In 1900 Wilde was living in Paris. According to Ellman, "During the summer of 1900, he had a new consolation, the International Exposition. With Maurice Gilbert he visited Rodin's studio, and the great sculptor himself showed Wilde his 'dreams in marble,' The Gates of Hell... He also patronized all the cafés of different nationalities, and took a childish pleasure in everything."
According to H. Montgomery Hyde's 1975 biography of Oscar Wilde: "...It was during one of these visits to the Exhibition that Wilde was recognized in the American pavilion, where one of the stands was devoted to the inventions of Thomas Edison. One of these inventions was the 'phonograph or speaking machine,' and Wilde was asked to say something into the horn of the recording mechanism. He responded by reciting part VI of The Ballad Of Reading Gaol, which consists of the last three stanzas of the poem, and identifying it with his name at the end. The recording, which lasted a little more than two minutes, was made on a wax cylinder. Fortunately, it survived along with other Edison memorabilia and to it we owe the preservation of the only recording ever made of Wilde's voice. To anyone hearing it for the first time, the result is unexpected. The voice is plummy and somewhat affected, but with no trace of an Irish brogue, though with unmistakable Irish inflexions, of which the most marked is the tendency to accentuate the final syllable of words in contrast to the English habit of stressing the first or penultimate syllable, and also to raise the pitch when pronouncing the final word of a line or verse."
Wilde died in November of that year.
Needless to say there is some skepticism about the authenticity of this recording, especially since the original cylinder is not available. What Hyde saw was an acetate disk copy of the alleged recording, played to him in 1963 by Caspar Citron of WOR-FM in New York. When Hyde played a tape recording of the WOR-FM broadcast to Wilde's son Vyvyan Holland, the latter verified the recording as his father's voice. Thus, Hyde included the story in his book. Complicating things however is a change of heart on Holland's part, as he later said the voice could not be his father's. The recording he listened to this second time was from tape, several generations removed from the acetate disk. Is it possible that the re-copying wasn't done correctly--like at the wrong speed? Or perhaps he was too hasty the first time around.
The British Sound Archives did a technical analysis of the recording and argued that it was probably a forgery, but even that analysis isn't definitive. As they concluded their report:
...When Vyvyan Holland sat down with him and listened for the first time in sixty years to the voice which he unhesitatingly knew to be his father's, Montgomery Hyde was convinced.In Reading gaol by Reading town
It is hard not to have equal faith. So many people have heard the recording and believe in it; so many others know that the voice of Oscar Wilde exists, that it will be impossible here to gainsay their certainty without conclusive proof from America.
The knowledge that Wilde died in November 1900, only weeks after this recording is alleged to have been made, that he died in miserable exile, vilified by all and barred even from meeting his own children, entreats the listener to suspend disbelief as the distant voice recites the poignant final lines as though uttering its epitaph:
Here is the recording directly from an acetate disk lent to me by a man who ordered it from a recording studio in New York in the early 1960s, in response to a magazine ad. You need RealPlayer to play it:
The Voice of Oscar Wilde
One thing's for sure, it is
utterly plummy for anything!
is the disk that the recording came from (click for larger image). The
diameter is 9-7/8 inches.
is the mailing label showing the company, Bell Music Box, 847 6th Ave.,
N. Y. C., phone number LO 5-9773.
dust jacket reveals the maker of the record (click for larger image).
record label, which has come loose.
back of the record label, showing it was re-used to make the Wilde record
("Artie Shaw, 1--Go Flyna").
postage (postmark illegible).
Joe Knapp (email@example.com)