My dear Dr. Meyerfeld, – It is a great pleasure to dedicate this new edition of De Profundis to yourself. But for you I do not think the book would have ever been published. When first you asked me about the manuscript which you heard Wilde wrote in prison, I explained to you vaguely that some day I hoped to issue portions of it, in accordance with the writer’s wishes; though I thought it would be premature to do so at that moment. You begged however that Germany (which already held Wilde’s plays in the highest esteem) should have the opportunity of seeing a new work by one of her favourite authors. I rather reluctantly consented to your proposal; and promised, at a leisured opportunity, to extract such portions of the work as might be considered of general public interest. I fear that I postponed what was to me a rather painful task; it was only your visits and more importunate correspondence (of which I frankly began to hate the sight) that brought about the fulfilment of your object. There was no idea of issuing the work in England; but after despatching to you a copy for translation in Die neue Rundschau, it occurred to me that a simultaneous publication of the original might gratify Wilde’s English friends and admirers who had expressed curiosity on the subject. The decision was not reached without some misgiving, for reasons which need only be touched upon here. Wilde’s name unfortunately did not bring very agreeable memories to English ears: his literary position, hardly recognised even in the zenith of his successful dramatic career, had come to be ignored by Mr. Ruskin’s countrymen, unable to separate the man and the artist; how rightly or wrongly it is not for me to say. In Germany and France, where tolerance and literary enthusiasm are more widely distributed, Wilde’s works were judged independently of the author’s career, Salomé, prohibited by the English censor in the author’s lifetime, had become part of the repertoire of the European stage, long before the finest of all his dramas inspired the great opera of Dr. Strauss; whilst the others, performed occasionally in the English provinces without his name, were still banned in the London theatres. His great intellectual endowments were either denied or forgotten. Wilde (who in De Profundis exaggerates his lost contemporary position in England and shows no idea of his future European reputation) gauges fairly accurately the nadir he had reached when he says that his name was become a synonym for folly.


In sending copy to Messrs. Methuen (to whom alone I submitted it) I anticipated refusal, as though the work were my own. A very distinguished man of letters who acted as their reader advised, however, its acceptance, and urged, in view of the uncertainty of its reception, the excision of certain passages, to which I readily assented. Since there has been a demand to see these passages already issued in German, they are here replaced along with others of minor importance. I have added besides some of those letters written to me from Reading, which though they were brought out by you in Germany, I did not, at first, contemplate publishing in this country. They show Wilde’s varying moods in prison. Owing to a foolish error in transcription, I sent you these letters with wrong dates – dates of other unpublished letters. The error is here rectified. By the courtesy of the editor and the proprietors of the Daily Chronicle I have included the two remarkable contributions to their paper on the subject of prison life: these and The Ballad of Reading Gaol being all that Wilde wrote after his release other than private correspondence. The generous reception accorded to De Profundis has justified the preparation of a new and fuller edition. The most sanguine hopes have been realised; English critics have shown themselves ready to estimate the writer, whether favourably or unfavourably, without emphasising their natural prejudice against his later career, even in reference to this book where the two things occasion synchronous comment. The work has met of course with some severe criticisms, chiefly from ›narrow natures and hectic-brains‹.

But in justice to the author and myself there are two points which I ought to make clear: the title De Profundis, against which some have cavilled, is, as you will remember from our correspondence, my own; for this I do not make any apology. Then, certain people (among others a well-known French writer) have paid me the compliment of suggesting that the text was an entire forgery by myself or a cento of Wilde’s letters to myself. Were I capable either of the requisite art, or the requisite fraud, I should have made a name in literature ere now. I need only say here that De Profundis is a manuscript of eighty close-written pages on twenty folio sheets; that it is cast in the form of a letter to a friend not myself; that it was written at intervals during the last six months of the author’s imprisonment on blue stamped prison foolscap paper. Reference to it and directions in regard to it occur in the letters addressed to myself and printed in this volume. Wilde handed me the document on the day of his release; he was not allowed to send it to me from prison. With the exception of Major Nelson, then Governor of Reading, myself and a confidential typewriter, no one has read the whole of it. Contrary to a general impression, it contains nothing scandalous. There is no definite scheme or plan in the work; as he proceeded the writer’s intention obviously and constantly changed; it is desultory; a large portion of it is taken up with business and private matters of no interest whatever. The manuscript has, however, been seen and authenticated by yourself by Mr. Methuen, and Mr. Hamilton Fyfe, when editor of The Daily Mirror, where a leaf of it was facsimiled.

Editorial egoism has led me to make this introduction longer than was intended, but I must answer one question: both you and other friends have asked why I do not write any life of Wilde. I can give you two reasons: I am not capable of doing so; and Mr. Robert Sherard has ably supplied the deficiency. Mr. Sherard’s book contains all the important facts of his career; the errors are of minor importance, except in regard to certain gallant exaggerations about myself. His view of Wilde, however, is not my view, especially in reference to the author’s unhappiness after his release. That Wilde suffered at times from extreme poverty and intensely from social ostracism I know very well; but his temperament was essentially a happy one, and I think his good spirits and enjoyment of life far outweighed any bitter recollections or realisation of an equivocal and tragic position. No doubt he felt the latter keenly, but he concealed his feeling as a general rule, and his manifestations of it only lasted a very few days. He was, however, a man with many facets to his character; and left in regard to that character, and to his attainments, both before and after his downfall, curiously different impressions on professing judges of their fellowmen. To give the whole man would require the art of Boswell, Purcell or Robert Browning. My friend Mr. Sherard will only, I think, claim the biographical genius of Dr. Johnson; and I, scarcely the talent of Theophrastus. – Believe me, dear Dr. Meyerfeld, yours very truly,

Robert Ross
Reform Club, August 31st, 1907.