Oscar Wilde.

Miscellaneous Aphorisms; The Soul of Man online

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SEBASTIAN MELMOTH

[OSCAR WILDE]







London
Arthur L. Humphreys
1911



(Miscellaneous aphorisms, followed by The Soul of Man.)



The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.

Women are made to be loved, not to be understood.

It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and
what one shouldn't. Moren than half of modern culture depends on what
one shouldn't read.

Women, as someone says, love with their ears, just as men love with
their eyes, if they ever love at all.

It is better to be beautiful than to be good, but it is better to be
good than to be ugly.

Nothing looks so like innocence as an indiscretion.

Misfortunes one can endure, they come from outside, they are accidents.
But to suffer for one's faults - ah! there is the sting of life.

Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away
like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for
all seasons, a possession for all eternity.

Questions are never indiscreet; answers sometimes are.

Twenty years of romance make a woman look like a ruin; but twenty years
of marriage make her something like a public building.

The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it
changes.

Anyone can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a
very fine nature to sympathise with a friend's success.

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to
live as one wishes to live: and unselfishness is letting other people's
lives alone, not interfering with them.

A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.

Nowadays people seem to look on life as a speculation. It is not a
speculation. It is a sacrament. Its ideal is love. Its purification is
sacrifice.

In old days nobody pretended to be a bit better than his neighbour. In
fact, to be a bit better than one's neighbour was considered excessively
vulgar and middle class. Nowadays, with our modern mania for morality,
everyone has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all
the other seven deadly virtues. And what is the result? You all go over
like ninepins - one after the other.

All sympathy is fine, but sympathy with suffering is the least fine
mode.

If you pretend to be good the world takes you very seriously. If you
pretend to be bad it doesn't. Such is the astounding stupidity of
optimism.

It is most dangerous nowadays for a husband to pay any attention to his
wife in public. It always makes people think that he beats her when
they're alone. The world has grown so suspicious of anything that looks
like a happy married life.

Actors are so fortunate. They can choose whether they will appear in
tragedy or in comedy, whether they will suffer or make merry, laugh or
shed tears. But in real life it is different. Most men and women are
forced to perform parts for which they have no qualifications. The world
is a stage, but the play is badly cast.

Men know life too early; women know life too late-that is the difference
between men and women.

He who stands most remote from his age is he who mirrors it best.

There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and
that is not being talked about.

Life is not governed by will or intention. Life is a question of nerves
and fibres and slowly built-up cells, in which thought hides itself and
passion has its dreams.

Man is a being with myriad lives and myriad sensations, a complex,
multiform creature that bears within itself strange legacies of thought
and passion, and whose very flesh is tainted with the monstrous maladies
of the dead.

As long as a woman can look ten years younger than her own daughter she
is perfectly satisfied.

There is always something infinitely mean about other people's
tragedies.

Public and private life are different things. They have different laws
and move on different lines.

When one is placed in the position of guardian one has to adopt a very
high moral tone on all subjects. It's one's duty to do so.

I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married
should know either everything or nothing.

An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or
unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be
allowed to arrange for herself.

If the lower classes don't set us a good example what on earth is the
use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral
responsibility.

If a woman cannot make her mistakes charming she is only a female.

The world was made for men and not for women.

It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done.

If you wish to understand others you must intensify your own
individualism.

Why do you talk so trivially about life? Because I think that life is
far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.

What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use
to us.

It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.

Relations are simply a tedious pack of people who haven't got the
remotest knowledge of how to live nor the smallest instinct about when
to die.

Charity creates a multitude of sins.

My experience is that as soon as people are old enough to know better
they don't know anything at all.

Truth is a very complex thing and politics is a very complex business.
There are wheels within wheels. One may be under certain obligations to
people that one must pay. Sooner or later in political life one has to
compromise. Everyone does.

Men can love what is beneath them - things unworthy, stained,
dishonoured. We women worship when we love; and when we lose our worship
we lose everything.

The proper basis for marriage is a mutual misunderstanding.

The one advantage of playing with fire is that one never gets even
singed. It is the people who don't know how to play with it who get
burned up.

There are moments when one has to choose between living one's own life
fully, entirely, completely, or dragging out some false, shallow,
degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands.

When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one
amuses other people. It is excessively boring.

Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the
unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic.

An acquaintance that begins with a compliment is sure to develop into a
real friendship. It starts in the right manner.

The truths of metaphysics are the truths of masks.

Science can never grapple with the irrational. That is why it has no
future before it in this world.

The happy people of the world have their value, but only the negative
value of foils. They throw up and emphasise the beauty and the
fascination of the unhappy.

In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one
wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst - the last
is a real tragedy.

Disobedience in the eyes of anyone who has read history is man's
original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been
made - through disobedience and rebellion.

It is not wise to find symbols in everything that one sees. It makes
life too full of terrors.

Comfort is the only thing our civilisation can give us.

Politics are my only pleasure. You see nowadays it is not fashionable to
flirt till one is forty or to be romantic till one is forty-five, so we
poor women who are under thirty, or say we are, have nothing open to us
but politics or philanthropy. And philanthropy seems to me to have
become simply the refuge of people who wish to annoy their
fellow-creatures. I prefer politics. I think they are more ... becoming.

One's past is what one is. It is the only way by which people should be
judged.

In a very ugly and sensible age the arts borrow, not from life, but from
each other.

It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is
fatal.

Secrets from other people's wives are a necessary luxury in modern life.
So, at least, I am told at the club by people who are bald enough to
know better. But no man should have a secret from his own wife. She
invariably finds it out. Women have a wonderful instinct about things.
They discover everything except the obvious.

Life holds the mirror up to art, and either reproduces some strange type
imagined by painter or sculptor or realises in fact what has been
dreamed in fiction.

I feel sure that if I lived in the country for six months I should
become so unsophisticated that no one would take the slightest notice of
me.

To recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is
like advising a man who is starving to eat less.

A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.

I am always saying what I shouldn't say; in fact, I usually say what I
really think - a great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be
misunderstood.

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.

The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man
is.

The basis of every scandal is an absolute immoral certainty.

People talk so much about the beauty of confidence. They seem to
entirely ignore the much more subtle beauty of doubt. To believe is very
dull. To doubt is intensely engrossing. To be on the alert is to live,
to be lulled into security is to die.

Every effect that one produces gives one an enemy. To be popular one
must be a mediocrity.

It is a sad truth, but we have lost the faculty of giving lovely names
to things. Names are everything. I never quarrel with actions, my one
quarrel is with words. That is the reason I hate vulgar realism in
literature. The man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled
to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for.

A high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either
one's health or one's happiness.

There are terrible temptations that it requires strength - strength and
courage - to yield to. To stake all one's life on one throw - whether the
stake be power or pleasure I care not - there is no weakness in that.
There is a horrible, a terrible, courage.

Nowadays it is only the unreadable that occurs.

All charming people are spoiled. It is the secret of their attraction.

There is more to be said for stupidity than people imagine. Personally,
I have a great admiration for stupidity. It is a sort of fellow-feeling,
I suppose.

All men are monsters. The only thing to do is to feed the wretches well.
A good cook does wonders.

There is no such thing as an omen.

Destiny does not send us heralds. She is too wise or too cruel for that.

Crying is the refuge of plain women but the ruin of pretty ones.

Love art for its own sake and then all things that you need will be
added to you. This devotion to beauty and to the creation of beautiful
things is the test of all great civilisations; it is what makes the life
of each citizen a sacrament and not a speculation.

It is always worth while asking a question, though it is not always
answering one.

It takes a thoroughly good woman to do a thoroughly stupid thing.

With a proper background women can do anything.

Chiromancy is a most dangerous science, and one that ought not to be
encouraged, except in a 'tête-à-tête.'

One should never take sides in anything. Taking sides is the beginning
of sincerity, and earnestness follows shortly afterwards, and the human
being becomes a bore.

The work of art is beautiful by being what art never has been; and to
measure it by the standard of the past is to measure it by a standard on
the reflection of which its real perfection depends.

There are three kinds of despots. There is the despot who tyrannises
over the body. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul. There
is the despot who tyrannises over soul and body alike. The first is
called the prince. The second is called the pope. The third is called
the people.

Costume is a growth, an evolution, and a most important, perhaps the
most important, sign of the manners, customs, and mode of life of each
century.

I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic
to be in love, but there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal.
Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement
is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty.

What consoles one nowadays is not repentance but pleasure. Repentance is
quite out of date.

Ideals are dangerous things. Realities are better. They wound, but they
are better.

Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow.

Shallow sorrows and shallow loves live on. The loves and sorrows that
are great are destroyed by their own plenitude.

An eternal smile is much more wearisome than a perpetual frown. The one
sweeps away all possibilities, the other suggests a thousand.

To disagree with three-fourths of England on all points is one of the
first elements of vanity, which is a deep source of consolation in all
moments of spiritual doubt.

Women live by their emotions and for them, they have no philosophy of
life.

As long as war is regarded as wicked it will always have a fascination.
When it is looked upon as vulgar it will cease to be popular.

There is only one thing worse than injustice, and that is justice
without her sword in her hand. When right is not might it is evil.

We spend our days, each one of us, in looking for the secret of life.
Well, the secret of life is in art.

The truth isn't quite the sort of thing that one tells to a nice, sweet,
refined girl.

If one plays good music people don't listen, and if one plays bad music
people don't talk.

How fond women are of doing dangerous things. It is one of the qualities
in them that I admire most. A woman will flirt with anybody in the world
as long as other people are looking on.

Englishwomen conceal their feelings till after they are married. They
show them then.

Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.

Actions are the first tragedy in life, words are the second. Words are
perhaps the worst. Words are merciless.

Life is terrible. It rules us, we do not rule it.

In art there is no such thing as a universal truth. A truth in art is
that whose contradictory is also true.

One's days are too brief to take the burden of another's sorrows on
one's shoulders. Each man lives his own life, and pays his own price for
living it. The only pity is that one has to pay so often for a single
fault. One has to pay over and over again, indeed. In her dealings with
man Destiny never closes her accounts.

Pleasure is Nature's test, her sign of approval. When we are happy we
are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy.

The people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow
people. What they call their loyalty and their fidelity I call either
the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination.

Better to take pleasure in a rose than to put its root under a
microscope.

Of Shakespeare it may be said that he was the first to see the dramatic
value of doublets and that a climax may depend on a crinoline.

Plain women are always jealous of their husbands; beautiful women never
are! They never have time. They are always so occupied in being jealous
of other people's husbands.

What between the duties expected of one during one's lifetime and the
duties exacted from one after one's death land has ceased to be either a
profit or a pleasure. It gives one position and prevents one from
keeping it up.

A man who moralises is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralises is
invariably plain. There is nothing in the whole world so unbecoming to a
woman as a nonconformist conscience. And most women know it, I am glad
to say.

It was a fatal day when the public discovered that the pen is mightier
than the paving-stone and can be made as offensive as a brickbat.

A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even
glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is
always landing. And when Humanity lands there it looks out, and, seeing
a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.

What is the difference between scandal and gossip? Oh! gossip is
charming! History is merely gossip, but scandal is gossip made tedious
by morality.

All beautiful things belong to the same age.

It is personalities, not principles, that move the age.

Modern pictures are, no doubt, delightful to look at. At least, some of
them are. But they are quite impossible to live with; they are too
clever, too assertive, too intellectual. Their meaning is too obvious
and their method too clearly defined. One exhausts what they have to say
in a very short time, and then they become as tedious as one's
relations.

To know nothing about our great men is one of the necessary elements of
English education.

The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very
tedious if it were either and modern literature a complete
impossibility.

You may laugh, but it is a great thing to come across a woman who
thoroughly understands one.

The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated
altruism.

The number of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is
perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one's clean
linen in public.

The chief thing that makes life a failure from the artistic point of
view is the thing that lends to life its sordid security - the fact that
one can never repeat exactly the same emotion.

We teach people how to remember, we never teach them how to grow.

Vulgar habit that is people have nowadays of asking one, after one has
given them an idea, whether one is serious or not. Nothing is serious
except passion. The intellect is not a serious thing and never has been.
It is an instrument on which one plays, that is all. The only serious
form of intellect I know is the British intellect, and on the British
intellect the illiterate always plays the drum.

It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either
charming or tedious.

It is only the modern that ever become old-fashioned.

It is only the Philistine who seeks to estimate a personality by the
vulgar test of production.

Musical people are so absurdly unreasonable. They always want one to be
perfectly dumb at the very moment when one is longing to be absolutely
deaf.

Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern. One is apt to grow
old-fashioned quite suddenly.

The fact of a man being a poisoner is nothing against his prose. The
domestic virtues are not the true basis of art.

To the philosopher women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just
as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.

The only way a woman can ever reform a man is by boring him so
completely that he loses all possible interest in life.

The only horrible thing in the world is 'ennui.' That is the one sin for
which there is no forgiveness.

French songs I cannot possibly allow. People always seem to think that
they are improper, and either look shocked, which is vulgar, or laugh,
which is worse.

It has often been made a subject of reproach against artists and men of
letters that they are lacking in wholeness and completeness of nature.
As a rule this must necessarily be so. That very concentration of vision
and inversity of purpose which is the characteristic of the artistic
temperament is in itself a mode of limitation. To those who are
preoccupied with the beauty of form nothing else seems of so much
importance.

The work of art is to dominate the spectator. The spectator is not to
dominate the work of art.

One should sympathise with the joy, the beauty, the colour of life. The
less said about life's sores the better.

You can't make people good by act of Parliament - that is something.

Art creates an incomparable and unique effect, and having done so passes
on to other things. Nature, on the other hand, forgetting that imitation
can be made the sincerest form of insult, keeps on repeating the effect
until we all become absolutely wearied of it.

It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about nowadays saying things
against one behind one's back that are absolutely and entirely true.

A true artist takes no notice whatever of the public. The public are to
him non-existent.

One should never trust a woman who tells one her real age. A woman who
would tell one that would tell one anything.

Nothing is so aggravating as calmness. There is something positively
brutal about the good temper of most modern men. I wonder we women stand
it as well as we do.

The truth is a thing I get rid of as soon as possible. Bad habit, by the
way, makes one very unpopular at the club ... with the older members.
They call it being conceited. Perhaps it is.

My own business always bores me to death. I prefer other people's.

Don't be led astray into the paths of virtue - that is the worst of
women. They always want one to be good. And if we are good, when they
meet us they don't love us at all. They like to find us quite
irretrievably bad and to leave us quite unattractively good.

Men are such cowards. They outrage every law in the world and are afraid
of the world's tongue.

Wicked women bother one. Good women bore one. That is the only
difference between them.

To know the principles of the highest art is to know the principles of
all the arts.

I don't believe in the existence of Puritan women. I don't think there
is a woman in the world who would not be a little flattered if one made
love to her. It is that which makes women so irresistibly adorable.

When I am in trouble eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed,
when I am in really great trouble, as anyone who knows me intimately
will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink.

When one is going to lead an entirely new life one requires regular and
wholesome meals.

The soul is born old, but grows young. That is the comedy of life. The
body is born young, and grows old. That is life's tragedy.

One can survive everything nowadays except death, and live down anything
except a good reputation.

The past is of no importance. The present is of no importance. It is
with the future that we have to deal. For the past is what men should
not have been. The present is what men ought not to be. The future is
what artists are.

Men become old, but they never become good.

By persistently remaining single a man converts himself into a permanent
public temptation. Men should be more careful; this very celibacy leads
weaker vessels astray.

I think that in practical life there is something about success, actual
success, that is a little unscrupulous, something about ambition that is
scrupulous always.

Every man of ambition has to fight his century with its own weapons.
What this century worships is wealth. The god of this century is wealth.
To succeed one must have wealth. At all costs one must have wealth.

I love scandals about other people, but scandals about myself don't
interest me. They have not got the charm of novelty.

Moderation is a fatal thing. Enough is as bad as a meal. More than
enough is as good as a feast.

The English can't stand a man who is always saying he is in the right,
but they are very fond of a man who admits he has been in the wrong. It
is one of the best things in them.

Life is simply a 'mauvais quart d'heure' made up of exquisite moments.

There is the same world for all of us, and good and evil, sin and
innocence, go through it hand in hand. To shut one's eyes to half of
life that one may live securely is as though one blinded oneself that
one might walk with more safety in a land of pit and precipice.

Married men are horribly tedious when they are good husbands and
abominably conceited when they are not.

Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion,
enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.

Everybody is clever nowadays. You can't go anywhere without meeting
clever people. This has become an absolute public nuisance.

I don't think man has much capacity for development. He has got as far
as he can, and that is not far, is it?

I am not quite sure that I quite know what pessimism really means. All I
do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity, cannot
be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German philosophy,


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