By now, the events of Oscar Wilde’s 1882 speaking tour, which formally introduced him and his ideas to the US, are thoroughly mythologized: the unintended laughter he received at his first lecture in New York City, his visit with Walt Whitman, his oft-quoted statement to customs, “I have nothing to declare… except my genius,” and much, much more.
Less well-known is that press for the tour kicked off with this delightful report from The New York Times, for which its reporters rowed—or, as the paper put it, “braved the raging billows”—from a New York City pier out to the S. S. Arizona just after it had landed, where they gossiped with passengers and eventually cornered Wilde himself.
They told the reporters that Wilde had been complaining the whole time that the trip hadn’t been sufficiently dangerous: “Why, he has been groaning all the way over because we didn’t have excitement enough. It was too deucedly stupid, you know. He wanted to see a great storm, and have the bridges washed away.”
He was also, surprising no one, uniquely styled for the trip:
His face was smooth, no sign of a beard yet having shown itself. He wore a low-necked white shirt, with a turn-down collar of extraordinary size, and a large light-blue silk neck scar. His hands were in the pockets of his fur-lined ulster, and a turban was perched on his head. He wore pantaloons of light color, and patent leather shoes. His voice was hardy, and by no means musical, and his laugh was a succession of broad “haw, haw, haws.”
Oscar Wilde: the glamorous, over-it travel companion we deserve.