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March 30 , 2010

Thomas J. Wise

Centenary Studies


Thomas James Wise (1859–1937), though destined to receive in his own lifetime practically every honor the world of letters could bestow, is remembered today as perhaps the greatest malefactor in all of literary history. From 1934 to 1957 various enquiries have implicated him first in the manufacture of more than fifty predated "original" editions of eminent Victorian authors, then in seven additional forgeries, later in countless piracies of other nineteenth-century work, and finally in repeated acts of vandalism upon forty-one seventeenth-century plays. It is fitting that Wise himself appears as a contributor to this volume. Included are his original introduction to the Browning Library, his letters to bookseller J. E. Cornish, his extraordinary letter to Sir Edmund Gosse, and a note to H. Buxton Forman. These Centenary Studies review the course of research over twenty-five years, designate topics requiring further investigation, and assess new evidence of Wise's villainies. One more forgery is identified, the provenance of others reexamined, the forger's method of purveying his wares closely appraised, his association with H. Buxton Forman and Sir Edmund Gosse more precisely defined, and the range of his activities summarized in an annotated handlist. The record includes at least 400 printings directly attributed to Wise, as well as 23 suppressed or abortive issues, and 29 others in which he seems to be somewhat involved. Through these perspectives the culprit appears even more contemptible and, possibly for this very reason, ever more intriguing as a cause célèbre in literary scholarship. The illustration on the cover of this book reproduces, through a magnifying glass, the peculiar question mark appearing in certain forgeries printed for Wise by the firm of Richard Clay & Sons. The mark may also implicate Wise in other irregular printings, including The Death of Balder.
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