I Have Nothing To Declare Except My Genius

Oscar Wilde? Stuart Mason? Christopher Sclater Millard? Robert Ross? Elizabeth P. O’Connor? Arthur Ransome? Frank Harris? Sylvestre Dorian? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend, the famous wit Oscar Wilde delivered a comically audacious line when he first entered the United States during his lecture tour. A customs official in New York asked him if he had anything to declare, and he supposedly replied:

I have nothing to declare but my genius.

Would you please explore the provenance of this remark?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde entered New York in January 1882. Yet, the earliest evidence of the quip known to QI appeared in 1910. The phrasing has varied over time. Often it has been presented from a third person perspective. Here is a summary with dates:

1910: I have nothing to declare except my genius
1912: He had nothing to declare except his genius
1912: He had nothing to declare but his genius
1913: I have nothing to declare but my genius
1917: He had nothing to declare save his genius
1917: He had nothing to declare but genius
1918: Nothing—except—my genius
1923: Only my genius
1925: Nothing but my genius
1934: I have nothing but my genius to declare

The remark appeared within “The Oscar Wilde Calendar” of 1910 compiled by Stuart Mason, a pseudonym for Christopher Sclater Millard. For each day of the year a quotation ascribed to Wilde was presented, and the following appeared for January 4th. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1910, The Oscar Wilde Calendar: A Quotation from the Works of Oscar Wilde for Every Day in the Year with Some Unrecorded Sayings Selected by Stuart Mason (Christopher Sclater Millard), Quotation for … Continue reading

At the New York Custom House: “I have nothing to declare except my genius.”

Millard mentioned Robert Ross in the acknowledgement section of the calendar. Ross was a close friend and literary executor of Wilde. He may have supplied the quotation to Millard:[2]1910, The Oscar Wilde Calendar: A Quotation from the Works of Oscar Wilde for Every Day in the Year with Some Unrecorded Sayings Selected by Stuart Mason, Section: Acknowledgement, Quote Page 91, … Continue reading

Many quotations are made from works little known to the general reader. Some are taken from unpublished manuscripts, others are traditional. For many of the latter the compiler is indebted to the courtesy of Mr Robert Ross.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Have Nothing To Declare Except My Genius

References

References
1 1910, The Oscar Wilde Calendar: A Quotation from the Works of Oscar Wilde for Every Day in the Year with Some Unrecorded Sayings Selected by Stuart Mason (Christopher Sclater Millard), Quotation for January Four, Quote Page 7, Frank Palmer, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
2 1910, The Oscar Wilde Calendar: A Quotation from the Works of Oscar Wilde for Every Day in the Year with Some Unrecorded Sayings Selected by Stuart Mason, Section: Acknowledgement, Quote Page 91, Frank Palmer, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

I Am Dying, As I Have Lived, Beyond My Means

Oscar Wilde? Robert Ross? Frank Harris? Hesketh Pearson? Josiah Flynt? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend, Oscar Wilde was resting with his eyes closed on his deathbed when two physicians began discussing the necessity of a very expensive operation to extend his life. Wilde opened his eyes and said:

I suppose that I shall have to die beyond my means.

Another version of the tale states that the ailing and impoverished wit was enjoying a convivial meal with friends in Paris when he asked for a bottle of champagne. When it was brought he declared:

I am dying, as I have lived, beyond my means.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died on November 30, 1900. The strongest evidence known to QI appeared in a letter dated December 14, 1900 that was sent from Robert Ross to More Adey. Ross was a close friend of Wilde’s who saw him frequently during his final days in Paris. Adey was an English art critic and editor. The ellipses in the following passage were present in the published text. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1916, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions by Frank Harris, Volume 2 of 2, Section: Appendix, Letter from Robert Ross to More Adey, Date: December 14, 1900, Quote Page 596, Brentano’s, New … Continue reading

On October 25th, my brother Aleck came to see him, when Oscar was in particularly good form. His sister-in-law, Mrs. Willie, and her husband, Texeira, were then passing through Paris on their honeymoon, and came at the same time. On this occasion he said he was “dying above his means” . . . . he would never outlive the century . . . . the English people would not stand him—he was responsible for the failure of the Exhibition, the English having gone away when they saw him there so well-dressed and happy . . .

Wilde’s quip used the word “above” instead of “beyond” in this version of the tale. The “Exhibition” was a reference to the Paris Exhibition of 1900 which was held between April and November.

Common advice states that one should make a budget and not overspend, i.e., one should not live beyond one’s means. Wilde’s humorous wordplay was based on twisting this guidance.

Ross’s letter was published in the 1916 book “Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions” by Frank Harris. The missive also appeared in “The Letters of Oscar Wilde” edited by Rupert Hart-Davis which was published in 1962.[2]1962, The Letters of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Rupert Hart-Davis, Epilogue, Letter from Robert Ross to More Adey, Date: December 14, 1900, (Text from Frank Harris, vol.2, pp. 595-603), Quote Page 847 … Continue reading

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am Dying, As I Have Lived, Beyond My Means

References

References
1 1916, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions by Frank Harris, Volume 2 of 2, Section: Appendix, Letter from Robert Ross to More Adey, Date: December 14, 1900, Quote Page 596, Brentano’s, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
2 1962, The Letters of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Rupert Hart-Davis, Epilogue, Letter from Robert Ross to More Adey, Date: December 14, 1900, (Text from Frank Harris, vol.2, pp. 595-603), Quote Page 847 and 848, Published by Rupert Hart-Davis, London. (Verified on paper)