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.

Continue reading Something To Declare

Web Site Upgrade

We are approaching the end of Summer so I have returned to the Blog, and will continue posting in the near future. Please remember to join the conversation by having your say in the ‘Leave a Reply‘ section at the bottom of each post.

In the meantime, I have not been idle in my Oscaring. Web standards are constantly changing, so I have taken the opportunity to upgrade my documentary archive at Oscar Wilde In America:

www.oscarwildeinamerica.org

The archive is based on 30 years of private study and countless hours in libraries and online since 2002—and I am personally responsible for all original research, writing, editing, and web design.

It importantly contains for the first time, an accurate verification of the dates, venues, and lecture titles of Oscar Wilde’s lecture tour of North America in 1882, although these pages are not yet complete nor upgraded.

The site has been used by scholars, institutions, and the media around the world and is the largest online resource on the life and times of Oscar Wilde in America. The entire project was created without funding, and is freely provided and noncommercial.

Typographical errata are welcome to info@oscarwildeinamercia.org

John Cooper, September 2018.

I Can Wait

Lotos Club New York.jpg

Oscar Wilde’s After-Dinner Rebuke to his Press Critics

Rewritten in 2019 for the Oscar Wilde Society newsletter. For membership go to: oscarwildesociety.co.uk/membership/

It is pleasing to see that recent Wilde studies continue to highlight the emergent nature of Oscar’s American experience, during which time he nurtured the art of public speaking, conducted his first press interviews, staged his first play, had his iconic photographs taken, and stockpiled—to use an American word—material for his future epigrams and works.

But there is a crucial American beginning for Oscar that has been under-appreciated: I refer to his first brush with literary society. It occurred during an event at 149 Fifth Avenue in New York City, the then home of an organisation of journalists known as the Lotos Club.

Continue reading I Can Wait

Primary Sources

Contemporaneous. Documented. Reliable.

verify7

Personal testimony in chronicles and memoirs has forever been the basis of recorded history. Like the legal status of eye-witness testimony, accounts created during living memory have an immediacy that often frees them of taint or nuance. Not all of it is reliable, of course, so researchers should evaluate the source, the subject, and the period before the facts. And we shall get to that.

But first we need to address the inadmissible, principally the hearsay of second-hand material which is often less well defined, and less reliable. Take Columbus, for instance. And before you think this a characteristic segue into Ellmann getting the date wrong for Oscar Wilde’s lecture in Columbus, Ohio, it isn’t—although he did. I mean that yesterday was Columbus Day here in the United States, and on the subject of unreliability I am reminded of Washington Irving‘s supposed history of Christopher Columbus’ first visit to the Americas. For it was Irving who popularized the myth that Columbus set sail thinking he would fall off the edge of the world, when, in reality, the intrepid Italian knew all along about the earth’s curvature—he just miscalculated the circumference. Read Darin Hayton’s salutary article on Irving’s fabrication.

Almost as damaging as intentionally false history is unintentionally false biography. Because all too often new biography is simply an echo chamber of old biography, in which successive viewpoints grow increasingly redundant and incoherent.

Such historiography may have been acceptable, or at least accepted, in the days when collective knowledge was indistinguishable from reflective guesswork. But in an age of digital access to archival newspapers, journals, records, and books, there is no longer any excuse for apocryphal scholarship, and nowhere is this discipline more acutely needed than in the study of Oscar Wilde.

Continue reading Primary Sources