Robert Baldwin Ross

From Academic Kids

Robert Baldwin Ross (May 25,1869-October 5, 1918) was a man of many talents, responsible for bringing together several great literary figures and acting as their mentor.

An art expert, he was born in Canada, his father being the attorney-general of Upper Canada and his grandfather Robert Baldwin, and came to Britain at an early age. While working as a journalist and critic, he is alleged to have been Oscar Wilde's first homosexual lover, and remained loyal to Wilde through thick and thin, eventually becoming his literary executor. Not an easy task since it meant tracking down and purchasing the rights to all of Wilde's texts, which had been sold off along with all of Wilde's possessions when he was declared bankrupt. It also meant fighting the rampant trade, following Wilde's arrest, in black market copies of his books and, in particular, books, usually erotic, that Wilde did not write but which were published illegally under his name. The rights to all of Oscar's works along with the money earned from their printing/performance while he was executor was given by Ross to Oscar's sons.

In 1908, some years after Wilde's death, Ross produced the definitive edition of his works. Following Wilde's disgrace and imprisonment, Ross went abroad for safety's sake, but returned to offer support, both financial and emotional, to Wilde during his last years. Ross himself did not escape scandal. A few years before Wilde's imprisonment, Ross was involved in a scandal over his sexual relationship with a boy of fourteen, the son of friends, and his best-friend, aged fifteen. Both boys confessed to their parents that Ross had made love to them, and the fourteen year old boy also admitted that Lord Alfred Douglas had also made love to him while he was a guest at Ross's house. After a good deal of panic and frantic meeting held with solicitors, Douglas and Ross convinced the parents not to go to the police.

As a young man, Ross moved to England to go to university. He was accepted at Cambridge but was the victim of bullying, probably due to his sexuality which he made no secret of, and his, perhaps, outspoken journalism in the university paper. Ross caught pneumonia after a cruel dunking in a fountain by a number of students, with, according to Ross, the full support of a don. After recovering he fought for an apology from his fellow students, which he received, but more fiercely, for the dismissal of the don who he argued had known about and supported the bullying. The university refused to punish the man and Ross dropped out of university.

Following this Ross tried his hand at a number of careers, as writer, art critic, and literary executor. He was able to rely on a allowance and inheritance from his wealthy family to support himself. His literary output is small, with only one book worth a mention; Masques and Phases is a collection of previously published works by Ross, short stories and reviews. Ross main contribution to literature lies elsewhere in his work as Wilde's executor, and as Wilde's friend in reading Wilde's texts, making suggestions, and, if Ross is to be believed, frequently suggesting changes and improvements. As an art critic, Ross was highly critical of the impressionist painters. He worked unpaid for many years for a small art gallery run by friends, for whom he travelled purchasing works. At one time he hoped to be selected for a royal position but was rejected probably due to his connection to Wilde.

Ross is also of interest in his decision to 'come out' to his family, who he gathered to hear the announcement not long after he left university.

As a result of his faithfulness to Wilde even in death, Ross was vindictively pursued by Lord Alfred Douglas, who repeatedly attempted to drag him into court, and attempted to have him arrested as a homosexual. During the First World War, he drew around him a coterie of young artists, mostly homosexuals, including Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. He was also a close friend of Wilde's son Vyvian Holland, and a friend of his other son Cyril until his death in First World War. Ross was preparing to travel abroad again when he died suddenly in 1918, an event which caused great grief to his many friends.

There have been three major biographies of Ross' life. These include Jonathan Fryer's Robbie Ross, and Maureen Borland's Wilde's Devoted Friend. Neil McKenna's recent The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde looked in detail at Ross' sexuality.


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