Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for October 5th, 2018

The Robbie Ross Centenary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 5th October, 2018

Robbie Ross photoOne hundred years ago today, the Canadian art dealer and literary figure Robert Baldwin Ross — Robbie to his friends — died in London at the age of 49. He had made the British capital his home, though he was born in France and had plans to move to Australia to establish a gallery. His health had been poor, yet his death was unexpected and received little public attention in a country focussed on the final stages of the First World War. But for a close band of friends — including young poets such as Siegfried Sassoon, to whom he had served as a mentor — the news was a shock. Robbie was cremated and his ashes later transferred to Paris to be placed in the tomb of playwright Oscar Wilde, to whom he had been a devoted friend, lover and literary executor. That relationship with Wilde somewhat overshadowed other aspects of Robbie’s life and was in sharp contrast to Oscar’s tempestuous affair with Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas. Douglas cost Wilde a fortune, as well as his reputation, and was instrumental in Wilde’s conviction for gross indecency. Robbie, on the other hand, was waiting for Oscar in France when he was released from prison, together with a significant sum of money that had been raised from friends and supporters. It was he who managed Oscar’s allowance — delivered in installments, as he knew the profligate Oscar would blow the lot if given the chance — and after Wilde’s death it was Robbie who carefully managed the literary estate so that Wilde’s two sons would benefit. In December 1908, a grand dinner at the Ritz Hotel in London was held to honour Robbie when Wilde’s debts were cleared, and it is in the spirit of that dinner that some of us will be celebrating Robbie’s 150th birthday next May. Coincidentally, Rupert Everett’s film The Happy Prince, about Wilde’s last two years of life, prominently features Robbie, played by Edwin Thomas, is now in cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic and available on DVD. My own biography of Robbie is available as a paperback and ebook:

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