Oscar Wilde Lectures in St. Louis: February 25, 1882

St. Louis Mercantile Library Hall ca. 1870
Public Domain/New York Public Library • The venue at which Oscar Wilde spoke as it appeared in 1870.

Oscar Wilde was visiting St. Louis on this date in 1882, and delivered a lecture to a capacity crowd at the Mercantile Library Hall, then located at Locust and Broadway.

Wilde, born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland, was a renowned playwright, poet, and author known for his wit, flamboyant style, and sharp social commentary. He attended Trinity College, Dublin, and later Oxford University, where he became involved in the aesthetic movement, advocating for art’s sake. Wilde gained fame through his literary works, including his novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and plays such as “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “An Ideal Husband.” His writing often explored themes of morality, identity, and societal norms, challenging the conventions of Victorian England. Despite his success, Wilde’s personal life was marked by controversy. His affair with Lord Alfred Douglas led to a highly publicized trial, where Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years of hard labor. The experience took a toll on his health and reputation. After his release, he lived in exile in France, where he wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” reflecting on his imprisonment. Oscar Wilde died on November 30, 1900, in Paris, but his literary legacy and insights into human nature continue to captivate audiences worldwide.

Wilde traveled widely in America, delivering lectures in cities across the country. The site Oscar Wilde in America, dedicated to cataloguing these travels, reports that the talk he gave in St. Louis was on the subject of the decorative arts. Newspaper reports from the time say that the crowd was “very large and fashionable,” and that it was close to the holding capacity of the 2,000 seat venue. One report makes mention of noisy applause by a “crowd of young fellows” in the back of the venue drowning out the speaker at one point. Oscar Wilde in America also says that Mr. Wilde stayed overnight just a few blocks away from the lecture venue at The New Southern Hotel, on the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets.