Friday, October 21, 2016

The Priest, The Decadent, The Bibliographer and the Publisher...


"The Priest and the Acolyte" is a well-written if somewhat overblown and sentimental story about the eponymous priest and acolyte who are involved in a rather wilting and soppy love affair and are then 'discovered'. It was originally published anonymously in the first issue of the Oxford undergraduate magazine The Chameleon in December 1894 and it may have been one of the reasons why this was also the only issue of the magazine before it was closed down. If that had been all, the story would probably never have been heard of again, however, unfortunately for him, the magazine also carried a contribution by one Oscar Wilde, and so the story was suddenly freighted with a whole new significance.

In an attempt at suggesting guilt by association the story was brought up by prosecuting lawyers at Wilde's trial and over the next few years the story became so associated with Wilde that it was often attributed to his authorship. In fact, the story was written by the undergraduate editor of the magazine John Francis Bloxam. It would be easy from the somewhat effeminate style of the story and the 'too too' sumptuous prose to stereotype Bloxam as a particular kind of late 1890s decadent undergraduate. Though, to our knowledge, he never ventured into print again we do know that he became a priest in the early 20th Century in the Anglo-Catholic tradition and took on one of the great East End slum churches in London. In that position he took on the church authorities as a leader among the ritualists of the church aiming for ever-closer doctrinal and liturgical unity with Rome. We also know that he had a distinguished career in the First World War as an army chaplain, winning the Military Cross with a bar. I recently found the description of one of those occasions of bravery gazetted in The Times.


However, the idea that Wilde was the author of this story persisted. So, in 1907, the story was printed in book form by The Lotus Press. This is the only book created under this imprint and it was clearly done to distance the publisher from any possible ramifications. The book bears an 'Introductory Protest' by Stuart Mason demonstrating that the story is not and should not be considered Wilde's work. Stuart Mason was the pseudonym adopted on occasion by the bookseller, bibliographer and Wilde expert Christopher Millard. It was Millard who wrote the definitive bibliography of Wilde, again under the name Stuart Mason. 

I have often wondered who published this edition of the story and the paper covered boards along with certain typographical similarities have led me to wonder if it had anything to do with F. E. Murray, the publisher and purveyor of Uranian verse, also in London at about this time. I was wrong. In a completely unrelated way I was browsing through Tomkinson's A Select Bibliography of the Principal Modern Presses Public and Private in Great Britain and Ireland (as you do) and found The Lotus Press listed there with this single book as its output. The anonymity is broken and the publisher revealed as one J. Jacobs of Edgware Road in London as the publisher, "no other book appeared under this imprint". 

Tracing publishers is often more difficult than authors or book titles as they are often not properly incorporated into online databases, and in this instance, J. Jacobs is not an easy name to search. However, the internet has provided a few clues to flesh out this shadowy character. For a start we know that in the years around the publication of this title he also had a hand in publishing and editing a small number of books on Jewish history and culture. But it seems that his interest in Oscar Wilde was more than passing or pecuniary. The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at the University of California has an original pencil drawing of Wilde marked as "formerly in the possession of J. Jacobs, Edgware Rd". (It's also worth noting that a number of the most famous images of Wilde and Bosie were taken at a photographer's studio just doors away from Jacob's in the same road). But we also know that, under his own imprint Jacobs worked with Millard again the next year to produce a somewhat scarce book now, Art and Morality: A Defence of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" which was edited by Millard (again as Mason) and issued in a limited edition of 450 copies with an extra 25 on hand-made paper with the illustrations on vellum. The book was described by Millard as "A reprint of the more important reviews of Dorian Gray, together with eight of Wilde's published letters in reply to hostile criticism." 

I have been curious about the publisher of the book version of this story every since I first saw a copy and I am glad now to have made some connections even if Jacobs still remains a somewhat obscure character.






5 comments:

Aymery said...

Fascinating note and research, thanks Callum!

Michael H said...

Have you looked at the censuses? The most plausible candidate is in fact a woman, Josephine Jacobs, listed as "Bookseller Own Account' at 149 Edgware Road, aged 36. She is married – her husband, Isaiah, is described as 'Bookseller's Manger'. He was 42. They had three children the eldest Norman, aged 15, was working for them. Oddly, no place of birth is given for any of them, but they could perhaps be Jewish. I'm not sure what light this throws on the publication of 'The Priest and the Acolyte', but it is intriguing. By the way, there is a memorial to Bloxam in St Mary, Bourne Street, Chelsea.

Callum said...

Michael, Thank you for that, very interesting indeed. My access to those kinds of genealogical sites expired a while ago and I haven't renewed them but I wished I had as I was writing this. Interestingly, 149 is given as a full address on the title page of a couple of other books by Jacobs which I have seen, but Tomkinson has 147. Of course, they might have moved but Tomkinson also gives a wrong reference to the Wilde Bibliography so perhaps he is not as accurate as he might have been. I am aware that someone is writing a biography of Millard at the moment and given this appears to have been a relationship of at least two books perhaps more will be revealed at that point.

Michael H said...

Dear Callum, glad to be of use! I should have said that I was looking at the 1901 census. The 1911 census has them living in Brondesbury (36 Plympton Road) and gives Josephine's place of birth as Poland. Her husband was born in Oxford. His full name is given in 1911 as Isaiah Woolf Jacobs so I think it's a safe bet they were Jewish. I've looked at 1891 too, and they were then living on Hills Road Cambridge – all the time as booksellers. The database I use doesn't make searching the census by place very easy, but I'll try to do a bit of digging on 149 Edgware Road and will let you know if I come up with anything.

Michael H said...

There's more (sorry, this sort of research is rather addictive!) Josephine's parentage is interesting. She married in 1884. Her maiden name was Hast – she was a daughter of Marcus Hast, described in the 1881 census as First Minister of the Great Synagogue – the family lived at 21 Great Prescot Street, Whitechapel. Marcus was a significant figure in the history of 19th-century Jewish music, and there is a fair bit about him online, eg – https://geoffreyshisler.com/biographies-2/marcus-hast/

It seems quite a long way from the synagogue in Whitechapel to The Priest and the Acolyte! There is an interesting story here ...

 
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