The Definitive Resource Of Oscar Wilde's Visits To America

Declaring His Genius—Additions And Corrections

Additions And Corrections To Roy Morris Jr.’s Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde In North America (2013)

The following is a selected listing of additions and corrections to Roy Morris Jr's book Declaring His Genius, Oscar Wilde in North America  (2013).

It is intended as a record for people researching Oscar Wilde’s visits to America, and, while no criticism of the book is intended, the extent of the errata is its own appraisal, and the need for correcting the record warrants the exercise.

For a critical review of the book see the blog article here.

Additions And Corrections To Roy Morris Jr.’s Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde In North America (2013)



[Page numbers are from the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press hardback edition, 2013.]

Citations from book text in bold

Commentary below

Page 1 — [by 1912] ...the quip had already passed into legend (repeated page 25)

This refers to Wilde's alleged remark at New York Customs that he had nothing to declare but his genius. Morris accepts my research that established the earliest allusion to the remark in 1912 (since revised to 1910), but fails to realize that, despite over a century of Wilde biography, no earlier allusion has been found to exist in print, spoken, or otherwise, so it is is wrong to say that it had not passed into legend at that time.

Page 3 — [Wilde] ...delivering 140 lectures in 260 days

Both of these numbers are approximate. See here for an definitive record of Wilde's lecture tour.

Page 4 — his fellow Celts, The Beatles

Celtic culture diversified into Gaels (Irish, Scottish and Manx) and the Brythonic Celts (Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons). The Beatles were from Liverpool in the north-west of England, and, despite the ancestry of two of them, they were never culturally regarded as Celts.

Page 7 — [Sir William Wilde] In 1863 he was appointed Surgeon Occulist to the Queen in Ireland

The appointment was made in 1853 (not 1863), the formal title being Surgeon Occulist in Ordinary to the Queen in Ireland. Morris probably takes the date from Ellmann, not realizing that this is one of the over 1000 additions and correction to Ellmann Identified by Horst Schroeder.

Page 8/10 — Wilde won the Newdigate prize “almost as an afterthought”/and surprised “himself, by graduating from Oxford”

This is a simplistic reading that falls prey to the anecdotal Wilde. The evidence is that Wilde studied hard to achieve his college distinctions. As Merlin Holland (Wilde’s grandson) has confirmed it took ‘considerable application as his contemporaries later testified and his surviving Oxford notebooks demonstrate’.

Page 9 — Magdalen (pronounced “Maudlin” in the English way)

Magdalen, the college, is slightly more accurately pronounced Maudl’n. It should be noted that it is not the English way of pronouncing the word in any sense other than the college.

Page 11 — (the lily) first imported from Japan in 1862

Lilies have been known in England since Elizabethan times at least. This assertion is a misreading of standard texts on horticulture that were based on The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening, L. Upcott Gill, 1887, which appears to be the source of the 1862 date. The original text in fact refers only to the Lilium auratum, or golden-ray Lily of Japan, that was first imported that year. 

Page 13 — [period before America] Wilde played his part...dressing in…satin knee breeches, black silk stockings…

The implication is that Wilde adopted this form of dress prior to America, (i.e. before 1882), and thus “played his part” in responding to cartoons of the aesthetes. In fact, Wilde’s aesthetic costume was exclusively adopted for his American experience.

Page 15 — his old school friend Frank Miles

Frank Miles and Oscar were not school friends. Although the two met around the time Wilde was at Oxford, perhaps even meeting at the college, Miles was not a student there. Miles was, in fact, homeschooled, did not attend university, and was already an established portrait painter when he met Wilde.

Page 18 — Patience, with its instantly recognizable parody of Wilde

Patience was not written directly as a parody of Wilde but of the Aesthetes in general. The leading character of the play, with whom Wilde became synonymous after dressing like him for his lecture tour of America, was probably based on an amalgam of Dante Rossetti and Algernon Swinburne.

Page 18 — the only thing worse than being talked about…

Morris places Wilde’s famous remark among his activities of 1881; while we do not know when Wilde first created the remark, it did not appear in print until 9 years later.

Page 21 — the Guier Line

For the Guier Line read: the Guion Line. See S.S. Arizona.

Page 17 — farthing (about a quarter of a penny)

The British farthing did not have an approximate value as implied. From the word ‘fourthing’, it was a unit of currency precisely one quarter of a penny.

Page 19 — an open letter to Wilde in the London World

The full title of the newspaper was ‘The World : a journal for men and women’. There was no 'London World'.

Page 20 — Sir William and Lady Jane, as newly created members of the British peerage

Sir William and Lady Wilde were not members of the British peerage. A knighthood is a non-hereditary order or decoration and does not confer the nobility of the peerage.

Page 25 — [in 1882, the quote] soon began making the rounds…Wilde was canny enough to let it stand

As explained above (q.v. Page 1), the alleged quote (I have nothing to declare except my genius) clearly did not ‘begin making the rounds’ in 1882. There is no evidence of it until 1910 and therefore to say Wilde ‘let it stand’ (i.e. in common currency at the time) is clearly wrong—a misreading of the remark's history.

Page 32 — such dignitaries as Winston Churchill

Morris refers to Churchill as a dignitary at the time when he was only 8 years old.

Page 36 — Saxony

For Saxony read Sarony. See here.

Page 36 — Morse waived the posing fee

This is a common misconception, probably beginning with Lewis & Smith. Much evidence exists about the nature of Wilde’s remuneration, including Sarony’s own acknowledgment in interview, and his testimony in court (in connection with his Copyright Infringement Case) attesting to the fact that Wilde was paid, probably a lump-sum plus payment in kind via the sale of photographs. 

Page 42 — [Milnes collection] housed at the London Museum of History

There is no such place as the London Museum of History. The Monckton Milnes collection of pornography is in the British Library.

Page 42 — Clinton Place, near Fordham University, in the Bronx

Clinton Place was not in the Bronx. There is a street by that name there now, but in 1882 the whole area was still undeveloped. The Clinton Place, where Wilde dined (at the apartments of Sam Ward) in 1882, was the name given to West 8th Street in Greenwich Village.

Page 59 — Horticultural Hall…a holdover from the great Centennial Exhibition at Fairmount Park

Wilde lectured at Horticultural Hall in Philadelphia but it was not the hall built for the Centennial Exhibition in Fairmount Park. Horticultural Hall was located at 250 South Broad Street, (below Locust), Philadelphia, PA. See the panel HORTICULTURAL HALLS IN PHILADELPHIA on this page for images and clarification.

Page 59 — many…skipped Wilde’s speech and an earlier reception at the home of Robert Stewart Davis

For clarification, the 'earlier' reception at the home of Robert Stewart Davis took place the evening prior to Wilde's lecture. The assertion that many skipped this reception is a matter of opinion; the Philadelphia Times reported a long list of what it called “a notable company, representative of the intelligence and liberality of the city’s professional life.”

Page 133 — [the Keats manuscript given to Wilde by Emma Speed], “Wilde…kept it for the rest of his life”

This is not true. The manuscript was among the effects sold at the time of Wilde’s bankruptcy. See Wilde and the Keats Letter.

Page 126 — the poet would leave from Omaha on the Union Pacific Railroad on March 24 and ride for a hundred hours straight through to Sacramento

1) Wilde left Omaha for California on March 22, the day after his lecture there, not on March 24.

2) The Union Pacific Railroad took Wilde only as far as Ogden, UT, where the Overland Route became the Central Pacific Railroad.

3) Wilde terminated his journey at Oakland, CA, not Sacramento.

Page 127 — [at the St. Patrick’s Day celebration], He responded with with brief words castigating the British…

This is a misunderstanding of the political and psychological make up of the British Isles in Wilde’s time. In the St.Patrick’s Day speech in St. Paul, Wilde did not mention the ‘British”, nor would he; but he did, however, mention the English more than once. For more see St.Patrick's Day 1882.

PHOTOGRAPH SECTION | FIGURE 7 — lecture, at New York’s Chickering Hall, January 21, 1882

Wilde’s lecture at Chickering Hall was on January 9, 1882, not January 21.

Page 139 — Wilde’s San Francisco experience involved a dinner invitation to the Bohemian Club at 724 Taylor Street

In 1882, and until the great fire of 1906, the Bohemian Club was located at 430 Pine Street, in San Francisco. Morris is referring the the club's current address, but he also gets that wrong: it is 624 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA 94102.

Page 141 — he left San Francisco on April 8 for a two-day ride to Salt Lake City

Wilde had already left San Francisco by April 8, and he gave a second lecture in Sacramento on that date. It was from Sacramento that Wilde departed for Salt Lake City.

Page 153 — her famous voyage on the Titanic twenty years after Wilde’s visit

The Titanic voyage was in 1912, therefore 30 years after Wilde’s visit to America, not twenty.

Page 161 — inside an English jail…composing his poignant ode…“The Ballad of Reading Gaol.”

Wilde did not compose The Ballad of Reading Gaol while in prison. It was composed in exile in France in the months following his release from prison. It is also not an ode (quite the opposite); its poetic form is a self-evidently a ballad.

Page 161 — continued his tour into Iowa, making appearances in Fremont...

Wilde lectured in Fremont, Nebraska not Fremont, Iowa.

Page 161 — a lecture in Rock Island on the last day of April...

Wilde lectured in Rock Island on April 29. It was his last lecture of the month, but it was not on the last day of April.

Page 169 — [after the second New York lecture], Wilde crossed the border at Niagara Falls and journeyed to Montreal

After his second New York lecture, Wilde did not immediately depart for Montreal. He gave in a second lecture in Brooklyn, New York on May 12.

Page 173 — [James W. Williams] ‘a fellow graduate of Oxford’ hosted a party which reminded Wilde ‘strongly of his bygone college life.’

Williams and Wilde were not contemporaries as this anecdote might imply. Wilde attended Magdalen College while Williams graduated from Pembroke College three years before Wilde was born.

Page 180 — six weeks later [i.e. after Wilde’s lecture there], the pavilion burned to the ground

The Galveston Pavilion was destroyed by fire on the morning of August 1, 1883, over a year after Wilde lectured there, not six weeks.

Page 191 — Dr. Thomas DeWitt Talmadge

Should read: Dr. Thomas De Witt Talmage. This repeats Ellmann's original error.

Page 199 — The final stop on Wilde’s nine-day tour of the Maritimes was Moncton, New Brunswick

Not true. Wilde’s final lecture on the (Canadian) maritimes was a second appearance in St. John, New Brunswick, the following night, October 13, 1882. Indeed, Morris has already alluded to this on page 196.

Morris assumes Wilde’s North American lectures end at this point unaware, as were previous chroniclers at that time, that Wilde lectured again in Bridgeton, New Jersey on October 26, 1882  and Yorktown, New York City, on November 27, 1882.

Page 207 — “Who am I to tamper with a masterpiece?”

This remark was made to Edgar Saltus and recorded by him. Morris implies that Wilde said this to Marie Prescott, although no evidence of this exists (and it is unlikely). No doubt the error comes from a misreading of Ellmann who conflates Morris and Prescott in this story.

Page 210 — the series kicked off Prince's Hall in London on July 11

Wilde's UK lecture at Prince's Hall was on July 10 (not 11), but Wilde's UK tour did not 'kick off' there, it began on June 30 with a lecture on Modern Art Training at The Royal Academy Students' Club.

Page 211 — The New York Times referenced (footnote 38 on p. 231)

Should read August 21, 1883 (not 1882), p. 5.

Page 212 — the cynical and urbane Lord Wotton

The character (in The Picture of Dorian Gray) is not ‘Lord Wotton’ and is never referred to as such; he is properly Lord Henry Wotton. The distinction relates to whether the character is an heir apparent or an heir presumptive. 

The rather convoluted explanation is that in British nobility conventions, courtesy peerages (the Lordship) are only used by the heir apparent, i.e. a peer's eldest living son, and then the eldest son's eldest living son, and so forth. But in the novel Wilde’s character is Lord Henry Wotton, which indicates that the character is merely an heir presumptive (e.g. a brother, nephew, or cousin of the heir apparent), possibly with the assumption he was man with a title and wealth, but with more leisured duties. This is also why Wilde's own lover Bosie, as third son of the Marquis of Queensberry, is never referred to as Lord Douglas, but rather Lord Alfred Douglas, with a given name distancing him from the primogeniture (first born) line of inheritance.

Oscar Wilde In America | © John Cooper, 2024