Oscar Wilde, His Life and Confessions, by Frank Harris


By Robert Ross

Vol. I. Page 80 Line 3. I demur very much to your statement in this paragraph. Wilde was too much of a student of Greek to have learned anything about controversy from Whistler. No doubt Whistler was more nimble and more naturally gifted with the power of repartee, but when Wilde indulged in controversy with his critics, whether he got the best of it or not, he never borrowed the Whistlerian method. Cf. his controversy with Henley over Dorian Gray.

Then whatever you may think of Ruskin, Wilde learnt a great deal about the History and Philosophy of Art from him. He learned more from Pater and he was the friend and intimate of Burne–Jones long before he knew Whistler. I quite agree with your remark that he had “no joy in conflict” and no doubt he had little or no knowledge of the technique of Art in the modern expert’s sense.

[There never was a greater master of controversy than Whistler, and I believe Wilde borrowed his method of making fun of the adversary. Robert Ross’s second point is rather controversial. Shaw agrees with me that Wilde never knew anything really of music or of painting and neither the history nor the so-called philosophy of art makes one a connoisseur of contemporary masters. F.H.]

Page 94. Last line. For “happy candle” read “Happy Lamp.” It was at the period when oil lamps were put in the middle of the dinner table just before the general introduction of electric light; by putting “candle” you lose the period. Cf. Du Maurier’s pictures of dinner parties in Punch.

Page 115. I venture to think that you should state that Wilde at the end of his story of ‘Mr. W.H.’ definitely says that the theory is all nonsense. It always appeared to me a semi-satire of Shakespearean commentary. I remember Wilde saying to me after it was published that his next Shakespearean book would be a discussion as to whether the commentators on Hamlet were mad or only pretending to be. I think you take Wilde’s phantasy too seriously but I am not disputing whether you are right or wrong in your opinion of it; but it strikes me as a little solemn when on Page 116 you say that the ‘whole theory is completely mistaken’; but you are quite right when you say that it did Wilde a great deal of harm. [Ross does not seem to realise that if the theory were merely fantastic the public might be excused for condemning Oscar for playing with such a subject. As a matter of fact I remember Oscar defending the theory to me years later with all earnestness: that’s why I stated my opinion of it. F.H.]

Page 142 Line 19. What Wilde said in front of the curtain was: “I have enjoyed this evening immensely.”

[I seem to remember that Wilde said this; my note was written after a dinner a day or two later when Oscar acted the whole scene over again and probably elaborated his effect. I give the elaboration as most characteristic. F.H.]

Vol. II. Page 357 Line 3. Major Nelson was the name of the Governor at Reading prison. He was one of the most charming men I ever came across. I think he was a little hurt by the “Ballad of Reading Gaol,” which he fancied rather reflected on him though Major Isaacson was the Governor at the time the soldier was executed. Isaacson was a perfect monster. Wilde sent Nelson copies of his books, “The Ideal Husband” and “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which were published as you remember after the release, and Nelson acknowledged them in a most delightful way. He is dead now.

[Major Isaacson was the governor who boasted to me that he was knocking the nonsense out of Wilde; he seemed to me almost inhuman. My report got him relieved and Nelson appointed in his stead. Nelson was an ideal governor. F.H.]

Page 387. In the First Edition of the “Ballad of Reading Gaol” issued by Methuen I have given the original draft of the poem which was in my hands in September 1897, long before Wilde rejoined Douglas. I will send you a copy of it if you like, but it is much more likely to reach you if you order it through Putnam’s in New York as they are Methuen’s agents. I would like you to see it because it fortifies your opinion about Douglas’ ridiculous contention; though I could explode the whole thing by Wilde’s letters to myself from Berneval. Certain verses were indeed added at Naples. I do not know what you will think, but to me they prove the mental decline due to the atmosphere and life that Wilde was leading at the time. Let us be just and say that perhaps Douglas assisted more than he was conscious of in their composition. To me they are terribly poor stuff, but then, unlike yourself, I am a heretic about the Ballad.

Page 411. In fairness to Gide: Gide is describing Wilde after he had come back from Naples in the year 1898, not in 1897, when he had just come out of prison.

Appendix Page 438 Line 20. Forgive me if I say it, but I think your method of sneering at Curzon unworthy of Frank Harris. Sneer by all means; but not in that particular way.

[Robert Ross is mistaken here: no sneer was intended. I added Curzon’s title to avoid giving myself the air of an intimate. F.H.]

Page 488 Line 17. You really are wrong about Mellor’s admiration for Wilde. He liked his society but loathed his writing. I was quite angry in 1900 when Mellor came to see me at Mentone (after Wilde’s death, of course), when he said he could never see any merit whatever in Wilde’s plays or books. However the point is a small one.

Page 490 Line 6. The only thing I can claim to have invented in connection with Wilde were the two titles “De Profundis” and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” for which let me say I can produce documentary evidence. The publication of “De Profundis” was delayed for a month in 1905 because I could not decide on what to call it. It happened to catch on but I do not think it a very good title.

Page 555 Line 18. Do you happen to have compared Douglas’ translation of Salome in Lane’s First edition (with Beardsley’s illustrations) with Lane’s Second edition (with Beardsley’s illustrations) or Lane’s little editions (without Beardsley’s illustrations)? Or have you ever compared the aforesaid First edition with the original? Douglas’ translation omits a great deal of the text and is actually wrong as a rendering of the text in many cases. I have had this out with a good many people. I believe Douglas is to this day sublimely unconscious that his text, of which there were never more than 500 copies issued in England, has been entirely scrapped; his name at my instance was removed from the current issues for the very good reason that the new translation is not his. But this is merely an observation not a correction.

[I talked this matter over with Douglas more than once. He did not know French well; but he could understand it and he was a rarely good translator as his version of a Baudelaire sonnet shows. In any dispute as to the value of a word or phrase I should prefer his opinion to Oscar’s. But Ross is doubtless right on this point. F.H.]

Appendix Page 587. Your memory is at fault here. The charge against Horatio Lloyd was of a normal kind. It was for exposing himself to nursemaids in the gardens of the Temple.

[I have corrected this as indeed I have always used Ross’s corrections on matters of fact. F.H.]

Page 596 Line 13. I think there ought to be a capital “E” in exhibition to emphasise that it is the 1900 Exhibition in Paris.


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