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Oscar Wilde In America

a selected resource of oscar wilde's visits to america

Wilde Meets Whitman, 1882

Not long after arriving in New York in January 1882, at the start of his Lecture tour Of North America, Oscar Wilde expressed a fervent wish to meet the American poet Walt Whitman, whose works he had been familiar with since a young age.

At this time, Whitman was living in Camden, NJ, close to Philadelphia. As Wilde was scheduled to lecture in Philadelphia on January 17, he wasted no time in inquiring whether a meeting with Whitman could be arranged.

On January 11, J.M. Stoddart, Wilde's friend and publisher in Philadelphia, wrote to Whitman:

Oscar Wilde has expressed his great desire to meet you socially. He will dine with me Saturday afternoon when I shall be most happy to have you join us. The bearer, Mr. Wanier, will explain at greater length any details which you may wish to know, and will be happy to bring me your acquiescence. [1]

Even before a meeting had been arranged, the press became excited at the prospect:

whitman-prospect
TheTimes
(Philadelphia) 11 January, 1882, 3

Unfortunately, Whitman was not well enough to travel across the river to Philadelphia. He wrote to Mrs. George W. Childs (the wife of the Philadelphia publisher at whose mansion the meeting was proposed) with this apology:

whitman-to-childs

So the meeting would have to take place at Whitman's residence at 431 Stevens Street, Camden, NJ. There must have a been an immediate reply to this letter as Whitman confirmed his availability the same morning:

whitman-visit

So on January 18, the day after Wilde's lecture, Wilde and Stoddart traveled over by ferryboat to visit Whitman. Stoddart left the two poets alone for two hours and a pleasant meeting ensued over wine and milk punch.

That same evening a reporter from Philadelphia Press ventured over to find out more about the auspicious occasion, and his interview with Whitman formed the basis of the report below that appeared the following day, and which constitues most of what is known about the meeting:

wilde-and-whitmanwildeandwhitman2wildeandwhitman3wildeandwhitman4wildeandwhitman5

N

Oscar Wilde aged 27 when he met Whitman

waltwhitman

Walt Whitman aged c. 28-35

waltwhitmanold

Walt Whitman aged 62 when he met Wilde

StevensStreet

The house where the meeting took place

The residence of Walt's brother, George, at 431 Stevens Street in Camden, NJ, where Whitman was living when he met Wilde

—Image courtesy of Mark Samuels Lasner—
University of Delaware

Wilde's Description of the room

whitmansroom

Philadelphia Times, February 23, 1882

What Wilde Said About Whitman

I spent the most charming day I have spent in America with him. He is the grandest man I have ever seen. The simplest, most natural, and strongest character I have ever met in my life. I regard him as one of those wonderful, large, entire, men who might have lived in any age and is not peculiar to any one people. Strong, true, and perfectly sane: the closest approach to the Greek we have yet had in modern times. Probably he is dreadfully misunderstood.

Boston Herald, January 29, 1882, 7

Many of his lines are like a blast fresh from Olympus. I have met him and enjoyed his society more than words can express.

Boston Globe, January 29, 1882, 5


wilde-on-whitman

Courier Journal (Louisville) January 22, 1882

See also: Wilde to Whitman

What Whitman Said About Wilde

whitmantostaffordrewilde2

Transcription:

Have you heard about Oscar Wilde? He has been to see me & spent an afternoon — He is a fine large handsome youngster. ^ (interlinear) he had the good sense to take a great fancy to me.

Letter fromWalt Whitman to Harry Stafford, January 25, 1882

Source: Walt Whitman Archive

What Stoddart Said About Wilde

VINEGARKansasCityjournalNovember121899Page12Image12

Kansas City Journal, November 12 1899, 12

The earliest source of the quotation about Wilde
drinking Whitman's wine "had it been vinegar".

A Second Meeting

When Wilde learned he was scheduled to lecture again in Philadelphia on May 10, he inquired about Whitman's whereabouts, and then wrote to him to ask if another meeting could be arranged.

See partial manuscript letter.

The second meeting duly took place on May 10, 1882, as evidenced by Charles Godfrey Leland in his journal—see details at Wilde's second lecture in Philadelphia.

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