Robert Louis Stevenson once said about William Ernest Henley: "he is a great man; he commands a larger atmosphere... It has been said of him that his presence could be felt in a room you entered blindfolded." (Glines 326) William Ernest Henley met Robert Louis Stevenson while he was in the hospital. Leslie Stephens brought Lewis to visit him, and he continued to visit him a great deal until his discharge from the hospital. Henley was 24 years old and about to be married when he met Lewis. It is said of their friendship that through each other they were able to recapture their youths and become boys again. The qualities they enjoyed in each other included charm, sweetness, kindness, and laughter. Their relationship opened windows for both of them. Henley acted as Stevenson's agent, and the character Long John Silver in Treasure Island was based on William Ernset Henley. Not only did their relationship affect each other's work, Stevenson and Henley coauthored four plays .
However, their relationship did not last as long as they both had hoped. Stevenson grew ill and decided to leave England for the United States. Henley, genuinely concerned for the health of his friend, didn't want Lewis to leave. Stevenson departed anyway leaving Henley too disappointed to say goodbye. Correspondence did persist through letter writing, however. It was in 1888 when Henley sent a letter implying that Stevenson's wife published a story not her own under her name when their relationship went sour. Stevenson, very offended that Henley would insult the honor of his wife, replied harshly and an irreparable falling out took place. It appears neither one wanted their friendship to end, but neither one attempted hard enough to mend it, either.
Their brief but intense friendship reaped both beauty and joy for both of them. Henley comments on their friendship: "He was, save my wife, the oldest friend, as he had been the dearest, I had on earth." (Buckley 128) For another website with a collection of Stevenson's poems, click here
In the end of the year 1888 Henley was introduced to Rudyard Kipling when Kipling brought his Barrack Room Ballads in for publication in the Scots Observer. Kipling and Henley shared common interests and immediately grew to enjoy each other's company. Henley referred to Kipling as "The Kipperling" or "Ruddy". Henley and Kipling were labelled as "The Hearties" of their period. The reason for this was the dramatic contrast between them and their fellow contemporary authors. The realism in Henley's Hospital Sketches is often compared to Kipling's works on the lives of common soldiers in India and Africa. Victorian modes of thought and style were not in accordance with Henley's and Kipling's. Despite this, Kipling was the first English author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. For more information on Kipling, click here for another website.
On July 5, 1890, Lippincott's Magazine published Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gra y. Despite Wilde's favorable critique of Henley's A Book of Verses, Henley had very few complimentary remarks to make about Wilde's work. This triggered a quarrel between the two men and eventually led to a counter movement toward decadence.(Oscar Wilde was a very decadent man and Henley was not shy about his dislike for him.) Wilde and Henley clashed repeatedly in intense argument.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the story of a handsome young man in pursuit of sensual pleasures. Perhaps the reason Henley had such critical commentary of Wilde is due to Wilde's homosexuality. (Wilde was arrested for this "crime" in 1895.) Henley's response to The Picture of Dorian Gray was that: "It is false art and false to human nature. Mr Wilde has brains, art, and style; but if he can write for none but outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys, the sooner he takes to tailoring (or some other decent trade) the better for his own reputation and morals." (Robertson 188) Here we see that Henley is criticizing more than Wilde's text, he is criticizing Wilde's lifestyle. Henley was once decribed as: "A large and boisterous man, wild haired and red-bearded. Lively, impulsive, enthusiastic, vigorous, and full of vehement tastes and distastes." (Glines 325) By accepting this description of Henley, it is obvious that if he were to dislike Wilde at all, he would dislike him intensely.
Wilde's retort to Henley's brutal attack was the arrogant "I have no desire to be a popular novelist. It is far too easy." (Robertson 189) Many other contemporaries experienced opposing views with Henley. Henley experienced a much more turbulent life than the majority of his contemporaries. He was always considered a rebel by them. As William Butler Yeats stated: "I disagreed with him about almost everything, but I admired him beyond words." (Robertson 189) For another website on Oscar Wilde, click here .
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