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The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde, from The Old Stile Press (1994)

{Ed. Note: Most of this article, including pictures, is provided by Books and Vines contributor Celtic (Neil).}

Oscar Wilde (1854-1890) was an Irish poet/writer whose works remain immensely popular today. His best known works are The Picture of Dorian GrayThe Importance of Being EarnestLady Windermere’s Fan, SalomeDe Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Wilde’s wit and humor are legendary, as is the controversy surrounding his life.

Statue of Oscar Wilde in Dublin, Photo from Chris Adamson

Wilde was convicted of homosexual offences in 1895 and sentenced to two years hard labour.  He was incarcerated in Reading Gaol from November 1895 until May 1897. He wrote De Profundis while at the prison and following his release and ‘exile’ to France he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol.  The poem was published in 1898 under the name C.3.3., which was his cell number in Reading Gaol – cell block C, landing 3, cell 3.

Wilde dedicated the poem to ‘C.T.W.’.  During his imprisonment a hanging took place on the 7th July 1896.  Charles Thomas Wooldridge had been a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards.  He was convicted of cutting his wife’s throat.  The witnessing of this excecution and the horrific nature of the crime had a profound effect on Wilde, inspiring the line “Yet each man kills the thing he loves.”

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look
Some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss
The brave man with a sword.

This copy of the The Ballad of Reading Gaol was published by Frances and Nicolas McDowall’s wonderful The Old Stile Press (in Wales) in 1994 and is illlustrated with powerful wood engravings by English artist Garrick Palmer (b.1933). Palmer is one of the pre-eminent wood engravers of our time. He has illustrated many books for fine publishers and his works are included in places such the Tate Gallery and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

About the Edition

Pictures

The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Book in Slipcase
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Cover and Spine
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Cover
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Frontispiece
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Dedication
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Detail of Sample Illustration #1
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Text #1
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Detail of Sample Text #1
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Text #2
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Text #3
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Text #4
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Detail of Sample Text #4
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Text #4 (detail)
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Colophon
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