I am Robbie Ross.
I just turned 17 when I met Oscar but looked much younger. Oscar said I had the face of Puck and the heart of an angel! When I first met him I was sexually precocious and sure of my sexual orientation. I knew exactly what I wanted and where to find it. I had a joyful acceptance of myself as a lover of men, an acceptance most Victorian men did not have and that must have appealed to Oscar.
I was staying in the Wilde household on Tite St as a paying guest while my mother traveled in 1887. It was there that I seduced Oscar although I wasn't necessarily his first male encounter.
Our deep love affair was short-lived but unlike many of his future affairs it became a deep and lasting friendship.
I think our long talks about art, literature and sexuality helped Oscar's creativity. Oscar treated me as an equal in our conversations. We analyzed that Shakespeare was a lover of men and his greatest passion in the sonnets was a boy actor. These discussions resulted in The Portrait of Mr W H. After the publication of the story , Oscar thanked me saying " Indeed, the story is half yours and but for you would not have been written." During the the time I spent lodging with the Wildes I wrote down many of Oscar's bon mots and epigrams and later I gave him a copy of them many of which he used in The Importance Of Being Earnest.
I was born in 1869 in Tours, France. My grandfather and mother Eliza came from a provenience Canadian family and my father also was important in Canadian politics. After my father's death we moved to London. I was mostly educated by tutors and traveled extensively with my mother.
When we lived in Chelsea I caught the attention of Thomas Carlyle when I appeared in a Scottish kilt as a child. He patted my head and asked my name. I said Bobbie. He urged that it should be Robbie a memory no doubt to Burns.
I went to study at King's College, Cambridge and Oscar commended me to Oscar Browning who taught there. I assume because of my worldly demeanor and some articles I wrote ridiculing Etonians some of them conspired and dunked me in the college's fountain. I suffered a nervous breakdown over this incident and did not continue my studies there.
I was at the libel trial of Queensberry April 3, 1985 with many of Oscar's friends and supporters.
After the case collapsed and his own arrest seemed certain I and others urged him to leave for the continent. He gallantly if foolishly said he would stay and do his sentence. I went to his house on Tite St and broke into his library removing as much of his manuscripts and personal papers as I could carry. Emotionally drained I went to my mother's house and broke down.
My relatives were naturally distressed at my connection with a very disgraceful scandal. Unlike most of my generation I had previously told my mother, brother and sister that I was a lover of men. My name had appeared in the newspapers as being withOscar when he was arrested. In consequence of that I had to leave some of my clubs. My mother promised that if I would go abroad for a few weeks she would contribute toward the expenses of Oscar's defense and that she would assist Lady Wilde which she did until Lady Wilde's death.
I settled in Calais with Reggie Turner where the British papers were filled with editorials denouncing perverts and Oscar. The French press appeared mystified why the English apparently considered sodomy a crime second only to murder. My mother, close friend and author Edmond Gosse and others urged me to stay in France for a long time. I could not forget though my love for Oscar and his suffering. I stayed with Bosie on Capri for two months. He appeared to be completely self-centered about what happened to Oscar.
To help Oscar avoid bankruptcy I solicited funds from his friends but it was not enough to avoid the sale of the contents of his and Constance's House Beautiful. I visited Oscar in Reading Gaol with Ernest Leverson, the Sphinx's husband who was helping with Oscar's finances. I tried to reassure him that we would help make a life for him once he was released.
I had converted to Catholicism in 1894. Oscar considered my devout side both amusing and admirable. He had dubbed me St. Robert of Phillimore, Lover and Martyr, a saint known for his extraordinary power not in resisting but in supplying temptations to others.
I was in a triangle during this time with Bosie berating me because Oscar did not want to see him; Oscar criticizing all his friends for muddling up financial arrangements with Constance ; and even Constance chiding about our interference. I was in a difficult position given my love for Oscar, my affection for Constance and my strong bond of friendship with Bosie.
When I saw Oscar in prison he was physically much worse than I had been lead to believe. Indeed, I really should not have known him at all! His clothes hung about him in loose folds and his hands were like those of a skeleton. He was in the prison infirmary and told me he hoped to die very soon. Truly he only spoke calmly about death. Every other subject caused him to break down.
However his treatment improved in the prison and when he was released after the long two years Reggie Turner and I were waiting his arrival in Dieppe. It was a magnificent Spring morning. He arrived at the jetty at 430 am. We began running to the landing and Oscar recognized us and waved with his hand with his lips curled in a smile. His face had lost all its coarseness and looked as he must have looked at Oxford in the early days before I knew him.
Reggie and I had filled his room with flowers and books. He was overwhelmed by the beauty of nature. He enjoyed the trees and the grass and the country scents and sounds just as a street-bred child might enjoy them on his first day in the country.
Upon his arrival , Oscar handed me the manuscript of his lengthy letter to Bosie which I later called De Profundis. He began work on what would be his last work The Ballad Of Reading Gaol.
When it was finished I undertook to get the poem published. I was amazed when it became a big success going through six printings in five months. I faced many issues now: my own health, Oscar's constant demands for money, the death of my dear friend Aubrey Beardsley and my lack of direction in writing. I finally decided on the field of art criticism as well as art appraisal.
Oscar's health worsened in 1900 And I returned to Paris on his birthday October 16 to find him in the company of Reggie Turner and my older brother Aleck. Between the grogginess of morphine and opium for pain, Oscar had moments of levity. He said he dreamt he was supping with the dead.Reggie quipped I'm sure you were the life and soul of the party. Another of Oscar's quotes was that "my wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death! One of us will have to go! ". Believing He had stabilized I joined my mother on the Riviera but hurried back when his condition became hopeless. I was at his bedside when he died on November 30. I had gotten a priest to conditional baptize Oscar on his death bed.
The three most important men in my life had been Oscar Wilde, Bosie Douglas and Freddie Smith, a young man who became my secretary and companion. I continued to make the Wilde estate solvent and succeeded in acquiring his copyrights and paying off the creditors. In 1908 I edited the Collected Works Of Oscar Wilde. In the meantime I had become an art dealer and managed the Carfax Gallery in Mayfair.
I remember Oscar and I discussing art and literature. it was his contention that no achievement in the arts can occur without the English asking if it quite moral. No picture can be painted, no novel written without the inquiry whether it is fit and proper for their underage daughters, their underfed sons and their overaged fathers. They do not first ask if this picture is well painted or if this book is well-written . Yet that is the only spirit in which such things should be considered at all.
My relationship with BosieDouglas deteriorated over the years. There was a time when we and Oscar too would share lovers and stay together. However after I published an unabridged version of De Profundis in 1905 which had deleted all direct mention of Douglas, things worsened. After Douglas sued the author Arthur Ransome for libel after publication of his new book on Oscar, the full letter was presented in court in 1913. Douglas lost the case but his vendetta against me intensified. Like his father before him he used private detectives to follow me and hoped to have me arrested for my relationship with Freddie Smith.
Douglas was editing a journal called The Academy then and his associate editor Thomas Crosland was an opinionated bigot who hated Oscar and his kind including me. They published libelous statements about me and I instituted proceedings against them in a deja vu way like Oscar had done against Queensberry. Fortunately I won the case but they were not completely silenced.
After the publication of the Collected Works there was a testimonial dinner for me at The Ritz Hotel. Over 300 guests attended including the Prime Minister and Mrs Asquith as well as many leading artists and friends including Vyvyan Holland.
During The Great War I was deeply opposed especially over all the senseless carnage. I befriended the anti-war soldier poets Siegfried Sasoon, Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen.
I was gravely ill when toward the end of the war, the right wing politician Noel Pemberton-Billings was sued for libel by the dancer Maud Allen and her producer. They had done a private performance of Salome under my authorization. Billings claimed that the Germans had a black list of 47,000 preverts in government and society who were being blackmailed into impeding the war effort. Miss Allen was called part of the Cult of the Clitoris. I urged her not to sue and was too ill to testify. Billings star witness was Douglas . He declared that Oscar was the greatest force of evil that had appeared in Europe in the last 350 years! He also attacked me in court.
Due to the war hysteria Billings was acquitted. This further weakened my health and I was grieved that kicking the corpse of Oscar continued to be a pleasure to the English people.
I was leaving on a trip to Australia on art business when I suddenly died October 5 1918 of heart failure. My friends were shocked and Vyvyan Holland wrote from France: Robbie has always been my dearest friend and I have always looked to him when I wanted security and advice.
I wished to be buried in the tomb with Oscar but that was not possible then for my relatives probably due to the malevolent presence of Douglas. But on the 50th anniversary of Oscar's death , November 30 1950 in a simple ceremony Marjorie Ross, the widow of my nephew William Jones placed an urn of my ashes in the space that I had asked Jacob Epstein to incorporate into the monument. I was confident even then that one day I would find my rightful resting place with my beloved friend.
written by bill kaiser for oscar wilde's 162nd birthday salon @ antebellum hollywood.
PRESENTED @ ANTEBELLUM HOLLYWOOD
ON THE 162ND BIRTHDAY OF OSCAR WILDE.
for info about oscar wilde death day salon on november 30th~