Robert Baldwin Ross was a man of wide artistic interests, and an even wider circle of friends. Someday someone will write a fantastic book that uses him as a central focus to highlight the greatest characters of the late 19th and early 20th Century. He was an art critic, a promoter of literary and artistic talents and a writer. He is, however, remembered for one thing above all else–he was Oscar Wilde’s friend and literary executor.
This last identity, it appears, came with a certain ambivalence. I just discovered a poem Ross wrote as the dedication to a copy of his Masques and Phases which he gave to the critic and book collector Clement King Shorter, who used the initials “C.K.S.” when he wrote in The Sphere.
Of things I do not know the names,
For words I’m at a loss.
You know I am not Henry James,
I cannot write like Edmund Gosse,
No Granville Barker’s buskin mine
To tread upon the corns of law;
It is not mine with Max to shine,
I cannot dazzle Bernard Shaw.
Not mine Corelli’s glowing page
Nor yet the periods of Hall Caine,
Not mine a William Watson’s rage,
I am not Lucas come again,
Only for me the cap and bells,
The motley of a jester’s stock:
Alas I am not H.G. Wells,
I am not even H. Belloc.
Oh call me childish or inept,
Untaught, untrained, untiled.
Oh call me anything except
“The best of friends to Oscar Wilde.”