BETJEMAN, JOHN (1906-1984)
AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF HIS CELEBRATED POEM 'THE ARREST OF OSCAR WILDE AT THE CADOGAN HOTEL', 36 lines in nine four-line stanzas, 2 pages, quarto, on headed notepaper of the Architectural Review, short horizontal tear, some light dust-marks, not dated [but 1932/33]
He sipped at a weak hock and selzer
As he gazed at the London skies
Through the Nottingham Lace of the curtains
Or was it his bees-wing'd eyes? ...
"Mr Woilde, we 'ave come for to take yew
Where felons and criminals dwell,
We must hask yew to leave with us quoitly
For this is the Cadogan Hotel."...
ONE OF BETJEMAN'S GREATEST POEMS, it was first published in the Oxford and Cambridge magazine with a full-page Art Deco illustration by R.S. Sherriffs, after Geoffrey Grigson had rejected it as 'smart and frivolous.' In the poem Betjeman adopts the dialectical method of Robert Browning.
There are a number of verbal differences between the present manuscript and the printed version which include: 'in' for 'at' in the title; 'half wits' for 'cretins' (line 19); 'hask' for 'ask' (line 33); and 'to' for 'tew' (lines 31 and 33). 'Hask' is a loss; 'tew' a dubious gain. Betjeman consistently misspelled seltzer as 'selzer' in the manuscript, and in the printed version the entry of the police is dramatised with two sizes of capital letters. Betjeman once claimed to leave the punctuation in his literary compositions to his publishers; this seems to be only partly borne out by the present manuscript.
A.N. Wilson thought that the nine quatrains 'give a stronger sense of Wilde than many of the weighty biographies.'
NO OTHER MANUSCRIPT OF THIS POEM HAS BEEN SOLD AT AUCTION. A holograph manuscript of the poem listed in the Duncan Andrews Collection in the Beinecke Library at Yale and one in Christ Church, Oxford, are the only other manuscripts of it that have been found. The Betjeman papers are largely at the University of Victoria Library, British Columbia, the Beinecke and the Lockwood Library, SUNY, Buffalo.
PROVENANCE: Jeffrey Young Collection; Sotheby's, 14 December 1992, lot 15; Gekoski.
REFERENCE: Location Register of Twentieth-Century Literary Manuscripts and Letters, 2 volumes, 1988.