Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris & Oscar Wilde

By Robert Harborough Sherard | Go to book overview

VII
DID SHAW MEAN "VIPER"?

DURING the magnificent days when the "man of fashion," who was also an unsuccessful journalist living in Grub Street, was ruffling it so splendidly in the pit of the Gaiety or the gallery of the Lyceum, Harris did not know Wilde.He only arrived in London in 1883. It is only some pages later on in his biography that we come to his description of when and where he first met him.We shall come to that description later on.

It is such that, taking it together with many of the preceding malicious misstatements about Wilde—I say nothing about the appalling slanders farther on—I found myself laying his book down and recalling all I knew of Harris; asking myself most earnestly whether in writing this book, besides the obvious purpose of making money, he had not the further motive of paying off old scores against his friend; whether for many years past he had not harboured grievances against Wilde.On the one hand, we know that his constant attempts to batten on Wilde's brain, especially after his downfall, were not always successful; and as a business man he may have resented both the slight implied and a certain loss of invested time and capital. But there might have been a sharper and more compelling incentive: the constant rankling of wounded vanity.

During the last few weeks we have read over and over again in the reviews of Harris's book on Shaw the remark attributed to Wilde about Harris as a diner-out.And then, of course, there is the conversation he overheard at the Hôtel des Bains, la Napoule, in January, 1898, when Wilde was telling Mellor

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