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A source for 'Pen, Pencil and Poison.'

ACCORDING to Jacqueline Evans, as reported by Ian Small, Oscar Wilde, in `Pen, Pencil and Poison', made use of two `principal sources of information': `The first and most obvious source was William Carew Hazlitt's 1880 edition of Wainewright's Essays and Criticisms and the biographical essay which Hazlitt included in that edition. The second but much more minor source is Thomas De Quincey's essay "Charles Lamb".'(1) Another minor source on which Wilde drew is Alexander Gilchrist's Life of William Blake (new and enlarged edition, 2 vols, London, 1880). Gilchrist's biography accounts for the following four references in `Pen, Pencil and Poison':

We hear of William Blake stopping in the Royal Academy before one of his pictures and pronouncing it to be `very fine'.

He thoroughly appreciated William Blake. One of the best copies of the `Songs of Innocence and Experience' that is now in existence was wrought specially for him.

From this he moved to Paris, where he remained for several years, [...] `skulking with poison in his pocket, and being dreaded by all who knew him'.

[...] the associate of Coleridge [...]

Wilde's points of reference are the following remarks by Gilchrist:

Mr Palmer, one of Blake's young disciples in those days, well remembers a visit to the Academy in Blake's company, during which the latter pointed to a picture near the ceiling, by Wainwright, and spoke of it as `very fine'.

Those capable of feeling the beauty of Blake's design were, if anything, fewer at this period than they had ever been. Among these few numbered [...] Thomas Griffiths Wainwright [...] [H]e assisted [Blake] by buying two or three of his expensive illustrated books. One among the best of the Songs of Innocence and Experience I have seen, formerly belonged to Wainwright.

[...] skulking about France a few years, with a bottle of strychnine in his pocket, and, it is suspected, using the same on a confiding friend or two [...]

[...] the somewhile associate of Coleridge [...]

Just as with the references taken from De Quincey, the references based on Gilchrist were all added to `Pen, Pencil and Poison' (first published in the Fortnightly Review of January 1889) when Wilde revised the article in 1891 for his volume of essays called Intentions.

Horst Schroeder Technische Universitat Braunschweig

(1) Jacqueline W. Evans, A Critical Edition of Oscar Wilde's INTENTIONS, unpublished Ph.D. thesis (University of Birmingham, 1987). Ian Small, `Intertextuality in Pater and Wilde', English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, Special Series, Number 4 (1990), 62 and 66 n. 16. (2) Page references are to the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. With an Introduction by Vyvyan Holland, new edn (London, 1966).

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Author:hroeder, Horst
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Sep 1, 1994
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