BLTC Press Titles

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The Characters of Theophrastus


The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett

Oscar Wilde

by Martin Birnbaum










jARLY in the nineties Clyde Fitch, an ambitious youngAmerican, had a play produced in London. After the final curtain some rowdies in the pit coaxed the inexperienced playwright to appear before the footlights and proceeded to "boo" and hiss him off as soon as he stepped in view. But the young man was not crushed. "They will have to applaud me yet," he exclaimed, and his subsequent meteoric career proved that he had fine talents. At that time, however, there were few in London who would listen to his verses, stories, and plays, and fewer still to buy them. In a notebook of the period we find him paraphrasing an ancient pessimistic troubadour,—

My fate is like the nightingale's,

That singeth all night long,
While still the woodlands mournfully

But echo back his song.

Sympathetic criticism and encouragement meant a great deal to him, and these were given him by Oscar Wilde. Like all generous spirits, the latter liked to praise, and when they met socially at the houses of London's smart set the kindly interest of the celebrity was highly appreciated by the aspiring playwright. Their acquaintance had long since ripened into a fine friendship. Wilde's exquisite fairy tales had evidently inspired young Fitch, and one of the stories in the latter's first published book—which breathes a spirit as pure and delightful as Wilde's own work—contains a charming dedication to the author of "The Happy Prince." It was to these stories that Wilde probably referred in the following note, which was found among his friend's papers:

[16 Tite Street,

Chelsea, N.W.]

Dear Clyde, Just a line to tell you how sorry I am

that you have left town, and how much I shall miss you.

When you return we must make merry over a

flagon of purple wine, and invent new tales with

which to charm the world. O. W.

One gloomy, rainy afternoon, the two men met in a deserted street. Wilde was driving in a hansom and he invited his friend to take the vacant seat beside him. Fitch accepted, and at once began to remonstrate with Wilde regarding certain ugly rumours which were circulating in London about him. The poet attempted to turn the matter into an epigram, but his friend would not be put off. He wanted a plain answer to the charges. Wilde refused to discuss the topic and finally called to the driver: " Stop to let this man out! I invited him for a drive, but he is not a gentleman!"

The incident reads like a page from " Dorian Gray." The old relationship ended then and there, but Fitch always admitted his obligation as an artist to Wilde, continued to look upon him as his intellectual inspiration, and was among those who came to Wilde's aid after his release from prison. Before the rupture a voluminous correspondence existed between them, and Fitch's library contained presentation copies of most of Wilde's works. " To Clyde, to whom the world has given both laurels and love, from his friend who wrote this book, May, '91 " is the typical inscription in one of them. Between the leaves of another volume there is one of Wilde's many beautiful, useless telegrams which reads simply: "What a charming day it has been! " Unfortunately, almost all the letters which passed between them seem to have been destroyed. A few happy notes from Wilde's wife to Fitch's mother still remain, in one of which she writes that Oscar " has become mad about golf, and spends two or three hours on the links every day, and this is so good for him." Cyril and Vivian, the children, have been having birthdays and whooping cough. Details of her domestic happiness are given which are painfully touching in the light of the trials that were in store for her a few short years after these letters were written. The most precious souvenir of the friendship between the two men is the manuscript of the following poem, found in a presentation copy of " Intentions." It has no title, and is signed " Oscar."

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