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Oscar Wilde

November the 30th is the one hundredth anniversary of Wilde's death and his popularity today proves that some people are even more popular dead than alive. I thought it a good time to paint you the picture of his visit to Charlottetown.He did come you know.

The event was advertised in the Daily Examiner for October 11th at the Market Hall [that would be the so-called Butcher Market]. The year was 1882. The lecture by the "Leader of the Aesthetic Party" was to be on the Decorative Arts.

The accompanying article told about his father and mother and their accomplishments. For example they said his father was "indefatigable in antiquarian rsearch" so that's a warning to all our dedicated historians!

The report of the event can still make you squiggle: he began by apologizing for not being in evening dress. He had just arrived on the boat [that would be the ............] and came in his "travelling costume" instead; a light suit with knee breeches. In his talk he said "... we could get along very well without philosophy if we surrounded ourselves with beautiful things ... he said all good art is founded on honesty, sincerity and on telling the truth. Art is the perfect praise of God, being the examplifications of his handiwork."

He expressed his belief that his century had produced a prodigious amount of rubbish and much dishonest work. [He'd die if he visited Wal-Mart]. "The highest art...' he coninued, '...was in the correct portrayal of the men and things of the age in which we live, instead of going back to the mis-called romantic ages ..." [He would not like Gateway either].

He challenged that art schools should be devoting more time to make the common things beautiful and he thought, too, that at least an hour a day should be given in the schools to teach the young to use their hands in carving wood, working metal or some other decorative arts. Well that sounds pretty good and it reflects the thought of many of my friends today so I would have been happy to hear his lecture.

BUT, a couple of days later there was an editorial in the paper that presumed to look at us through his eyes. He arrive at night and so "...saw little of our architectural beauty. The Market Hall presented a study to beauty's latest evangel. We saw him make his appearance from the back stair-case, we saw his intense look of pre-Raphaelistic wonder as he viewed the walls, gazed on the beauty of the platform and sniffed the redolent smells of stale butter, eggs and cabbage!... we saw a cloud gather over his face as he feasted on the beautiful view...we know for certain that he found it difficult to strike a beautiful pose in the midst of such surroundings. He was disheartened by the ridiculous chattering of some the young men ....but the fair and beautiful forms of our ladies cheered the heart and enraptured the mind of the aesthete" There could be a different view of that today, looking back.

He came, he saw and in some ways he influenced our town. Whenever they did something that they were especially proud off for quite a few years after, they would moan "If only Oscar could see us now"

Well look around and wonder, with me, what he would think of us today. We'll end with the quote by William Morris, Wilde's contemporary:

Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,
Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?

Written Thursday, November 30, 2000 at 05:16 PM

(c) 2000 by Catherine Hennessey. Questions or comments? Email me@catherinehennessey.com

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