Wednesday, May 22, 2019

408. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (1)

On the 24th of this month, Robert (Baldwin) Ross's 150th birth anniversary will be commemorated with a Robert Ross Celebration Dinner in London's Savile Club. He was born on 25 May 1869, and died in October 1918. Ross, a Canadian art dealer, art critic, and journalist, is mainly remembered for his relationship with Oscar Wilde. Eight years after the death of the author, Ross published a first edition of his collected works, restoring Wilde's literary reputation.

Robert Ross, Masques and Phases (1909)
In 1909 Ross published a series of essays and reviews, Masques and Phases, that ran into several reprints. Ricketts and Shannon figure in some of them, as characters in short plays that comment upon Bernard Shaw's latest dramas, The Doctor's Dilemma (staged in 1906, parodied by Ross in February 1907) and Man and Superman (1902, elaborated by Ross in June 1907). However, the first appearance of both men was in Ross's review of a new edition of Swinburne's William Blake. A Critical Study: 'Swinblake. A Prophetic Book. With Home Zarathrusts'.

Ross's narrator recounts:

We came to a printing-house and found William Morris reverting to type and transmitting art to the middle classes.
‘The great Tragedy of Topsy’s life,’ said Theodormon, ‘is that he converted the middle classes to art and socialism, but he never touched the unbending Tories of the proletariat or the smart set.  You would have thought, on homÅ“opathic principles, that cretonne would appeal to cretins.’
‘Vale, vale,’ cried Charles Ricketts from the interior.
I was rather vexed, as I wanted to ask Ricketts his opinions about various things and people and to see his wonderful collection.  Shannon, however, presented me with a lithograph and a copy of ‘Memorable Fancies,’ by C. R.
How sweet I roamed from school to school,
   But I attached myself to none;
I sat upon my ancient Dial
   And watched the other artists’ fun.
Will Rothenstein can guard the faith,
   Safe for the Academic fold;
’Twas very wise of William Strang,
   What need have I of Chantrey’s gold?
p. 95Let the old masters be my share,
   And let them fall on B. B.’s corn;
Let the Uffizi take to Steer—
   What do I care for Herbert Horne
Or the stately Holmes of England,
   Whose glories never fade;
The Constable of Burlington,
   Who holds the Oxford Slade.
It’s Titian here and Titian there,
   And come to have a look;
But ‘thanks of course Giorgione,’
   With Mr. Herbert Cook.
For MacColl is an intellectual thing,
   And Hugh P. Lane keeps Dublin awake,
And Fry to New York has taken wing,
   And Charles Holroyd has got the cake.
Robert Ross, Masques and Phases (1909, pages 94-95)
This is the only poem that Ricketts was said to have written; he kept himself to reviews, art criticism, and prose. This poem mentions almost everyone that counted in the contemporary art world - and included many friends and enemies of Ricketts; Ross, of course, was friends with most of them. 'Vale' refers to the Vale Press, the 'dial' to the magazine The Dial.

After this brief meeting, the narrator doesn't mention Ricketts anymore. 

However, the narrator asks his guide after the whereabouts of John Addington Symonds, the author of A Problem in Greek Ethics, a title that Ross changes into one that reminds us of John Keats's poetry: An Ode on Grecian Urning, the proceeds of which were destined for the Arts and Krafts Ebbing Guild, a contamination of the Arts and Crafts Society and Richard von Kraft-Ebing, the German psychiatrist whose definition of homosexuality was based on the idea of a 'sexual inversion' of the brain. Symonds's Problem has been called 'perhaps the most exhaustive eulogy of Greek love'. This openly display of homosexual inside jokes was not without danger at the time; yet, published without problems. The writings by Ross were taken as literary playfulness in the manner of Max Beerbohm. In comparison to Ross, Ricketts was a closed book.