Something To Declare

The Oscar Wilde Calendar
Frank & Cecil Palmer Ltd., London 1910 [Mason 637-9]
(Author’s Collection)*
A New Earliest Example of
Wilde’s ALLEGED Remark:

—I have nothing to declare except my genius.—

In my latest post I referenced the godfather of Oscar Wilde researchers, Stuart Mason, in connection with his unique scrapbooks of Wilde ephemera.

“Stuart Mason” was, in fact, the pseudonym of Christopher Sclater Millard, who produced Wilde’s first, and finest, bibliography, a decade-long study he conducted alongside many other Wildean pursuits including authoring Wilde books, being his staunch defender, and sharing his experience as a fellow victim of state-sanctioned homophobia and imprisonment. He was also, crucially to our story, at one time the private secretary to Wilde’s literary executor Robert Ross, in whose circle he was intimately entangled.

One of Millard’s projects in 1910 was to produce, with the assistance of Ross, a small volume entitled The Oscar Wilde Calendar. A Quotation from the works of Oscar Wilde for every day in the year with some unrecorded sayings selected by Stuart Mason.

It is difficult now, with an over-abundance of real and imaginary Wilde quotations, to appreciate that back in 1910, a book of Oscar Wilde quotations was not only a novel idea, it was a necessary one. The majority of these now famous Wilde sayings would have been new to most people fifteen years after Wilde was airbrushed from society.

Ross, meanwhile, was on a charm offensive to rehabilitate Oscar’s reputation, and this little book would help to amuse the public and fill a literary gap. In this respect, it is worth noting that the Calendar is also symbolic as the first appearance in print of two pictures: the last live image of Oscar Wilde taken in Rome in 1900, and a photograph of the painting of Wilde by Harper Pennington.

Returning to our purpose, however, this little Calendar is important because it provides a new earliest example of the remark Wilde dubiously made at New York Customs: “I have nothing to declare except my genius.”

And therein lies a story.

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Finding Oscar

'Oscar Wilde`s Homeland' by Lysenko Igor

John Cooper expands on comments he made as a member of a panel discussion at the Oscar Wilde Festival in Galway, Ireland, in 2014, in which he appraised Wilde’s legacy and his personal response to it.

(I) RISE AND FALL

Finding Oscar Wilde during his lecture tour of America in 1882 presented few difficulties. Throughout the year he made hundreds of appearances in public and thousands in the press. But his transatlantic sojourn was not merely prolific, it was a surprisingly formative time that saw Wildean firsts in all aspects of his career. Professionally, he nurtured the art of public speaking, began lecturing, and conducted his first press interviews. In his personal life he entered a new sphere of poets, writers, and statesmen; and he embarked upon a lifelong pattern of occasionally earning, but of always spending, large sums of money. Creatively, he became increasingly familiar with formulating his thought into thesis, while socially he was gathering material and honing epigrams for use in his early essays, short stories, and dramatic dialogues. Perhaps most surprisingly, it was in America that he staged the first ever production of a Wilde play.1 And lastingly, it was in New York City that the predominant image we have of him was formed with a series of photographs taken by Napoleon Sarony. After America, one might say, Oscar had become famous for more than just being famous.

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Not surprisingly, given this degree of exposure and experience, contemporary opinion was that America had made a greater impression on Wilde than vice-versa. Supporting this view is the fact that his audiences, although they had attended his lectures, came to see rather than to hear him; and even though he was often personally liked, he was more often publicly ridiculed. Wilde’s maligned persona was so widespread that the ability to locate him in the abstract sense, even for those who had not seen him, also presented few difficulties. In sum: the breadth of his presence made Wilde familiar in person, and the stereotype of his character provided the measure of him as a personality.

We now see that Wilde cannot be so easily pigeon-holed.

Continue reading Finding Oscar