Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Book that Oscar Wilde Detested

A little item I had previously for sale:

I've tried to be a bit entertaining in my write-up. Never know how these things are taken at that end,  don't you know ...

The Critical Biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Joseph Knight, issued as Part of Eric S. Robertson's Great Writers Series,  and Published by Walter Scott in London in 1887. Oscar Wilde hated
this book and wrote a scathing review of it   …  except for its Bibliography, which he praised.

“Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti” by Joseph Knight, was the sixth volume of the “Great Writers Series” published by Walter Scott under the general editorship of Professor Eric S. Robertson. The series was issued in two formats: The Monthly Shilling Volumes, of which the book here offered is a part; and the Library Edition , a Large-Paper edition, printed on paper of ‘extra quality’, in ‘handsome binding, Demy 8vo’. (that was the 2s, 6d edition)

Being solidly thankful for whatever prizes from the past come down to me through the years, I am happy to offer the Monthly Shilling Volume. Of course that shilling is history, and such a low value is also history. The author of this book, Mr. Joseph Knight, tips his hat to two biographers and memoir writers that beat him to the press with books on the then recently-deceased Dante Gabriel Rossetti : William Sharp and Hall Caine. He also thanks Mr. Ford Maddox Brown and Mr. William Rossetti for their generosity in giving access to the correspondence of Rossetti.

What a great and fascinating subject is Rossetti, one of the greatest of Pre-Raphaelite Painters and Poets! To master a single calling - as an artist - hoorah! But to master, not only the brush, but the quill also - one must bow to genius. Which is exactly what Oscar Wilde did, worshipping at his mental altar to the great artist. Wilde detested this book’s popularization of a great artists life, and said such a consummate life could not be contained in such a small affair as a Great Writers Series. He didn't like the criticism either, and found much wrong with transcriptions of some of the lines from Rossetti's poems. (I think it more likely those were printer's errors - typos - but who am I to posit?) Anyway, Wilde absolutely detested this book, and his review of it was an absolute marvel of aesthetic disgust ... one of the most delicious examples of a critical slam ever written. (He did think highly of the Rossetti Bibliography appended at the end of the book; small beer that, though.)

Maybe you'll think differently about this book than poor offended Oscar, who couldn't sigh in exasperation loudly enough, (and let's face it, if ever there was a man with a highly educated and refined literary taste, it was Oscar Wilde), or ... maybe you'll agree; the test will be in the reading. And it is, indeed, a fascinating read. Knight's book was one of the earliest posthumous studies of Rossetti that purported to be more than a recollection or memoir. For persons amassing Rossetti materials it remains a integral part of any collection.

The Rossetti Bibliography is indeed worth the price of admission; and there is a very nice series of pages at the back with the publisher's list, always of interest for those who care about such things.

SERIES : Great Writers
SERIES EDITOR : Eric S. Robertson (Professor of English Literature and Philosophy in the University of the Punjab, Lahore)
TITLE :  Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti
AUTHOR : Joseph Knight (1829 - 1907)
IMPRINT : Walter Scott
PLACE : 24 Warwick Lane, Paternoster Lane, London
DATE : 1887
EDITION : First Edition

 Contains an Index, the author's introductory Note and a Bibliography; 186 pages + xix pages of Bibliography, plus 6 pages of publisher's list; (including the list delineating the other books in the series); approx. 4 1/2”  x 6 1/2” (16mo); olive green smooth cloth with
title, etc. and decorative embellishments, printed in black and gold on spine and title, etc. lettered in black on front board (a palm leaf is printed in black on the spine and a simple double-line border stamped in black on front board)

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