Appendix A: Personal and Critical Writing by Wilde

I. Letters

While an expansive volume of letters edited by Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis is readily available, this selection focuses on letters relative to Wilde’s aesthetic, his view of art, as well as anything pertaining to the texts included in Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories . The following letters are organized chronologically. The headnotes include Wilde’s age as well as the location of the original. Unless otherwise indicated, all letters are authored by Wilde.

Excerpt: a letter to Sir William Wilde [Wilde’s father]
Location: Florence, Italy
Written: 15 June 1875
Age: 20 years
MS Location: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, U. Of California, Los Angeles

Swords of the leaf shape, regular torques but somewhat same design, metal hand-mirrors, and household utensils of all kinds, and every thing, even the commonest plate or jug, done with the greatest delicacy and of beautiful design. They must have been a people among whom artistic feeling and power was most widely spread was most widely spread. There is also a museum of Egyptian antiquities, but their devices and frescoes appeared to me grotesque and uncouth after the purity and sentiment of the Etruscan.

Excerpt: a letter to Lady Wilde [Wilde’s mother]
Location: Albergo della Francia, Milan
Written: 23 June 1875
Age: 20 years
MS Location: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, U. Of California, Los Angeles

Left Florence with much regret on Saturday night. […] [Upon arrival in Venice] Seized on immediately by gondoliers and embarked with our luggage, into a black hearse-like barge, such as King Arthur was taken away in after the fatal battle. Finally through long narrow canals we arrived at our hotel, which was in the great Piazza San Marco - the only place in Venice except the Rialto anyone walks in.”

Council Room of the Celebrated ‘Three’, black marble and gold. Two dismal passages lead from it across the Ponte di Sospiri. In size and colour and dignity the rooms are beyond description, and the view from the windows across the sea wonderful. Beneath all this greatness are the most dismal dungeons and torture-rooms - most terrible.

Excerpt: to Reginald Harding [Wilde’s school friend, nicknamed Kitten]
Location: Bingham Rectory, Notts
Written: circa 13 July 1876
Age: 21 years
MS Location: The Hyde Collection

My dear Boy, Thousand thanks for your letter. Half the pleasure of getting a First is to receive such delightful congratulations. I am really a little pleased at getting it, though I swaggered horribly and pretended that I did not care a bit. In fact I would not go up to the Schools on Wednesday evening - said it was a bore - and actually did not know certainly till Thursday at twelve o’clock when I read it in The Times.

Excerpt: to William Ward [Wilde’s school friend, nicknamed Bouncer]
Location: 1 Merrion Square North, Dublin
Written: 26 July 1876
Age: 21 years
MS Location: Magdalen College, Oxford

My dear Boy, I confess not to be a worshipper at the Temple of Reason. I think man’s reason the most misleading and thwarting guide that the sun looks upon, except perhaps the reason of woman. Faith is, I think, a bright lantern for the feet, though of course an exotic plant in man’s mind, and requiring continual cultivation.

Excerpt: to William Ward
Location: 1 Merrion Square North, Dublin
Written: 6 August 1876
Age: 21
MS Location: Magdalen College, Oxford

I want to ask your opinion on this psychological question. In our friend Todd’s ethical barometer, at what height is his moral quicksilver? Last night I strolled into the theatre about ten o’clock and to my surprise saw Todd and young Ward the quire boy in a private box together, Todd very much in the background. He saw me so I went round to speak to him for a few minutes. He told me that he and Forster Harter had been fishing in Donegal and that he was going to fish south now. I wonder what young Ward was doing with him. Myself I believe Todd is extremely foolish to go about with one, if he is bringing this boy with him.

You are the only one I would tell about it, as you have a philosophical mind, but don’t tell anyone about it like a good boy - it would do neither us nor Todd any good.

He (Todd) looked awfully nervous and uncomfortable.

Excerpt: to Reginald Harding
Location: 1 Merrion Square, Dublin
Written: 6 August 1876
Age: 21 years
MS Location: The Hyde Collection

I am just going out to bring an exquisitely pretty girl [most likely Florence Balcomb (see below), his first love.] to afternoon service in the Cathedral. She is just seventeen with the most perfectly beautiful face I ever saw and not a sixpence of money. I will show you a photograph of her when I see you next.

Excerpt: to Florence Balcombe [Wilde’s first love. She would opt to marry Bram Stoker.]
Location: 1 Merrion Square North, Dublin
Written: 3 October 1878
Age: 24 years
MS Location: Williams Andrew Clark Memorial Library, U. Of California, Los Angeles

Dear Florence, As you expressed a wish to see me I thought that your mother’s house would be the only suitable place, and that we should part where we first met. As for my calling at Harcourt Street, you know, my dear Florence, that such a thing is quite out of the question: it would have been unfair to you, and me, and to the man you are going to marry, had we met anywhere else but under your mother’s roof, and with your mother’s sanction. I am sure that you will see this yourself on reflection; as a man of honour I could not have met you except with the full sanction of your parents and in their house.

As regards the cross, there is nothing ‘exceptional’ in the trinket except the fact of my name being on it, which of course would have prevented you from wearing it ever, and I am not foolish enough to imagine that you care now for any memento of me. It would have been impossible for you to keep it.

“I am sorry that you should appear to think, from your postscript, that I desired any clandestine ‘meeting’: after all, I find you know me very little.

Excerpt: to Harold Boulton [A student at Oxford and editor of Waifs and Strays. Wilde would publish some of his work in the magazine.]
Location: 13 Salisbury Street, London
Written: 23 December 1879
Age: 25 years
MS Location: Collection of Mr. John Simpson

My Dear Harold, I very often have beautiful people to tea, and will always be very glad to see you and introduce you to them. Any night you like to go to the theatre I will give you a bed with great pleasure in this untidy and romantic house.

Excerpt: to Walt Whitman
Location: Chicago
Written: 1 March 1882
Age: 27 years
MS Location: Library of Congress

My dear dear Walt, [...] Before I leave America I must see you again. There is no one in this wide great world of America whom I love and honour so much.

With warm affection, and honorable admiration, Oscar Wilde.

Excerpt: to an Unidentified Correspondent
Location: The World’s Hotel, St. Joseph, Missouri
Written: 19 April 1882
Age: 27
MS Location: Williams Andrew Clark Memorial Library, U. Of California, Los Angeles

Outside my window about a quarter of a mile to the west there is a small yellow house surrounded by people. This is Jesse James’s house, and the people are relic-hunters. The door-knocker was sold yesterday by public auction and the man who sold it has retired on a large income in consequence. [...] The Americans, if not hero-worshippers, are villain worshippers. They interest me vastly, but when I think of America I only remember someone whose lips are like the crimson petals of a summer rose, whose eyes are two brown agates, who has the fascination of a panther, the pluck of a tigress, and the grace of a bird.

Excerpt: to Julia Ward Howe [Author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Howe defended Wilde after Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s attack on Wilde in the Boston press.]
Location: Augusta, Georgia
Written: 6 July 1882
Age: 27
MS Location: Collection of Mr. H. B. Vander Poel

I write to you from the beautiful, passionate, ruined South, the land of magnolias and music, of roses and romance: picturesque too in her failure to keep pace with your keen northern intellect; living chiefly on credit, and on the memory of some crushing defeats. And I have been to Texas, right to the heart of it, and stayed with Jeff Davis [Jefferson Davis, former President of the Confederate States of America. Wilde met him two weeks earlier] at his plantation (how fascinating all failures are!) and seen Savannah, and the Georgia forests, and bathed in the Gulf of Mexico, and engaged in Voodoo rites with the Negroes, and am dreadfully tired and longing for an idle day which we will have as Newport.

Excerpt: Constance Lloyd to Otho Holland Lloyd [her uncle]
Location: 1 Ely Place, Dublin
Written: 26 November 1883
Age: 29 years
MS Location: Collection of Mr. Merlin Holland

My dearest Otho, Prepare yourself for an astounding piece of news! I am engaged to Oscar Wilde and perfectly and insanely happy. I am sure you will be glad because you like him, and I want you now to do what has hitherto been my part for you, and make it all right.

Excerpt: to Lillie Langtry [celebrated beauty and actress]
Location: Royal Victoria Hotel, Sheffield
Written: circa 22 January 1884
Age: 29 years
MS Location: The Hyde Collection

And so, I write to tell you how glad I am at your triumphs - you, ‘Venus Victoria of our age’! - And the other half to tell you that I am going to be married to a beautiful young girl called Constance Lloyd, a grave, slight, violet-eyed little Artemis, with great coils of heavy brown hair which make her flower-like head droop like a flower, and wonderful ivory hands which draw music from the piano so sweet that the birds stop singing to listen to her.

Excerpt: to Constance Wilde
Location: The Balmoral, Edinburgh
Written: 16 December 1884
Age: 30 years
MS Location: Pierpont Morgan Library, New York

Dear and Beloved, Here I am, and you at the Antipodes. O execrable facts, that keep our lips from kissing, though our souls are one.

What can I tell you by letter? Alas! nothing that I would tell you. The messages of the gods to each other travel not by pen and ink and indeed your bodily presence here would not make you more real: for I feel your fingers in my hair, and your cheek brushing mine. The air is full of music of your voice, my soul and body seem no longer mine, but mingled in some exquisite ecstasy with yours. I feel incomplete without you. Ever and ever yours

[With the exception of two very brief notes, this is the sole surviving letter Wilde wrote to his wife. The rest are either missing or were destroyed.]

Excerpt: to A. P. T. Elder [American publisher and book promoter.]
Location: 16 Tite Street, London
Written: January/February 1885
Age: 30 years
MS Location: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, U. Of California, Los Angeles

The literary activity of America is to me something marvelous absolutely, no year seems to pass without your giving us new poets, and new thinkers. I see no limit to the future in art of a country which has already given us Emerson, that master of moods, and those two lords of romance, Poe and Bret Harte.

[…] I am glad to see you have given a haven to so many young poets: I call them young poets, because whoever is a poet grows not old; that is reserved for prose writers only.

Excerpt: to F. H. Townsend [Art editor of Punch]
Location: 16 Tite Street, London
Written: February 1887
Age: 32 years
MS Location: Collection of Mr. John Simpson

Dear Sir, I am very much pleased with your picture for “The Canterville Ghost”, and should like to see you about another.

“I will be at the office of The Court & S Review tomorrow between 12:30 and 1 o’clock and if you could find time to meet me there I should be very much obliged.

“I have also a small suggestion to make about the drawing you have already done. You have made the stained glass window modern American, one of John Lafarge’s in fact. It should be old English. The ghost’s legs too are a little too transparent. However the whole thing is very charming indeed, and will be a great addition to the story.

Excerpt: to the Editor of Truth
Location: 16 Tite Street, London
Written: January 1890
Age: 35 years
MS Location: published in Truth

[On 2 January 1890, Truth published a letter by James Whistler accusing Wilde of plagiarism.]

Sir, I can hardly imagine that the public are in the very smallest degree interested in the shrill shrieks of ‘Plagiarism’ that proceed from time to time out of the lips of silly vanity or incompetent mediocrity.

However, as Mr James Whistler has had the impertinence to attack me with both venom and vulgarity in your columns, I hope you will allow me to state that the assertions contained in his letter are as deliberately untrue as they are deliberately offensive.

The definition of a disciple as one who has the courage of the opinions of his master is really too old even for Mr Whistler to be allowed to claim it, and as for borrowing Mr Whistler’s ideas about art, the only thoroughly original ideas I have ever heard him express have had reference to his own superiority over painters greater than himself.

It is a trouble for any gentleman to have to notice the lubrications of so ill-bred and ignorant a person as Mr Whistler, but your publication of his insolent letter left me no option in the matter.

Excerpt: to Henry Lucy [A contributor to Punch]
Location: 16 Tite Street, London
Written: 26 July 1890, evening
Age: 35
MS Location: Published in Nearing Jordan (1916)

[Wilde, upset at the treatment The Picture of Dorian Gray received in a Punch review, did not attend Lucy’s party.]

Well, I ask you to accept my apology, my really sincere and full apology, for that breach of etiquette. The fact is the I only saw Punch on Saturday night, when I was shown it in the Bachelors’ Club, and I confess I was so annoyed at its offensive tone and horridness that I felt that I could not possibly meet Burnand, and was afraid he might be one of your party. [...] Since Sunday I have ascertained that --- wrote it and not Burnard. I don’t mind so much. I quite understand why --- should write like that. He can’t help it.

Excerpt: to Cyril Wilde [Wilde’s elder son]
Location: Hôtel de l’Athénée, Paris
Written: 3 March 1891
Age: 36 years
MS Location: Private Collection

My dearest Cyril, I send you a letter to tell you I am much better. I go every day and drive in a beautiful forest called the Bois de Boulogne, and in the evening I dine with my friend and sit out afterwards at little tables and see the carriages drive by. Tonight I go visit a great poet, who has given me a wonderful book about a Raven. I will bring you and Vivian back some chocolates when I return.

“I hope you are taking great care of dear Mamma. Give her my love and kisses, and also love and kisses to Vivian and yourself. Your loving Papa

Excerpt: Telegram to Ada Leverson [A writer and close confidant of Wilde, nicknamed Sphinx]
Location: Paddington, London
Written: 28 June 1893
Age: 40 years
MS Location: Harvard University Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts

The author of The Sphinx will on Wednesday at two eat pomegranates with the Sphinx of Modern Life.

Excerpt: to Leonard Smithers [Publisher of Wilde’s last three books, better as a publisher of pornography.]
Location: Villa Giudice, Posilippo
Written: 27 November 1897
Age: 43
MS Location: State U. Of New York Library, Buffalo, New York

Your spending £1000 in paying debts seems to me awful. I cannot understand such extravagance. Where will you end up if you go on like this? Bankruptcy is always in store for those who pay their debts. It is their punishment.

II. Notebooks Kept at Oxford

The excerpts below are taken from Phillip E. Smith and Michael S. Helfand’s Oscar Wilde’s Oxford Notebooks: A Portrait of Mind in the Making (Oxford UP, 1989). Their edition reproduces the content of Wilde’s notebooks, maintaining the visual aspects of his writing and the original “pagination” that divides the writings, and leaving grammatical or spelling issues uncorrected, unless necessary for comprehension. The excerpts here were selected to show Wilde’s critical development on the theory that it is impossible to separate Wilde’s knowledge from his works.

From the COMMONPLACE BOOK. 217 pages. (c. 1874-1880, possibly used until 1889)

[A commonplace book was commonly used as a place for the author to compile various texts and ideas. Organization and content are subjective and vary from author to author; generally, however, these books record passages from texts, and the author may include comments or further information. Wilde’s commonplace book contains passages that range from philosophical subjects to planned critical works to class notes. The selections presented below deal with similar themes to those found in Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories.]

[171] Necessity

Necessity is not as of old an image without us with whom we do warfare: it is a magic web woven through and through us, like that magnetic system of modern science. [M]ore subtle that the subtlest nerves yet bearing in it the central forces of the World--

When we Combat it, [it is] with the weapons of its own forging, and the assertion of liberty is only the claim that from certain forms of conscious volition certain results will inevitably follow. We are indeed compassed by the high [never,] leaped mountains of necessity, but for him who knows his limitations this dark horizon becomes the sunlit circle of duty[...]

The Realistic assumptions of modern science.

That the external world exists, that there is a sequence of cause and effect--at the time that they tell us that all that we can know is the experience of mental phenomena:

The difficulty of mod*sc* [abbreviation for modern science]

The consciousness of a persistent ego underlying all sensations and different from them

how pass from matter which is that which has extension to mind which is that which thinks. [C]ertain material changes exterior to our organism are always accompanied by certain other material changes inside our organism--but this does not solve the problem of consciousness.

Wilde, Oscar. From the OXFORD NOTEBOOK. 115 pages. (c. 1874-1879)

[Wilde used this notebook during his years as an Undergraduate at Oxford. Along with his Commonplace Book, this notebook is often studied as a source depicting Wilde’s mental, critical, and authorial development.]

[I]n history what we are to look for are not revolutions, but Evolutions.

Nature as Aristotle said is not full of incoherent [sic] episodes like a bad tragedy[...] in the study of man we must put aside any ideas of extra-natural interference and causeless spontaneity.

motiveless will }

uncaused Spontaneity }

Philosophy of History must explain the past and predict the future phenomena of man’s life in the world by ref[erring] to general laws.

Humanitarian sympathy constantly changing and enlarging—code of honour different in each age so Michelet says of the psychological historian that he can assign to a specific period a moral fact or mode of thought with as much certainty as an art critic can fix the date of a particular capital—(Lecky 304). nay with more, for the form as of art may be reproduced, a recurrence of moral conceptions is impossible—

[29] For a scientific conception of History the first requisite is the doctrine of uniform sequence in other words that certain events having happened, certain other events corresponding to them will happen: that the past is the key of the future:

In the character of a nation inconsistency is impossible: in the moral world as in the physical nothing is anomalous: yet while we have now a natural science in the sphere of history the theological doctrine of irregularity still holds place[...]

[37] Matter motion and force are merely symbols of the unknown cause or reality which is coextensive with all the phenomena of the world--Progress is as much to the unknown and unknowable as to the known ultimately all accountable and natural facts are unaccountable and unnatural[...]

III. Critical Writing: The Artist as Critic

[The excerpts contained here are pulled from Wilde’s various critical lectures and publications, with dates between 1880 and 1891. Much like his journal entries, Wilde’s interests here range widely, from Shakespeare to home décor. Difficult to pin down, Wilde’s multiple critical works show both complexity and ambiguity; they are fraught with competing interpretations.]

“House Decoration.” Essays and Lectures, edited by Robert Ross, 4th edition, Methuen, 1913, pp. 157-173.
[A lecture delivered in America during Wilde’s tour in 1882. Originally, this lecture was advertised as ‘The Practical Application of the Principles of Æsthetic Theory to Exterior and Interior House Decoration, With Observations upon Dress and Personal Ornaments.’ The earliest date this lecture was given on is May 11, 1882. Interestingly, Wilde concludes that, historically, art was devised by philosophers, who saw “human beings as obstructions.” The deemphasis of the human causes ugliness and strife, but focusing on aesthetics would lead to peace, dignifying “every flower of the field.”]

[...]The conditions of art should be simple. A great deal more depends upon the heart than upon the head. Appreciation of art is not secured by any elaborate scheme of learning. Art requires a good healthy atmosphere. The motives for art are still around about us as they were round about the ancients. And the subjects are also easily found by the earnest sculptor and the painter. Nothing is more picturesque and graceful than a man at work. The artist who goes to the children’s playground, watches them at their sport and sees the boy stoop to tie his shoe, will find the same themes that engaged the attention of the ancient Greeks, and such observation and the illustrations which follow will do much to correct that foolish impression that mental and physical beauty are always divorced[...]

“Lecture to Art Students.” Essays and Lectures, edited by Robert Ross, 4th edition, Methuen, 1913, pp. 197-213.
[Delivered to the art students of the Royal Academy at their Club in Golden Square, Westminster, on June 30, 1883. The text is taken from the original manuscript. In this lecture, Wilde attempts to define “what makes an artist and [. . .] what an artist makes.” He concludes that true art has no trace of the work put into making it.]

[...]Nothing, indeed, is more dangerous to the young artist than any conception of ideal beauty: he is constantly led by it either into weak prettiness or lifeless abstraction: whereas to touch the ideal at all you must not strip it of vitality. You must find it in life and re-create it in art.
While, then, on the one hand I do not desire to give you any philosophy of beauty - for, what I want to-night is to investigate how we can create art, not how we can talk of it - on the other hand, I do not wish to deal with anything like a history of English art.
To begin with, such an expression as English art is a meaningless expression. One might just as well talk of English mathematics. Art is the science of beauty, and Mathematics the science of truth: there is no national school of either. Indeed, a national school is a provincial school, merely. Nor is there any such thing as a school of art even. There are merely artists, that is all[...]

“Shakespeare and Stage Costume.” The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review, vol. [A1] 99, May 1885, pp. 800-818.
[Wilde often alludes to Shakespeare in his works and this essay explores Shakespeare’s use of costume in his plays. Aside from his critique on Shakespeare, this essay shows Wilde’s attentiveness to stage productions, in addition to texts, and the effects of material objects, like fabric (something present in his fiction as well). It is also important to note that Sir Simon, in “The Canterville Ghost,” is from the Elizabethan period.]

In many of the somewhat violent attacks which have recently been made on that splendour of mounting which now characterises our Shakespearian revivals in England, it seems to have been tacitly assumed by the critics that Shakespeare himself was more or less [indifferent] to the costume of his actors, and that, could he see Mr. Irving’s production of hisMuch Ado about Nothing or Mr. Wilson Barrett’s setting of his Hamlet, he would probably say that the play, and the play only, is the thing, and that everything else is leather and prunella. While, as Regards any historical accuracy in dress, Lord Lytton, in an article in this Review, has laid it down as a dogma of art that [archaeology] is entirely out of place in any play of Shakespeare’s, and that the attempt to introduce it is one of the stupidest pedantries of an age of prigs.

Lord Lytton’s position I will examine later on, but, as regards the theory that Shakespeare did not busy himself much about the costume wardrobe of his theatre, anybody who cares to study Shakespeare’s method will see that there is absolutely no dramatist of the French, English, or Athenian stage who relies so much for his effects on the dress of his actors as Shakespeare does himself[...]

“The Critic as Artist: with Some Remarks upon the Importance of Doing Nothing.” Intentions. The English Library 54, Leipzig: Heineman and Balestier, 1891, pp. 79-175.
[An essay in the form of a dialogue, this piece offers an extensive overview of Wilde’s aestheticism. This is a companion piece to his “The Decay of Lying--an Observation,” also published in Intentions. Gilbert argues that criticism is one of, if not the, highest form of art and thinking—even above reason.]

ERNEST. Well, while you have been playing, I have been turning over the pages with some amusement, though, as a rule, I dislike modern memoirs. They are generally written by people who have either entirely lost their memories, or have never done anything worth remembering; which, however, is, no doubt, the true explanation of their popularity, as the English public always feels perfectly at its ease when a mediocrity is talking to it.

GILBERT. Yes: the public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius. But I must confess that I like all memoirs. I like them for their form, just as much as for their matter. In literature mere egotism is delightful. It is what fascinates us in the letters of personalities so different as Cicero and Balzac, Flaubert and Berlioz, Byron and Madame de Sévigné. Whenever we come across it, and, strangely enough, it is rather rare, we cannot but welcome it, and do not easily forget it. Humanity will always love Rousseau for having confessed his sins, not to a priest, but to the world, and the couchant nymphs that Cellini wrought in bronze for the castle of King Francis, the green and gold Perseus, even, that in the open Loggia at Florence shows the moon the dead terror that once turned life to stone, have not given it more pleasure than has that autobiography in which the supreme scoundrel of the Renaissance relates the story of his splendour and his shame. The opinions, the character, the achievements of the man, matter very little. He may be a sceptic like the gentle Sieur de Montaigne, or a saint like the bitter son of Monica, but when he tells us his own secrets he can always charm our ears to listening and our lips to silence. The mode of thought that Cardinal Newman represented—if that can be called a mode of thought which seeks to solve intellectual problems by a denial of the supremacy of the intellect—may not, cannot, I think, survive[...]

[GILBERT.]Hours ago, Ernest, you asked me the use of Criticism. You might just as well have asked me the use of thought. It is Criticism, as Arnold points out, that creates the intellectual atmosphere of the age. It is Criticism, as I hope to point out myself some day, that makes the mind a fine instrument. We, in our educational system, have burdened the memory with a load of unconnected facts, and laboriously striven to impart our laboriously-acquired knowledge. We teach people how to remember, we never teach them how to grow. It has never occurred to us to try and develop in the mind a more subtle quality of apprehension and discernment. The Greeks did this, and when we come in contact with the Greek critical intellect, we cannot but be conscious that, while our subject-matter is in every respect larger and more varied than theirs, theirs is the only method by which this subject-matter can be interpreted[...]

IV. Wilde on Fin-de-Siècle Anglo-American Relations

The humorous depiction of differences between American and English manners and customs, such as we find in “The Canterville Ghost,” was a popular source of jokes at the time of the story’s publication. Many items in Punch and other magazines targeted the perception of differences between American and British behavior; however, most of this humor was seen as good-natured, and was not intended solely as a way of poking fun at American manners and customs, but was frequently directed at English conventions as well. The excerpts below are taken from essays that Wilde wrote after his American lecture tour and appeared in the same magazine where “The Canterville Ghost” and “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” were originally published. They provide many possible sources for the jokes found in “The Canterville Ghost.”

Oscar Wilde, “The American Invasion,” Court and Society Review, Vol. IV, No. 142, 23 Mar., 1887, pp. 270-271.

A terrible danger is hanging over the Americans in London. Their future and their reputation this season depend entirely on the success of Buffalo Bill and Mrs Brown-Potter. The former is certain to draw; for English people are far more interested in American barbarism than they are in American civilisation.... The cities of America are inexpressibly tedious. The Bostonians take their learning too sadly; culture with them is an accomplishment rather than an atmosphere; their ‘Hub’, as they call it, is a paradise of prigs.... Better the Far West with its grizzly bears and its untamed cowboys, its free open-air life and its free open-air manners, its boundless prairies and its boundless mendacity! This is what Buffalo Bill is going to bring to London; and we have no doubt that London will fully appreciate his show.

With regard to Mrs Brown-Potter, as acting is no longer considered absolutely essential for success on the English stage, there is really no reason why the pretty bright-eyed lady who charmed us all last June by her merry laugh and her nonchalant ways, should not – to borrow an expression from her native language – made a big boom and paint the town red. We sincerely hope she will; for, on the whole, the American invasion has done English Society a great deal of good. American women are bright, clever, and wonderfully cosmopolitan.... They take their dresses from Paris and their manners from Piccadilly, and wear both charmingly. They have a quaint pertness, a delightful conceit, a native self-assertion. They insist on being paid compliments and have almost succeeded in making Englishmen eloquent. For our aristocracy they have an ardent admiration; they adore titles and are a permanent blow to Republican principles. In the art of amusing men they are adepts, both by nature and education, and can actually tell a story without forgetting the point – an accomplishment that is extremely rare among the women of other countries. It is true that they lack repose and that their voices are somewhat harsh and strident when they land first at Liverpool; but after a time one gets to love these pretty whirlwinds in petticoats that sweep so recklessly through Society and are so agitating to all duchesses who have daughters. There is something fascinating in their funny, exaggerated gestures and their petulant way of tossing the head. Their eyes have no magic nor mystery in them, but they challenge us for combat; and when we engage we are always worsted. Their lips seem made for laughter and yet they never grimace. As for their voices, they soon get them into tune. Some of them have been known to acquire a fashionable drawl in two Seasons; and after they have been presented to Royalty they all roll their ‘r’s as vigorously as a young equerry or an old lady-in-waiting....

If a stolid young Englishman is fortunate enough to be introduced to them he is amazed at their extraordinary vivacity, their electric quickness of repartee, their inexhaustible store of curious catchwords. He never really understands them, for their thoughts flutter about with the sweet irresponsibility of butterflies; but he is pleased and amused and feels as if he were in an aviary. On the whole, American girls have a wonderful charm and, perhaps, the chief secret of their charm is that they never talk seriously except about amusements. They have, however, one grave fault – their mothers. Dreary as were those old Pilgrim Fathers who left our shores more than two centuries ago to found New England beyond seas, the Pilgrim Mothers who have returned to us in the nineteenth century are drearier still.

Here and there, of course, there are exceptions, but as a class they are either dull, dowdy or dyspeptic....

[T]he fact remains that the American mother is a tedious person. The American father is better, for he is never seen in London. He passes his life entirely in Wall Street and communicates with his family once a month by means of a telegram in cipher. The mother, however, is always with us, and, lacking the quick imitative faculty of the younger generation, remains uninteresting and provincial to the last. In spite of her, however, the American girl is always welcome. She brightens our dull dinner-parties for us and makes life go pleasantly by for a season. In the race for coronets she often carries off the prize; but, once she has gained the victory, she is generous and forgives her English rivals everything, even their beauty.

Warned by the example of her mother that American women do not grow old gracefully, she tries not to grow old at all and often succeeds....

Her sense of humour keeps her from the tragedy of a grande passion, and, as there is neither romance nor humility in her love, she makes an excellent wife. What her ultimate influence on English life will be it is difficult to estimate at present; but there can be no doubt that, of all the factors that have contributed to the social revolution of London, there are few more important, and none more delightful, than the American Invasion.

Oscar Wilde, From “The American Man,” The Court and Society Review, vol. IV, no. 145, 13 Apr., 1887, pp. 341-343.

One of our prettiest Duchesses enquired the other day of a distinguished traveller whether there was really such a thing as an American man, explaining, as the reason for her question, that, though she knew many fascinating American women, she had never come across any fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, husbands, cousins, or, indeed, male relatives of any kind whatso-ever.

The exact answer the Duchess received is not worth recording...but there can be no doubt that the subject is an extremely interesting one, pointing, as it does, to the curious fact that, as far as society is concerned, the American invasion has been purely female in character. With the exception of the United States Minister, always a welcome personage wherever he goes, and an occasional lion from Boston or the Far West, no American man has any social existence in London.

His women-folk, with their wonderful dresses, and still more wonderful dialogue, shine in our salons, and delight our dinner-parties; our guardsmen are taken captive by their brilliant complexions, and our beauties made jealous by their clever wit; but the poor American man remains permanently in the background, and never rises beyond the level of the tourist. Now and then he makes an appearance in the Row, looking a somewhat strange figure in his long frock coat of glossy black cloth, and his sensible soft-felt hat; but his favourite haunt is the Strand, and the American Exchange his idea of heaven.

When he is not lounging in a rocking-chair with a cigar, he is loafing through the streets with a carpet bag, gravely taking stock of our products, and trying to understand Europe through the medium of the shop windows...The telephone is his test of civilisation, and his wildest dreams of Utopia[1] do not rise beyond elevated railways and electric bells....

Yet, on the whole, he is happier in London than any- where else in Europe. Here he can always make a few acquaintances, and, as a rule, can speak the language. Abroad, he is terribly at sea. He knows no one, and understands nothing, and wanders about in a melancholy manner, treating the Old World as if it were a Broadway store, and each city a counter for the sampling of shoddy goods. For him Art has no marvel, and Beauty no meaning, and the Past no message. He thinks that civilisation began with the introduction of steam, and looks with contempt upon all centuries that had no hot- water apparatuses in their houses. The ruin and decay of Time has no pathos in his eyes.... [H]e is the Don Quixote of common sense, for he is so utilitarian that he is absolutely unpractical.... [H]e would die of weariness if he were not in constant telegraphic communication with Wall Street....

Many Americans are horrid, vulgar, intrusive, and impertinent, just as many English people are also; but stupidity is not one of the national vices. Indeed, in America there is no opening for a fool. They expect brains even from a boot-black, and get them.

As for marriage, it is one of their most popular institutions. The American man marries early, and the American woman marries often; and they get on extremely well together. From childhood, the husband has been brought up on the most elaborate fetch-and-carry system, and his reverence for the sex has a touch of compulsory chivalry about it; while the wife exercises an absolute despotism, based upon female assertion, and tempered by womanly charm. On the whole, the great success of marriage in the States is due partly to the fact that no American man is ever idle, and partly to the fact that no American wife is considered responsible for the quality of her husband's dinners....

On the whole, then, the American man at home is a very worthy person. There is just one point in which he is disappointing. American humour is a mere travellers' tale. It has no real existence. Indeed, so far from being' humorous, the male American is the most abnormally serious creature who ever existed. He talks of Europe as being old; but it is he himself who has never been young. He knows nothing of the irresponsible light-heartedness of boyhood, of the graceful insouciance of animal spirits. He has always been prudent, always practical, and pays a heavy penalty for having committed no mistakes.... for naturally humorous the American man certainly is not. It is true that when we meet him in Europe his conversation keeps us in fits of laughter; but this is merely because his ideas are so absolutely incongruous with European surroundings....

To gain a reputation for humour, its men have to come to London; to be famous for their toilettes, its women have to shop in Paris.

Yet, though the American man may not be humorous, he is certainly humane. He is keenly conscious of the fact that there is a great deal of human nature in man, and tries to be pleasant to every stranger who lands on his shores. He has a healthy freedom from all antiquated prejudices, regards introductions as a foolish relic of mediaeval etiquette, and makes every chance visitor feel that he is the favoured guest of a great nation. If the English girl ever met him, she would marry him; and if she married him, she would be happy. For, though he may be rough in manner, and deficient in the picturesque insincerity of romance, yet he is invariably kind and thoughtful, and has succeeded in making his own country the Paradise of Women.

This, however, is perhaps the reason why, like Eve, the women are always so anxious to get out of it.

[1] Utopian fiction was popular at the time of this essay. Wilde discusses utopias in some of his other writings as well. In Wilde’s essay, “Man Under Socialism,” he would say, “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.”