Chattanooga Author Roy Morris Jr. Releases New Book On Oscar Wilde’s Year-Long Tour Of America

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Chattanooga author Roy Morris Jr. has published his seventh book, Declaring His
Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America. The book follows the adventures of Irish-born
writer Oscar Wilde, who came to the United States in January 1882 and spent nearly a
year traveling the width and breadth of the country, lecturing on what he termed “the
science of the beautiful.” During the 11 months he spent in the U.S. and Canada, Wilde
traveled more than 15,000 miles and delivered some 140 lectures, from Boston to San
Francisco, from Montreal to the Rio Grande.

He appeared before an estimated 200,000
people in all.

The 27-year-old Wilde had not yet written such literary masterpieces as The Importance
of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray, but he was already famous for his
brilliant wit and outrageous sense of style. His tour was sponsored by London theatrical
impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte to promote the Gilbert and Sullivan musical, Patience,
in which Wilde was caricatured as the foppish poet Bunthorne. But Wilde, with his larger
than life personality, quickly became the focus of the tour. He announced on the voyage
over that he was “somewhat disappointed in the Atlantic Ocean,” and his first words
upon landing in America were that he “had nothing to declare except my genius.”

Americans, with their innate liking for rugged individualism, quickly took to the
flamboyant Wilde. During his travels, he met fellow writers Walt Whitman, Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry
James, among others. He was guided around New Orleans by former Confederate
General P. G. T. Beauregard, and he spent a night at the Biloxi, Mississippi, estate of
Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Perhaps the most memorable part of his trip was
his visit to the Wild West boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, where he lectured miners in
the pit of a silver mine they had decorated with flowers and renamed “the Oscar” in his
honor.

Wilde’s time in America was a great success, extending his fame and broadening his
horizons. “The American man may not be humorous, but he is certainly humane,” Wilde
told his fellow-countrymen after his return to England. “He tries to be pleasant to every
stranger who lands on his shores and makes every chance visitor feel that he is the
favored guest of a great nation.” Of course, being Wilde, he felt compelled to add: “We
have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”

Morris, a former newspaper reporter for the Chattanooga Times and the Chattanooga
News-Free Press, is the editor of Military Heritage magazine. He has published six
previous books on the Civil War and post-Civil War eras, including Sheridan: The Life
and Wars of General Phil Sheridan; Ambrose Bierce: Alone in Bad Company; The Better
Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War; Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes,
Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876; The Long Pursuit: Abraham Lincoln’s
Thirty-Year Struggle with Stephen Douglas for the Heart and Soul of America; and
Lighting Out for the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark
Twain.

Morris resides in North Chattanooga with his wife, Leslie, the director of Northside
Learning Center. Their son, Phil, is a graduate of McCallie School and UTC, and their
daughter, Lucy (GPS, ’09) is a senior at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America is published by Harvard University
Press and is available locally at Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million and online at
Amazon.com.


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