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Oscar Wilde In America

oscar wilde's 1882 lecture tour of america

Dubuque, IA

The Decorative Arts* | Opera House | Wednesday, March 1, 1882**

* Advertised as The English Renaissance. See Clarification below and also Lecture Titles.
** The first of eleven consecutive days lecturing in eleven different cities, often to smaller houses.



Newspaper reports

Dubuque Herald, March 2, 1882, p.1


The Inter Ocean (Chicago), March 2, 1882, p.8


The Northern Pacific Farmer, March 9, 1882, 2



As to lecture title

Advertised as The English Renaissance, but, owing to the smaller houses, Wilde had written to his manager, Col.W. F. Morse in early March to say:

"Kindly see that I am not advertised to lecture on 'The English Renaissance'. I have not delivered that lecture since February 11, and yet I am always advertised for it. It is very annoying, and besides, 'The English Renaissance' is printed in the Seaside, so people think they know it, and stay away. The lecture is on 'The Decorative Arts'..." [1]


In actuality, the lecture content on this occasion was probably a weak hybrid of topics as Wilde was not enthused. He talked a little about the Mississippi and the recent floods, repeating his quip about the river misbehaving (see Rebuke for Dubuque below) and adding that good art was impossible without good water and clean cities. He eventually cut the lecture short well ahead of time as the scarce and scattered audience sat in 'silent contempt' 'as though they were at the funeral of a friend'. [2]

Wilde's response, with trademark irony, was to say that 'any man can make a speech...before 3,000 people but it requires nerve to deliver a lecture to empty benches'. [3]

[1] Complete Letters, 147. See examples of an original and amended advertisement at Decatur
[2] Dubuque Herald, March 2, 1882, 1
[3] Dubuque Herald, March 3, 1882, 4

historical note

Opera House
Fourth and Main Streets, Dubuque, IA

Built: 1840s, as City Hotel
Redesigned and reopened: 1864, as Athenaeum Theatre
Refurbished and reopened: 1877, as Duncan-Waller Opera House
Seating: 900
Destroyed (fire): April, 1910

Full history and source:
Five Flags Center

See also:
Encyclopedia Dubuque

The Dramatic Yearbook


historical note

Julien House
Second and Main Streets, Dubuque, IA

Built: 1844, as The Waples House
Reconstructed: 1854, as Julien House
Remodeled: 1874
Old section demolished and rebuilt: 1889
Destroyed (fire): April 13, 1913


Full history and source:
Encyclopedia Dubuque


Dubuque Herald, March 2, 1882, 4

main street north and south


rebuke for Dubuque

Dubuque is located along the Mississippi River. Oscar Wilde had already been unimpressed by the Atlantic Ocean and Niagara Falls. It was now time for America's grand waterway to be chastised:


The Inter Ocean, March 1, 1882, 8

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