A Scene at Long Beach

The intrigue that followed a chance meeting with Oscar Wilde in 1882

A young girl who Oscar Wilde met on vacation in 1882 became the lover of Wilde’s future niece and also had an affair with Wilde’s own lover’s future wife.

Confused? Then read on.

It all began when Sam Ward, the author, gourmand, and political lobbyist who had taken Wilde under his wing in America, invited him to Long Beach, the seaside resort on Long Island, New York.

After the holiday, on July 31, 1882, Ward wrote to his niece Maud Howe [1]:

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Conspicuous (Even By His Absence)


Oscar Wilde could be found almost everywhere in 1882

The phenomenon of Wilde’s US ubiquity has been well-documented, most recently in David Friedman’s Wilde in America (2014) which portrays Wilde as being so intent upon fame that he had a strategy for achieving it—a view with much validity.

Whatever Wilde’s personal strategy was, however, he was compounded in the effort by other factors: his own tour publicity, the popularity of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience and its burlesques, and a general curiosity of the people to see him. As a result, one might wonder whether it is possible to be too well known.

Take the world of advertising.

Wilde was such a cultural phenomenon during his American tour that his name was used by advertisers to generate media exposure for products with which he had no connection.

These advertisements include imaginary Wildean associations with suits, trousers, hats, neckwear, linens, collars and collarettes, and shoes. But his name was not just good for clothing. He could be found puffing everything from coach varnish, Easter cards, stationery, plant seeds, straw goods, plumbing goods, curtains, baby carriages, baseball, and even bosom beautifiers and veterinary skin cures. Finally, there is a poem (below) that defies any rationale for Wilde’s name in its title.

It is a measure of true fame (or possibly Wilde’s simultaneous notoriety) that advertisers sought not only to suggest an Oscar Wilde connection to their products but also to deny it! He was conspicuous even despite his absence. This phenomenon is evident in the first five of the following advertising ephemera, all of which date from 1882.


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More on Boys’ Names

The source of Oscar Wilde’s pun on Ernest/Earnest

In an earlier article I attempted to show that in John Gambril Nicholson’s verse Of Boys’ Names (Wilde’s putative source of the Ernest/Earnest pun) there are other boys’ names with Wildean parallels.

Research now leads me to a further connection.

In a back issue of The Book Collector (Summer, 1978), there is chapter about Nicholson’s 1892 Love in Earnest: Sonnets, Ballades, and Lyrics (the anthology  that includes the verse in question).

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