By W. J. IGOE
OPINIONS, by Vincent O'Sullivan (Unicorn Press, I5s.).
THIS is a pleasant, rather ghostly 1 collection of reminiscing critical essays written many years ago around the "characters" of the nineties Wilde, Rolfe, Frank Harris. Gissing, Moore, and other more or less bewitched persons.
O'Sullivan was a Catholic. educated at Oscott, son of an IrishAmerican who earned in his lifetime the magic million dollars. The son died penniless in Paris, in 1940, and was buried at a hospital's expense; "after five years, nobody having claimed his remaips. O'Sullivan's bones were taken to the ossuary."
All this I have learned from Mr. Alan Anderson's introductory essay. The subject is unnoted in either of the Oxford Companions to English and American literature.
NE gathers that he knew everykJ one "worth knowing", as they say. and the effect upon this reviewer was eerily charming, as if at 10 o'clock on a foggy, dank Thursday evening in November Max Beerbohm's Enoch Soames. slightly mellowed. were to appear, find me alone in Mooney's upstairs bar in Fleet Street. and tell me confidentially that Max's relations with his mother were detached but amiable.
O'Sullivan wrote nicely: perhaps due to the discipline of his schoolmasters at Oscott he avoided the artificial rococo which he chides in Oscar and Rolfe. He liked Oscar (who but a Pharisee could avoid liking a man so kind. a sinner so repentant?), but he is unjust to G.B.S., quoting out of context a sentence that seems a most uncharitable judgement on Wilde. G.B.S.. who came from Dublin too and kriew the family. was perhaps glib in his final assessment of the playwright; but his letter to Harris on Wilde is enlightening and, for a man who found all sexual license abhorrent, a singularly good and chaste man, charitable.
Perhaps the best clue to Wilde's career is given in the memoirs of Abbot Hunter Blair who knew him at Oxford, when he wished to become a Catholic and fear first perverted him from the truth.
THERE is much that is mildly interesting in Sullivan's essays and much that is comically muddled in the thought behind them. He believed Rolfe, for example, to have been a saint and seems to have thought the Church rather obtuse in Failing to canonise him as soon as he died.
With touching innocence he writes of that appalling old blackguard Frank Harris: "It would not surprise me to learn that Harris 'got salvation' in his younger days in America at some camp meeting or Baptist mission."
A likely story, as Groucho Marx says of less improbable surmises. What Harris really did in America is on record, hut the reader is fervently advised to swallow O'Sullivan's illusions and forget the matter. Harris's "Life" should have been interred with his boncs.
A nice, amiable, innocent book, with some interesting reflections on the people O'Sullivan knew but did not know so well as posterity knows them. Closing it, one prays that a priest was summoned to the gentle, rather sad writer before his lonely death. He was a kindly soul. Oscar thought his poetry pleasant. That must have lifted his heart.