Lot 310
  • 310


25,000 - 30,000 USD
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Autograph letter signed ("Oscar Wilde"). 8 pages on 2 bifolia of different sizes (the smaller one, 9 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.; 253 x 202 mm. — the larger one, 10 5/8 x 8 5/8 in.; 270 x 220 mm), with ink sketch on the first page, Kansas City, Missouri, [17 April 1882], to Fanny Bernard-Beere; both bifolia with vertical and horizontal folds, some soiling, larger bifolia with some browning at margins.  


Miss M. J. Meacham (AAA Anderson Galleries, 21 March 1917, lot 1333) — "A N. Y. Collector" (Parke-Bernet, 19 November 1946, lot 596)


Holland and Hart-Davis, Complete Letters (2000), pp 161–162


Condition as described in catalogue.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Mormons, miners, Whistler, and Botticelli: one of Oscar Wilde's greatest letters, written from Kansas City during his lecture tour of America. This letter was known to the editors of The Complete Letters only through an inaccurate text and faulty rendering of the drawing published in Martin Birnbaum's Oscar Wilde, Fragments and Memories (1920). The published version of the letter omits a few words, incorrectly transcribes a few others, and ignores Wilde's punctuation and paragraph breaks.

The letter was written to actress Fanny Bernard-Beere, who had been Wilde's choice for the title role in the proposed London production of Vera, which had to be cancelled. She went on to originate the role of Mrs. Arbuthnot in A Woman of No Importance. 

This remarkable letter to "My dear Bernie," opens with Wilde's Salt Lake City lecture, delivered 11 April 1882: "I have lectured to the Mormons: the Opera House at Salt Lake City is an enormous affair about the size of Covent Garden and holds with ease fourteen families. They sit like this [then follows a humorous drawing depicting the multiplicity of Mormon wives as they were grouped in his audience] and are very ugly. The president [John Taylor, third president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], a nice old man, sat with five wives in the stage box, I visited him in the afternoon and saw a charming daughter of his."

Wilde omits his 12 April visit to Denver and proceeds to his celebrated 13 April visit to Leadville, Colorado, his lecture to the miners there at the Tabor Grand Opera House and visit to the Matchless mine. "I have also lectured at Leadville the great mining city in the Rocky Mountains, we took a whole day to get up to it on a narrow gauge railway, 14.000 feet in height: my audience was entirely miners; their make up excellent: red-shirts and blonde beards …. I spoke to them of the early Florentines, and they slept as though no crime had ever stained the ravines of their mountain home, I described to them the pictures of Botticelli and the name, which seemed to them like a new drink, roused them from their dreams, but when I told them in my boyish[?] eloquence of 'the secret of Botticelli' the strong men wept like children, their sympathy touched me and I approached modern art, and had almost won them over to a real reverence for what is beautiful when unluckily I described one of Jimmy Whistler's 'nocturnes in blue and gold'. Then they leaped to their feet and in their grand simple way swore that such things should not be, some of the younger ones pulled their revolvers out and left hurriedly to see if Jimmy was 'prowling about the saloons' or 'wrastling a hash' at an eating shop. Had he been there I fear he would have been killed, Their feeling was so bitter on the street. Their enthusiasm satisfied me and I ended my lecture there." 

After the lecture, Wilde was taken to the Matchless mine by Governor Horace Austin Warner Tabor, owner of the mine: "Then I found the Governor of the state waiting in a bullock wagon to bring me down the great silver mine of the world, the 'Matchless'. so off we drove, the miners carrying torches before us till we came to the shaft, and were shot down in buckets (I of course true to my principle being graceful even in a bucket) and down in the great gallery of the mine, the walls and ceilings glittering with metal ore, was spread a banquet for us: the amazement of the miners when they saw that Art and Appetite could go hand in hand knew no bounds, when I lit a long cigar they cheered till the silver fell in dust from the roof on our plates, and when I quaffed a cocktail without flinching they unanimously pronounced me in their grand simple way 'a bully boy with no glass eye' — artless and spontaneous praise which touched me more than the pompous panegyrics of literary critics ever did or could. Then I had to open a new vein, or lode, which with a silver drill I brilliantly performed amidst unanimous applause. The silver drill was presented to me and the lode named 'The Oscar'. I had hoped that in their simple grand way they would have offered me shares in the the 'Oscar', but in their artless untutored fashion they did not, only the silver drill remains as a memory of my night at Leadville." 

A long and compelling Wilde letter written during his American tour, not seen for over seventy years and not examined first-hand by the editors of his letters