THE OSCHOLARS

 

A BROTHER OF ANY SORT:

WILLIAM CHARLES KINGSBURY WILDE

 

This page is perpetually under construction.  Having assembled the monthly articles on Willie published in THE OSCHOLARS in the spring and summer of 2003, we intend adding new information as it comes to hand.  This will be announced in THE OSCHOLARS and linked to here.

 

I.  The Man; II.  The Work.

I.  The Man

Little writing has been devoted to Willie Wilde.  Here two are articles, to which number we hope more can be added.

·  Karl Beckson: ‘The Importance of Being Angry: The Mutual Antagonism of Oscar & Willie Wilde’ in Norman Kiell (ed.): Blood Brothers – Siblings as Writers. New YorkInternational University Press 1984.

·  James Edward Holroyd: ‘Brother of Oscar’.  Edinburgh: Blackwood’s Magazine March 1974.

Our work on Willie Wilde begins with recourse to Burke’s Irish Family Records (London: Burke’s Peerage 1976) where (p.1217) in the entry on the Wilde family, Willie is described as ‘an accomplished pianist and an artist of little talent’.  The rather complex series of marriages into which he ventured may be logged from the same source:

Miriam Florence Folline (d.1914) m.

i. David Charles Peacock

ii.  E.G. Squier

iii.  Frank Leslie

iv.  Willie Wilde, who m.

ii. Sophie Lily Lees (d. 7th October 1922), who m.

ii.  Alexander Texeira de Mattos (d. 5th December 1921).

Dorothy (Dolly) Wilde was the daughter of Willie and Lily.

The search for information on Willie Wilde needs to be undertaken not so much in the artistic ‘Bohemia’ of which Oscar was an habitué, but in the sporting and journalistic Bohemia of Romano’s, the Pelican Club and the chop houses of the Strand.  One sporting club was the Fielding, which during its short life opened its doors at eight o’clock in the evening and remained open all night. It was noted for its grills, its brandy and its Pol Roger ‘74 at any time, though its tripe and onions on Saturdays were an especial draw.  One member, Vincent Corbett, lists Willie among those who were ‘constant guests’ on Saturdays, along with Irving, Tree, Joe Comyns Carr, Edward Dicey, Carlo Pellegrini (‘Ape’ of Vanity Fair), Fred Clay and Oscar himself.  Corbett also records as occasional visitors Whistler, Harper Pennington (the American artist who painted a portrait of Oscar), the barrister Montague Williams, and of all people Lord Queensberry.  Constant attendance by the Wilde brothers, occasional atendance by the scarlet marquess: here is a confluence that would repay further exploration.  Not least, it is amusing to think of Oscar dining off tripe and onions.

Source: Sir Vincent Corbett, K.C.V.O.: Reminiscences, Autobiographical and Diplomatic.  London: Hodder & Stoughton n.d (preface dated July 1927) p.38.

Ralph Nevill was the son of Lady Dorothy Nevill, who entertained Oscar Wilde for a time, and appears in his correspondence.  In his book The World of Fashion 1837-1922 (London: Methuen: 1923 p.70), Nevill has this to say about Willie Wilde:

Willie Wilde was a clever journalist who, had he been less careless in his habits, might have achieved considerable success.  As it was, a number of the articles which he wrote for the Daily Telegraph were little short of brilliant, while as a talker, few could equal him.  He was, however, his own enemy, and could not resist the attractions of the moment or settle down long to regular work — in truth, though not very old in years, he belonged to the now almost extinct school of journalists which, taking ‘sufficient is the day for the evil there of’ as their motto, never gave a thought to the future (or anything else) if they happened to have a few pounds in their pockets.

Max Beerbohm’s description of Willie has been important in our concept of him.  It occurs in a letter to Will Rothenstein, dating to late September 1893.

Did I tell you that I saw a good deal of [Oscar’s] brother Willie at Broadstairs? Quel monstre! Dark, oily, suspecte [sic] yet awfully like Oscar: he has Oscar’s coy, carnal smile & fatuous giggle & nota little of Oscar’s spirit.  But he is awful – a veritable tragedy of family likeness.’

Max and Will, Max Beerbohm and William Rothenstein, Their Friendship and Letters 1893-1945.  Edited, with Introductions and Notes by Mary M. Lago and Karl Beckson.  London: 1975 p.21.

One wonders why, such being Max’s opinion, he ‘saw a good deal’ of Willie. But many years later, even a more kindly memory of Willie makes him a figure of fun.

 My sister Constance came home one day and summoned my mother and me; she was quivering to tell us what had happened.  She knew in advance it was the sort of thing my mother would adore.  Well, Constance had been walking along the street and met Willie Wilde – Oscar’s brother. In one  hand, he was carrying a huge leg of mutton by the narrow part; with his free hand he swept off his  hat and bent over double in a grand, ceremonial bow.  There was something so grotesquely funny in the way she did it, conveying both the mutton and the bow.  We decided it was a first class thing.’

– Max Beerbohm, quoted in S.N. Behrman: Conversations with Max.  London: Hamish Hamilton 1960 p.38.

Thomas Gibson Bowles was the proprietor of Vanity Fair, and for a time engaged Willie Wilde as dramatic critic, a circumstance that opens up new research avenues.  Thanks to this engagement, we have one of the few letters  (we hesitate to say the only letter) of Willie’s to have appeared in print.  This is taken from Leonard E. Naylor: The Irrepressible Victorian, The Story of Thomas Gibson Bowles, Journalist, Parliamentarian and Founder Editor of the Original Vanity Fair.  London: Macdonald 1965 pp.95-6.

The letter, which refers to the Irving/Terry Romeo and Juliet, is dated from 116 Park Street, Grosvenor Square, 10th March 1882. The somewhat convoluted English suggests that though Willie might have rivalled Oscar as a talker, he certainly did not do so as a letter writer.  It does, however, show the brothers’ relationship in a pleasant light.

We transcribe the letter exactly, without of course being aware of the accuracy or otherwise of Naylor’s transcription.  We draw readers’ attention to the curious signature.

Dear Mr Bowles,

I wish I had known you had wanted article on the Lyceum piece for this week. I would have written it on Wed. night: but you had a notice of mine already in hand and frankly I did not think you would take a rather longish criticism in addition, and I would sooner have next week to the play by itself than be held ever. I do most earnestly desire to fulfil thoroughly the part of a dramatic critic—indeed I know you yourself don’t think as much of ‘At the Play’ [*] as I do—a matter of importance in the paper—and I value the position very highly—despite many, doubtless wise, cuts out and substitutions of my work.

I shall send in my article straightway—I think I see very strong lines to be taken on it—so that you can see it in time and judge thereon.

I do wish we could pull better together in many matters as I am very fond of the paper as an old worker on it.

I have held my tongue on one special matter which is very painful indeed to me and mine—why is it that whenever you get an opening you ‘go for’ my brother Oscar so wickedly? Chaff, satire, wit, fun, honest criticism are all fair enough, but such stories as your ‘Chief’ [**] (quorum parva pars fin) [§] tells of his being ‘utterly out of English Society’—neither received nor recognised—(about two numbers ago) are nasty and, as a matter of fact, false. I have hardly been able to believe that you could have seen and passed a review of his poems of the ugliest and most venomous character that appeared while you were abroad—but since then the same tone has always been kept up. The review was (to my mind) not only brutal, but bad workmanship.

Still it was on a book, but the apocryphal American anecdotes are surely attacking a young man from ambush—not after the wonted honest fashion of the paper. I have said my say, cost what costs; I regret about ‘Romeo and Juliet’ but the stern truth about it (not yet told as far as I have read the notices) you shall have at once for next week.

Sincerely yours,

W.T.R. Wilde

* Here is interpolated, presumably by Naylor, the phrase: (the weekly feature for which Wilde was responsible)

** Here Naylor interpolates the phrase: [the nom-de-plume appended to a gossip column called ‘Notes’]

§ This is Willie’s parenthesis, tr. ‘Of which I was a small part’ This is usually expressed as ‘quorum pars parva fui’, an adaptation of ‘quorum pars magna fui’, a line used by Ćneas when recounting to Dido the tale of the fall of Troy (Ćneid, book two, line five.)  Willie’s version does not scan, and ‘fin’ must surely be a misprint in Naylor. The line occurs in the Ćneid four lines after ‘Conticuere omnes intentique ora tenebant’, beloved by every Victorian schoolboy for its translation as ‘They were all County Kerry men and kept whores in their tents’.

 Naylor continues

 The notice of Romeo and Juliet duly appeared, and Wilde called the production ‘disappointingly unsatisfactory’. He was scathing about Irving’s interpretation of Romeo—’a melancholy, weak, whining creature; a most miserable lover indeed’; ‘faulty elocution and gross mispronunciation’ are a few of the brickbats. As for Ellen Terry’s Juliet—’tragedy overwhelms her—she has not the power for it; her Juliet is weak’.

Not long afterwards Willie Wilde ceased to contribute to Vanity Fair.  He became incapable of serious work and his brother Oscar once said of him ‘He sponges on everyone but himself’.



II.  The Work

The following poems were published in Robert Yelverton Tyrrell (ed.): Kottabos (Dublin:William Gee; London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co.), where Oscar also published poetry.  All Willie’s poems inKottabos were published over the initials W.C.K.W.

This is in (bound) volume III, published in Dublin by William McGee and in London by Simpkin Marshall 1881, p.134.

Salome

(for a picture)

“The  sight of me was as a devouring flame

     Burning there hearts with fire, so wantonly

     That  night I danced for all his men to see!

Fearless and reckless; for all maiden shame

Strong poison-passions throbbing overcame

     As every eye was riveted on me,

     And every soul was mine, mine utterly,–

And thrice each throat cried out aloud my name!

“Ask what thou wilt,” black-bearded Herod said.

     God wot a weird thing I craved as prize:

“Give me,  I pray thee, presently the head

     Of John the Baptist.” ’Twixt my hands it lies.

     “Ah, mother! see! the lips, the half-closed eyes –

Dost think he hates us still now he is dead?”


The following two poems are companion pieces, both published in Kottabos. Dublin: William Gee; London: Simpkin, Marshall &Co. (bound) Volume III 1881 pp.16-17.

Outside the Convent – Faustine

“Because bright jewels my fair bosom deck,

    And love’s hot lips – close press’d – cling fast to mine

    Because rose-garlands crown the cups of wine

And all Love’s ministers are at my beck,

Think you I mourn – repent – or aught I reck

    How tongues wag? Think you that I weep and pine

    Shedding salt tears as bitter sea brine

Because his arms lie warm around my neck?

Look you!  we live but once – this life I know;

No other wot I of beyond the tomb –

I laugh to scorn your devils down below –

    Your torture – fires– your everlasting gloom!

I seek no heaven, I dread no God above,

I fear no hell, save living without love!”

Inside the Convent – Sister Mary.

Because my treasure knows nor moth nor rust,

       Because I live in holy peaceful rest

       In sacred maidenhood on God’s own breast,

And in His loving mercy put my trust,

I fear no taint of sin or lust;

       Espoused to him in mystic union blest,

       I work unceasingly in His behest,

Whose ways are pure, and sanctified and just.

He loves me, and no love of man I crave,

       At best ‘tis linked with some desire of sin,

Whilst here I serve Him, – when I pass the grave

       My bridegroom waiteth me to lead me in

To his own place, – Lord Christ, who lovest me,

       Deign to receive my life’s virginity!

 



Saith the Poet”

“This Sleeping Night, so calm, serene and meek,

       Was by an Angel’s sculptor hand created;

       See! breathing life is with marble mated;

Wake her, if you believe not; she will speak.”

“Night Maketh Answer”

“While bitter Shame endures, and Wrong; and Woe,

       ’Tis sweet to sleep, – still better be of stone,

       To see not, feel not, hear no human moan;

Therefore awake me never.   Hist! speak low.”

 

from volume II of Kottabos, Dublin: McGee and London: George Bell & Sons 1877, pp.5 & 7.

The quotation marks are in the original.

‘Per Amica Silentia Lunae

(from Victor Hugo)

The pale moon glitters on the flowing waves;

     Each riplet, bright with laughing silver, glistens,

     The Fairest of the Harčm sits and listens;

While the sea murmurs to the isles it leaves.

Sudden falls from her fingers the guitar,

     With loosen’d chords, no longer music waking—

     What sound was that, the midnight silence breaking

With a dull, heavy echo from afar?

Some Turkish bark from Greece her burden brings

     With straining oar: perchance some cormorant splashes

     The argent waters–o’er the waves he dashes,

Tossing the spray, like pearl drops from his wings.

Was that a sea-bird’s scream?  Or awful moan

     Of some fell Djinn, who shakes these lofty towers?

     Or far-off thunder from yon cloud that lowers

In the dim distance?  Or was it a falling stone?

No Turkish bark from sunny Greece is come,

     No cormorant breaks the silence of the hour,

     No cry of bird, nor demon from the tower

Hurls down our turrets–Heaven itself is dumb.

A stifled sob — a choking cry to save! —

    A heavy sack falls quivering in the water;

    The sound was murder —”Nay, the Sultan bought her.” —

Still the moon glitters o’er the silv’ry wave.

 

Kottabos vol I 1874 p.261.


‘NIL RESTAT NI QUALE DECORUM PUELLAE’

(from Victor Hugo)

I tell you hush!—no word of sneering scorn —

     True—fallen; but God knows how deep her sorrow:

Poor girl! too many like her only born

     To love one day—to sin—and die the morrow

What know you of her struggles or her grief?

     Or what wild storms of want and woe and pain

Tore down her soul from honour?  As a leaf

     From autumn branches, or a drop of rain

That hang in frailest splendour from a bough —

     Bright, glistening in the sunlight of God’s day —

So had she clung to virtue once.  But now —

     See Heaven’s bright pearl polluted with earth’s clay!

The sin is yours—with your accursed gold -

     Man’s wealth is master—woman’s soul the slave!

Some clear, pure water still the mire may hold.

     Is there no hope for her—no power to save?

Yes.  Once again to draw up from the clay

     The fallen rain-drop, till it shine above,

Or save a fallen soul, needs but one ray

     Of Heaven’s sunshine—or of human love.

Kottabos Volume I pp.292-3.

(Is it fanciful to see in this account of the death of a woman who has raised her veil another pre-echo of Oscar?)


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