In 1943 Robert Aickman and the photographer Howard Coster came up with a scheme to publish a book of one hundred photographs (by Coster) and one hundred biographical notes (by Aickman) of ‘the leading men of our time in all walks of life’.
This project enabled Aickman to obtain an introduction to Harry
Price (the ghost hunter), and possibly other notable figures. It also meant that he met Lord Alfred Douglas, known as 'Bosie', the controversial
lover of Oscar Wilde in the decadent 1890s. Wilde was one of Aickman's heroes, and he would later lecture on the subject of Wilde.
Aickman wrote to Douglas to ask for a meeting, and they exchanged a dozen letters thereafter, discussing theatre and literary matters. Aickman later wrote to Rupert Croft-Cooke (after the publication of Bosie: Lord Alfred Douglas, His Friends and Enemies, 1963):
Aickman’s set of photographs are kept at Bowling Green University Library with the constraint that they are not to be published or reproduced—a restriction set by Aickman himself based on Douglas's dislike of them. However, the same set, taken by Coster in Douglas’ flat in the 1940s, is available to view at the National Portrait Gallery, London, and on their website.
It can only be assumed that 'Bosie' was unhappy with the way he looked, having once been compared by Wilde to 'Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly'. Bosie in fact seems to have worn very well, but even at seventy years of age, vanity still played its part.
Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography, by R.B. Russell, Tartarus Press, 2022
With thanks to Heather Smith, and Artellus, Ltd.All photos, unless otherwise stated, are copyright Estate of Robert Aickman/British Library/R.B. Russell, and are not to be reproduced without permission and acknowledgement.