In 1881, Oscar Wilde took to the Atlantic Ocean to embark on year-long lecture tour in the USA. It was on the outward voyage to his year in an alien land where the great writer may or may not have told a customs officer; “I have nothing to declare but my genius”. We wouldn’t put it past him – the man’s silver tongue has produced its fair share of classic one-liners.
Keller cartoon from The Wasp of San Francsico on Oscar Wilde's US visit in 1882
An oddity at the best of times, Mr Wilde made quite the scene when he arrived in some of the more provincial towns of the US. Decked out in his fabrics and furs, satins and silks, turban standing proud and cane trailing elegantly behind, Oscar was a peculiar sight for America’s humbler folk. On arrival in Leadville, Colorado, a small mining town in the Rocky Mountains, you’d think the great writer would be out of his depth. We can only imagine the looks he got, and the nudges and winks aimed his way. The locals thought they’d have some fun with this odd Irishman, and invited him down the town’s silver mine to have a little fun with him. Firstly, they told him that to get down the mine, he had to use a transportation basket – basically, a rickety old bucket on a chain. Expecting him to back out with his tail between his legs, the locals misjudged the great writer. Never one to shirk a challenge, Oscar jumped into the bucket and down he went, even managing to look classy in the process – “I of course true to my principle being graceful even in a bucket."
Down the mine, Oscar really kicked off the party. The locals gave him a tour, expecting him and his fine silks to have an aversion to dirt and dust, but Oscar endured, and after the tour, Wilde made himself at home and cracked out his whiskey, his cigars and sat down to a hearty meal. The cave walls rang with laughter, the locals starting to warm to Wilde and his razor wit. A man at ease with himself, Oscar took the Irish approach to welcoming himself into the company of his new neighbours - through the Irish method of good spirit, banter and the drinking tale, Oscar earned his miner’s stripes. They drank and drank, and Oscar was the last man standing, going from target to a bit of gentle ribbing to miners hero in one fell swoop.
It goes to show, at the end of the day, a bit of wit and charms wins over all else.
Photo c/o Adobe of Chaos on flickr