Wilde Ride

From The Daily Beast:

WildeIt is little surprise that Wilde, a fad avant la lettre—whose celebrity largely preceded his principal accomplishments—owed his American tour to a satirical skewering of which he was the target. Gilbert and Sullivan had just composed their operetta Patience, an all-purpose mockery of aestheticism whose Reginald Bunthorne was a direct parody of Wilde, with the character spouting sentiments such as: “The meaning doesn’t matter if it’s only idle chatter of a transcendental kind.” Wilde, with no less aplomb than you would imagine, promptly embraced the play. (As Morris reminds us, “the only thing worse than being talked about, he said, was not being talked about.”) Richard D’Oyly Carte, the producer of the show, saw an immediate opportunity to capitalize on the American run, and proposed that Wilde give a lecture tour. Imagine, say, Robert Penn Warren’s publisher arranging a lecture tour for Huey Long, or the Comedy Central Bill O’Reilly tour. Wilde promptly accepted. Wilde set sail from Liverpool with letters of introduction from James Russell Lowell and Edward Burne-Jones. (Lowell wrote to Oliver Wendell Holmes, “he should need no more introduction than a fine day.”) The passage does not seem to have been a pleasant one. “I am not exactly pleased with the Atlantic,” Wilde declared. A letter subsequently appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette, reading: “‘I am disappointed in Mr. Wilde,’ signed ‘The Atlantic Ocean.’” He arrived in New York amidst the trial of Charles Guiteau, recent assassin of President James Garfield, and unwittingly played a hand in a Supreme Court case: he sat for several photos with the eminent photographer Napoleon Sarony, who would later sue a lithographic company for the unwarranted replication of these photos, winning in the case Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, which established early copyright protections for photographs.

…Wilde then went off to Philadelphia for a lecture at the Horticultural Hall—he was bored, as so many others along the way were, by the train’s views of New Jersey. He then called on Walt Whitman in Camden, where he drank elderberry wine and milk-punch (“a stoutish mixture of milk and whiskey”), offered praise, and received some admonishment: When he ventured the starchy observation that he, Wilde, couldn’t bear “to listen to anyone unless he attracts me by a charming style, or by beauty of theme,” the older poet put him in his place. “Why, Oscar,” said Whitman, “it always seems to me that the fellow who makes a dead set at beauty is in a bad way. My idea is that beauty is a result, not an abstraction.” Wilde quickly retreated. “Yes,” he said, “I think so too.”

More here.