Katherine Lyon Mix on Custance

Another young poetess in Volume VII [of the Yellow Book], who was beautiful, talented, and unhappy, was Olive Custance, eldest daughter of Colonel Frederick Hambledon Custance of Weston Park, Norwich, a wealthy man with rigid views on form and etiquette but proud of his daughter’s poetic achievement. When the Yellow Book was in preparation Olive was beginning to find a market for her verse, but lacked sufficient importance to merit mention in the preliminary announcement. Her first poem was used in Volume III, and from then on she appeared frequently, becoming one of Lane’s regulars, and an attendant at his teas, where Richard Le Gallienne stared enthralled at her “flower-like, girlish loveliness.” The Harlands made her welcome at their evenings and she charmed Aubrey Beardsley into designing a bookplate for her. Bookplates were recherché in the nineties, and one bearing a famous signature was a mark of importance. After Beardsley left the Yellow Book and went to France she corresponded with him faithfully. “Eleven pages from Olive this morning, plus 2 pages of verse. Ye Gods! If I were only Symons!” wailed the ungrateful artist. And again, “A huge letter this morning from Olive Custance. She must buy me in large paper if she expects me to read her letters.”

But though Olive fluttered enchantingly before many young men, the one whom she loved seemed curiously obtuse to her charm. His name was Alfred Douglas. She and Lord Alfred had met as children and as youthful poets admired each other’s work, writing tenderly romantic poems to each other, which on her side reflected a personal passion, on his a poetic fancy. He was her “Prince,” and she his “Page.” Her first book of poems, Opals (she was fond of those stones and laughed at the superstition that they brought unhappiness ), was published in 1897, and Bosie thought she wrote better poetry than any of her women contemporaries, not excepting Mrs. Meynell. Olive’s father disapproved of her infatuation, seeing nothing but disaster in it and was frankly relieved when Lord Alfred went to America and she became engaged to his onetime friend George Montague. But in March, 1902, Lord Alfred returned unhappily from the States, where people still remembered the Wilde affair though Oscar had been dead over a year, and finding his Olive about to marry another, was startled into a declaration of love and a proposal to elope. With the blessing of his mother and a loan of two hundred pounds, he and Olive slipped away to Paris.

At first they lived on the Continent in a glow of happiness, but after a reconciliation with her father, they returned to Weston Park for the birth of their son. Wilfrid Blunt gave a party for Douglas, saying it was time people ceased to cut him, but life in England did not go smoothly for the young couple; too much stood in the way of a successful marriage. She was pitied by her friends and threatened by blackmailers; Lord Alfred’s romantic fervor failed to withstand the passing years. He had loved a slim and beautiful girl, his Page; his ardor cooled before a matronly figure and the difficulties of a poetic temperament. In 1913, at the time of the Ransome libel suit, Olive left her Prince, writing his mother, “I have often been very unhappy with him, but I love him above everything, and would never have left him if he had not taken away Raymond [her son]. The Ransome case has done him so much harm; you don’t know what people say. . . . Perhaps it would be better for Bosie to divorce me for desertion? I only wish I had courage enough to kill myself!” But she didn’t and eventually they achieved a sort of reconciliation, he living in a flat by himself but visiting her every day in a nearby town and preserving the semblance of what he called “a life-long devotion.”

Her last book of poems, The Inn of Dreams, came out in 1911, though she lived until 1944, dying a year before her husband. Her poetic gift was slight and not always used with discretion, but much of her verse was tender and tuneful and effective in its simplicity:

I am weary, let me sleep
In some great embroidered bed.
Let me dream that I am dead
Nevermore to wake and weep
In the future that I dread
For the ways of life are steep . . .
I am weary, let me sleep . . . .

This quotation is taken from the following excellent study:
A Study in Yellow:The Yellow Book and Its Contributors. Contributors: Katherine Lyon Mix – Author. Publisher: University of Kansas Press. Place of publication: Lawrence, KS. Publication year: 1960. Page number: 188

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