Denison Library’s collections include a number of books and letters by and about British poet, novelist, and textile designer William Morris (1834–1896) and his Kelmscott Press. Many of these materials were part of a donation of more than 6,000 books and 500 manuscripts bequeathed by the Los Angeles–area bibliophile and collector John I. Perkins. After meeting Scripps librarian Dorothy M. Drake in 1939, Perkins determined to give his collection to the College’s “fine library, housed in a beautiful building, specially constructed for the purpose it serves.”
Included in the Perkins donation of Morris-related works were two copies of a thin pamphlet titled The Two Sides of the River, Hapless Love, and The First Foray of Aristomenes. With a title page that identifies Morris as the author, the collection of three poems was supposedly privately printed by Morris in London in 1876 and described as not for sale at the time of publication. However, in 1934, this seemingly scarce pamphlet was revealed to be a forgery in John Carter and Graham Pollard’s Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets.
The individuals behind this fraudulent publication were Thomas J. Wise, later revealed to be a literary forger and thief, and his antiquarian bookseller and bibliographer colleague, Harry Buxton Forman. Together, Wise and Forman falsified the publishing history of not only Morris but other Victorian-era authors, including Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot. Their conspiratorial actions altered library and private book collections around the world.
Perkins purchased his two copies of The Two Sides of the River, Hapless Love, and The First Foray of Aristomenes from Dawson’s Book Shop in Los Angeles in 1925, some years before the revelation of Wise and Forman’s nefarious deeds. One of the copies bears an inscription on its fly-leaf to “John Barnes from his friend William Morris,” yet a simple comparison of this signature with other autographed letters by Morris in Denison Library’s collection quickly raises questions about authenticity. Perkins acquired these publications likely believing they were published by Morris, but when they arrived at Denison Library in the 1940s, they soon became teaching tools for training generations of Scripps students to question the credibility and true provenance of historic works.