Authors by Profession


James Stanley Little was secretary of the Society of Authors when a dinner for American writers was held. This account quoted here by Bonham-Carter was written by Little for the Spring 1928 issue of the Society's periodical The Author but was not in fact published.

Next year it fell to Little, as one of his last jobs as Executive Secretary, to organise a dinner for American authors in recognition of their efforts to induce the US Government to pass an International Copyright Act. The dinner duly took place at the Criterion restaurant on 25 July 1888 (tickets 10s 6d, wine at the top table only), James Bryce presiding. Among the American guests invited were James Russell Lowell (recently Minister to the UK), Frances Hodgson Burnett, Marion Crawford, Bret Harte, Henry James, C. G. Leland, Brander Matthews, Louise Chandler Moulton, and James McNeill Whistler. Among British notabilities were Wilkie Collins and Oscar Wilde, the latter giving rise to a contretemps which sharpened the mental and physical agony suffered by Little during the whole business, of which he gave an account many years later. There were two sources of trouble: one, that Little was enduring a bout of colic brought on by worry and wet weather; the other was the seating arrangements decided by Edmund Gosse.

When I arrived at the Criterion another difficulty presented itself. I was immediately confronted by Oscar Wilde who, in his inimitable manner, upbraided me for having seated him at the table next to Lady Colin Campbell [who had recently referred to Wilde as ‘the great white slug’]. As I turned away with the assurance I would see if I could re-shuffle the name tickets, Lady Colin approached me with bitter reproaches on her lips, she being no less dissatisfied with her neighbour. Both being Irish, it may be imagined that their descriptions one of the other did not lack picturesque vividness. I had no previous knowledge, of course, that there was an old-standing war to the knife between these two. Well I had to keep smiling, welcoming guests, introducing, etc., though I was suffering the tortures of the damned, and how I got through that dinner without collapsing is a mystery to me to this day.

The dinner otherwise seems to have gone off well, for the day after Little wrote to Besant:

We scored a brilliant success last night. The reports and leaders in this morning's papers are, I think, all that could be desired. The various American guests expressed to me their feeling of satisfaction and I believe the evening went off without a hitch ... I don't know how far the dinner was successful from a culinary standpoint, as I was only able to eat the devilled lobster which was certainly admirable.

On 1 August Wilde wrote to Little:

I can only hope that if the Society gives another banquet the arrangement of the guests will not be left to a person like Gosse.

From Authors by Profession Victor Bonham-Carter 1978

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