Richard Le Gallienne

Richard Le Gallienne (Alfred Ellis)

Richard Le Gallienne is the subject of an exhibition in his home town of Liverpool to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. The event is being curated by two stalwart supporters of late-Victorian authors and artists, Mark Samuels Lasner and Margaret D. Stetz—authors and artists themselves.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Liverpool Central Library will bring together these and other scholars and collectors from the UK and the US for a one-day symposium about the city as a literary and cultural centre at the end of the 19th century.

Speakers at the symposium will address topics such as Liverpool and the late-Victorian lecture circuit; the actress Dame Ellen Terry and her theatrical tours in Liverpool; Robert Louis Stevenson’s connections to Liverpool; the career of Sir William Watson as a poet from Liverpool; J. M. Whistler’s links to Frederick Leyland and to Speke Hall; Gerard Manley Hopkins’s years as a priest in Liverpool; bibliomania and the book-collecting culture of late-Victorian Liverpool.

A signature focus of the exhibition, however, is the connection between Oscar Wilde and the Liverpool-born writer, Richard Le Gallienne—a relationship that began with their exchanging books of poetry, Wilde inscribing his: “To Richard le Gallienne, poet and lover, from Oscar Wilde / a summer day in June ’88.”

Much has been made by Neil McKenna of this early liaison. Indeed, the pair continued to exchange poetry and, along with it, much sentiment. One such was a poem given by Le Gallienne to Wilde as a ‘love token’, as he put it. However, the case for reorientation is that Le Gallienne was thrice married and wrote erotic poetry about women too, such as this homage to the olfactory appeal of their undergarments, as the euphemist might describe it.

Le Gallienne visited United States several times, eventually becoming a resident, and while the focus on him will no doubt enhance an appreciation of the relationship between Wilde and his acolyte, few will realize how close Le Gallienne came, on one such visit,  to undermining it [1]:

To coin a phrase, to lose one book may be regarded as a misfortune, however, a more informed observer of Le Gallienne’s habits would simply conclude the likely carelessness of his being absinthe minded.

I prefer the more prosaic view that by seemingly carrying Wilde’s Poems around with him for thirty-odd years Poor Richard had eventually fallen under the thrall of its contents:

I did but touch the honey of romance —
And must I lose a soul’s inheritance?
Helas!, Oscar Wilde, 1881.

The exhibition runs through the end of October.

[1] The Publishers Weekly, Volume 101. F. Leypoldt, 1922.

One thought on “Richard Le Gallienne

  1. This is interesting!

    Just when you think you know everything about Wilde, there is something new you learn that always surprises you. You always hear about Bosie, but I have never heard of Le Gallienne.


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