Friday, 25 October 2013

Oscar Wilde Explains: His Version of his Arrest at Moncton

On the 12th October 1882, Oscar Wilde arrived in Moncton, New Brunswick, to give the final lecture of his nine-day tour of the Maritimes. It didn't go to plan. There was a confusion between Wilde's agent, W. S. Husted, and representatives of the local Young Men's Christian Association. The men from the YMCA thought they had a solid contract for Wilde to appear at their next meeting, and were incensed to find that he was double-booked with a rival promoter. They had a sheriff sent to Wilde's hotel room, arrest warrant in hand.

Fortunately, it turned out that the sheriff was a sensible chap, who declined to act on the warrant. The matter was turned over to Wilde's promoters, and the lecture went ahead. Afterwards, the YMCA's lawyer demanded $100 for withdrawal of the writ. Wilde refused; $20 was offered; the lawyer refused this, and it looked likely a trial would follow. Wilde's local supporters covered his $35 appearance bond and he was free to leave Moncton.

Within a few days, as the truth emerged and it became clear that Wilde had not signed on the dotted line for the YMCA, the whole matter was dropped. But not before Wilde gave his version of events to a Bostonian journalist. The story was reprinted in the Moncton Daily Transcript on the 18th October 1882.

A lot of the news stories published during Wilde's tour are now freely available on the internet, but the Daily Transcript story isn't one of them. I recently got in touch with the Moncton Public Library and they were kind enough to dig through their microfilms and shoot me over a scan. So here it is (along with a transcription of the article, below).

Moncton Daily Transcript, 18th Oct 1882. Click to enlarge.

Oscar Wilde Explains
His Version of his Arrest at Moncton

Oscar Wilde has arrived in Boston from St John, N. B, and, in an interview Sunday afternoon at the hotel Vendome, he gave an explanation of his recent "arrest" at Moncton, N. B, as stated in Saturday's Herald. He regarded the affair as an ill-advised attempt to extort blackmail on the part of the Young Men's Christian Association of Monton.

"It seems," to us [sic] his own words, "that last week they telegraphed to my agent in Canada to ask whether I could lecture in Moncton for them on Friday night. I replied that I was engaged to deliver my second lecture at St John on Friday, and that Thursday was the only open night I had in the week. At the same time I stated my terms. No reply came for 30 hours, and then another gentleman of that town made application for me to lecture. My agent then telegraphed a second time to the Y M C A to ask them to reply immediately to the previous message. They took no notice of the telegram, and, after 48 hours elapsed, he very properly closed with the gentleman who was not connected with the Christian association.

"These latter people having ascertained that I was engaged by the other party, telegraphed to my agent to say that they would accept the offer, but the agent replied that the date was already fixed for another lecture. At my arrival at Moncton on Thursday last I was visited upon by a representative of the Y M C A and a local attorney, who asked me whether, in consideration of the disappointment to the association, I would not contribute something to the funds. I replied that I did not consider that the association had any right to make such a claim, and that I was not sufficiently interested in it to subscribe to it. On my refusal they proceeded to the under sheriff, and presented him with a writ, which they had obtained that morning, and asked him to serve it on me as I was stepping on the platform to lecture.

"The sheriff, a gentleman of some knowledge of the world, naturally declined to do anything so uncalled for and so impertinent, but called on me at my hotel and explained to me the matter. Two gentlemen of Moncton accompanied him and entered into engagements with the sheriff to prevent my being given any further annoyance. The lecture went off very successfully. After the lecture this local attorney made a definite demand on me for $100, on receipt of which he declared he would withdraw his writ. My agent by my orders, refused to accede to any such gross attempt at extortion, and the matter will proceed to trial before the local judge. Some gentlemen of the town have kindly promised to see to the matter on my behalf.

"I am glad to say that great indignation was expressed at the behavior of the association and, before I left, most of the leading citizens had withdrawn their names as members of it. The whole thing shows the immorality of most moral institutions. Such associations are usually the refuge of the provincial Joseph Surfaces. True, it afforded me an interesting insight into certainly not a very favorable side of Canadian ordinary life, and for experience one would go through a great deal, even a sudden visit from a sheriff."

Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and my comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com

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