An attack on Oscar Wilde and Yeats

Yeats picFound, in the June 12, 1913 issue of a famous review is this scalding attack on two famous Irish writers.

In his “Oscar Wilde: a Critical Study “…Mr Ransome remarks that he cannot understand why the Oscar Wilde period (with Mr Yeats, I may add, as its tail-piece) was ever called decadent. Surely, it is either disingenuous or incompetent to fail in such an easy matter. The school was called decadent because it was decadent; and the decadence consisted in the usual feature of decadence, namely the elevation of the part above the whole in value. Pater, I verily believe, never had an idea in his life. In consequence he spent the whole of his energy in concealing the fact in his style. On his style he spent enormous pains as if he knew that he would live by that or nothing. That, I say– the over-attention to style—is decadence. Wilde again was never even a man of letters. Mr Ransome in my opinion utterly fails to present Wilde as he was –an Irish causeur and wit, a born blarney, a talker. In his conversation Wilde was as nearly natural as a self-conscious Irishman in England can possibly be ; that is, he talked to the English as if they were an exotic Frenchman, never by any chance, aiming at the truth, but aiming always at producing in us a pleasant gaping admiration of his cleverness. There are plenty of such Irishmen in England today, only their vogue is past and they no longer surprise us. Too clever for his intellect I called one of them a few weeks ago. Mr Ransome, however, takes Wilde seriously, if critically, as a writer, as a literary man. But as a writer, if you like, Wilde was a poseur. With a pen in his hand he was no longer Wilde but a sort of figure which I can only describe as Turveydrop on paper. He finicked among the words and phrases of the language as if he was playing court to them and was expecting a rebuff from the English genius at any moment. I never saw a page of Wilde that had not “ amateur “ in the vulgar sense written all over it , in vocabulary, in phraseology , and in construction. That also, when the writer is unaware of it, is decadence. It is not mastery of the language, but service under it, as under a mistress. And our language, thank goodness, hates the man who treats it as if it were the Lady of Shallot or Isolda. It is a queen, and its best courtiers are Prime Ministers. Continue reading

Oscar Wilde—a case of ‘human wreckage’

oscar_wilde_portraitFound in the issue of T.P.’s Weekly for July 11th 1914 is this distressing description of Oscar Wilde a year and a few months before his death. It was sent in by an American reader who noticed it in an article by the war correspondent George W Smalley (1833 – 1916) for The New York Tribune:

‘Oscar Wilde died in 1900, a bankrupt in respect of property and reputation alike. With regard to our personal relations I will quote Wilde’s own testimony:

     “ I dislike all journalists, and Smalley most of all “

I was staying with Sir Sydney and Lady Waterlow at their villa in Cannes during the winter of 1898 –’99. Every Sunday morning I used to drive with Sir Sydney to the further end of the Esterel promontory, the most picturesque portion of that picturesque Mediterranean shore, to the east and south-east of the town. As the horses walked up the long hill, I saw at some distance a figure of a man coming slowly down. He was tall, heavily built, ill-dressed, almost ragged. You could hardly say he walked. He shambled and slouched and stumbled along. As he came near, his face was bloated, the flesh hung below the jaw in dewlaps, the eyes were bleared; there was hardly a look of conscious humanity left in them; his whole attitude was one of illness and extreme misery and despair. ( It was Oscar Wilde.)

     He passed rather close to the victoria, and the spectacle of so much human wreckage was appalling’. [RR]

 

An album of Oscar Wilde letters

oscar_wildeFrom a 1946 catalogue of ‘scarce and interesting original autograph letters manuscripts historical documents’ from London dealer Winifred Myers.  She was a major player in the field of autographs into the 1960s. These were listed at £80. After 70 years it would be a safe bet to say they have gone up by over 2000 times …Fortunately they were bought by a collector who let them be published in Rupert Hart- Davis’s collection of Oscar’s letters that appeared in 1962. Are they still in the ‘choicely bound’ Riviere album?

WILDE (Oscar). 1856-1900. Author. 9 Autograph letters signed, with original envelopes, 38 pp., 4to. and 8vo., and one autograph post card signed O.W. (some letters are signed in full, some “Oscar” and some with initials), Paris, Dieppe, Naples, etc., 1897-99, to his publisher Leonard Smithers, chiefly regarding his “Ballad of Reading Gaol.” A very fine collection of letters of the utmost importance. The first letter written from Berneval only three months after his release from prison, expresses the hope that he will finish the Ballad within a few days, begs Smithers to get an answer from Beardsley about doing the frontispiece; a long letter from Naples deals fully with the title-page and his pseudonym C.3.3.; speaks affectionately of Robt. Ross; were all his friends like Ross he would not be “the pariah dog of the nineteenth century.” Refers to Lord Alfred Douglas who is staying with him, “He has also ruined my life, so I can’t help loving him,” his wife’s letter of reconciliation. “In questions of the emotions and their romantic quality, unpunctuality is fatal.” “I am going to try and find a place near Genoa!… The chastity of Switzerland has got on my nerves,” asking for money, “I have no money at all. I am in a dreadful state… I am nearly in the gutter,” mentioning “The Importance of Being Earnest,” etc. Probably the most important and moving collection of Wilde letters ever offered for sale, mounted with typescripts in an album, choicely bound, green morocco gilt, g.e. lettered in gold on spine, by Riviere.

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Whistler Stories

Found – Whistler Stories (Harper, New York 1913) put together by Don C Seitz. Many of the stories associated with the artist James McNeill Whistler are ironic jokes about his incredible self regard (‘…responding to an admirer who stated that there were only two great painters – Velasquez and himself. “Why drag in Velasquez.”’) or withering put downs. This exchange with Oscar Wilde is a good example of the latter:

 

Wilde asked the artist’s opinion upon a poem which he had written, presenting a copy to be read. Whistler read it and was handing it back without comment.
“Well,” queried Wilde, “do you perceive any worth?”
“It’s worth its weight in gold,” replied Whistler.
The poem was written on the very thinnest tissue-paper,
weighing practically nothing. The coolness between the two men is said to have dated from that moment.

The next story is a rare one – someone turns the tables on the great artist:

Whistler had a French poodle of which he was extravagantly fond.  This poodle was seized with an affection of the throat, and Whistler had the audacity to send for the great throat specialist, Mackenzie.  Sir Morell, when he saw that he had been called to treat a dog, didn’t like it much, it was plain.  But he said nothing.  He prescribed, pocketed a big fee, and drove away.  The next day he sent posthaste for Whistler.  And Whistler, thinking he was summoned on some matter connected with his beloved dog, dropped his work and rushed like the wind to Mackenzie’s.  On his arrival Sir Morell said, gravely:  “How do you do, Mr. Whistler?  I wanted to see you about having my front door painted.”

Lastly a tale that shows his self opinion was justified, although it took a few decades…

An American millionaire, to whom wealth had come rather quickly from Western mines, called at the Paris studio with the idea of capturing something for his gallery.  He glanced casually at the paintings on the walls, and then queried:
“How much for the lot?”
“Four millions,” said Whistler.
“What?”
“My posthumous prices!  Good morning!”

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Psychic Messages from Oscar Wilde

From a large spiritualist collection this curiosity Psychic Messages from Oscar Wilde (Psychic Book Club, London 1924) published 24 years after his death and purporting to be spirit communications from purgatory with the great writer. Why Oscar was in purgatory and not heaven is not explained (although he famously said 'I don't want to go to heaven. None of my friends are there.') One of the communicants, Eric Dingwall (described online as '...a man of many parts – psychical researcher, librarian, book and antique collector, anthropologist, sexologist, intelligence operative) was no mere gullible spiritualist and occasionally they get Oscar's tone...his damning opinion of Joyce's recently published Ulysses is interesting, but it seems more likely Oscar would have approved...

COPY OF AUTOMATIC SCRIPT OBTAINED MONDAY,

JUNE 18TH, 1923.

Present.-Mr. V., Mrs. Travers Smith, Mr. B., Mr. Dingwall (Research Officer of the Society for Psychical Research), Miss Cummins.

Mr. V. was the automatist, Mrs. T.S. touching his hand.

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