- Wilde in Omaha
Since the overseas reports of Oscar Wilde's premature death, in Paris, at age forty–six, I have experienced pangs of grief and loss, and have felt the need to memorialize our gladsome meeting eighteen years ago in a fuller way than the exigencies of news-paper journalism permitted at the time. I shall leave to posterity this record, hoping that some may consider it a fitting tribute to a man of literary genius who achieved greatness and also disgrace, but whose hours in Omaha still constitute, for many of us, a high point in our lives.
Initial Impressions of the Aesthetic Poet
I originally sought out the famous Mr. Wilde just after his lecture on "The English Renaissance" at the Academy of Music in Sioux City, but some of Iowa's finer sort spirited him off like a petit roi to some Lucullan feast of the night and it was left to this reporter to find him in the Hubbard House at his rising in the morn. So it was in the milky light of sunup on Tuesday, March 21st, 1882, the first day of spring, that I first met the aesthetic poet and leader of the so-called "Artistic Movement."
Wilde was lolling in the gray haze of a cigarette on the hotel's patch-quilted bed, but was fully dressed in patent-leather shoes and a great, green, ankle-length coat whose collar and cuffs were trimmed with an otter fur that also formed the turban on his head. Underneath his coat was a white linen Lord Byron shirt and a sea blue scarf he'd tied at his neck like a sailor. On his right, littlest finger was a great seal ring with a cameo of a classic Athenian face. Wilde was then a soft, pleasant innocent of twenty-seven, though he only owned up to being twenty-five. I was twenty-three.
I handed him my card from the Omaha Daily Herald.
"Oh, I'm so glad you've come," he averred in a sigh, his timbre deep, his pacing languid. "There are a hundred things I want not [End Page 5] to say to you." Reading the card again, he said, "Robert Murphy. Are you called Bob?"
"I shall call you Bobby. Reporters so often remind me of the Metropolitan Police."
"I do hope you won't think I'm prying."
"Certainly not, Bobby. I am the only person in the world I should like to know thoroughly. But I don't see any chance of it just at present."
Entering his quarters was a strong, young, Negro valet whose name was W. M. Traquair or Traquier. I failed to spell it out in my notes. But I recall that as he in haste filled Wilde's gripsacks and portmanteau, Wilde introduced us and speculated that the name's origin may have been in the French noun traqueur, for those who thrash out game in a hunt. Wilde shook his fist in a facsimile of irritation. "But I shall thrash him, if he's not deferential!"
His valet continued his folding and cramming.
Seeing my shorthand, Wilde took the opportunity to say his own name was properly Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde. (At Oxford, I learned, he signed his papers "O.F.O.F.W.W.")
"And here I was going to call you plain Oscar."
"Don't be ridiculous. Would anyone, least of all my dear mother Speranza, christen me plain Oscar?" He tapped his shortening cigarette's ashes into a Japanese teacup. "I suppose as I continue to rise in lofty eminence I shall shed my names, just as a balloonist sheds ballast, and finally be called simply Wilde."
"We're ready for the train, Mr. Simply," said Traquier.
"Oh, how could I function without him?" Wilde asked this reporter. "In a free country one cannot live without a slave."
Surprisingly, his valet found that amusing. But it was possibly an old joke, for they'd been journeying westward together since the Irishman's first lecture on January 9th at New York City's Chickering Hall.
When Wilde got up and stabbed out his...