Whitman lived very simply in nearby Camden with his brother and sister- in-law. Like Wilde, he was tall and solidly built, but his rough homespun suit and open shirt were in sharp contrast to his visitor's sartorial elegance. "I come as a poet to call upon a poet," Wilde intoned in greeting. He then described how his mother had read Leaves of Grass aloud to him as a child. Pleased, Whitman produced a bottle of his sister-in-law's elderberry wine and invited his guest to help consume it. "I will call you Oscar," he said.
The bottle emptied, they adjourned to the den - to be on "thee and thou terms," as Whitman put it. Wilde asked about his theory of composition. He had once been a typesetter, Whitman explained, and aimed at making his verse "look all neat and pretty on the pages, like the epitaph on a square tombstone." But to advocate beauty and charm over substance, as in Wilde's aestheticism - that was going too far. "Why, Oscar," Whitman objected, "it always seems to me that the fellow who makes a dead set at beauty by itself is in a bad way."
To Whitman, however, Wilde was never such a fellow. With him Wilde had dropped his affectations and found no occasion for his famed barbed wit; his Oscar was always "a fine large handsome youngster". As for Wilde, he remembered that afternoon in terms of fresh air and sunlight, and when a friend, knowing his tastes, remarked that the elderberry wine must have been difficult to get down, he replied, "If it had been vinegar, I should have drunk it all the same."Reuse content