William 'Willie' Charles Kingsbury Wilde
September 1852 – 13 March 1899) was a journalist
and the older brother of
Wilde was the oldest son born into an Anglo-Irish family, at 21 Westland Row, Dublin, to Sir
William Wilde and his wife Jane Francesca Wilde (her pseudonym being
Their second son, Oscar
, was born in the same house in 1854. Jane
Wilde was a successful writer, being a poet for the revolutionary
in 1848 and a
life-long Irish nationalist
. Sir William
was Ireland's leading Oto
(ear and eye) surgeon and was
knighted in 1864 for his services to medicine. William also wrote
books on archaeology
. He was a renowned philanthropist, and his
dispensary for the care of the city's poor, in Lincoln Place at the
rear of Trinity
College, Dublin, was the forerunner of the Dublin Eye and Ear
Hospital, now located at Adelaide Road.
1855, the family moved to 1 Merrion Square in a fashionable residential area, where Wilde's
sister, Isola, was born in 1856.
Here, Lady Wilde held a
regular Saturday afternoon salon
with guests including Sheridan le
, Samuel Lever
, George Petrie
, Isaac Butt
February 1864, Willie and Oscar were sent to board at the Portora Royal School at Enniskillen in Ulster, where Willie
became known for his good-humour and friendliness, later being
described by a classmate as "clever, erratic and full of
Oscar became known to his school fellows by the
nickname ‘Grey Crow’, which he disliked, while Willie was ‘Blue
Blood’. Willie was "an accomplished pianist and an artist of little
talent’ Oscar Wilde later recalled that the headmaster, Dr Steele,
had told him that “If I went on studying as I had been during the
last year I might yet do as well as my brother Willie, and be an
honour to the school and everyone connected with it.”
already a student at Trinity College, Dublin when Oscar joined him in 1871, the two sharing
rooms during their second and third years there.
'Willie' published several of his poems in the College magazine
, which he also edited.
graduating from Trinity College Willie Wilde studied Law and was called to the Irish Bar but never actually practised Law.
death of his father in 1876 he and Lady Wilde moved to London in early
1879, where he became a journalist, serving as drama critic for
Vanity Fair, as well as being the leader writer for
The Daily Telegraph and
the editor of Christmas numbers of several magazines.
was a regular guest at London's 'Fielding Club', which during its
short life opened its doors at eight o’clock in the evening and
remained open all night. The club was famous for its grills, its
brandy and its Pol Roger ‘74 at any time, though its tripe and
onions on Saturdays were an especial draw. One member listed Willie
among those who were ‘constant guests’ on Saturdays, along with
, Herbert Beerbohm Tree
, J. Comyns Carr
, Carlo Pellegrini
, Frederic Clay
Ralph Nevill, the son of Lady Dorothy Nevill, said of Willie
"Willie Wilde was a clever journalist who, had he been
less careless in his habits, might have achieved considerable
As it was, a number of the articles which he wrote for
the Daily Telegraph were little short of brilliant, while as a
talker, few could equal him.
He was, however, his own enemy, and could not resist
the attractions of the moment or settle down long to regular work —
in truth, though not very old in years, he belonged to the now
almost extinct school of journalists which, taking ‘sufficient is
the day for the evil there of’ as their motto, never gave a thought
to the future (or anything else) if they happened to have a few
pounds in their pockets."
By the time of Oscar's marriage in 1884 Willie was seriously in
debt and drinking heavily. On 4 October 1891, aged 39, Willie
married a wealthy widow, Mrs. Frank
, (1836-1914), the owner of the Frank Leslie
Publishing Co. in New York.
initially attracted by Willie's humour and wit; however, he spent
much of his time in New
York's fashionable 'Lotus Club' drinking, gossiping
about London Society and reciting parodies of his brother's
poems, which strongly suggests that he was jealous of Oscar's
The marriage was short-lived, Mrs Leslie starting
divorce proceedings within a year of the marriage on the grounds of
Willie's drunkenness and adultery. They were finally divorced on 10
June 1893. It was Mrs Leslie who approached Oscar Wilde
with the idea that he give a series of lectures in the United States.
On his return to London early in 1892, Willie found that Oscar was
the toast of the town for his successful play Lady Windermere's Fan
. It is
believed that Willie wrote the hostile review for the play which
was published, unsigned, in Vanity Fair
February, 1892, for which magazine he had previously been a theatre
reviewer. "The play", he wrote, was "brilliantly unoriginal," but
the dialogue was "uniformly bright, graceful, and flowing." After
describing the plot and pointing out some of its banalities, he
went on to describe it as "an undeniably clever piece of work; and
even though it has its weaknesses, it reflects credit on its
author... It is emphatically a play to see." Oscar, recognising the
hand of his brother behind the anonymous review, was by then
writing A Woman of No
, in which one character says: "After a good
dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations."
Willie Wilde by now being in serious financial difficulties, Oscar
began giving him money, but bad feeling between the brothers
heightened when Oscar discovered that Willie was constantly
pestering their far from well-off mother for money. Oscar once said
of Willie ‘He sponges on everyone but himself’. Max Beerbohm
saw them as mirror images, and
this is how he portrayed them in his caricatures
. In a letter to the painter William Rothenstein, Beerbohm wrote,
"...did I tell you that I saw a good deal of [Oscar's] brother
Willie at Broadstairs?
Quell monster! Dark, oily, suspect yet
awfully like Oscar: he has Oscar's coy, carnal smile & fatuous
giggle & not a little of Oscar's esprit. But he is awful - a
veritable tragedy of family-likeness".
Beerbohm later wrote:
"My sister Constance came home one day and summoned my
mother and me; she was quivering to tell us what had
She knew in advance it was the sort of thing my mother
Well, Constance had been walking along the street and
met Willie Wilde – Oscar’s brother.
In one hand, he was carrying a huge leg of mutton by
the narrow part; with his free hand he swept off his hat and bent
over double in a grand, ceremonial bow.
There was something so grotesquely funny in the way he
did it, conveying both the mutton and the bow.
We decided it was a first class thing."
Willie married Sophie Lily Lees (1859-1922) in January 1894, with
whom he had been living. She has been described as "an emotional
woman with a tendency to early panic... she believed (incorrectly)
that she was pregnant" She tried to induce an abortion
by taking a powder. The marriage caused
further distress to Lady Wilde
couple moved in with her. She wrote to Oscar on 4 February 1894,
telling him of the marriage: "Miss Lees has but £50 a year and this
just dresses her. She can give nothing to the house and Willie is
always in a state of utter poverty. So all is left upon me". Willie
and Lily had their only child, Dorothy
, in July 1895.
The deteriorating relationship between Oscar and Willie is included
in The Importance of
, which has two characters pretending to be
brothers, Jack, the protective guardian, and Algy, the alleged
spendthrift. They later discover that they are, in fact, brothers.
While Oscar was writing the play, Lady Wilde wrote him a lengthy
letter asking him to be reconciled with Willie, who, she said, was
"sickly and extravagant." She was "miserable at the present
position of [her] two sons" and "at the general belief that you
hate your brother." She then asks Oscar to hold out his hand to
Willie, a request she repeats several times in the letter. "Come
then & offer him yr. hand in good faith - & begin a new
course of action".
Following Oscar's arrest and first trial in April 1895, Willie
claimed that he gave his brother shelter when he was unable to find
rooms in London. Willie said that Oscar "fell down on my threshold
like a wounded stag". Standing by his brother, Willie wrote to
, "Bram, my friend, poor
Oscar was not as bad as people thought him. He was led astray by
his Vanity - & conceit, & he was so 'got at' that he was
weak enough to be guilty – of indiscretions and follies - that is
all.... I believe this thing will help to purify him body &
Willie did not meet Oscar when he was released from prison in 1897.
March, 1899 Willie died aged 46 at 9, Cheltenham Terrace in
Chelsea from complications related to his alcoholism. After Robert Ross wrote to Oscar in France informing
him of Willie's death, Oscar wrote "I suppose it had been expected
for some time....
Between him and me there had been, as you
know, wide chasms for many years. Requiescat in Pace".
- Literary Encyclopedia - Oscar Wilde
- Quoted in James Holroyd's 'Brother to Oscar', Blackwood's
Magazine, March 1974
- Burke’s Irish Family Records (London: Burke’s Peerage 1976)
-  Willie Wilde on the Oscar Wilde
- Sir Vincent Corbett, K.C.V.O.: Reminiscences, Autobiographical
and Diplomatic. London: Hodder & Stoughton n.d (preface dated
July 1927) p.38
- Ralph Nevill, 'The World of Fashion 1837-1922' (London:
Methuen: 1923 p.70
- The New York Times June 11, 1893
- Madeleine Stern, Purple Passage: The Life of Mrs. Frank Leslie
- 'Vanity Fair' review, 27 February, 1892
- 'Max and Will: Max Beerbohm and William Rothenstein, Their
Friendship and Letters, 1893-1945' Edited, with Introductions and
Notes by Mary M. Lago and Karl Beckson. London: (1975) p.21
- Max Beerbohm, quoted in S.N. Behrman: Conversations with Max.
London: Hamish Hamilton 1960 p.38
- Kevin O'Brien, "Lily Wilde and Oscar's Fur Coat," Journal of
the Eighteen Nineties Society 21 (1994)
- Karl Beckson, "The Importance of Being Angry: The Mutual
Antagonism of Oscar and Willie Wilde," Blood Brothers: Siblings as
Writers, ed. Norman Kiell New York: International University Press
- Barbara Belford, Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of
- 'The Times' 15 March, 1899
- Belford, Barbara. Oscar Wilde: A Certain Genius. New York: