1899 Oscar Wilde Manuscript Poem | Charleston, SC Hr 2 Preview


APPRAISER: I really appreciate you bringing
in this wonderful manuscript poem by Oscar Wilde today. Why don’t you tell us what you
know about its history? GUEST: I worked for a woman when I was in
college taking care of show dogs that she had. She approached me one day and she said,
“I know you’re an English major, you’d like this,” and she handed it to me. APPRAISER: Do you know much about where she
would have acquired it? Was it a relative or something? GUEST: Her father-in-law was the man referred
to here as “for Christian.” He was a newspaper reporter at one time in the late part of the
1800s and covered the Dreyfus trial in Paris, and that’s where I believe he met Wilde. APPRAISER: So it’s inscribed on the bottom
here “for Christian.” As we understand, it was Christian Gauss who received the poem. GUEST: That’s right. APPRAISER: And he became a fairly important
professor and dean of the college at Princeton, wildly renowned person. But as you say, he
was in Paris apparently in 1899 for the Dreyfus trial and wrote articles for The Nation, and
by repute, had met Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde, one of the most important Irish poets of the
late 19th century, playwright, wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol and The Importance of Being
Earnest, and persecuted for his homosexual lifestyle. At first, it appeared that it might
have been an unpublished poem because the title here, “Ideal Love: A Sonnet,” is not
a title that’s recorded in the literature as a poem by Wilde. But I discovered the text
of the poem is actually quite a well-known and very famous poem by Wilde called “The
New Remorse,” which he wrote in 1891 for his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. It’s a very powerful,
evocative love poem in essence, but it’s layered with elements of guilt and remorse. So the
first line, “The sin was mine, I did not understand. So now is music prisoned in her cave.” A concealment
of the homoerotic love affair he was having with Douglas. Now, this is incredibly important
because eventually, he sued for libel– Douglas’s father– and in turn was accused of gross
indecency, and eventually put to trial, convicted, and he went to jail for two years of hard
labor that really broke his spirit. After being released from jail, he went to Europe,
reunited with Douglas, but he eventually ended up in Paris destitute, and we know very little
about his time when he was in Paris. And this is essentially his last year alive. He died
in 1900 at the L’Hotel in Paris basically penniless. So the fact that this was written
in 1899 to Mr. Gauss at a place called La Varenne… We’re not sure where that may be–
there is a hotel La Varenne. The most important thing though, I think, is that he’s taken
this poem he wrote for his first lover that was layered with remorse and guilt, and has
renamed it, “Ideal Love: A Sonnet.” It’s almost as if he’s reinterpreted his own words. Now,
after having gone through the trial and prison, and actually at this point been separated
from his lover with a new kind of positive look on the words that he had written some
ten years before. So it’s a fascinating piece of history. Have you ever had it researched
for value or any other purpose? GUEST: I shopped it around years ago and someone
said they thought it could be worth $6,000, $5,000. APPRAISER: Well, he did do a number of commemorative
pieces for people of major poems, so they do come on the marketplace. In fact, what
was purported to be the first draft of this very poem has recently sold at auction. I
think this example is beautiful, I think it’s in wonderful shape, and given its historic
importance near the end of his life, I would put an auction estimate conservatively of
$10,000 to $15,000 today. GUEST: Great, great.

2 thoughts on “1899 Oscar Wilde Manuscript Poem | Charleston, SC Hr 2 Preview

  1. The significance and context of this Oscar Wilde manuscript poem is fully discussed here:
    https://oscarwildeinamerica.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/three-times-tried/

    John Cooper
    Oscar Wilde In America

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