Few People Know that the great Playwright, Oscar Wilde, the author of A Picture of Dorian Grey and The Importance of Being Earnest, toured Texas in 1882, when he was 27 years old. Yet, he was already quite famous in Europe as a writer, theater critic, an architectural historian, a Classicist, and leader of the Aesthetic Movement. So there was great curiosity about what would happen when this Irish Dandy lectured in the Macho World of Texas Cowboys.
When he passed through customs in New York City he had famously said, “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” So many Texans wondered what the genius would think about Texas. He first lectured in Galveston and said that, “Galveston was not terribly aesthetic. It is a city that was built on sticks. But is was built on a crystalline sea and therefore quite charming. They have long blvds of oleanders, red and white, which add to the charm.”
He said, “The people of Galveston were wonderful to me. They made me an honorary Col. in the Texas Army. So I wrote immediately to all my friends and told them that they should henceforth address me as COL WILDE. They asked me if I was in the Texas Rangers and I said, God I Hope So.”
From Galveston, he had gone by by train in the monstrous Texas heat to San Antonio where he said “I stayed at the Menger Hotel, which even in those days, was known for luxury. And I have always said, please, give me the luxuries. Let others get by on necessities.”
He toured the famous missions in San Antonio. He said, “The San Jose mission was the finest example of beautiful architecture I came across in all of the America’s.” As for the Alamo, he said that he “thought it a shame they had allowed this most sacred of shrines to fall into such Philistine conditions.”
He lectured in San Antonio on Architecture and Interior Design. He loved the use of the natural wood and stone that was so available in the hill country but warned again that overuse of such horrid wall paper. He believed that a child raised in the ambiance of such wall paper could later use it as a “defense for a life of crime.”
Later he was asked how is lecture in San Antonio had gone and he said that the women had LOVED it, but the men, not so much. Indeed the men were quite a distraction, “walking in and out with their squeaky boots and clangy spurs. The men were going out for beer, you see. Evidently, men in Texas cannot survive more than an hour between beers.”
If he were to return today, 130 years later, he would find us about the same..