Thoughts On Frank Harris’ Biography “Oscar Wilde”

When: 1915
Where: England
Who: Frank Harris, Author of Oscar Wilde by Frank Harris, page 71Dell Publishing Co. Inc., 750 Third Avenue, New York 17, NY., First Dell printing – October 1960, Printed in the U.S.A.

Frank Harris, in “Oscar Wilde”, page 71.
“The road to power or influence in England is full of pitfalls and far too arduous for those who have neither high birth nor wealth to help them. The natural inequality of men instead of being mitigated by law or custom is everywhere strengthened and increased by a thousand effete social distinctions. Even in the best class where a certain easy familiarity reigns there is circle above circle, and the summits are isolated by heredity.”

I am reading this biography of Oscar Wilde with mixed feelings. This biography is not a sugary affair, and the quotations are ones I had not heard repeated by the popular media. The book paints a picture, and I will share some of the passages, that impressed themselves upon me, at the end of this post.   I do have some sympathy for the character Oscar Wilde, who suffered as a scapegoat. But, aside from that, I found that the more I read about Oscar Wilde in this book, the less I thought of him as a member of the human species. My whelming opinion is not at all concerned with his sexual preferences or activities, I take no issue with right to choice. We are all entitled, in my opinion, to our right to choice; and that is where Oscar presents a paradox to my way of thinking.

Oscar Wilde seems of a type in my opinion, that I knew well in my university days.  A common type this, found in the halls of academia; from a a privileged background, harbouring tolerance only when afforded the postiion of largess and sometimes not even then. There was no tolerance for any person or line of thought that did not render due deference to invisible and rigid class distinctions.  An example as to what I refer: An award winning scholar at the Univeristy said to me, as we walked down a pleasant tree lined street, of a homeless man in the gutter near the scholars affluent home, that the homeless man was “all right”, because he “knew his place in the scheme of things”.  The scholar thought himself the pinnacle of tolerance as he uttered these words, with great pride of self. Thankfully the man in the gutter did not hear this, a small blessing.

That was one of the many things I wish I had not heard during my years of graduate study, only because I wish that the attitudes did not exist; but since they did exist, I was also glad that I had heard them, so as to be aware of the machine that is called “education”.  But I digress, for this story, although not all that far from privileged circles, within which Oscar Wilde circulated, is not about Oscar; to me though, the story does imply the ubiquitous and largely invisible nature of class distinctions in a Canadian University.

Some interesting quotes concerning Oscar Wilde:

Sir Edward Sullivan, quoted by Frank Harris, memories of school days, Trinity College, Dublin, in “Oscar Wilde” page 26.
“When in the head class together, we with two other boys were in the town of Enniskillen one afternoon and formed part of an audience who were listening to a street orator.  One of us, for the fun of the thing, got near the speaker and with a stick knocked his hat off and then ran for home followed by the other three.  Several of the listeners, resenting the impertinence, gave chase, and Oscar in his hurry collided with an aged cripple and threw him down – a fact which was duly reported to the boys when we got safely back.  Oscar was afterwards heard telling how he found his way barred by an angry giant with whom he fought through many rounds and whom he eventually left for dead in the road after accomplishing prodigies of valour in his doubtable opponent.  Romantic imagination was strong in him even in those schoolboy days; but there, was always something in his telling of such a tale to suggest that he felt his hearers were not really being taken in…”

Oscar Wilde to Frank Harris, in “Oscar Wilde” page 69.
“The poor are poor creatures… and must always be hewers of wood and drawers of water.  They are merely the virgin soil out of which men of genius and artists grow like flowers.  Their function is to give birth to genius and nourish it.  They have no other raison d’être… Don’t talk to me, Frank, about the hardships of the poor.  The hardships of the poor are necessities, but talk to me of the hardships of men of genius, and I could weep tears of blood…”

Oscar Wilde to Frank Harris, in “Oscar Wilde” page 83
“The pleasure men take in denigration of the gifted is one of the puzzles of life to those who are not envious.”

Aubrey Beardsley, quoted by Frank Harris, memories of school days, Trinity College, Dublin, in “Oscar Wilde” page 87
“…Imperial Rome, in the Rome of the later Caesars. “Don’t forget the simple pleasure of that life, Oscar”, said Aubrey, “Nero set Christians on fire, like large tallow candles, the only light Christians have ever been known to give,” he added in a languid, gentle voice.”… ”
“the naked expression of lust and cruelty in Beardsley’s drawings showed that direct frankness displeased him, for he could hardly object to the qualities which were making his own Salome world famous.”

Frank Harris on English Justice, in “Oscar Wilde” page 150
“The Lord, the millionaire and the genius have all the same reason for standing up for each other, and this reason usually effective. Everyone knows that in England the law is emphatically a respecter of persons. It is not there to promote equality, much less is it the defender of the helpless, the weak and the poor; it is a rampart for the aristocracy and the rich, a whip in the hands of the strong.”

Frank Harris during prison visit to the Reading Goal where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned, page 213
Frank Harris: “I should rebel,” I cried, why do you let it break the spirit?”
Oscar Wilde: “You would soon be broken, if you rebelled here. Besides it is all incidental to the System. The System! No one outside knows what that means. It is an old story, I’m afraid, the story of man’s cruelty to man.”
Frank Harris: “But you ought to tell it all,” I said, “that perhaps the purpose you are here for; the ultimate reason.”…
Oscar Wilde: “Oh, no, Frank, never. I would need a man of infinite strength to come here and give a truthful record of all that had happened to him. I don’t believe you could do it; I don’t believe anybody would be strong enough. Starvation and purging alone would break down anyone’s strength. Everybody knows that you are purged and starved to the edge of death. That’s what two years’ hard labour means. It’s not the labour that’s hard. It’s the conditions of life that make it impossibly hard. They break you down body and soul. And if you resist, they drive you crazy…. But, please! Don’t say I said anything; you’ve promised, you know you have. You’ll remember, won’t you!”

To be continued, and edited over and over again as the book is read.

“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”
attributed to Bishop George Berkeley
1685 – 1753

Apple Season


This was my assembly line to peel, core and slice my apples for applesauce. The peeler/corer/slicer on the bottom right does all those things. The peeled, cored and sliced apple goes from the peeler to the cutting board where I quarter the rings and sweep them into the waiting crockpot on the left. The real challenge here was that the only table appropriate for mounting the peeler was the coffee table, which is only one foot high. This meant I had to sit on the floor to process my apples. After a few hours I became a bit stiff, but that is preferable to peeling, coring and slicing all those apples by hand.
To the right of the peeler is the bowl where I kept the peelings and cores. I put the peelings only in a large pot, added water, boiled them down till the attached flesh of the apples was pulp and put the cooked mixture through a sieve; which yielded about one litre of applesauce.

Attila and I visited our little house in the city over the last weekend. Attila built a planter for the front corner of the house. It is decorative, and will look wonderful with blooming flowers next spring/summer/autumn. But the real reason it has been constructed is to provide insulation for the foundation at the corner of the house. The contractor who put in our foundation drainage tiles expressed concern that the corner might now be vulnerable to freezing, which would heave the foundation. The planter will prevent that from happening.

On our travels we stopped at an apple store, and bought apples grown in southern Ontario. We cannot buy local apples, as they are not grown anywhere near our country house. My favourite apple is the Northern Spy. We bought a bushel of seconds at a reasonable price, and felt lucky to do so as the crop is meagre this year due to early warm weather and blossoms, followed by a hard killing frost. I’ve been peeling, coring, slicing and cooking. We now have a supply of apple sauce and an apple/cranberry crisp sitting on the counter cooling. The cranberries were left over from our turkey dinner a few weeks ago. I couldn’t resist the crisp and have had a sample for my morning snack, delicious.

I have been working diligently on my genealogy book. My focus is on my direct line down from my paternal GGG Grandfather Andrew who arrived in Canada in 1820 from Lanark, Scotland. One branch of the family moved to the USA, Minnesota and Oregon, and I’ve been using my account to good purpose locating these relations. It is slow going, as the references are all being entered as I go along.

I have relatives who are linking the whole thing up through family trees, but that doesn’t suit me for several reasons. First and foremost, sells information. This is my family’s information and I don’t intend that the family should pay a large corporation for information about their own personal history. Then there is the issue of copyright, and I don’t believe the work of thousands of researchers should be owned by and eventually sold by a large foreign corporation. Also, some of the research I view in ancestry family trees is inaccurate, much of it is not referenced and rather than enter into any kind of fruitless debate over discrpancies, I have opted to rely on my own research skills and record what I believe to be sound and verifiable information, well referenced from primary sources. And so I plod happily along. It might be a tortoise-and-the-hare situation, and it might not.

I’ve been downloading books for my Kobo from the library. I am finding it harder and harder to find anything I want to read. The last few books were disappointing. For instance, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott, published in 1884 could not win my devotion. I found the concept interesting and experienced a few deep belly laughs at the satirical implications, but after reading through most of the book I simply stopped. There was no storyline to speak of in the first three quarters of the book, no personalities; there was only a detailed description of a conceptually alternate reality and its political issues. Fascinating ideas, but not fleshed out in a very interesting way. I didn’t even enjoy the Flatland movie, as it is visually presented as one would see it from the third dimension, which was disappointing, as I had hoped to see how they would visually handle the two dimensional world so richly described. Frankly, I’d rather read a mathematics text book. I like mathematics text books, when I want a characterless bit of logic.

In a previous entry I expressed a desire for unsulphured, desiccated coconut, and provided a link to a source in California, Swanson Vitamins. To my great surprise a fellow from the company contacted me and offered a free sample. YES!!! I received it last week and I have to admit it is making my mouth water. I am going to make myself a special desert for Christmas with this coconut, the first I will have tasted in decades!

Since I’ve had a bit more time at home, cleaning and organizing the living area has been the main focus. When that is finally caught up, which will be weeks from now, the focus will shift to the clothes closets. Some of the clothes have been in my closet since before 1987, some of these still fit! Purging would be a good idea.

Worldly Distractions


11 °C
Condition: Cloudy
Pressure: 102.0 kPa
Visibility: 16 km
Temperature: 11.1°C
Dewpoint: 4.0°C
Humidity: 62 %
Wind: SSE 17 km/h


“Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”
Theodore Roosevelt
1858 – 1919

Where I Want To Be

new sofa

The new sofa.

When we moved into our country house we purchased a sofa from IKEA that pulled out into a large bed. It has been in almost constant use, as a bed. We moved it to our little house in the city and have been sleeping on it there ever since. That left us with no sofa at the country house. We have two chairs and that has worked for us, when we are alone. But, if anyone comes to call, we cannot offer them a place to sit in the living room.

While visiting our little house in the city we managed a shopping trip to search for an additional sofa. Our first consideration was comfort. Second was size, it is going to need to fit nicely into our tiny little house in the city, someday. We have been looking for years, and finally a few weeks ago found a little “love seat” sofa that is very comfy and folds out into a double bed, and it is compact in size. It was delivered Wednesday. First thing I covered it with a favorite blanket that is printed with wildflowers, each labelled with their common name. Then I covered the two loose cushions with pillow cases that matched the blanket. All this in order to accommodate Mist, who sheds a lot of hair. Then all three of us, Attila, Mist and I, cuddled up on it, minutes after the delivery fellows drove away. Mist purred, and so did we, well almost.

Another quiet day here in the country. The summer people have all but left, there are a few hold outs, one can see them out walking during the day. It is quiet in the village, and the roads are comparatively free of traffic, just local workers now.

We have begun the time of year when Attila leaves before light, but thankfully arrives home before dark. When winter arrives he will leave before light and return after darkness falls. Such are the seasons.

The onset of shorter days is always marked by a new routine. Attila leaves lights on all over the house when he leaves, because it is dark when he leaves. After he has left for work, I wander around the house turning off most, but not all, lights. It is usually hours before there is enough natural light to work by, so the lamps in the living area remain lit until the day progresses.

Long after Attila has left for the day, light seeps into the sky and through the window.

I have been waking in the early hours again, unable to return to my dreams. Sometimes I arise and do a bit of work on the computer, or putter around in the kitchen. Other times I simply relax in the bed and listen to the night sounds (when the window is open) or just daydream until either Mist or Attila stir. I love a good night’s sleep, but right now that just is not happening. I am optimistic that restful nights will return; patience is required.

I continue to stand as I work on the computer. What a difference it makes! I find that I do not want to sit down, but have to do so occasionally so that I do not tire myself out completely. It is so simple to wander away from the computer when it is busy doing its thing, to take up some other task that needs doing in the physical world. And I feel so much better. I am in a lot less pain, which is a bonus of moderate activity. I have been shedding a few pounds as well, not a lot, not quickly, but every little bit that goes improves my general health.

We have entered heating season. The morning fire has become a part of the routine again, to Mist’s absolute delight. I notice that after enjoying the heat she heads downstairs to the unheated area to curl up and sleep the day away. She is getting old, we estimate that she is at least 16 years old. She seems a bit stiff for a few minutes after she rises from a long sleep, but other than that she is very healthy. Many days she has a “crazy cat” session where she charges around the room, chasing shadows or perhaps cobwebs.

Place, such a small word for something so essential to human existence.

Worldly Distractions


7 °C
Condition: Cloudy
Pressure: 101.0 kPa
Visibility: 16 km
Temperature: 7.1°C
Dewpoint: 5.8°C
Humidity: 91 %
Wind: SE 17 km/h


“You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.”
Vernon Howard


The days are beginning to blend. With no regularly scheduled activities in the outside world the days begin to run into each other, broken only by Attila’s occasional day off work. It reminds me of summers during my childhood, when weeks passed without any contact with the outside world, and days grew slowly along with the trees, uncluttered by human agendas. How glorious, some of those days, spent with siblings, bonded by time and place. Little wonder I became a geographer.

Today is sunny and gloriously yellow. Most of the leaves around our home turned a shade of yellow or orange this year, there has been very little red in this autumn’s palette.

I baked bread yesterday and put the loaves in the freezer for the coming week. Today I cooked black eyed peas in the pressure cooker and have used them to prepare Mexican Bean Casserole in the crockpot. Upon reading the manufacturers instructions, I added a tablespoon of oil to the water in the pressure cooker before sealing it and cooking the peas. The seal is a bit wonky, and was leaking the first time I tried to heat the cooker to pressure. I let it cool down, removed the lid, adjusted the rubber seal and made a second attempt, which worked perfectly. The black eyed peas cooked in four minutes.

Caveat: Cook beans in a crockpot at your own risk, do it the right way. “Dried beans, especially kidney, contain a natural toxin. These toxins are easily destroyed by boiling. Safe steps for preparing would include soaking the beans for 12 hours, rinsing, and then boiling for at least 10 minutes, before adding the beans to a slow cooker.” University of Minnesota Extension

I took a trip to the dump this morning, to dispose of our microwave oven. It is about two years old and is quite a disappointment. It popped loudly when Attila pressed the start button on Tuesday evening and let forth a terrible stench. Then it stopped working altogether. I delivered it to the e-waste centre. Of course, not having been there before, I drove past the weigh scale and shouldn’t have. The young man at the gate came out to find out what I was up to, which is in everyone’s best interest I think. I promised I would check in properly next time I brought something to the dump, so we parted with a smile.

We are able to burn full fires in the masonry heater now, and to close the damper when the flames have burned themselves out. It is cosy and warm in the house. Mist is in her glory, sleeping sprawled across the floor, or pillows, or a chair, or wherever she happens to find herself when she begins yawning.

Now that we have wood heat, it is dry in the living area. I have dragged out my clothes rack and am drying a load of laundry in front of the heater.

I found a bit of mould growing in one of the used maple syrup containers I had saved, so I spent some time cleaning it out with aqueous oxygen. Which led to cleaning the kitchen sinks as well, and the burners on the range. It all needed doing, and so was not time wasted. Although why I am even thinking in terms of time wasted I do not know!

I am de-cluttering the living area this afternoon, objects have a way of piling up in corners when we aren’t looking. My goal is to get things straightened away in here, then to create a floor plan and move the furniture around in a winter arrangement. The masonry fireplace, ignored during the most of the year, becomes the central point of the house during the heating season. We like to sit and watch it, and we like to warm our toes in front of a roaring fire as well. The seating needs to be re-arranged to accommodate the shift in focus.

I find my mind meandering today. It flies from one thought to another, touching only briefly on each one. On days like this I have to make myself focus on each particular task, so that I complete each one successfully.

We heard George play last weekend, hearing him play live is really something to look forward to, and he is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. He writes beautiful love songs, or perhaps they are hymns, if there is a difference. We have one of his CDs and listen to it over and over…

Worldly Distractions


7 °C
Condition: Mainly Sunny
Pressure: 101.2 kPa
Visibility: 16 km
Temperature: 7.4°C
Dewpoint: 0.2°C
Humidity: 60 %
Wind: W 8 km/h


“Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.”
Matt Groening (1954 – )
[I just HATE ice weasels!!)

I want, I want, I want!

Thursday I worked a full day with a wonderful woman. I find that I look forward to any day I am working with her. She is diligent, intelligent, has oodles of common sense and is basically kind hearted. There are no unnecessary confrontations with customers on her watch and she breezes through sales interactions with some very, very rude people. I am always amazed when an affluent person begins a conversation using rude tones and is confrontational over price increases that can be counted in pennies. Some wealthy people seem amazingly unhappy (and willing to share their misery), for people who have achieved “success” and have “made it”. Others are relaxed and friendly, the majority of the population is relaxed and friendly really, the exceptions are notable because they are exceptions, thank goodness.

The autumn colours are stunning this year. We had feared that they would be muted and drab after the prolonged drought during the summer, but this is not the case. It has rained regularly throughout the month of September and into October. The marshes are rejuvenated and the water levels almost back to what they were last spring. I love the autumn season, the wind and rain, scudding clouds above and the wealth of colour below.

This is day four of the curing process for the masonry heater. I did the first burn early this morning, and sat with my coffee watching the flames. The fires began small, eight pieces of one inch kindling. There is little heat to be gained during the first few days, the refractory core is not charging yet. There is some heat through the glass during the burn, so that is helping to warm the house. Right now the temperature has risen to 17C; it was 12C when we arrived home on Monday night. On Monday next we will have our first full fire and the core of the masonry heater will begin to charge, and to radiate heat.

I am trying to organize and clean our country house. What a tip! Both of us have been working full time over the last year and things just don’t get done unless they become critical; dust bunnies and the like never reach our critical list, nor does organizing our living space and belongings. Food has been stored wherever it fit at the time it came into the house. Clothing has been piled high on the dressers, clean, folded and awaiting sorting and storing. Piles of filing and paper records of issues to be addressed sit in various piles around the living room.

The mess left when a can of tomatoes rusted through and was undetected for who knows how long.

I began with the food and am still organizing the kitchen and food storage areas. Evidence of the length of time that has taken place since I last organized the food came by way of a burst can of tomatoes. What a mess, and it had been sitting for quite some time, turning black and mouldy in the cupboard. It was quite a cleanup, but the aqueous oxygen really worked well to destroy the mould and the spores in the cupboard. All done now.

Today Attila and I are preparing a turkey dinner, a belated celebration feast of Thanksgiving. Last evening we were been busy toasting bread ends to make the stuffing. We save and store all bread ends and scraps in the in the freezer, using up every last bit of them for either stuffing or homemade croutons. Attila will prepare his special turkey dressing when he gets home from work today, and then we will get the turkey into the oven for a wonderful meal this evening, and tomorrow evening.

I keep finding things I want. These are not things I need, they are things I want. I know the difference. For instance, I want a pressure canner, this pressure canner. I want one of these lanterns that run on a tea light, for times when the power is out, which is common in the country. I want to taste coconut again, it has been almost thirty years since I have tasted coconut, because of the preservatives used in preparing dried coconut. I found unsulphured coconut for the first time! That about sums up my present wish list. Can you tell I grew up on a farm?

I had a long chat with the father-in-law this morning, Attila isn’t here as he works Saturdays. This branch of the family is very impressed with wealth and “success”, so it is always work to talk to them. They are allowed their own points of view of course, it is the assumption that what they find valuable and admirable is shared universally that is tiresome. The conversations are usually extremely one-sided. Luckily I am a good listener and not at all concerned with bringing them around to my way of thinking. They are who they are.

Worldly Distractions


8 °C
Condition: Mostly Cloudy
Pressure: 102.7 kPa
Visibility: 16 km
Temperature: 7.5°C
Dewpoint: 1.1°C
Humidity: 64 %
Wind: SSE 21 km/h


“Cease to ask what the morrow will bring forth. And set down as gain each day that Fortune grants.”
Horace 65 BC – 8 BC
[fortune granted this man more than an equal share in wealth, influence and talent]