MILES, FRANK (1852-91)
The artist best known for his acclaimed drawings of Lillie Langtry, Miles first met Wilde in 1876. On 4 June, Lord Ronald Gower (1845-1916), a sculptor, politician, and Art critic, accompanied Miles to be introduced to Wilde at Oxford. Gower wrote in his diary: ".A made the acquaintance of young Oscar Wilde, a friend of Miles's. A pleasant cheery fellow, but with his long-haired head full of nonsense regarding the Church of Rome. His room filled with photographs of the Pope and of Cardinal Manning". In early July, Wilde and Gower stayed for a week at the Miles home in Bingham, where Frank's father was a rector.
Ellmann remarks that the tall, blond, and pleasant Miles "probably hovered on the edges" of homosexuality "as might be inferred from the great interest taken in him by Lord Ronald Gower". Brian Reade refers to Gower as "a notorious homosexual, one of the models for Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray". When Gower adopted a young man named Frank Hird, Wilde reportedly warned a friend: "Gower may be seen but not Hird". But, Ellmann states, though the intimate relationship between Gower and Miles remains puzzling, "More suspect was [Miles's] intimacy with young girls ".
By the autumn of 1879, Wilde and Miles were sharing rooms on Salisbury Street, off the Strand. Wilde named it "Thames House" because of its view of the river. Lillie Langtry recalls that the house was "a very ghostly mansion, with antique staircases, twisting passages, broken down furniture, and dim corners". In the midst of the untidy house, the rooms occupied by Wilde and Miles were decorated with blue china and lilies. In December, Miles - despite his confession to Lillie Langtry that he was almost colour blind - was awarded the Turner silver medal by the Royal Academy for his painting of an ocean coast. By August 1880, Wilde and Miles had moved to No. 1 Tite Street, Chelsea, the house named by them as "Keats House." Miles was appointed artist-in-chief of Life, which ran a series of his portraits of prominent society figures.
In 1881 when Wilde's Poems appeared, Miles's father warned his son that the volume was wicked; indeed, Miles's mother had cut out a poem that she regarded as dangerous (presumably "Charmides"), and Canon Miles wrote to Wilde:
As to morality I can't help saying Frank ought to be clear - he has, I believe, often argued with you. Our first thought of course must be of him and his good name and his profession. If in sadness I advise a separation for a time it is not because we do not believe you in character to be very different to what you suggest in your poetry, but it is because you do not see the risk we see in a published poem that, which makes all who read it say to themselves, ''this is outside the province of poetry," "it is licentious and may do a great harm to any soul that reads it."
When Miles revealed the contents of the letter, Wilde demanded to know whether his friend would yield to his father's wishes. Dependent upon his father's financial support, Miles had no alternative. Wilde left the house as soon as he could pack his things.
After Canon Miles's death in 1883, Frank became seriously disturbed, as indicated in the incoherence of a letter he wrote to the wife of the artist George Boughton (1833-1905): "Tell George I have given up his idea and Oscars - and Jimmy [Whistler] long long ago - that art is for art's sake and if it is good, [if some] unfortunate accident happens of its doing some harm to somebody why it is the artist's fault". In 1887, he was placed in Brislington asylum near Bristol, where he died four years later.
References: Lord Ronald Gower, My Reminiscences (rev. 1895); Lillie Langtry, The Days I Knew (1925); Brian Reade, ed., Sexual Heretics: Male Homosexuality in English Literature from 1850 to 1900 (1970).