Monday, May 26, 2014

Just Like Oscar Wilde, Except that Gay Stuff

Clipping of article on Reverend Kadir Davis
Not like Wilde
that way!
Just over 119 years ago, the Los Angeles Herald that Reverend Kadir Edwards Davis was getting new advertising materials printed up, since his old ones described him as "the American Oscar Wilde." According to the article, Reverend Davis matched the popular view of Wilde, in that he had flowing locks and wore a sunflower in his hair. Another news item identified Davis as the pastor of the Central Christian church of Oakland, California.

In additional to his duties at Central Christian (where, according to news reports, he once danced through a sermon to show the harmlessness of the waltz), Reverend Davis gave lectures on aesthetic principles, dressed up to fit the part. Reverend Davis may have mistaken the Gilbert and Sullivan parody in Patience, where the aesthetic poet (who is a sham) says,
If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your medieval hand.
But Wilde had said that anyone could walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily, it was much harder to not do it and leave everyone certain you had. Davis might have taken further warning from W.S. Gilbert, as Patience was based on an earlier poem by Gilbert, "The Rival Curates."

It's not clear how long Davis had been styling himself "the American Oscar Wilde." Wilde had toured the United States thirteen years before in 1882. It was only after his American tour that Wilde did the things that gave him lasting fame, The Picture of Dorian Gray, his plays, including The Importance of Being Earnest, and losing a sodomy trial.

At the time that Davis was seeking to shed his stage nickname, Wilde had just lost his libel suit against the Marquis of Queensberry. Queensberry had left a card at Wilde's club calling him a "ponce and somdomite" (the actual trial assumed the card read "posing somdomite," but Richard Ellman pointed out in his biography of Wilde that the card clearly didn't say that; everyone is in agreement that Queensberry misspelled "sodomite"). At the beginning of May, 1895, Wilde had just been arrested for the trial that would lead to his imprisonment. On May 5, 1895, the Los Angeles Herald was writing about an unusual aftermath.

It was all well and good to borrow the name of a successful author. Not so much for one who was undergoing a trial for unnatural acts. As a result, Davis was casting the sunflowers aside and considering cutting his hair. Reverend Davis said,
I am at a loss to know just what to do. It is true that I have been a great admirer of the author of "Dorian Gray" and "A Woman of No Importance." The title of the "American Oscar Wilde" was bestowed on my when I was at college and I rather liked it. I believe in estheticism. I think it is a good religion to live by. I think a preacher should be a leader in dress as well as in thought. The day for preachers of gospel to garb themselves in camel's hair and leathern girdles is past.
Reverend Davis concluded that instead of being called "The American Oscar Wilde," he now wished to be called "the versatile gentleman." Oh dear.
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