Washington DC

As I write this, Senator Charles Schumer is welcoming hundreds of thousands of Americans to the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama. One hundred and thirty one years ago this week, Oscar Wilde received a slightly colder welcome to the nation's capital.

The Washington National Republican of the 21st of January 1882 reports that Wilde called at the Capitol and asked if he could be admitted to the floor. The doorman told him that he must first send in his card. Wilde was incredulous. "I never send a card to Parliament when I want to go in." The doorman would not be budged. "You will have to send one here". Wilde sent in his card and soon received a reply from the Speaker of the House, J. Warren Keifer: he was too busy, but would call on Wilde another time.

Thus rebuffed, Wilde decided to take a walk. He wasn't impressed with Washington's public art, and for the remainder of his lecture tour would reprove Washington for displaying "too many bronze generals...To see the frock-coat of the drawing room done in bronze adds a new horror to death". He will have been more pleased that his own photograph was on show in the avenue shop windows. One young lady was heard to exclaim to her friend, "Oh, Maud! How intellectual-looking he is. He is too-too!"

On the 23rd he gave his third lecture of the tour at Washington's Lincoln Hall. He was well received, although one reporter claimed that "there were three persons who were thoroughly satisfied with the lecture: the proprietor of the hall, the aesthete himself, because his salary was assured, and the manager. As for the audience, they had paid their money and couldn't get away, and their principal anxiety was for the conclusion." Another reporter described Wilde's appearance in a less than flattering fashion: "The upper half of his person resembled an English curate; his lower extremities an Italian brigand. He wore black silk stockings and black knee breeches, which gave his legs a general and remote resemblance to two sticks of licorice."

Let's hope the papers go a little easier on Obama.

Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and our comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com