop was located at 14 & 16 John Bright Street.  

Book label of Edward Baker
The date of October 1894 - mentioned in the letter to Ledger - must be wrong. It can not be corroborated by factual information. 

There are no advertisements for Wilde's novel after he was sent to jail. However, there is a unique announcement that was published prior to Baker's advertisement.

On 12 October 1895 The Publishers' Circular announced the publication of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray. Cr.8vo. p.334, Ward & L[ock].' (The description in the English Catalogue - mentioned by Mason - was based on The Publishers' Circular).

The Publishers' Circular, 12 October 1895
This must have been the new edition, and its date of publication was 12 October 1895. Perhaps Baker jumped to the occasion and bought up all copies, knowing that the publishers were glad to be rid of them. Mason was right, the book was reprinted in 1895.

Still, there are many puzzles left: what is the source for Mason's assumption that the book was prepared in 1894? Why did he assume it had been ready by March? Did he assume that the publication date - 1895 according to the English Catalogue - should imply a date prior to Wilde's arrest, as he probably could not imagine that the publishers would endeavour to publish the book after Wilde had been convicted?

What if Baker and Ward, Lock & Bowden had struck a deal? Although the reprint had already been produced, the publishers did not sell any copies of the new edition, because they no longer wanted to be associated with Wilde. Baker, presumably, had heard about their unwanted ballast in the warehouse, and he proposed to buy the lot, along with unsold copies of the first (large paper) edition. 

In that case, the second edition needed to be officially published, otherwise it could not be remaindered. And so, on 12 October an announcement of the publication appeared. But then, why was 'New' or 'Second' edition not part of the 12 October announcement, and why should Baker imply that he sold copies of the original edition?

Baker was a regular advertiser in the Publishers' Circular. His announcements appeared in the section for 'Books wanted to purchase'; bookshops and antiquarian firms all over the country asked for out-of-print books for which they had customers. In 1894 and 1895 Baker published many (short and longer) lists of books. Several of these requests were for erotic books, such as Perfumed Garden (12 January 1895), or Zola's infamous novels (2 February 1895).

The Publishers' Circular, 12 January 1895
The Publishers' Circular, 2 February 1895
The Publishers' Circular remained silent about the Oscar Wilde scandal. Not a word was wasted on the libel case, or Wilde's arrest. (In the past, the PC had reported about Wilde, see for example The Publishers' Circular of 29 September 1894). In 1895, mentioning Wilde's name was eschewed. But then, after Wilde's arrest on 5 April, Baker placed another advertisement, in which he asked for copies of:

Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray. Any edit[ion]
------ ------- The Happy Prince

------ ------- The Sphinx
------ ------- Any books by

The Wilde scandal might, to his mind, have been a great opportunity to sell books. Like his erotic works and the controversial novels of Zola, Wilde's stories and poems suddenly had become notorious, and an infamous book was exactly what he needed to satisfy part of his clientele. His range, should be said, was wide, from books on freemasonry and botany, to 'Latham's Sanitary Engineering'. But Baker went to great length to earn some money with Wilde's book. He had not asked for any of Wilde's books earlier.

Meanwhile, The Publishers' Circular went on to notify commercial news - 'Mr. William Morris' new Kelmscott Press edition of "Sir Percyville of Galles" is now at the binder's, and will be ready shortly. It will have a frontispiece designed by Sir E. Burne-Jones.' (27 April 1895), or: 'His Royal Highness the Duke of York has been pleased to accept a copy of Mr. C. Raymond Beazley's volume, entitled "Prince Henry the Navigator, the Hero of Portugal and of Modern Discovery," published by Messrs. G.P. Putnam's Sons' (11 May 1895). In the 11 May 1895 issue Baker advertised his publication of 'A Supplement' to The Railway Handbook. In a short review, The Publishers' Circular described it as 'a most useful list of publications relating to railways', and added: 'Much of the information is curious, and it is admirably arranged' (18 May 1895).

In Baker's lists of 'books wanted to purchase', Wilde was not mentioned again for a time.

Wilde's name turned up in an announcement of D. Young's Apologia pro Oscar Wilde, published by W. Reeves in the week of 29 June 1895 - but a review of it was not published by the PC. 

The firm of Ward, Lock & Bowden held an annual dinner for its employees on Saturday 29 June 1895 (reported a week later, on 6 July 1895 in The Publishers' Circular). Wilde's editor, Coulson Kernahan had not been present, nor was mr Bowden (who was in America at the time). Toasts were given by J.H. Lock, G. Ernest Lock, and others. Wilde was not mentioned. However, a year earlier, an article about the firm in the 'Publishers of To-Day' series, had not mentioned his name either.

On 14 September 1895 Baker again published a long list of books he wanted to buy. Among them was 'Wilde's Chameleon'. This was The Chameleon of December 1894 (the only issue that was to appear) in which Wilde had published his 'Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young'. (It had been noted in the PC on 8 December 1894.)

The Publishers' Circular, 14 September 1895
The 'Announcements of the Season' (28 September 1895) did not mention a reprint of The Picture of Dorian Gray, but - as illustrated above - the publication of the 1895 edition was duly announced in the issue of 12 October 1895. The very same issue also contained a special advertisement by Edward Baker.

The Publishers' Circular, 12 October 1895
In bold capitals the name of Oscar Wilde was followed by the title of his infamous novel: 'Oscar Wilde's "Dorian Gray."'. Baker wrote: 'The book which was much talked about in the trial Wilde v. Queensberry. Suppressed by the publishers. Few remaining copies, 6s. each; 10 copies, 5s. each; 25 copies, 4s.6d. each.'

The simultaneous publication of Ward, Lock & Bowden's reissue of The Picture of Dorian Gray and Baker's advertisements for remaindered copies is almost certainly no coincidence. Since he had vented his interest for copies of Wilde's books in April, the publisher may have considered selling the remaindered copies - including the complete new edition - to him. They did not want to advertise it, and the short notice in 'Publications of the week' was as concealed as possible. A few lines only to get rid of a troublesome book. If Baker would not have placed his conspicuous advertisements, the new edition would not have been known to contemporary readers. 

Baker was not shy about his purchase, and regularly republished his advertisement (starting 19 October 1895), attracting attention with the boldly printed name of Oscar Wilde. An expanded version was published for the first time on 26 October 1895, and subsequently on 2 and 9 November (on 9 November Baker also placed 'Wilde's (Oscar) Poems. 1892' in the 'Books wanted to purchase' section), 16, 23 and 30 November, 7, 14, 21 and 28 December 1895.

Were these copies sold, or was Baker's invention unsuccessful? Did he, in turn, have to get rid of hundreds of copies in 1896? Was it Baker who remaindered the book in 1896 - the year mentioned by Mason? (I can not check that now, as I have no access to the 1896 issues of the PC.) Or were superfluous copies destroyed, making the second edition more rare than the first?

Mason's assumption that the reprint of The Picture of Dorian Gray had been prepared a year earlier, in 1894, can not be confirmed. The PC did not mention it in their notes on 'Books reduced in price', or 'New editions', and there was no announcement of it by Ward, Lock & Bowden that year.

The puzzle may not have been solved completely, yet, but the story is more complete than it was. And it proves that second editions can be - bibliographically at least - as intriguing as first editions.