The Chameleon, vol. 1, issue 1 (Oscar Wilde)

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Post by ChuckW » January 8th, 2021, 12:26 pm

Here's a recommendation for those fascinated with Oscar Wilde and the history of LGBT+ literature. The Chameleon was a short-lived literary periodical from Oxford University that caused quite a scandal upon its initial 1894 publication. This issue contains Oscar Wilde's "Phrases and Philosophies for Use of the Young," two poems from Alfred Lord Douglas (including the infamous "Two Loves"), and John Francis Bloxam's notorious "The Priest and the Acolyte." This publication is particularly noteworthy as portions of it were read aloud and used in the trial against Wilde for "acts of gross indecency."

In the end, Wilde's association with The Chameleon did him considerable harm, particularly when the prosecution misattributed the Bloxam story to him. When pressed during a cross-examination on whether he found this story "immoral," Wilde characteristically responded, "It was worse. It was badly written."


Here's a quick rundown:
From Oscar Wilde in America wrote:Love in Earnest was published in 1892, the year that Wilde first met gay activist George Ives at the Authors’ Club in London. Ives went on to found a secret society for homosexuals called the Order of Chaeronea, of which Nicholson and many other of Wilde friends were members.

Shortly after this at George Ives’ rooms at the Albany (the Albany being where Ernest resides in Earnest) Wilde met John Francis Bloxam, another Uranian undergraduate at Exeter College, Oxford. Bloxam was in the process of editing and seeking contributions for a college journal entitled The Chameleon—which eventually appeared in 1894.

The Chameleon—a creature symbolic of hiding in plain sight—ran to one notorious issue of 100 copies. But what an issue!

This obscure single issue of a university journal casts a long shadow.

Signed only as “X”, Bloxam published his own notoriously homoerotic story The Priest and the Acolyte which Wilde later (and probably disingenuously) had to distance himself from in court. The story concerns a suicide pact and final kiss between the two male protagonists. It almost proved to be a poisoned chalice for Wilde, as well, but the prosecuting counsel was unaware of the anonymous author and therefore saw no suspicious kinship when Wilde’s cleverly inserted a Lady Bloxham in his Earnest play—she being someone we never see with no guarantee of character, these days.

Also in that lone issue of The Chameleon is the debut of Alfred Douglas‘ poem Two Loves with its famous gay mantra “I am the love that dare not speak its name” something Wilde also found himself having to explain (magnificently) under cross-examination.

And then, side-by-side in the Chameleon are the submissions of Wilde and Nicholson. They must, by now, have surely known each other.

Appearing first, and at the prompting of Douglas, Wilde contributed his pithy Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young which, three months before his trial, contains the prophetic dictum: It is only the superficial qualities that last. Man’s deeper nature is soon found out.

Nicholson follows Wilde with a dreamy prose/poem of trademark lovelorn ruin under the title The Shadow of the End. The story exemplifies the unifying theme of the Chameleon: that of shadow and shame, love and fatalism.

Only when we reach the last contribution Dawn does love become a “beauteous thing”. In this poem Bloxham (writing under his pseudonym of Bertram Lawrence) clasps to his breast “my sweet boy-king”.
An Anglo-American Alliance
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