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Oscar Wilde In America

a selected resource of oscar wilde's visits to america


The Modern Messiah

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

This cartoon, entitled The Modern Messiah, appeared in the satirical magazine, The Wasp, on the eve of Wilde's third lecture in San Francisco.

When Wilde arrived in San Francisco he was greeted by thousands of people curious to see him. The cartoon shows such a crowd, but in satirical style, heavily featuring sunflowers, one of the floral emblems of the aesthetic movement; another, calla lilies, known to decorate Wilde's dinner table, serve as the donkey's ears.

Depicted in the scene are caricatures resonant of Wilde and his time in San Francisco:

Oscar Wilde
Shown arriving as a new messiah; cf. Zechariah 9:9: "... your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey". The cartoon is entitled: The Modern Messiah. Wilde's sunflower is emblazoned with a dollar sign which reflects the accusation that his motivations were pecuniary.

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.

Man With the Goatee Beard
Charles Crocker
(1822—1888) railroad executive who founded the Central Pacific Railroad that took Wilde on his journey to California.

Man With White Hair
Skulking 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
Isaac 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)
Maurice Carey Blake (1815—1897) 19th Mayor of San Francisco, serving from December 5, 1881 to January 7, 1883.

Short Man With Moustache
Daniel O'Connell (1849—1899) poet, actor, writer and journalist, co-founder of the Bohemian Club where Wilde was feted and where he had his portrait painted. The painting of Wilde hung in the club until being lost in the fire following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. O'Connell was the grand-nephew of Daniel O'Connell (1775—1847), the famed Irish orator and politician.

Man With Broken Sunflower
Possibly impresario Tom Maguire.

Boys in the Foreground
Newspaper sellers, one carrying The Wasp in which the cartoon appeared.

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.


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