Laurence Housman   Housman, Laurence (1867-1959)

A poet, playwright, novelist, artist, and memoirist, Housman (the brother of A. E. Housman) wrote to Allan Wade on 12 November 1954: "When Wilde came out of jail I sent him a copy of my book All-Fellows [: Seven Legends of Lower Redemption, 18961, hoping that he would find in it something to suit his condition. Presently I got a letter from him saying: 'By the same post that brought me your book of All Fellows I received from your brother A. E. H. a copy of his poems, A Shropshire Lad [ 1896]. So you two brothers have between you given me a taste of that rare thing called happiness.' I think those are almost the exact words".

On 9 August 1897, Wilde wrote to Laurence Housman in appreciation of his All-Fellows, a "beautiful book": "Your prose is full of cadence and colour, and has a rhythmic music of words that makes that constant appeal to the ear, which, to me, is the very condition of literature." Citing the "mysticism" of several of the "legends," which touched him "very deeply," Wilde writes: "...while they are of course dramatic, still one is conscious - as one should be in all objective art - of one personality dominating their perfection all through. The whole book, with its studied and imaginative decorations and its links of song, is a very lovely and almost unique work of art". Wilde's letter, with its formal greeting "Dear Mr. Housman" - indicates that they were not close friends. Housman recalls that, at a friend's house, he first met Wilde, who was then "at the height of fame and success and I an unknown beginner [presumably in the early 1890s], still undecided whether to be book-illustrator or author". Their subsequent friendship was principally epistolary.

In August 1897, in another letter to Housman, Wilde defends A Shropshire Lad against the criticism of, Ricketts and Shannon (see their entry), who cannot "see the light lyrical beauty of your brother's work, and its grace and delicate felicity of mood and music." Wilde also remarks that he is completing "a poem [The Ballad of Reading Gaol], terribly realistic for me, and drawn from actual experience, a sort of denial of my own philosophy of art in many ways".

When The Ballad appeared early in 1898, Wilde ordered a copy to be sent to Housman, who responded favourably. Appreciative of Housman's praise, Wilde writes: "I thank you very much for all you have said to me about The Ballad: it has greatly touched me. I quite hold with you on all you say about the relation of human suffering to art; as art is the most intense mode of expression, so suffering is the most real mode of life, the one for which we are all ultimately created".

In December 1898, Wilde again wrote to Housman (this time "My dear Housman"), thanking him "not merely for your kindness, but for your charming letter. Style is certainly part of your character: your soul has beautiful curves and colours." Mentioning that Frank Harris was taking him to Napoule, near Cannes, Wilde writes of the sea, sun, and perfumes of southern flowers: "...perhaps these may tune my soul to some note of beauty". Despite such hope, Wilde remarked to Housman in Paris in September 1899 in the company of friends:

I told you that I was going to write something: I tell everybody that. It is a thing one can repeat each day, meaning to do it the next. But in my heart - that chamber of leaden echoes - I know that I never shall. It is enough that the stories have been invented, that they actually exist; that I have been able, in my own mind, to give them the form which they demand.

Housman recalls that Wilde was "incomparably the most accomplished talker I had ever met".

In 1900, Housman (the youngest of a group frequenting the Café Royal, including Shaw and Harris) carried funds donated by members of the circle on several trips to Paris to pay Wilde's rent and settle his debts but did not entrust any money to him. After such journeys, Housman reported to the group at the Café Royal.

References: Laurence Housman, Echo de Paris: A Study from Life (1923); Richard P. Graves, A. E. Housman: The Scholar-Poet (1979).