Friday, June 6, 2014

Wilde at a Discount

Ten cents was cash in 1882
In June of 1882, Wilde was a celebrity in America and everyone wanted to read the poems of this apostle of the aesthetic movement. And just like popular (or even not so popular) writers today see the e-book versions of their works pirated, a similar thing happened to Wilde (though it did require a printing press).

The Seaside Library mentioned below was a New York-based publisher of cheap, pirated editions. Ironically, now they are quite rare. Wilde's particular indignity was that he actually had one offered to him for purchase. But let me give the anecdote in full, as it's told in the Hopkinsville South Kentuckian of June 6, 1882.

Oscar Wilde Paralyzed

A man who was on the same train with Oscar Wilde coming from Reno to Ogdon relates an amusing experience. Wilde was lounging back in his seat, dreaming of the asphodel, etc., then the train boy woke him by punching him in the side and shouting:

"Hoscar Wilde's poem for 10 cent!"

The poet started up to a sitting position with;

"Great Guod! Is it possible that my poems have reached such beastly figures as that?"

"Three for two bits," continued the boy.

He offered the poet some copies of the Seaside Library edition in paper covers.

Wilde grabbed the book and put his big eyes on the boy.

"Do you know my dear s'r, that you are lending your countenance to a hellish infringement on the rights of an English author?"

"Is that so?" replied the boy slowly. "Do you 'spose the feller that rit the book cares and—. Why, he won't know it."

"Of course he will. How can your guilty acts escape his cognization?"

"His cognuzzence ain't anything thing to me. It ain't loaded, is it!"

"I am the author of those poems."

"Ah, go away," snickled the boy.

"You are wringing in for commish."

"Twon't work, cully. Folks put up jobs on me every day. Here, take a roasted peanut and fill up. If I thought such a looking chap as you rit them lines, d'yer suppose I'd peddle 'em? No sir! I've too much blarsted professional pride, you know. They're cheap, d'ye see? Blarst my pictures if I don't feel like I was a footpad every time I think a short bit for the rubbish."

The crowd roared, and Wilde joined heartily in the laugh . After the boy was assured that man was none other than the poet, he went to Wilde and offered him half a dozen oranges to call it square.
I am quite certain that my friends who are writers would not consider oranges sufficient compensation for pirated editions of their works.
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