Faithful, All Too Faithful

By David Cormack



Richard Wagner (7551 bytes)

The Wagner Library

Edition 4.9

Table of Contents

About this Title


Faithful, all too faithful
By David Cormack

Volume 14 Issue 3
Published in 1993

© David Cormack (all rights reserved) 1996, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004. The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

Reading Information

This title contains 31807 words.
Estimated reading time between 91 and 159 minutes.

Page numbers are indicated using square brackets, like [62], while footnotes are indicated using parenthesis, like (1).

Faithful, All Too Faithful

William Ashton Ellis and the Englishing of Richard Wagner

David Cormack


"It would be affectation," he assures us,

to pretend that the translation has not been an arduous task; but I can honestly say that it was not by reason of the unwonted difficulties often alleged to exist in the original. Any one who has a moderate knowledge of German, and is accustomed to thinking a little deeper than the ordinary light literature of the day, can read Wagner's prose in the original, and profit by it.

Wagner's prose and light literature? It's a statement that could only be made by someone with a confident, rather than moderate, knowledge of German, and with an intrinsic habit of deep thinking. To all appearances it's well-intentioned, urging readers to approach Wagner's prose in the original. But it knows all along that those it flatters, those sensible people with their moderate knowledge of German, are in fact waiting for "the original" to be served up to them in digestible form. The implication is that this task should fall to someone ready and able to do what Thomas Carlyle did for Goethe (and who would happily accept that charge of epigonism).

"No," he insists —

the same difficulty exists in every attempt to render faithfully and readably into English any of the more serious products of German literature. However rich our own language may be, we have to depend, for philosophic and aesthetic terms, too much upon words of Greek or Latin derivation; whereas the German classic has at his disposal words that have sprung from the spirit of the language, words that, however philosophically used, have still a direct relation with what may be called concrete — as opposed to abstract — modes of thought. The difficulty, therefore, is to translate these expressions into terms that shall not be so conventional as to rob them of their vital play of meaning.

In other words, English-speakers must fall back upon an impoverished Greek and Latin linguistic heritage, still suitable, if not for shopkeepers, then for lawyers or doctors — but no longer capable of rendering other-than-conventional ideas. The German-speaker, however, is fortunate enough to possess a still-vital language even for abstractions. And in translation from German into English, punctuation itself becomes as much an impediment as an interpretative tool:

[...] we English are impatient of delay in getting to the end of a sentence; we object to waiting for the qualifications of a thought before we reach the thought itself. [...] Thus, in translation from German into English, one always has to be on the look out for the saving efficacy of a comma. I may say that that comma is the most difficult of all to translate; it is used in another fashion to ours, and often represents our semicolon. So one has to stand over one's rough transcript with a pepper-box of commas, semicolons, colons and full stops, ready to spice it up for the English table. (1)

Poor old Ellis. To us his difficulties are self-evident. His mixture of confessional tone ("I may say"), selfconscious seriousness ("It would be affectation"), pedantry of punctuation, stiffness of style, those archaisms, and that unexpectedly quaint turn of phrase ("a pepper-box of commas") already mark him out as a late-Victorian eccentric. He is apologetic for the limitations of his own language, but has chosen to apply it to the elaboration of a deeper "German", a "philosophic" message and he believed his Carlylean style aimed true to that end. But whether despite or because of the eccentricity, for a century now no-one has read William Ashton Ellis's Englishing of Wagner — any more than the ironic rhapsodies of Carlyle's Teufelsdröckh — for fun. On the contrary, it's now all too easy to poke fun at his idiosyncrasies, circumlocutions and prejudices. And as far as reading Ellis for serious scholarly purposes is concerned, over the last half century at least English critics, from Ernest Newman to Bryan Magee and Stewart Spencer, have made their own translations of Wagner in ostentatious preference to Ellis's.

An obvious reason why modern translators and critics have preferred to tackle Wagner's letters before the prose works is simply that the letters, being generally shorter, written with immediacy, and usually with some tangible purpose in view, are more translatable. Line for line the letters yield more biographical information than page after page of didactic or "philosophical" prose will yield enlightenment. In recent years Ellis's translations of the composer's letters have been declared insupportable for scholarly purposes. In 1987 Stewart Spencer and Barry Millington put together the most important volume of Selected Letters, with Wagner's German freshly translated, since John N Burk's edition of the Burrell Collection in 1951. Even so, their explanation of the aims of the new translation partly resembled Ellis's: "the translation aims to reproduce a nineteenth-century literary style in keeping with Wagner's own ornate and often highly poetical language." But they were rather less worried about the "saving efficacy" of commas: "Wagner's somewhat idiosyncratic punctuation has been retained, except in those cases where to have done so would have impaired understanding." Tribute was paid to those forerunners (Ellis must be included), whose "occasional felicities of style [...] it would have been short-sighted (and ungracious) not to have borrowed." (2)

Exceptionally, John Deathridge's 1991 edition of Wagner's Family Letters was prepared to use Ellis's 1911 version, but carefully set it in context with his (Deathridge's) introduction, notes, expansions and additions:

Ellis thought long and hard about the problems of rendering Wagner into English [...]. But hard as Ellis tried to feel his way into Wagner's writings — with touching devotion and often true understanding it should be said — he arrived at an "equivalent" of the Master's style that was unmistakeably [sic] his own, including the quasi-biblical inflections, inelegant archaisms and other dotty traits of Ellis-speak that have irritated generations of English Wagnerites ever since. Ellis's translations of Wagner's letters [...] are less annoying probably because the original German is clearer and more spontaneous, though the reader still has to endure the bouts of mad-translator disease to which Ellis was always prone. [...]. Yet to dismiss Ellis out of hand is a mistake. For one thing, his "invention" of Wagner in English has become too much part and parcel of the literature for it to be simply ignored. For another, the translations are closer in time to the original and capture a part of the historical "aura" of the texts that a modern translation never could. (3)

An aura appears, of course, at the edge of an object. In fact it is often detectable only after direct contact with the object has been lost. I make no claims for the centrality of this study to Wagner scholarship. It is focused in every sense not on the original but on the translation. I intend to take a look at peripheral, curious, anecdotal, idiosyncratic and downright unfashionable aspects of Wagner's reception in this country. Because of this scaled-down focus, I hope that the strangeness to us nowadays of William Ashton Ellis's English "equivalence" of Wagner can be seen to reflect actual conceptual and receptive differences. "Historicism" is an inevitable criticism of the use of mundane or secondary material; but sometimes peripheral issues, it seems to me, recur atavistically, or are invoked and scaled-up mischievously, perhaps to "spice up" for a new generation the interpretation of a stale past. (4)

Before Wagner became the property of historicists there were attempts to condition what would pass into posterity. Wagner's own attempts to do this were, of course, part of his living personality rather than the posthumous "aura". John Deathridge has quoted Ernest Newman's "charitable view" that

It stands to reason that the nearer the publication stood to the date of Wagner's death, and the more people who were still alive at the time, the more scruples Wahnfried would have about publication in full. Perhaps what Cosima and the others did was no more than any other widow and any friends would do in similar circumstances. (5)

The urge of successive generations to condition Wagner needs to be examined in its own right. Whether we presently like the "aura" or not, Wagner comes to us through the mediation of his successors, hagiographic or hostile, scholarly or dilettante, over the last hundred years and more. We have lost direct contact with Wagner and are left with "interpretation", of which translation is a pretty violent form. We have had continually to "invent" our relationship with Wagner, to seek a satisfying "equivalence". Wagner's work for the stage (and, after Syberberg, the film screen) requires this to be done creatively, offering entertainment with or without offence along the way. Biography will apparently always have popular appeal as a literary genre. But "Wagner-literature" — the prose by, after and about Wagner — resides off the stage, off the screen, and on the higher shelves of the critic's library, or in condensed or selective texts in programme-notes. For English language readers, William Ashton Ellis was unique in regarding the exhaustive translation and propagation of Wagner's prose opera as no less essential for an English following than the mises-en-scène or the Life.

Ellis's eight-volume translation of Wagner's Prose Works, as Stewart Spencer has said, "for all its waywardness, remains the standard English version of Wagner's writings in prose. No new translation of the complete writings is planned at the time of going to press." (6) John Deathridge's "Checklist of Writings" in the Wagner Handbook dutifully cross-referenced the Sämtliche Schriften und Dichtungen with "the standard English translation of Wagner's prose works (Ellis)". (7) Ellis's version was reprinted in its entirety in the USA in 1967 and 1972. In between, Albert Goldman and Evert Sprinchorn brought out a selection of extracts under the title Wagner on Music and Drama, attributing the translation to one H. Ashton Ellis. Beyond the English-speaking world, there has been a greater determination to reassess Wagner's prose output. It must said, however, that the English edition (1991) of Dieter Borchmeyer's authoritatively exegetical Richard Wagner, Theory and Theatre was resolutely anti-Ellis. Its translator informed the reader that "All the passages from Wagner's prose writings have been newly translated, although earlier versions have occasionally been consulted and plundered where appropriate. Little would have been served, however, by including references to Ashton Ellis's eight-volume translation of the Prose Works (London, 1892-9), a translation as unedifying as it is unobtainable." (8) This did not dissuade the University of Nebraska Press from launching in 1994-95 a paperback reprint of Ellis's volumes, with a cover blurb describing him as "one of the most important translators of nineteenth-century musicology" [sic]. Despite better-informed opinion there seems to persist in the English-speaking world a need for a "standard" complete English translation of Wagner's prose works. And William Ashton Ellis's at least still seems to serve, even if we know little about the man who provided it.

"No one who has had occasion to work in detail at Wagner's life and letters," Ernest Newman wrote, "can have anything but respect for Ellis's untiring industry and his patience in disentangling complicated threads." But in Newman's view the results of Ellis's industry were — and always had been — questionable, since

unfortunately the peculiar kind of English he employs in his versions of the prose works and some of the letters gives a touch of the ridiculous to them that is not in the original. As long ago as 1893 Houston Stewart Chamberlain had to express to Cosima his regret that the task of Englishing Wagner had fallen into the hands of Ellis, for whom, as a man, he had considerable respect — "the good Ellis", as he calls him in a letter of the 4th October of that year. "But ah!" he continues, "that is a sad business! Only now have I been able to examine his work as translator [of the prose works], and I have to look upon it as a pure calamity." Later he wrote to Cosima, "I must talk to you some other time about Ellis's translations. I did not mean, as you appear to think, that they are not faithful; but they are not English. No Englishman who does not understand German can understand this Ellis-style. Ellis is faithful enough to the word — too faithful; but not to the sense." (9)

For Ellis — aged thirty when Wagner died — the "aura" was to be found in everything that came from the composer's hand and mind. Few could now share Ellis's blasé view of Wagner as not merely "the greatest composer of dramatic music ever born", but "a philosopher and aesthetician" whose — not theories, not conclusions, but — "opinions, whether they be eventually accepted or not, are pregnant with deep meaning." (10) All that Wagner did, said or wrote was taken by Ellis to be conducive to that whole "deep meaning" and deserving of wider communication through translation. The structure Ellis chose for his English version of the prose works was logical enough; the determination and consistency with which he realised the project was impressive, though it was the only large-scale endeavour which Ellis was to see through from conception to completion. It was interwoven with commentaries in The Meister (out of which it grew), and with independent studies and articles; ultimately it underpinned the edifice of Ellis's later (uncompleted) Life of Wagner.

The extent of Ellis's undertaking — the articles, revisions, editing, translation of letters and of the prose works, the biography — may not have been summarised before:

1886 Theosophy in the Works of Richard Wagner (article in the Transactions of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society)
1887 Richard Wagner, as Poet, Musician and Mystic (lecture published by the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts)
1887-88 articles in H.P. Blavatsky's Lucifer
1888-95 edits (and writes most of) The Meister
1889 translates Wolzogen's Leitfaden as A Key to Parsifal
1892 translates Arthur Smolian's The Themes of Tannhäuser
1892 1849. A Vindication
1892 Richard Wagner's Prose (lecture published in the Proceedings of the Musical Association)
1892 Richard Wagner's Prose Works Vol. I
1892 Aus den Briefen eines Engländer an einen Deutscher (review in the Bayreuther Blätter)
1893 translates Sporck's libretto for Cyrill Kistler's Kunihild
1893 Richard Wagner's Prose Works Vol. II
1894 Richard Wagner's Prose Works Vol. III
1894 Wagner and Grieg (article in the New York Review of Reviews)
1894-98 edits 23 programmes and "books of words" for Wagner Concerts at the Queen's Hall
1895 Richard Wagner's Prose Works Vol. IV
1896 Richard Wagner's Prose Works Vol. V
1896 'Erlösende Weltentat' (article in the Bayreuther Blätter)
1897 Richard Wagner's Prose Works Vol. VI
1897 edits and revises Hueffer's Correspondence of Wagner and Liszt
1898 Richard Wagner's Prose Works Vol. VII
1899 Wagner and Schopenhauer (article in the Fortnightly Review)
1899 translates Richard Wagner: Letters to Wesendonck et al
1899 translates Letters of Richard Wagner to Emil Heckel
1899 Richard Wagner's Prose Works Vol. VIII
1900 Life of Richard Wagner Vol. I
1902 Life of Richard Wagner Vol. II
1903 Life of Richard Wagner Vol. III
1904 Die verschiedenen Fassungen von Siegfrieds Tod (two-part article in Die Musik)
1904 Life of Richard Wagner Vol. IV
1905 translates letters of Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck
1905 Richard and Minna Wagner (article in the Fortnightly Review)
1906 Life of Richard Wagner Vol. V
1908 Life of Richard Wagner Vol. VI
1909 The Pessimist: added testimony in Wagner's case (article in Gould's Biographic Clinics)
1909 translates letters from Richard to Minna Wagner
1911 translates Family Letters of Richard Wagner
1915 Richard Wagner contra Militarism, Wagner and Latter-day France, and Nietzsche Unveiled (articles in the Musical Times)

This output belongs to the years following the formative ages of nineteen to twenty-six during which Ellis trained as a surgeon and physician and the next nine years in which he practised that profession. There is clear evidence of his commitment to and ability in his profession. Yet he resigned his medical post in 1887, and from that year forward until 1915, his career as a physician yielded to his devotion to Wagner-translation, biography and propagandising. But there was no obvious moment of conversion or recruitment to the cause.

For once the cliché is true: biographically the man remains an enigma. No commentator even seems to know the true date of William Ashton Ellis's birth. (11) Ellis was an infant when Wagner conducted for the Old Philharmonic Society in London in March to June 1855. He was trained for the medical profession, and must have become self-made in the arts. He does not reveal when and how he acquired his German, and he was to describe his musical knowledge — probably with false modesty — as amateur. He was a medical student during Wagner's Albert Hall concert season in May 1877, and only on the fringe of an older generation of Wagner-acolytes in London who actually gladhanded the great man. He never did meet Wagner, but he felt himself to be his first genuinely English (as opposed to expatriate German) exponent. He never married, never had children. He was a member of the Theosophical Society, but no member of that or any other society seems to have claimed to be his friend. Outside the London Wagner Society, he never mixed in "society". No photograph of him seems to have survived. The autographs of his writings appear to have vanished. His Wagnerian endeavours met with only qualified appreciation by his most sympathetic contemporaries, Bernard Shaw and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and the next generation, in particular Ernest Newman, William Wallace and W H Hadow, took critical issue with them. Ellis felt betrayed by unacknowledged borrowings made by others from his work, and by younger writers who went on from where he had left off. He rejoiced in the growth of Wagner's popularity in London in the 1890s and in the artistic and financial consolidation of the Bayreuth Festivals under Cosima and Siegfried Wagner, then saw it all collapse with the onset of war between Britain and Germany. He was realistic enough not to expect his writings on Wagner to be remunerative, and Shaw was compassionate enough to seek a Civil List pension for him. After war broke out Ellis returned to his former medical post, perhaps as much out of financial need as for humanitarian reasons. He died in his rooms at the Western Dispensary, having suffered the removal of his books in order to make way for an air raid shelter, and at odds with his staff. And still no-one reads him for fun. Poor old Ellis.


William Ashton Ellis's paternal origins were in North Wales. His father, Robert Ellis (apparently one of many first-born scions bearing that name), was born in Ruthin, Denbighshire, in 1823, and was probably the "Son" of Robert Ellis & Son, mineral water manufacturers in Ruthin, a company established in 1825 and well-known (with Royal Warrants) in its time: the firm survived until 1924. Other than the existence of a sister, Elizabeth (later Elizabeth Swan), nothing else seems discoverable about Robert's life until 1844, when after studying at the newly founded London University he qualified as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

On August 5, 1845, Robert Ellis married Mary Ann Eliza Uther, two years his senior. She was the daughter of Charles Bagley Uther, who in 1819 had risen from foreman to owner of the famous gunmakers' firm of Alexander Forsyth & Co, living on the firm's premises at 8 Leicester Street, Leicester Square, Soho. (12) Their marriage was performed according to the rites and ceremonies of the established church of England and Ireland. Robert Ellis was to display a typically mid-Victorian deference towards the God of that church, despite his scientific career.

At the time of his marriage, Ellis was living at 59 Brompton Crescent, practising as surgeon to the Chelsea, Brompton and Belgrave Dispensary at 41 Sloane Square. His first son, Robert Uther, was born in 1847, but by the time a daughter, Ada Matilda, arrived in 1849 the family had moved nearer the dispensary, to 63 Sloane Street. Robert Ellis had evidently begun to enjoy success. Henry Holland's neo-classical Sloane Street was a favoured location for the professional middle class. No fewer than ten medical practitioners had addresses there during the 1850s. Most notably at number 62, next to the Ellis family across Hans Street which intervened, lived Francis Seymour Haden, MD. Haden (1818-1910), whose no less famous surgeon father had introduced the stethoscope to England, ran a large private practice at 62 Sloane Street from 1847 to 1878, almost exactly the same period as Robert Ellis's occupation of number 63. An early champion of ovariotomy, Haden became renowned not only as a surgeon. In 1875, in a series of letters to The Times, he advocated "Earth to Earth" burial using papier mache coffins, and attacked the proponents of cremation on grounds of cost and hygiene. He eventually gave up surgery in 1887 to pursue an even better-known career as an artist, becoming knighted and President of the Society of Painter Etchers. (13) The occupation of surgeon was by now thoroughly respectable, and, if successful enough, permitted some interesting sidelines.

For his part Robert Ellis became the author in 1850 of The Chemistry of Creation: being an outline of the chemistries of the earth, the air, the ocean, etc (published with numerous engravings by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; a revised edition appeared in 1880). In 1852 (two months before William's birth), he published Disease in Childhood, its common causes and directions for its practical management (dedicated "To the Rev. Sir H R Dukinfield, Bart., Chairman of the Committee of the Hospital for Sick Children in admiration of his long-continued and successful labours in the cause of neglected and suffering humanity [...] by his obliged friend, The Author"). During the 1860s The Lancet carried among other things Ellis's study of "the effects of railway travelling upon uterine diseases" and several defences of his innovative obstetric surgical devices and procedures. In 1866 there appeared a treatise On the Safe Abolition of Pain in Labour and Surgical Operations. Robert Ellis, sometime Fellow of the Linnean Society, Surgeon to the National Society's Training Institution for Schoolmistresses and to the Hans Town Industrial School, was obviously more than a mere sawbones.

On the strength of the polymathic Chemistry of Creation, the Royal Commissioners had appointed Robert Ellis as scientific editor of the Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition 1851, though he was only in his late twenties. Ellis provided a general preface to the Catalogue, offering "a simple statement of the part fulfilled by the writer in connection with this work". The material had been compiled from official forms returned by exhibitors (coloured according to their classification into Sculpture and Fine Art, Raw Materials, Machinery and Manufactures). Ellis's role had been "the general literary and scientific superintendence and management of the work [...] and for these he may be held responsible." He regarded the work as a contribution in the great tradition of English scientific and mercantile coadjutation. "In the seventeenth century," he wrote in a section describing the "Scientific Revision and Preparation of the Catalogue", "ROBERT BOYLE perceived the important results likely to arise from the 'naturalist's insight into trades.' It may be hoped that such results will not now fail of their accomplishment." Ruefully, however, Robert Ellis had to accept that

At the period when this work makes its appearance in a complete state, the Exhibition is about to close. The first function of a Descriptive Catalogue can therefore scarcely be fulfilled ere the great spectacle it illustrates will pass away. To these wonders of Art and Industry which Man, taught by God, has been by Him enabled to accomplish, it will prove a guide but for a brief period. But its more permanently valuable offices then commence; and it may be reasonably hoped that, as a record of the most varied and wonderful collection of objects ever beheld, and as book of reference to the philosopher, merchant and manufacturer, it will constantly prove both interesting and instructive to the reader.

In his work on the Catalogue, Ellis was assisted by a team of twenty-five "annotators", headed by the eminent Professor Richard Owen, F.R.S., and Baron Justus Liebig, F.R.S., and no fewer than eleven other Fellows of the Royal Society. Ellis himself was a mere F.L.S. — Fellow of the Linnean Society. As "Robert Ellis Esq. Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, 63 Sloane Street, a Gentleman much attached to the Study of Natural History," he had been elected to the Society on November 5, 1850. In 1852 the title-page of Disease in Childhood continued to describe its author as Robert Ellis, F.L.S., but curiously his name ceased to appear in the List of Fellows of the Linnean Society published in 1855 — it seems he had withdrawn from Fellowship in 1854, the year in which Charles Darwin joined it. (14)

Practical results of Robert Ellis's obstetric specialisation may perhaps be seen in the measured spacing of the births of all nine of his children: Robert Uther (1847-?), Ada Matilda (1849-1936), William Ashton (1852-1919), Ernest Charles (1854-1921), Reginald Henry Uther (1858-1926), Douglas Uther (1859-?), Florence Mabel (1861-1916), Evelyn Campbell (1865-1920) and Claude Bertram (1867-1919). In commenting upon Richard Wagner's place as one of ten (eight surviving) children, William Ashton Ellis was to draw on his own "personal experience of a similar quiverful" as confirmation that "attitudinising" in such company was out of the question: "elder brothers and sisters knock all that sort of thing out of their juniors mighty soon." (15) William seems to have had an affectionate relationship with his elder sister Ada Matilda (who survived him by seventeen years), but it might be going too far to conclude that he must therefore have received a "knocking" at the hands of his elder brother, Robert — trace is lost of Robert Uther Ellis, in any case, by William's nineteenth year.

Mary Ann Eliza Ellis does not disclose her side of the matter: she does not emerge from history, not even as dedicatee of any of Robert Ellis's writings. But something of the Uther line, if only the unusual Celtic surname, must have made an impression, since three of Robert Ellis's sons bore it among their Christian-names. Charles Bagley Uther was recorded as present in the Ellis household at 63 Sloane Street during the census of 1851 (Forsyth & Co ceased trading at Leicester Street the following year), and he died there from phthisis (tuberculosis) aged 78, in the presence of Robert Ellis, on May 20, 1860. In the 1871 census his 50-year-old daughter and his son-in-law were still to be recorded there, along with all save the eldest of their children (Robert Uther), not to mention a cook, head nurse, under-nurse, upper housemaid, under-housemaid, footman, and boarder.

It was in the family home at 63 Sloane Street, Chelsea, that Mary Ann Eliza Ellis gave birth to her third child on August 20, 1852. Twelve years later, William Ashton Ellis was entered at Westminster School, becoming a Queen's Scholar at St Peter's College in 1867. After leaving Westminster School in December 1870, he entered St George's Hospital on May 1, 1871, where in August the next year he was to gain the Governors' Prize of ten guineas for general proficiency among first year medical students. (16)

In that year 1872, Edward Dannreuther (1844-1905) published a series of essays in the Monthly Musical Record entitled "Wagner and the reform of the opera": they formed the basis of his book Richard Wagner: His Tendencies and Theories (1873), the first serious study of Wagner to appear in English. The opening of Dannreuther's book noted that in Europe "Competent and incompetent critics, fighting under every manner of flag, have assaulted the 'musician of the future' or broken a lance in his honour. The Almanach des Deutschen Musikvereins for 1869 gives a surprisingly extensive list of books, pamphlets and articles put forth by Germans on the defensive side alone." It seemed absurd to Dannreuther that Germans should waste "so much ink and paper" when "the master's own expositions of his views" could be consulted directly. In England, however, "where a genuine curiosity has only of late arisen" (Dannreuther dated this to the 1870 production of L'Olandese Dannato at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), ink and paper could justifiably be pressed into Wagner's service. Dannreuther looked forward to the culmination of Wagner's career then scheduled for 1874, the Ring at Bayreuth. Funds for the construction of the festival theatre "are being furnished by different 'Wagner Societies' which have sprung up spontaneously, absolutely without agitation on the master's part, and in most instances without his knowledge, in all parts of Germany, in London, Pesth, Milan, New York, &c." (17) Dannreuther had himself founded the first London Wagner Society in 1872.

According to his own testimony, it was around 1875 that Ellis became "a devotee of Wagner's works [...] and devoured most of the literature then available on the subject". (18) He did not, however, join Dannreuther's Wagner Society, his medical studies presumably having first claim upon his time. On January 27, 1876, Ellis attended the Court of Examiners of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and followed his father into Membership of that body.

Ellis did not attend the first Bayreuth festival in August of that year, but he heard first-hand reports of it. (19) Nor does Ellis say that he attended any of Wagner's concerts in London in May 1877. Perhaps he was still concentrating on his medical studies, since in 1878 he qualified as a physician (Licentiate of the Royal College). Later that year he answered an advertisement in The Lancet announcing the vacancy of the post of Resident Medical Officer at the Western Dispensary, at a salary of £105 per annum "with furnished apartments, coals, gas and attendance." On the casting vote of the chairman of the Committee of Management, "Wm. Ashdown [sic] Ellis" won the job, and began his duties on September 29, 1878. (20)

The dispensaries were wound up on the creation of the National Health Service after the Second World War. Funded through philanthropy, they provided home medical care (especially midwifery) to the local poor, some of whom subscribed for the service on a means test basis. The Western Dispensary was connected with the United Westminster Almshouses, and among the great and the good providing for it were the Burdett-Coutts family of Westminster, and Sir Rutherford Alcock (1809-97), prize-winning surgeon, a Governor of Westminster Hospital, and organiser of the first exhibition of Japanese art in London. Shortly after Ellis was appointed Resident Medical Officer, the Western Dispensary moved into new premises at 38 and 40 Rochester Row, next to the Almshouses. The building (like the almshouses, still extant, though remodelled in 1962-63) comprised a ground floor dispensary, a first floor boardroom, and residential accommodation on the second floor. In addition to the resident doctor, the Dispensary could draw on four honorary consultants, a dentist, six "attending doctors", a dispenser and two midwives. In 1899, more than 21,000 attendances (the sick poor nursed in their own homes) were recorded. (21) The work of the Resident Medical Officer, besides supervision of the medical staff and the making of regular statistical reports to the Committee of Management, included responsibility for the day-to-day running of the building. For instance, the Committee minutes for February 15, 1882 reported that

Mr. Ellis drew the attention of the Committee to the fact that the balconies of the Almshouse had been built close up to the lead flat outside his bedroom window, so that persons could easily pass from one premises to the other, and the Committee after viewing the spot, instructed the secretary to confer with Mr. Chapple, the Builder, and to obtain his opinion and also an estimate of the cost of most effectually and at the least expense protecting that portion of the premises. (22)

On July 19, the Minutes record that the Resident Medical Officer had been granted five weeks' leave of absence. Did Ellis go to Bayreuth for the first performances of Parsifal between July 26 and August 29? It's tempting to think so, but Ernest Newman mentions only Dannreuther, Ferdinand Praeger and Julius Cyriax by name among "a number of London friends" (all of German origin) present. Ellis would have known Dannreuther from his publications, but Praeger and Cyriax he came to know only after joining the reconstituted London Wagner Society in 1885. (23)

According to the Minutes of March 28, 1883 Ellis and a Mrs Wilson organised a concert for the benefit of the Dispensary: it yielded the fair sum of £28.14s. Was this how he marked in London the death of Wagner? His had been one of two wreathes sent from London to Bayreuth for the Master's interment on February 17. (24) Ellis applied for three weeks leave from the Dispensary to commence on April 2. This was connected with that death in Venice: "For my own part, I shall never forget the impression produced upon me", Ellis was to record,

when, a few weeks after Wagner's death, the whole of the Grand Canal, as far as the eye could reach, was thronged by a concourse of gondolas, each freight in rapt attention to the strains of a band of German musicians, who had moored their barge in front of the palace in Venice where the Meister had sojourned during his last halt in his earthly journey. (25)

In 1884, Dannreuther's original London Wagner Society was reconstituted as the London Branch of the Universal Wagner Society then based in Munich. William Ashton Ellis joined it the following year. 1885, however, still saw Ellis preoccupied with medicine-related matters. On March 17, the Minutes record that he "made application for the occasional use of the [Dispensary's] Board Room for Committee meetings" — not of the Wagner Society, but — "of the Association of Members of the Royal College of Surgeons, of which he is one of the Honorary Secretaries". The Association held its first annual general meeting at Westminster Town Hall on May 5, 1885, at which Dr Robert Collum was confirmed as President, and Dr Warwick C Steele, Mr J Nield Cook and Mr W Ashton Ellis as Hon. Secs. and Treasurers. Its principal objective was the constitutional reform of the Royal College. There were then some 16,500 Members (as compared with 1,200 Fellows), and feeling among them was growing for some form of representation on the College's Council. The campaign lasted several years, and included a Members' petition to the Queen in Council. (26)

In February 1889, Ellis and Steele organised a Members' meeting at the College without the permission of the College Council. An extraordinary meeting of the Council was called to order the closure of the College on the appointed day. Steele and Ellis unsuccessfully sought an injunction against the Council. On behalf of the Association of Members, they then brought a legal action against the President of the College, Sir William Savory, for prohibiting the meeting. It took until January 26, 1892 for the case of Steele v Savory to come to trial in the Chancery Division of the High Court. Judgment was given against Steele and Ellis, and the case dismissed with costs. Steele and Ellis begged the College to forbear to press the costs. The College refused, but agreed to accept payment over a period. (27) Given the three years of legal preparation before the trial, the costs must have been significant, and a severe drain on Ellis's resources.

Ellis's troubles increased in the summer of 1885. The Dispensary Minutes for July 21 noted that "In consequence of the serious illness of the Resident Medical Officer's father, immediate leave of absence was granted to Mr Ellis". Robert Ellis, however, died the next day. The Post Office Directories show that he had left Chelsea around 1876, possibly retiring as a practising surgeon, though he was then only 53. Another reason for his departure is possible. In 1875 and 1876, a Mrs Robert Ellis is shown in the Post Office Directories as living at 58 Sloane Street, five doors away from Robert Ellis, surgeon, at number 63. By 1877, number 63 appears to be empty (a Mrs Duff-Gordon occupies it from 1878), and Mrs Ellis apparently has changed the spelling of her surname to Ellice. Mrs Ellice remains listed until 1887. Of course it may be coincidence and not more than conjecture that this Mrs Ellice has anything to do with Robert and Mary Ann Eliza Ellis, but after leaving 63 Sloane Street Robert Ellis seems to have parted or been parted from his wife. He was to end his life in North Devon in the company of quite another lady.

The short obituary notice in The Lancet for August 1, 1885 read: "ELLIS — On the 22nd ult., at Sunset, Westward Ho, North Devon, after a long illness, Robert Ellis, M.R.C.S., L.S.A., late of 63, Sloane-street, aged 62." The "long illness" may have been euphemistic: the death was attributed by the local physician to "Cirrhossis [sic] of the Liver 2 Years Certified by Ezekiel Rouse". The place of death, "Sunset", (28) was Robert Ellis's residence according to his will — and, according to the same document, that of "my friend Miss Wilkins", to whom he left "the chiming clock presented by her to me" and the sum of fifty pounds.

The will was made three days before his death. Some legacies were characteristic: five guineas each to the Church Missionary Society, the London City Mission, the Scripture Readers Association, "the Boys Home of Dr. Barnardo and The Orphan Home of Mr. Muller near Bristol". The division of the estate between his family omitted the name of his wife and of the eldest son Robert Uther Ellis. It included the option to purchase "my one horse power engine at the price of twenty pounds" by his sons Reginald Henry Uther Ellis and Douglas Uther Ellis, "should they be carrying on the business of Soda Water Manufacturers at the time of my decease" (I have not been able to confirm whether this may have been with the London office of the original firm of Robert Ellis & Son). Other gifts went to "the widow of my old Coachman Henry Aldridge" and to two old servants, Charles Meredith (the footman of the 1871 census) and William Belford. Upon probate, Robert Ellis's estate was valued at an enormous £33,141 7s. 4d. (resworn in April 1888 at £32,700 18s. 2d.).

William Ashton Ellis, though an executor, was bequeathed nothing in his father's will beyond a sibling's equal share. (29) Perhaps it's hardly surprising that Robert and William Ashton Ellis had little in common. The worthy Robert Ellis may have cohabited with his "friend" Miss Wilkins towards the end of his life; but he would surely have disapproved of William's giving up a medical career to pursue another type of infatuation.

At any rate, an indication of some unhappiness in his post at the Western Dispensary lies in the fact that on July 27, 1886, Ellis applied for the post of secretary there. Curiously, in view of his financial circumstances, the post of secretary offered a salary of only £18.2s.6d. per quarter, compared with his Resident Medical Officer's salary of £26.5s per quarter. Job security rather than remuneration may have been the attraction. Ellis failed to obtain the post: it was given to Francis Charles Morgan, who held it until his death on December 22, 1912, when his daughter Edith succeeded him. (30) In the closing years of his life Ellis was to have certain difficulties with that lady.


Ellis's first public contribution to Wagner studies was a paper read to the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts on February 3, 1887, and repeated before the London Branch of the "United Richard Wagner Society" on March 10. It marked a decisive change in Ellis's career, which undoubtedly deprived the Westminster poor of his ministry in order to enrich us less tangibly. Between those readings (on March 1, to be exact), a special meeting of the Western Dispensary's Committee of Management was convened to receive a letter from the Resident Medical Officer, resigning his appointment with effect from Lady Day next (the Dispensary worked punctiliously to the quarters). Another special meeting on March 22 appointed a successor, but the Minutes also show that it was

carried most unanimously that —

"The Committee desire to express to Mr Ellis, the late Resident Medical Officer, their best thanks for the very efficient manner in which he has discharged his various duties during the last 8 years and to acknowledge the kindness and courtesy he has always shown to the patients under his care."

In accordance with the united wish of the Committee, Mr Ellis was called in and personally informed by the Chairman of the motion referred to as well as of the tenor of the accompanying and subsequent remarks. Mr Ellis thanked the meeting for this Evidence of their Esteem and appreciation.

It was resolved that a copy of the motion be forwarded to Mr Ellis, in a communication to be signed by the Chairman.

If to the Dispensary's Committee Ellis's resignation was as inexplicable as it was unexpected, the reason for it can be found in a letter of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-91), the founder of Theosophy, written from Ostend to her sister:

What am I to Ellis who never saw me before, that he should think nothing of the risk, when leaving the hospital without permission, for a whole week for my sake; now he has lost his place, his handsome pay, and his rooms at the Westminster [sic] dispensary. He went home and returned here laughing: he does not care a bit, he says! "He will have more time to spend on Theosophy." (31)

It's unlikely that Ellis exaggerated his own self-sacrifice. Madame Blavatsky was reciting only one of a number of examples of her ostensible power over others: "Why should it be my fate to influence the destinies of other people?" she asks rhetorically in the same letter. No doubt it suited her purpose to imagine that Ellis left his post "without permission". A more objective account was given by Madame Blavatsky's companion, Countess Constance Wachtmeister:

In October, 1886, I joined H.P.B. in Ostende [...] Towards the end of the winter [evidently in March] H.P.B. became very ill [...]. I telegraphed to Madame Gebhard [...] and also to Mr. Ashton Ellis, a member of the T.S. [Theosophical Society] and a clever doctor, both responded to my call and helped me through those trying and anxious days, and in the end Mr. Ellis' wise treatment pulled her through the dangerous crisis. (32)

Ellis had diagnosed H.P.B.'s dangerous crisis as Bright's Disease of the kidneys. According to Countess Wachtmeister, he "massé'd her until he was quite exhausted; but she got no better, and to my horror I began to detect that peculiar faint odour of death which sometimes precedes dissolution." But against all expectations the efforts of Ellis and another Belgian doctor prevailed. (33)

The meeting of the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts which heard Ellis's lecture on February 3, 1887, had been chaired by A P Sinnett, Esq. As well as being on that Society's Council, Alfred Percy Sinnett (1840-1921) was a member of the Theosophical Society, then and later a far less reticent one than Ellis. Acquainted with Madame Blavatsky since 1879, he had been on her behalf the recipient of the controversial "Mahatma Letters" supposedly communicated for the benefit of theosophy by Himalayan "Masters". After H.P.B.'s death he professed his conviction as to her previous incarnations (including "an aunt who died prematurely") and her "transfer to another nationality" so as to "be better able from the fulcrum of a European birth to further the interest of the Hindoo race." (34)

It was evidently not necessary later to revere H.P.B. to be a true Theosophist. Sinnett was to become the author of The Early Days of Theosophy in Europe (published posthumously in 1922), a work denounced by yet more Wagnerian theosophists, Alice Leighton Cleather and Basil Crump. (35) While grateful to William Ashton Ellis for translating all the relevant "Eastern" references in Wagner, in their own Wagnerian writings they seem to have made no mention of their forerunner's personal theosophical involvement. But they unreservedly condemned Sinnett for holding Blavatsky "up to the scorn and reprobation of posterity as nothing more than an ordinary medium, and a fraudulent one at that." (36) Sinnett had sided with Blavatsky's successor as leader of the Theosophical Society, the former associate of Charles Bradlaugh and Bernard Shaw, Annie Besant: "In spite of her conversion to the tenets of Theosophy," wrote Cleather, "the ineffaceable stain of Socialism and Atheism remained. Subsequent events have amply proved the danger to the Theosophical Movement of these and other elements in Mrs. Besant, who was destined to become its evil genius." (37)

Following Madame Blavatsky's arrival in London in 1887 after Ellis's treatment of her in Ostend — Sinnett preferred to regard it as "the exercise of occult power" (38) — a "Blavatsky Lodge" had been set up in opposition to the "London Lodge" dating from 1876. By the mid 1890s the Theosophical movement was in disruption, with accusations and counter-accusations of charlatanism. Sinnett was accused of dubious experiments with mesmerism verging on black magic. He was classed with the most notorious of Annie Besant's associates, the paedophile Charles Webster Leadbeater. Cleather and Crump were to call as witness against this perversion of the movement no less an expert than Richard Wagner himself:

Richard Wagner, who had considerable knowledge of magic, gives an exact and terrible illustration of this process in his symbolical music-drama Parsifal [...]. At the beginning of Act II [Klingsor] is seen calling up [Kundry's] "red-violet Astral Body" while her physical body lies in a hypnotic sleep under a bush in the Grail's domain [...]. The whole may be taken as a drama of the Theosophical Society, which may now be said to be under the domain of Klingsor, and still awaiting the coming of its Parsifal who can shatter the vast fabric of psychic illusion. (39)

Ellis wouldn't have found this too far-fetched. In The Meister for July 1888 he noted:

The red turban which [Klingsor] wears (which, by the way, has been discarded, for some unaccountable reason, since Wagner's death in favour of a white turban) is the distinctive mark in the East of the sorcerers who use their knowledge of the secret forces of nature for the furtherance of black magic, in pursuance of inordinate selfish ambition, and who are called from their wearing of this colour the Dugpas (red caps). (40)

Certainly in 1887 Ellis was more than hovering on the fringes of theosophical controversy with that lecture delivered under Sinnet's chairmanship, Richard Wagner, as Poet, Musician and Mystic. The "as poet" section eschewed literary analysis: "there is room here for none but intense feelings of passion, or ecstatic yearnings for sensation lifted on to a plane above this world". (41) The "as musician" section circumvented musicianship: "I am not schooled in rules of harmony, and have not cared to indulge in the sad diversion of picking a passage of music to pieces to see what it is made of. Such scientific dissection I must leave to the professional musicians, though not without recognising that it is an all-important duty for them to exercise themselves in the anatomy of their art." (42) The same section anticipated the "as mystic":

But if we cannot enter upon the Indian mysteries of nature and, like [Wagner], surprise her at her work, forcing from her her archetypes and bringing them from what the Easterns call the Akãsa, and the Western occulists [sic], the "astral light" — that sphere in which the moulds of things past, present and to come, lie as an open secret, unlocked to inspiration — down to the plane of matter: if we cannot do this, we can at least judge from the effect whether he was right or wrong. [...] My advice to those about to witness a Wagner performance would therefore be: leave your motiv-books behind you, and give yourself up heart and soul to the music, action, poetry and scene set before you. If you lose your identity for the time, what matter? It will come back to you, sure enough, with the matter-of-fact din and hubbub of the streets, when you return to them. (43)

The "as mystic" section of the essay turned out to be a closely argued protest against materialism. Ellis defined "mysticism" in the words of "our own great Philosopher Thomas Carlisle" [sic] which culminated in:

"The Invisible world is near us, or rather, it is here, in us and about us; were the fleshly coil removed from our soul, the glories of the Unseen were even now around us, as the ancients fabled of the spheral music."

"These words of Carlyle" [sic] Ellis continued,

sound almost as a prophecy, when we consider that they were written half a century ago, when there seemed to most men but little prospect of a revival from the crushing scientific materialism that was gradually tightening its iron grasp upon the hearts of Englishmen; for now-a-days people of open mind are glad to search into these things, and the ridicule is rather being turned against the self-sufficient obscurantists than against those who are earnestly endeavouring to penetrate behind the veil of Isis. At no time has there been such a widespread desire to search all things, and to wring forth some of the hidden secrets of that which is above and beyond Matter. Bodies of men are grouping themselves together, some attempting to deal with the question from the side of ghostly manifestations, as the Spiritualists; some from that of thought-transference and allied phenomena, as the Society for Psychical Research; and some from the side of the ancient, and till lately almost inaccessible stores of occult wisdom, as the Theosophical Society. The object in all, however, is the same; to shake off this great pall of gross matter that shuts men off into separate prison cells of personal egoism, and to reach forth, however feebly at first, into a realm, the nearness to us of which Carlyle thus set forth.

"That this was also Wagner's great, though at first unconscious aim," Ellis went on, "no one can deny, who will take the trouble to read his prose-writings, or who will analyse the systematic expansion of the spiritual side of his dramatic works." However, "Such an analysis" — i.e. that systematic expansion of the spiritual side of Wagner's works — "is quite out of the question to-night," Ellis told his no doubt relieved audience,

for in preparing a paper which I read elsewhere I found that the mere hints that might be offered on this subject filled up a space of time longer than I could dare to demand from you for the whole of this lecture, and even then the topic could only be grazed upon, to say nothing of exhausted. (44)

The lecture quoted extensively from Wagner's prose works, which Ellis evidently knew comprehensively by that date. Ellis neatly rounded off his argument by appearing to draw together his themes of Wagner, the English, and the ineffable:

One little passage alone would vindicate my contention, where [Wagner] says, "I fear that to go to the bottom of this subject would lead us to Mystic depths, and those who would follow us would be branded by the self-styled cultured world of music as blockheads, a word with which according to Carlyle, the English label all Mystics." (45)

In fact the "paper read elsewhere" had been published before the As Poet lecture, as Theosophy in the Works of Richard Wagner in the August 1886 issue (number 11) of the Transactions of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society. (46) The opening of that essay averred, with a mixture of geological metaphors, that "while our Tyndalls and Huxleys, our Darwins and our Spencers are reducing all to the cold plane of gross matter, a school has arisen, unmarked or derided in its inception, but destined, in the lapse of time, to win back the world from these frigid formularies to the sense of higher realms, standing open with rich fields of gold ready for the spade of the explorer." (47)

Replete with quotations from Edwin Arnold's Buddhistic poem The Light of Asia and terms such as the "septenary chain" of "the body Rupa", "the Kama Rupa", "Prana", "Linga Sharira", "the Manas", "Buddhi", and "the Atma", the essay's aim was to introduce English theosophists to their German precursor Richard Wagner. As such, it is more easily digested than A P Sinnett's arcane musings, which comprised the majority of the Transactions. For our purposes, however, the essay is interesting for its reference at its close to correspondence Ellis reveals he had already had with "a lady who had most intimately known the composer for the last thirty years of his life". He quotes a passage from this lady's reply on the subject of vegetarianism and Buddhism: Wagner was "in principle" a vegetarian, she says, but "in practice, however, neither his health nor the orders of his physician allowed him to be a vegetarian." (48) At this point it's with some relief that we can observe that if Wagner was only as spiritual as his physical life allowed him to be, Ellis was to turn out to be only as exotically theosophical as his English sense of propriety allowed him to be.

Twenty years later, in his 1905 edition of the letters of Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck, Ellis was to reveal publicly that he had had the "personal experience" of being "admitted to the honour of Frau Wesendonck's society during the last twenty years of her life", beginning with a first encounter "in that sad year at Bayreuth when the master was no more.". Ellis conjures her up: "This placid, sweet Madonna, the perfect emblem of a pearl, not opal, her eyes still dreaming of Nirvana, — no! emphatically no! she could not once have been swayed by carnal passion" (49). Whereas A P Sinnett had idolised first Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and then Annie Besant, Ellis's devotion was directed towards Mathilde Wesendonck, a living "spiritual" link (at any rate until her death on August 29, 1902) with his own acknowledged Master.

The young W B Yeats (1865-1939) was convinced that Ellis was the author of the unsigned review in Madame Blavatsky's theosophical monthly Lucifer of April 15, 1888, of A Dream of the Gironde and other poems by Evelyn Pyne. The same issue of Lucifer included three poems by Evelyn Pyne — and the second number of The Meister the following month included that author's "Anniversary Ode (R. Wagner, born May 22, 1813)" (50). "They think no end of 'Mr Pyne'," said Yeats, "as they call her. One man on the staff is quite enthusiastic[,] has bought both her books and compares her metre to Swinburne. Has quite considerable corrispondence [sic] with her, never dreaming she was not 'Evelyn Pyne Esq'. He is the editor of the new Wagner journal the 'Meister'." Yeats was to enjoy this theosophical exhibition of mistaken enthusiasm for Evelyn Pyne's allegedly Swinburnian (the review actually said Shelleyan) rhapsodies: "the very simple minded musician who reviews and is so enthusiastic about her blushed when he was told 'Mr Pyne' was a lady. Her poems in Lucifer are quite long. I have not read them." (51)

The publisher's advertisement in the endpapers of Evelyn Pyne's collection The Poet in May (1885), for the earlier Dream of the Gironde (1877), had cited appreciations of "Mr. Pyne's poetry" from the Westminster Review, the Liverpool Daily Post and the Spectator. Those reviewers, like Ellis, had doubtless been misled by the dedication of the earlier volume "To the dear memory of her who dead to the world blooms a star in my heart forever." (Ellis's younger brother, it will be recalled, was named Evelyn.) But whether Ellis blushed or not in 1888, his admiration for Miss Evelyn Pyne remained undimmed. He was to publish another of her poems, "A May Song", in The Meister in May, 1890. Fifteen years later, in his volume of translations of letters from Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck he unblushingly rendered thanks "above all to an English friend, 'Evelyn Pyne,' for her assistance in giving the due feminine flavour to our joint translation of Frau Wesendonck's tales and letters, also for her sole and beautiful translation of that lady's poems." And in covering the Wesendonck episode in the sixth volume (1908) of the Life of Wagner Ellis gave the credit again to his "English friend" for translations "for these pages by 'Evelyn Pyne'" of the texts of three of the Five Songs. (52)

Yeats may not have known it, but Ellis's first contribution to Lucifer had been published in its fourth issue, dated December 15, 1887. The article "An infant genius" presented the keyboard prodigy Josef Hofmann, "a child whose life, in this incarnation at least, is barely ten years old", as proof of the doctrine of reincarnation. The young Hofmann (1876-1957) was taking concert-going London by storm, but aroused deeper reflections in Ellis: "it must be that the child has lived upon this earth before". Allowing that the child was likely subsequently to "squander" his gifts in this existence, Ellis wrote:

We have only adduced this boy's genius as one of the indications that life is in its succession a far more complex problem than the materialists or the orthodox religionists would have us believe. There are countless other suggestive little facts of early talent that must have come within the circle of the daily life of each of us; but without the thread of Karma whereon to string them, we pass them by; and it is only when some remarkable phenomenon, such as that of Josef Hofmann, bursts upon the world, that men fall to wondering. Yet it is by the accumulation of small details that a philosopher like Darwin worked out his scheme of natural evolution; and it is by the testing of such a theory as that of re-incarnation by many a little hitherto unexplained incident that we shall find its worth. (53)

Ellis's second contribution to Lucifer, in its sixth issue, a review of Captain William C Eldon Serjeant's Spirit Revealed, envisaged something more socially concrete than the accumulation of small details strung on the thread of Karma: "an awakening of the peoples to their real position as members of one great Spiritual community". "If Theosophy is to be a living thing, and not a mere intellectual amusement," Ellis concluded, it is by such men as Captain Serjeant that "the world would soon be freed from its misery, by the force of their united volition. Verily their reward is at hand." (54)

Ellis seems not to have found the Theosophical Society a sufficient vehicle for reaping the reward of spiritual revolution. If Josef Hofmann was a temporary detail on the thread of Karma, the figure of Richard Wagner must have seemed to Ellis to embody Karma itself. In that sixth issue of Lucifer, an advertisement appeared for "The new Wagner journal" The Meister, whose prospectus had just been received by the editor H P Blavatsky. It noted that since The Meister's editor "is a member of the Committee of the Wagner Society, and a member of the Council of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society, we hope that prominence will be given to the esoteric side of Richard Wagner's works". And justification for that hope was looked for in words quoted from The Meister's prospectus:

Religion, Art, and Social Questions are in these works (Wagner's) presented to his readers under novel aspects, and such as are of the greatest interest to a generation which is eagerly scanning the horizon for some cloud which may be the harbinger of refreshing rain long looked for to quench the thirst of the arid sands of Materialist Science. (55)


Despite the speed and diligence with which he had attended Madame Blavatsky in Ostend, Ellis seems gradually to have withdrawn from her subsequent circle in London, and to have shunned both the London Lodge and the Blavatsky Lodge of the Theosophical Society. It was a Dr Z Mennell who was to attend H.P.B.'s deathbed in St John's Wood on May 8, 1891. The only subsequent reference to Madame Blavatsky I have discovered in Ellis's writings is in an inconsequential footnote of 1902, where Ellis offers the information that the Countess Hahn-Hahn, a guest along with Wagner at Ferdinand Hiller's soirees in 1846, was "Countess Ida, the novelist, an older cousin of the late Helena Petrovna Blavatzky [sic]. — W.A.E." (56) After H.P.B.'s death W.A.E. was unlikely (given his revulsion from both materialism and orthodoxy in matters of the spirit) to have allied himself with her successor, Annie Besant, given her well-known kaleidoscopic career through exoteric freethought, atheism, socialism and republicanism to theosophy. Nor, for the same reason, with Annie Besant's esoteric theosophical opponents. Ellis clearly came to wish to have no more to do with theosophy in its descent into unseemly squabbles. As his work of translating and biographing Wagner took hold of him, he could on his own account lay before an English audience Wagner's own allusions, well before the invention of theosophy, to Buddhism, Hindu myths and reincarnation.

At least by 1895 Ellis felt it unnecessary to labour theosophical points. The last number of The Meister to appear contained the second part of his article on "The 'Ring' Drama". In it he translated a lengthy passage from Wagner's letter to August Roeckel of the spring of 1855, in which the composer had turned his back on "affirmative" (Feuerbachian) thought, now seen as merely "coquetting with the Will" and which when "pursued at all costs" turned out to be "Judaism itself, so omnipotent again today and trumpeting the narrowest, most parochial world-view ever preached". True Christianity's origins were not to be found in the "soulless, heartless Optimism" of Judaism, according to Wagner (as translated, and wholeheartedly endorsed, it seems, by Ellis), but in "the pure original teachings of the Buddha, and particularly the doctrine of the Transmigration of the Soul as incentive to a purely humane, a life full of sympathy with special reference to the knowledge-lacking world of beasts and plants, — assuredly the most beautiful fancy of a lofty spirit longing to impart itself." "It may appear an abuse of editorial privilege," Ellis interjected, "to have led my readers seemingly so far from the immediate subject, the 'Ring Drama'; but when one places oneself in Richard Wagner's hands for a journey to the transcendental, it is uncommonly difficult to turn back and descend from the general to the particular." (57) It was significant for Ellis that Wagner was expressing these Buddhistic yearnings at the very time he was packing his bags for no less worldly a spot than London. The transcendental journey eastwards was an "astral" counterpart of the actual westward railway and steamship journey from Zürich, via Paris, into London Bridge, where in Ellis's imagination, now phrased more like William Booth than Edwin Arnold, Wagner "[had] to do his own haggling with the London porters, and deposit his weary bones in that abomination of desolation, a station 'growler'", before "trundling through the four odd miles of streets made trebly dismal by the sepulchral gloom of an English Sunday night, splashed here and there with the forbidding glare of public-houses". (58)

In trying to rationalise his thoughts on how destiny can unite the sublime and the base, Ellis may have recalled that his father's Chemistry of Creation had opened with a steel engraving of "The Alchemist" and with mention of Hermes Trismegistus and Geber — "curiosities in the history of chemistry". Robert Ellis had respected "the chemistry of experience" in ancient Egypt and China, which had yielded glass, porcelain, dyes, and, through astrology, the science of astronomy. The driving-force, however, had been for him "the deep-rooted covetousness of the human heart, that, from the very first, men regarded chemistry as a means of making gold." The search for the philosopher's stone had persisted "down even to the end of the last century, one of its latest victims being a Dr. Price, of Guildford, who destroyed himself in disappointment at discovering the delusion under which he had been working." The elixir of personal immortality, the distillation of fluid gold from base matter, was "a foolish and illogical train of reasoning" not to be regarded in Faustian tragic-heroic terms, but as an irresponsibility to be condemned in Victorian-moral terms:

How lightly after all did they really estimate the misery of immortal life to an individual in the present world! An immortality of the beholding of suffering, sorrow, and sin, of withering hopes, dying friends, unsatisfying occupations — this was the object of their search? Surely it was the voice of mercy, not of wrath, which pronounced in solemn accents, death to be the wages of sin, that it might add the glorious intelligence that the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (59)

Robert Ellis went on to describe the hand of God behind the rational, experimental advance of chemistry from Francis Bacon onward, up to his own day and his own materialist heroes of natural science, Dalton, Davey, Priestley, Liebig and Charles Darwin. But by the late nineteenth century — by the time William Ashton Ellis was beginning to write — Frederick Engels had noted how Bacon, Newton, Crookes and Darwin's colleague Alfred Russel Wallace, whatever their scientific discoveries, had reverted to metaphysical speculations about elixirs, spirit rapping, a fourth dimension and the like. "If we trust the spectrum-analysis observations of Crookes, which led to the discovery of the metal thallium, or the rich zoological discoveries of Wallace in the Malay Archipelago," Engels wrote, "we are asked to place the same trust in the spiritualistic experiences and discoveries of these two scientists." And when Engels expressed the opinion "that, after all, there is a little difference between the two, namely, that we can verify the one but not the other", he found he was met with sophistic assurances by "empiricists" that "the existence of falsifications proves the genuineness of the genuine ones". (60)

Robert Ellis's concern for "individuals in the present world" became empirically obvious in his later writings on the medical care of children and women. In giving up his Linnean Society Fellowship after 1854 and in declining to take sides in the grand ontological battles of Owen, Darwin and Huxley, he returned to the purview of his speculum. To that extent his aims were shared by his son's early commitment to socially involved medical work at the Western Dispensary. It is hard, therefore, to imagine a thirtysomething William Ashton Ellis putting that seriousness of purpose aside at the same time in order to take holidays by bicycle (perhaps with one of Evelyn Pyne's slim volumes in his pannier) through the countryside of this present world, even if his destination were usually Bayreuth. But this is apparently what happened. A flamboyant young woman, Annie Horniman (1860-1937) had made Ellis's acquaintance in the reading-room of the British Museum. Annie too had rejected a rich, serious-minded Linnean Society father (tea magnate, entomologist and founder of the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, south-east London), in order to indulge her passion for art and the theatre. After assisting him with his Wagnerian researches in the British Museum, it seems, "Miss Horniman visited the Continent with Ellis, a bachelor of somewhat fussy habits, and though he had some uneasiness as to the propriety of the companionship, her only objections arose when she was mistaken for being his wife." (61) But whatever their liaison and however long it lasted, their paths were crossing in contrary directions. Annie took up the company of Yeats and a post-theosophist variety of mysticism, the Golden Dawn; Ellis was to retreat to Sussex and a vicarious intellectual and spiritual life based on events half a century previous. Evidently Ellis was convinced that the Karmic "veil of Maya" could be better lifted to universal moral and spiritual effect through the example of an historic figure in living memory, whose genius was now publicly acknowledged even in England.

In his "Introductory" chapter to the letters from Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck, Ellis quoted Malwida von Meysenbug's summation of Wagner's "belief in the future of Woman": "In face of practical life he had that awkwardness of genius which is so touching, since it coincides with a profound naivety of ideas about the relations of ordinary life which can be misunderstood alone by mediocrity and malice." Ellis then cited as an example of Wagner's "naivety" a passage from the first edition of A Communication to My Friends referring to his (Wagner's) early licentious self-expression as "the only way in which Nature can utter herself under the pressure of the moral bigotry of our Society, namely as — what folk call, unfortunately to-be-tolerated — vice". As faithful translator of the Prose Works, Ellis had observed the suppression of the sentences in that passage in the later edition of the Communication, but only by relegating them to an appendix — "whence — oddly enough —", he remarked, "they have not yet been unearthed by 'mediocrity and malice'." Ellis at least refused to suppress the passage completely: on the contrary he pointed out that its suppression in the German edition proved that Wagner's "traducers were a force to be reckoned with, people who even in 1872 would fail to comprehend his protest against that 'shy reserve towards the female sex' which still prevailed in Germany and turned that sex into domestic animals or puppets". And it is Ellis himself who concludes that "The Woman of the Future was only just beginning to be born, and rational liberty of comradeship was not yet tolerated." (62)

Considering that when he wrote those words in 1905, the English "Woman of the Future" had only recently begun to demand the national vote, Ellis's attitude toward intellectual women seems distinctly liberal. Possibly allowing himself to be influenced through the Wagner biography by the received ideas of Malwida von Meysenbug (1816-1903) — there is no evidence that Ellis had actually met or corresponded with her directly — he seems to have concocted his own notion of that "rational liberty of comradeship" which transcended the hypocritical "shy reserve" overtly shown by most men towards women. It's quite possible to infer in Ellis himself that "touching awkwardness" and "naivety" that he referred to in Malwida's description of Wagner. Ellis was to remain unmarried and childless, and without any recorded close human relationship. On the other hand, as will be shown presently, there was a tenacious, obsessive side to his personality.

An acute insight into Ellis's personal animosity toward moral bigotry is revealed in the Life of Wagner. Ellis recalled "a little manual which has enjoyed unrivalled circulation for the last three generations under the insinuating title The Peep of Day: A Series of the Earliest Religious Instruction [sic] the Infant Mind is Capable of Receiving" (the square-bracketed [sic] is Ellis's insertion). After quoting "choice extracts" of the most excruciating condescension on the subject of men and animals, bodies and souls, Ellis confessed in a footnote that he too had been one of "the millions of British Infant Minds" brought up over the previous seventy years on this twaddle (and the square-bracketed parentheses are all Ellis's):

The little book was first published in 1836, and I have a vivid recollection of it as one of the earliest Instructors of my own childhood an odd score of years later. The edition I quote from is dated 1901, and may have been a little modernised, though the main drift of the casuistry quite chimes with my juvenile memories. In many respects, no doubt, it is a good little book for "the Infant Mind," but let me give one further illustration of its standpoint as regards the lower animals: "God makes the corn. Of what does he make it? — Of nothing [!]. God makes things of nothing... If he did not make corn grow in the field, we should die. But he will not forget us. He even [subtle poison in that "even"] remembers the little birds. They are too silly [!] to plough or to sow corn, or to reap, or to put corn into barns [or over-eat themselves]; yet God does not let them starve [never?]. He hears their cry, and gives them food. Now God loves us much better than he loves the little birds, because we have souls, so he will certainly hear us when we pray to him." We are not informed why no "souls" were given to the birds — had the supply of "nothing" run short? — but to tranquillise the Infant Mind, the booklet ends up with a picture of the seamy side of the world to come and a grim warning that "Many people in Hell will say, 'How I wish I had listened to the words of my teachers!'" It does not add that some of those teachers may there have an opportunity of revising their doctrine as to the "throwing away" of dead puppies like orange-peel.

Ellis came down on the side of "the worthies of the Roman church in olden times", such as St Francis of Assisi, and on the side of those modern philosophers who had thrown off the burden of St Paul, Protestantism and Jesuitism, such as Schopenhauer, and concluded that "if this be Christian teaching, 'heathen' India should shame us." (63)

Ellis's childhood holds the key to his own idiosyncratic conception of "mysticism". Little William Ashton Ellis grew up with and must have been overwhelmed by that monumental three-volume Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition, full of engravings, pull-out charts, appendices and schedules. Here must be the origin of his own obsessive indexing and cross-referencing. His father's preface to the Catalogue had referred the reader deferentially to Tenniel's title-page design with its inscription "The Earth is the Lord's, and all that therein is, The compass of the world and they that dwell therein", praying that if the Catalogue should survive the exhibition, it should be remembered that "while descriptive of the successful labours of men, may it not be forgotten that the glory and praise are due to God alone." (64) Robert Ellis had catalogued the detail of the material world's success (including exhibits relating to mineral water analyses from one R Ellis of "Harrowgate" and a patent safety gun and an "original percussion gun" from Forsyth & Co) as represented at the Crystal Palace. But William Ashton Ellis failed to find spiritual reassurance in the present world's celebration of industry, science and technology.

Robert Ellis had been fond of quoting Darwin's 1831 Journal of Researches, and in The Chemistry of Creation he had given a description of the natural cycle of life and death:

The interchange of ingredients never ceases. Millions of animals feed upon the vegetation nourished by the decay of former myriads. Their time is then completed; their period of utility is ended: they die. The air again receives their elements, and again with continually succeeding generations do these enter into activity in the economy of the world. (65)

Pragmatically, in Disease in Childhood Robert Ellis proposed practical, common-sense measures to reduce infant mortality — cleanliness, light, breastmilk, exercise, diet. But chemistry, natural science, medicine were God's gifts, practised by Men for the Glory of God. Robert Ellis may have felt obliged by the ethos of his day to repeat that formula, but paternal Victorian sanctimony had become anathema to William Ashton Ellis. Theosophy had suggested to him a new vocabulary, reaching behind the material world. Richard Wagner, who had abandoned Feuerbach's anti-religion in favour of Schopenhauerian metaphysics, unveiled a beckoning "astral light" to Ellis, who saw himself as Wagner's English medium. This was how the first canon of English Wagnerism came into being, during a period when Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Bernard Shaw himself, could have walked the same London pavements, sat in the same concert-halls, and rubbed elbows in the reading room of the British Museum, with William Ashton Ellis.


With the nominal date of February 13, 1888, the first issue of The Meister made its appearance. It later explained the linguistic hybridity of its title by pointing out that no-one had scruples about "the Czar" or "the Lama". (66) Throughout its eight years of publication, the first and second quarterly numbers of each year bore the date of Wagner's death and birth respectively. A minor fetish for coincidences of dates is to be found elsewhere in Ellis's writings. Where The Meister aimed to be symbolic, it did so clumsily. The first issue bore a truly awful frontispiece attributed to "Mr Percy Anderson, a well-known artist and steadfast admirer of Richard Wagner's dramas". Bernard Shaw described it kindly as "slapdash", and recommended the journal to look to Selwyn Image or Walter Crane for models of title-page designs. But to the end of its days The Meister continued unabashed to carry Anderson's design — "executed", or so it thought, "in the style of the German art of the 15th and 16th centuries", as if the English nineteenth century Arts and Crafts movement had never existed. There was another defect Shaw wished to see improved — a complacent editorial tone and "an evident indisposition to provoke hostility." (67)

It is instructive — and entertaining — to have to hand Shaw's books London Music 1888-89 and Music in London 1890-94 when reading The Meister. They form a commentary on almost the exact period of The Meister's existence. The "Notes" generally appearing at the back of each quarterly number of The Meister have the greatest interest for anyone curious about Wagner's reception in London. It can safely be said that Ellis contributed them all with the exception of those signed with other initials. On the one occasion when he rose to Shaw's taunt of failing to be provocative — when he first poured scorn on Ferdinand Praeger's Wagner as I knew him, in May 1892 (68) — no-one took up his invitation to submit an alternative point of view in the next number.

The "Notes" are where reviews of performances in London and Bayreuth are to be found. These are of musical rather than of theoretical interest, and demonstrate that Ellis had a fair critical talent. He provided useful observations on first performances in London of Wagner's works, on singing and on staging. At the 1889 Bayreuth Festival, Ellis was received personally by Cosima Wagner, who apparently "expressed her complete satisfaction with our London efforts to spread the knowledge of her late husband's many-sided genius". (69) Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was also in Bayreuth in 1889, attending his first Festival: he mentions meeting several individuals closely connected with the London Wagner Society (Charles Dowdeswell, Carl Armbruster, Pauline Cramer) — but not Ellis. (70) But then Shaw did not meet Cosima either; and Cosima would never have entertained a man who wrote as Shaw did, after describing a mix-up with the spear business in the second act of Parsifal:

Now if you, my Wagnerian friends, wonder how I can scoff thus at so impressive a celebration, I reply that Wagner is dead, and that the evil of deliberately making the Bayreuth Festival Playhouse a temple of dead traditions, instead of an arena for live impulses, has begun already. It is because I, too, am an enthusiastic Wagnerite that the Bayreuth management cannot deceive me by dressing itself in the skin of the dead lion. (71)

Shaw was definitely of the opposing party with regard to Bayreuth. He was even prepared to promote a British Wagner Society at its expense:

I have in my hands the report of the London branch of the Wagner Society, which I peruse with mingled feelings. It is satisfactory enough that the 52 members of 1884 are now [1890] 309; but the balance-sheet is enough to drive any sensible Englishman mad. In German-speaking cities at present Wagner's operas are paying enormously. In Dresden, for instance, the announcement of an opera by any other composer empties the house. Even the Bayreuth performances were a financial success last year. In this miserable country a man who has seen Die Walküre on the stage is a much greater curiosity than one who has explored the Congo. Clearly, then, the business of an International Wagner Society is to transfer money from the prosperous Wagnerism of Germany to the languishing Wagnerism of Britain. Yet the London Wagner Society actually sent £46:12:6 to Berlin (of which city, London, it appears, is a suburb) out of its income of £271:19s. In return they got sixty-four free tickets for the Bayreuth performances, which were balloted for by gentlemen in a position to spend £20 on a fortnight's holiday, to the unspeakable edification and Wagnerian enlightenment of the English nation at large. (72)

The same article is valuable for Shaw's report on how the London Wagner Society actually functioned:

There was no chairman, no discussion, no orderly procedure, no opportunity whatever of raising any question connected with the subject of the evening or with the society. Mr Ellis, the secretary, simply came out; fed us with lecture as if we were a row of animals in the Zoo; and walked off and left us there. (73)

On the other hand, Shaw expressed genuine appreciation of Ellis's efforts. He dutifully purchased each copy of The Meister, despite being sent review copies, (74) pronouncing it "good value for the money" and "good Wagner and good English": Shaw was even able to use the unexpected epithet "really readable", at least à propos Ellis's translation of A Pilgrimage to Beethoven. (75)

In its first number for 1891, The Meister announced "the commencement of a series of translations of the lengthier of Richard Wagner's prose-works. The London Branch of the Society has long felt that its duty to the Cause was only half fulfilled until such an undertaking as this was set about; and indeed the primary object of founding "THE MEISTER" was a first attempt at bringing this to pass." (76) Members of the Society would receive, free, the periodic parts of these translations, which, when they had accumulated to book-size, would be bound as such. The zoo-keeper to dole out these chunks of meat singlehandedly would be, of course, William Ashton Ellis.

Ellis explained his intentions in a lecture given to the Musical Association (since 1944 the Royal Musical Association) on December 13, 1892. Earlier translations of Wagner's prose, in particular the 1856 version of Opera and Drama, had been more-or-less deliberate travesties; English versions of Wagner's libretti had been "worthy alone of the immortal Fitzball" (a further reference comes shortly); and a philosophical appreciation of Wagner had been altogether absent. Ellis gave his audience a physician's diagnosis of the influences on Wagner of other thinkers (and possibly of other stimulants):

indeed, it was not the substance of thought that he ever borrowed, but merely its formula, and therefore I think that the simile of a dose of medicine would be far more to the point. When he went to Dr. Heine, he was ordered Iron and Acid; but he found the tonic too bitter, and it set his teeth on edge. He then consulted Dr. Feuerbach, who prescribed him Arsenic; the immediate result was a brilliance of complexion and a glistening of the eye; but he soon discovered that the brilliance was but skin-deep, the eye began to smart, and warning internal pains compelled him to throw aside the medicine. He had not, however, given up the thought of finding a physician who should understand his constitution, and at last he found one in Arthur Schopenhauer, who simply advised him to continue the form of mental exercise he had already discovered for himself, with the addition of an occasional grain of Indian hemp whenever he found the trials of the world too insupportable. (77)

Ellis was aware of what he called Wagner's "fugitive essays":

as usual with the nimble foe, these fractions have been singled out as thorough representatives of the whole. I allude, of course, to 'Judaism in Music,' to portions of the essay 'On Conducting,' and to the attacks on Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Hiller, &c. Of these it is better not to enter into any discussion here;

and another — "the only one that I should honestly like to see suppressed — the 'Capitulation'." (78)

Ellis went on to compare The Artwork of the Future — that is, his own translation of Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft — with Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture, and quoted without compunction several lengthy purple passages, more suggestive, in fact, of Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, from his own Prose Works translation. There are many examples to be mocked of Ellis-speak in print, but this would have been Ellis-speak in viva voce, without the saving grace of ironic mediation by Teufelsdröckh's "editor":

There sate she then, the lonely sullen sister [Poetry], behind her reeking lamp in the gloom of her silent chamber, — a female Faust, who, across the dust and mildew of her books, from the everlasting rack of fancies and of theories, yearned to step forth into actual life; with flesh and bone, and spick and span, to stand and go mid real men, a genuine human being. [...] [Music] must willy-nilly twist and turn the empty cobweb, which none but the nimble play-seamstress herself can plait into a tissue: and there she chirps and twitters, as in the French confectionery-operas, until at last her peevish breath gives out [...]"

Perhaps it was out of a degree of embarrassment, mingled with respect for the sheer audacity of Ellis's style, that the contributors to the discussion afterwards (who included Bernard Shaw and a Mr Newman who cannot, I think, have been Ernest, but who might just have been Robert) dwelt on Wagner's views on his contemporaries' music (Brahms in particular), rather — to Ellis's evident annoyance — than on the substance of his prose. (79)

To be fair, it should be said that Ellis knew that translation itself was something that could never be brought to perfection. In the second volume of The Meister in 1889 he had serialised a translation of Art and Religion. Eight years later, in re-translating the essay for the Prose Works, he professed astonishment that he had earlier had "the temerity to storm a work whose peculiarities of style demand at least a long and close acquaintance with the master's mode of thought, to say nothing of a systematic pursuit of his ideal through all the essays which that treatise crowns [...]." (80) But The Meister's version of Art and Religion is far fresher and less ponderous than the "official" Prose Works translation. The paradox is that the harder Ellis worked at faithfulness through his "systematic pursuit" of the ideal, the less he was able to render it idiomatically in English. It may be another paradox that the more we sense we might actually share Ellis's apprehension of an unattainable "ideal" in Wagner, the more we might forgive him his idiosyncrasies and occasional incoherence.

The parts of the first volume of Richard Wagner's Prose Works were received by London Wagner Society members during 1891 and 1892, and the first bound volume appeared in the bookshops in January 1893. During this time Ellis continued to edit The Meister, with no apparent loss of energy. In the "Notes" to the May 1891 number, he commented on the recent production of Tannhäuser at Covent Garden (with Madame Albani in the role of Elisabeth), with an anticipation of future debates: "Who, for instance, can patiently tolerate a 'Venus' attired in the ball-room costume of the nineteenth century, and thereby impressing on the opening scene a character of 'modern'-ness which robs it of all sublimity, even if it do no worse? High heels do not a goddess make!" (81) The Meister regularly focused its attention on a work (Tannhäuser in this case) that was making its Bayreuth debut that year, though Ellis was later to deplore mugging-up on Wagner in advance:

In 1901, wandering up and down a corridor-train on the way from Cologne to Frankfort, I came across a large 'personally-conducted' party of Anglo-Saxons of uncertain age; each pair of eyes, male or female (mostly female), was bent on the study of a popular guide-book to the RING, neglecting what of natural charm the factory-chimneys have spared to the banks of the Rhine; and I saw the young 'personal conductor' (who doubtless knew everything, from the pyramid of Cheops to the geysers of the Yellowstone) implored at least once to throw light on some mythical problem. [...] My own advice is: let no one rack his head with interpretations, whether of Wagner's music or his poem, until after he has seen the actual drama on the stage [...]; then the 'motive-book' and the 'interpretation' may stand him in good stead — provided always that he declines pointblank to be bound by the explanations or opinions of the learned or unlearned author (including myself), but determines to "prove all things" on his own account. (82)

The next number of The Meister reported in glowing terms the "delightful concert" given by the then Wagner Society's president, Lord Dysart, on Wagner's birthday. According to Ellis, Dysart's home (Ham House on the Thames opposite Twickenham) "and the pastoral surroundings gave the performance somewhat of the 'echt' Franconian flavour, which was helped out by the wein-kraut and leberwurst which figured among the other dainties of the refreshment tent." (83) Shaw's version of the event is more droll: "Lord Dysart did what a man could: he annihilated the very memory of the Theatre Restaurant by a marquee in which I took my very sober Wagnerian meal of brown bread and lemonade next to disciples who were trying reckless experiments with sauerkraut and rum custard." And Shaw returned to his hobbyhorse theme: "I strongly urge Lord Dysart to secede from the useless London branch of the German Wagner Society, and form a really important English society with the object of building a Wagner Theatre within ten minutes' walk of his own door." (84) Lord Dysart was shortly to resign as president of the London Wagner Society, but for less than patriotic reasons.

Whether Ellis knew as much of Shaw's activities as Shaw did of his seems unlikely. However, in the last number of The Meister for 1891 Ellis squeezed into his "Notes" a recommendation to his readers of the recently published Quintessence of Ibsenism, congratulating Shaw

on the lucidity and boldness of his exposition, though it goes without saying that the analysis is not intended for Mr. Gilbert's "young lady of fifteen" [...] but it would be beside our present purpose, and beyond our limits, to do more than thank Mr. Shaw for the following, among other references to Wagner: "Tannhäuser's passion for Venus is a development of the humdrum fondness of the bourgeois Jack for his Jill [...]" "When Blake told men that through excess they would learn moderation, he knew that the way for the present lay through the Venusberg [...]" (85)

This hardly repays the compliment Shaw frequently paid to Ellis, but perhaps Shaw was happy with at least a little puff of wind in a stale quarter. To a different end, Ernest Newman was later to cite another of Shaw's half-dozen quotations from Wagner in The Quintessence of Ibsenism, to the effect that only when man follows "that inner natural necessity which is the only true necessity",

"Then will he first become a living man, who now is a mere wheel in the mechanism of this or that Religion, Nationality, or State." Wagner did not know, and Mr. Shaw knows but will not tell, that any amount of following "natural inner necessity" will not alter the constitution of things. (86)

Newman's quotation came from the end of Shaw's closing Appendix to the 1891 first edition of The Quintessence. That passage did not survive into later expanded editions, but Newman would hardly have dissented from one of Shaw's more lasting remarks in the book, which can surely be applied to Ellis:

Those who give up Materialism whilst clinging to rationalism generally either relapse into abject submission to the most paternal of the Churches, or are caught by the attempts, constantly renewed, of mystics to found a new faith by rationalizing on the hollowness of materialism. The hollowness has nothing in it; and if you have come to grief as a materialist by reasoning about something, you are not likely, as a mystic, to improve matters by reasoning about nothing. (87)

The conflict between the metaphysical and the rationalist view of Wagner has been explored by Anne Dzamba Sessa. From the present biographical perspective, more on Ellis and Newman will be said shortly.


By 1892, Ellis's supremacy in English Wagnerism was unchallenged. He began to put his name to articles in The Meister. The first attributed article was "From Fitzball to Wagner", a lively and entertaining account of his research into the Fitzball melodrama about the Flying Dutchman which Heine may or may not have seen at the Adelphi Theatre in 1827. (88) Another article written with some feeling is his tribute "In Honour of Julius Cyriax", which records visits to Bayreuth (and Wahnfried) with one of the founders of the London Wagner Society, who had introduced him to the neo-Wagnerian composer Cyrill Kistler (1848-1907). (89)

Cyriax had become acquainted with Wagner during his conducting visit to London in 1877, when Edward Dannreuther was the celebrity's host. Wagner's medical condition was much on his mind during this time: Dannreuther took him to Critchetts, the opticians, and mentions that Wagner was troubled with dyspepsia. It's quite conceivable that Dannreuther would have referred Wagner to a German-speaking pharmacist for medication, since the composer's own English was poor. (90) Julius Theodor Friedrich Cyriax was a partner in the firm of Burgoyne, Burbidges, Cyriax & Farries, "wholesale & export druggists & manufacturing chemists" of 16 Coleman Street, London EC.

The following year Cyriax, with his wife Anna, was welcomed by the Wagners in Bayreuth. Cosima Wagner's diary entry for June 20, 1878, records that "Friend C[yriax] says R. is looking very well, and during our walk [in the woods near Bayreuth] he does indeed behave as if he were the youngest among us." Julius is mentioned frequently in Cosima's diaries as "friend Cyriax", and his letters and presents were always appreciated at Bayreuth: "Herr Cyriax sends all kinds of things; R.: "I like people who make presents to my wife, but who are in fact just going along with my secret intentions!" (July 5, 1878).

Later in 1878 Cyriax began to make a photographic collection of places, particularly in London, associated with Wagner. On October 10th Cosima notes that "friend Cyriax writes to say he has discovered the Horseshoe Tavern! A 70-year-old house, the only one still standing, in the City [of London]!" Ellis tells us that in fact Cyriax had been collecting a whole series of photographs for a special purpose:

[...] I now learn through Herr Glasenapp that the "London friend" — the late Julius Cyriax, a beloved friend of so many of us till death cut him down in September 1892 — caused the original photographs [of Wagner's London residences during his visits in 1839, 1855 and 1877] to be taken in the spring of 1879 for a collection destined by Frau Wagner as a birthday-gift to her husband [...] (91)

A typical entry in Cosima's diary is that for July 17, 1879, when she records "a cheerful meal with our friends Levi and Cyriax, who has just arrived from London. The latter tells us of Richter's 'triumphs' as a conductor in London, and both speak with enthusiasm of the Comédie Fr[ancaise]. Herr Cyriax has brought me a picture of the house in which R. stayed in Boulogne!" It is thanks to Ellis that we learn that Cyriax's researches into historical Wagner locations later gained him (Cyriax) a curious memento of Wagner's birthplace in Leipzig, before its demolition in 1885:

The door leading from [Richard Wagner's father] Friedrich Wagner's living-room into the bedroom where Richard was born is now in London, having been presented by the Leipzig purchaser to the late Julius Cyriax, the well-beloved Secretary, and thereafter Treasurer, of the London Wagner Society; this precious relic, through which the little Richard must so often have passed, Mr Cyriax had fitted to a cabinet for the preservation of his other Wagner treasures. (92)

Wagner had rewarded Cyriax for his friendship, not least by agreeing to become godfather (a relationship to have some significance for Ellis in his own childless life) to Cyriax's daughter named after the composer: "In the morning" Cosima recorded on June 3, 1879, "he writes to friend Cyriax with a little verse for his small godchild: 'that Richardis Cyriax may bloom and wax' was all he told me of it." (Eva Richardis Cyriax had been born on November 21, 1878.)

Though there is no trace of rancour, Ellis must have envied Cyriax's popularity at Wahnfried during Wagner's lifetime, something he himself had never enjoyed (nor, be it said, sought). Certainly Wagner had found Cyriax a source of lively humour, a commodity which Cosima and Chamberlain were later unable to detect in Ellis. Wagner had teasingly referred to Cyriax's pharmaceutical enterprise during a visit to Bayreuth by Julius on August 13, 1881: "In the evening our friend Cyriax; in his cheerful, frank way R. asks him about his income from his business, and thinks it rather small." (93) Ellis, by contrast, knew he had few capitalist credentials to boast of or to be derided for, even gently. He was not that sort of materialist. It's hard to imagine that Ellis could have entertained Wahnfried in the same way as Cyriax, as when on December 16, 1881, Cosima recorded: "A moment of amusement is occasioned by a postcard from Cyriax, from whom I had ordered a new kind of umbrella which had been recommended by the [Illustrierte Zeitung] and which R. thought good; Cyriax tells us it was a joke in a humorous journal, which the Ill.Z. took seriously!" Only two days before he died, Wagner referred indirectly but jokingly to Julius, as Cosima noted in her diary for February 11, 1883: "Around noon [Wagner] came into my room. 'I have a letter from Cyriax.' 'Is there anything in it?' 'You'll soon see.' When I have dried my hands, I look: it is a scherzo theme, written down on an envelope from Cyriax — he then plays it on his piano." The Wagner Werk-Verzeichnis refers (p.522) to a musical sketch on an envelope from Cyriax postmarked London, March 14, 1879: Cosima's Diary for March 25, 1879 records that during one of those occasions when Wagner was wont to lark about there came to him ("es fallt ihm aber, wie er sagt, allerhand Allotria ein") among other things "a scherzo theme for a symphony". It would appear that just before his death Wagner rediscovered (rather than had just received) the envelope from Julius Cyriax on which he had sketched the scherzo theme nearly four years before. Ellis must have envied Cyriax his easy "back-of-an-envelope" personal relationship with Wagner, though he betrays no trace of it in writing of Cyriax. In fact, Cyriax was probably instrumental in depicting for Ellis the human side of the genius.

Though their own relationship was much stiffer than Cyriax's and Richard Wagner's, in his own way Ellis might have contributed towards Siegfried Wagner's later reflection on the affinity of medicine and music. Of all the professions represented in the audience at Bayreuth, Siegfried was to note, medicine was foremost. In the course of his profession the physician was necessarily confronted with so much human suffering that "without some mediation the psyche of such a person would succumb to pessimism; that mediation is the most redemptive of all arts — music!" Siegfried Wagner, whose mind was much expanded in February to June 1892 by travel to the Far East aboard the British ship Wakefield, regarded the English as "congenial and full of humour and tact" on the personal, if not the political, level. He also regarded "Hyperwagnerianer" — "people who, from dawn till dusk, deliver quotations from my father's works" — as friends more dangerous than enemies. He seems not to have extended this caution, however, to the London Wagner Society whose main energy, he thought, was "directed towards the propagation of the Collected Writings of my father". (94)

Ellis had started to become known to a wider public in London. Shaw reports that when he heard Ellis "confront" the Musical Association on December 13, 1892 with that lecture on Wagner's prose, he (Shaw) had "looked round for the old gang (if I may use that convenient political term without offence), and looked in vain. [...] [T]he enemy was chapfallen and speechless — that is, if the enemy was present; but I think he had stayed away. At any rate, Mr Ellis's party had the discussion all to themselves." (95) Mr Ellis, moreover, was engaged in refining his party's ideology.

The last quarterly number of The Meister for 1891 carried an unattributed notice: "By the death of Ferdinand Praeger we have lost a faithful member of the Society, Wagner's earliest friend in London, and a composer whose modesty debarred his fame.—" (96) Fifteen years later, Ellis owned that he had been the author of that not inelegant epitaph. It had been, however, merely a glib use of the editorial voice: "In those days I could only speak of [Praeger] from hearsay, but all my friends in the Society had nothing save kind words to say about the aged man." (97) Like his friends, Ellis had eagerly awaited Praeger's reminiscences of Wagner, even though the old man, strangely, had never availed himself of the opportunity to contribute anything to The Meister. When those reminiscences were unveiled to, as Ellis put it, "a questioning world", they amounted to "one of the bitterest disappointments I ever experienced, since the most random dip into the book revealed its worthlessness as history." (98) Though Praeger had died the previous September, the posthumous publication of his Richard Wagner as I knew him in February 1892 cheated Ellis on two counts: it became the first English-language biography of Wagner, and it reached the bookstalls a full year before Ellis's most substantial public contribution so far, the book edition of the Prose Works volume one. Few people dispute that Ellis (and Chamberlain) put Praeger's errors to right, but the vehemence of Ellis's vendetta, though remarked on, has not otherwise been explained.

Within four months of Praeger's book being published, Ellis fired off a public riposte in the form of a 72-page booklet entitled 1849. A Vindication. This curiosity (still to be found on Foyles' shelves, re-priced decimally at "£0.18", when I picked up my copy around 1974) was the first — and only — of a projected series of "Wagner Sketches", to appear when "In following up some one particular track in the career of this extraordinary genius, one suddenly comes upon a scene so complex in its features, or so vivid in its colouring, that one cannot resist the impulse to out with brush and pencil and draft a hasty Sketch before the picture fades." Bernard Shaw typically proposed a common-sensible solution. Having reviewed Praeger's book favourably when it appeared ("A more vivid and convincing portrait than Praeger's was never painted in words"), he was just as positive about Ellis's rebuttal of its account of Wagner's involvement in the Dresden insurrection: The Vindication should, he said, "be bound up with every library copy of the late Ferdinand Praeger's very entertaining Wagner as I knew him." (99) Both voices, he thought, should be heard.

Nonetheless Shaw could not avoid crowning Ellis with the undisputed laurel: English Wagnerians "already owe more to [Ellis] than to any other man, except perhaps Mr Dannreuther. And when Mr Ellis's translation of Wagner's prose works, which has now reached the 1851 Mittheilung an meine Freunde, is complete, even Mr Dannreuther's claims must give way to those of the editor of The Meister." (100) Recognition did not placate Ellis. The vendetta against the late Ferdinand Praeger continued in The Meister (where Ellis decided "to discard for the nonce the editorial 'we' and criticise in propria persona"), (101) in the Musical News, in the Musical Standard, in the Bayreuther Blätter (via Wolzogen and Chamberlain), all through 1892, 1893 and 1894, until Breitkopf und Härtel, the publishers of the German version of Praeger's book, withdrew it at Chamberlain's behest in March 1895. Even then Ellis was not satisfied. Most of the fifth volume of his Life of Wagner is a retelling in 1905 of the whole story. Ellis had failed to get the English version of Praeger's book withdrawn, and the continued availability of "such proved perversions of biography" obsessed him: "I shall have to continue to expose Praeger's misstatements in detail whenever they are of sufficient moment to call for notice on my path, however little it may be to the 'taste' of a few recidivists." (102)

In May 1895, in the antepenultimate number of The Meister Ellis offered "As a final word" on the Praeger affair the news of the withdrawal of the German version of Wagner as I knew him, but adding the information that the name of the dedicatee of the book had been discreetly asterisked in the Musical Standard's account of the matter, to save him embarrassment. None too subtly, Ellis reminded readers of The Meister that this hapless individual was "the President of the London Wagner Society", the blind and politically inactive Lord Dysart. Immediately following this, but without further comment, was another "Note": "The Earl of Dysart on the 17th ult. resigned his Presidency and Membership of the Wagner Society, London; at the ensuing meeting of the Committee, Lord Dysart's resignation was accepted." (103) This, it appears, was the way in which Ellis dealt with "recidivists".

Two more issues of The Meister were to appear. (104) Nearly every item was initialled W.A.E., and the weight of significance attached to Chamberlain and Glasenapp in the last number suggests that Ellis had now decided to continue on his own, seeing himself as Wahnfried's intellectual ambassador in London. Having shot the prime exhibit, the zookeeper seems to have stalked off. Edward Dannreuther resumed office from Lord Dysart for another ten years or so as President of the London Branch of the Wagner Society ("The Right Hon. The Earl of Dysart" appears as President of the Wagner Society in an advertisement in the British Library's bound copy of volume VII of The Meister; the otherwise nearly identical advertisement in volume VIII substitutes Dannreuther's name). While continuing to send in the Prose Works translations, Ellis may even have gone back to medical practice at a new address, "Woodberry, Herne Hill, S.E.", between 1895 and 1898. (105)

Having disposed of the old recidivists, Ellis was to turn his sights on the rising generation. In that notorious fifth volume of the Life of Wagner he took sarcastic issue with "a writer whose name I spare posterity in mercy to himself; as I trust he still is less than half-way through life's journey, I will merely style him "Mr Youngman"." The substance of Ellis's quarrel with Ernest Newman — for of course it was he (106) — boiled down to the latter's remark in an article on Berlioz that in the former's Life of Wagner ("now in the course of publication") Ellis's editorial style was such that "The British public is apparently to be treated like a child, and told only so much of the truth about Wagner as is thought to be good for it — or at any rate good for Wagner." (107) The offending essay by Newman was published in The Speaker for October 1904, though Ellis's rejoinder went to the length of suppressing that journal's name for a specious reason to deprive Newman of the publicity. Newman was to respond to Ellis's attack with patrician disdain and a neat pun: "Over Mr. Ellis's mixture of clumsy rudeness and heavy Teutonic facetiousness we need not linger; these things have no novelty for Wagner students who have sojourned long in the Ellisian fields of controversy." (108)


In 1893 Ellis had reviewed H T Finck's Wagner and his Works in The Meister, quoting him to the effect that Glasenapp's biography of Wagner "exists only in German, and it will probably never be translated": here Ellis interpolated one of those combative square-bracketed parentheses, "[don't be too sure!]". (109) Sir H W Hadow was later to deplore the stylistic techniques Ellis employed against Praeger, saying that "the language is carefully chosen to suggest disparagement, the pages are clouded with little spiteful parentheses like mosquitoes, the tone is that of a prosecution which would find the prisoner guilty at all costs." (110) This parenthesis, though less spiteful, was more portentous.

Ellis's name remains recorded in the Medical Registers for the 1890s, but he can hardly have had time for medicine once he embarked on the translation of Richard Wagner's Prose Works. Checking again with Bernard Shaw we find that volume I was "well worth the money" (always one of Shaw's highest accolades), and volume II had "a sentence or two in which it is clearer than the original" — though Shaw confessed his "stupendous" ignorance of German. (111) Despite that ignorance, of course, Shaw was prepared to bandy Wagnerian exegesis with "My friend Mr. Ashton Ellis" in the public prints, as in the Daily Chronicle in June 1898, over Brünnhilde's oath in Götterdämmerung. This was in order to flex a few Shavian muscles for The Perfect Wagnerite, to be published in December of that year. (112) Shaw, though, knew his place as Wagnerite, and in the preface to his book he hailed Ellis's prose works translation as "a masterpiece of interpretation and an eminent addition to our literature; but that is not because its author, Mr. Ashton Ellis, knows the German dictionary better than his predecessors. He is simply in possession of Wagner's ideas, which were to them inconceivable." (113) At around the same time, with six of the eight volumes to hand, Ernest Newman wrote: "Only those who have had occasion to study Wagner's writings closely can estimate the debt of all English Wagnerians to Mr. Ellis for his extremely careful and faithful translations, the valuable prefaces and editorial information he supplies, and the magnificent indexes of the volumes." (114) By the time of Wagner as Man and Artist (1914), however, "Mr Youngman" had been so excoriated by Ellis that in that book Newman made all the translations himself from the originals.

In 1894 Shaw had observed that

No doubt some time must elapse before the sale of so fine a piece of work [as the prose works] will have produced enough to pay Mr Ellis as much as the wages of a dock labourer for the time he has devoted to it; but as all such enterprises must at present be disinterested — more shame for us, bye the bye — he will probably esteem himself happy if he escapes being actually out of pocket by his printer's bills. (115)

Ellis's earnings from his translations must have been minimal, and by then he must have been almost wholly dependent on his share of his late father's inheritance. His salary during his years at the Western Dispensary had been relatively high (with rooms thrown in), but he took considerable time off in the summers at his own expense, later visiting Bayreuth frequently. It's reasonable to assume that his ability to give up a promising medical career meant a fairly secure background at first, and Ellis's London addresses during are indicative of this. His birthplace in Sloane Street was prestigiously located on the corner with Hans Street, but the site was rebuilt imposingly in the last years of the century. After resigning his residential post at the Western Dispensary, Ellis took lodgings at 14 Grosvenor Road, Westminster, S.W., not now traceable. From 1891 to 1895 his address was 33 Southampton Street, Covent Garden, W.C., now an Italian restaurant. The last volume of The Meister (1895) gave his address as 14 Buckingham Street, Adelphi, W.C., a building which today bears a plaque declaring it to be the former site of Samuel Pepys' home, and the present building to have housed (before Ellis) the painters William Etty and Clarkson Stanfield. When The Meister ceased publication, Ellis was at "Woodberry", on newly suburban Half Moon Lane, Herne Hill, S.E., at least until 1898. Until 1900 Ellis was at 87 Hailsham Avenue, Streatham, perhaps to be closer to the home of his elderly mother at 'Lauriston', Conyers Road, Streatham. None of these addresses suggests lack of means.

Mary Ann Eliza Ellis died at home aged 79 on January 10, 1900. Probate in her small estate of £381 15s 11d was granted to her sons William Ashton Ellis, surgeon, and Ernest Charles Ellis, solicitor. With little now to keep him in London, with the prose works stacked on the shelf, and with the 1899 translations of Wagner's letters to Otto Wesendonck et al (Malwida von Meysenbug and Eliza Wille) and to Emil Heckel to accompany them, Ellis felt ready to carry out his six-year old promise to tackle Glasenapp's biography. Translation of the prose works had been, he wrote,

an unalloyed enjoyment, whatever obstacles may occasionally have stood in the way of my seizing [Wagner's] precise intention. [...] Meantime I have the honour to invite my readers to accompany me for the next two or three years to the most trustworthy Life of Richard Wagner ever penned by another, the fruit of the untiring zeal of C. F. Glasenapp. So that my Farewell may really prove, I hope, "Auf Wiedersehen!" (116)

Ellis took his library and notes out of the "din and hubbub" of the metropolis. He rented Leighton Cote (now Leighton Cottage) in the village of Horsted Keynes, and for the next nine or so years (rather than "two or three") he spent in the Sussex countryside he seems genuinely to have "esteemed himself happy" as a reclusive but respectable Edwardian gentleman. (The 1901 census return shows that George Laurance, a thirty-eight year old from Middleton in Lancashire, resided at Leighton Cote as Ellis's "companion", to which occupation the enumerator has added "Dom" [domestic].) In the rear-facing bow-windowed study of Leighton Cote, with its still fine view over rolling fields and woodland he dated the preface to the first of the six volumes "Horsted Keynes, August 1900". He proceeded "at once to make a clean breast of it, and confess that this is not a literal translation of Herr Glasenapp's work." With Glasenapp's explicit approval he was undertaking "An English revision", though much of the early text was straightforward translation. In the preface to volume II he tells us that, "as from about the seventh of the present set of chapters I had allowed myself considerably greater freedom, alike of exposition and construction, the work ran away with me at last"; in that to volume III he says that his 500 pages represented only 100 of Glasenapp's, and leaves it to the reader to decide whether "English version" is still an accurate description. From volume IV he felt he had to omit Glasenapp's name from the title-page since "I cannot honestly conceal the truth that very few of the ensuing pages are based, even for facts, on my esteemed precursor's work, accurate though that is." (117) Volume V bears no preface as such, and it is there that Ellis became bogged down in the minutiae of Wagner's 1855 visit to London, Ferdinand Praeger's share in it, and Praeger's later calumny in general.

Though Ellis is best known for his Englishing of Wagner and Glasenapp, he had in fact also written in German, in the Bayreuther Blätter no less. As "Herausgeber des 'Meister'" he was one of three contributors in 1892 to the "Tannhäuser-Nachklänge" following the first Bayreuth production of that work. His slender review Aus den Briefen eines Engländer an einen Deutschen followed similarly-titled contributions from Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and from the French Marxist Charles Bonnier writing from Oxford. (Bonnier was the "French friend and admirer of Wagner" mentioned by Engels in the well-known footnote to the fourth edition [1891] of his Origin of the Family as dissenting from Marx's observation on "these lascivious Wagnerian gods who in truly modern style are rendering their love quarrels more spicy by a little incest.") In 1896, Ellis's short article 'Erlösendes Weltentat', drawing thematic connections (though emphatically not political ones) between Siegfrieds Tod and the Vaterlandsverein address, also was published in the Blätter, but from the parenthetical line at the end, 'Deutsch von A. Brunnemann', it would appear that Ellis was not wholly responsible for the language in which it appeared. In the spring of 1904 the Berlin bimonthly periodical Die Musik, then in its third year of publication, published in its tenth and eleventh numbers a "contribution to Wagner scholarship". "Die verschiedenen Fassungen von 'Siegfrieds Tod'" was Ellis's only significant public effort in the German language. He had the text seen through stylistically by Prof. Rudolf Schlösser, whose footnote recorded that he eagerly took on the task "because I recognised throughout Mr Ellis's work the most significant contribution we have been given to date on the evolution of the Ring". Apart from a few formal editorial modifications, readers were assured, the essay was genuinely Ellis's own intellectual property. Ellis was evidently keen to be reckoned with directly in the continental German Wagnerian salons, and so to fill the void left by the discredited Praeger. However he was not able, nor willing, to displace Chamberlain as ambassador to Wahnfried, and his communication with Glasenapp may even have been entirely postal.

The present study aims to be biographical of the biographer, and this is not the place to discuss the contents or methods of The Life of Wagner. Since William Wallace (in his Wagner of 1925) and Ernest Newman (virtually passim), all modern commentators and biographers have criticised the work so effectively as to allow it space on the serious scholar's shelf mainly as a period curiosity. Which is of course how I am now treating it.


The preface to volume VI of The Life of Wagner exists in two forms. The earlier, dated "Horsted Keynes, January, 1908", contains the longest personal complaint Ellis ever put into print. As a completely sui generis statement it reveals Ellis's inherent sense of syntax and vocabulary, which can be compared with his translations to find just how artificial are his (or Wagner's) circumlocutions. Additionally, for its value as a period curiosity and for the light it sheds on Ellis's character it's worth reproducing in its entirety:

Dear Reader,

I fear I owe you some apology for the length of the interval separating the appearance of the present volume from that of its predecessor. When you have gained an inkling of its cause, however, I just as strongly feel, you not only will forgive, but pity me; and should that pity merge into benignant sympathy, you will have pledged me to sincerest thanks. So bear with me a moment, while I unfold a private tale.

As the address below the preface to each volume of this Life will shew, the whole work hitherto has passed into the printer's hands from the same secluded little nook of hill-bound Sussex; and in this rural nest I hoped some day to finish it. That hope has now been shattered by one of the most ruthlessly desecrating deeds that can ever have entered the mind of man, or woman. Once more, please listen:—

Overleaf you will find the reproduction of a photograph taken* [Ellis's footnote reads: "* By Mr F. Douglas Miller, Boltro Road, Hayward's Heath."] from my study window during our belated summer of last September, just as the final sheets of this volume's proofs, apart from its Index, were reaching my hands. I offer no apology for admitting unknown readers to a share in what has been the delight of my friends, but to them I must explain that the whole foreground, including that salient group of three acacias, had been slowly built up by my personal toil to throw into due relief the native beauty of the middle distance — my tiny pleasaunce having been nothing save a wilderness when first I rented it. It had just attained, in fact, that fatal point of perfection which presages impending ill. Swift and relentless as Fate, came that ill.

Not a week had I received proofs of this exquisite picture and allowed one of them to be displayed in our village shop, before workmen in the grounds adjoining me (to the left of the picture) began erecting, under the very boughs of my acacias, an atrocity the name whereof I dare not even mention here. To the philistines who recently had thrust on our unwelcoming souls a garish tabernacle for advancement of their own peculiar brand of politics-cum-piety nearly an acre of land lay still available; yet nothing could content them save defacement of the whole hillside through the site selected for this utterly unneeded thing. Behind the backs both of myself and those who own my residence, these professors of Brotherly Love had obtained from the District authorities a sanction too heedlessly given, and our expostulations, albeit lodged the moment we got wind of it, proved all too late. Such is the helpless condition to which the Individual is already reduced by our beautiful progress toward Socialism!

So there in full sight of my windows, and dominating every corner of my garden — owing to the equally remorseless previous mutilation of our common hedge — this horror with its added infamy, a thatch atop, has stood for full three months; and now the leaves have fallen, it mocks one all the more. How could a man sit tamely down and index, with such a canker grinning at him from the very heart of what had been a daily feast for his eyes? If others could, I could not, and a wickedly large part of my time since mid-autumn has been spent on unavailing efforts to shame the chief culprit into removal of what even our scavengers view with disgust. No, that culprit is "advanced" alike in views and years, and nothing can convince her that no amount of rustic thatching will redeem a pest; just as there are those who tie up sewage-pipes with bows of satin and expect you to admire them in their boudoirs.

With heavy heart, accordingly, I shall have to bid farewell to my retreat next midsummer. Where I shall find another so entirely propitious to my work as this had erewhile been, Heaven knows, since ways and means must be consulted and nothing but the kindness of a few supporters has enabled me to pull along at all of late, — said work being unremunerative of its very nature, whatever my reviewers may suppose.

But, that being scarcely what I set about to say, I return to my apology, dear Reader, and, should the tale have interested you, will gladly forward a reprint of my open letter to a Sussex weekly thereanent, also a view since taken by myself at close quarters of that centennial oak whose strengthening presence I soon must leave, — provided only you enclose an addressed stamped envelope of about the length of this page.

And now, my future plans being so uncertain, I will simply add Auf Wiedersehen!

Yours very truly,
Horsted Keynes,
January, 1908.

I have not been able to trace Ellis's "open letter" in any Sussex weekly of the time. It's hard to judge what is irony and what is genuine indignation in his story, but his ultramundane theosophy probably gives the key. In 1903 the women's suffragist and preacher Louisa Martindale (1839-1914) had retired to Cheelys, a cottage in Horsted Keynes down the hill to the right of Leightoncote. Four years later she founded a Congregational Hall, now called the Martindale Centre, on the other side of Ellis's dwelling. She was manifestly the "culprit ... advanced alike in views and years" (she would have been nearly 70) whom Ellis held responsible for the thatched unutterable "atrocity" built in its grounds. But what to make of Ellis's allusion to sewage-pipes? Could Mrs Martindale's progressive brand of "politics-cum-piety" have extended to the erection of - a public convenience? Was this the "utterly unneeded thing" that stood "grinning" down on Ellis's "pleasaunce", a forerunner, perhaps, of the one that stands today on the main road obliquely facing Leighton Cottage?

As for the photograph "overleaf", it was not bound into the edition containing that preface. It was bound into a subsequent printing, which bears a much shorter, but equally personal, preface addressed "To the reader" as follows:

Dear Reader,

Think yourself lucky you are rather late in the field, and have thus escaped the original preface I am doing my best to forget, though — barring the Corrigenda list on page vii — the edition otherwise remains the same. Merely one sentence and a scrap will I preserve from that whilom lament, in transparent excuse for retaining an illustration I am as fond of as ever, viz. the view from my late workroom window:— "As the address beneath the preface to each volume of this Life will shew, the whole work hitherto has passed into the printer's hands from the same secluded little nook of hill-bound Sussex; and in this rural nest I hoped some day to finish it. That hope has now been shattered"...

Well, there is scarcely any misfortune that has not some redeeming feature, and although I now am robbed of the beloved oak I used to gaze on, I'm still in Sussex, and not only have the choice of downs or sea to feast my eyes with at five minutes' notice, but the frequent opportunity of hearing our great master's music capitally performed. So, instead of pity, I'll this time ask you for your envy. Perhaps it even may lead to your following my example, and our meeting face to face.

Yours heartily,
Preston Park,
February, 1909.

The view from the study window of Leighton Cottage in Horsted Keynes is still recognisable today from the photograph. A hand-pump still draws water to the cottage from the pond in the middle distance. A battered old oak at the bottom of the grounds of the Congregational Hall may be the remnant of Ellis's "beloved oak". This is probably as "face to face" with Ellis as anyone will now get. Whatever the cause, Ellis left, and by February 1909 was lodging at 3 Surrenden Road, Preston Park, just outside Brighton. But though he greeted his readers "heartily" from there, the Life of Wagner was never resumed. Whereas Glasenapp's biography ground on into further editions and made it to the end of Wagner's life with its sixth volume (1911), (118) Ellis's version broke off with Wagner completing the score of Tristan und Isolde on August 6, 1859.

Fifty years after, Tristan was to be the primary evidence adduced by those who sought to convict Wagner of moral depravity. If he preferred to ignore the current scandals connected with his erstwhile theosophical acquaintances, William Ashton Ellis could hardly have been unaware of the popular studies of sexuality by his contemporary and namesake, Havelock Ellis, (119) nor of Max Nordau, whose Degeneration was first published in 1892 and in English translation in 1895. Most likely it was Ernest Newman's footnote referring to "excessive erethism among musicians" in A Study of Wagner (120) that prompted Ellis's repeated emphasis in his Life of Wagner on a straightforward physiological basis for Wagner's character. Ellis was able to draw upon his medical background and contacts in Wagner's moral defence. In his third volume, Ellis had diagnosed migraine behind Wagner's persistent skin complaint and "neurasthenia". (121) In the sixth volume, Ellis submitted at length evidence from the ophthalmologist Dr George M Gould of Philadelphia, and from his own enquiries to the opticians Critchetts, whom Wagner had consulted in London in 1877. Ellis's aim was to show that "presbyopia" or eye-strain, rather than any more questionable condition, governed Wagner's nature. "Astigmatism", he argued, had not at the time been identified clinically, "but it is better for us to track that scientific cause than to catch up the parrot-cry of the pseudo-scientists and prate of 'sexual erethism' (!!) or Degeneration." (122)

It was as a scientific theosophist that Ellis had rejoiced in the discovery of radium in 1903. Quoting the eminent physicist (and psychical philosopher) Sir Oliver Lodge (and unconsciously echoing once more his father's Chemistry of Creation) he wrote that the transmutation of elements demonstrated that

Birth, culmination and decay, is the rule, whether for a plant or an animal, a nation or a planet or a sun. Twenty years ago it was thought that the atoms of matter were exempt from this liability to change... Not so; the process of change has now been found to reach to these also. Nothing material is permanent... The atoms are crumbling and decaying: must they not also be forming and coming to birth? This last we do not know as yet. It is the next thing to be looked for. Decay only, without birth and culmination, cannot be the last word. (123)

In 1899, Ellis had denied that Wagner was ever an "optimist in the only logical sense of the term, i.e., a believer in this world's being the best of all worlds possible." Nor, however, could he be described as a pessimist:

The idea of folding his hands in peace, and letting things take their downward course, or even proceed on their level way — the legitimate outcome of a hearty belief in the non-reality of all phenomena — must always have been repugnant to so ardent, so revolutionary, so strongly mercurial a spirit as Richard Wagner's;

and Ellis found "glorious inconsistency" to be the prerogrative of genius. "I must guard myself, however," he continued (and it is surely his self-defensive own voice we now hear),

against the possible interpretation of this "inconsistency" as a fluctuation in point of time, a man's denial to-day of that in which he trusted yesterday: rather is it a case of two co-existent planes of thought, the one facing towards an ideal world, the other fronting actual, practical life or art. And if a man has heart as well as brains, it is surely nothing to his discredit that, believing the world presented to our senses a mere hallucination, the baseless fabric of a vision, he yet endeavoured to bring some comfort to his fellows in that dream, to help them play their part in it as men "quand même". (124)

By 1908, in the sixth volume of the Life of Wagner, Ellis had developed this ethical not-quite-quietism to make plain his own scientifically-based inability to accept Schopenhauer's unalloyed "pessimism". He endeavoured to show how both Schopenhauer and Wagner "may have been physiologically disposed towards the pessimistic view". In fact, he produced scant "physiological" evidence with regard to Schopenhauer: but nonetheless Ellis found "a ray of hope" in the pessimist's axiom that the death of an individual might imply the life of others. Simply removing the notion of time, he said, results in the notion of "Metempsychosis", and "Having come to curse the Will-to-life, the prophet has remained to bless it — in disguise." There followed one of Ellis's most authentic utterances:

And should one now and then feel faint and heartsick, even in the thick of the fight there is always in that temporary refuge, the central peace a man may find at bottom of his deepest heart (as Sachs did), all consciousness forgotten for a spell. Let him not abide there too long — that is all — for work will still be waiting for his hand and brain, and ever thus must his Will be wrought to finer faculty of use and service. What of the opposition of contending energies! If the thumb did not oppose the fingers, and its own flexor and extensor muscles oppose each other, you never could pick up so much as a pin.

Glasenapp and a "Life" of Wagner were left far behind, and if Ellis ever delivered himself of a personal credo it was here:

let us not be too afraid of Egoism, if only it be held in check by Altruism. [...] If end of all things there ever is to be, we can conceive it still less possibly than a beginning; we ought to vex our souls no more with problematic happenings so infinitely remote. Sufficient for us to feel something within us, that might power the Will, which tells us plainer than all words, This cannot be our first 'objectification' and will not be our last — even if we chose so. (125)

In 1905, in the middle of the Life of Wagner, Ellis had published his translation of Wagner's letters to Mathilde Wesendonck, with commentaries and nuances of rendering which, as William Wallace, Julius Kapp and Ernest Newman were soon to point out, painted an all-too-innocent picture of the affair. The intimate (rather than political or theoretical) letters, which Wahnfried had decided (conditionally) to sanction for publication, had acutely personal biographical overtones for Ellis. For Newman (and later Elbert Lenrow) Ellis's short article in the Fortnightly Review of July 1905 on "Richard and Minna Wagner" seemed spitefully biased against Minna (in fact Ellis was reproducing an anecdote from Wendelin Weissheimer's Erlebnisse mit Richard Wagner of 1898). In 1909 Ellis sought to give documentary proof, with his translation of the letters of Richard to Minna Wagner, of his depiction of Wagner in the Life as the long-suffering but always caring and dutiful husband. After this came the 1911 translation of the Family Letters, where, as John Deathridge has pointed out in his edition, Ellis pondered on the significance of Wagner's mother, without (perhaps) knowing anything of Freud. (126) Ellis energetically deplored any prurient fascination for Wagner. But in so doing, and in a way which is revealing of his own personality, Ellis overstated the "respectable" character of Wagner so as to make the composer's "philosophy" incontrovertibly moral.

It would be interesting to know what Ellis thought of the anonymous "authorized" English translation of Mein Leben that appeared in 1911. In his introduction to the Family Letters he had expressed the hope "that we yet may be given a reliable translation of Mein Leben", (127) but there is no indication that he hoped to do the job himself. By 1911 Ellis must have believed that so far as England was concerned he had done what was necessary to wash the character of Wagner lastingly clean from all blemish — having vigorously opposed those, from the old traducer Ferdinand Praeger to the arrogant "Mr Youngman", who would throw dirt at Wagner in order to see if it would stick. The effort personally had cost Ellis a lot, "said work being unremunerative of its very nature". Shortly before Ellis wrote those words in 1908 Bernard Shaw had urged R B Haldane (then Secretary of State for War) to make a bid for the Liberal premiership and to "let the first acts of your reign be to give me that [Civil List] pension for Ashton Ellis (who is pawning his spare scarf-pins) and to abolish the Censorship of plays." (128) In 1913, Shaw contributed an unsigned article to the New Statesman which commented that "Mr Ashton Ellis devoted his life to the translation of Wagner's prose works; and it was with the greatest difficulty that, after years of effort, a wretchedly inadequate Civil List pension was procured for him in the face of the sedulously inculcated conviction that Wagner was an abominably bad musician, and that, being only a composer, he could not possibly have written books, or if he did they could not be proper ones." (129)


Ellis's years in Brighton (1909-15) are not well documented. The 1911 preface to the Family Letters of Richard Wagner testifed to Ellis's continued lack of interest in making money from his work:

I have persuaded my present publishers to issue this [volume] at a price within the means of all who crowd the cheaper sections of the house at performances [of Wagner]. With them and their numberless friends it must rest, alike to justify our present, and to shape our future policy. For at least one more volume of letters is ready for printing in the event of a cordial reception of this. (130)

There was to be no further volume of translations. I know of no more literary efforts until the summer of 1915, when Ellis contributed three linked articles to the Musical Times concerning Wagner and the Great War. One can only guess at the personal effect on Ellis of the advent of war between Britain and Germany, the loss of his correspondence with Wahnfried, the closure of the Bayreuth Festivals after 1914. Glasenapp died on April 14, 1915. Twenty years earlier, in the last issue of The Meister to appear, Ellis had issued an appeal to princes echoing Wagner's own in the Ring-poem preface of 1863 — and probably vicariously on his personal behalf — for support of the Riga schoolmaster

owing to the troubles put upon Herr Glasenapp by the Russian Government [...]. If ever a German Prince, or even an Englishman of wealth, had the opportunity of doing the world a service, it is presented now. Herr Glasenapp ought to be rescued from all necessity of earning his living by teaching youth; his proper function is the teaching of men. There must be many a comfortable post, of Librarian and so forth, only waiting for a man of his standing and ability. Can no one influence, for instance, a member of our own Royal Family who is at like time a German Ruler, and thus ensure for Glasenapp a position where he could devote the major part of his time to the completion of his Life of Wagner. (131)

But now Ellis's articles were unstinting in their condemnation of Germany. The first was written three months after the sinking of the Lusitania, described by Ellis as "that appalling butchery on the high seas". Wagner, Ellis maintained, was not that sort of German. Ellis publicly severed himself from Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose notorious Kriegsaufsätze (later translated by Charles H Clarke as The Ravings of a Renegade) had appeared that year:

Could the Bayreuth Master arise from the tomb in which he was laid to rest over two-and-thirty years ago, I can imagine nobody who would be more indignant at the articles recently penned by that renegade ex-Englishman who now lives in his house, or at the prior insolent action of that old pupil we all once so honoured. But one thing is certain: his spirit would flee to the uttermost ends of the universe to escape contamination from the air polluted by the Hohenzollern decadent who but lately conferred a badge of shame, the Iron Cross 'with white ribbon (for non-combatants),' on his posthumous son-in-law. [...] To speak for myself, if I may be permitted to, even in the almost inconceivable event of the Festival-theatre at Bayreuth opening its doors again during my lifetime, never more could I enter a town or country where a traitor to his native land apparently is held in high esteem, neither could I ever shake hands again with anyone of German birth who had not expressed a stern and honest detestation of the crimes this outcrop of barbarians misnames 'necessities of war'; but of all his countrymen our Wagner was most innocent of any influence in that direction, and to condemn him for the wickedness of those who now are reversing all his cherished principles would be grotesquely absurd were it not so grimly tragic. (132)

If "our" Wagner was defended — even the Kapitulation which Ellis had once been prepared to see suppressed could be excused (133) — Nietzsche was offered up as a sacrifice. Ellis wrote that "between ten and twenty years ago" (ie. while working on the Prose Works) he had waded through Nietzsche's books. Though his reaction was "irritation and disgust" he had (typically) "jotted down a rough subject-index to the more distinctive passages" intended for use when he reached the 1870s in his Life of Wagner — "which a strange concatenation of adverse circumstances arrested in mid-career even before the great War came to shatter all hopes of resumption." (134) Several of those passages were patched together in this article, whose thesis was: Wagner didn't like Bismarck; Nietzsche didn't like Wagner; therefore Nietzsche liked Bismarck. Ellis knew better than this: his Musical Times articles were not terribly scholarly, but they were a product of their time. In the event, Ellis's loyalty to his country was compelled to rise higher than his loyalty to an ideal to which he had dedicated his productive life.

The minutes of the monthly meeting of the Committee of Management of the Western Dispensary for February 16, 1915, read as follows:

Mr. Jones stated that he had visited the Dispensary several times during the past months and in the course of his visits he had ascertained that the Resident Medical Officer was in a very bad state of health and appeared to be quite unable to carry out his duties properly, and he (Mr. Jones) was of the opinion that, in the interests of the Dispensary the engagement should be terminated forthwith. The secretary read some letters which she had received from Mr. W. Ashton Ellis, a former Resident Medical Officer, expressing his willingness to again act in that capacity if it required. (135)

Next month Ellis was confirmed in his old post as Resident Medical Officer at the Rochester Row Dispensary, at a salary of 100 guineas per annum. Moreover, "Permission was granted to Mr. Ellis to have his grand piano in the Board Room, as there was not room for it in his apartments". (136) But another month later, "Attention was called by members of the Committee to the quantity of furniture belonging to the Resident Medical Officer which had been placed in the Board Room and in other parts of the premises. After a discussion it was arranged that Mr. Sim should see the doctor upon the matter." (137)

Ellis's return to the Dispensary was by no means welcomed by all. Edith Morgan was the secretary, and she seems to have taken exception to this figure from the past. The feeling was mutual, according to the Dispensary's minutes:

The Resident Medical Officer made a complaint with regard to a call by two gentlemen asking if there was a vacancy at the Dispensary for Resident Medical Officers, giving as their introduction the name of Messrs. Arnold & Sons, from whom the Resident Medical Officer had ascertained that the Secretary had been in correspondence with them. (138)

Ellis put his complaint in writing, and it was read out at a special meeting of the Committee on January 6, 1916:

Dear Sir,

Having been informed by you that it is the wish of the Committee that I should reduce to the form of a written complaint entrusted to myself the enquiry I addressed to them in person at their last meeting, viz. 20th inst., I proceed to complain.

That without the faintest warning to me or the remotest hint from myself of any desire to terminate the engagement I hold here subject to three months' notice on either side, I have been submitted to the grave indignity of discovering that, owing to communications which appear to have passed between our Secretary and a firm of medical agents in course of the week ended 18th inst. two applicants — one of them being an identifiable man — called here on the 19th inst. with a view to an alleged immediate vacancy in the post of "House Doctor."

This is a matter so closely affecting not only my personal repute, but also the honour of the whole medical profession, that I respectfully pray yourself and colleagues to institute a searching enquiry into its true motives and authorship and further to redress any stigma I so easily may have incurred in the eyes both of Messrs. Arnold, the said agents, and our serving staff.

I have the honour to remain, dear Sir,
Your obedient servant
(Sgd). Wm. Ashton Ellis —
Res. Med. Officer
Also a Life Governor of Thirty Years standing.

Ellis actually issued a writ for slander against Miss Morgan. In the upshot the Committee of Management diplomatically defused the crisis by deciding that since Miss Morgan had not formally complained about the Resident Medical Officer, and the Committee had not sacked him, they could assure Ellis that no professional stigma attached to him. (139)

Ellis continued to be troublesome. Only eleven days later, the minutes record that because of his "interference" the Gas Light & Coke Company had been unable to install a new gas stove in the Dispensary in place of the coal-fire range — perhaps Ellis's mistrust of gas was the natural response of a physician during the First World War. There were further disputes over "the quantity of furniture" Ellis had brought to the Dispensary — presumably including his library and piano. On July 16, 1917, the minutes note that the Chairman of the Committee of Management "arranged to see the R.M.O. with regard to his furniture &c and to explain that the purpose of the Committee in having the clearance [of the Dispensary's basement] was to afford cover in case of air raids".

Despite these disputes, Ellis's altruism seems to have developed. On February 5, 1918, he was awarded Honorary Life Membership of the British Red Cross Society, receiving badge number 127, "having given five complete courses of British Red Cross lectures gratuitously". (140) During his lectures, Ellis may perhaps have recalled his words in the Musical Times "Wagner contra Militarism" article, when he castigated attempts to ban the music of dead German composers from British concert-halls: by the same token, he asked, "are we promptly to discard all our triangular bandages lest our brave wounded should have their pride hurt by hearing them inadvertently called by the name derived from their inventor, the late well-known Prussian army-surgeon Esmarch?" (141) Four days later, the Western Dispensary's register records William Ashton Ellis becoming himself a financial subscriber towards the free care of the poor.

In 1878 when he had been first appointed to the Resident Medical Officer's post, his name was recorded as William Ashdown Ellis. Along with Frederick and Margaret Brown (his servants, presumably), the 1918 Register of Electors resident at the dispensary on Rochester Row now listed him as "Ellis, William Ashlar". Getting H. Ashton Ellis wrong always seemed to be unavoidable in one way or another. William Ashton Ellis died in his rooms at the Western Dispensary on January 2, 1919. The certified cause of death was given as "aortic regurgitation, cardiac dilatation, pulmonary congestion." His brother, Sir Evelyn Campbell Ellis was in attendance.

Left nothing specific in the will of Robert Ellis, according to his will of May 23, 1918 William Ashton Ellis had somehow come to possess "our late father's large Ross microscope with stand and glass shade complete". This potent symbol of his scientific paternity is balanced by a sentimental keepsake offering a faint glimpse of the unknown Mary Ann Eliza Ellis: "I give to my beloved sister Ada Matilda Ellis my small white gilt & painted Worcester vase which we both remember as standing in our childhood on our darling mothers bedroom mantelpiece".

Like his father, William Ashton Ellis made characteristic bequests. Fifty pounds to the King George's Fund for Sailors; and should his brothers Reginald and Claude not survive him, fifty pounds to the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund; and should his residual legatees not survive him, their share to "whatever fund or funds intended for the relief of sufferers through the present war" his executors selected. His modest effects, valued in probate at £2,443 17s. 11d., suggest that slightly fussy English Biedermeier taste: a sterling silver collection, the prize of which was a "silver coffee pot with silver stand and spirit lamp complete bequeathed to me by my late godmother"; a "small chippendale glass doored dwarf cabinet that has stood upon the mantelpiece of my successive sitting rooms for well nigh forty years"; "ornamental china glass and other decorative articles of vertu".

William Ashton Ellis's "dear friend Thomas Lear of 7 Holmwood Grove West Jesmond Newcastle on Tyne" was to receive the choicest items. The silver coffee pot; his private collection of books; his papers; his unpublished manuscripts and all rights in them; "my personal trinkets jewellery and writing implements my wearing apparel kit bags & portmanteaux my grand pianoforte my stained glass medallion of Richard Wagner and my framed engraving of a scene in Nuremberg".

The Ellis family fortune passed William Ashton Ellis by. It may have ended up with his rather different brother Evelyn Campbell Ellis, Straits Settlement (Malay) colonial lawyer, knighted in 1914, twice-married, Sports, Carlton and Isthmian Clubs. (142) After his death on September 1, 1920 Evelyn's effects were valued at £30,153 6s. 4d. All of William Ashton Ellis's estate that the descendants of Thomas Lear now have in their possession — besides some kindly memories passed down — is his baptismal bible and the stained glass medallion of Richard Wagner. (143)

Short obituaries appeared in The Times on January 4 and in The Lancet on January 18. The Minutes of the Dispensary's Committee of Management for January 21 stated that "The Chairman regretted having to report the death of Dr. Ellis, that he attended the funeral service, and had instructed the Secretary to send a floral tribute. A letter of thanks from Sir Evelyn Ellis was read." It was also noted "That as the R.M.O.'s rooms had been furnished by Dr. Ellis himself, the Institution would have to refurnish them."

In the Western Dispensary's report for the year just ended 1918, a late note was inserted, at last publicly granting Ellis the honorific "Dr.":

It is with very great regret that the Committee have to report the death of Dr. Wm. Ashton Ellis, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P.(Lond), who took up the post of Resident Medical Officer of this Institution in March, 1915, in order to assist the Committee at a time when it was difficult to obtain Medical Officers, owing to the claims made on the profession by the War. Dr. Ellis served the office of Resident Medical Officer as long ago as from 1878 to 1886 [sic].

From 1887 (in fact) to 1915 Ellis served another cause. In his 1928 memoirs the now forgotten Louis N Parker, who had known him in the days of The Meister, came close to an epitaph for Ellis, whose otherwise elusive personality has been the subject of this study:

Here was the archetype of the out-and-out Wagnerian; here was one who had merged his soul and mind in Wagner. He had given up a good medical practice and all the interests and joys of life in order to devote his whole energies, and all his considerable attainments, to the work of elucidating Wagner for English-speaking people. (144)

© David Cormack (all rights reserved) 1996, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004.



William Ashton Ellis, "Translator's Preface", Richard Wagner's Prose Works, i (London 1892), pp.xiii-xiv.


Selected Letters of Richard Wagner, trans. and ed. Stewart Spencer and Barry Millington (London 1987), p.viii.


The Family Letters of Richard Wagner, trans. William Ashton Ellis [1911]. Enlarged edition with introduction and notes by John Deathridge (London 1991), pp.xlii-xliii (Deathridge's introduction).


Wagner studies often tend to a surfeit of superlatives. It was quite refreshing to dwell for a time among the secondary and the mundane. It is the mundane that sets the superlative in relief, and for the preservation of the material referred to in this study I am grateful in particular to the librarians and archivists of a number of local history collections and county records offices, the Royal College of Physicians, St. George's Hospital Medical School, the Linnean Society of London, the British Red Cross Museum and Archive, and the (current) Wagner Society. The present study is an expanded (and corrected) version of two articles published in September 1993 and May 1994 in the Society's journal Wagner (vol.14 no.3 and vol.15 no.2), much improved by the scrutiny of its editor Stewart Spencer. His encouragement at the time was partly responsible for, and is poorly rewarded by, the present overblown offering.


Ernest Newman to Elbert Lenrow, letter of August 22, 1930, cited in John Deathridge, "A Brief History of Wagner Research", Wagner Handbook, ed. Ulrich Muller and Peter Wapnewski (Cambridge, Mass. 1992), p.205. Lenrow reproduces the letter in his introduction to his edition of The Letters of Richard Wagner to Anton Pusinelli (New York 1932), p.xix.


Stewart Spencer, "Collected Writings", The Wagner Compendium, ed. Barry Millington (London 1992), p.196.


Wagner Handbook (note 5), pp.638-651. In 1902 Ellis altered his own cross-referential abbreviation for the Prose Works from P.W. to simply P., "not out of deference to the humorous protestation of a critic that "P.W." is the recognised abbreviation for Pearson's Weekly, but to economise space."[!] See William Ashton Ellis, Life of Richard Wagner, ii (London 1902), p.7.


Dieter Borchmeyer, Richard Wagner, Theory and Theatre [1982], trans. Stewart Spencer (London 1991), "Translator's Foreword", un-numbered page v. Similarly, though the same translator re-translates Wagner's prose "afresh" and does not consider textual references to Ellis "useful", cross-references to the Ellis Prose Works are nonetheless included in the chronological "Catalog of Wagner's Writings" in Jean-Jacques Nattiez' Wagner Androgyne [1990] (Princeton, NJ 1993), "for the sake of convenience" (p.303).


Ernest Newman, The Life of Richard Wagner, ii (London 1936), pp.564-5n. Newman's references are to Cosima Wagner und Houston Stewart Chamberlain im Briefwechsel 1888-1908, ed. Paul Pretzsch (Leipzig 1934), pp.354, (355), 363 ("Kein Engländer, der Deutsch nicht kann, versteht diesen Ellischen Stil. Bezuglich der Treue ist übrigens Ellis dem Worte wohl treu, allzu treu, dem Sinne aber durchaus nicht.") Cosima seems to have relied upon Chamberlain's estimate, as an ex-Englishman, of Ellis's worth as prophet in another country. It was during a rare visit to his estranged homeland that Chamberlain (1855-1927) discovered the "calamity" of Ellis's translations. Chamberlain's aunt Lady Chamberlain was acquainted with the wife of the London Wagner Society's President, Lord Dysart, according to the same letter. See also Geoffrey G Field, Evangelist of Race: the Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain (New York 1981), pp.137-8.


Ellis, "Translator's Preface" to the Prose Works (note 1), i (1895), p.vii.


Anne Dzamba Sessa has done the most research, but she gives the year as 1853 in "At Wagner's Shrine: British and American Wagnerians", in Wagnerism in European Culture and Politics, ed. David C Large and William Weber (Ithaca, NY, 1984), p.268. At least she was nearer the mark than Edward M Terry whose unreliable Richard Wagner Dictionary (New York 1939) made a wild stab at 1869. The true date of William Ashton Ellis's birth has been available to researchers since 1928, in The Record of Old Westminsters (see note 16).


For details of Charles Bagley Uther's connection with the firm of Forsyth & Co, see W Keith Neal and D H L Back, Forsyth & Co: Patent Gunmakers (London 1969), pp.128, 175, 179-183, 201, 213, 214, 234-7, 252. Uther's relations with the Ellis family may have pre-dated his daughter's marriage to Robert Ellis. Both "Robert Ellis of Ruthin in the County of Denbigh Gentleman" and "my son in law the said Robert Ellis the younger" were beneficiaries of his will made on August 5, 1858. Of Uther's own wife I have found no trace: a son, Charles William Anthony Uther, was "now presumed to be living in Australia" according to the will. (In fact Charles Uther subsequently returned to London with a wife, Friederika Wilhelmina Uther. He died aged 73 in 1896, and in Mary Ann Eliza Ellis's will of 1898 provision was made for her widowed sister-in-law.) It is just possible that William Ashton Ellis left a fragmentary reminiscence of Charles Bagley Uther: "For years [Schopenhauer] passed an hour each day in playing through the operas of Rossini seriatim on his flute — and very aptly do they suit that instrument, as I know to my cost through early experience of the musical achievements of an old gentleman of somewhere about his [Schopenhauer's] generation." See "Wagner and Schopenhauer", in The Fortnightly Review, LXV (new series), p.427 (March 1, 1899). Uther was born in 1782, Schopenhauer in 1788: both died in 1860.


Dictionary of National Biography (Supplement January 1901-December 1911 (London [1976]), pp.180-2. See also John Morley, Death, Heaven and the Victorians (London 1991), pp.96-9, and Reginald Blunt, An Illustrated Historical Handbook to the Parish of Chelsea (London 1900), pp.148-9. For references to Jane Austen and earlier occupants of 62, 63 and 64 Sloane Street, see Thea Holme, Chelsea (London 1972), pp.128, 132 and 133.


Official Descriptive and Illustrative Catalogue to the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, 1851, i, preface pp.v-vi and 82-7. For Robert Ellis's publications generally, see the British Library catalogue entries for him, and also his entry in the Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärtzte aller Zeiten und Völker, ed. Wilhelm Haberling, Franz Hubötter and Hermann Vierordt (Berlin 1930), ii, p.402.


"Translator's Preface" to the Family Letters (note 3), (1911 edition) and p.l (1991 edition). According to their mother's will, dated September 15, 1898, all William's siblings except Douglas, but including Robert, were living at that time.


For fragmentary details of Ellis's education see Frederic H Forshall, Westminster School Past and Present (London 1884), G F Russell Barker and Alan H Stenning, The Record of Old Westminsters (London 1928), i, p.310, and R R James, St George's Pupils' Register (London 1931). Among the same intake at St George's was Francis Darwin (1848-1925), son of Charles Darwin.


Edward Dannreuther, Richard Wagner: His Tendencies and Theories (London 1873), pp.1 and 104 (reissued in revised form as Wagner and the Reform of the Opera in 1904). Even earlier, in 1867, Dannreuther had been a founder member of the so-called "Working Men's Society" which made "quiet unobtrusive propaganda" in London for Wagner and Liszt: the other members were Karl Klindworth, Frits Hartvigson, Walter Bache, Alfred James Hipkins and Walter Kumpel. See Constance Bache, Brother Musicians: Reminiscences of Edward and Walter Bache (London 1901), pp.197-201.


William Ashton Ellis, Life of Richard Wagner, v (London 1906), pp.376-7.


The Meister, Vol. V, Number 20 (November 14, 1892), pp.100-1.


Minutes of the Committee of Management (hereafter "Minutes"), in the keeping of the library of the Royal College of Physicians, September 18, 1878.


The quarterly Westminster, Vol. 1 No. 7 (June 1, 1897), documented the history of the Western Dispensary in a series entitled "Local Institutions", though Ellis is not mentioned. The building is now a residential nursing home called Kent House. Its prospectus gives the 1899 attendance figure. J E Smith, in St. John the Evangelist, Westminster: Parochial Memorials (London 1892), pp.503-5, describes the origins of the institution in 1789 through "the sympathetic action of one Dr. John Sims and friends [...] with the intention of offering advice and medicine to the sick poor of Westminster, and comfortable help for needy mothers at the birth of their children. [...] Patients were then, as now, required to attend personally except in cases of extreme illness, when the sick are visited by a medical man if they send their letters of recommendation by authorised hands before 10 a.m. A Midwifery Gratuitous Branch was established in 1822, and a Provident Branch in 1875. In this department, midwifery patients pay one shilling each on registration, and a fee of 15s. should a medical officer attend. A midwife's fee is five shillings, and, in either case, half the fee is paid by the Institution. The charges for Provident Membership vary from 2d. to 6d. per month. These amounts are lessened for families, and widows' children pay but one penny per month." William Ashton Ellis is named as a member of an apparently on-going medical committee, part of the committee of management of the dispensary, and "An anniversary dinner, recommended by the first report, is held on the 25th of May, the Centennial Festival which occurred in 1889 having been presided over by Mr. W. Burdett-Coutts, M.P." An interestingly named "Marie Celeste Convalescent Branch" (she was actually a benefactress) was formed in 1888-9. The King of the Belgians was succeeded by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales as Patron of the Dispensary in 1866, and Baroness Burdett-Coutts became president in 1885.


Minutes, February 15, 1882.


See Ernest Newman, The Life of Richard Wagner, iv (London 1947), p.665 (Cassell edition). In his own Life of Richard Wagner, v (1906), p.376, Ellis wrote "I fancy it was in 1885 that I joined the then two-year old London Branch of the Wagner Society [...]" See also note 91 regarding Cyriax. Ellis was unaware that the so-called English Flowermaiden of the 1882 Parsifal-premiere, Carrie Pringle (1859-1930), had close family connections in Earls Court and Chelsea between 1886 and 1906, and later in Brighton, through which he could easily have made her acquaintance. (See research by the present author, published in Stewart Spencer's article 'Er starb, - ein Mensch wie alle', in the programme-book for the 2004 Bayreuth Festival, pp.73-85 and reprinted in Wagner vol. 25 no. 2, September 2004, pp. 55-77.) Further biographical research by the present author published in the Musical Times, vol.146, no.1890, Spring 2005,pp.16-31.


See George Ainslie Hight, Richard Wagner: A Critical Biography (London 1925), ii, p.251.


William Ashton Ellis, Richard Wagner, as Poet, Musician and Mystic (London 1887), p.4.


See for example contributions to The Lancet (which editorially was sympathetic) from Ellis and others, April 18, 1885, pp.726-7; October 24, 1885, p.765; November 21, 1885, pp.975-6; February 13, 1886, p.326; January 29, 1887, p.238. On medical matters proper, in June 1885 The Lancet published Ellis's paper on the "untoward effects" of injecting osmic acid in cases of neuralgia.


See Zachary Cope, History of the Royal College of Surgeons (London 1959), pp.112-5.


Pointed out to me by a local historian in June 1995 as now a nursing home on Atlantic Way, not far from what was the United Services College, since converted into flats. The North Devon Herald for Thursday, July 23, 1885 (published the day after Robert Ellis's death) reported a cricket match (played three days before his death) between the United Services College and Mr L E Day's Eleven: "This match was played on the College Ground at Westward Ho! on Saturday last, and resulted in a draw [...]. E.C. Ellis, in the College innings, bowled very well his six wickets, costing only two runs each." I have no corroborating evidence, but this may well have been the younger and more sportif of Robert Ellis's two sons with the initials E.C., the twenty-year-old Evelyn Campbell Ellis.


In March 1886 William Ashton Ellis, along with his younger brother Reginald Henry Uther Ellis ("of Inglemere, Lower Tooting (Co. Surr.), mineral water manufacturer") was assigned his late father's joint mortgage of a property in Ancton, near Bognor Regis. The property was later reconveyed to its original owner, Frederick Dixon Dixon [sic] Hartland, MP, on May 23, 1889, upon repayment of the principal sum. (Details of the mortgage are held at the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester.)


A plaque commemorating Francis Morgan's service to the Western Dispensary is still to be seen on the wall of 38 and 40 Rochester Row.


Cited in William Kingsland, The Real H.P. Blavatsky (London 1928), p.20. Kingsland dates the letter to 1886, which must be an error since he gives the correct date of the incident as March 1887 on p.117 of his book.


Constance Wachtmeister, "At Wurzburg and Ostende", in H.P.B. — In Memory of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky by some of her pupils (London 1891), p.20.


Constance Wachtmeister, Reminiscences of H.P. Blavatsky and "The Secret Doctrine" (London 1893), cited in Kingsland (note 31), p.118. This was the second apparently terminal illness from which — miraculously, of course — H.P.B. had recovered. Anne Dzamba Sessa gives the wrong year — 1886 — for the incident in Richard Wagner and the English (Cranbury N.J. 1979), and in Wagnerism in European Culture and Politics (note 11) she describes it as Blavatsky's "final illness": actually H.P.B. died four years later.


"A Word from Mr. Sinnett", in H.P.B. — In Memory of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky by some of her pupils, (note 32), pp.21-3.


For their Wagnerian contribution, see in particular Cleather and Crump's Lohengrin and Parsifal in four editions (London) between 1904 and 1932.


Alice Cleather, H.P. Blavatsky as I knew her (London 1923), p.vii. Sinnet had been even more vituperatively treated in her H.P. Blavatsky: A Great Betrayal (London 1922).


Cleather, H.P. Blavatsky as I knew her (note 36), p.21.


"A Word from Mr. Sinnett" (note 34), p.23.


Addendum by Basil Crump in Cleather (note 36), pp.64-5.


The Meister, Vol. I, Number 3 (July 22, 1888), pp.84-5.


William Ashton Ellis, Richard Wagner, as Poet, Musician and Mystic (note 25), p.20-1.


Ibidem, p.15.


Ibidem, pp.20-1.


Ibidem, pp.25-6.


Ibidem, p.30. The quotation — somewhat out of context — is from On Poetry and Composition; cf. Ellis's rendering ten years later in Prose Works, vi (1897), pp.145-6. Wagner seems to have been referring to Carlyle's article on Novalis which remarks that in English "common speech" a Mystic "means only a man whom we do not understand, and, in self-defence, reckon or would fain reckon a Dunce": Works of Thomas Carlyle (London 1896-9), xxvii, pp.21-2. In his later translation, Ellis's "blockheads" revert to Carlyle's "Dunces". William Ashton Ellis could not have been unaware that the streets of his youth were famously walked by the Sage of Chelsea. Did he recognise in the Scottish-born Carlyle a dislocated intellectual force even greater than his own Welsh-born father?


The essay is not separately catalogued under Ellis or Wagner in the British Library. According to Sessa in Large and Weber (note 11), pp.268 and 350n., the essay was published in La Societé nouvelle in 1888. She seems not to be aware of the earlier English publication. As far as I have established La Societé nouvelle was edited by the Belgian symbolist writer Maurice Maeterlinck, though Sessa does not remark on this.


William Ashton Ellis, Theosophy in the Works of Richard Wagner (note 46), pp.1-2.


Ibidem, p.38.


Letters from Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck, trans. and ed. William Ashton Ellis (London 1905), p.xl. If Ellis means that he met Mathilde Wesendonck at a Bayreuth Festival, then I believe he is referring to the 1884 rather than the 1883 Festival. The meticulous Minutes of the Western Dispensary show that on March 21, 1883 Ellis applied for and was granted three weeks' leave from April 3 (evidently in reaction to Wagner's death, to pay homage at the Palazzo Vendramin — see the extract covered by note 25) — no leave was granted for the Festival month of August. The Minutes for July 16, the following year 1884, however, show that Ellis applied for and was granted three weeks' leave, which could have taken in the Festival.


The Meister, Vol.I, Number 2 (May 22, 1888), p.53.


See John Kelly and Eric Domville (eds.), The Collected Letters of W B Yeats, (Oxford 1986) i, letters to Katherine Tynan of early May 1888 and (circa) June 15, 1888, pp.67 and 72. Kelly and Domville say in their notes that "'Evelyn Pyne' was the pseudonym of Evelyn May Noble (b.1853), daughter of a nurseryman, who took her nom de plume from her address, The Pines, Bagshot, Surrey."


The Meister, Vol.III, Number 10 (May 22, 1890), pp. 51-2; Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck, (note 49), p.375; Life of Richard Wagner, vi (1908), p.323n.


Lucifer, ed. H. P. Blavatsky, Vol.I No.4 (December 15, 1887), pp.296-8.


Lucifer (note 53), Vol.I No.6 (February 15, 1888), pp.497-9. Ellis's other contributions to Lucifer were "Occult Phenomena" (March 15, 1888) and "A Glance at 'Parsifal'" (October 15, 1888). The former is, to the best of my knowledge, Ellis's only published verse-form contribution. It derides those who seek a facile "sign" that the material world is not all there is. The answer to them is Jonah's cry to the city of Nineveh "to cleanse its heart — and see". The latter, somewhat contradictorily, views Parsifal as a rich source of profound "mystic" or "philosophical" signs, to be found in formulations such as "Time is swallowed up in Space" and in "the various hints of the doctrine of re-incarnation" as in the words "all that breathes and lives, and lives again."


Ibidem, pp.500-1.


See the Life of Richard Wagner, ii (1902), p.171n.


The Meister, Vol.VIII, Number 32 (November 25, 1895), pp.108-10. The standard translation of the letters to Roeckel, by Eleanor C Sellar (Bristol 1897), appeared two years later: see pp.138-9. (See also Wagner's letter to Liszt of June 7, 1855.)


Life of Richard Wagner, v (1906), p.103. But see Cosima's Diary for May 1, 1877, where in fact Wagner apparently gained a "pleasing impression" on his first drive through London, notwithstanding his later (May 24) famous comment on London as "Alberich's dream come true".


See Robert Ellis, The Chemistry of Creation (London 1850), pp.1-18.


Frederick Engels, Dialectics of Nature (1873-86), in Marx and Engels, On Religion (Moscow 1972), p.165.


Rex Pogson, Miss Horniman and the Gaiety Theatre Manchester (London 1952), p.13. I am grateful to Sheila Gooddie, author of Annie Horniman: A Pioneer in the Theatre (London 1990), for this reference, especially since I think the description of Ellis as "a bachelor of somewhat fussy habits" rings true. Incidentally, Ellis's brother, Reginald Henry Uther Ellis, was the compiler-editor in 1910 of the Alpine Profile Road Book published by the Cyclists' Touring Club, of which Bernard Shaw was already a prominent member.


Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck (note 49), pp.xlii-xliii.


Life of Richard Wagner, vi (1908), pp.7-8 (and 8n). I have picked up an 1893 edition of The Peep of Day published by the Religious Tract Society which bears out both Ellis's critique and his inference about its publication history. Ellis's own clasp bible, inscribed "A baptismal gift from his Godfather Robt. J. Ashton" has survived, and when I saw it (June, 1995) was in the possession of the widow (deceased 1996) of his own godson, Walter Hans Lear. Below the dedication is inscribed, in the same hand, the uncompromising text from Mark XVI,16: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."


Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition, 1851, (note 14), i,


Robert Ellis, The Chemistry of Creation (note 59), p.267.


The Meister, Vol. II, Number 1 (February 13, 1889), p.1. The first two annual volumes of The Meister were published by George Redway, who had been selected as the publisher of Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine in 1888. However, his proposals for the latter were not "financially satisfactory" — see Constance Wachtmeister cited by Kingsland (note 31), p.233. Redway's occult list and The Meister itself were soon afterwards acquired by Kegan Paul, Trench & Trübner.


The Meister, Vol. I, Number 1 (February 13, 1888), described in "Our Frontispiece" below the Contents on the un-numbered reverse of the title-page. For Bernard Shaw's comment, see London Music in 1888-89 (London 1937), p.49. Despite this inauspicious reference, the stage designer Percy Anderson (1851-1928) went on to become associated with Gilbert and Sullivan, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Hugh Walpole and Edward Elgar. In 1906 he contributed the 16 colour and 74 black-and-white illustrations published in Costume: fanciful, historical and theatrical, compiled by Mrs Aria (Eliza Davis, 1866-1931).


The Meister, Vol. V, Number 18 (May 22, 1892), pp.61-4.


The Meister, Vol. II, Number 8 (November 7, 1889), p.146.


Bernard Shaw, London Music in 1888-9 (note 67), p.181. Charles Dowdeswell (1832-1915) was a London art-dealer and owner with his son Walter of Dowdeswells Gallery at 133 New Bond Street from 1878 until it closed in 1912. He was a friend and supporter of Ellis. Carl Armbruster (1846-1917) was a London-based organist, pianist and lecturer, and musical assistant at the Bayreuth Festivals between 1886 and 1894. He subsequently became musical director of the London County Council's Parks and Open Spaces Committee — see Dave Russell, Popular Music in England, 1840-1914 (Manchester 1987, pp.37-8). Pauline Cramer was an English soprano frequently accompanied in recitals by Armbruster: her 1909 recording of An die Leyer appears on EMI Classics' Schubert Lieder on Record I (1898-1939).


Ibidem, p.177.


Ibidem, pp.309-10.


Ibidem, p.310.


Each bound volume in the current Wagner Society's library seems to be inscribed in pencil, "Mrs Bernard Shaw", though Shaw did not marry until 1 June 1898.


Bernard Shaw, Music in London 1890-94 (London 1932), i, pp.133-4, and London Music in 1888-9 (note 67), p.325.


The Meister, Vol. IV, Number 13 (February 13, 1891), p.5.


William Ashton Ellis, "Richard Wagner's Prose", Proceedings of the Musical Association, nineteenth session, 1893, p.22.


Ibidem, pp.23-4. It is generally thought (not least by Ellis himself) that the first English translation of the notorious Judaism in Music was the one included in Prose Works iii in 1894. In fact, an unattributed translation appeared in the Musical World only six weeks after Wagner's expanded version was published in March 1869. See David Cormack, '"Consider Judaism again" — A rediscovered translation', in Wagner vol. 22 no. 3, November 2001, pp.157-163.


Ibidem, pp.27 and 30-3 (cf. Prose Works, i (1892), pp.137 and 152).


"Translator's Preface", Prose Works, vi (1897), p.viii.


The Meister, Vol. IV, Number 14 (May 22, 1891), p.64.


Life of Richard Wagner, iv (1904), pp.388-9.


The Meister, Vol. IV, Number 15 (July 14, 1891), p.96.


Bernard Shaw, Music in London 1890-94 (note 75), i, p.203.


The Meister, Vol. IV, Number 16 (November 14, 1891), pp.127-8. Ellis seems to have altered Shaw's "Gill" to "Jill" before Shaw himself did so in later editions of the Quintessence.


Ernest Newman, A Study of Wagner (London 1899), p.214n. The reference is to the first edition of The Quintessence of Ibsenism (London 1891), (Appendix) p.161 (see note 87).


Bernard Shaw, The Quintessence of Ibsenism, in Major Critical Essays (London 1932), pp.21-2n. As a Fabian essay submitted under the rubric "Socialism in Contemporary Literature" it was first read at a meeting chaired by Annie Besant at the St James's Restaurant on July 18, 1890. In the first published edition, dated June 1891, this footnote appeared on p.14.


The Meister, Vol. V, Number 17 (February 13, 1892), pp.4-21. Any modern reader sufficiently intrigued, but unprepared to follow Ellis in offering up "a mute prayer for deliverance from a mental indigestion" in the British Library, can peruse a facsimile of Fitzball's "marvellous lucubration" (Ellis's irony) or "ridiculous rhodomontade" (Ellis's equally prolix invective) in The Hour of One: Six Gothic Melodramas, ed. Stephen Wischhusen (London 1975), pp. 139-63. Wischhusen's index says that Edward Fitzball was born in 1792 and died in 1873, but I'm not going to suggest that research should be done into whether he in turn attended L'Olandese Dannato at Drury Lane in 1870.


The Meister, Vol. V, Number 20 (November 14, 1892), pp.99-104. Ernest Newman's complex engagement with post-Wagnerian composers such as Richard Strauss and Hugo Wolf has a minor counterpart in Ellis's espousal of Cyrill Kistler's cause. Quite possibly, as editor of the programme-books for the Wagner concerts at the Queen's Hall in 1894-98, Ellis played a part in persuading Henry Wood to include Kistler's "Chromatic Concert Valses from the Opera Eulenspiegel" in the programme of the first Promenade concert in 1895. But despite dogged English advocacy the composer of Kunihild and Baldurs Tod failed to achieve any lasting fame as a rival to, say, Siegmund von Hausegger. Then again, even the endorsement of Richard Wagner himself could not guarantee Giovanni Sgambati's posterity.


See the Life of Richard Wagner, vi (1908), pp.53-5. Ellis had checked the facts with Dannreuther and Critchetts in April 1904. Later in 1908 he published separately a 28-page "Postscript concerning Wagner's eyestrain", reprinted from the Life.


Ibidem, p.428. According to the probate record, "Julius Theodor Friedrich Cyriax merchant of 16 Coleman Street London died September 29, 1892, at Sanna near Iön Köping Sweden". Born in Gotha in 1840, Cyriax moved to London in the 1860s. Coleman Street was the address of Cyriax's pharmaceuticals firm: he had a private address at 32 (later 32 and 33) Douglas Road, Canonbury, N. Cyriax's place of death was the Swedish medical gymnastics institute where his son Edgar practised with Henrik Kellgren.


Life of Richard Wagner, i (1900), p.32n.


Glasenapp recalled "Lang blüh' und wachs' mein guter Cyriax!" as one of Wagner's frequent name-rhymes in an article on "Richard Wagner als 'Lyrischer' Dichter" in Die Musik (June 1905, p.398 — cf. Cosima's Diary entry for June 3, 1879, already referred to). It's possible that Wagner's jocular friendship with Cyriax was founded on something intimately personal: I understand from Cyriax's descendants that the firm supplied preparations for the composer's haemorrhoids. The firm continued after Cyriax's death (as Burgoyne Burbidges & Co) until 1956.


See Siegfried Wagner, Erinnerungen (Stuttgart 1923), pp.45, 133, 136 and 146. Neither Cyriax nor Ellis is actually mentioned, though in 1899 Ellis had provided the English translation for the libretto of Siegfried's opera Der Bärenhäuter. Some years previously Ellis had been personally introduced to Siegfried by Cyriax, according to a postcard from Ellis to Cyriax dated February 5, 1892 in the archives of the Richard-Wagner-Museum in Bayreuth (to which my attention has kindly been drawn by Barbara Eichner).


Bernard Shaw, Music in London 1890-94 (note 75), ii, pp.217-8.


The Meister, Vol. IV, Number 16 (November 14, 1891), p.101.


Life of Richard Wagner, v (1906), p.377. Outside the Wagner Society, Praeger (1815-91) had been the translator of Emil Naumann's five-volume History of Music (London, n.d.[?1890]), which managed to include mention of "Ferdinand Praeger, of London" as a modern composer belonging to "the New German School" (vol. v, p.1213). Cyrill Kistler is not mentioned.


Ellis, ibidem.


Ellis, 1849. A Vindication (London 1892), pp.iii-iv; Bernard Shaw, Music in London 1890-94 (note 75), ii, p.35. Hans von Wolzogen subsequently edited a German edition "in conformity with the author's intentions", under the title 1849. Der Aufstand in Dresden. Ein geschichtlicher Rückblick zur Rechtfertigung Richard Wagner's von William Ashton Ellis (An Historical Retrospective on William Ashton Ellis's Vindication of Richard Wagner).


Shaw, ibidem, p.147-8.


The Meister, Vol. V, Number 18 (May 22, 1892), p.61.


Life of Richard Wagner, v (1905), p.418.


The Meister, Vol. VIII, Number 30 (May 22, 1895), pp.71-2. William John Manners Tollemache (1859-1935) was the ninth Earl of Dysart: see Sessa, Richard Wagner and the English (note 33), pp.38-9 and 154n. There are photographic portraits of him in 1920 by Bassano & Co. in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Ham House, which he did much to restore, passed to the National Trust in 1948.


Oddly, though the other volumes carry pencilled or crayonned marks initialled by Ellis himself, the penultimate issue, Number 31, is not bound in with the 1895 set in the current Wagner Society's library.


See the contents page in the British Library's copy of The Meister, Vol. VIII, Number 32, for the address, and R R James, St George's Pupils' Register (London 1931) for the statement that Ellis was "in practice" at Herne Hill in 1898. After Dannreuther's death in 1905, another Wagner Society was founded by Louis N Parker (1852-1944). Its aims included the first authorised performance outside Bayreuth of Parsifal (before expiry of the copyright in 1913), in a temporary "wooden theatre in Wembley Park, of which the interior — the auditorium and stage — should be an exact replica to scale, in every detail, of the Bayreuth theatre [...] At the close of the 1912 performances at Bayreuth, the whole company — soloists, chorus, orchestra, conductors and scenery — were to be transferred in a body to Wembley, where they would continue the performances unconscious that their venue had been changed." The profits ("if any") were to go to the Bayreuth Endowment Fund, and several wealthy German members of the new Wagner Society promised support for the project (though not including Richter, who seems to have been rather bemused by it): but "Siegfried Wagner negatived it. His father had specifically ordained that Parsifal should never be played outside Bayreuth; and there, as far as he was concerned, was an end of the matter. So the following year Parsifal was set free and was at once done everywhere by everybody, according to everyone's idea except Wagner's." This "Wagner Association" lasted at least until 1912 (1914 according to Parker), and seems to have achieved some reconciliation between older and rising Wagnerians: at any rate its membership managed to include Alice Cleather and Basil Crump, the Earl of Dysart, William Ashton Ellis (honoris causâ), Alfred Forman, David Irvine, Victor Gollancz, Hans Richter (honoris causâ), Robert Mayer and Donald Francis Tovey. Parker seems to have been unable to recruit Bernard Shaw and Ernest Newman. See Louis N Parker, Several of My Lives (London 1928), pp.134-7; Christopher Fifield, True Artist and True Friend: a Biography of Hans Richter (London 1993), p.439; Large and Weber, Wagnerism in European Culture and Politics (note 11), pp.348-9n; and material in the possession of the current Wagner Society. The current Wagner Society was founded in 1953 by Major Harry Edmonds, and Ernest Newman became its first president.


Life of Richard Wagner, v (1906), p.430. Ernest Newman's first book under that name was his Gluck and the Opera of 1895, and his A Study of Wagner of 1899 has already been mentioned (note 86). In coining "Mr. Youngman" Ellis would have been unaware that "Ernest Newman" was already a Bunyanesque cognomen adopted by William Roberts (1868-1959). Sessa in Richard Wagner and the English (note 33), p.82, says that William Roberts changed his name to Ernest Newman in 1905, but this is contradicted by Vera Newman's account of her wedding in 1919: "As E.N. had not changed his name by deed poll I had to be married in both names. I had to say that I took Ernest Newman otherwise William Roberts for my husband, and I thought it sounded so funny that I had difficulty in suppressing a fit of the giggles." See Vera Newman, Ernest Newman: a Memoir by his Wife (London 1963), pp.14-5.


As quoted by Ellis, ibidem, p.431.


"Wagner, Berlioz, Liszt, and Mr. Ashton Ellis", appendix to the 2nd edition of Musical Studies, (London n.d. [3rd edition 1914]), p.305. The collection reprints Newman's essay on Berlioz to which Ellis took exception. See also Ernest Newman, ed. Peter Heyworth, Berlioz, Romantic and Classic, (London 1972), p.23n.


The Meister, Vol. VI, Number 24 (November 25, 1893), p.125.


W H Hadow, Richard Wagner (London 1934), p.151. I like the "clouds of mosquitoes" as much as the "pepperbox of commas".


Bernard Shaw, Music in London 1890-94 (note 75), ii, p.231, and iii, p.151.


See Bernard Shaw, Agitations: Letters to the Press 1875-1950, eds. Dan H Laurence and James Rambeau (New York 1985), pp.43-9.


Bernard Shaw, The Perfect Wagnerite, preface to the 1st edition (1898), cited from the 4th edition (London 1923), p.xxii.


Ernest Newman, A Study of Wagner (note 86), p.ix. As already remarked, Ellis was always proud of his indexing, though his habit of condensing page numbers by omitting repeated tens and hundred values (ostensibly to save space! — cf. note 7) is irritating. If indexing was conceived by Ellis as an exact science, he knew that translation itself was only an approximation.


Bernard Shaw, Music in London 1890-94 (note 75), ii, p.151.


Prose Works, viii (1899), pp.xx-xxi.


Life of Richard Wagner, i (1900), p.vii; ii (1902), p.v; iii (1903), p.v; iv (1904), Dropping Glasenapp's name from the title page apparently caused Ellis's binders some confusion on the spines of one of the printings I possess.


Ellis would not have known that Richard Wagner regarded Glasenapp (1847-1915) as little more than a mediocre biographer — see Cosima's Diaries for July 14, 1878. Method combined with loyalty, however, became much appreciated in Wahnfried, and Siegfried Wagner went so far as to risk ridicule by nominating Glasenapp for the 1902 Nobel Prize for Literature — see Large and Weber, Wagnerism in European Culture and Politics (note 11), pp.104-5.


In 1899 the names of "Ellis, Havelock" and "Ellis, William Ashton" had appeared alphabetically one after the other on the Contents page for Volume LXV of The Fortnightly Review. See also note 126 below.


Ernest Newman, A Study of Wagner (note 86) p.385n.


Life of Richard Wagner, iii (1903), pp.410-2.


Life of Richard Wagner, vi (1908), p.425n; see also v (1906), p.444, where Nordau's name is briefly invoked in a typical sarcastic parenthesis. Following his "Postscript" on Wagner's eyestrain published in 1908 (see note 90) Ellis contributed an article entitled "The Pessimist: added testimony in Wagner's case" to the 1909 edition of Gould's Biographic Clinics, vi, pp.209-32. See Judson Bennett Gilbert, Disease and Destiny. A Bibliography of Medical References to the Famous (London 1962), p.516.


Life of Richard Wagner, iv (1904), p.23n.


William Ashton Ellis, "Wagner and Schopenhauer", in The Fortnightly Review, LXV (1899), p.432.


See Ellis's argument in the Life of Richard Wagner, vi (1908), pp.28-41.


By 1905 Ellis's relations with "Mr. Youngman" were, as already remarked (see text covered by note 106), at a low ebb. For Ernest Newman's characterisation of Ellis's denigration of Minna Wagner in the Fortnightly Review as the "climax of comic pettishness" see Wagner as Man and Artist (London 1923 [1914]), p.44. The same example was later described by Elbert Lenrow as "One of [Ellis's] most childish and irrelevant observations" in The Letters of Richard Wagner to Anton Pusinelli (note 5), p.182n. Between 1905 and 1911 Ellis was preoccupied with Wagner's relationships with Mathilde, Minna and his family, and it is interesting to see him accused by other critics of puerility in this context. John Deathridge's observation comes from his edition of the Family Letters of Richard Wagner (note 3), p.xxix. In The World of Dreams (London 1911, the same year in which Ellis's translation of the Family Letters appeared) Havelock Ellis could hardly avoid mentioning Freud's Die Traumdeutung of 1900 (not translated into English until by A A Brill in 1913). Ellis (Havelock) noted that "Touches felt on awakening, in correspondence with a dream, are not so very uncommon. Thus Wagner, when in love with Mathilde Wesendonk, wrote, in the private diary he kept for her, how, after a dream, 'as I awoke I distinctly felt a kiss on my brow.' (1915 reprint, p.183n.) There is no suggestion that Ellis (Havelock) was drawing here on William Ashton Ellis's 1905 translation of the letters from Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck. For his part, it is unlikely that, at least from 1899 (see note 119), Ellis (William Ashton) would have failed to have noted, however disdainfully, his namesake's popular studies on sex. And he would not of course have needed to wait for anyone else's translation from the German of any works drawn on by Havelock Ellis, including Freud's.


Deathridge, ibidem, p.xlix. The Lear family (see note 143) has passed on to me a first edition (1911) of the Family Letters so minutely corrected in pencil — mostly for purely typographic presentation (a point instead of a comma, a smudged space piece, a misalignment or irregular space between characters) — that I have no doubt that it belonged to its obsessively pedantic redacteur. There was to be no subsequent edition incorporating these corrections.


Letter of November 16, 1907, in Bernard Shaw, Collected Letters 1898-1910, ed. Dan H Laurence (London 1972), p.723. According to Rex Pogson (note 61), p.13, Annie Horniman was behind the campaign and "obtained the help" of Shaw.


Bernard Shaw, How to Become a Musical Critic, ed. Dan H Laurence (London 1960), p.282. According to Shaw's Pen Portraits and Reviews (London 1932), the "almost destitute" Ellis received "a wretched pittance of £80 a year" (p.24). For the crucial but unacknowledged role Shaw played between 1904 and 1908 in bringing this about, see David Cormack, '"Or is he a mere translator?" Bernard Shaw's Agitation for William Ashton Ellis's Civil List Pension', in Wagner vol. 23, no. 2, October 2002, pp.81-112.


Family Letters of Richard Wagner (note 3), p.liv.


The Meister, Vol. VIII, Number 32 (November 25, 1895), pp.126-7n. Glasenapp lectured in German language and literature at the Riga Polytechnic from 1898 to 1912. In 1912 he was appointed to the Russian City Council for Riga, though he was also an honorary citizen of Bayreuth. Ellis could not have known that after his death Glasenapp's library, and indeed the contents of his entire workroom in Riga, were to be "rescued, amid unspeakable difficulties and danger, from the bolshevik terror-regime" by his pupil and foster-daughter Helene Wallem (1873-1953) and taken to Bayreuth. See Rosa Eidam, Bayreuther Erinnerungen (Ansbach 1930), pp.77 and 97.


William Ashton Ellis, "Wagner contra Militarism", in The Musical Times, July 1, 1915, pp.397-8. Though awarded the Iron Cross in April 1915, Chamberlain did not renounce his British citizenship until the following year. Bernard Shaw was equivocal about Chamberlain until as late as 1935: see Stanley Weintraub, Bernard Shaw 1914-1918. Journey to Heartbreak (London 1973 [1971]), p.103; cf. Thomas Mann Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (Frankfurt am Main 1988 [1918]), p.554.


William Ashton Ellis, "Wagner and Latter-day France", in The Musical Times, August 1, 1915, pp.463-6.


William Ashton Ellis, "Nietzsche Unveiled", in The Musical Times, September 1, 1915, p.525. In the "Translator's Preface" to the fifth volume of the Prose Works dated January 1897, Ellis had described Nietzsche's later writings as "nothing but aphorisms, glittering, acid, eccentric, sometimes startling and suggestive, but as unnutritious to the reader as a diet of chopped straw or a dinner composed of hors d'oeuvres". In his preface to the succeeding volume, dated Christmas 1897, Ellis reported that during that year he had studied Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche's biography of her brother, "also a very large portion of Nietzsche's own voluminous writings." These had confirmed his earlier impression of them: they were "so bewildering in their almost utter chaos, their stringing-together of jewels and glass beads, without so much as an index to guide one [my emphasis] [...]. Though I cannot pretend to have read all his works as yet, I have closely studied a very large section of them, and dipped into the remainder." Ellis reminded his readers of Nietzsche's insanity, not without a hint of sympathy, and follows Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche in regretting a loss to the cause: "Nietzsche", he concludes, "was the only opponent within measurable distance of the master." See Prose Works, v, pp.xiv-xviii, and vi, pp.xiii-xxviii.


See note 19.


Minutes, March 15, 1915.


Minutes, April 19, 1915.


Minutes, December 20, 1915.


Minutes, January 6, 1916.


The Red Cross, March 1918, p.26.


William Ashton Ellis, "Wagner contra Militarism" (note 132), p.396.


Evelyn Ellis probably led a racier life than his older brother, but he may have shown a similar gift for pedantry in publishing An Index to the Hong Kong Ordinances up to 6th June 1895, including Tables of Imperial Acts, Rules and Orders Extended (Hong Kong 1895). More generally, see his entries in Who Was Who, 1916-1928 and in Kelly's Handbook to the Titled Landed and Official Classes for 1918 (London 1918), p.532, and his obituary in The Times on September 4, 1920.


Thomas Lear (born the son of a police constable in Leeds 1882, died Newcastle 1954) was a practising musician: his death certificate describes him as a "Theatre Musical Director (Retired)". I have not established when, where or how Ellis struck up his friendship with him. Lear was thirty years Ellis's junior, and though it is said by some of his descendants that Lear became a close friend of Siegfried Wagner (I have not been able to verify this), he seems to have had rather more catholic musical interests than Ellis (see below). The British Library possesses a composition for solo (or with piano accompaniment) B flat cornet entitled "Shylock" published by Boosey & Co in 1927, by a Thos. Lear. His brothers Walter (Professor of Saxophone at Trinity College of Music) and Hiram (clarinettist along with Walter in Dan Godfrey's band) are mentioned in Who's Who in Music (London 1949-50), p.126, and Stephen Lloyd, Sir Dan Godfrey (London 1995), pp.177n. and 214). A story lingers in the Lear family that "Dr. Ellis" (he is sometimes referred to with even greater deference as Sir William Ashton Ellis) was "sweet" upon Thomas Lear's wife Elizabeth (1883-1968). The surviving Lear family have not been able to preserve much of Ellis's estate, but they have been generous in assisting me with my research. The silver coffee pot was sold some years ago, but the stained glass portrait of Wagner survives. A copy of Etienne Charavay's catalogue of the Lettres Autographes composant la Collection de M. Alfred Buvet (Paris 1887) is almost certainly Ellis's. Another branch of the family has kindly passed on to me an undated Carl Simon Musikverlag score (for harmonium or organ with string quartet accompaniment) of Kistler's Gebet Op.59 No.3, inscribed (almost certainly by the composer) "Seinem lieben Herrn Ellis aus London", and his Trauerklänge (Erinnerung an Hans von Bülow) for harmonium or organ, Op.64 (Berlin 1894). They have also passed on to me piano sheet music bearing Thomas Lear's name or monogram stamp. These include a Novello album of Marches by Various Composers; Trois Morceaux by Sigismond Noskowski; a Breitkopf und Härtel Klavier-Bibliothek transcription of the Freischütz Overture; the Danse Bohemiènne from Bizet's Fair Maid of Perth; Adolf Jensen's Hochzeitsmusik; a Capriccio by Domenico Scarlatti arranged by Tausig; Dvorák's Silhouetten; the second part of Moritz Moszkowski's Sechs Klavierstücke; Bülow's arrangement of two Bach Gavottes; an Entr'acte from Gounod's Colombe; Liszt's Consolation No 3, and his transcriptions of Mendelssohn's Wasserfahrt and Der Jäger Abschied; and Johann Strauss's Morgenblätter Waltz No 7.


Louis N Parker, Several of My Lives (note 105), pp.129-30.