Sunday, December 10, 2017

BOOK: Oscar Wilde, "Journalism"

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume 6: Journalism Part I. Ed. by John Stokes and Mark W. Turner. Oxford University Press, 2013. 019811964X. lxiii + 430 pp.

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume 7: Journalism Part II. Ed. by John Stokes and Mark W. Turner. Oxford University Press, 2013. 0198119631. xii + 622 pp.

Wilde's journalism is that part of his work with which I have until now been more or less completely unfamiliar. I was vaguely aware that he used to do some work of that sort — I read a couple biographies of Wilde, and they mentioned that he used to write various reviews and short essays for magazines, and he even worked as the editor of a women's magazine for a few years. But I never actually read any of his journalism, unless you include essays such as those in Intentions, which are based on things that he initially published in magazines.

Of course, in a way this is hardly surprising; newspaper articles, reviews and the like are usually considered to be very ephemeral things and don't tend to get reprinted much. Judging by the introductory material in this volume, the only previous publication of Wilde's journalism in book form was in Robert Ross's 1908 edition of Wilde's collected works, and even that edition doesn't contain all of the pieces that appear in the present two volumes.

These two volumes contain 168 short pieces, on average about three pages long; most of them are reviews of books and theatre performances, some also of art exhibitions, and the rest are short essays on various other subjects. I've found this to be the sort of stuff that gets boring in large quantities, but can be quite interesting if you read it in small amounts at a time. Wilde's writing here has many of the same qualities that make his fiction such a delight to read, with plenty of witty epigrams and aphorisms, generous amounts of sarcasm, and the like. Occasionally you encounter ideas and expressions that Wilde would later re-use in some bit of fiction, where they became better known (see a few examples below).

Probably my favorite part of the collection were Wilde's book reviews; some of the books he reviewed sound interesting enough that I'm tempted to want to read them myself. Some of his reviews are delightfully sarcastic, but often he also strikes me as being admirably charitable, and makes an effort to point out the good things in a book even if as a whole he didn't like it.

I was also impressed by the editors' comments at the end of the book, which must have taken an enormous amount of effort. For example, Wilde's book reviews often quote short bits of text from the books he reviewed; but just as often, Wilde merely paraphrases something from the book without specifically indicating that he's doing so. The editors seem to have gone very carefully through all the books that Wilde had reviewed, and they mercilessly hunted down all such quotations and paraphrases, and provided page references in their notes at the end of this volume.

Similarly, Wilde's theatrical reviews often mention the names of actors that appeared in that particular performance, and the editors always make an effort to provide some more information about those actors in the notes — at least their year of birth and death, although in some cases they weren't able to find any such information about this or that obscure actor.

It was also interesting to read the notes to Wilde's reviews of art exhibitions. The editors tried to trace the present whereabouts of the paintings that Wilde mentions in his reviews, and sadly it often turns out that some of these paintings have been lost by now, or at least their whereabouts are now unknown.

The editors' introduction contains among other things an interesting discussion on the difficulties of discovering the newspaper contributions of a particular author, since many articles in 19th-century newspapers weren't signed. “[I]t was the custom of Pall Mall editors [. . .] to mark up runs of the paper, identifying contributors of anonymous items in order to indicate payment.” A large archive of this sort of material was preserved until the 1950s, when “this treasure trove had been offered to the Superintendent of the British Library Newspaper Library, who, in his wisdom, had declined the offer”, and the whole archive was promptly sent to the garbage dump. (See vol. 6, p. lvi for more on this sad story.)

As a last resort, one can try carefully reading unsigned articles to see if they have any stylistic similarities with a particular author, such as Wilde. A few articles discovered in this way, which might be by Wilde on the basis of style, are included at the end of Vol. 7 as “dubia”; the editors included very interesting notes pointing out exactly which passages include typically Wildean stylistic constructs.

Snark, glorious snark

“Dr. Donaldson's article on Byzantine Literature is as interesting as any account of a literature written entirely by mediocrities could be” (vol. 6, p. 23).

On Whistler: “For that he is indeed one of the very greatest masters of painting, is my opinion. And I may add that in this opinion Mr. Whistler himself entirely concurs.” (Vol. 6, p. 36.) And from a later article: “Mr. Whistler always spelt art, and we believe still spells it, with a capital ‘I.’ ” (Vol. 7, p. 156.)

“The nineteenth century may be a prosaic age, but we fear that, if we are to judge by the general run of novels, it is not an age of prose.” (Vol. 6, p. 61.)

“Mr. Armstrong also carefully observes the rules of decorum, and, as he promises his readers in a preface, keeps quite clear of ‘the seas of sensual art.’ In fact, an elderly maiden lady could read this volume without a blush, a thrill, or even an emotion.” (Vol. 6, p. 67.)

“Doctor Goodchild seems to be an ardent disciple of Mr. Browning, and though he may not be able to reproduce the virtues of his master, at least he can echo his defects very cleverly.” (Vol. 6, p. 68.)

“Mr. E. O. Pleydell-Bouverie has endowed the novel-writing fraternity with a new formula for the composition of titles. After ‘J. S.; or Trivialities,’ there is no reason why we should not have ‘A. B.; or Platitudes,’ ‘M. N.; or Sentimentalisms,’ ‘Y. Z.; or Inanities.’ There are many books which these simple titles would characterize much more aptly than any high-flown phrases—as aptly, in fact, as Mr. Bouverie's title characterizes the volume before us.” (Vol. 6, p. 70.)

“The book can be read without any trouble, and was probably written without any trouble also. The style is prattling and pleasing.” (Vol. 6, p. 87.)

From the review of a volume of poems written by two tramps: “we are sorry to see that that disregard of the rights of property which always characterizes the able-bodied vagrant is extended by our tramps from the defensible pilfering from hen roosts to the indefensible pilfering from poets. [. . .] we feel that bad as poultry-snatching is, plagiarism is worse. [. . .] From highway robbery and crimes of violence one sinks gradually to literary petty larceny” (vol. 6, p. 96).

“Mr. Quilter is the apostle of the middle classes, and we are glad to welcome his gospel. After having listened so long to the Don Quixotes of art, to listen once to Sancho Panza is both salutary and refreshing.” (Vol. 6, p. 108.) Later in the same review: “How valuable also in connection with house decoration is Sententia No. 351: ‘There is nothing furnishes a room like a book-case, and plenty of books in it’! How cultivated the mind that thus raises literature to the position of upholstery, and puts thought on a level with the antimacassar! [. . .] Mr. Quilter is quite earnest in his endeavours to elevate art to the dignity of manual labour.” (P. 110.)

“There are two ways of misunderstanding a poem. One is to misunderstand it, and the other is to praise it for qualities that it does not possess. The latter is Mr. Noel's method” (vol. 6, p. 113). By the way, a similar and more widely known epigram attributed to Wilde is: “There are two ways to dislike poetry: one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.” This one appears widely on the web, but I couldn't find out where exactly it's from; according to this article from Notes and Queries, it's from a letter (p. 482 in the 1962 ed. of Wilde's letters).

“Still it is a thoroughly well-intentioned book and eminently suitable for invalids. (Vol. 6, p. 129.)

“They [i.e. remarks on the Greek Drama] show a want of knowledge that must be the result of years of study.” (Vol. 6, p. 141.)

“We are sorry too to find an English dramatic critic misquoting Shakespeare, as we had always been of opinion that this was a privilege reserved specially for our English actors.” (Vol. 6, p. 148.)

“Mr. Campbell leads off by apostrophizing the Muses as—// These cultured sprites/ Who occupied, of yore, Olympus' heights,// and they do not seem to have been propitiated by this novel form of address.” (Vol. 6, p. 164.)

“Such novels as Scamp are possibly more easy to write than they are to read.” (Vol. 6, p. 183.)

“Dull as Tiff is—and its dulness is quite remarkable—it does not deserve so detestable a binding.” (Vol. 6, p. 184.)

“In discussing this important question of conversation, he has not merely followed the scientific method of Aristotle, which is perhaps, excusable, but he has adopted the literary style of Aristotle, for which no excuse is possible.” (Vol. 7, p. 35.)

Wilde quotes the following passage from Bella Duffy's Life of Madame de Staël, about Staël's novel Corinne: “It is extremely moral, deeply sentimental, and of a deadly earnestness — three characteristics which could not fail to recommend it to a dreary and ponderous generation, the most deficient in taste that ever trod the earth.” (Vol. 7, p. 61.)

“ ‘The Chronicle of Mites’ is a mock-heroic poem about the inhabitants of a decaying cheese [. . .] This cheese-epic is a rather unsavory production, and the style is, at times, so monstrous and so realistic that the author should be called the Gorgon-Zola of literature.” (Vol. 7, p. 68.)

“It is a curious fact that the worst work is always done with the best intentions, and that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves very seriously.” (Vol. 7, p. 81.)

“ ‘Andiadorocté’ is the title of a volume of poems by the Rev. Clarence Walworth, of Albany, N.Y. It is a word borrowed from the Indians, and should, we think, be returned to them as soon as possible.” (Vol. 7, p. 102.)

“Dr. Cockle tells us that Müllner's ‘Guilt’ and the ‘Ancestress’ of Grillparzer are the masterpieces of German Fate-tragedy. His translation of the first of these two masterpieces does not make us long for any further acquaintance with the school.” (Vol. 7, p. 193. This is from article No. 123, in which Wilde reviews 9 volumes of more or less bad poetry by various authors, and in fact the entire article is delightfully sarcastic.)

“An eminent Oxford theologian once remarked that his only objection to modern progress was that it progressed forward instead of backward” (vol. 7, p. 237).

“But I must not allow this brief notice of Mr. Pater's new volume to degenerate into an autobiography. I remember being told in America that whenever Margaret Fuller wrote an essay upon Emerson the printers had always to send out to borrow some additional capital ‘I's,’ and I feel it right to accept this transatlantic warning.” (Vol. 7, p. 244.)

“ ‘A World in White, and other Poems,’ are eminently respectable products of the clerical school of versifying. They are doubtless much esteemed in the author's parish.” (Vol. 7, pp. 304–5.)

“Many literary sins have been committed in the name of elocution, but none deadlier than Mr. F. G. Webb's ‘Original Ballads.’ ” (Vol. 7, pp. 305.)

Miscellaneous interesting things in vol. 6

In an 1884 article, Wilde writes: “beauty, as some one finely said, is the purgation of all superfluities” (vol. 6, p. 32). The editors' note on p. 233 says this idea is from Michelangelo, though Wilde probably got it via Emerson. Perhaps this was also the inspiration for an even more famous quote from Saint-Exupéry: “perfection is attained, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away”.

A nice aphorism from Baudelaire, quoted by Wilde in vol. 6, p. 39: “A man can live for three days without bread, but no man can live for one day without poetry”. He reused it in a later review as well (vol. 7, p. 51).

There's an 1885 article with an interesting discussion of Shakespeare's views of stage-scenery: “it is impossible to read him without seeing that he is constantly protesting against the two special limitations of the Elizabethan stage, the lack of suitable scenery, and the fashion of men playing women's parts” (vol. 6, p. 42). One way of dealing with that was to include more picturesque descriptions of the scene into the text of the play itself, and Wilde suggests that we might count ourselves lucky that he didn't have access to better stage machinery, or we would now be deprived of such picturesque passages in his plays (vol. 6, p. 43).

I guess this whole thing should be understood as part of a discussion on how Shakespeare's plays should be performed in the modern day. Wilde concludes: “let those critics, who hold up for our admiration the simplicity of the Elizabethan stage, remember that they are lauding a condition of things against which Shakespeare himself [. . .] always strongly protested” (vol. 6, p. 44).

There's an interesting phrase on p. 49, in a description of over-acting: “unless he has sawn the air with his hand, mouthed his lines, torn his passion to tatters, and out-Heroded Herod”. I haven't heard of ‘sawing the air’ before, but it sounds wonderfully evocative. I guess it's something similar to what tvtropes nowadays calls ‘milking the giant cow’.

A delightfully aesthetic passage from a theatrical review: “Through an alley of white hawthorn and gold laburnum we passed into the green pavilion that served as the theatre, the air sweet with the odour of the lilac and with the blackbird's song;” (vol. 6, p. 57). This almost sounds like something from the beginning of Dorian Gray. It's a nice example of how Wilde's style in the reviews prefigures that of his later literary work.

A wonderful phrase for taking out of context: “nothing that one can learn is ever worth learning” (vol. 6, p. 62). Taken in context, it's a bit less delightfully outrageous: “the appreciation of literature is a question of temperament not of teaching, to Parnassus there is no primer, and nothing that one can learn is ever worth learning”. Wilde would later write similarly in his review of Chuang Tsǔ, summarizing some of the ideas of that philosopher as: “true wisdom can neither be learnt nor taught”. And it reminds me a little of Lord Fermor's line in chapter 3 of Dorian Gray: “If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him.”

An interesting explanation of art for art's sake, in a review of the letters of George Sand: “Perhaps she valued good intentions in art a little too much, and she hardly understood that art for art's sake is not meant to express the final cause of art but is merely a formula of creation” (vol. 6, p. 65).

There's an interesting review of a performance of Shelley's The Cenci in 1886 (No. 32, vol. 6, pp. 77–8). The incest-themed subject matter of the play clashed with various anti-obscenity laws, so the organizers had to make use of a loophole: the Shelley Society organized the performance as a private event for their own members, and thus it didn't count as a public performance for the purposes of the law (see vol. 5, p. 34). But Wilde's review is a bit lazy, as more than half of the review consists of quotations from Shelley.

From an 1886 review: “A steady course of Balzac reduces our living friends to shadows, and our acquaintances to the shadows of shades. Who would care to go out to an evening party to meet Tomkins, the friend of one's boyhood, when one can sit at home with Lucien de Rubempré?” (Vol. 6, p. 89.) He would later reuse this in The Decay of Lying (see vol. 6, p. 295; and vol. 4, p. 375).

From the review of an anthology which had apparently been badly mauled by numerous misprints: “A poet can survive everything but a misprint.” (Vol. 6, p. 99.)

There's a very interesting discussion of nihilism in an 1887 review (vol. 6, p. 159). Similar ideas can later be found in The Decay of Lying (see vol. 6, p. 271.)

An editorial comment in vol. 6, p. 248 mentions that “W[ilde]'s most famous comment on Raffalovich is that ‘he came to London to found a salon and succeeded only in founding a saloon’ (H & H-D, 255–6)”. He seems to have reused the same idea in chapter 1 of Dorian Gray, where Lord Henry says: “My dear fellow, she tried to found a salon, and only succeeded in opening a restaurant.”

There's a very funny poem by E. W. Bowling, quoted in the editorial comments (vol. 6, p. 247–8) to Wilde's review of Bowling's book Sagittulae. In the poem, a very Aesthetic young woman addresses her wanna-be suitor: “ Art thou soulful? Art thou tuneful? Can'st thou weep o'er nature's woes?/ Art thou redolent of Ruskin? Dost thou love a yellow rose?/ Hast thou bathed in emanations from the canvass of Burne Jones?/ As thou gazest at a Whistler, doth it whistle wistful tones?” etc. :)

On dress reform

Some of the early articles in this collection are on the subject of fashion and “dress reform”, which was apparently of much interest to Wilde and even more to his wife Constance, who was active in the Rational Dress Society (see vol. 6, pp. 228–9). Much of what he writes seems surprisingly sensible. His main ideas are that clothing should be comfortable, that it should pose no undue constraints on the wearer's motion, and that it should be designed with an understanding of the inherent beauty of the human figure.

“[T]he beauty of a dress depends entirely and absolutely on the loveliness it shields, and on the freedom and motion that it does not impede./ From this it follows that there can be no beauty of national costume until there is a national knowledge of the proportions of the human form. To Greek and Roman such knowledge came naturally from the gymnasium and the palæstra, from the dance inthe meadow and the race by the stream. We must acquire it by the employment of art in education.” (Vol. 7, p. 584.)

“And, after all, what is a fashion? From the artistic point of view, it is usually a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months. From the point of view of science, it not unfrequently violates every law of health, every principle of hygiene.” (From an 1887 article; vol. 7, p. 10.) Wilde reused this idea several times; apparently it originated in his 1884 lecture on dress (see the editors' note in vol. 7, p. 333). See also this very interesting website which points out that Wilde's first use of this quip in print occurred in an 1885 article; It was recently published in John Cooper's book Oscar Wilde on Dress, CSM Press, 2013, and it's also included in Vol. 7 as Appendix II.

On lumpy flowers

In the editors' notes in vol. 6, pp. 249–50 there's a very funny exchange of letters concerning the pronunciation of the word “tuberose”. This is the name of a flower and appeared in the title of a book of poems, Tuberose and Meadowsweet, by André Raffalovich. Wilde reviewed it (p. 46) and complained about the fact that Raffalovich used the word as if it had three syllables, rather than two. Raffalovich replied with a letter pointing out that it does in fact have three syllables, since the name comes “from the Latin tuberosus, the lumpy flower” (p. 259) and has nothing to do with tubes or roses. He even cites a passage from Shelley's poem The Woodman and the Nightingale where it's used as trisyllabic. This view was supported by letters to the editor from several other readers.

Wilde replied in his characteristic style: “I am deeply distressed to hear that tuberose is so called from its being a ‘lumpy flower.’ It is not at all lumpy, and, even if it were, no poet should be heartless enough to say so. Henceforth, there really must be two derivations for every word, one for the poet, and one for the scientist. [. . .] [The poet will] leave to the man of science horrid allusions to its supposed lumpiness, and indiscreet revelations of its private life below ground. On the roots of verbs Philology may be allowed to speak, but on the roots of flowers she must keep silence. We cannot allow her to dig up Parnassus.” (P. 250.)

Wilde even cites another poem by Shelley (The Sensitive Plant), where he says the word is used as a disyllabic one. But from reading this second poem by Shelley, it isn't obvious to me that you can really say anything definite about the number of syllables in that word. This poem doesn't seem to have such a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables; there are four stressed syllables per line, but there are variously one or two unstressed syllables before each stressed syllable, in no definite pattern. In fact this poem strikes me as more suitable for singing than reading. You could easily read “tuberose” there as either two- or three-syllabic, it's just that in the trisyllabic version you'd have to pronounce the first two syllables a bit faster.

Miscellaneous interesting things in vol. 7

From an 1888 review: “As for George Meredith, who could hope to reproduce him? His style is chaos illumined by brilliant flashes of lightning. As a writer he has mastered everything, except language; as a novelist he can do everything, except tell a story; as an artist he is everything, except articulate.” (Vol. 7, p. 47. Wilde later reused this in The Decay of Lying; see also the editors' note on p. 369.)

There's a very funny short article called “London Models” (No. 111, from 1889) about people who make a living by being hired by painters to pose as models for their paintings. “Every country now has its own models, except America. In New York, and even in Boston, a good model is so great a rarity that most of the artists are reduced to painting Niagara and millionaires.” (Vol. 7, p. 133.) And: “ ‘What do you sit for?’ said a young artist to a model who had sent him in her card (all models by the way have cards and a small black bag). ‘Oh, for anything you like sir,’ said the girl, ‘landscape if necessary!’ (Vol. 7, p. 134.)

There's an interesting article about the Chinese philosopher Chuang Tsǔ; Wilde reviewed a translation of his works into English (vol. 7, pp. 237–43) and includes a summary of his ideas. Tsu seems to be quite an unusual thinker. “He sought to destroy society, as we know it, as the middle classes know it; and the sad thing is that he combines with the passionate eloquence of a Rousseau the scientific reasoning of a Herbert Spencer” (p. 238); Tsu objected to government, philantropy, education, etc. The way he's described here strikes me as a weird sort of anarcho-libertarian :S

There's a very pretty love-sonnet by Laurence Binyon, quoted in its entirety by Wilde in his review of Primavera, a book of poems by Binyon and three other authors (vol. 7, p. 251).

After Tennyson's death in 1892, it apparently took several years to appoint a new Poet Laureate. Wilde wrote in 1895 (No. 137): “Mr. Swinburne is already the Poet Laureate of England. The fact that his appointment to this high post has not been degraded by official confirmation renders his position all the more unassailable. He whom all poets love is the Poet Laureate always.” (Vol. 7, p. 252.) According to the Wikipedia, the appointment was eventually given to Alfred Austin in 1896.

There's a curious review of Wilfrid Blunt's In Vinculis, a book of poems written in prison. “Prison has had an admirable effect on Mr. Wilfrid Blunt as a poet. [. . .] To him, certainly, it has been a mode of purification.” (Vol. 7, p. 149.) And in fact Blunt himself writes in the preface of his book: “Imprisonment is a reality of discipline most useful to the modern soul, lapped as it is in physical sloth and self-indulgence. Like a sickness or a spiritual retreat is purifies and ennobles; and the soul emerges from it stronger and more self-contained.” I wonder how Wilde felt about these things later when he went to prison himself. Alas, his soul, far from emerging stronger, in fact emerged from prison completely broken.

There are quite a lot of reviews of works by Russian realist writers (Turgenyev, Tolstoi, Dostoievsky); see Nos. 34, 69, and several more in the ‘dubia’ section, meaning that they are probably but not certainly by Wilde (Nos. 151, 153, 154, 157, 158). Wilde's reviews of them tend to be fairly positive, although there's the inevitable occasional jab against realism, as e.g. in this passage from No. 151 (a review of Tolstoy's “War and Peace”, in the dubia section): “It is not a highly organic story; for the author is a realist, and, in the opinion of realists, inability to construct a plot is the strongest proof of creative genius.” (Vol. 7, p. 283.)

Also from the dubia section (No. 157), here's a curious review of a short story by Tolstoy: “ ‘The Romance of a Horse,’ otherwise a somewhat revolting sketch, is remarkable for the writer's marvellously complete knowledge of horseflesh.” (Vol. 7, p. 297.)

In a review of J. M. W. Schwartz's “The Morning of a Love, and other Poems” (1885) that is probably but not certainly by Wilde (No. 142), the reviewer cites from one of the poems: “I cast my songs upon the world,/ I know now that the world will say;/ Enough for me that I have hurled/ This burden from my heart away” and remarks: “The world will probably say very little, for it has had so many poets' heart-burdens hurled at it that it has come to regard such missiles with comparative indifference.” (Vol. 7, p. 262.)

And a later passage in the same article (now reviewing “A Book of Verses” by W. Gershom Collingwood): “There are many other echoes in the book — Wordsworthian, Tennysonian, Rossettian — and if Mr. Collingswood fails to make his mark as a poet, he may, with diligence, achieve distinction as a parodist.” (Vol. 7, p. 263.)

Another extremely funny review from the dubia section is No. 159, mercilessly mocking the style of George Saintsbury's “A History of Elizabethan Literature” (1887). “Even when Mr. Sainsbury supposes himself to be writing English he is afflicted every now and then with an odd ‘xenomania,’ to use a word he much affects. (He talks in one place of ‘a judicious xenomania’—surely a strange phenomeon.) The Elizabethan miscellanies, he tells us, ‘were literary only by paregon.’ He assures us that ‘constant catena’ of authority attributes ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ in part to Shakespeare. He speaks of ‘a jaculative genius,’ an ‘unnovercal’ stepmother, ‘variety of tentative,’ ‘ostentatious usherment and harbingery.’ Worst of all, perhaps, is his allusion to the qualities which ‘give “The Faërie Queene” its unique unicity, if such a conceit may be pardoned.’ Such a ‘conceit’—to use no harsher term—may not be pardoned.” (Vol. 7, p. 301.)

The obligatory whine section

The number of typos and similar mistakes seems to be on the rise again, but I didn't bother keeping track of them this time. A very funny typo occurs in vol. 7, p. 478, where Ferdowsi is misspelled as “Ferdowski”. There's got to be a Soviet Russia joke in there somewhere :P In vol. 6, p. 262, Chatrian is once misspelled as Chatrain.

There's also an interesting one on p. 351: “See lines 000 above” where they apparently forgot to replace the placeholder by the correct line number.

The word “Lethaen” appears in vol. 6, p. 16; I suppose it's a typo for “Lethean”; but since it occurs again in the note on p. 217, I guess that it might be a quirk in the original newspaper from which that particular article was taken.

There's “I'Enéide” in vol. 6, p. 72; I wonder how an “l” gets mistaken for an “I” unless some sort of scanning and OCR was involved at some point; well, maybe it was.

I'm similarly confused about the appearance of “xaîpe” in the text of one of Wilde's reviews in vol. 6, p. 190, and also in the corresponding editorial comment on p. 393. Surely this cannot be meant as a Latin transliteration of the Greek word, for in that case x and p would not be appropriate; I guess they simply forgot to switch to the correct font that would display something like χαιρε in Greek.

There's an odd editorial comment in vol. 6, p. 351, where “United States Minister” is glossed as “i.e. a minister of the church.” But the context of this phrase is a discussion of the presence of Americans in British high society (vol. 6, pp. 141–2): “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.” Surely the minister in question is a diplomatic representative, not a clergyman. (On the other hand, admittedly the U.S. representative in Britain would probably have been an ambassador and not a mere minister.)

In deciding which words to gloss, the editors sometimes seem to err on the side of generosity. Is it really necessary to explain what “entourage” is? (Vol. 6, p. 221.)

There's a very curious typographical oddity in vol. 7, page 54, line 97. The line is “2ND. SEMI-CHORUS” and is set in all-caps. Now, this book normally uses old-style figures (which is good), but an old-style 2 is the same size as a lower-case letter and thus doesn't look so well in a line of all-caps text. The obvious solution would be to use a modern-style figure instead, which would be the same size as an upper-case letter. But what they did in this particular case was to simply enlarge an old-style 2 to the size of a capital letter, while keeping all its proportions intact — with the unsurprising result that several parts of the figure are much too thick and the whole thing looks simply bizarre. People sometimes come up with “poor-man's small caps” by simply shrinking normal caps, but this is the first time I've encountered the reverse form of this process.

Also on the subject of typographical oddities, there are some very odd quotation marks in Nos. 139 and 140, which according to the editors' note (vol. 7, p. 527) have been “preserved from the original publication” (in the Vanity Fair magazine, 1887). Basically there are superfluous opening quotation marks inside a quotation, resulting in things like “Arabian “Nights” and “Make “me a willow cabin at your gate,” (both from vol. 7, p. 256). I wonder what this looked like in the original newspaper publication; perhaps they tried to resurrect the quaint old custom of starting each line of quoted text with an opening quotation mark. But by 1887, this custom had been obsolete for probably more than a century, perhaps two.

The extreme aversion to illustrations, which I already mentioned in my post about vol. 5, continues here. For example, one of Wilde's reviews in the Pall Mall Gazette was “accompanied by sketches of four of the sculptures in question” and these were reprinted in Ross's edition of Wilde's works (vol. 6, p. 392), but not here in the OET edition.

One annoying thing about these two books is how thick they are. Volumes 5–7 seem to have been printed on much thicker paper than volumes 1–4. Volume 6 here has just around 500 pages, but it's noticeably thicker than volume 4, which has 700 pages. Vol. 7 with 630 pages is thicker still. I'm a bit disappointed by this move towards excessively thick paper. Perhaps their idea is that it will make the books more durable, but I wonder if that's really necessary. I have several volumes that were printed by Oxford University Press at the beginning of the 20th century on what they called “India paper” — wonderfully thin, and the books are still in good shape despite being more than a hundred years old.

Interesting books reviewed by Wilde

  • Dinner and Dishes by ‘Wanderer’ (London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1885). Reviewed by Wilde in vol. 6, pp. 39–40.
  • W. G. Wills: Melchior (London: Macmillan and Co., 1885). Seems to be a narrative poem in Browning's style. Reviewed approvingly by Wilde in vol. 6, pp. 40–2.
  • Greek Lays, Idylls, Legends, &c. Translated by Miss E. M. Edmonds. (London, Trübner and Co., 1885.) Translations of *modern* Greek poems, reviewed approvingly by Wilde in vol. 6, pp. 53–4.
  • Sir Thomas Lauder: The Wolfe of Badenoch: a Historical Romance of the Fourteenth Century (1827). An 1886 reprint was reviewed by Wilde in vol. 6, p. 86. He points out that the book was popular in Sir Walter Scott's day, but Wilde and his contemporaries were turned off by its self-conscious antiquarianism.
  • Hugh Stutfield: El Magreb: Twelve Hundred Miles' Ride through Morocco. London, 1886. See Wilde's delightful and approving review in vol. 6, pp. 97–8.
  • Ernst Eckstein: Aphrodite, tr. from the German by Mary J. Safford (NY and London, 1886). A historical novel; “Eckstein is a sort of literary Tadema, and cares more for his backgrounds than he does for his figures, still he can tell a story very well” (vol. 6, p. 102).
  • Willam Morris's translation of the Odyssey (two vols., London, 1887). Glowingly reviewed by Wilde, vol. 6, pp. 154–6 (“a true work of art, a rendering not merely of language into language, but of poetry into poetry”). The style is more like something you'd expect in ancient English poetry: “But therewith unto the handmaids goodly Odysseus spake:/ ‘Stand off I bid you, damsels, while the work in hand I take,” etc.
  • Walter Pater: Imaginary Portraits. Reviewed by Wilde in vol. 6, pp. 178–80.
  • Stephen Coleridge: Demetrius (London, 1887). A historical novel set in Russia around the time of Ivan the Terrible. Reviewed approvingly by Wilde in vol. 6, pp. 181–2.
  • Caroline Fitzgerald: Venetia Vistrix (1889). A volume of poems in the style of Robert Browning. See Wilde's positive review in vol. 7, pp. 207–10.
  • [Mrs.] Graham R. Thomson: The Bird-Bride (1889). “[A] collection of romantic ballads, delicate sonnets, and metrical studies in foreign fanciful forms” (from Wilde's review, vol. 7, pp. 221–4). Includes a few imitations of border ballads.
  • Norman Macleoud: A Dutchman's Difficulties with the English Language. Mentioned in vol. 7, p. 262.
  • J. M. W. Schwartz: The Morning of a Love, and other poems (1885). Reviewed by Wilde in vol. 7, p. 262 (“as for his matter, it is rather monotonously erotic and melancholic”).
  • William Morris: A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and all the Kindreds of the Mark (1889). "[I]t is written in blended prose and verse [. . .] and tells the tale of the House of the Wolfings in their struggles against the legionaries of Rome then advancing into northern Germany” (from Wilde's review of it in vol. 7, pp. 185–7).


  • Karl Beckson: London in the 1890s: A Cultural History (NY and London, 1992). Vol. 6, p. 524.
  • Davis Coakley: Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Irish (Dublin, 1994). Vol. 6, p. 203.
  • John Cooper: Oscar Wilde on Dress (CSM Press, 2013). See Vol. 7, pp. 10, 333; includes an article by Wilde that is missing from vols. 6 and 7. See also the book's website and amazon page.
  • Regenia Gagnier: Idylls of the Marketplace: Oscar Wilde and the Victorian Public (Aldershot, 1986). Vol. 7, p. 366 (“W[ilde] was particularly astute in presenting an image for consumption by the media”).
  • Charlotte Gere with Lesley Hoskins: The House Beautiful: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Interior (London, 2000). Vol. 6, p. 199; vol. 7, p. 429.
  • Merlin Holland: The Wilde Album (London, 1997). Vol. 6, p. 232.
  • Joy Melville: Mother of Oscar: The Life of Jane Francesca Wilde (London, 1994). Vol. 6, p. 339.
  • Kevin O'Brien: Oscar Wilde in Canada (Toronto: Personal Library, 1982). Vol. 7, p. 553.
  • Richard Pine: The Thief of Reason: Oscar Wilde and Modern Ireland (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1995). Vol. 7, p. xiv.
  • Annabel Robinson: The Life and Work of Jane Ellen Harrison (Oxford, 2002). Nothing to do with Wilde really, but a separate subject of interest to me. Harrison is however mentioned in Wilde's review of a production of Alcestis in Oxford, in which Harrison also appeared in the titular role (vol. 7, p. 382).
  • Sir James Rennell Rodd: Rose Leaf and Apple Leaf (Philadelphia, 1882). He was Wilde's friend at Oxford; Wilde wrote a preface for this book of poems by Rodd (vol. 7, p. 399).
  • Edgar Saltus: Oscar Wilde: An Idler's Impression (Chicago, 1917). Wilde met Saltus during his American tour and they remained in contact (vol. 6, p. 297).
  • Tomoko Sato and Lionel Lambourne (eds): The Wilde Years: Oscar Wilde and the Art of his Time (London, 2000). Vol. 6, p. 197.
  • T. de Vere White: The Parents of Oscar Wilde (London, 1967). Vol. 6, p. 339.
  • Oscar Wilde: Irish Poets and Poetry of the Nineteenth Century: A lecture delivered in Platt's Hall, San Francisco on Wednesday, April Fifth, 1882, ed. Robert D. Pepper (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1972). Vol. 7, p. xiv.
  • Oscar Wilde: The Women of Homer, ed. Thomas Wright and Donald Mead (London, 2008). Seems to be an essay written by Wilde as a student (vol. 6, p. 209).

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