vyvyan holland


Typography Tuesday

This week we present selections from a volume designed by the 20th-century calligrapher and type designer Rudolf Koch: The Book of Signs, printed in an edition of 500 copies at the press of Wilhelm Gerstung, Offenbach am Main, with 493 historical signs and symbols drawn by Koch and cut in wood by the noted German-American graphic designer and wood-cut artist Fritz Kredel, and published in London by The First Edition Club in 1930. The text is printed in Koch’s Magere Deutsche type, designed between 1913 and 1921. Koch’s text was translated from the German by Oscar Wilde’s son Vyvyan Holland.

View more of our posts related to the work of Rudolf Koch.

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I remember him as a smiling giant, always exquisitely dressed, who crawled about the nursery floor with us and lived in an aura of cigarette-smoke and eua-de-cologne. During his last years we were constantly in his thoughts; he was always asking Robert Ross to try and find out something about us, how we were and how we were getting on at school. And Ross told me that he wept bitter tears when he pondered on how he had failed us and himself and his ancestors. Towards the end he realised that he would probably never see us again and he tried to get messages through to us. He even approached our guardian through More Adley, to ask to be allowed to write letters to us, to be delivered when we came of age, but my guardian’s reply was that if any such letters were sent they would be immediately destroyed. All that my father had to remind him of us were the two photographs taken at Heidelberg in 1897, and one or two letters which we had written to him in our preparatory schools before 1895.
—  Vyvyan Holland, Son of Oscar Wilde.

Some years after Wilde’s death, his younger son Vyvyan received a letter from a Frenchman who, as a child, had known Wilde when he was in exile in France, following his release from prison and shortly before his death. In his book Time Remembered, Vyvyan published the contents of the letter:

One Autumn evening, while putting on my overcoat after finishing my meal, I clumsily upset something, perhaps a salt-cellar, on Monsieur Sebastian’s table. He said nothing, but my mother scolded me and told me to apologize, which I did, distressed by my clumsiness. But Monsieur Sebastian turned to my mother and said: ‘Be patient with your little boy. One must always be patient with them. If, one day, you should find yourself separated from him…’ I did not give him time to finish his sentence, but asked him: ‘Have you got a little boy?’ ‘I’ve got two’, he said. ‘Why don’t you bring them here with you?’ My mother interrupted … ‘It doesn’t matter; it doesn’t matter at all,’ he said with a sad smile. ‘They don’t come here with me because they are too far away…’ Then he took my hand, drew me to him and kissed me on both cheeks. I bade him farewell, and then I saw that he was crying. And we left.

While kissing me he had said a few words which I didn’t understand. But on the following day we arrived before him and a bank employee who used to sit at a table on the other side of us asked us: ‘Did you understand what Monsieur Sebastian said last evening?’ ‘No,’ we replied. ‘He said, in English: “Oh, my poor dear boys!”‘


Son Of Oscar Wilde, by Vyvyan Holland:

“Most parents in those days were far too solemn and pompous with their children, insisting on a vast amount of usually undeserved respect. My own father was quite different; he had so much of the child in his own nature that he delighted in playing our games. He would go down on all fours on the nursery floor, being in turn a lion, a wolf, a horse, caring nothing for his usually immaculate appearance. And there was nothing half hearted in his methods of play.

One day he arrived with a toy milk-cart drawn by a horse with real hair on it. All the harness undid and took off, and the churns with which cart was filled could be removed and opened. When my father discovered this he immediately went downstairs and came back with a jug of milk with which he proceeded to fill the churns. We then all tore round the nursery table, slopping milk all over the place, until the arrival of our nurse put an end to that game.

Like other fathers, he mended our toys; he spent most of one afternoon repairing a wooden fort that had come to pieces in the course of various wars, and when he had finished he insisted upon everyone in the house coming to see how well he had done it and to give him a little praise. He also played with us a great deal in the dining room, which was in some ways more suited to romping than the nursery, as there were more chairs and tables and side-boards to dodge through, and more room to clamber over Papa as well.”

I have no doubt that my father’s death came as a great relief to my mother’s family. While he was alive there was always the danger, from their point of view, that he might succeed in getting into touch with us as we grew older, and so wreck their plans for us. For my own part, I know quite well that if I had received a letter from him I would have answered it, family or no family, and that I would not have mentioned the fact to a soul.
—  Vyvyan Holland, Son of Oscar Wilde