"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.