Wednesday, September 10, 2014

163. A New Biography of Oscar Wilde's Bibliographer

Recently a second biographical sketch of Oscar Wilde's bibliographer, Christopher Sclater Millard (also known as Stuart Mason), appeared. It is written and self-published by Maria Roberts through Publishing: Yours Loyally

Maria Roberts, Yours Loyally. A Life of Christopher Sclater Millard (2014)
Frankly, the book has all the faults of self-published books: darkly reproduced and mostly unnecessary photographs of buildings (not people), page numbers on title page and blank pages, occasional lapses in the outlining of paragraphs, the absence of a proof reader who might have corrected the misspelling of (Dutch) names (such as Gerrit Groenewergen), and the more annoying references to people's given names, in many places forcing the reader to go back ten or more pages to find out that Charley, Charles, and Alfred, are in fact Charles Garrett, Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff, and Lord Alfred Douglas. Robert Ross, of course, is called Robbie all the time.

Anyway, the only reason to talk about the book is that it includes new information about Millard, who not only compiled Wilde's bibliography, and worked for the Burlington Magazine, acted as Ross's secretary, and became an antiquarian book dealer out of necessity, but pursued the life of a Catholic, a Jacobite, and a homosexual. He was convicted twice for homosexual conduct, and spent six, and later twelve, months in jail.

H. Montgomery Hyde, Christopher Sclater Millard (Stuart Mason). Bibliographer & Antiquarian Book Dealer (1989)
H. Montgomery Hyde's earlier, brief biography concentrated on the bookish side of Millard's life, while Roberts does not seem to know a lot about bibliography, Wilde, or the 1890s in general. She quotes extensively from two sources: letters from Millard to the Wilde collector Walter Ledger, and the correspondence and statements of the Metropolitan Police Officer. These new sources portray the ongoings of Millard in a gay literary circle in London, and are most welcome for the study of the period - I enjoyed reading these gossipy pages. However, they take much more space than Millard's other activities, distorting the picture of a man whose chief merit was his bibliography and other publications about Oscar Wilde. Also, 'could have' and 'perhaps' occur too many times in the book that despite a lack of information fills in the blanks.

Stuart Mason (C.S. Millard), Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1914)
Roberts talks about 'Charles de Soury [for Soucy] Ricketts on page 106 [and in the index], but seven lines later shortens it to 'Charles'. Charles Ricketts's and Charles Shannon's names are listed among the acknowledgements in Millard's bibliography. Millard visited Ricketts in order to find out more about Wilde's books that he and Shannon had designed for Wilde. On 15 November 1912 Millard wrote to Walter Ledger: 'I am going to see him one day soon [...] And will let you know if I can get any information out of him.' Millard thought that he knew more about Ricketts's drawings 'than he knows himself!' (p. 105-106). The outcome of the meeting remains unrecorded, although the bibliography contains details that Millard could only have heard from Ricketts and Shannon. 

On 2 January 1919 Millard wrote to Ledger that the bibliography should have been produced in a limited edition of five hundred copies, as the publisher - after selling most copies - used the unsold gatherings as packing paper. For the binding Millard reproduced the three roundels that Ricketts had designed for Wilde's collected works that were published in 1908. Roberts does not mention this. She seems to think that only 80 copies of these works were published (page 88); of course, besides 80 deluxe copies in vellum bindings, 1000 copies in buckram were issued.

The information on the personalities from the nineties is shallow and full of mistakes. It is suggested, for instance, that Alexander Teixeiro de Mattos was introduced into a circle of former friends of Oscar Wilde after his 1900 marriage to Lily Wilde. Of course, he had known them as early as 1891 (when he co-translated with John Gray a novel by the Dutch writer Louis Couperus, Ecstasy), and Wilde himself wrote him a letter in May 1893 (see The Complete Letters). 

Roberts later suggests that John Gray and AndrĂ© Raffalovich were living together in Edinburgh in 1916 when Millard attended mass at Gray's church, but Gray only lived with Raffalovich at No. 9, Whitehouse Terrace in Edinburgh while, nearby, St. Peter's Church and his house were built for him (1905-1907). Another nineties personality, the actor and stage manager Jack Thomas Grein is misnamed John. This kind of errors in a book always makes me nervous: can we trust the quotations from the Ledger letters or the police reports that Maria Roberts presents us in her biography of Millard? Surely, they are revealing and entertaining and absolutely need to be quoted - even though the police reports must be full of biased views and outright lies, - as we now have been presented with a more rounded picture of Wilde's bibliographer.