Saturday, 12 May 2018





Percy Lancelot Osborn is a poet of the 1890’s who published many of his poems in The Spirit Lamp, the Oxford undergraduate periodical which appeared between May 1892 and June 1893 (15 issues) edited by J S Phillimore and Sandys Wason, and later for the last six issues, by Lord Alfred Douglas. Some of his translations also appeared in The Fortnightly Review. Information concerning Percy Lancelot Osborn (‘P. L. O.’ as he appears in the pages of The Spirit Lamp) is scarce and I felt the compulsion to do a little research into this little known minor poet of the Decadent period in English poetry.


Heartsease it was from his dear hand I took,
A dainty flower that loves the garden air,
Breathing the freshness of his boyhood fair.
So it was treasured in a garden brook.

There came another with a far off look,
His hand an orchid gave; ‘twas strange and rare,
And caught my senses in a beauteous snare,
Till sunlight for the furnace I forsook.

My heart grew drowsy with a sweet disease;
And fluttered in a cage of fantasy;
And I remembered how his face was pale,
Yet by its very paleness more did please;
Now hath the orchid grown a part of me,
But still the heartsease tells its olden tale.

(Sonnet. December 1892. Published in The Spirit Lamp. vol III, number II. p. 43. February 17 1893.)


From French of Baudelaire, “Harmonie du Soir,” p. 155, ed. Levy.

Now trembles on its stem each flower I know,
And like a censer breathes its incense rare,
Music and perfume fill the evening air…
O dreary valse; O dreamy vertigo!

Flowers from their censers breathe an incense rare;
The viol quivers like a heart in woe –
O dreary valse! O dreamy vertigo!
Sad is the sky; but, like God’s altar, fair.

The viol quivers like a heart in woe,
A heart that hates the night in blank despair;
The sky is sad; but, like God’s altar, fair;
Drowned as in curdling blood the sun sinks low.

The tender heart that shrinks from blank despair
Culls remnants of bright days of long ago;
Tho’ sinks the Sun in blood, my heart’s a-glow;
For thoughts of thee shine like a monstrance there.

(Fleurs du Mal.)

(The Spirit Lamp. vol IV, number II. p. 69. June 6 1893.)

Percy Lancelot Osborn was born in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1870. His father was Edward Haydon Osborn (son of Edward and Mary Osborn) born 1832 at Lutton Valence in Kent and Christened on 17th May 1832 at Headcorn, Kent (he died in 1908 in Paddington, London). Edward was educated at Oxford University and in 1861 the family were living at Upper Gower Street, London; Edward is 27 years old and his occupation is listed as 'B A Oxford'; he is living at the address with his mother Mary who is head of the household, his sister Emily M Osborn aged 30, his brother William aged 23 and his sister Florence aged 12. Edward Haydon Osborn married Augusta Keturah Richardson (born in 1843 in Chelsea, London and dying in Paddington, London in 1905) on 12th April 1866 at Old Church, St. Pancras. They had the following children: Edward Bolland Osborn born St Pancras, Middlesex, 1867, William Evelyn Osborn born St Pancras, Middlesex, 1868, married in 1896 and died in Chelsea, London in 1906, Percy Lancelot Osborn born  Blackburn, Lancashire, 1870, H A Mary Osborn born Rochdale, Lancashire, 1875 and Harry Lonsdale Osborn born Rochdale, Lancashire, 1878 and dying in Salford in 1893.


The Garland of Boyhood’s Flowers
(from the Greek Anthology)

Eros for Cypris wove a garland rare,
And gathered all the flowers of boyhood fair,
And joined a wreath that should all hearts ensnare.

For Diodore he plucked the lily bright,
For Asclepiades a violet white,
And culled a thornless rose for Heraclite.

Dion he gave the blossom of the vine,
And set there with for thee, sweet Theromine,
A crocus golden as those locks of thine!

Thyme for Oudiades; an olive spray
For curly-haired Musicus, and the bay,
Virtue’s fair evergreen that blooms alway.

O happy Tyre, all other isles above,
Where lies the sacred incense-breathing grove,
Garden of beauteous boys beloved of Love!

(The Spirit Lamp. vol I, number V. p. 65. June 3 1892.)


This ever is my fear, lest love-beguiled
Some nymph should steal the Hylas whom I love,
And I should seek him thro’ the woodland wild,
And all in vain the wanton theft reprove;
When I have seen him in the glassy stream
Bend on the image of his countenance,
And e’en as one led captive by a dream,
Watch languidly the ripples in their dance,
Then have I caught him back, as tho’ me-thought
Some nymph should woo him in his own despite,
For they but err, who deem the legends nought,
Of Hylas stolen by the watersprite;
And how a book betrayed the young Narcisse,
Whose very beauty kept him poor in bliss.*

(*. V, 14 of Ovid, in which Narcissus says “Inopem me copia fecit”.)

(Sonnet.The Spirit Lamp. vol III, number II. p. 43. February 17 1893.)

In the 1871 census the family are living in Blackburn, Lancashire and Percy's father Edward Haydon is listed as occupation: 'Inspector of Factories'. The family have two servants: Charlotte Ballinger, aged 23 from Whitechapel, Middlesex, and Susannah Woods, 33 from Bolton-Le-Sands, Lancashire. Ten years later in the 1881 census they are in Castleton, Rochdale, Lancashire living in Garden Street. There are two additions to the family, namely Mary and Harry Lonsdale Osborn. Edward Haydon still works as an 'H. M. Inspector of Factories' and the family has no servants.
Percy attended Magdalen College, Oxford, matriculating on 14th October 1889 when he was 19 years old, coming from Manchester Grammar School. He attained his Honours in Classical Mods in 1891.


Now Corydon is gone, that Loves lament,
And with the Loves lament a troop of boys,
For cruel laws have slain Love’s sweet content,
And cruel men have mocked at gentle joys.
The Rose is sighing in the garden-close,
While morning weeps her pearly tears of dew;
But a white rosebud comforteth the rose,
“Love will return, and joy has reign renew.” –
Shall love return? Nay love hath never gone;
Love lives, tho’ he be reft of all that’s dear.
Weep, weep, Alexis for the Corydon,
But love him more, because he is not here;
What day hath taken, night shall give back to thee,
And dreams tell o’er thy lost felicity.

(Sonnet. May 1892. The Spirit Lamp. vol III, number II. p. 44. February 17 1893.)

In the 1891 census the Osborn's are living in Hare Street, Castleton, Lancashire and Percy who is 20 years old lists his occupation as 'Student'. Also at the address is his father Edward Haydon as head of the household aged 59, 'H M Inspector of Factories 1st Class'; his mother Augusta aged 43, his brother William Evelyn, aged 23 an 'Artist Painter' and his sister Harriette A M Osborn aged 16. 

CAPRICE (Par P. L. O.)


O Cigarette a douce odeur,
Les tourbillons de ta vapeur
Ressemblant a la vie humaine,
Qui n’est  que vaporense et vaine.

Comme dans l’air la vapeur fuit,
L’ame qui meurt s’evanouit
Dieu s’ecrie! Ah, si l’on regrette
Roulons une autre cigarette!

(The Spirit Lamp. vol II, number IV. p. 113. December 6 1892.)

Percy published two books: ‘Rose Leaves from Philostratus and Other Poems’ (1901) which are his translations from the Greek poet of the Roman Imperial period, Philostratus, and ‘The Poems of Sappho: Poems, Epigrams and Fragments. Translations and Adaptations.’ Translated by Percy Lancelot Osborn. (1909)

Fledged with the rose leaves as with wings
My roses hasten to thy feet.
Take graciously a gift that brings
Remembrance of Adonis sweet:
Nay, take them as the Paphian dyes,
Or as the Earth’s enamoured eyes!
Olives become the athlete best,
Great princes the tiara wear,
Meet for the soldier is his crest,
But roses doth kindred colours show
And kindred fragrance she discloses,
Nor will my flowers adorn thee; no
‘Tis thou who will adorn the roses.

(Rose Leaves from Philostratus. Epistle 1. Sent to a fair Boy with a present of Roses. Translated by Percy Osborn)


Stars above their faces in awe are hiding,
While the Moon, with beauty the world adorning,
At the full, with silvery beams delightful,
Shines from Olympus.

(The Poems of Sappho. Percy Osborn. 1909.)

In the 1911 census Percy, aged 40, single and living on 'Private Means' is living at 23 Kilburn Priory, Hampstead, London, at the home of Henry George Strugnell aged 49 (born 1862, Box, Wiltshire) a 'Cab Driver'. Henry's wife (they were married in 1887 at St George's Hanover Square, London) Josephine Francois Strugnell nee Clement, aged 50 is a 'French Resident'. Their daughter Florence Eugenie Marie Strugnell, aged 23 (born 1888 in Hammersmith, Middlesex) is listed under occupation as 'Book Keeper Provision'. Also boarding at the address are: Zillah Barker, aged 43 (born 1868 of Hammersmith, Middlesex), single female living on 'Private Means'; Joseph Wecks, 30 (born 1881, Copthorne, Sussex) a single 'Butcher Worker', and Edith Borritt, aged 30 (born 1881, Hornsey, Middlesex) who is a single 'Shop Assistant'.

(D’apres Lucien “Amours”.)

Le premier pas de ton echelle,
Aphrodite unisexuelle
C’est regarder le doux enfant,
Et de sa voix ouir le chant.

Le second pas est quand tu serres
Avec des oeillades l’egeres
Ses mains au contour veloute,
Don’t charme l’electricite.

Puis, le prochain, c’est la caresse,
Quand ton bras amoureux le presse,
Pendaut que Presque sans dessein
Tu Frottes doucement son sein!

Le dernier pas de l’amourette,
N’est-ce-pas l’union complete;
L’extase des corps et des coeurs,
Et je ne sais quelles laugueurs.

(Chants et Poesies de P. L. O.)

(The Spirit Lamp. vol IV, number II. p. 70. June 6 1893.)

In the 1901 census taken on 31st March, Percy, aged 30 is in Hanworth, Norfolk. He is listed as a boarder at the home of the Reverend Richard H O Banker (Church of England) aged 41, born in Purton, Buckinghamshire. Also at the address is Richard's wife Maud M A Banker, 37 from Wotton, Herefordshire; Conrad D R O Banker, aged 17 born Cleredon, Somersetshire and the two servants: Kate Brown, 26 from Horton, Northamptonshire and Elizabeth C Armstrong, 23 from Goldington, Bedfordshire. Percy's occupation is listed as 'Tutor' so it is probably safe to suggest he is tutoring the Reverend Banker's son, Conrad.
His father Edward now aged 69, mother Augusta, 54 and sister A H Mary aged 24 are living at 152 Elgin Avenue, Paddington, London where they remain for some time (they are still there in 1909). Edward is described as being a 'Home Office Inspector of Factories' and they have one servant named C L Ballinger, aged 54 (born 1847 in Stratford, Essex), she is described as a 'Housekeeper Domestic'.


For ever laughing, but for ever dumb,
You answer nothing, tho’ I coax and flatter;
I ask again; the smiling dimples come;
I weep; you laugh. – Is this a laughing matter?

(The Spirit Lamp. vol I, number VI. p. 79. June 10 1892.)


Je suis le Dieu de suicide,
Mon corps est froid, mon Coeur est vide.

Mon temple est un tombeau beant,
Ma ‘providence’ est le neant.

Venez, venez, gens miserables!
Les dieux etablis sont des fables!

Je suis l’ami du rejete,
L’ami de toute infirmite.

Je donne la ‘mort immortelle’,
L’oblivion perpetuelle.

Venez; le chemin est etroit,
Venez, venez, c’est votre droit.

Je suis le Dieu de suicide
Mon corps est froid, mon Coeur est vide.

(Chansonettes “Mandites,”)

(The Spirit Lamp. vol III, number I. p. 15. February 3 1893.)

In 1939 Percy is living in Willesden, Middlesex, at the home of Henry Victor Bush (born 1892), his wife Mary Bush (born 1894) and their daughter Vera J Bush (born 1925).

Version in sonnet form. By Marianus.

          (1)  From Greek Anthology.

“Where is thy bow, thy backward bending bow?
Where are the reeds thou planted in the heart?
Where are thy wings? thy torch? thy grievous dart?
Three crowns thou bearest in thine hands, I trow,
And one upon thine head! Ah! wherefore so?”
“The love men buy and sell in open mart
Ne’er gave me birth; I am not as thou art,
A child of wild delights that come and go.

          (2)  From Meleager (Anthology), Honey of Love.

Parched and athirst one summer day
I chanced to kiss my dainty love,
And straight my thirst was done away,
Whereon I cried, Dost drink, O Jove,
Thy Ganymede’s nectarean kiss?
Grants he to thee this cup of bliss?
For when I kissed my fair one’s lip,
And won from him the promised toll,
Ah! then I sipped or seemed to sip
The fragrant honey of his soul!

          (3) Callimachus (Anthology), Set a Thief to catch a Thief.

Our friend was wounded, all the truth we knew,
Didst mark how bitter was the sigh he drew?
At the third glass the roses of his wreath
Their petals shed, and strewed the ground beneath.
Love’s fire he feels and feels it to his grief,
Good cause have I, ye Gods! For my belief;
A thief myself, I can detect a thief!

          (4)  Meleager. A Vision of Beauty (Adapted slightly).

I saw Alexis walking thro’ the dell
At noontide hour when Summer ‘gan to fell
The bearded grain;
And two-fold rays consumed me; rays of Love
From his dear eyes, and rays from Sol above.
But these again
Were by the Night allayed; those other beams
By Beauty’s phantom shining in my dreams
Were kindly kigher;
And sleep, that rests the careworn, brought me care;
Fashioning in my soul an image fair,
A living fire!

(The Spirit Lamp. vol II, number IV. p. 112-113. December 6 1892.)

Percy’s brother, Edward Bolland also went to Magdalen College, Oxford, matriculating on 6th February 1885 aged 18, coming from Rossall School. Exhibitioner in 1885, BA in 1890, Hons – 2 Mathematical Mods 1886 and 3 Mathematics in 1888. Edward also had work published in The Spirit Lamp: ‘Mirandus: A Platonic Idyll’ (vol III, number I.  p.10-15. February 3 1893.) and ‘A Legend of the Atlantic’ (vol III, number I. p. 16. February 3 1893.)

He later published several volumes:

‘Greater Canada: The Past, Present and Future of the Canadian North-West’. (1900)

‘The Muse in Arms’. (1917) an anthology of British War Poetry.

‘The Maid with Wings: And Other Fantasies, Grave to Gray’ (1917)

‘The New Elizabethans, a first selection of the Lives of Young Men who have fallen in the Great War’. (1919)

‘Literature and Life: Things seen, heard and read’. (1921)

‘Our Debt to Greece and Rome’. (1924)

‘The Heritage of Greece and the Legacy of Rome’. (1925)

‘Anthology of Sporting Verse’. (1930)

Edward Bolland Osborn became the Literary Editor of the Morning Post and he died in 1938. It is not altogether known when Percy died but there is some evidence to suggest he may have lived until the beginning of 1951 where there is a death recorded for Percy L Osborn, died in St Pancras, London aged 80.


  1. Fascinating stuff, thank you! I am researching Osborn's poems at the moment for a conference paper that will turn into a chapter about English versions of Philostratus' letters. I'd love to ask you about your sources for this info about Osborn, who isn't very easy to find out about as you say, and about this subject further, if you'd be willing?

  2. If you'd be willing to discuss privately, - would be willing to compensate for your time if you have any more info/leads that aren't already on the website here.

    1. Thank you Owen, I have sent you an email but forgot to add that the poems from The Spirit Lamp can be found in one volume at Internet Archive: