Oscar Wilde’s lecture tours

Posted on April 30th, 2014 by The British Newspaper Archive

Geoff Dibb, author of Oscar Wilde – A Vagabond with a Mission, got in touch to tell us about his research and how The British Newspaper Archive has helped.

We’d love to hear about your own research experiences – email press@britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk to tell us your story.

**************

Researching Oscar Wilde in libraries

I began researching Oscar Wilde’s lecture tours of Britain and Ireland after reading a letter from Wilde, written while lecturing in Leeds. I live about 10 miles south and was amazed that this man had visited somewhere so close by.

Oscar WildeI visited the Leeds Local History Library in an effort to find out more. At this time (the late 1980s), you needed to search through enormous bound volumes of Victorian broadsheet newspapers. Often the newspapers were brittle with age and had turned a deep orange colour, their edges flaking and the pages very easily torn.

I knew the lecture date and soon found adverts and reviews of Wilde’s two lectures on that day. I began to visit libraries all over Yorkshire, finding that Wilde had visited most of our major towns and cities. Gradually I spread my net and visited libraries all over Britain.

Early finds in newspapers

Collecting information was incredibly time consuming to begin with. In the first place, I had to make the journey to the library. Sometimes I didn’t have a lecture date, so started looking in newspapers from June 1883 onwards, page after page. Poring over enormous pages of dense Victorian newsprint, looking for the words ‘Oscar’ and ‘Wilde’ becomes rather monotonous!

However, I turned up much new information and began to write articles in 1994 for the Oscar Wilde Society Journal, The Wildean.

The British Newspaper Archive as a major research resource

Help was to arrive via the internet and The British Newspaper Archive. The website has been an enormous help to me in collecting more information about the lectures I was already aware of but, importantly, also enabling me to find those so-elusive new ones.

Very soon I was downloading advertisements and reviews galore, without having to travel and by letting the search engine do all of that tedious page by page scrutiny, happier that ‘it’ was less likely to miss an entry than I was whilst squinting at dark orange newspaper pages.

Eventually, I had amassed information about more than 250 lectures Wilde gave from 1883 to 1888. I not only knew where he had been but what he had said and whom he had met. The Oscar Wilde Society has now published my book about these lectures: Oscar Wilde – A Vagabond with a Mission.

A few of the articles I have uncovered

Here are a few examples of what I have found. First, quite a detailed advertisement for a lecture in Bath:

Oscar Wilde at Bath

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Thursday 02 October 1884
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

View the whole newspaper page

 

Now and again, the advertisers went over the top to attract the public’s attention:

Oscar Wilde at Liverpool

Liverpool Mercury – Saturday 06 October 1883
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

View the whole newspaper page

 

Some of Wilde’s best-supported lectures, with audiences of up to 5,000 people, were to do with the ‘Sunday Society’. The society wanted museums and galleries to be open on a Sunday. Here we see that Wilde supported this idea:

Oscar Wilde at York

York Herald – Saturday 11 June 1887
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

View the whole newspaper page

 

**************

Visit the Oscar Wilde Society’s website to find out more and order a copy of Geoff’s book.