The painter, designer, craftsman and social reformer William Morris (1834--1896), inscribed to him by the author, and with Morris's library book-label (of Kelmscott House, Hammersmith) on front endpaper
"...I have loved your work since boyhood: I shall always love it..."
(Wilde to Morris, 1891, see below)
WIlde's Poems, containing 61 poems (30 of which had previously appeared in magazines) was issued in three editions between June and September 1881 (the second appeared on 22 July), each of 250 copies, all published at Wilde's expense. The book sold out within the year.
A spectacular presentation and association copy, linking two of the most important cultural figures of the 1890s: the era's greatest designer and craftsman with its greatest writer and dramatist; the founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement with its most prominent literary aesthete.
Wilde had been an admirer of Morris's since childhood. Later, at Trinity College Oxford he seems to have sought out his books, and those of the pre-Raphaelites, as soon as they were published (see Ellmann, p.31). A testament to his admiration can be found in the 1881 Poems themselves: "The Garden of Eros" is in part a celebration of Morris, as well as the work of Swinburne. The house Wilde shared with his wife Constance at No.16, Tite Street was partially decorated with a Morris wallpaper pattern of dark red and dull gold.
In March/April 1891 he wrote to Morris to thank him for The Roots of the Mountain, which Morris had inscribed and had sent to him (it was later sold at the auction of Wilde's possessions on 24 April 1895). In this short letter he summarised what Morris had meant to him during his life:
"...How proud indeed so beautiful a gift makes me...I have always felt that your work comes from the sheer delight of making beautiful things: that no alien motive ever interests you: that in its singleness of aim, as well as in its perfection of result, it is pure art, everything that you do. But I know you hate the blowing of trumpets. I have loved your work since boyhood: I shall always love it..."
(The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis, 2000, p.476)
The often repeared story that Wilde was the only person Morris could bear to see on his death-bed was apparently invented by George Bernard Shaw. Wilde had been in prison for eighteen months when Morris died in 1896 (op.cit.).
No other work by Wilde inscribed to William Morris has been sold at auction in the last 35 years. It is difficult to conceive of a more resonant presentation copy of the Poems, the present lot bearing comparison only, perhaps, with the copy inscribed to Matthew Arnold, sold at Christie's New York on 22 November 1985 ($42,000).
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