Leonard Cresswell Ingleby.

Oscar Wilde online

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typographical error is on page 144 where the word "miuutes" was
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errors, the author's spelling has been left unchanged from the original
text with the following three exceptions:

1. Page 126 the word "worldings" was changed to "worldlings" in the
phrase: "... guests are all mere worldlings...."

2. Page 262 the quoted phrase from the original: "Fait vour quelle
sera votre votre maturité" was changed to: "Fait voir quelle sera
votre maturité" which is the correct wording from the poem "À Théodore
de Banville" by Charles Baudelaire.

3. Page 317 the name "Bazil" was changed to "Basil" in the phrase:
"... Basil Hallward's studio...." to correspond with the author's
other spellings of the name Basil Hallward.

Two items in the index, which were out of alphabetical order ("De
Profundis - Biblical influence" and "Shaw, G. B.") were placed in correct
alphabetical order in this version.





_Very fully Illustrated and with Photogravure
Frontispiece, and a Biography_



_Demy 8vo, Cloth gilt_

_Also a limited edition de luxe_



_From a Crayon Portrait by_ S. WRAY.












The Dramatist 95
"Lady Windermere's Fan" 104
"A Woman Of No Importance" 119
"The Ideal Husband" 129
"The Importance Of Being Earnest" 149


"Salomé" 161
"The Duchess of Padua" 199
"Vera, or the Nihilists" 207
"The Florentine Tragedy" 215
"The Woman Covered With Jewels" 220


The Fairy Stories 227


Poems 245


Fiction 301










The [Greek: synetoi], the connoisseurs, always recognised the genius of
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde from the very first moment when he
began to write. For many years ordinary people to whom literature and
literary affairs were not of, at anyrate, absorbing interest only knew
of Oscar Wilde by his extravagances and poses.

Then it happened that Wilde turned his powers in the direction of the
stage and achieved a swift and brilliant success. The English public
then began to realise that here was an unusually brilliant man, and the
extraordinary genius of the subject of this work would have certainly
been universally recognised in a few more years, when the shocking
scandals associated with his name occurred and Oscar Wilde disappeared
into oblivion.

A great change gradually took place in public opinion. Little by little
the feeling of prejudice against the work of Oscar Wilde began to die
away. The man himself was dead. He had expiated his crimes by a
prolonged agony of the most hideous suffering and disgrace, and people
began to wonder if his writings were in any way associated with the dark
side of his life and character, or whether they might not, after all, be
beautiful, pure, and treasures of the literature of our time. The four
comedies of Manners, "Lady Windermere's Fan," "The Ideal Husband," "A
Woman Of No Importance," "The Importance Of Being Earnest," everyone had
seen and laughed at. They were certainly absolutely without offence. It
was gradually seen that because a house was built by an architect of an
immoral private life that did not necessarily invalidate it as a
residence, that if Stephenson had ended his life upon the gallows people
would still find railways convenient and necessary. The truth gradually
dawned that Wilde had never in his life written a line that was immoral
or impure, and that, in short, the criminal side of him was only a part
of his complex nature, horribly disastrous for himself and his personal
life, but absolutely without influence upon his work.

Art and his aberration never mingled or overlapped. Everybody began to
realise the fact.

Opinion was also being quietly moulded from within by a band of literary
and artistic people, some of them friends of the late author, others
knowing him simply through his work.

The public began to ask for Wilde's books and found it almost
impossible to obtain them, for the "Ballad of Reading Gaol," published
while its author was still alive, had not stimulated any general demand
for other works.

It was after Oscar Wilde's death that his friends and admirers were able
to set to work at their endeavours to rehabilitate him as artist in the
mind of general prejudice. Books and monographs were written about Wilde
in English, French, and German. He was quoted in the leading Continental
reviews. His play "Salomé" met with sudden and stupendous success all
over Europe, a famous musician turned it into an opera. A well-known
English man of letters, Mr Robert Harborough Sherard, published a final
official "Life" of the dead author, and Wilde's own "De Profundis"
appeared to startle, sadden, and thrill the whole reading world.

His plays are being revived, and an authoritative and exhaustive edition
of his writings is being issued by a leading publishing house.

There is no doubt about it, the most prejudiced and hostile critics must
admit it - in a literary sense, as a man of letters with extraordinary
genius, Oscar Wilde has come into his own. The time is, therefore, ripe
for a work of the present character which endeavours to "appreciate" one
of the strangest, saddest, most artistic and powerful brains of modern
times. Five years ago such a book as this would probably have been out
of place. When Balzac died Sainte-Beuve prefaced a short critical
article of fourteen pages, as follows: -

"A careful study of the famous novelist who has just been taken
from us, and whose sudden loss has excited universal interest,
would require a whole work, and the time for that, I think, has not
yet come. Those sort of moral autopsies cannot be made over a
freshly dug grave, especially when he who has been laid in it was
full of strength and fertility, and seemed still full of future
works and days. All that is possible and fitting in respect of a
great contemporary renown at the moment death lays it low is to
point out, by means of a few clear-cut lines, the merits, the
varied skill, by which it charmed its epoch and acquired influence
over it."

When Oscar Wilde died, and before the publication of "De Profundis,"
various short essays did, as I have stated, make an appearance. A longer
work seems called for, and it is that want which the present volume does
its best to supply.

"Oscar Wilde: The Man" is the title of the first part of this
Appreciation. In Mr Sherard's "The Story of an Unhappy Friendship," as
also in his careful and scholarly "Life," the many-sided nature of Oscar
Wilde was set forth with all the ability of a brilliant pen. But there
is yet room for another, and possibly more detached point of view, and
also a summary of the views of others which will assist the general
reader to gain a mental picture of a writer whose works, in a very short
time, are certain to have a general, as well as a particular appeal.

The scheme of a work of this nature, which is critical rather than
biographical, would nevertheless be incomplete without a personal study.

The study of Wilde's writings cannot fail to be enormously assisted by
some knowledge of synetoithe man himself, and how he was regarded by
others both before and after his personal disgrace.

Ever since his name was known to the world at all the public view of him
has constantly been shifting and changing. There are, however, four
principal periods during each of which Wilde was regarded in a totally
different way. I have made a careful analysis of each of these periods
and collected documentary and other evidence which defines and explains

The first period of all - Oscar Wilde himself always spoke of the
different phases of his extraordinary career as "periods" - was that of
the "Æsthetic movement" as it is generally called, or the æsthetic
"craze" as many people prefer to name it still. New movements, whether
good or bad in their conception and ultimate result, always excite
enmity, hostility, and ridicule. In affairs, in religion, in art, this
is an invariable rule. No pioneer has ever escaped it. England laughed
at the first railway, jeered at the volunteer movement and laughed at
John Keats in precisely the same fashion as it ridiculed Oscar Wilde and
the æsthetic movement.

It is as well to define that movement carefully, for, though marred by
innumerable extravagances and still suffering from the inanities of its
first disciples, it has nevertheless had a real and permanent influence
upon English life. Oscar Wilde was, of course, not the originator of the
æsthetic movement. He took upon himself to become its hierophant, and to
infuse much that was peculiarly his own into it. The movement was begun
by Ruskin, Rossetti, William Morris, Burne-Jones, and a host of others,
while it was continued in the delicate and beautiful writings of Walter
Pater. But it had always been an eclectic movement, not for the public
eye or ear, neither known of nor popular with ordinary people.

Oscar Wilde then began to interest and excite England and America in the
true aims and methods of art of all kinds. It shows an absolute
ignorance of the late Victorian era to say that the movement was a
passing craze. To Oscar Wilde we owe it that people of refined tastes
but moderate means can obtain beautiful papers for the walls of their
houses at a moderate cost. The cheap and lovely fabrics that we can buy
in Regent Street are spun as a direct consequence of the movement;
harmony and delicacy of colour, beauty of curve and line, the whole
renaissance of art in our household furniture are mainly due to the
writings and lectures of Oscar Wilde.

It is not a crime to love beautiful things, it is not effeminate to care
for them. It is to the subject of this appreciation we owe our national
change of feeling on such matters.

This, briefly, is what the æsthetic movement was, such are its
indubitable results. Let us see, in some instances, how Wilde was
regarded in the period when, before his real literary successes, he
preached the gospel of Beauty in everyday life.

Let us take a Continental view of Wilde in his first period, the view of
a really eminent man, a distinguished scientist and man of letters.

The name of Dr Max Nordau will be familiar to many readers of this book.
But, if the book fulfils the purpose for which it was designed, then
possibly there will be many readers who will know little or nothing of
the distinguished foreign writer. Hard, one-sided, and bitter as his
remarks upon Wilde during the æsthetic movement will seem to most of
us - seem to me - yet they have the merit of absolute detachment and
sincerity. It is as well to insist on this fact in order that my
readers may realise exactly such value as the words may have, no less
and no more. The following short account of Dr Max Nordau's position and
achievements is taken from that useful dictionary of celebrities, "Who's
Who?" for 1907: -

"NORDAU, MAX SIMON, M.D. Paris, Budapesth; Officier d'Académie,
France; Commander of the Royal Hellenic Order of the St Saviour;
author and physician; President Congress of Zionists; Hon. Mem. of
the Greek Acad. of the Parnassos; _b._ Budapesth, 29th July 1849;
_y. s._ of Gabriel Südfield, Rabbi, Krotoschin, Prussia, and his
2nd wife, _b._ Nelkin, Riga, Russia. _Educ._ Royal Gymnasium and
Protestant Gymnasium, Budapesth; Royal University, Budapesth;
Faculty of Medicine, Paris. Wrote very early for newspapers;
travelled for several years all over Europe; practised as a
physician for a year and a half, 1878-80, at Budapesth; settled
then at Paris, residing there ever since; _m._ Anna-Elizabeth, 2nd
_d._ of State-councillor Captain Julius Dons, Copenhagen, Denmark;
one _d._ _Publications_: Paris, Studien und Bilder aus dem wahren
Milliardenlande, 1878; Seifenblasen, 1879; Vom Kreml zur Alhambra,
1880; Aus der Zeitungswelt (together with Ferdinand Gross), 1880;
Paris under der dritten Republik, 1881; der Krieg der Millionen,
1882; Die conventionellen Lügen der Culturmenschheit, 1883;
Ausgewählte Pariser Briefe, 1884; Paradoxe, 1885; Die Krankheit des
Jahrhunderts, 1887; Seelenanalysen, 1891; Gefühlskomödie, 1892;
Entartung, 1893; Das Recht zu lieben, 1894; Die Kugel, 1895;
Drohnenschlacht, 1896; La funzione sociale dell arte, 1897; Doctor
Kohn, 1898; The Drones must Die, 1899: Zeitgenössische Franzosen,
1901; Morganatic, 1904; Mahâ-Rôg, 1905. _Recreations_:
foil-fencing, swimming. _Address_: 8, Rue Léonie, Paris."

Nearly all the modern manifestations of Art, implies Dr Max Nordau, in
"Degeneration," are manifestations of madness. Such a sweeping statement
is incredible and has not - nor will it have - many advocates, despite the
brilliant special pleading of its originator. In Oscar Wilde's case the
aphorism seems particularly misleading for the reason that there may
appear to be a considerable amount of truth in it.

That Wilde's _social_ downfall was due to a certain kind of elliptiform
insanity is without doubt. Mr Sherard has insisted on this over and over
again. He has spent enormous labour in researches into Wilde's ancestry.
His view is really a scientific view because it is written by an artist
who sees both sides of the question, has a judicial mind, and while
capable of appreciating the truths that science teaches us, is further
capable of welding them to the psychological truths which the intuition
of the artist alone evolves.

A certain definite and partial insanity alone can explain Wilde's life
in certain of its aspects. But when once his pen was in his hand, in his
real bright life of literature and art, this hidden thing entirely
disappears. Therefore, Dr Max Nordau's study seems to me fundamentally
wrong, though extremely interesting and not to be disregarded. To know
Oscar Wilde we must know what all sorts of people, whose opinion has
weight enough to secure a wide hearing, really thought about him.

The German scientist said:

"The ego-mania of decadentism, its love of the artificial, its
aversion to nature, and to all forms of activity and movement, its
megalomaniacal contempt for men and its exaggeration of the
importance of art, have found their English representative among
the 'Æsthetes,' the chief of whom is Oscar Wilde.

"Wilde has done more by his personal eccentricities than by his
works. Like Barbey d'Aurevilly, whose rose-coloured silk hats and
gold lace cravats are well known, and like his disciple Joséphin
Péladan, who walks about in lace frills and satin doublet, Wilde
dresses in queer costumes which recall partly the fashions of the
Middle Ages, partly the rococo modes. He pretends to have abandoned
the dress of the present time because it offends his sense of the
beautiful; but this is only a pretext in which probably he himself
does not believe. What really determines his actions is the
hysterical craving to be noticed, to occupy the attention of the
world with himself, to get talked about. It is asserted that he has
walked down Pall Mall in the afternoon dressed in doublet and
breeches, with a picturesque biretta on his head, and a sunflower
in his hand, the quasi-heraldic symbol of the Æsthetes. This
anecdote has been reproduced in all the biographies of Wilde, and I
have nowhere seen it denied. But it is a promenade with a sunflower
in the hand also inspired by a craving for the beautiful.

"Phrasemakers are perpetually repeating the twaddle, that it is a
proof of honourable independence to follow one's own taste without
being bound down to the regulation costume of the Philistine
cattle, and to choose for clothes the colours, materials and cut
which appear beautiful to oneself, no matter how much they may
differ from the fashion of the day. The answer to this cackle
should be that it is above all a sign of anti-social ego-mania to
irritate the majority unnecessarily, only to gratify vanity, or an
æsthetical instinct of small importance and easy to control - such
as is always done when, either by word or deed, a man places
himself in opposition to this majority. He is obliged to repress
many manifestations of opinions and desires out of regard for his
fellow-creatures; to make him understand this is the aim of
education, and he who has not learnt to impose some restraint upon
himself in order not to shock others is called by malicious
Philistines, not an Æsthete, but a blackguard.

"It may become a duty to combat the vulgar herd in the cause of
truth and knowledge; but to a serious man this duty will always be
felt as a painful one. He will never fulfil it with a light heart,
and he will examine strictly and cautiously if it be really a high
and imperative law which forces him to be disagreeable to the
majority of his fellow-creatures. Such an action is, in the eyes of
a moral and sane man, a kind of martyrdom for a conviction, to
carry out which constitutes a vital necessity; it is a form, and
not an easy form, of self-sacrifice, for it means the renunciation
of the joy which the consciousness of sympathy with one's
fellow-creatures gives, and it exacts the painful overthrow of
social instincts, which, in truth, do not exist in deranged
ego-maniacs, but are very strong in the normal man.

"The predilection for strange costume is a pathological aberration
of a racial instinct. The adornment of the exterior has its origin
in the strong desire to be admired by others - primarily by the
opposite sex - to be recognised by them as especially well shaped,
handsome, youthful, or rich and powerful, or as pre-eminent
through rank or merit. It is practised, then, with the object of
producing a favourable impression on others, and is a result of
thought about others, of preoccupation with the race. If, now, this
adornment be, not through misjudgment but purposely, of a character
to cause irritation to others, or lend itself to ridicule - in other
words, if it excites disapproval instead of approbation - it then
runs exactly counter to the object of the art of dress, and evinces
a perversion of the instinct of vanity.

"The pretence of a sense of beauty is the excuse of consciousness
for a crank of the conscious. The fool who masquerades in Pall Mall
does not see himself, and, therefore, does not enjoy the beautiful
appearance which is supposed to be an æsthetic necessity for him.
There would be some sense in his conduct if it had for its object
an endeavour to cause others to dress in accordance with his taste;
for them he sees and they can scandalise him by the ugliness, and
charm by the beauty, of their costume. But to take the initiative
in a new artistic style in dress brings the innovator not one
hair's breadth nearer his assumed goal of æsthetic satisfaction.

"When, therefore, an Oscar Wilde goes about in 'æsthetic costume'
among gazing Philistines, exciting either their ridicule or their
wrath, it is no indication of independence of character, but rather
from a purely anti-socialistic, ego-maniacal recklessness and
hysterical longing to make a sensation, justified by no exalted
aim; nor is it from a strong desire of beauty, but from a
malevolent mania for contradiction."

It is impossible to read the extracts quoted above - and only a few
paragraphs sufficient to show the trend of a much longer article have
been used - without realising its injustice and yet at the same time its
perfect sincerity. During the "first period," with which we are dealing
now, Wilde undoubtedly excited the enmity and ridicule of a vast number
of people. He knew that he had something to say which was worth
listening to. He knew also - as the genius always has known - that he was
superior in intellect to those by whom he was surrounded. His
temperament was impatient. He wanted to take the place to which he felt
he was entitled in a sudden moment. His quick Celtic imagination ran
riot with fact, his immeasurable ambition, his serene consciousness of
worth, which to usual minds and temperaments suggested nothing but
conceit, all urged him to display and extravagance in order to more
speedily mount the rostrum from which he would be heard.

Therefore, in this first period of this so astonishing a career, he went
far to spoil and obscure his message by the very means he hoped would
enable him to publish it widely. He invented a pose which he intended
should become a megaphone, whereas, in the effect, it did but retard
the hearing of his voice until the practical wisdom of what he wished to
say proved itself in concrete form.

Nor must we ever forget the man's constant sense of humour, a mocking
sprite which doubtless led him to this or that public foolishness while
he chuckled within at his own attitude and the dance he was leading his
imitators and fools. For Oscar Wilde had a supreme sense of humour. Many
people would like to deny him _humour_, while admitting his marvellous
and scintillating _wit_. That they are wrong I unhesitatingly assert,
and I believe that this will be proved over and over again in the
following pages.

Let us take another view of Wilde at this period. It was written after
his disappearance from public life, or rather when it was imminent and
certain. The words are those of Mr Labouchere, the _flaneur_ with an
intellect, the somewhat acid critic of how many changing aspects and
phases of English social life.

"I have known Oscar Wilde off and on for years," writes Mr Labouchere in
_Truth_. "Clever and witty he unquestionably is, but I have always
regarded him as somewhat wrong in the head, for his craving after
notoriety seemed to me a positive craze. There was nothing that he would
not do to attract attention. When he went over to New York he went
about dressed in a bottle-green coat with a waist up to his shoulders.
When he entered a restaurant people threw things at him. When he drove
in the evening to deliver his lectures the windows of his carriage were
broken, until a policeman rode on each side of it. Far from objecting to
all this, it filled him with delighted complacency. 'Insult me, throw
mud at me, but only look at me,' seemed to be his creed; and such a

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