Wednesday, June 12, 2019

411. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (2)

Robert Ross - born 150 years ago - published art criticisms in several periodicals, and collected a few of them in a volume called Masques & Phases (London, Arthur L. Humphreys, 1909), a book that is difficult to find these days. However, the complete text is available online at

Robert Ross, Masques & Phases (1909) [cover: detail]
A few weeks ago, I quoted a piece in which Ricketts made his appearance as a character, even one that wrote poetry. (See: Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (1).)

A second time that either Ricketts or Shannon's name turns up in the book is in a column called 'Going Up Top' (pp. 116-124). It is based on the old game of making lists of excellent poets, politicians, etcetera. Ross writes:

During a New Year week I was invited by Lord and Lady Lyonesse to a very diverting house-party.  This peer, it will be remembered, is the well-known radical philanthropist who owed his title to a lifelong interest in the submerged tenth.  Their house, Ivanhoe, is an exquisite gothic structure not unjustly regarded as the masterpiece of the late Sir Gilbert Scott: it overlooks the Ouse. Including our hosts we numbered forty persons, and the personnel, including valets, chauffeurs, and ladies’-maids brought by the guests, numbered sixty.  In all, we were a hundred souls, assuming immortality for the chauffeurs and the five Scotch gardeners. On January 2nd somebody produced after dinner a copy of the Petit Parisien relating the plebiscite for the greatest Frenchman of the nineteenth century; another guest capped him with the Evening News list. The famous Pall Mall Gazette Academy of Forty was recalled with indifferent accuracy.  Conversation was flagging; our hostess looked relieved; very soon we were all playing a p. 120variation of that most charming game, suck-pencil.

Lord and Lady Lyonesse - a name that evokes a sunken land from Arthurian legend as well as hosts that throw the best of parties - invite their guest to list the ten greatest living Englishmen, and when the votes are counted the guests have included the writers Marie Corelli and Rudyard Kipling, the newspaper magnate Lord Northcliffe and the actor George Alexander, among others. 

Robert Ross, Masques & Phases (1909, page 122)
The list drawn up by Ross himself is quite different. From the general list, it only includes the name of Nortcliffe. His eminent men - no women indeed! - are mainly writers, six of them: H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Thomas Hardy, Edmund Gosse, Andrew Lang, some of whom are intimate friends such as Reginald Turner. There is one physicist (Oliver Lodge) and one cardinal (Dom Gasquet), and, for an art critic, oddly enough, there is only one artist on his list. This, of course, is Charles Hazelwood Shannon.

The other guests are not familiar with the names of the physicist and the cardinal. Some believed that Lang had died long ago (he would die in 1912, three years after Masques & Phases was published). Only the one artist in the crowd knows the name of the painter Charles Shannon, the others assume that the portrait painter James Jubusa Shannon is intended.  

Shannon, all too often, was approached by people who wanted him to paint their portraits, only to withdraw the assignment after discovering their error. The wrong Shannon!

When this piece was published in Masques & Phases Shannon wrote to Ross:

Your book is too delightful. I don't get much chance of seeing it because Ricketts is generally curled up on the sofa convulsed with laughter.
[Letter from Charles Shannon to Robert Ross, 13 October 1909, published in: Robert Ross. Friend of Friends, 1952, page 167].