Cyril had very little affection for him, and was only too glad to spend most of his holidays with us in Scotland. They never really got on together at all.
Cyril thought him a bear, and he thought Cyril effeminate. He was effeminate, I suppose, in some things, though he was a very good rider and a capital fencer. In fact he got the foils before he left Eton. But he was very languid in his manner, and not a little vain of his good looks, and had a strong objection to football. The two things that really gave him pleasure were poetry and acting. At Eton he was always dressing up and reciting Shakespeare, and when we went up to Trinity he became a member of the A.
I remember I was always very jealous of his acting. I was absurdly devoted to him; I suppose because we were so different in some things. I was a rather awkward, weakly lad, with huge feet, and horribly freckled. Freckles run in Scotch families just as gout does in English families. Cyril used to say that of the two he preferred the gout; but he always set an absurdly high value on personal appearance, and once read a paper before our debating society to prove that it was better to be good-looking than to be good.
He certainly was wonderfully handsome. People who did not like him, Philistines and college tutors, and young men reading for the Church, used to say that he was merely pretty; but there was a great deal more in his face than mere prettiness. I think he was the most splendid creature I ever saw, and nothing could exceed the grace of his movements, the charm of his manner.
He fascinated everybody who was worth fascinating, and a great many people who were not. He was often wilful and petulant, and I used to think him dreadfully insincere. It was due, I think, chiefly to his inordinate desire to please. Poor Cyril! I told him once that he was contented with very cheap triumphs, but he only laughed.
The Portrait of Mr. W. H., by Oscar Wilde
He was horribly spoiled. All charming people, I fancy, are spoiled. It is the secret of their attraction.
You know that no actresses are allowed to play at the A. At least they were not in my time. It was a marvellous performance. In fact, Cyril Graham was the only perfect Rosalind I have ever seen. It would be impossible to describe to you the beauty, the delicacy, the refinement of the whole thing. It made an immense sensation, and the horrid little theatre, as it was then, was crowded every night. It might have been written for him.
The next term he took his degree, and came to London to read for the diplomatic. But he never did any work.
He was, of course, wild to go on the stage. It was all that I and Lord Crediton could do to prevent him. Perhaps if he had gone on the stage he would be alive now.
It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is absolutely fatal. I hope you will never fall into that error. If you do, you will be sorry for it. He had charming chambers in Piccadilly overlooking the Green Park, and as I used to go to see him every day, I was rather surprised at his taking the trouble to write. Of course I went, and when I arrived I found him in a state of great excitement. He was perfectly wild with delight, and for a long time would not tell me his theory. Finally, he produced a bundle of notes, took his copy of the Sonnets off the mantelpiece, and sat down and gave me a long lecture on the whole subject.
Shakespeare, accordingly, could not have known Lord Pembroke till after the Sonnets had been written. So far for Lord Pembroke, whose supposed claims Cyril easily demolished while I sat by in wonder.
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With Lord Southampton Cyril had even less difficulty. Southampton became at a very early age the lover of Elizabeth Vernon, so he needed no entreaties to marry; he was not beautiful; he did not resemble his mother, as Mr. William Himself. The painting depicts a beautiful young man in late-sixteenth-century costume, whom Graham believed to be Willie Hughes, a boy actor serving in Shakespeare's company. This revelation prompts Erskine's guest to delve deeper into the mystery surrounding the real identity of the dedicatee and the inspiration of Shakespeare's Sonnets, with unforeseen consequences.
Far from being a dry exposition of a literary theory, The Portrait of Mr W. More Information.
- English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920.
- The Portrait of Mr W.H.: Oscar Wilde: Alma Classics.
- Stolen Excerpts: Words, Thoughts & Phrases.
- Find a copy in the library.
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Short Stories: The Portrait of Mr. W. H. by Oscar Wilde
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