'Vera; or, The Nihilists', 1880
In her autobiography, 'The Story of My Life' (1908), Dame Ellen Terry writes that, ‘The most remarkable men I have known were, without a doubt, [James Abbott McNeill] Whistler and Oscar Wilde ... there was something about both of them more instantaneously individual and audacious than it is possible to describe.’
Oscar Wilde felt similarly about the famous actress, writing several sonnets to her and presenting her with a copy of his first printed play, 'Vera; or, The Nihilists' (London, 1880). In contrast to his later plays, 'Vera' was a flop, running for just one week in 1883 in New York City.
Wilde inscribed the title page of Ellen Terry’s copy of 'Vera', writing, ‘To Miss Ellen Terry / from her sincere admirer / The author’. In the letter that accompanies the book, Wilde writes that ‘perhaps some day I will be fortunate enough to write something worthy of your playing’.
Unfortunately, and despite their close friendship, this never happened.
Ellen Terry’s collection of books at her home, Smallhythe in Kent, includes numerous association copies highlighting her friendships with the great and the good of the day.
'Just So Song Book', 1902
Most of Rudyard Kipling’s 'Just So Stories' began their life as tales that he invented to entertain his oldest child, Josephine. Serialised from 1897 and collected together in book form in 1902, their success spawned spin-offs, including painting books and this collection of songs. The lyrics, by Kipling, are set to music by Edward German, one of the great composers of his age and who was knighted in 1928.
As is the case with many of Kipling’s works, a great number of the 'Just So Song Book' was printed. However, the Wimpole Hall copy is particularly special as it's a presentation copy from Kipling to his two children, Elsie and John (Josephine had sadly died in 1899 at the age of six). It's inscribed 'Elsie & John / from their Daddy.'
Elsie Kipling (later Elsie Bambridge) bought Wimpole Hall in 1938. In addition to her own collection of books she transferred some of her father’s books from Bateman’s, East Sussex to Wimpole, thereby creating an important Kipling library.