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Life's Little Ironies. A Set of Tales with some Colloquial Sketches entitled A Few Crusted Characters.
London: Osgood, McIlvaine and Co., 1894 - Octavo. Original green cloth, gilt titles and red rules and floral design to spine and front board. Cloth a little darkened, rubbing to ends and corners, hinges just starting, split at the top of front free endpaper, leaves otherwise very slightly brittle and lightly browned at the margins, but nonetheless overall a very good copy. First edition, first impression, rare presentation copy inscribed within a month of publication, "The Countess of Malmesbury from Thomas Hardy. March, 1894". The recipient was Susan Harris (née Hamilton), dowager Countess of Malmesbury (1854-1935), who had been married to Victorian statesman James Howard Harris, 3rd Earl of Malmesbury (1807-89) for nine years since 1880 until his death. She later, in 1896, married British army officer Major-General Sir John Charles Ardagh (1840–1907) - this inscription, however, falls between her two marriages. Hardy (who was in 1894 in the middle of his troubled marriage to Emma Gifford), saw rather a lot of Lady Malmesbury around this time. He even dined with her on his birthday in 1892. Florence Hardy relates in her biography of her husband a characteristically melancholy anecdote from one of these visits, in April 1894 (the month after this book's presentation): "At Lady Malmesbury's one of her green linnets escaped from its cage, and he caught it – reluctantly, but feeling that a green linnet at large in London would be in a worse predicament than as a prisoner." He and Emma were both guests at Lady Malmesbury's marriage to Ardagh in 1896. Perhaps rather pointedly, she soon after co-authored (alongside novelist Marie Corelli, Lady Jeune, and Flora Annie Steel) a work entitled The Modern Marriage Market (1897) - a subject Hardy had addressed in The Hand of Ethelberta (1876). She also wrote several other articles and books on such topics as stag hunting and bicycling ("Bicycling in Barbados" and "On a Bike in the Bosch"). Presentation copies of this collection of Hardy short stories and character sketches, which were published 22 February 1894 in an edition of 2,000 copies, are genuinely rare - the last copy to appear at auction was that inscribed to Edmund Gosse, in Frederick B. Adams, Jr.'s famous Thomas Hardy sale at Sotheby's in 2001 - it made just shy of £10,000. Before that, the last presentation copy, to the publisher, appeared in 1959. We can find no others recorded at auction. The bibliographer Purdy noted that only four presentation copies were known, inscribed to Gosse, the Earl of Pembroke, Sir Francis Jeune, and the publisher Clarence McIlvaine. This Malmesbury copy adds one to that scant store. Purdy pp.81-6. [Attributes: First Edition; Signed Copy]
      [Bookseller: Peter Harrington. ABA member]
Last Found On: 2017-06-14           Check availability:      ZVAB    

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