Rare documents chronicling the rise and fall of Oscar Wilde together with a poem by Wilde’s gay lover, Lord Alfred Douglas are among the literary treasures donated to the University of Leeds yesterday by a wealthy New York based couple.
The newly acquired treasures include Wilde’s lectures notes from his 1882 tour of America, marking his rise to fame in addition to a rare copy of the Oxford University journal The Chameleon that played a part in his fall from grace.
Wilde was invited to contribute a handful of witticisms to the Oxford undergraduate publication, which also included a poem by Wilde’s lover, Lord Douglas. However, Wilde’s link with the journal was later used as evidence in his trial for acts of indecency with the prosecutor asking Wilde about the last line of Douglas’ poem: “What is “the love that dares not speak its name?” Leeds is one of only two UK public libraries to hold a copy of The Chameleon.
The works were donated by New York arts patrons Geoffrey and Fay Elliot. Mr Elliot, a former managing director of Morgan Stanley Co, used the University’s library for research. He was so impressed with the assistance he received at Leeds that the couple decided to donate their collection of around 200 rare books, manuscripts and letters to the University.
The documents boost Leeds’s collection of English literature – which was ‘designated’ a collection of international significance by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council last autumn. The items were chosen to complement works in the original Fay and Geoffrey Elliott collection, including major manuscripts by Oscar Wilde and Evelyn Waugh.
University Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Arthur said: “Fay and Geoffrey Elliott are the perfect benefactors – generous and wise, supportive and extremely helpful. Their growing collection would be prized in any research library in the world and we are privileged to have it in our care at Leeds. The University’s public thanks to Fay and Geoffrey are offered on behalf of everybody in this country who cares about our literary heritage.”
University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection Margaret Coutts:”Fay and Geoffrey’s generosity in giving the original collection to the University was remarkable in itself, but their financial support to enable the collection to grow and develop has made their gift to the University truly exceptional. We are delighted to mark their support through the public naming of our special collections reading room.”
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