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    Chapter 6

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    Chapter 6
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    My first meeting with Oscar Wilde was an astonishment. I never
    before heard a man talking with perfect sentences, as if he had
    written them all over night with labour and yet all spontaneous.
    There was present that night at Henley's, by right of propinquity
    or of accident, a man full of the secret spite of dullness, who
    interrupted from time to time and always to check or disorder
    thought; and I noticed with what mastery he was foiled and thrown.
    I noticed, too, that the impression of artificiality that I think
    all Wilde's listeners have recorded, came from the perfect
    rounding of the sentences and from the deliberation that made it
    possible. That very impression helped him as the effect of metre,
    or of the antithetical prose of the seventeenth century, which is
    itself a true metre, helps a writer, for he could pass without
    incongruity from some unforeseen swift stroke of wit to elaborate
    reverie. I heard him say a few nights later: 'Give me "The
    Winter's Tale," "Daffodils that come before the swallow dare" but
    not "King Lear." What is "King Lear" but poor life staggering in
    the fog?' and the slow cadence, modulated with so great precision,
    sounded natural to my ears. That first night he praised Walter
    Pater's 'Essays on the Renaissance:' 'It is my golden book; I
    never travel anywhere without it; but it is the very flower of
    decadence. The last trumpet should have sounded the moment it was
    written.' 'But,' said the dull man, 'would you not have given us
    time to read it?' 'Oh no,' was the retort, 'there would have been
    plenty of time afterwards--in either world.' I think he seemed to
    us, baffled as we were by youth, or by infirmity, a triumphant
    figure, and to some of us a figure from another age, an audacious
    Italian fifteenth century figure. A few weeks before I had heard
    one of my father's friends, an official in a publishing firm that
    had employed both Wilde and Henley as editors, blaming Henley who
    was 'no use except under control' and praising Wilde, 'so indolent
    but such a genius;' and now the firm became the topic of our talk.
    'How often do you go to the office?' said Henley. 'I used to go
    three times a week,' said Wilde, 'for an hour a day but I have
    since struck off one of the days.' 'My God,' said Henley, 'I went
    five times a week for five hours a day and when I wanted to strike
    off a day they had a special committee meeting.' 'Furthermore,'
    was Wilde's answer, 'I never answered their letters. I have known
    men come to London full of bright prospects and seen them complete
    wrecks in a few months through a habit of answering letters.' He
    too knew how to keep our elders in their place, and his method was
    plainly the more successful for Henley had been dismissed. 'No he
    is not an aesthete,' Henley commented later, being somewhat
    embarrassed by Wilde's Pre-Raphaelite entanglement. 'One soon
    finds that he is a scholar and a gentleman.' And when I dined with
    Wilde a few days afterwards he began at once, 'I had to strain
    every nerve to equal that man at all;' and I was too loyal to
    speak my thought: 'You & not he' said all the brilliant things. He
    like the rest of us had felt the strain of an intensity that
    seemed to hold life at the point of drama. He had said, on that
    first meeting, 'The basis of literary friendship is mixing the
    poisoned bowl;' and for a few weeks Henley and he became close
    friends till, the astonishment of their meeting over, diversity of
    character and ambition pushed them apart, and, with half the
    cavern helping, Henley began mixing the poisoned bowl for Wilde.
    Yet Henley never wholly lost that first admiration, for after
    Wilde's downfall he said to me: 'Why did he do it? I told my lads
    to attack him and yet we might have fought under his banner.'
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