"I HOPE SOME OF THE FAITHFUL, AND ALL THE ELECT, WILL BUY COPIES": FIRST EDITION OF THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, WILDE'S DRAMATIC MASTERPIECE, 1899
WILDE, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. By the Author of Lady Windermere's Fan. London: Leonard Smithers, 1899. Quarto, original gilt-stamped mauve cloth, uncut. $7500.
Limited first trade edition of Wilde's last and greatest play, number 27 of only 1000 copies, in original bright gilt cloth. An exceptional copy.
The Importance of Being Earnest premiered in February 1895 in London and was an immediate success, but the premiere was very nearly ruined when the Marquess of Queensbury, angry at Wilde for his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, the Marquess' son, attempted to break into the theater, disrupt the play, and humiliate Wilde. In order to prevent this, Wilde had had the theater surrounded by police. The Marquess' constant hounding of Wilde finally bore fruit when Wilde sued him for slander, and Queensbury then used the trial as a platform to expose him and have him arrested for "gross indecency." Wilde's name was immediately removed from the theater playbill and marquee, and the play closed shortly thereafter, a mere seven weeks after the premiere of the play. The Importance of Being Earnest was his last drama, and the last work of fiction he was to write. After his release from prison, Wilde set to work editing Earnest for publication in order to earn a small amount to support himself, but "the appearance of the play in book form passed practically unnoticed by the reviewers. 'I am sorry my play is boycotted by the press… particularly for Smithers's sake; he has shown great pluck in bringing it out at all. However I hope some of the faithful, and all the elect, will buy copies. If you hear anything nice said about the play, write it to me: if not, invent it" (Hyde, 399). This limited first trade edition, published with no mention of the name of the author, preceded the signed limited large-paper edition, issued later in 1899, which named Wilde as the author. Mason 381. From the library of renowned bibliophile C.S. Ascherson, famed for his insistence on excellence. With Ascherson's owner inscription dated the year of publication, "Feb. 1899," and his bookplate. Trace of small owner initials.
Interior fine, lightest soiling to bright gilt boards. A very scarce about-fine copy with a distinctive provenance.