Lot 498
  • 498


15,000 - 20,000 GBP
13,750 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Oscar Wilde
  • Salomé. Drame en un acte. Paris: Librairie de l'Art Indépendant and (London:) Elkin Mathews and John Lane the Bodley Head, 1893
  • paper
8vo, FIRST EDITION, device by Félicien Rops on the title page, ONE OF 50 COPIES ON VAN GELDER PAPER, PRESENTATION COPY INSCRIBED BY WILDE ON HALF-TITLE TO HIS ONE-TIME CLOSE FRIEND CARLOS BLACKER, THE DEDICATEE OF "THE HAPPY PRINCE"  ("To / Carlos Blacker | from his | affectionate | friend, | the author, | in esteem and | admiration"), original purple wrappers lettered in silver, preserved in linen folding box with morocco label, lacking spine, wrappers faded and slightly nicked and creased, a touch of browning to edges of text leaves


Sotheby's, 10 July 1986, lot 144


Mason 349

Catalogue Note

A SUPERB INSCRIBED PRESENTATION COPY. Carlos Blacker (1859--1928), who for Wilde during the 1880s was the "truest of friends and most sympathetic of companions", and to whom Wilde dedicated The Happy Prince (see lot 501), was a gentleman of independent means who was descended on his maternal side from a prominent Peruvian family (a cousin had at one time served as prime minister of Peru). In addition to Wilde, for whom he acted as an intermediary with his wife Constance after the writer's release from prison, he was at various times close friends with George Bernard Shaw, Anatole France and J.G. Frazier, and had interests ranging from social anthropology to literature to comparative religion. In 1890 he had become involved in a disastrous business venture for which the Duke of Newcastle acted as surety, subsequently resulting in a vicious quarrel in which Blacker was unjustly accused of cheating at cards. Wilde attempted to effect a reconciliation. Blacker lived mainly in Paris after the scandal, where he became passionately involved in attempting to clear the name of Alfred Dreyfus, playing a key role ultimately in establishing the artillery officer's innocence, though not without falling out bitterly with Wilde in the process, when the latter confided secrets imparted to him to his anti-Dreyfusard friends. This led to an uncharacteristic outburst of anti-Semitism from Wilde, who wrote to Ross "Of course, the fact of his being a Jew on his father's side explains everything." (letter 29 June 1898, Complete Letters, p.1086). Blacker had no Jewish heritage. Blacker was an excellent talker, linguist, magician, and correspondent, with a formidable memory, being able to recite most of Dante. He learnt Hebrew late in life "so that if he went to Heaven he could talk to God in his own language" (Rupert Hart-Davis, The Letters, p.540n). See also the letters and other effects sold at Sotheby's, 10 July 1986, including a letter by Blacker from 1900 in which he alludes to the end to their friendship: "...I had known him for 20 years and for many years up to 1893 saw him daily. I need hardly therefore say what pain his fate has been to me. After 1895 I saw him a counted number of times and then he treated me with gross cruelty and injustice and we parted. I always hoped that he wold mend and that we would meet again, and therefore this final severance under the circumstances grieved me deeply. When I saw him on his bed and considered the old days, and the sufferings he had endured and had caused others to suffer, I broke down and cried as I am almost ashamed to have cried..." (catalogue of Sotheby's Sale of English Literature & History, 10/11 July 1986, introduction to lots 122-151).

Letters by Wilde to Robert Ross (see The Collected Letters, pp.1085-7) also record the apparent final rupture to their friendship, seemingly caused by Blacker's disapproval of Wilde's new contact with Lord Alfred Douglas after his release from Reading Gaol, but complicated also by Blacker's treatment of his English mistress (whom Wilde had helped) and Wilde's rather ambiguous role in the infamous Dreyfus affair. A recent study by J. Robert Maguire examines the course of Wilde's "ancient friendship" with Blacker through the 1880s up to their tragic breakup in 1898 Ceremonies of Bravery: Oscar Wilde, Carlos Blacker, and the Dreyfus Affair, Oxford Scholarship Online, 2013). A letter from the same year as Salomé was first published suggests that Blacker was a financial backer for the original production of Lady Windermere's Fan (see The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis, 2000, pp.655-6n). Blacker's son Carlos Paton Blacker (1895--1975) was an eminent psychiatriast and eugenicist who made important contributions to population studies and the setting up of the National Birth Control (later the Family Planning) Association.

Wilde's Salomé was rehearsed during June 1892 for production at the Palace Theatre in London with Sarah Bernhardt in the title role. The Lord Chamberlain refused a licence, however, owing to representation of Biblical characters on the public stage. It was therefore decided to move the premiere to Paris.