To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there is only one thing in the world worse than being written about, and that is not being written about. An enterprising Tribune reporter got the chance to write about Wilde during the Minneapolis stop on his U.S. lecture tour. The reporter found the Irish writer’s accent difficult to decipher and his attire “too utterly utter” – though by no means unbecoming. It’s not clear who was responsible for the “ass-thete” subhead.
Arrival of this Much-Talked-of Young Man in this City Yesterday Afternoon
He Tells a Small Audience in the Evening what he knows about Decorative Art
Oscar Wilde, “the apostle of beauty,” and the most talked about young man of the day, arrived in Minneapolis from Chicago yesterday afternoon and registered at the Nicollet. Seeing his name in the hotel register a Tribune reporter concluded to pay this “ultra-poetical, super-aesthetical, out-of-the-way young man,” a visit and sent in his card. He was at once informed that Mr. Wilde was “at home” and almost before he knew it was ushered into the parlor where the celebrity was sitting. The sight that met the reporter’s eyes when he entered the room was “quite too utterly utter,” and nearly took his breath away. Mr. Wild was reclining upon a handsome fur robe carelessly thrown upon a lounge. He was dressed in a black velvet “cutaway” coat and vest, tightly fitting pantaloons of a light brown color, patent leather shoes and brown stockings. His vest was cut very low and displayed a good deal of a shirt front, which the bell-boy who escorted the reporter to the room swore positively was “frescoed.” A low turn down collar and a light blue cravat completed his by no means unbecoming attire. His “bonnie locks,” which were parted in the middle, fell to his shoulders, but the fact that he was slightly pigeon toed detracted somewhat from his lion like appearance. He arose in a languid manner to greet the reporter, extending a “lily white hand,” speaking with a slight drawl with a strong English accent. Seeing that it was too late to back out the reporter assumed as aesthetic a position as he knew how and entered into a conversation with Mr. Wilde.
|Love that fur trim.|
In the course of his remarks Mr. Wilde said that hitherto England had not expected much of this country from an aesthetic standpoint. In fact she could not, logically. Now, however, the great questions were settled; the war was over; and Europe generally felt interested in the question as to whether or not this country would become civilized. According to Mr. Wilde if this country wants to be civilized she must give herself up to art. Industry without art is barberism [sic]. When asked what the object of his visit to this country was he stated that it was to create and foster a love for the beautiful, which he thought was greatly needed. The West, he said, was the place which attracted the eyes of Europe as the East was a copy of England. He could not understand Americans, nor the gap that existed between the literature of the country and the people. Americans lived seriously, but never wrote of life seriously. Though simple and crude they had some elements of greatness about them and he felt hopeful concerning their future.
HIS LECTURE IN THE EVENING.
The announcement that Mr. Wilde would lecture in the Academy of Music in the evening filled that place of amusement with about 250 people, most of whom were evidently drawn there from motives of curiosity. The subject of the lecture was “Decorative Art,” and the discourse was as flat and insipid as could well be imagined. From the time the speaker commenced to his closing sentence, he kept up the same unvarying endless drawl, without modulating his voice or making a single gesture, giving one the impression that he was a prize monkey wound up, and warranted to talk for an hour and a half without stopping. He wore a black velvet coat and knee breeches, black silk stockings, low shoes with silver buckles, while around his neck was a large white silk scarf tied into an extravagant bow knot. He came upon the stage unannounced and alone, commenced speaking before the audience fairly knew he was before them, and when the closing sentence of the lecture had been spoke, bobbed his head and retired. There was no applause or enthusiasm shown, and though Mr. Wilde, when he first came upon the stage, glanced appreciatively at the galleries, no attempt of any kind was made to interrupt the lecture. If he had a manuscript he never used it, and by reason of his English pronunciation and drawling method of speaking it was hard to tell just what he said. One could gather, however, from his remarks that
THE DIVINE PRESENCE OF BEAUTY
is not our inheritance. For such an informing and presiding spirit of art to shield us from all harsh and alien influences, we of the Teutonic and Saxon races must turn rather to that strained self-consciousness of the age which is the keynote of all our romantic art, and must be the source of all, or nearly all our culture. I mean that intellectual curiosity of the nineteenth century which is always looking for the secret of the life that still lingers around old and by-gone forms of culture. The truths of art cannot be taught. They are revealed only – revealed to natures which have made themselves receptive of all beautiful impressions by the study of and the worship of all beautiful things. He then dilated upon the necessity of teaching our “handicraftsmen” and “peasantry” the beautiful in art; told how easy it was to combine the beautiful with the useful, if one only knew how, and how the beautiful was the only thing that made life worth the living. Having finished what he had to say he bowed, coolly gathered up his papers and calmly stalked off the stage leaving his audience to retire at their leisure.
A CLOSING VENTURE.
It is understood that the gentleman under whose auspices Mr. Wilde came here is decidedly out of pocket by this speculation. Mr. Wilde charges $250 a night and expenses for inculcating a love for the beautiful among our “peasantry,” and it is doubtful if the receipts amounted to $200. This will, therefore, probably be the only time that Mr. Wilde will favor Minneapolis with his presence. He lectures in St. Paul this evening, after which he goes to Omaha, and thence to the Pacific coast to weep on the bosom of Joaquin Miller.
|The Academy of Music Building, at Washington and Hennepin Avenues in Minneapolis, was gutted by fire on Christmas Day in 1884. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|