Oscar Wilde on Irish Poets

Oscar Wilde’s lecture in San Francisco on Irish Poets

On this day in 1882 [1] at Platt’s Hall, Oscar Wilde delivered the ninth of ten consecutive lectures in California, and his fourth and last in San Francisco.

As San Francisco was the only city in America where Wilde lectured four times, he needed an additional lecture to add to the three he was already giving, which were: The English Renaissance, its evolutionary successor The Decorative Arts, and his usual alternative The House Beautiful.

[See Lecture Titles for the development of Wilde’s lecture topics].

Wilde chose as his subject Irish Poets and Poetry of the Nineteenth Century (referred to in some texts as The Irish Poets of ’48), an idea he had hinted at on St.Patrick’s Day in St.Paul, where he made a rare expression of Irish nationalist sentiment.

On that earlier occasion in St. Paul Wilde was called upon to give only an impromptu speech, and he talked in general terms about Irish achievement and how the English occupation had arrested, but not dimmed, the development of Irish art.

Now in San Francisco he created a full lecture [2], in which he focused on an aspect of the arts closer to his knowledge and his mother’s heart: nineteenth century Irish poetry.

Platt’s Hall, San Francisco, CA

Wilde began his lecture by noting how the English conquest had destroyed the development of art in Ireland—but he reassured his listeners that the Celtic spirit could not die. It was, he said, the stuff of legends and romance, and a basis for politics and liberty. For his generalizations on style and rhyme, and occasionally for his selections, Wilde relied heavily on Matthew Arnold’s six-part essay On the study of Celtic literature (1867). Indeed, he quotes Arnold directly on MacPherson’s Ossian.

For the record, Wilde illustrated his talk by mentioning or reading from, the following Irish poets, many of whom were nationalists:

Joseph Michael Barry (1817—1889)

Thomas Osborne Davis (1814—1845)

Aubrey Thomas Hunt De Vere (1814—1902)

Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (1816—1903)

Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810—1886)

Oliver Goldsmith (1728?—1774)

Gerald Griffin (1803—1840)

Denis Florence MacCarthy (1817—1882)

James Clarence Mangan (1803—1849)

Thomas D’Arcy McGee (1825—1868)

John Mitchel (1815—1875)

Thomas Moore (1779—1852)

Daniel O’Connell (1849—1899)

John Boyle O’Reilly (1844—1890)

Fr. Abram Joseph Ryan (1838—1886)

John Savage (1828—1888)

Speranza, Jane Francesca Elgee, Wilde’s mother (1821—1896)

John Francis Waller (1810—1894)

Richard D’Alton Williams (1822—1862)

©, John Cooper, 2015.

[1] A Wednesday. Easter Sunday in 1882 was on April 9th.


[2] Wilde scholars can be extremely grateful to Robert D. Pepper for his work in documenting this lecture. Much of the information on this page is taken from his Oscar Wilde, Irish Poets and Poetry of the Nineteenth Century’. Edited from Wilde’s Manuscript and Reconstructed, in part, from Contemporary Newspaper Accounts, with an Introduction and Biographical Notes (Book Club of California, 1972).

3 thoughts on “Oscar Wilde on Irish Poets

  1. The newspaper review at the top seems typical of much of the bad, predjudicial press Wilde received during his tour. Very nasty. Look at that list of poets! Not bad for a people whose culture had been supposedly wiped out (nearly) by the Sassenach. And look at the poets to come! Wilde might have quoted with justification from his own Poems, published in 1881. He found great hostility in America and in Europe but what a trooper he was. He also found kindness in such people as Julia Ward Howe.

    Liked by 1 person

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