Friday, April 1, 2011

The Ides Of April : "To an Income-tax inspector" -- Oscar Wilde letter, April 1889


 [? April 1889]                 [Woman's World, La Belle Sauvage]


        It was arranged last year that I should send in my income-tax return from Chelsea where I reside, as I am resigning my position here and will not be with Messrs Cassell after August.  I think it would be better to continue that arrangement.  I wish your notices were not so agitating and did not hold out such dreadful threats.  A penalty of fifty pounds sounds like a relic of mediaeval torture,  

Your obedient servant, 


Reader note:  Text from Cassell's Weekly, 2 May, 1923

Oscar Wilde in 1889

This post is dedicated to my wife Caroline, who suggested it.  Happy anniversary, Caroline.


  1. What a great post! Naturally of interest to me. And the interview with Dave, and the videos. Must stop looking at your blog, too distracting.

    Also loved the Herkleitos post below.

  2. Thanks very much. It's really a wonderful letter. Re the Dave interview, I think something's cooking in KinksLand. The Meltdown Festival opportunity seems too alluring. This is our last day in LA. Tomorrow we'll have time for a last good breakfast and a swim. Today we're off to see a couple of interesting museum exhibitions, then drive up Rambla Pacifico, our favortite road and through Bel-Air. My daughter has received a full dose of Lotus Land and is drinking it in very happily. The weather (I don't mean to gloat; I know it's dire in the east) is perfect. Curtis

  3. have been enjoying your posts of late-this one is a winner,Oscar is a classic- Oddly enough,I have an OW quote and my blog today & a mention of your blog. Consider yourself awarded a stylish blogger award-I know this may be a loaded task. Your blog is a delight and very refreshing, Do with this little honor what you will. Gaye-aka little augury-

  4. I have come as suggested by Gaye aka little augury. Your post will be something I truly look forward to.

    Art by Karena

  5. Gay and Karena: Thanks so much for your kind words, which really made me happy. I'm very glad you like what I've been doing. Preparing material this week, when we've been traveling, has been a little challenging, but it has been very good to get away. Am enjoying Little Augury a lot and look forward to visiting your site also, Karena. Today will be a long travel day back into what I sincerely hope is only a short cold spell following the perfect southern California weather we've enjoyed all week. Curtis

  6. Curtis,

    Congratulations are in order. May you and Caroline enjoy, oh, say, fifty or sixty more...

    (We had our forty-third a week or two back, but the crookeder the numbers get, the more the bones seem to creak, until one almost wishes for mercy... or at least a rebate on the hard numbers).

    As for Oscar's wonderfully crisp billet-doux to the Taxman ("I wish your notices were not so agitating and did not hold out such dreadful threats"), ah, would that it were so easy to shake off the bureaucratic trammels. Medieval torture would be pleasant, in my view, in comparison with one day in "modern society".

    A few weeks ago, as a sort of negative anniversary event, we were notified by our ever helpful insurance company that, oops, all our personal information had been, er, misplaced... well, in fact, stolen.

    Since then it's been weeks of idiotic phone calls to and from from uncomprehending and seemingly retarded phone functionaries employed by a whole raft of credit agencies, with rising levels of agitation at our end, and of yawning inattentive and unapologetic nonchalance at the other end(s), all in the seemingly vain effort to restore and establish an "identity" that was not doing us much good in the first place, but -- we are warned -- can be deployed at will by malign phantom strangers to do us all sorts of harm in that glorious land, the future.

    Oscar never knew the half of it, poor baby.

  7. No, Oscar didn't. I think about the realities he never had to face (like the situation you described) and the reality shows he never had the opportunity to watch. That being said, the following (and final) decade of his life was pretty stressful at times. Your story made me think of an incident earlier this week when I was awakened in our hotel room by a call at around midnight. The man on the other end of the line said he was from the hotel front desk. He said it was crucial that I repeat to him our credit card information immediately. This sounded fishy and I asked for his name, which he gave (I swear) as "Charles Dickens". You might have thought he would hang up, especially when I told him I was coming down and later that I would phone the police, but he persisted. Identity theft sounds horrific in the commercials -- to actually have experienced (or, I sincerely hope, "near-experienced") it, is terrifying. Thanks for enjoying this and for your anniversary wishes. 36 years for us as a couple (31 actually married). 40 years knowing each other. (We went to a pretty small college where you knew almost everyone, it seemed.) Congratulations to you and Angelica on yours also and I'm right behind you in line for the hard numbers rebate. Curtis

  8. The details on IBM's failure to keep their data files secure, and on Health Net's subsequent two-month delay, after some two million customers' private records went missing, to report the disappearance, are ugly to consider. And I wish I could say anybody involved was in any way apologetic, or that this sort of thing seems inconsistent with the general collapse of attention and responsibility in the business sector of this rapidly failing society. But alas, Curtis, the first of those statements
    would certainly be factually incorrect, and the second, while a matter of opinion (like all judgments of history), would also come very close to qualifying as equally uncertain.

  9. Tom: I think you've summarized this correctly. Our own battles with health insurance companies over the years (they're more infrequent now than they used to be, but I'm sure it's only a pause in the hostilities) have been savage. On most occasions they win what is a war of attrition, i.e., you send in your claim information correctly; they lose it several times; eventually they don't pay and send you something incomprehensible in the mail. Occasionally, you might seem to make some progress; you might ultimately receive a check reimbursing you for the correct amount, but probably not. We were aided, to a degree, by the fact that we worked in offices at businesses (employer phones and faxes; the name of a premium-paying corporate employer to fall back on and possibly complain to) and I am a lawyer. Still, you probably find yourself overmatched by systems set up on a "sloppiness raised to the level of theory" principle and, as you say, the "general collapse of attention and responsibility in the business sector of this rapidly failing society". I would go on to posit that this is generally supported by the government and political system, possibly as a form of population control. The challenges of being raised in my own family aside, which are more properly a matter for psychiatrists, I must say that all of this is the diametrical opposite to what Caroline, I and you were all taught was right conduct when people were still teaching me anything and not simply competing for the contents of my pockets. The end. You're right -- Oscar never had to fact these particular indignities. And ungenerous as it may seem, he really could have made his life a lot easier if he had slowed down and thought more about others. Curtis