THE WRONG BOX. Robert Louis Stevenson, Lloyd Osbourne.


London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1889. 16 pp ads dated Jan 1889. Original red cloth.

First Edition (English) of this dark comedy which is also an early detective story; precedence between this and the American edition is uncertain. This was the first of three collaborations between Stevenson and his stepson (Osbourne actually wrote the initial draft in late 1887, and then RLS revised it while at sea in the Pacific in mid-1888). The draft was titled THE FINSBURY TONTINE, as it involves a "tontine." (A tontine, named for 17th-century banker Lorenzo Tonti, is

a curious financial arrangement whereby a large number of subscribers all contribute a stake to a central trust fund, and collect an annuity from it. Gradually, as members of the tontine die, those who remain find their annuity increasing; when all but one are dead, the survivor collects the entire pot... [In THE WRONG BOX] 37 young boys had each had 1000 pounds placed in the fund; by the time we join the story, there are just two left -- a pair of elderly, squabbling brothers...)

THE WRONG BOX was "a swirling farce involving a game of Hearts with the corpse of a misidentified invalid as the Queen of Spades, that hugely tickled Louis... though it proved hard to sell even with Louis's name on it. Most critics reject it as even worse than [PRINCE] OTTO or THE DYNAMITER..." [Furnas]. However after Rudyard Kipling read it, he wrote to a friend

I have got R.L. Stevenson's THE WRONG BOX and laughed over it dementedly when I read it. That man has only one lung but he makes you laugh with your whole inside.

A screenplay was co-written in the 1960s by Larry Gelbart, and for the 1966 film the cream of the comedic crop was enlisted -- Peter Sellers, Michael Caine and Dudley Moore.

This copy does have a rule under the word "Contents" on the Preface verso, precedence uncertain, and it has the earliest ads. It is in near-fine condition (volume a little askew, minor cover soil -- in both instances, less than usual for this book). Beinecke 501 (with 8/89 ads); Princeton 42 (copy 1). Item #13052

Price: $250.00