Lillie Langtry’s Autograph


Piecing together history: Oscar Wilde’s mail arrives

When I was preparing my recent posting about Oscar Wilde and his lecture in Bloomington during the local council drainage meeting, I was reminded that Wilde once wrote a letter from Bloomington.

A moment’s research led to a minor historical jigsaw.

In the Complete Letters (p. 147) there is an undated letter from Wilde to his manager written from Bloomington, Illinois. As Wilde spent only one day in Bloomington, this letter can now be dated March 10. It begins:

Dear Colonel Morse, The mail has just arrived.

Not an earth-shattering event in itself, although I’m sure Oscar was pleased to hear from friends overseas. But turning to Bloomington’s daily paper The Pantagraph, we see that Wilde’s account was in balance. The newspaper contains a report below [1] which confirms that there was indeed correspondence that Wilde had “just received.”

Moreover, we learn that one letter he received that day was from Lillie Langtry, and that he clipped her signature from the note as a presentation to Theodore Braley, the editor of a local newspaper.


Braley died in 1919 but what did he do with that autograph?

I’m sure collectors are suspicious of signatures clipped from their provenance, but one wonders whether the example of Langtry’s autograph at the top of this page (taken from an online auction) is the very one Oscar presented that day.

[1] The Pantagraph (Bloomington), March 13, 1882, p.4

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John Cooper

John Cooper is a independent scholar who has spent 30 years in the study of Oscar Wilde. He is a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society, a founding member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, and a former manager of the Victorian Society In America. For the last 20 years Cooper has specialised in Wilde’s 1882 lecture tour becoming a consultant on Wilde’s American experience to biographers and the wider media. Cooper lectures on Wilde and has conducted new and unique research into Oscar Wilde visits to New York culminating in a guided walking tour. Online he is a popular blogger and the creator of the noncommercial archive 'Oscar Wilde in America’ which incorporates his work on the Sarony photographs, and a detailed documentary verification of Wilde’s American lecture tour. In 2012 Cooper rediscovered Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).

One thought on “Lillie Langtry’s Autograph”

  1. Excellent John – love your humor and Lily’s signature. Have you seen the latest edition (June/July) of Irish America Magazine (online)? Something of our Hero in there. I’m still reading his poems on my over-crowded breakfast table. Keep ’em coming, my friend – for many years to come, I hope. You bring light to the unenlightened, joy to the grim, and information to the curious. Best, Peter

    Liked by 1 person

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