a selected resource of oscar wilde's visits to america
On December, 24th 1881, Oscar Wilde sailed from Liverpool on board the S.S. Arizona bound for New York. The reasons for his much-heralded visit seemed clear enough: he was to promote Gilbert & Sullivan's latest operetta, Patience, while conducting a series of lectures on subjects of his own choosing.
The ship arrived late on January 2nd, 1882 and lay at quarantine overnight. On the morning of January 3rd, the Arizona pulled into its dock and passengers headed for the customs shed at Castle Garden (pictured), which was the point of entry for visitors to New York and a major receiving station for immigrants prior to the opening of Ellis Island some ten years later.
Wilde was interviewed by an avid press while still on board. He told the New York Sun that he was disappointed in the Atlantic, a sentiment he repeated about Niagara Falls, and one that was much publicized and ridiculed.
Anything To Declare?
It was also on this occasion while at Customs that Oscar Wilde is reputed to have made one of his most oft-repeated quotations: that he nothing to declare except his genius. But did he really say this, and what is the source of the quotation?
New York City
In 1882 New York was a gas-lit city of a million people living through a time of growth that encompassed the gentrification of a commercial district around the Ladies' Mile, and residential displacement as the city's wealthy moved uptown.
The Statue of Liberty was not yet in the harbor, the Brooklyn Bridge was still being constructed; the tallest building was Trinity Church. Such was Wilde's milieu.
He was taken for breakfast (probably to the Brunswick Hotel) and then to private apartments away from the oppress and to prepare for his first lecture on January 9th at Chickering Hall. Thus began an almost year-long lecture tour of America.
© John Cooper