Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Lost Wilde Poem? Probably Not

Just what is an
"Oscar Wilde gas fixture"?
In 1882, Oscar Wilde was touring the United States giving a set of lectures. These where the idea of Richard D'Oyly Carte, who worried that the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Patience wouldn't be understood without a little exposure to an actual aesthetic poet.

He might have been the warm-up act, but suddenly the young poet was famous at twenty-seven years of age. His lectures were packed and he began a life of celebrity.

That said, he probably didn't write the poem which I've included below, which appeared in an advertisement in the June 3, 1882 Salt Lake Herald. No literary forensic techniques are needed to tell that this piece of doggerel did not come from Wilde. In 1882, one of the perils of fame was that bad poetry might be attributed to you.

Also, on the same day, the Omaha Daily Bee ran an advertisement for "Oscar Wilde gas fixtures." Were they more aesthetically pleasing than the usual sort? Wilde certainly wasn't involved with them.
10 Cents
At the bar, for a drink or cigar;
We have made a great hit
By the little "short bit,"
And don't you forgit:
Our goods are all fine,
And the pure Altar Wine
Is equal to any imported.
Our Hermitage's old
As ever was sold;
Our Cognac ever so noted;
A fine Claret Punch,
(Or an elegant Lunch
Can be had at Evans' counter);
If that does not suit,
Go in the Gallery and shoot,
If you lose, what's it amounter.
They say only fools,
Play at fifteen-ball pool,
But its patrons are counted by milliards;
And many aver, and say they prefer
To play it rather than Billiards;
If the place you don't know,
Call on Russell & Co,
Two more items appeared about Wilde on June 3, 1882. The Washington D.C. Evening Star reported that
An English actor, says the New York Dramatic Times, who has not been in this country a great while, was looking at the procession on Tuesday, in Union Square. After it was over he remarked to a companion: "Well, I wouldn't have believed that the decorative craze had reached such a height in this country. Here's Oscar Wilde only been in America a few months and the whole population turns out with a mad desire to decorate something."
But not everyone was so enthusiastic about Wilde. The Ouachita Telegraph of Monroe Louisiana wrote that
The Montreal Gazette wishes Oscar Wilde to explain what he means by "Sham imitations" and how they differ from other shams and other imitations.

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