Sunday, August 07, 2011

Bosie and Maurice Schwabe

At the beginning of the year, the curator of the State Library of New South Wales in Australia 'discovered' three letters from Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas to a man called Maurice Schwabe. You can read about the discovery here and here. There were all manner of young men that circled around Oscar and Bosie, some who were drawn into the glamorous bubble of their bohemian lifestyle, some who were courted and some who saw opportunity. [I was recently taken by the life story of one of them called Edward Shelley who's entire life was coloured by his brief association with Wilde-Bosie in the 1890s - but that's another story]. Schwabe, it seems, was involved in a fling with Bosie and appears to have had some role in procuring boys, perhaps through the brothel run by his old school-friend, Alfred Taylor.

When the articles talk about Maurice Schwabe being 'airbrushed from history', this isn't quite true but it's certainly the case that he was packed off to Australia and that his powerful relatives, notably his uncle, Frank Lockwood, the Solicitor-General, did their best to make sure he wasn't implicated in the trial.

The discovery of these letters peaked the interest of a friend of Front Free Endpaper who did a little digging of his own and has kindly agreed to my posting here a few tid-bits of information about Schwabe [I paraphrase]:

Schwabe was born in 1871 and was the eldest of six, one of whom, his sister Gladys, died in 1915 in the sinking of the Lusitania with her husband Paul Crompton and their children. Another notable in his family was his maternal Grandmother Julia Schwabe (nee Ricke Rosetta Schwabe) who was a remarkable woman who lived on for more than forty years after her husband's death in 1853. She had a late flowering as a philanthropist in Naples, where she is buried. A visit by Schwabe to Naples is mentioned in the letters discovered in NSW

He was educated at Malborough where he coincided not only with the aforementioned Alfred Taylor but also with E F Benson, and probably a number of other notables. For information about his personality and appearance we can look to this description:

"Schwabe had been sent abroad before the [Wilde] trials and it is scarcely yet realized what a large part he played in Wilde's ruin. Not by intent - he was not much more intelligent than Taylor - but because he was a busy ambitious young man, anxious to please Wilde and careless of the characters of those he introduced to him. A rotund, quick-moving, talkative fellow he was intrepid in making contacts and indefatigable in pursuit. He lived into another generation, the same industrious entrepreneur, who had many stories about Wilde with which he entertained the Edwardians. He was killed in the First World War." (Rupert Croft-Cooke, Feasting with Panthers: A New Consideration of Some Late Victorian Writers, W H Allen, 1967, p.269).

At the time of the 1911 census, Schwabe was 39 and living in Exhibition Rd with a 22-year-old pianist named Sydney Stoeger. Schwabe seems to have had a young Swiss valet and Stoeger an English one.

Reference has already been made to Schwabe's death in WW1 and it is described in a little more detail here:

"Alfred Douglas maintained contact with Schwabe after Wilde's death and related that he had been killed in the First World War by a party of Germans who had just surrendered and had mistaken him for a traitor on account of his name and his perfect German." (Merlin Holland, Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde, Fourth Estate, 2003, p.314). Merlin Holland footnotes the source of this account as Leon Lemonnier's 1931 biography La Vie d'Oscar Wilde.

A couple more points can be drawn out from the letter's themselves. The letters are superscribed "The Close, Salisbury" and Alfred Douglas's mother had a house called St Anne's Gate which is one of the entrances to the cathedral close at Salisbury.

The 25 March 1893 letter mentions a boy named 'Sidney Bowle'. Luckily he was the only UK resident at the time with that forename and surname, so it is easy to trace him genealogically. Sidney Clement Bowle was born early in 1878, so had just turned 15 when Douglas was communicating with him (from Douglas's incomplete sentence 'I have not...' one presumes that Bowle had not been seduced by Douglas). Bowle went on to marry the 18-year-old Marjorie Adams in 1905 and in 1911 they had a daughter. In the 1911 census, his occupation is listed as 'Army Officer: Captain, Royal Army Medical Corps', and the couple were obviously comfortably off, as they had four servants.

The bit-part players in the Wilde trials are numerous and a lot of work has been done from the mid-20th century onwards tracking them down. Many of them had their lives ruined forever, or at least significantly influenced by those events. As far as I know, and I am happy to be corrected, the drawing together of all those stories into one study is one of the few books which have not yet been written about the Wilde Trials: it is also the one I would most like to read.


J said...

The actor Donald Sinden (now 87) is believed to be the last person alive who knew Bosie. His Wikipedia entry says he is writing a book about their friendship, but that statement is at least five years old; I doubt we will ever see more of it than appears in A Touch of the Memoirs.

Self-effacing ghost said...

Re your last sentence: if such a book exists I'm not aware of it either, but oh what a good idea it would be. In fact I've sometimes fantasised about writing it myself under the title After Oscar: the Wilde circle in the twentieth century, but alas it would be far, far beyond me. Besides, the ones whose fates I'd most like to know are inevitably those who'd be hardest to trace: the rent boys and other obscure young men in England and elsewhere. (What became of Alfonso Conway? Could anyone now identify Walter, the "snub-nosed little horror" in Paris? & so on) Probably all too many of them died in 1914-18 like Schwabe and Cyril Holland.

Teleny said...

Thanks for the post. I too have pondered the lives of Wilde's circle after his imprisonment. Taylor & Atkins both did drag. What a fascinating bunch...

Marmaduke Winterbotham said...

Fascinating. And those two photos, often described as Bosie and his brother Francis on his knee (!?!), both of Schwabe surely?

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