Copyright
Thomas Smith.

The origin and history of missions ... compiled from authentic documents; forming a complete missionary repository; illustrated by numerous engravings, from original drawings made expressly for this work .. (Volume v.1) online

. (page 1 of 12)
Online LibraryThomas SmithThe origin and history of missions ... compiled from authentic documents; forming a complete missionary repository; illustrated by numerous engravings, from original drawings made expressly for this work .. (Volume v.1) → online text (page 1 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


; ;

r ; :


!




Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2010



http://www.archive.org/details/intentionsOOwild




''■■■»''<j^rw



UNIFORM EDIT! OX



THK WRITINGS



OF



OSCAR WILDE



INTENTIONS



ILLUSTRATED



London: New York:
A. R. KKLLHR vS: CO.. Inc.

1907



Copyright 1907, by
A. R. KELLER & CO., Inc.



J. F. Tapley Co.

Printers and Binders

New York



ILLUSTRATIONS.

PAGE

" I intend to call it, ' The Decay of Lying : A Pro-
test'" 10

" He was always a great amateur of engravings " 76

•'The great white-limbed Hermes" .... 117

^'Draw back the curtains and open the windows

wide I" 237



CONTENTS.

PAGE

The Decay of Lying 7

Pen, Pencil, and Poison 67

The Critic as Artist 107



The Decay of Lying.

An Observation.



A DIALOGUE,

Persons: Cyril and Vivian. Scene: the library
of a country house in Nottinghamshire,



THE DECAY OF LYING.

Cyril {coming in through the open window from
ihe terrace). My dear Vivian, don't coop yourself
up all day in the library. It is a perfectly lovely
afternoon. The air is exquisite. There is a mist
upon the woods, like the purple bloom upon a
plum. Let us go and lie on the grass, and smoke
cigarettes, and enjoy Nature.

Vivian. Enjoy Nature ! I am glad to say that
I have entirely lost that faculty. People tell us
that Art makes us love Nature more than we loved
lier before; that it reveals her secrets to us; and
that after a careful study of Corot and Constable
we see things in her that had escaped our obser-
vation. My own experience is that the more we
study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art
really reveals to us is Nature's lack of design, her
curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her
absolutely unfinished condition. Nature has good
intentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said,

7



8 THE WRITINGS OF OSCAR WILDE.

she cannot carry them ont. When I look at a land-
scape I cannot help seeing all its defects. It is
fortunate for us, however, that Nature is so im-
perfect, as otherwise we should have had no art
at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant
attempt to teach Nature her proper place. As
for the infinite variety of Nature, that is a pure
myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself.
It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or culti-
vated blindness of the man who looks at her.

Cyril. Well, you need not look at the landscape..
You can lie on the grass and smoke and talk.

Vivian. But Nature is so uncomfortable. Grass
is hard and lumpy and damp, and full of dreadful
black insects. Why, even Morris' poorest work-
man could make you a more comfortable seat than
the whole of Nature can. Nature pales before the
furniture of "the street which from Oxford has
borrowed its name," as the poet you love so much
once vilely phrased it. I don't complain. If Na-
ture had been comfortable, mankind would never
have invented architecture, and I prefer houses
to the open air. In a house we all feel of the
proper proportions. Everything is subordinated
to us, fashioned for our use and our pleasure. Ego-
tism itself, which is so necessary to a proper sense



THE DECAY OF LYING. 9

of human dignity, is entirely the result of indoor
life. Out of doors one becomes abstract and im-
personal. One's individuality absolutely leaves
one. And then Nature is so indifferent, so unap-
preciative. Whenever I am walking in the park
here I always feel that I am no more to her than
the cattle that browse on the slope, or the burdock
that blooms in the ditch. Nothing is more evident
than that Nature hates Mind. Thinking is the
most unhealthy thing in the world, and people die
of it just as they die of any other disease. Fortu-
nately, in England, at any rate, thought is not
catching. Our splendid physique as a people is
entirely due to our national stupidity. I only hope
we shall be able to keep this great historic bul-
wark of our happiness for many years to come;
but I am afraid that we are beginning to be over-
educated; at least, everybody who is incapable of
learning has taken to teaching — that is really what
our enthusiasm for education has come to. In the
meantime, you had better go back to your weari-
some imcomfortable Nature, and leave me to cor-
rect my proofs.

Cyril. Writing an article! That is not very
consistent after what you have just said.

Vivian. Who wants to be consistent ? The dul-



10 THE WRITINGS OF OSCAR WILDE.

lard and the doctrinaire, the tedious people who
carry out their principles to the bitter end of ac-
tion, to the reductio ad absurdum of practice. Not
I. Like Emerson, I write over the door of my
library the word "Whim.^^ Besides, my article is
really a most salutary and valuable warning. If
it is attended to, there may be a new Renaissance
of Art.

Cyril. What is the subject ?

Vivian, 1 intend to call it "The Decay of Ly-
ing: A Protest.^'

Cyril. Lying! I should have thought that our
politicians kept up that habit.

Vivian. I assure you that they do not. They
never rise beyond the level of misrepresentation,
and actually condescend to prove, to discuss, to
argue. How different from the temper of the true
liar, with his frank, fearless statements, his su-
perb irresponsibility, his healthy, natural disdain
of proof of any kind ! After all, what is a fine lie ?
Simply that which is its own evidence. If a man
is sufficiently unimaginative to produce evidence
in support of a lie, he might just as well speak
the truth at once. No, the politicians won't do.
Something may, perhaps, be urged on behalf of
the Bar. The mantle of the Sophist has fallen



'j^^^ag




•/ intend to call it, ' The Decay of Lying .- A Protest. ' ' '

Page 10



THE DECAY OF LYING. 11

on its members. Their feigned ardours and unreal
rhetoric are delightful. They can make the worse
appear the better cause, as though they were fresh
from Leontine schools, and have been known to
wrest from reluctant Juries triumphant verdicts
of acquittal for their clients, even when those cli-
ents, as often happens, were cleariy and unmistak-
ably innocent. But they are briefed by the prosaic,
and are not ashamed to appeal to precedent. In
spite of their endeavours, the truth will out.
Newspapers, even, have degenerated. They may
now be absolutely relied upon. One feels it as one
wades through their columns. It is always the
unreadable that occurs. I am afraid that there is
not much to be said in favour of either the lawyer
or the journalist. Besides, what I am pleading
for is Lying in art. Shall I read you what I
have written? It might do you a great deal of
good.

Cyril, Certainly, if you give me a cigarette.
Thanks. By the way, what magazine do you in-
tend it for ?

Vivian. For the Retrospective Review. I think
I told you that the elect had revived it.

Cyril. Whom do you mean by ''the elect"?
Vivian. Oh, The Tired Hedonists, of course.



12 THE WEITINGS OF OSCAR WILDE.

It is a clnb to which I belong. We are supposed
to wear faded roses in our button-holes when we
meet, and to have a sort of cult for Bomitian. I
am afraid you are not eligible. You are too fond
of simple pleasures.

Cyril. I should be black-balled on the ground
of animal spirits, I suppose?

Vivian. Probably. Besides, you are a little too
old. We don't admit anybody who is of the usual
age.

Cyril. Well, I should fanc}'' you are all a good
deal bored with e^ch other.

Vivian. We are. That is one of the objects of
the club. Now, if you promise not to interrupt
too often, I will read you my article.

Cyril. You will find me all attention.

Vivian {reading in a very clear, musical voice).
" The Decay of Lying : A Protest. — One of the
chief causes that can be assigned for the curiously
comm.onplace character of most of the literature
of our age is undoubtedly the decay of Lying as
an art, a science, and a social pleasure. The an-
cient historians gave us delightful fiction in the
form of fact ; the modern novelist presents us with
dull facts under the guise of fiction. The Blue-
Book is rapidly becoming his ideal both for method



THE DECAY OF LYIXG. 13

and manner. He has his tedious ^document TiVr
main/ his miserable little 'coin de la creation,' into
which he peers with his microscope. He is to be
found at the Librairie ^NTationale, or at the British
Miisemn, shamelessly reading np his subject. He
has not even the courage of other people's ideas,
but insists on going directly to life for everything,
and ultimately, between encyclopaedias and per-
sonal experience, he comes to the ground, having
drawn his types from the family circle or from the
weekly washerwoman, and having acquired an
amount of useful information from which never,
even in his most meditative moments, can he thor-
oughly free himself.

"The loss that results to literature in general
from this false ideal of our time c^n hardly be
over-estimated. People have a careless way of
talking about a ^Dom liar,^ just as they talk about
a ^bom poet.' But in both cases they are wrong.
L\dng and poetry are arts — arts, as Plato saw, not
unnconected with each other — and they require the
most careful study, the most disinterested devo-
tion. Indeed, they have their technique, just as
the more material arts of painting and sculpture
have, their subtle secrets of form and colour, their
ciaft-mvsteries, their deliberate artistic methods.



14 THE WEITINGS OF OSCAR WILDE.

As one knows the poet by his fine music, so one
can recognise the liar by his rich rhythmic utter-
ance_, and in neither case will the casual inspiration
of the moment suffice. Here, as elsewhere, prac-
tice must precede perfection. But in modem days
while the fashion of writing poetry has become far
too common, and should, if possible, be discour-
aged, the fashion of lying has almost fallen into
disrepute. Many a young man starts in life with
a natural gift for exaggeration which, if nurtured
in congenial and sympathetic surroundings, or by
the imitation of the best models, might grow into
something really great and wonderful. But, as a
rule, he comes to nothing. He either falls into
careless habits of accuracy ^'

Cyril. My dear fellow !

Vivian. Please don't interrupt in the middle of
a sentence. ^^He either falls into careless habits
of accuracy, or takes to frequenting the society
of the aged and the well-informed. Both things are
equally fatal to his imagination, as indeed they
would be fatal to the imagination of anybody, and
in a short time he develops a morbid and un-
healthy faculty of truth-telling, begins to verify
all statements made in his presence, has no hesi-
tation in contradicting people who are much



THE DECAY OF LYING. 15

younger than himself, and often ends by writing
novels which are so like life that no one can possi-
bly believe in their probability. This is no isolated
instance that we are giving. It is simply one ex-
ample out of many; and if something cannot be
done to check, or at least to modify, our monstrous
worship of facts, Art will become sterile, and
Beauty wdll pass away from the land.

"Even Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, that de-
lightful master of delicate and fanciful prose, is
tainted with this modern vice, for we know posi-
tively no other name for it. There is such a thing
as robbing a story of its reality by trying to make
it too true, and The Blaclc Arrow is so inartistic as
not to contain a single anachronism to boast of,
while the transformation of Dr. Jekyll reads dan-
gerously like an experiment out of the Lancet.
As for Mr. Eider Haggard, who really has, or had
once, the makings of a perfectly magnificent liar,
he is now so afraid of being suspected of genius
that when he does tell us an5i:hing marvellous, he
feels bound to invent a personal reminiscence, and
to put it into a footnote as a kind of cowardly
corroboration. Nor are our other novelists much
better. Mr. Henry James writes fiction as if it
were a painful duty, and wastes upon mean mo-



16 THE WRITINGS OF OSCAR WILDE.

tives and imperceptible ^points of view* his neat
literary style, his felicitous phrases, his swift and
caustic satire. Mr. Hall Caine, it is true, aims at
the grandiose, but then he writes at the top of his
voice. He is so loud that one cannot hear what
he says. Mr. James Payn is an adept in the art of
concealing what is not worth finding. He hunts
down the obvious with the enthusiasm of a short-
sighted detective. As one turns over the pages,
the suspense of the author becomes almost un-
bearable. The horses of Mr. William Black's
phaeton do not soar towards the sun. They merely
frighten the sky at evening into violent chromo-
lithographic effects. On seeing them approach, the
peasants take refuge in dialect. Mrs. Oliphant
prattles pleasantly about curates, lawn-tennis par-
ties, domesticity, and other wearisome things. Mr.
Marion Crawford has immolated himself upon the
altar of local colour. He is like the lady in the
French comedy who talks about ^le beau ciel
dTtalie.' Besides, he has fallen into a bad habit of
uttering moral platitudes. He is always telling us
that to be good is to be good, and that to be bad
is to be wicked. At times he is almost edifying.
Robert Elsmere is, of course, a masterpiece — a
masterpiece of the ^genre ennuyeux,' the one form



THE DECAY OF LYING. 17

of literature that the English people seem to thor-
oughly enjoy. A thoughtful young friend of ours
once told us that it reminded him of the sort of
conversation that goes on at a meat tea in the house
of a serious Nonconformist family, and we can
quite believe it. Indeed it is only in England that
such a book could be produced. England is the
home of lost ideas. As for that great and daily
increasing school of novelists for whom the sun
always rises in the East-End, the only thing that
can be said about them is that they find life crude,
and leave it raw.

"In France, though nothing so deliberately tedi-
ous as Robert Elsmere has been produced, things
are not much better. M. Guy de Maupassant, with
his keen mordant irony and his hard vivid style,
strips life of the few poor rags that still cover
her, and shows us foul sore and festering wound.
He writes lurid little tragedies in which everybody
is ridiculous ; bitter comedies at which one cannot
laugh for very tears. M. Zola, true to the lofty
principle that he lays down in one of his pronun-
ciamientos on literature, TL'homme de genie n'a
jamais d'esprit,' is determined to show that, if he
has not got genius, he can at least be dull. And
how well he succeeds ! He is not without power.



18 THE WRITINGS OF OSCAR WILDE.

Indeed at times, as in Germinal^ there is some-
thing almost epic in his work. But his work is en-
tirely wrong from beginning to end, and wrong not
on the ground of morals, hut on the ground of art.
From any ethical standpoint it is just what it
should be. The author is perfectly truthful and
describes things exactly as they happen. What
more can any moralist desire? We have no sym-
pathy at all with the moral indignation of our
time against M. Zola. It is simply the indigna-
tion of Tartuffe on being exposed. But from the
standpoint of art, what can be said in favour of
the author of L'Assommoir^ Nana, and Pot-Bou-
ille? Nothing. Mr. Ruskin once described the
characters in George Eliot's novels as being like the
sweepings of a Pentonville omnibus, but M. Zola's
characters are much worse. They have their dreary
vices, and their drearier virtues. The record of
their lives is absolutely without interest. Who cares
what happens to them? In literature we require
distinction, charm, beauty, and imaginative power.
We don't want to be harrowed and disgusted with
an account of the doings of the lower orders. M.
Daudet is better. He has wit, a light touch, and
an amusing style. But he has lately committed
literary suicide. Nobody can possibly care for



THE DECAY OF LYING. 19

Delobelle with his ^11 faiit lutter pour Tart/ or for
Valmajour with his eternal refrain about the
nightingale, or for the poet in Jack with his 'mots
cruels/ now that we have learned from Vingt Ans
de ma Vie litteraire that these characters were
taken directly from life. To ns they seem to have
suddenly lost all their vitality, all the few qualities
they ever possessed. The only real people are the
people who never existed, and if a novelist is base
enough to go to life for his personages he should
at least pretend that they are creations, and not
boast of them as copies. The Justification of a
character in a novel is not that other persons are
what they are, but that the author is what he is.
Otherwise the novel is not a work of art. As for
M. Paul Bourget, the master of the roman psychoid
ogique, he commits the error of imagining that the
men and women of modern life are capable of be-
ing infinitely analysed for an innumerable series
of chapters. In point of fact, what is interesting
about people in good society — and M. Bourget
rarely moves out of the Faubourg St. Germain, ex-
cept to come to London — is the mask that each one
of them wears, not the reality that lies behind the
mask. It is a humiliating confession, but we are
all of us made out of the same stuff. In Falstaff



20 THE WRITINGS OF OSCAR WILDE.

there is something of Hamlet, in Hamlet there is
not a little of Falstaff. The fat knight has his
moods of melancholy, and the young prince his
moments of coarse humour. Where we differ from
each other is purely in accidentals : in personal ap-
pearance, tricks of habit, and the like. The more
one analyses people, the more all reasons for analy-
sis disappear. Sooner or later one comes to that
dreadful universal thing called human nature.
Indeed, as any one who has ever worked among the
poor knows only too well, the brotherhood of man
is no mere poet's dream, it is a most depressing
and humiliating reality; and if a writer insists
upon analysing the upper classes, he might just as
well write of match-girls and costermongers at
once.^' However, my dear Cyril, I will not de-
tain you any further just here. I quite admit that
modem novels have many good points. All I in-
sist on is that, as a class, they are quite unreadable.
CyriL That is certainly a very grave qualifica-
tion, but I must say that I think you are rather
unfair in some of your strictures. I like The
Deemster, and The Daughter of Heth, and Le Dis-
ciple, and Mr. Isaacs, and as for Robert Elsmere,
I am quite devoted to it. Not that I can look
upon it as a serious work. As a statement of the



THE DECAY OF LYING. 21

problems that confront the earnest Christian it is
ridicTilous and antiquated. It is simply Arnold's
Literature and Dogma with the literature left out*
It is as much behind the age as Paley's Evidences,
or Colenso's method of Biblical exegesis. Nor
could anything be less impressive than the unfor-
tunate hero gravely heralding a dawn that rose
long ago, and so completely missing its true signifi-
cance that he proposes to carry on the business
of the old firm under the new name. On the other
hand, it contains several clever caricatures, and a
heap of delightful quotations, and Green's philoso-
phy very plentifully sugars the somewhat bitter
pill of the author's fiction. I also cannot help ex-
pressing my surprise that you have said nothing
about the two novelists whom you are always read-
ing, Balzac and George Meredith. Surely they
are realists, both of them ?

Vivian. Ah ! Meredith ! Who can define him ?
His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning.
As a writer he has mastered everything except lan-
guage: as a novelist he can do everything, except
tell a story: as an artist he is everything, except
articulate. Somebody in Shakespeare — Touch-
stone, I think — talks about a man who is always
breaking his shins over his own wit, and it seems



22 THE WRITINGS OF OSCAR WILDE.

to me that this might serve as a basis for a criti-
cism of Meredith's method. But whatever he is,
he is not a realist. Or, rather, I would say that he
is a child of realism who is not on speaking terms
with his father. By deliberate choice he has made
himself a romanticist. He has refused to bow the
knee to Baal, and after all, even if the man's fine
spirit did not revolt against the noisy assertions
of realism, his st}'le would be quite sufficient of it-
self to keep life at a respectful distance. By its
means he has planted round his garden a hedge
full of thorns, and red with wonderful roses. As
for Balzac, he was a most remarkable combination
of the artistic temperament with the scientific
spirit. The latter he bequeathed to his disciples :
the former was entirely his own. The difference
between such a book as M. Zola's UAssommoir and
Balzac's Illusions Perdues is the difference between
unimaginative realism and imaginative reality.
"All Balzac's characters," said Baudelaire, "are
gifted with the same ardour of life that animated
himself. All his fictions are as deeply coloured
as dreams. Each mind is a weapon loaded to the
muzzle with will. The very scullions have genius."
A steady course of Balzac reduces our living
friends to shadows, and our acquaintances to the



THE DECAY OF LYIXG. 23

shadows of shades. His characters have a kind of
fervent fiery-coloured existence. They dominate
US, and defy scepticism. One of the greatest trage-
dies of my life is the death of Lncien de Enhem-
pre. It is a grief from which I have never been
able to completely rid myself. It haunts me in my
moments of pleasure. I remember it when I
laugh. But Balzac is no more a realist than Hol-
bein was. He created life, he did not copy it. I
admit, however, that he set far too high a value on
modernity of form, and that, consequently, there is
no book of his that, as an artistic masterpiece, can
rank with Sahmmho or Esmond, or The Cloister
and the Hearth, or the Vicomte de Bragelonne.

Cyril. Do you object to modernity of form,
then?

Vivian. Yes. It is a huge price to pay for a
very poor result. Pure modernity of form is al-
ways somewhat vulgarising. It cannot help being
so. The public imagine that, because they are in-
terested in their immediate surroundings. Art
should be interested in them also, and should take
them as her subject-matter. But the mere fact
that they are interested in these things makes them
unsuitable subjects for Art. The only beautiful
things, as somebody once said, are the things that



24 THE WRITINGS OF OSCAR WILDE.

do not concern us. As long as a thing is useful
or necessary to us, or affects us in any way, either
for pain or for pleasure, or appeals strongly to
our sympathies, or is a vital part of the environ-
ment in which we live, it is outside the proper
sphere of art. To art's suhject-matter we should
be more or less indifferent. We should, at any
rate, have no preferences, no prejudices, no parti-
san feelings of any kind. It is exactly because
Hecuba is nothing to us that her sorrows are such
an admirable motive for tragedy. I do not know
anything in the whole history of literature sadder
than the artistic career of Charles Reade. He
wrote one beautiful book. The Cloister and the
Hearth, a book as much above Romola as Romola
is above Daniel Deronda, and wasted the rest of his
life in a foolish attempt to be modern, to draw pub-
lic attention to the state of our convict prisons,
and the management of our private lunatic asy-
lums. Charles Dickens was depressing enough in
all conscience 'when he tried to arouse our sym-
pathy for the victims of the poor-law administra-
tion; but Charles Reade, an artist, a scholar, a
man with a true sense of beauty, raging and roar-
ing over the abuses of contemporary life like a
common pamphleteer or a sensational journalist.



THE DECAY OF LYING. 25

is really a sight for the angels to weep over. Be-
lieve me, my dear Cyril, modernity of form and
modernity of subject-matter are entirely and ab-
solutely wrong. We have mistaken the common
livery of the age for the vesture of the Muses, and
spend our days in the sordid streets and hideous
suburbs of our vile cities when we should be out
on the hillside with Apollo. Certainly we are a
degraded race, and have sold our birthright for a
mess of facts.

Cyril. There is something in what you say, and
there is no doubt that whatever amusement we
may find in reading a purely modem novel, we
have rarely any artistic pleasure in re-reading it.
And this is perhaps the best rough test of what
is literature and what is not. If one cannot en-
joy reading a book over and over again, there is
no use reading it at all. But what do you say


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryThomas SmithThe origin and history of missions ... compiled from authentic documents; forming a complete missionary repository; illustrated by numerous engravings, from original drawings made expressly for this work .. (Volume v.1) → online text (page 1 of 12)