The Modern Messiah

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A cartoon printed in the satirical magazine The Wasp to mark Oscar Wilde’s arrival in San Francisco

When Wilde arrived in San Francisco he was greeted by thousands of people curious to see him.

This cartoon, entitled “The Modern Messiah,” which appeared in The Wasp on the eve of Oscar Wilde’s third lecture in San Francisco [1],  shows such a crowd, but in satirical style.

Heavily featured are sunflowers, one of the floral emblems of the aesthetic movement; another, calla lilies, known to decorate Wilde’s table at dinners in America, serve as the donkey’s ears.

Also depicted in the scene are caricatures resonant of Wilde’s visit, some of whom were thought responsible for bringing Wilde to San Francisco, and therefore supportive of him. Here is a rundown of the personalities depicted:

Oscar Wilde

Oscar is shown arriving in messianic style. Compare the biblical:

“… your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

The modern messiah, however, bears a sunflower emblazoned with a dollar sign which reflects the accusation that his motivations were as pecuniary as they were missionary.

The Donkey

Braying, and with sunflower saddle and lily ears, we are reminded of the epithet “ass-thete” that accompanied Wilde across America, but here the donkey symbolizes his visit to San Francisco: attached to the tail is the $5,000 that Wilde was reportedly paid for his series of lectures in California; around the neck, padlocked to the conveyance, is an image of Wilde’s California promoter Charles E. Locke. The words on the padlock are “Bush St. Theatre”, where Locke was manager. Also, at Bush and Montgomery Streets was Platt’s Hall where Wilde lectured four times.

donkeys-ears

Man With the Goatee Beard

goateeCharles Crocker (1822—1888) railroad executive who founded the Central Pacific Railroad that took Wilde on his journey to California.

Man With White Hair

bierceSkulking somewhat appropriately behind proceedings is Ambrose Bierce (1842—c. 1914), who penned a relentless attack on Wilde in The Wasp, March 31, 1882, the text of which can be found at Wilde’s lecture on April 1.

Man at Far Left With Beard

isaacIsaac Smith Kalloch (1832—1887) 18th Mayor of San Francisco serving from December 1, 1879 to December 4, 1881.

Man With Long White Beard (behind sunflower back left)

beardMaurice Carey Blake (1815—1897) 19th Mayor of San Francisco, serving from December 5, 1881 to January 7, 1883.

Short Man With Moustache

danny-boyDaniel O’Connell (1849—1899) poet, actor, writer, journalist, and the grand-nephew of Daniel O’Connell (1775—1847), the famed Irish orator and politician.

O’Connell was co-founder of the Bohemian Club where Wilde was feted and had his portrait painted. The painting of Wilde hung in the club until it was lost in the fire following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Man With Broken Sunflower

Possibly impresario Tom Maguire.

aesthetic-fan

Boys in the Foreground

Newspaper sellers, one carrying The Wasp in which the cartoon appeared [1].

Chinese in the Background

While in San Francisco Wilde famously visited Chinatown and expressed his admiration of their decorative arts, such as delicate tea cups.


[1] The Wasp, March 31, 1882 (G.F. Keller)

Cowboys and Indians

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Lecturing in the midwest, Oscar Wilde meets pioneers and native Americans

This is Boyd’s Theatre and Opera House in Omaha, Nebraska, as it was when Oscar Wilde lectured there.

If the surroundings look a little unmade (and Oscar complained about the muddy streets) it was to be expected—in 1882 the midwest of America was still a place of frontier development, something that the people of St. Paul ironically accepted:

text

By the time Wilde arrived in Omaha in March 1882, the geography of his American adventure had started to take shape.

Continue reading Cowboys and Indians

Lillie Langtry’s Autograph

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Piecing together history: Oscar Wilde’s mail arrives

When I was preparing my recent posting about Oscar Wilde and his lecture in Bloomington during the local council drainage meeting, I was reminded that Wilde once wrote a letter from Bloomington.

A moment’s research led to a minor historical jigsaw.

Continue reading Lillie Langtry’s Autograph

The Dilemma of Movements

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The Scatology of Oscar Wilde’s Bloomington lecture

Local councillors in Bloomington, IL had a committee meeting arranged for the evening of March 10, 1882, so when Oscar Wilde was announced to lecture later the same evening it was always going to be a tough choice: whether to attend the reported tedium of Oscar’s aesthetic lecture on art decoration or continue in contemplating the town drainage—which was the pressing agendum that evening.

Continue reading The Dilemma of Movements

Indecent Postures | Wilde Plays Cricket

cricket

The summer game is upon us with the reminder that in Oscar Wilde’s earliest surviving letter, as well as in his final poem, there is mention of cricket.

In 1868, Oscar Wilde proudly wrote to his Mother that his school had beaten the visiting 27th Regiment at cricket by 70 runs [1]. Thirty years later, at the other end of his writing career, the initial description Wilde gives us of Charles Thomas Wooldrige, the tragic dedicatee of The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), is that a cricket cap was on his head.

What, you may ask, do these bookends portend? Well, precisely nothing.

Or so I thought.

Continue reading Indecent Postures | Wilde Plays Cricket