Oscar Wilde: Quotations (2)


Extracts from the Works
Drama Letters
Various Remarks
His own works
Sundry topics
Reviews Aphorisms

The Trial & After …

Digital whole texts*
Importance of Being Earnest (1895) An Ideal Husband (1895)
Prose works
“The Decay Of Lying” (1889)
The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
De Profundis (1905)
“The Ballad of Reading Gaol”
Short stories
“The Happy Prince ”
“The Nightingale & the Rose”
“The Selfish Giant”
“The Devoted Friend”
“The Remarkable Rocket”

On calling a spade a spade - cf. Wilde’s disclaimer of moral intentions in a letter to the Royal Theatrical Fund [infra], and the Gwendolen’s triumphant rejoinder in Importance of Being Earnest [attached].

*Whole-text versions of the most of the works listed here are held in RICORSO Library, “Irish Literary Classics” [index]. A Password is required for access.

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Letter to Royal Theatrical Fund
: ‘I would like to protest against the statement that I have ever called a spade a spade. The man who did it should be condemned to use one. I have been accused of lashing vice, but I can assure you that nothing was further from my intentions. Those who have seen Lady Windermere’s Fan will see that if there is one particular doctrine contained in it, it is that of sheer individualism. It is not for anyone to censure what anyone else does, and everyone should of his own way to whatever place he chooses, in exactly the way he chooses.’ (Quoted in Ellmann, Oscar Wilde, 1987, pp.347-48; cited in Mooney, op. cit., 1999, p.42; cf. comic remarks on ‘spade’ in extracts from Importance of being Earnest - as attached.)

Letter to Arthur Balfour - in answer to the question, ‘What is your religion?’: ‘I don’t think I have one, Mr Balfour, I am an Irish Protestant.’ (q. source.)

Wilde to Bosie [Lord Alfred Douglas] (Summer 1894): ‘Your father is on the rampage again - been to the Café Royal to enquire for us, with threats &c. I think now it would have been better for me to have had him bound over to keep the peace, but what a scandal! Still, it is intolerable to be dogged by a maniac.’ (Letters, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis, 1962; q.p.; quoted in Katherine Walker, UG Diss., UUC 2006.)

Letter to Lord Douglas [Bosie]: ‘[O]ur ill-fated and lamentable friendship has ended in ruin and public infamy for me’ (Letters of Oscar Wilde, London 1962, p.424). ‘Your terrible lack of imagination, the only really fatal defect in your character, was entirely the result of the Hate that lived in you.’ (Ibid.). ‘[…] in your hideous game of hate together [Bosie and Queensberry], you had both thrown the dice for my soul, and you happened to have lost. That is all.’ (Ibid., p.448.)

Letter to Anne de Bremont: ‘I wrote when I did not know life, now that I know the meaning of life, I have no more to write.’ (cited in Ellmann, Oscar Wilde, 1987, p.544.)

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On his own works
An Ideal Husband [asked by a reader what the critics had missed]: ‘Its entire psychology - the difference in the way in which a man loves a woman from that in which a woman loves a man, the passion that women have for making ideals (which is their weakness) and the weakness of a man who dares not show his imperfections to the thing that he loves. The end of Act I, the end of Act II, and the scene in the last act, where Lord Goring points out the higher importance of a man’s life over a woman’s - to take three prominent instances - seem to have been quite missed by most of the critics. They failed to see their meaning; they really thought it was a play about a bracelet.’ (The Sketch, 12 Jan. 1895; quoted in Fionnula Henderson, “Oscar Wilde and Aestheticism: A Study of the Social Comedies”, UG Disseration on Wilde, UUC [2001].)

[Cf., ‘the love that dares not speak its name’ - as infra.]

Lady Windermere’s Fan: in a letter to his American agent, Wilde calls his Lord Darlington ‘not a villain, but a man who really believes that Windermere is treating his wife badly, and wishes to save her.’ (Rupert Hart-Davis, ed., More Letters, 1985, p.119.)

The Importance of Being Earnest : ‘[It is an] exquisitely trivial, and a delicate bubble of fantasy, and it has its philosophy … that we should treat all the trivial things of life very seriously and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.’ [q. source.]

The Picture of Dorian Gray: ‘My story is an essay in decorative art. To give plot issue Dorian had to be surrounded with an atmosphere of moral corruption, but this atmosphere was kept vague and indeterminable. Each man sees his own sin in Dorian Gray, what Dorian’s sins are no one knows. He who finds them has brought them. (Letters, p.266.) ‘Basil Hallward is what I think I am, Lord Henry what the world thinks of me, Dorian what I would like to be - in other ages, perhaps […] To the world I seem, by intention on my part, a dilettante and a dandy merely - it is not wise to show one’s heart to the world […] In so vulgar an age as this we all need masks.’ (Letters, 352.) ‘All excess as well as renunciation brings its own punishment.’ (Letters, p.263.) ‘His chief war was against the Philistines […] Philistinism was the note of the age and community in which he lived. In their heavy inaccessibility to ideas, their dull respectability, their tedious orthodoxy, their worship of vulgar success, their intense preoccupation with the gross materialistic side of life, and their ridiculous estimate of themselves and their own importance, the Jews of Jerusalem were the exact counterpart of the British Philistine of our own [day]’, Letters, p.485.) ‘I used to rely on my personality, now I know that my personality really rested on the fiction of a position. Having lost position, I find my personality of no avail.’ (Letters, p.791). On his own plays: ‘I took the drama, the most objective form known to art, and made of it as personal a mode of expression as the lyric or the sonnet; at the same time I widened its range and enriched its characterisation.’ (De Profundis, q.p.) On Lady Windermere’s Fan: ‘[I]t is [a] quality of fashionable ease which represents his greatest contribution to the stage.’

The Happy Prince: ‘I like to fancy that there may be many meanings in the Tale - for in writing it […] I did not start with the idea and clothe it in form, but began with a form and strove to make it beautiful enough to have many secrets and many answers.’ (Letter to Thos. Hutchinson, 7 May 1888; Hart-Davis, ed., Letters, p.218; quoted in Angela Kingston, ‘Homeroticism and the Child in Wilde’s Fairy Tales’, in The Wildean, July 2001, p.44.)

Reading Gaol” (1895): ‘The poem suffers under the difficulty of a divided aim in style. Some is realistic, some is romantic: some poetry, some propaganda […] but as a whole I think the production interesting: that it is interesting from more points than one is artistically to be regretted.’ (Letter to Robert Ross; quoted in Seamus Heaney, ‘Speranza in Reading: On “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”’, in The Redress of Poetry [Oxford Poetry Lectures], London: Faber & Faber 1995, p.88; note that Heaney conjectures with Yeats that Wilde might have revised the poem [as Yeats himself did for Modern Verse ].)

The Happy Prince”: ‘I like to fancy that there may be many meanings in the Tale - for in writing it […] I did not start with the idea and clothe it in form, but began with a form and strove to make it beautiful enough to have many secrets and many answers.’ (Letter to Thos. Hutchinson, 7 May 1888; Hart-Davis, Letters, p.218; quoted in Angela Kingston, ‘Homeroticism and the Child in Wilde’s Fairy Tales’, in The Wildean, July 2001, p.44; cited in Terry Eagleton, ‘The Doubleness of Oscar Wilde’, in The Wildean, 19, July 2001, pp.2-9.) Note that the authors contests the suggestion that there was any hint of pedophilia in Wilde’s sexuality.

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Sundry Topics
Ireland: ‘Ireland is the Niobe among nations. The noblest materials for a great nation were there wrecked by the folly of England.’ (Speech of 10 Feb. 1882, Chicago; Oscar Wilde Discovers America, NY 1936, p.168.)

Aestheticism: ‘Aestheticism is a search after the signs of the beautiful. […] It is, to speak more exactly, the search after the secret of Life.’ Further: ‘It is a wide field which has no limit, and all definitions are unsatisfactory. […] But the search, if carried on with the right laws would constitute aestheticism.’ (interview in America; q.source.) Also: ‘I myself would sacrifice everything for a new experience and know that there is no such thing as a new experience at all .. I would go to the stake for a sensation and be sceptic to the last … There is an unknown land full of strange flowers and subtle perfumes, a land of which it is a joy of all joys to dream, a land where all things are perfect and poisonous.’ (Letter to young man in Cambridge; quoted in Merlin Holland, Wilde Album, 1997, pp.126-27.)

Irishness: ‘I am Irish by race, but the English have condemned me to speak the language of Shakespeare’ (Letter to de Goncourt, Letters, p.100; Selected Letters, p.197.) ‘We have sold our birthright for a mess of facts’ (The Critic as Artist, ed. Ellmann, London 1970, p.300). But cf.: ‘It is only by contact with the art of foreign nations that the art of a country gains that individual and separate life that we call nationality …’ (Ibid., p.373.)

Celticity (1): ‘It is the Celt who leads in art […] there is no reason why in future years this strange Renaissance should not be almost as mighty in its way as that new birth of art that woke many centuries ago in the cities of Italy.’ (Critic as Artist, ed. Ellmann, London 1970, p.396; The Works of Oscar Wilde, Galley Press Edn., 1987, p.989.)

Celticity (2): ‘Indeed the poetic genius of the Celtic race never flags or wearies. It is as sweet by the groves of California as by the groves of Ireland, as strong in foreign lands as in the land which gave it birth. And indeed I do not know anything more wonderful, or more characteristic of the Celtic genius, than the quick artistic spirit in which we adapted ourselves to the English tongue. The Saxon took our lands from us and left them desolate - we took their language and added new beauties to it.’ (Quoted in Montgomery Hyde, Oscar Wilde, 1976, 68-69; all the foregoing cited in John Jordan [essay on Shaw, Wilde, Synge and Yeats], in Richard Kearney, ed., The Irish Mind, 1985, p.213; see also Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.35.]

Celticity (3): ‘I do not know anything more wonderful, or more characteristic of the Celtic genius, than it quick artistic spirit in which we adapted ourselves to the English tongue.’ (Selected Letters, p.100; cited in Selina Mooney, UUC DMA Diss. 1999.)

Irish art: ‘Since the English occupation, we have had no national art in Ireland at all. And there is not the slightest chance of our ever having it until we get that right of legislative independence so unjustly robbed from us, until we are really an Irish nation.’ (Quoted in Harrry Browne, ‘Wildean Nationalism’, review of Thomas Davis Wilde memorial lectures, RTE, in The Irish Times [q.d.])

Anglo-Irish authors [Croker and Lover]: ‘a humorist’s Arcadia […] they came from a class that did not - mainly for political reasons - take the populace seriously […] of its passion, its gloom, its tragedy, they knew nothing.’ (Artist as Critic, ed. Ellmann, London 1970, p.130.)

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English civilisation: ‘England will never be civilised till she has added Utopia to her dominions […] there is more than one of her colonies that she might with advantage surrender for so fair a land.’ (ibid., p.386) [All the foregoing cited in Declan Kiberd, ‘Oscar Wilde: The Artist as Irishman’, in Inventing Ireland, London: Cape 1995, pp.33-50.]

Young Irelanders: ‘As regards these men of forty-eight, I look on their work with peculiar reverence and love, for I was indeed trained by my mother to love and reverence them, as a catholic child is the saints of the calendar. The earliest hero of my childhood was Smith O’Brien, whom I remember well - tall and stately with a dignity of one who had fought for a noble idea and the sadness of one who had failed […]. John Mitchel, too, on his return to Ireland I saw, at my father’s table with his eagle eye and impassioned manner. Charles Gavan Duffy is one of my friends in London, and the poets among them were men who made their lives noble [and wrote noble] poems also, men who had not merely written about the sword, who not only could rhyme to liberty, but could die for her also, if need had so been. […] The greatest of them all, and one of the best poets of this century in Europe was, I need not say, Thomas Davis. Born in the year 1814 at Mallow in County Cork, before he was thirty years of age, he and the other young men of the Nation newspaper had, to use Father Burke’s eloquent words, created ‘by sheer power of Irish intellect, by sheer strength of Irish genius, a national poetry and a national literature which no other nation can equal.’ ‘Of the quality of Speranza’s poems I, perhaps, should not speak, for criticism is disarmed before love, but I am content to abide by the verdict of the nation, which has so welcomed her genius and understood the song - noticeably for its strength and simplicity - that ballad of my mother’s on  “The Trial of The Brothers Sheares” in ’98.’ (‘The Irish Poets of ’48’, an address given in San Francisco on 5 April 1882; rep. in Montgomery Hyde’s Oscar Wilde and cited in John Jordan’s essay on Irish dramatist’s in Richard Kearney, ed., The Irish Mind, 1985, p.213; also cited at length in Seamus Heaney, ‘Speranza in Reading: On “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”’, The Redress of Poetry [Oxford Poetry Lectures], London: Faber & Faber 1995, pp.98-99 [presumably from Ellmann, 1987]; also in part in Montgomery Hyde, Oscar Wilde, London 1976, pp.68-69).

Wilde to Yeats: ‘Ah, Yeats, we Irish are too poetical to be poets; we are a nation of brilliant failures.’ Further, on John Butler Yeats in reply to the question, ‘Could he paint?’: ‘Not in the least; that was the beauty of it.’ (Both the foregoing remarks quoted in A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: A New Life, 1988, quoting Richard Ellmann’s life of Wilde (1987);

Cf. R. F. Foster, Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change 1970-2000 (London: Allen Lane: 2007): ‘W. B. Yeats liked to remember Oscar Wilde announcing to him over Christmas dinner, “we are a nation of brilliant failures, but are the greatest talkers since the Greeks”. The failure has been replaced by success, but the talk goes on’ (p.29) - and also: ‘Wilde’s “nation of brilliant failures” decided to get lucky and decided to become successful, not before time.’ (Ibid., p.36.)

C. S. Parnell: ‘at home [Charles Stewart Parnell] had but learnt the pathetic weakness of nationality, but in a strange land realised what indomitable forces nationality possesses.’ (Quoted in Ellmann, Wilde, p.389.)

Music: ‘Music always […] creates for one a past of which one has been ignorant, and fills one with a sense of sorrows that have been hidden form one’s tears. I can fancy a man who had led a perfectly commonplace life, hearing by chance some curious piece of music, and suddenly discovering that his soul, without his being conscious of it, had passed through terrible experiences, and know fearful joys, or wild romantic loves, or great renunciations.’ (“Intentions”, in The Artist as Critic, ed. Ellmann, NY: Vintage 1970, p.343; quoted in Sheldon Brivic, Joyce the Creator, Wisconsin UP 1985, pp.6-7.)

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Mr Froude’s Blue Book’, review of The Two Chiefs of Dunboye by J. A. Froude, in Pall Mall Gazette (13 April 1889): ‘Blue Books are generally dull reading but Blue Books on Ireland have always been interesting. They form the record of one of the greatest tragedies of modern Europe. In them England has written down her indictment against herself, and has given to the world the history of her shame. If in the last century she tried to rule Ireland with an insolence that was intensified by race-hatred and religious prejudice, she has sought to rule her in this century with a stupidity that is aggravated by good intentions.’ (p.3.) [Cont.]

Mr Froude’s Blue Book’ (Pall Mall Gazette, April 1889) - cont.: ‘Mr Froude admits the martyrdom of Ireland, but regrets that the martyrdom was not completely carried out [… his] resumé of the History of Ireland [no ital., sic] is not without power, though it is far from being really accurate […] on every second page we come across aphorisms on the Irish character […] it is dull […] there are some who will welcome with delight the idea of solving the Irish question by doing away with the Irish people.’ [See also under Froude.] Further, Wilde on Froude as epitome of England’s error: ‘If in the last century she tried to govern Ireland with an insolence that was intensified by race hatred and religious prejudice, she has sought to rule her in this century with a stupidity that is aggravated by good intentions’. Wilde closes the review by inverting the author’s declared purposes, of the book considered as ‘a record of the incapacity of a Teutonic to rule a Celtic people against their own wishes his book is not without value.’ (Quoted in Declan Kiberd, ‘Oscar Wilde: The Artist as Irishman’, Times Literary Supplement, Dec. 1994; see also Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.37.) [Cont.]

Mr Froude’s Blue Book’ (Pall Mall Gazette, April 1889) - cont.: ‘In a strange land [America], the Irish have realised ‘what indomitable forces nationality possesses. What captivity has been to the Jews, exile is to the Irish. America and American influence have educated them. […] There are some who will welcome with delight the idea of solving the Irish question by doing away with the Irish people. There are others who will remember that Ireland has extended her boundaries, and that we have now to reckon with her not merely in the Old World but also in the New.’ (review of J. A. Froude, Two Chiefs of Dunboye ; in The Artist as Critic, rep. in The Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. R. Ellmann, W. H. Allen 1973; quoted in Neil Sammells, ‘Oscar Wilde: Quite Another Thing’, Irish Writing, Exile and Subversion, ed. Paul Hyland & Sammells, London: Macmillan 1991, pp.116-25; p.117; see also under Froude, supra.)

Wilfred Scawen Blunt (review of Poems), ‘The opening sonnets, composed in the bleak cell in Galway Gaol, and written down on the fly-leaves of the prisoner’s prayer-book, are full of things nobly conceived and nobly uttered, and show that though Mr Balfour may enforce “plain living” by his prison regulations, he cannot prevent “high thinking” or in any way limit or constrain the freedom of a man’s soul. […] Literature is not much indebted to Mr Balfour for his sophistical Defence of Philosophic Doubt, which is one of the dullest books we know, but it must be admitted that by sending Mr Blunt to gaol he has converted a clever rhymer into an earnest and deep-thinking poet. The narrow confines of a prison cell seem to suit the “sonnet’s scant plot of ground”, and an unjust imprisonment for a noble cause strengthens as well as deepens the nature.’ (Pall Mall Gazette, 3 Jan. 1889; quoted by Owen Dudley Edwards, ‘The Soul of Man under Hibernicism’ in Irish Studies Review, Summer 1995, p.p.12-13.) [See further under Blunt, infra.]

Defence of Dorian Gray [1] - letter to St James’s Gazette: ‘What is important is that the editor of a paper like yours should appear to countenance the monstrous theory that the government of a country should exercise a censorship over imaginative literature. This is a theory against which I, and all men of letters of my acquaintance, protest most strongly; and any critic who admits reasonableness of such a theory shows at once that he is quite incapable of understanding what literature is, and what right literature possess. A Government might just as well try to teach painters how to painters how to paint, or sculptors how to make models, as attempts to interfere with the style, treatment and subject matter of the literary artist; and no writer, however eminent or obscure, should ever give his sanction to a theory that would degrade literature far more than any other didactic or so-called immoral book could possibly do.’ (in Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. Richard Ellmann, London: W. H Allen 1968), p.241.

Defence of Dorian Gray [2] - letter to The Daily Chronicle (30 June 1890): ‘As for what your moral is, your critic states that it is this - that when a man feels himself becoming “too angelic” he should rush out and make a “beast of himself!” I cannot say that I consider this a moral. The real moral of the story is that all excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its punishment, and this moral is so far artistically and deliberately suppressed that it does not enunciate its law as a general principle, but realises itself purely in the lives of individuals, and so becomes simply a dramatic element in a work of art, and not the object of the work of art itself.’ (Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. Richard Ellmann (London: W. H Allen 1968, p.246; the preceding letters to newspapers quoted in Danielle Moore, UU Diss., UUC 2012.)

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Some aphorisms
  • ‘Art never expresses anything but itself.’ (The Decay of Lying, 1889.)
  • ‘No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.’ (The Decay of Lying, 1889.)
  • ‘A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.’ (The Critic as Artist, 1890.)
  • ‘Ah! don’t say that you agree with me. When people agree with me I always feel that I must be wrong.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘Truth, in the matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘People cry out against the sinner, yet it is not the sinner but the stupid who our shame. There is no sin except stupidity.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘To be good, according to the vulgar standard of goodness, is obviously quite easy. It merely requires a certain amount of sordid terror, a certain lack of imaginative thought, and a certain low passion for middle-class respectability.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘The nineteenth century is a turning point in history simply on account of the work of two men, Darwin and Renan, the one the critic of the Book of Nature, the other the critic of the books of God.’ (Ibid., see further under Renan, supra.)
  • ‘Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?’ (The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895, Act I.)
  • ‘It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn’t a dentist. It produces a false impression’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘The truth is rarely pure, and never simple’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘In married life three is company and two none.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose. (Ibid.)
  • ‘To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.’ (Ibid.)
  • (Miss Prism on her novel:) ‘The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.’ (Ibid., Act II.)
  • ‘The chapter on the Fall of the Rupee you may omit. It is somewhat too sensational.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘Charity, dear Miss Prism, charity! None of us are perfect. I myself am peculiarly susceptible to draughts.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘On an occasion of this kind it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one’s mind. It becomes a pleasure.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.’ (Leadville, Impressions of America .)
  • ‘I couldn’t help it. I can resist everything except temptation.’ (Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1891, Act I.)
  • ‘Many a woman has a past, but I am told that she has at least a dozen, and that they all fit.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ (Ibid., Act III.)
  • ‘There is nothing in the whole world so unbecoming to a woman as a Nonconformist conscience.’ (Ibid.)
  • Cecil Graham: ‘What is a cynic?’ Lord Darlington: ‘A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ (Ibid., Act III.)
  • Dumby: ‘Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.’ Graham: ‘One shouldn’t commit any.’ Dumby: ‘Life would be very dull without them.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.’ (Preface, Picture of Dorian Gray 1891.)
  • ‘The moral life of man forms part of the subject matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But […] it is better to be good than to be ugly.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘Anybody can be good in the country.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘The way of paradoxes is the way of truth. To test Reality we must see it on the tight-rope.’ (Ibid.).
  • ‘As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them.’ (Soul of Man under Socialism)
  • ‘Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.’ (Ibid.)
  • Lord Illingworth: ‘They say, Lady Hunstanton, that when good Americans die they go to Paris.’ Lady Hunstanton: ‘Indeed? And when bad Americans die, where do they go to?’ Lord Illingworth: ‘Oh, they go to America.’ (Mrs. Allonby, A Woman of No Importance, 1893, Act I..)
  • ‘The youth of America is their oldest tradition. It has been going on now for three hundred years.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘The English country gentleman galloping after a fox the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘One should never trust a woman who tells one her real age. A woman who would tell one that, would tell one anything.’ (Ibid.)
  • Lord Illingworth: ‘The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden.’ Mrs. Allonby: ‘It ends with Revelations.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.’ (Ibid.)
  • Gerald: ‘I suppose society is wonderfully delightful!’ Lord Illingworth: ‘To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy.’ (A Woman of No Importance.)
  • ‘You should study the Peerage, Gerald. It is the best thing in fiction the English have ever done.’ (Ibid.)
  • ‘If one could only teach the English how to talk, and the Irish how to listen, Society here would be quite civilised.’ (An Ideal Husband, 1895.)
  • ‘[T]o be entirely free, and at the same time entirely dominated by law, is the eternal paradox of human life.’ (De Profundis.)
  • ‘A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.’ (Sebastian Melmoth, 1904, p.12; Oscariana 1910, p. 8.)
  • (At the New York Custom House,) ‘I have nothing to declare except my genius.’ (Frank Harris, Oscar Wilde, 1918, p.75.)*
  • ‘He [Bernard Shaw] hasn’t an enemy in the world and none of his friends like him.’ (quoted in Shaw: Sixteen Self Sketches, Chap. 17.)
  • ‘If this is the way that Queen Victoria treats her convicts, she doesn’t deserve to have any.’ (Quoted in Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of Yeats and Joyce, London: 1972, p.152.)
  • ‘There are two ways of disliking my plays; one way is to dislike them, the other is to prefer Earnest.’ (Quoted in Richard Kain, op. cit., 1972, p.153.)
  • ‘Ah, well, then,’ said Oscar, ‘I suppose that I shall have to die beyond my means’. (Said when a huge fee for an operation was mentioned; R. H. Sherard, Life of Oscar Wilde, 1906.)

*Wilde’s making this remark at the New York customs was first reported by Arthur Ransome in Oscar Wilde: A Critical Study (1912), and has no known corroboration in contemporary record (i.e., journalism &c.) - though Wilde was surrounded by journalists on arrival in America.

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The Trial & After

Roasted by Edward Carson (3 April 1895)
Carson: Did you ever kiss him?
Wilde: Oh, dear no.  He was a peculiarly plain boy.  He was, unfortunately, extremely ugly.  I pitied him for it.
Carson: Was that the reason why you did not kiss him?
Wilde: Oh, Mr. Carson, you are pertinently insolent.
Carson: Did you say that in support of your statement that you never kissed him?
Wilde: No.  It is a childish question.
Carson: Did you ever put that forward as a reason why you never kissed the boy?
Wilde: Not at all.
Carson: Why, sir, did you mention that this boy was extremely ugly?
Wilde: For this reason.  If I were asked why I did not kiss a door-mat, I should say because I do not like to kiss door-mats.  I do not know why I mentioned that he was ugly, except that I was stung by the insolent question you put to me and the way you have insulted me throughout this hearing.  Am I to be cross-examined because I do not like it?
Carson: Why did you mention his ugliness?
Wilde: It is ridiculous to imagine that any such thing could have occurred under any circumstances.
Carson: Then why did you mention his ugliness, I ask you?
Wilde: Perhaps you insulted me by an insulting question.
Carson: Was that a reason why you should say the boy was ugly?
[The witness began several answers almost inarticulately, and none of them he finished.  Carson's repeated sharply: "Why?  Why?  Why did you add that?" At last the witness answered]:
Wilde: You sting me and insult me and try to unnerve me; and at times one says things flippantly when one ought to speak more seriously.  I admit it.
Carson: Then you said it flippantly?
Wilde: Oh, yes, it was a flippant answer.
Trial transcripts - available at Missouri-Kansas City Unversity - online.

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The love that dares not speak its name: OW [in response to a question asked by Charles Gill, prosecuting, 26 April 1895]: ‘The “Love that dare not speak its name” in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis for his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. In this century [it is] misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as the “Love that dare not speak its name”, and on account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so the world does not understand. The world mocks at it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.’ (Q. source; ?Montgomery Hyde.) Cf., ‘weakness of a man who dares not show his imperfections’ - as supra.

Note: In 1894 Bosie published a poem “Two Loves” (Chameleon, Dec. 1894), in which he writes: ‘I am the love that dares not speak its name’ - as given under Notes > infra:

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Boys & girls - to ‘Bosie’ (Lord Alfred Douglas), Wilde wrote:

January 1893, Babbacombe Cliff

My Own Boy,
     Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red-roseleaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days. Why are you alone in London, and when do you go to Salisbury? Do go there to cool your hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things, and come here whenever you like. It is a lovely place and lacks only you; but go to Salisbury first.
     Always, with undying love,
     Yours, Oscar

March 1893, Savoy Hotel

Dearest of All Boys,
     Your letter was delightful, red and yellow wine to me; but I am sad and out of sorts. Bosie, you must not make scenes with me. They kill me, they wreck the loveliness of life. I cannot see you, so Greek and gracious, distorted with passion. I cannot listen to your curved lips saying hideous things to me. I would sooner be blackmailed by every renter ["renter"was a slang term for male prostitutes] in London than to have you bitter, unjust, hating.You are the divine thing I want, the thing of grace and beauty; but I don’t know how to do it.Shall I come to Salisbury? My bill here is 49 pounds for a week. I have also got a new sitting-room over the Thames. Why are you not here, my dear, my wonderful boy? I fear I must leave; no money, no credit, and a heart of lead.
     Your own, Oscar


Rouen, August 1897

My own Darling Boy,
      I got your telegram half an hour ago, and just send a line to say that I feel that my only hope of again doing beautiful work in art is being with you. It was not so in the old days, but now it is different, and you can really recreate in me that energy and sense of joyous power on which art depends.
      Everyone is furious with me for going back to you, but they don’t understand us. I feel that it is only with you that I can do anything at all. Do remake my ruined life for me, and then our friendship and love will have a different meaning to the world.
      I wish that when we met at Rouen we had not parted at all. There are such wide abysses now of space and land between us. But we love each other.
      Goodnight, dear. Ever yours,

Note: The first letter (Jan. 1893 - as supra) was introduced be Wilde’s defence barrister, Sir Edward Clarke, to forestall its use by the prosecution.

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Letter addressed to Bosie in 1894: ‘Dear, dear boy, you are more to me than any one of them has any idea; you are the atmosphere of beauty through which I see life; you are the incarnation of all lovely things. When we are out of tune, all colour goes from things for me, but we are never really out of tune. I think of you day and night.’ (Selected Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Davis-Hart, Rupert, OUP, p.121.)


On Bosie: ‘A slim thing, gold haired like and angel, stands always at my side. His presence overshadows me. He moves in the gloom like a white flower.’ (Selected Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis, 1979, p.133.)


‘I feel that my love for you, your love for me, are the two signs of my life, the divine sentiments which make all bitterness bearable. My sweet rose, my delicate flower, my lily of lilies, it is perhaps in prison that I am going to test the power of love.’ (Quoted Juliet Gardiner, Oscar Wilde a Life in Letters, Writings and Wit, Gill & Macmillan 1995, p.141.)

‘I found it to be a revolting and repellent tragedy. The memory of your friendship is the shadow that walks with me here. The gods are strange. They bring us to ruin through what in us is good, gentle, humane, loving. But for my pity and affection for you and yours, I would not now be weeping in this terrible place.’ (Quoted in Gardiner, op cit., p.146.)

‘I feel most strongly that these costs should have been borne by your family. You had taken personally on yourself the responsibility of stating that your family would do so. It was that, which made the solicitor take up the case the way he did. You should have felt that, as you brought the whole ruin on me, the least that you could have done was to spare me the additional ignominy of bankruptcy.’ (Quoted in Gardiner, op. cit., p.144.

—All the foregoing quoted in Danielle Moore, UU Diss., UUC 2012.

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On boy-love (after release from Reading Gaol): ‘a patriot put in prison for his loving his country loves his country, and a poet in prison for loving boys loves boys.’ (Letters, p.705).

Cf. his remark on Constance, reported by Robert Ross: ‘[I cannot stand] ‘the Romany smells of her body’. (Quoted by James Douglas [Radio Éireann preview of his Oscar Wilde series, May 1995]).

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Children in prison - Letter to the Editor, The Daily Chronicle [London], Friday 28th May 1897) - written by Wilde shortly after his release from Reading Gaol.

‘The present treatment of children is terrible, primarily from people not understanding the peculiar psychology of a child’s nature. A child cannot understand a punishment inflicted by society. It cannot realise what society is. With grown up people it is, of course, the reverse. Those of us who are either in prison, or have been sent there, can understand, and do understand, what that collective force called society means, and whatever we may think of its methods or claims, we can force ourselves to accept it.

‘The child consequently, being taken away from its parents by people whom it has never seen, and of whom it knows nothing, and finding itself in a lonely and unfamiliar cell, waited on by strange faces, and ordered about and punished by representatives of a system that it cannot understand, becomes an immediate prey to the first and most prominent emotion produced by modern prison - the emotion of terror.  

‘The terror of a child in prison is quite limitless. I remember once, in Reading, as I was going out to exercise, seeing in the dimly-lit cell right opposite my own, a small boy. Two warders - not unkindly men - were talking to him with some sternness apparently, or perhaps giving him some useful advice about his conduct. One was in the cell with him, the other was standing outside. The child’s face was like a white wedge of sheer terror. There was in his eyes the terror of a hunted animal.

‘The next morning I heard him at breakfast time crying, and calling to be let out. His cry was for his parents. From time to time I could hear the deep voice of the warder on duty telling him to keep quiet. Yet he was not even convicted of whatever little offence he had been charged with. He was simply on remand. That I knew by his wearing his own clothes, which seemed neat enough. He was, however, wearing prison socks and shoes. This showed that he was a very poor boy, whose own shoes, if he had any, were in a bad state. Justices and magistrates, an entirely ignorant class as a rule, often remand children for a week, and then perhaps remit whatever sentence they are entitled to pass. They call this “not sending a child to prison”. It is, of course, a stupid view on their part. To a little child whether he is in prison on remand, or after conviction is not a subtlety of social position he can comprehend. To him the horrible thing is to be there at all. In the eyes of humanity it should be a horrible thing for him to be there at all. [...]

‘There is not a single man in Reading Gaol that would not gladly have done the three children’s punishment for them. When I saw them last, it was on the Tuesday following their conviction. I was taking exercise at half-past eleven with about twelve other men, as the three children passed near us in the charge of a warder, from the damp, dreary stone-yard in which they had been at exercise. I saw the greatest pity and sympathy in the eyes of my companions as they looked at them. Prisoners are, as a class, extremely kind and sympathetic to each other.

It is not the prisoners who need reformation. It is the prisons.

Of course no child under fourteen years of age should be sent to prison at all. It is an absurdity, and, like many absurdities, of absolutely tragic results. If, however, they are to be sent to prison, during the daytime they should be in a workshop or schoolroom with a warder. At night they should sleep in a dormitory, with a night-warder to look after them. They should be allowed exercise for at least three hours a day. The dark, badly ventilated, ill-smelling prison cells are dreadful for a child, dreadful indeed for anyone. One is always breathing bad air in prison. The food given to children should consist of tea and bread-and-butter and soup. Prison soup is very good and wholesome.

A resolution of the House of Commons could settle the treatment of children in half-an-hour. I hope you will use your influence to have this done. The way that children are treated at present is really an outrage on humanity and common sense. It comes from stupidity.

       Sir, your obedient servant,
                             Oscar Wilde

May 27th 1897’

[Quoted in part in Lynsey Turner, UG Diss, UUC 2008; in part in Danielle Moore, UG Diss., UUC 1212; available at The National Archive - online.]

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All wrong ...?: A letter of 1887 to the young journalist Richard Vian (22 - and formerly a Balliol student) which came to auction in Sept. 2010 shows Wilde propositioning him shortly before he meets his fatal amour Bosie:

My Dear Vian

  Shall I do for you an article called the “Child Philosopher”? It will be on Mark Twain’s amazing and amusing record of the answers of American children at a Board School.
  Some of them such as Republicans – “a sinner mentioned in the Bible”, or Democrat – “a vessel usually filled with beer”, are excellent.
 Come and dine at Pagani’s in Portland Street on Friday – 7.30. No dress – just ourselves and a flask of Italian wine – afterwards we will smoke cigarettes and Talk over the Journalistic article – could we go to your rooms, I am so far off, and clubs are difficult to Talk in. This however is for you entirely to settle. Also send me your address again like a good fellow – I have lost it.
 I think your number is excellent, but as usual had to go to S. James’ Street to get a copy. Even Grosvenor Place does not get the C&S. Till Thursday night! This is all wrong, isn’t it,

Truly yours, Oscar Wilde

Note: The letter, with four others spannig 1885-87, were auctioned by Bamfords on 24 Sept. 2010. The proposed article would deal with answers given by American school-children. An estimate of £10,000 was placed on the letters. (See article by Andy McSmith in The Guardian, 16 Sept. 2010 - online; accessed 19.10.2010.)

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Letter to Frank Harris, ‘[…] while the public liked to hear of my pain - curiosity and autobiographical form being elements of interest - I am not sure that they will welcome me again in airy mood and spirit, mocking at morals, and defiance of social rules.’ (Letters, 1962, p. 780; see also under Harris, infra.)

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Life-style: ‘Of course I have passed through a very terrible punishment and have suffered to the very pitch of anguish and despair. Still I am conscious that I was leading a life quite unworthy of an artist in every way and unworthy of the a son of my dear mother whose nobility whose nobility of soul and intellect you always appreciated, and who was herself always one of your warmest and most enthusiastic admirers.’ (Letter to Mrs. Stannard, 28 May 1897; written shortly after his liberation from gaol; sold at Sothebys for £10,000.)

Last words? [remark to Robert Ross]: ‘My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go!’ (Martin F. Nolan, ‘We’re still Wilde about Oscar ’, Boston Globe, 22 Nov. 2000.) [Commonly given as ‘either that wallpaper goes or I do.’]


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