In continuing my look at Oscar Wilde for St. Patrick’s Day, I came across this very interesting. As a southerner, It amazes me that Wilde and Davis met 1882. (My look at Cavefy will continue tomorrow).
Playwright, wit, and gay icon
Politician, traitor, and Confederate icon
While on his tour of the United States in 1882, there was one man Wilde wanted to meet above all others. No, not Walt Whitman (although the two did meet—and share a kiss—at Whitman’s New Jersey home that January). It was Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederacy. Wilde finally got his chance on June 27, 1882, when he blew through Beauvoir, Mississippi on his way to Montgomery, Alabama to deliver a lecture on “Decorative Art” at the local opera house. The seemingly mismatched pair actually found they had a lot in common. Wilde remarked on the similarities between the American South and his native Ireland: both had fought to attain self-rule and both had lost. He went on to declare that “The principles for which Jefferson Davis and the South went to war cannot suffer defeat.”
As for the ensuing lecture, that proved to be something of a letdown. “An immense assemblage of the morbidly curious will greet him,” declared the Selma Times in an article previewing the event. The Montgomery Advertiser was also eager to hear what the famous wit had to offer. “No lady has heard of Mr. Wilde that is not anxious to see and hear him; and, ‘tis said, he ‘adores the fair sex.’” But the Irishman’s observations on aesthetics, delivered in such a strange and exotic accent, were wasted on the Southern audience. “The lecture was one of the peculiar nature that should be heard to be appreciated,” the Advertiser summed up afterwards, “and a synopsis or even a brief sketch will not be attempted.