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With a Full Reprint of the famous Revolutionary 
Article, " Jacta A lea Est," which was written 
by Jane Francesco Elgee, who aftenvards 
became the mother of Oscar Wilde, 
and an additional Chapter con- 
tributed by one of the Prison- 
Warders, who held this 
Unhappy Man in 




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" The heroes of literary as well as 
civil history have been very often no 
less remarkable for what they have 
suffered than for what they have 
achieved ; and volumes have been 
written only to enumerate the miseries 
of the learned, and relate their un- 
happy lives and untimely deaths. 

"To these mournful narratives, 
I am about to add the life of ... 
a man whose writings entitle him to 
an eminent rank in the classes of 
learning, and whose misfortunes claim 
a degree of compassion not always 
due to the unhappy, as they were 
often the consequences of the crimes 
of others rather than his own." 



THE extract from the introductory passage of 
Dr Johnson's "Life of Richard Savage" which 
appears on one of the fly-leaves of this book sets 
forth in a manner singularly appropriate the 
impression which is produced on every thinking 
head and feeling heart by a contemplation of the 
career of Oscar Wilde. 

Who, that follows his ascension to that 
" eternity of fame/' of which he speaks in " De 
Profundis," and watches his sudden and head- 
long fall, will not echo those further words of 
that great, good Dr Johnson, of whom it may 
be said that had his like been living, at the time 
of Wilde's catastrophe, the whole after-story of 
Wilde's life would assuredly have been a less 
pitiful one. 

" That affluence and power, advantages ex- 
trinsic and adventitious, and therefore easily 
separable from those by whom they are pos- 
sessed, should very often flatter the mind with 
expectations of felicity which they cannot give, 
raises no astonishment : but it seems rational 
to hope that intellectual greatness should pro- 
duce better effects ; that minds qualified for 



great attainments should first endeavour their 
own benefit ; and that they who are most able 
to teach others the way to happiness should, 
with most certainty, follow it themselves." 

At the same time this must not be taken to 
convey that any close comparison can be in- 
stituted between Richard Savage and Oscar 
Wilde, either in point of capacity and perform- 
ance, or of character, or indeed, except in re- 
spect of their vicissitudes, of career. It may, 
however, be of literary interest to observe one 
or two points of similitude in the characters of 
these two men. 

One reads of Richard Savage as to his choice 
of friends : 

" His time was spent in prison for the most 
part in study, or in receiving visits ; but some- 
times he diverted himself with the conversation 
of criminals ; for it was not pleasing to him to 
be much without company ; and though he was 
very capable of a judicious choice, he was often 
contented with the first that offered." 

It will be seen in the course of this book that 
even in prison Oscar Wilde took pleasure in the 
society and conversation of criminals. " The 
smaller natures and the meaner minds" still 
appealed to him, and he underwent punishment 
rather than forego their whispered exchange of 

And it will further be seen in the narrative 



of his prison life how truly it might be written 
of him what Dr Johnson wrote of Savage : 

"... But here, as in every other scene of his 
life, he made use of such opportunities as oc- 
curred to him of benefiting those who were more 
miserable than himself, and was always ready 
to perform any office of humanity to his fellow- 
prisoners." And, generally, of both it is equally 
true, that : 

" Whatever was his predominant inclination, 
neither hope nor fear hindered him from com- 
plying with it ; nor had opposition any other 
effect than to heighten his ardour, and irritate 
his vehemence." 

With equal appositeness can the moral which 
Dr Johnson draws from his narrative be ap- 
plied to this story also : 

" This relation will not be wholly without its 
use, if those who languish under any part of 
his sufferings shall be enabled to fortify their 
patience by reflecting that they feel only those 
afflictions from which his abilities did not 
exempt him ; or those who, in confidence of 
superior capacities or attainments, disregarded 
the common maxims of life, shall be reminded 
that nothing will supply the want of prudence ; 
and that negligence and irregularity long con- 
tinued will make knowledge useless, wit ridicu- 
lous, and genius contemptible." 

It is not, indeed, to point afresh this moral 



that the present book has been written. The age 
desiderates no such lessons, resents them rather. 
Life is to-day ordered by a reconcilement of 
inclination and interest with the requirements 
of the written and unwritten laws. He sets out 
on a futile task who seeks to teach conduct from 
example however striking, for our present in- 
dividualism will brook no such guidance. The 
purpose of this book is another and a threefold 
one. It is to give an authoritative record of the 
career of a remarkable man, of remarkable gifts 
and achievements ; it is to give an account of 
the author's books and other works to that large 
section of the world which ignores his writings, 
which, like ninety-nine out of every hundred 
Frenchmen, for instance, has heard of his at- 
tainder, but knows nothing of his distinction ; 
it is further to remove the false impressions, the 
misstatements of fact, the lying rumours, which, 
although the grave in Bagneux churchyard 
closed upon him only one bare lustre since, have 
gathered round his name and story in a cloud 
of misrepresentation of astonishing magnitude. 
It is, indeed, this last purpose which may be 
allowed to plead the opportunity of the present 
publication. It is now not too late to establish 
fact, to refute falsehood and to present a story 
freed from the supercharges of error or of malice. 
These floating rumours have not yet had the 
time to come together, to coagulate, and to 


crystallise. Rumour can yet be unmasked as 
rumour, legend has not yet hardened into 
history, posthumous pasquinade has not yet 
dried on the tombstone. 

It was one of the dead wit's sayings that of all 
the disciples of a man it is always Judas who 
writes his biography. In the present instance 
this paradox has less truth than ever. The 
writer was in no sense the disciple of Oscar 
Wilde ; he was indeed as strongly antagonistic 
to most of his principles, ethical, artistic, and 
philosophical, as he was warmly disposed to him 
for his many endearing qualities and captivating 
graces. His qualifications arise from the facts 
that for the period of sixteen years preceding 
Oscar Wilde's death he was intimately ac- 
quainted with him, that his friendship with him 
of which elsewhere a true record exists was 
continuous, and uninterrupted save by that act 
of God which puts a period to all human com- 
panionships, that he was with him at times 
when all others had withdrawn, and that for 
the very reason that he was not in sympathy with 
any of the affectations which towards others 
Oscar Wilde used to assume, the man as he truly 
was, the man as God and Nature had made him, 
was perhaps better known to him than to most of 
his other associates. The method of treatment 
which was adopted in that earlier record, to which 
reference has been made above, being no longer 



imperative here, has been abandoned, with all 
the more alacrity on the part of the author that 
he has ever been in complete concordance with 
the general preference of objective to subjective 
treatment in the matter of biography. To-day, 
what three years ago was utterly impossible, he 
may yield to his own inclinations, because to-day 
it has become admissible that a biography of 
Oscar Wilde can be written and made public. 
The writer has no longer to seek how to arouse 
interest in his subject through the graduated 
emotions of curiosity, pity, amazement and 
sympathy. It is open to him to record facts, 
without having to palliate the offence of so re- 
cording them by an exposition of their incidence 
upon others. The upward climb, the attain- 
ment, the joys of conquest, the catastrophe, 
the precipitation, and the horrors of the abyss 
may now be depicted upon his canvas in plain 
fashion. The reader shall see them as they 
were ; he shall no longer be coaxed by a cunning 
elicitation of his sympathy for the teller of the 
story to listen to a tale against which prejudice, 
the voice of public opinion, and his own con- 
ception of what it is seemly and expedient for 
him to hear are ever prompting him to close 

his ears. 


January i^th, 1906; 























SIR WILLIAM WILDE .... Facing page 23 


W. G. WILLS . ... . ,,85 

i MERRION SQUARE . . . 87 

i MERRION SQUARE . . . 87 


OSCAR WILDE AS A LAD . . . ,,103 

RUSKIN . . . . . ,,125 


16 TITE STREET ....,, 257 

HENRI DE REGNIER . . '. . ,, 283 







List of Illustrations 

READING GAOL . . . . Facing page 377 

PAUL ADAM ...... 403 

MONS. DUPOIRIER . . . . ,,417 




MADAME DUPOIRIER . . . . ,,425 



The Life of Oscar Wilde 


The Necessity of carefully tracing Oscar Wilde's Descent The 
Real Date of his Birth Probable Cause of the Error His 
Admission to Mr Carson His Distinguished Kinships His 
Early Tastes Early Successes Alcohol as a Preserver of 
Life Possible Consequences of a Dangerous Delusion 
William Wilde's Skill as a Surgeon " The Man whose 
Throat he Cut " Another Famous Operation The 
Voyage of The Crusader A Successful First Book His 
First Professional Earnings What he did with them 
He Founds a Hospital His Noble Charity The Royal 
Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital Honours and Knight- 
hood As a Land-Owner His Literary Labours Tri- 
butes to his Surgical Skill " The Father of Modern 
Otology " A Wife's Recognition Other Traits of his 

WHEN Nature has bountifully endowed a man 
with every gracious gift which should ensure for 
him success and felicity in life ; when she has 
made him the fit subject for the boundless 
admiration or the unrestrained envy of his con- 
temporaries, and when this favoured and fortun- 
ate man suddenly discloses leanings, propensities, 
instincts, which, rapidly developing into passions 
he appears utterly powerless to bridle, precipitate 
him amidst the exuberant exultation of his 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

enemies and the stone-eyed dismay of his friends 
into an abyss of disgrace and misery, it becomes 
more particularly the duty of an equitable bio- 
grapher to inquire if either heredity, or parental 
example, or early training and environment can 
in any degree help the world to understand the 
formidable physiological problem, how in one 
and the same man can be allied, supreme in- 
telligence with reckless imprudence, a remark- 
able respect for society with an utter defiance 
of social observances, and the most refined 
hedonism with a taste for the coarsest frequent- 

In the case of Oscar Wilde, the problem, 
when his descent and kinship have been studied, 
becomes even more intricate and perplexing. 
For while ia his immediate parentage will be 
discovered people whose incontestable genius 
was united, as is so often the case, with pro- 
nounced moral degeneracy, his ascending lines, 
traced back to remote generations, display such 
solid qualities of sane normality and civic 
excellence, that this unhappy man's aberration 
must appear one of those malignant, morbid 
developments which alarm and confound the 
psychologist when they unexpectedly produce 
themselves in a man's mentality, no less than 
as by the sudden development in the body of 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

malignant and morbid growths the practitioner 
is confounded and alarmed. 

It therefore becomes necessary, before pro- 
ceeding to the account of the strange vicissitudes 
of his life, to investigate with more than usual 
care, his descent and affinities. In this way 
alone can it be hoped that some light may be 
thrown upon the disquieting problem which his 
career discloses. It is an investigation, which, 
when the laws of atavism shall, with the progress 
of science, be better understood, may enable an 
enlightened posterity to judge a most remarkable 
man, in many ways an ornament to humanity, 
with the justice which was refused to him in his 
lifetime, and will continue to be refused to his 
memory as long as the mediaeval obscurantism, 
from which we are only just beginning to emerge, 
still enswathes the minds of men. 

So important is the object to be attained by 
this investigation for what purpose can tran- 
scend the attainment of justice ? that if in its 
course personal considerations are ousted, and 
the pious reverence due to the dead may appear 
to be disregarded, these sacrifices cannot but 
be considered as imperatively imposed. 

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was 
born at No. i Merrion Square, in the city of Dub- 
lin, on the i6th October 1854. So great a part 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of the task of telling the story of his life consists 
in correcting the mistakes of those who have 
written about him, in refuting unfair aspersions 
on his character, and in nailing venomous lies to 
the counter of public opinion, that particular 
attention may be called to the date of his birth. 
In such biographical notices of him as exist, 
the year in which this unhappy man was ushered 
into a world where he was to suffer so greatly 
is given as 1856. He was not born in 1856, but 
two years earlier. As this narrative proceeds 
negations of far greater importance will have to 
be put upon record. His life, indeed, like that 
of many men who have been made the victims 
of the unreasoning hatred of his countrymen, 
might be almost told in a series of denials of cur- 
rent lies concerning his character and his deeds. 
As to the particular inaccuracy, however, to 
which attention is drawn above, it probably 
arose from his own misstatement. He professed 
an adoration' for youth ; his works contain many 
almost rhapsodical eulogies of physical and 
mental immaturity; and no doubt that as he 
himself drew nearer to what he satirised in his 
plays as " the usual age," he gave as the year 
of his birth a date which made him appear two 
years younger than he really was. A friend of 
his, on one occasion, endeavoured to point out 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

to him that a man might derive far greater 
satisfaction in giving out his age as more ad- 
vanced than it really was, in posturing as old 
in years while younger in fact, in hugging to 
his heart the secret reserve of days. But he 
refused to admit it. 

In his cross-examination by Mr Carson during 
the trial of Lord Queensberry he was forced to 
admit the truth as to the date of his birth. The 
following remarks were then exchanged between 
the prosecutor and the Marquess's counsel : 

" Mr Carson : ' You stated your age as thirty- 
nine. I think you are over forty ? ' 

"The Witness : ' I am thirty-nine or forty. 
You have my birth-certificate and that settles 
the matter/ 

" Mr Carson : ' You were born in 1854 that 
makes you over forty ? ' 

"The Witness: 'Ah!'" 

This " Ah ! " sounded like a sarcastic note of 
admiration for the barrister's skill in arithmetic. 
How it was calculated to wound the defending 
counsel will be indicated later. 

For months before Oscar Wilde was born his 
mother had earnestly desired that the child 
should be a girl. 1 She often expressed her con- 

1 This fact, like every other fact recorded in this book, is 
given on unimpeachable authority. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

viction that a daughter was going to be born to 
her. She used to tell friends of the things she 
was going to do " after my little girl is born," 
and used to discuss the education she proposed to 
give to her daughter. When Oscar was born, her 
disappointment was great. She refused to admit 
that her new child was a boy. She used to treat 
him, to speak of him as a girl, and as long as it was 
possible to do so, she dressed him like one. To 
pathologists these facts will appear of importance. 

Oscar Wilde was the second son and child, 
issue of the marriage between William Robert 
Wills W T ilde, oculist and otologist (1815-1876), 
and of Jane Francesca Elgee, poetess and pam- 
phleteer (1826-1896), which was celebrated in 
Dublin in 1851. 

For his parents he ever felt the deepest af- 
fection and respect. For his mother in parti- 
cular this affection reached the degree of vener- 
ation. In filial piety and love he gave a noble 
example to humanity. 

The feelings which he entertained towards his 
mother and father are expressed in language of 
lofty eloquence in the book, " De Profundis," 
which he wrote while a prisoner in Reading Gaol, 
during the last six months of his confinement 
there. He has referred to his mother's death, 
and he adds : 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

" No one knew how deeply I loved and 
honoured her. Her death was terrible to me ; 
but I, once a lord of language, have no words in 
which to express my anguish and my shame. 
She and my father had bequeathed me a name 
they had made noble and honoured, not merely 
in literature, art, archaeology, and science, but 
in the public history of my own country, in its 
evolution as a nation. I had disgraced that 
name eternally. I had made it a low byword 
among low people. I had dragged it through 
the very mire. I had given it to brutes that they 
might make it brutal, and to foes that they might 
turn it into a synonym for folly. What I suffered 
then, and still suffer, is not for pen to write, or 
paper to record. My wife, always kind and 
gentle to me, rather than that I should hear 
the news from indifferent lips, travelled, ill as 
she was, all the way from Genoa to England to 
break to me herself the tidings of so irreparable, 
so irredeemable, a loss." 

Mr William Wilde (afterwards, Sir William 
Wilde), the surgeon, was a product of that 
intermixture of races in Ireland of which, speak- 
ing at a meeting of the British Association held 
in Belfast, he said : " I think that there cannot 
be a better fusion of races than that of the Saxon 
with the Celt." His grandfather, Ralph Wilde, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

was the son of a Durham business-man, and to- 
wards the middle of the eighteenth century was 
sent over to Ireland to seek his fortunes. The 
region which was selected for him for the exer- 
cise of his ability was that Connaught which 
Cromwell's soldiers described as the alternative 
to Hell l . . Here, after a while, he became 
land-agent to the Sandford family. He settled 
in Castlerea, in the county of Roscommon, where 
he married a Miss O'Flyn, the daughter of a 
very ancient Irish family which gave its name 
to a district in Roscommon, still known as 
O'Flyn's County. Ralph Wilde had several 
children. One of them, Ralph Wilde, who was 
a distinguished scholar, and who like his grand- 
nephew, Oscar Wilde, won the distinction of the 
Berkeley Gold Medal at Trinity College, Dublin, 
became a clergyman ; another, Thomas Wilde, 
was a country physician. This Thomas Wilde 
married a Miss Fynn, who was related by descent 
to the eminent families of Surridge and Ouseley 
of Dunmore in the county of Gal way. The 
Ouseley s were most distinguished people. Sir 
Ralph Ouseley, Bart., who was a very famous 
Oriental scholar, was British Ambassador to 
Persia. His brother, Sir William Ouseley, was 

1 " To Hell or Connaught " was the alternative proposed by 
the English invaders to the Irish peasants whom they hunted 
off their lands like wild beasts. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

secretary to Lord Wellesley in India. General 
Sir Ralph Ouseley won great distinction in the 
Peninsular War. His brother was a famous 
preacher and writer of theological works, of 
which the most famous is the book entitled 
" Old Christianity." Of this kinsman Oscar 
Wilde used to relate many anecdotes. He ap- 
peared to be much impressed by the sonority 
and suggestiveness of his name : Gideon Ouseley. 
On one occasion speaking of titles of novels he 
recommended to a friend to write a book of 
which the hero should bear the name of " Gideon 
Ouseley," and to use the hero's name as the 
title of the story. He declared that a book with 
such a title could not fail to appeal to the public. 

Gideon Ouseley, Methodist, was the John 
Wesley of Ireland. His sermons in the Irish 
language, addressed to people at the fairs and 
markets, are still preserved in the memory of 
people living in the western province from 
hearsay from their parents. 

William Robert Wills Wilde was the son of Dr 
Thomas Wilde by his marriage with Miss Fynn. 
He was born in Castlerea in 1815, and received 
his education at the Royal School, Banagher. 
It is, however, reported of him that " fishing 
occupied more of his attention than school 
studies, for which he had an admirable teacher 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

in the person of Paddy Walsh, afterwards im- 
mortalised by the pupil in his Irish " Popular 

In the Dublin University Magazine the follow- 
ing account is given of youthful tastes which 
led to studies of which in later life he was to 
make such excellent use. 

" The delight of the fisher lad was to spend his 
time on the banks of the lakes and rivers within 
his reach, talk Irish with the people, and listen 
to the recital of the fairy legends and tales ; his 
knowledge of which he so well turned to account 
in the ' Irish Popular Superstitions.' His taste 
for antiquarian research was early exhibited, and 
much fostered by his repeated examinations of 
the cahirs, forts and caves of the early Irish 
which exist in the vicinity of Castlerea, as well 
as by visits to the plain of Ruthcragan, the site 
of the great palace and cemetery of the chieftains 
of the West. In the district around were castles, 
whose legends he learned, patterns, where he 
witnessed the strange mixture of pilgrimage, 
devotion, fun and frolic ; cockfights for which 
Roscommon was then famous ; and the various 
superstitions and ceremonies connected with the 
succession of the festivals of the season all 
these made a deep impression on the romantic 
nature of young Wilde, and many of them have 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

been handed down to posterity by his facile 

His professional studies commenced in 1832. 
As a medical student he acted as clinical clerk 
to Dr Evory Kennedy in the Lying-in-Hospital, 
and obtained the annual prize there against 
several English and Irish competitors. In study- 
ing for this examination he so overworked him- 
self that his health broke down, and afever setting 
in his life was for some time despaired of. He 
was actually suffering from the fever which went 
so nigh to kill him, on the very day of the ex- 
amination. The case, indeed, was despaired of, 
until Dr Robert Greaves having been sent for, 
an hourly glass of strong ale was prescribed as 
the only remedy from which any results might 
be expected. It was held at the time that it 
was, indeed, the administration of this stimulant 
which saved his life. The idea was no doubt 
an erroneous one, according to modern medical 
science, and the delusion may very possibly have 
been the cause of much subsequent mischief in 
the young man's family. In a household the 
head of which attributes the saving of his life 
to the use of alcohol in copious doses the practice 
of temperance will naturally enough be looked 
for in vain ; and it is no doubt at home that those 
habits of drinking were fostered which were to 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

make such havoc in the lives of William Wilde's 
two sons. As to which it should be added here 
that although Oscar Wilde was in no sense a 
hard drinker, and never by his most intimate 
friends was once seen in a state of intoxication, 
it is on record that every single foolish and mad 
act which he did in his life, acts which had for 
him the most disastrous consequences, was done 
under the influence of liquor. It is one of the 
most damnable qualities of alcohol that where 
in a man any morbid tendency either physical 
or moral exists, which, sober, he can keep under 
complete control, the use of strong drink will 
bring it to the surface. The French doctors say 
of alcohol that it gives the coup de fouet (the lash 
of the whip) to any disease either of the body 
or of the brain which may be present in a sub- 
acute state in a man who indulges in strong 
drink. No doubt that, because in his home in 
Merrion Square, Oscar Wilde had always heard 
the virtues of alcohol celebrated as a drug which 
on a famous occasion had saved his father's 
life, he did not attach importance to the teach- 
ings of later and more advanced science, which 
would have taught him that in his case the 
poison might produce results the most disastrous. 
William Wilde is still remembered as a surgeon 
of particular resource and courage. Even as a 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

medical apprentice he displayed these qualities. 
It is related of him on reaching the parish church 
in Cong, in the County Mayo, one Sunday 
morning, he found the place in a state of huge 
commotion. It appeared that a small boy of 
about five years of age, having swallowed a piece 
of hard boiled potato, which had stuck in his 
throat, was in the act of choking. The young 
medical student, with the readiness which after- 
wards distinguished him amongst his contem- 
poraries, saw at a glance that an immediate 
operation must be effected if the child's life was 
to be saved. He happened to have a pair of 
scissors in his pocket ; he was fortunately not 
restrained by the modern terror of using any 
instrument which had not been rendered anti- 
septic ; and he boldly cut into the boy's throat. 
The operation was entirely successful, and the 
child recovered. He may be living still, for 
when he was last heard of, in Philadelphia in 
1875, he was a middle-aged man, who took a 
particular pride and pleasure in showing people 
a scar on his neck " where," as he used to say, 
" the famous Sir William Wilde of Dublin cut 
my throat." It was with similar readiness that 
Sir William once saved the sight of a Dublin 
fisherman, who was brought to him with a 
darning-needle embedded up to the head in his 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

right eye. The flapping of a sail in which the 
needle was sticking had driven it in with terrible 
force. An ordinary operation was out of the 
question ; there was not enough of the head 
protruding to allow of any hold being got on it 
with a forceps by which it might have drawn 
from its place. The man was suffering terrible 
agony. Sir William saw at once what was the 
only means of extracting the needle. He sent 
for a powerful electro-magnet, by the help of 
which in the shortest time the steel bar was 
extracted. There are on record many similar 
instances of his energy, courage and fertility of 

Already as a young man he distinguished 
himself in the field of letters. While still a 
medical student he sailed in charge of a sick 
gentleman on board the yacht Crusader, visiting 
many places in the Mediterranean and in the 
East, during a cruise which lasted many months. 
The account of this cruise he published on his 
return to Ireland. He found in the Messrs 
Curry ready and liberal publishers. For the 
copyright of this young man's book they paid 
him a sum of 250. The speculation was a 
profitable one for them. The first edition con- 
sisted of 1250 copies of the book, which was 
issued in two volumes at 285. This edition was 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

sold out immediately ; a second edition was as 
rapidly disposed of, and other editions followed. 
The book has long since been out of print. 

The young man continued his medical studies 
in London, Berlin and Vienna, and finally 
started in medical practice in July 1841, selecting 
as special branches, those of oculist and otologist. 
He took as the motto of his professional career, 
the words : " Whatever thou hast to do, do it 
with all thy might." His reputation was already 
so good, that in the first year of his practice he 
earned in professional fees the sum of 400, which 
it appears, is an amount very rarely reached by 
the fees of a surgeon in his first year. 

This money he devoted in its entirety to the 
charitable purpose of founding a hospital where 
the poor could be treated for eye and ear dis- 
eases. At that time no such institution existed 
in the Irish capital. He did more than this. 
He applied the first thousand pounds of his 
professional earnings to his noble purpose. To 
him in this manner the city of Dublin and the 
whole country of Ireland owe the foundation of 
St Mark's Ophthalmic Hospital, 1 which for sixty- 
four years has rendered such inestimable services 
to the suffering Irish poor, and which increases 

1 Since its amalgamation with the National Eye and Ear 
Infirmary, Molesworth Street, Dublin, this institution has 
become known as the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

in usefulness every year of its existence. The 
last annual report gives a record of benevolent 
activity which few hospitals, which started with 
resources so meagre, can show. It is a noble 
institution, the foundation stone of which was 
the noble sacrifice of a noble man. The follow- 
ing extract from the first annual report, issued 
in 1844, gives an interesting account of its first 

" Although most of the large hospitals in this 
city and the several infirmaries, poorhouses, and 
other institutions in Ireland which afford indoor 
medical relief admit patients labouring under 
affections of the organs of sight and hearing 
there has not up to the present period existed 
in this country any special hospital for treating 
the diseases of the eye and ear. 

" The want of such an establishment, upon a 
scale so extensive as to afford general relief, 
has long been felt by the poor, and is generally 
acknowledged by the upper classes of society. 
.... In the year 1841 a dispensary for 
treating the diseases of these organs was estab- 
lished in South Frederick Lane, and supported 
by its founder, Sir William Wilde for twelve 
months ; at the end of which time, finding the 
number of applicants and the consequent ex- 
penditure far exceeding what was originally con- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

templated, or what could be supported by in- 
dividual exertion, and not wishing to apply for 
public aid for the sum required to defray its 
expenses, he determined to try the experiment 
of making it support itself, by a monthly sub- 
scription from each of the patients. This plan 
succeeded fully, and since September 1842 the 
patients have each paid a small monthly sum 
during the period of their attendance, which has 
defrayed the expenses of the medicine. In this 
way, 1056 persons were treated during the year 
ending September 1843, and the total number 
of patients relieved with medicine, medical ad- 
vice, or by operation, from the commencement 
of that institution to the ist March 1844, was 
2075. Paupers have, however, at all times 
received advice and medicine gratuitously. The 
sum paid by each patient is but sixpence per 
month, and this system of partial payments has 
been found to work exceedingly well. It has 
produced care, regularity and attention, and in- 
duced a spirit of independence among the lower 
orders of society worthy of countenance and 
support, while the annual sum of 50 received 
in this way is in itself a sufficient guarantee. . . 
that its benefits are appreciated by the poor, 
numbers of whom seek its advantages from 
distant parts of the country." 
B 17 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Through a Mr Grimshaw, a dentist, William 
Wilde obtained the use of a stable in Frederick 
Lane, which was to form the nucleus of the 
hospital, which afterwards developed into such 
a splendid institution. Having provided a few 
fixtures, the young surgeon commenced his 
gratuitous labours, which he continued through- 
out the whole of his career. An inscription in 
the front of the hospital records the name of its 
founder, and in the hall stands a bust of Sir 
William Wilde, which was purchased by direc- 
tion of the head surgeon at the sale of the 
effects of William Wilde, his eldest son, after his 
death in Cheltenham Terrace, Chelsea. 

In 1848 he published what has been described 
as " one of the most chivalous literary efforts," 
his account of " The Closing Years of Dean 
Swift's Life." 

Two years after his marriage with Miss Jane 
Francesca Elgee, that is to say in 1853, he was 
appointed Surgeon-Oculist-in-Ordinary to the 
Queen, which was the first appointment of the 
kind made in Ireland. In 1857 he visited 
Stockholm, and was created a Chevalier of the 
Kingdom of Sweden, and was, further, decorated 
with the Order of the Polar Star. Seven years 
later, at the conclusion of a chapter of the 
Knights of St Patrick, held for the installation of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

new members of this Order, and after the knights 
had left the hall, the genial Lord Carlisle, Viceroy, 
from his place on the throne addressed the great 
surgeon, beckoning to him to approach, and 
said : "Mr Wilde, I propose to confer on you 
the honour of knighthood, not so much in re- 
cognition of your high professional reputation, 
which is European, and has been recognised by 
many countries in Europe, but to mark my 
sense of the services you have rendered to 
Statistical Science, especially in connection with 
the Irish Census." 

There was nothing of the cynic in Lord 
Carlisle, and his remarks to William Wilde were 
sincere as a compliment. One can imagine the 
mental reservations that say Lord Beaconsfield 
or Lord Lytton would have made had they been 
in Lord Carlisle's place and had they been called 
upon to announce the impending honour to the 
man who had distinguished himself by his labours 
on behalf of the Irish Census. For no document 
more than an Irish Census Report contains so 
scathing an indictment of Castle rule ; nothing 
that Speranza ever wrote constituted a more 
violent appeal to Irish Nationalists ; no Fenian 
denunciation of the Sassenach has ever exceeded 
in bitterness of reproach the simple total of 
numerals which William Wilde's labours com- 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

pelled the British Government to lay before the 
people of Europe. 

For the rest, the honour of knighthood ap- 
pears to be distributed with greater largesse in 
Ireland than even in England or Scotland, and 
it really seems that it is in Dublin a distinction 
for a professional man not to have received the 
tap of the viceroy's sword. Wilde's acceptance 
of the honour was resented in some places, for 
it was thought that the husband of Speranza 
ought not to have taken favours from the Castle, 
just as some years later Speranza' s acceptance of 
a pension from the British Government which 
she had so fiercely attacked in her youth, was 
also resented. 

In a biographical notice of Sir William Wilde 
which was published in 1875, one year before his 
death, where reference is made to another 
honour which was won by him, the following 
passage occurs, which, read to-day, has a pe- 
culiarly pathetic interest. 

" In connection with the award of the Cun- 
ningham medal of the Royal Irish Academy in 
1873 to Sir William Wilde, it is a remarkable 
fact, worthy of record, that within a few months 
of its presentation, his two sons, William and 
Oscar, were each awarded a medal of Trinity 
College the former (who has just been called 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

to the Irish bar) by the College Philosophical 
Society for ethics and logic, and the latter (who 
is now (1875) a distinguished scholar at Oxford) 
for the best answering on the Greek drama." 

Sir William Wilde was too hospitable and too 
charitable a man to amass any large fortune 
such as would have been acquired by most men 
of his professional ability and European reputa- 
tion, but at the time of his death he was in the 
comfortable position of a substantial landowner. 
" Some years ago," says a notice of him, " Sir 
William Wilde became a proprietor in the 
county of Mayo, where he has most successfully 
carried out schemes of improvement, and has 
shown that he can reclaim land and profitably 
carry on farming operations, which is what few 
of even resident proprietors can boast. Finding 
a portion of the ancestral estate of the O'Flyns 
(from whom he is maternally descended) for 
sale in the Land Estate Court, he became the 
purchaser. The portion in cultivation was 
covered by a wretched pauper tenantry, numbers 
of whom it became necessary to remove to en- 
able those remaining to have a means of com- 
fortable existence. Understanding somewhat of 
the language of the people, and being, as they 
said, " one of the ould stock," he was able with 
advice from the Catholic clergy to carry out 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

his plans without exciting discontent or in- 
volving the sacrifice of large sums of money 
and he gave an ample tenant right to those that 
remained on the property over twelve years ago. 
The reclamation that followed, with the ad- 
dition of erecting a residence for himself in a 
most picturesque situation, has converted a 
locality characterised only a few years ago by the 
usual evidences of neglect, into one of the most 
attractive and charming spots in the country. 
In fact, Mayhera House, near Cong, with the 
surrounding grounds and estate, may be fairly 
claimed as one of the numerous triumphs of the 
enterprising proprietor." 

He wrote many works on Irish history and 
archaeology, and was engaged on a biographical 
work at the time of his death. He founded 
the Dublin Quarterly Journal of Science. His 
life is one long record of beneficent activity. 
He carried out to the end the motto which he 
had taken for his guide at the outset of his 
career. He is recognised as one of the greatest 
surgeons of the last century, and the recognition 
is universal. And it should be remembered 
that the reputation of a great surgeon cannot 
be disturbed by the discoveries of posterity as 
is the case with men, who as doctors, have ob- 
tained in one age the fame of great luminaries 




To face page 23. 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of science, and who, as knowledge progresses, 
reveal themselves to a mocking world to have 
been the veriest merry-andrews. 

" Wilde's Arbeitsfeld war die Klinik " (Wilde's 
field was the operating-room), says of him a 
great German writer on surgery. Elsewhere in 
German medical books of the highest authority, 
the Irish surgeon is referred to in the most eulo- 
gistic terms. Now praise from German scientific 
men, who for the most part seem to hold that 
light can come from nowhere in the world but 
a German university-town, and who have too 
often distinguished themselves by a manifesta- 
tion of envy and a spirit of almost feminine 
dJnigrtment, is the sincerest praise that a British 
subject may ever hope to reap. One writer 
describes Wilde as, " ein Meister in genialer 
Schlussfolgerungen " (a master in deductions 
inspired by genius). Another German autho- 
rity says of him : " auch in seinem lebhaften 
und praktischen Interesse fuer Taubstumme 
erinnert uns Wilde an Itard " (in his strong and 
practical interest in deaf mutes also, Wilde re- 
minds us of Itard). Schwarze describes him as 
" the father of modern otology." Indeed, it 
appears that as an otologist he was even greater 
than as an oculist. At a recent conference of 
medical men in Zuerich when the great pioneers 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of modern surgery were being discussed in a 
lecture, only three British surgeons were named, 
and these were Graves, Stokes, and Wilde. In 
Dublin medical circles he is still spoken of with 
the highest respect. Most contemporary doctors 
of his day would now be mentioned with the 
pitying smile with which modern physicians refer 
to all their predecessors whose studies were com- 
pleted before the year 1889 swept away the 
clouds which had obscured the vision of the men 
who profess to heal. Mr J. B. Story, F.R. C.S.I., 
who was senior surgeon of the St Mark's Ophthal- 
mic Hospital, and who since its transformation 
into the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital is 
continuing the work of Sir William Wilde at 
that splendid institution, is most eloquent in 
the praise of his predecessor's skill and science. 
He also holds that Sir William was greater as 
an aural surgeon than as an eye-doctor, but in 
both fields he considers him to have been one of 
the most distinguished surgeons that Great 
Britain has yet produced. 

The same unanimity of praise is accorded to 
his literary work. Perhaps the most interesting 
reference to his qualities as a writer on the 
special subjects which he chose is contained in 
a passage which occurs in the preface which his 
wife, Lady Wilde, wrote to the life of Be"ranger, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

which her husband had left uncompleted at the 
time of his death, and which Lady Wilde finished. 
She begins by saying what diffidence she feels 
to take up the pen which her husband had let 
fall, so strongly does she feel her inferiority to 
him, and goes on to say : 

" There was probably no man of his generation 
more versed in our national literature, in all that 
concerned the land and the people, the arts, 
architecture, topography, statistics, and even 
the legends of the country ; but, above all, in 
his favourite department, the descriptive illus- 
tration of Ireland, past and present, in historic 
and prehistoric times, he has justly gained a 
wide reputation, as one of the most learned and 
accurate, and at the same time one of the most 
popular writers of the age on Irish subjects . . . 
in the misty cloudland of Irish antiquities he 
may especially be looked upon as a safe and 
steadfast guide." 

His charitableness and compassion for human 
suffering were such that although he was a 
pleasure-loving man he was ever ready, at a 
moment's notice, to leave the gayest and happiest 
social reunion to attend to the wants of some 
patient who might be in need of his gratuitous 
assistance. An anecdote in Fitzpatrick's " Life 
of Lever," communicated to the biographer by 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

John Lever, the novelist's nephew, illustrates 
this benevolent trait in the great surgeon's 

" On one occasion he (Lever) wanted Wilde 
to come and meet at dinner some friends he had 
assembled, and calling at Merrion Square was 
told that the doctor could not possibly appear. 
Being denied several times, my uncle at last put 
his handkerchief in bandage form over his merry, 
twinkling eyes ; his expedient brought the 
oculist to the door in a moment ; the rencontre 
ending in a hearty laugh at the success of the 
trick which continued to afford much amuse- 
ment at Templerogue." 

Sir William Wilde died after a long illness on 
Wednesday, igth April 1876, and was buried 
at Mount Jerome cemetery. His hearse was 
followed to the grave by a large and representa- 
tive procession. The principal mourners were 
Mr W. Wilde, Mr Oscar Wilde, and the Rev. Mr 
Noble. All the Dublin papers published long 
obituary notices of the man, and the whole 
country deplored his loss. 

How pleasant it would be if this man's memory 
could be left undisturbed as that of one who 
was great and good, if nothing needed to be said 
which may tarnish in some degree a reputation 
so nobly won. Alas ! the exigencies of this 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

biography exact, in justice to its immediate 
subject, a closer investigation into the moral 
composition of one who, together with many 
sterling qualities, may have transmitted to his 
son certain leanings, instincts, passions, which 
shall help us to understand the dismaying pro- 
blem of that son's conduct of his life. 

It may be briefly then stated that together 
with a high reputation as a man of science and 
as a kind-hearted, genial and charitable man, Sir 
William Wilde had also the evil repute of being 
a man of strong, unbridled passions, in the 
gratification of which no sense of social or pro- 
fessional responsibility could restrain him. A 
characteristic anecdote of a stinging retort made 
to him by a veterinary surgeon whom he once 
met, while out riding in Phoenix Park, is 
still told, and public opinion ever held that 
the veterinary surgeon's critique was just 
and right. One of these patients, a Miss 
Travers, indeed brought an action against the 
Surgeon-Oculist-in-Ordinary, but the woman's 
sanity appeared doubtful, and the case was dis- 
missed. His son Oscar used to relate of his 
mother as an instance of her noble serenity to- 
wards life how, when she was nursing his father 
on his dying bed, each morning there used to 
come into the sickroom the veiled and silent 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

figure of a woman in deep mourning who sat 
and watched but never spoke, and at nightfall 
went away, to return on the following morning. 
It may be noted as a significant fact that the 
son seemed to see no aspersion on his father's 
reputation in this story. It appeared to him to 
be an apt illustration of his mother's nobility 
of character. Sir William Wilde left besides his 
legitimate children a number of natural offspring. 
One natural son of his was established by him 
as a surgeon-oculist in a practice in Lower 
Baggot Street, about two hundred yards from 
his wife's home. The man died some years ago, 
but is still remembered as the son of Sir William 

Another trait in his character which it may 
be worth while to note, because this character- 
istic was undoubtedly transmitted to one of his 
sons, namely to Oscar's brother, was his great 
neglect of himself. He was very shabby and 
careless about his appearance. He used to be 
spoken of as one of the un tidiest men in Ireland. 
An anecdote is told of Father Healy which 
illustrates the reputation that Sir William had 
in this respect. At a dinner-party at which the 
Father was present, and which was held shortly 
after Sir William Wilde had been knighted, an 
Englishman who had just crossed from Holy- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

head was complaining of the sea-passage he had 
been through. " It was, I think/' he said, " the 
dirtiest night I have ever seen." " Oh," said 
Father Healy, " then it must have been wild." 
The portraits of Sir William which exist, 
showing him at different ages, reveal, as few 
physiognomies can do, an extraordinary mixture 
of intellectuality and animalism, of benevolence 
and humanity with bestial instinct. Mr Harry 
Furniss has included him in his gallery of " Ugly 
Men and Women." The qualification is hardly 
a just one. As to the upper part of his face, 
Sir William was remarkably handsome. No one 
with such a forehead and such eyes could be 
called ugly. But the lower part of his face and 
especially the almost simian mouth are very bad. 
In his son Oscar the same extraordinary con- 
trast between the upper and lower parts of his 
face was to be observed. He had the forehead 
and eyes of a genius, or an angel. His mouth 
was ugly, almost abnormal, and such as to 
justify the accuracy if not the charitableness of 
his strong enemy, the Marquess of Queensberry, 
in an inhuman jest about his personal appear- 
ance, which he made just after the poor man's 



Oscar Wilde's Mother Her Gift for Languages Oscar's Ex- 
treme Linguistic Facility Lady Wilde's Scholarship 
The Consolations of ^Eschylus Her Serenity Her 
Schwaermerei Oscar's Dissimilarity in this Respect The 
Preponderating Maternal Influence Probable Physiologi- 
cal Consequences The Elgee's Italian Descent Arch- 
deacon Elgee " One of the Saints of the Wexford 
Calendar " Lady Wilde not his Grand-daughter An In- 
cident of 1798 Dr Kingsbury Lady Wilde's Distin- 
guished Relations The Rev. Charles Maturin Balzac's 
Tribute to Maturin How he stood Sponsor to Oscar 
Clarence Mangan's Description of Maturin Francesca 
Elgee's Nationalism " Speranza " and " John Fenshaw 
Ellis " Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, Revolutionary The 
Villa Marguerite, Nice His Journal The Nation Number 
304 " Jacta Alea Est " Other Contents of Number 304. 

THERE can be no doubt that from his mother, for 
whom he ever felt so great a love and so deep a 
reverence, Oscar Wilde inherited many of those 
admirable gifts and graces which so distinguished 
him amongst his contemporaries. Even as Lady 
Wilde, Oscar had an astonishing facility for 
learning languages. " My favourite study," she 
once related, " was languages ; I succeeded in 
mastering two European languages before my 
eighteenth year." It is on record that Oscar 
Wilde was able to learn the difficult German 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

language in an incredibly short time. We are 
informed in " The Story of the Unhappy Friend- 
ship," that t( during the railway journeys which 
he took in England in connection with his lec- 
turing tour in the winter of 1883-1884, carrying 
a small pocket-dictionary and a volume of Heine 
with him, one book in each pocket of his fur- 
lined overcoat, he taught himself German so 
thoroughly that afterwards the whole of German 
literature was open to him." Lady Wilde was a 
wonderful classical scholar ; she had the sheer 
delight in Latin and Greek literature that true 
scholars manifest ; and made of the Roman 
orators or the Greek tragedians her favourite 
reading. A lady once called at No. i Merrion 
Square and found Sir William's house in the 
possession of the bailiffs. " There were two 
strange men," this lady relates, " sitting in the 
hall, and I heard from the weeping servant that 
they were ' men in possession/ I felt so sorry 
for poor Lady Wilde and hurried upstairs to the 
drawing-room where I knew I should find her. 
Speranza was there indeed, but seemed not in 
the least troubled by the state of affairs in the 
house. I found her lying on the sofa reading 
the Prometheus Vinctus of ^Eschylus, from 
which she began to declaim passages to me, with 
exalted enthusiasm. She would not let me slip 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

in a word of condolence, but seemed very anxious 
that I should share her entire admiration for 
the beauties of the Greek tragedian which she 
was reciting." Of Oscar Wilde's scholarship 
nothing need be said here. His reputation in 
that respect is well-established. On what this 
reputation was based will appear hereafter. 

Lady Wilde was a brilliant talker : was 
there ever in the world a more brilliant conver- 
sationalist than Oscar Wilde ? Lady Wilde's 
serenity and tolerance reached a level to which 
none but great philosophers have attained. This 
tolerance and resignation she taught to her son, 
as some mothers teach their sons those imbe- 
cilities which in the aggregate are known as 
worldly wisdom. " My mother," writes Oscar 
Wilde, " who knew life as a whole, used often to 
quote to me Goethe's lines written by Carlyle 
in a book he had given her years ago, and 
translated by him, I fancy, also : 

" ' Who never ate his bread in sorrow, 

Who never spent the midnight hours 
Weeping and waiting for the morrow, 
He knows you not, ye heavenly powers.' 

" They were the lines which that noble Queen 
of Prussia, whom Napoleon treated with such 
coarse brutality, used to quote in her humiliation 
and exile ; they were the lines my mother often 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

quoted in the troubles of her later life. I 
absolutely declined to accept or admit the 
enormous truth hidden in them. I could not 
understand it. I remember quite well how I 
used to tell her that I did not want to eat my 
bread in sorrow, or to pass any night weeping 
and watching for the dawn." 

Yet the second verse, which seems to have 
been overlooked by Lady Wilde as well as by 
Queen Louisa, was one from which, had it been 
taught him also, the prisoner might have derived 
consolation. Goethe here formulates the law of 
predestination with the implacability of a Calvin 
or a Mahomet. 

" Ihr fuehrt ins Leben ihn hinein 

Und laesst den Armen schuldig werden 
Dann uebergiebt Ihr ihn dem Pein 

Denn jede Schuld raecht sich auf Erden." 

It is always a dangerous thing to mutilate a 

A German word which well describes one trait 
of Speranza's character, and which is not easily 
translated into English, is Schwaermerisch. This 
adjective describes a state of gushing exaltation, 
a somewhat too ready enthusiasm, a capacity 
for discovering romance in what is trite and 
commonplace. The word conveys mild and 
tolerant censure, and generally suggests that the 
c 33 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

person to whom it is applied is too much taken 
up in daydreams to give much attention to 
orderliness and the other domestic virtues. One 
feels that but for Speranza's Schwaermerei 
there would have been no bailiffs ever to be 
found in the hall of the fine house in Merrion 
Square, and that the Surgeon-Oculist-in-Ordinary 
would not have been allowed to go out into the 
streets of Dublin in the neglected condition which 
inspired Father Healy's mordant jibe. 

There was nothing of the Schwaermer in 
Oscar Wilde's composition. He had no penchant 
for enthusiasm, exaltation he never displayed; 
and though as a writer he enrolled himself under 
that drapeau romantique des jeunes guerriers of 
which Theophile Gautier speaks, as a man of 
the world he avoided romance. He was for 
precision, for the absolute, for rule and proof. 
He was at one and the same time a perfect gram- 
marian and an excellent logician. And that, 
in spite of the restraint of his reason, he gave 
way to promptings so illogical as those that 
led to his catastrophe shows that at times, and 
under certain conditions, his reason failed him. 

While he inherited from his mother many 
distinguished qualities, it may be deduced from 
his life that the preponderating maternal influ- 
ence in his composition was responsible also for 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

that abnormality of conduct which was the 
direct cause of his downfall. It is a matter of 
common observation among physiologists that 
where a child is born to a couple in which the 
woman has the much stronger nature and a 
great mental superiority over the father the 
chances are that that child will develop at 
certain critical periods in his career an extra- 
ordinary attraction towards persons of its own 
sex. This fact is one of Nature's mysteries. 
Those who believe in a Divine Creation of the 
world should reverently bow their heads before 
what they cannot understand and ought to take 
to be a divine dispensation. At any rate, the 
wisdom of Nature may be presumed greater 
than that of the Ecclesiastical Courts. 

It is held in Ireland amongst people who knew 
the Elgee family that Lady's Wilde's assertion 
that her ancestors were of Italian origin, that the 
name Elgee is a corruption of the patronymic 
Alighieri which would have implied a descent 
from, or, at least, a kinship to, the immortal 
Dante, was but the outcome of a vivid and self- 
deceiving imagination. Her conversation afforded 
many instances of this habit of self-delusion. 
Things that she wished to be facts soon became 
invested in her mind with the solidity of such. 
Her day-dreams embodied themselves. For this 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

her characteristic of Schwaermerei accounts also. 
Her sons never repeated the legend of any 
Florentine descent, though Willy, at least, was 
not averse to boast of his relationships. Oscar, 
on the other hand, apart from his occasional 
references to the cousin who had so sonorous a 
name, Gideon Ouseley, and to that other cousin, 
Wills, who combined with dramatic genius a 
mass of genial eccentricity, never spoke of his 
relations. He had an instinctive horror of 
anything approaching to self-aggrandisement, 
which he used to describe as the worst form 
of vulgarity. According to Lady Wilde, the 
Alighieri who first settled in Ireland and whose 
name was corrupted into Elgee was her great- 
grandfather. This man's son was the famous 
Archdeacon Elgee of Wexford. Here another 
negation is necessary. Lady Wilde was not the 
daughter of an Episcopalian clergyman ; she 
was not the daughter of Archdeacon Elgee. Yet 
these misstatements are reproduced in the 
authoritative biographical notices which have 
been published about her. In a letter which she 
wrote on loth August 1893 to Mr D. J. O'Donog- 
hue of Dublin, the author of an admirable " Life 
of Mangan," she writes, referring to one of these 
biographical errors : " In the sketch given of 
myself I regret that I was not named as Grand- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

daughter of Archdeacon Elgee of Wexford. The 
Archdeacon is one of the saints of the Wexford 
Calendar, and the people are always pleased to 
connect me with him. My father was eldest son 
of Archdeacon Elgee, and he was not a clergy- 

Jane Francesca Elgee was born in Wexford 
in 1826 of a Protestant and Conservative family. 
Her paternal grandfather, the Archdeacon re- 
ferred to above, was a most distinguished man. 
He was a Rector of Wexford ; and Lady Wilde 
used to tell an anecdote about him to illustrate 
his kindly character and the impulsive feelings 
of the Irish people. During the Revolution of 
1798 a band of rebels had entered Wexford 
Church where the Archdeacon was celebrating 
the sacrament with a number of his parishioners. 
The clergyman was dragged from the altar, and 
was about to be put to death by the pikes of 
the infuriated Irish, when one of them, striking 
up the weapons which had already been turned 
upon his devoted breast, implored his comrades 
to spare a man who once had done an act of 
great kindness to his family. He related this 
act of charity one of hundreds for which the 
Rector was famous and spoke with such elo- 
quence that not only did the rebels, who had 
been committing many acts of great cruelty in 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the district, spare his life, but they also resolved 
that none of his belongings should be touched, 
and a guard was placed at the rectory to protect 
the lives and the property of all its dwellers. 

Her mother was a Miss Kingsbury who was 
the grand-daughter of Dr Kingsbury, who in his 
day was president of the Irish College of Physi- 
cians, and the intimate friend of Dean Swift. 
His son, Dr Thomas Kingsbury, the father of 
Sarah Kingsbury, who was Lady Wilde's mother, 
was a Commissioner in Bankruptcy and the 
owner of the well-known mansion, Lisle House, 
in Dublin. Lady Wilde had many distinguished 
relations. One of her uncles was Sir Charles 
Ormsby, Bart., who was a member of the last 
Irish Parliament. She was first cousin to the 
Sir Robert M'Clure who was famous as an ex- 
plorer, and who is best known as " the seeker 
of the N.-W. passage." Her only brother, Judge 
Elgee, was a distinguished member of the 
American bar. She was also a grand-niece of 
the famous writer, the Rev. Charles Maturin. 
Of this kinship Oscar Wilde was in his heart 
very proud. When he left prison it was from 
the hero of this Charles Maturin' s most famous 
novel, " Melmoth the Wanderer," that he 
borrowed the name under which he was to drag 
out the remaining agony of his years. Possibly 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

what most endeared to him the memory of this 
great-grand-uncle was that the mighty Balzac, for 
whom his admiration was unlimited, had ex- 
pressed his high approval of the famous novel. 
In his " L' Elixir de longue Vie," Balzac gazettes 
Oscar Wilde's great-uncle with Moliere, with 
Goethe and with Byron, as one of the greatest 
geniuses of Europe. He refers as follows to 
Melmoth and to its author, Maturin : 

" II fut en effet le type du Don Juan de 
Moliere, du Faust de Goethe, du Manfred de 
Byron et du Melmoth de Maturin. Grandes 
images tracees par les plus grandes genies de 
T Europe." One needs to know the estimation 
which Oscar Wilde held of Balzac as an artist 
and a thinker to understand with what grati- 
fication these lines of highest tribute to his 
kinsman must have filled him. 

But besides Balzac there was another great 
intellect which had confessed to the power which 
Maturin and his hero had exercised over him. 
In W. M. Thackeray's " Goethe in his Old Age " 
we find the following reference to them : 

" I felt quite afraid before them, and recollect 
comparing them to the eyes of the hero of a 
certain romance called " Melmoth the Wan- 
derer," which used to alarm us boys thirty 
years ago ; eyes of an individual who had made 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

a bargain with a certain person, and at an ex- 
treme old age retained those eyes in all their 
awful splendour." 

Charles Baudelaire, the poet, for whom Oscar 
Wilde's admiration was so intense, wrote thus 
of Melmoth : 

" Celebre voyageur Melmoth, la grande crea- 
tion satanique du reverend Maturin. Quoi de 
plus grand, quoi de plus puissant relativement 
a la pauvre humanite que ce pale et ennuye 
Melmoth ? " 

In the house in Merrion Square was a fine 
bust of Charles Maturin. It is either a cast 
of one executed at the request of Sir Walter 
Scott, and formerly preserved at Abbotsford, 
or from a mask impression taken after his death. 
Though, of course, the portrait of an older man 
(than when Melmoth was written) years seemed 
to have told very little on his face if we compare 
it with the strikingly youthful countenance that 
appears in the New Monthly Magazine. 

In this Charles Maturin we find that mixture 
of genius and insanity which manifested it also 
in the lad who was brought up in reverent con- 
templation of his bust, and in whole-hearted 
admiration of his life and work. Kinsmen by 
affinity no less than kinsmen by consanguinity 
can transmit their qualities and defects to their 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

posterity ; and there can be no doubt whatever 
that Oscar Wilde's nature was greatly moulded 
by the strong influence that Maturin exercised 
over his mother. This being an indisputable 
fact it becomes necessary to seek some further 
information on the subject of this strange and 
brilliant man, who so many years after his death 
was to stand sponsor to the most unhappy of 
his kinsmen. The best account of Charles 
Maturin as a man is to be found in the pages of 
that excellent biography of " Clarence Mangan, 
the Irish Poet/' by R. J. O'Donoghue, to which 
reference has been made above. Mr O'Donoghue 
prefaces Mangan's description of Maturin with 
some comments of his own, and the whole passage 
may be quoted here. Particular attention may 
be requested to the account of Maturin's ec- 
centricities of dress. They may explain much 
in Oscar's peculiarities in the same respect. 
Oscar Wilde was accused because of them of a 
vulgar desire for reclame, for self-advertisement. 
To Charles Maturin a more lenient age accorded 
his foibles, just as to Balzac was granted his 
monkish cowl, to Van Dyck his court array, and 
to Barbey d'Aurevilly his cloak of red samite. 

The following is Mangan's description with 
O'Donoghue's prefatory remarks : 

" Towards the close of his life Mangan put on 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

record his impressions of this remarkable writer, 
Maturin, in whom Scott and Byron so thoroughly 
believed that the first offered to edit his works 
after his death, and the latter used all his in- 
fluence successfully to get a hearing for his 
plays. Numerous stories are related of him. 
His genius was of the untamed, uncultivated 
kind. His works are those of a madman, 
glowing with burning eloquence and deep feeling, 
but full of absurdities and inconsistencies. His 
Irish tales, such as ' The Wild Irish Boys/ and 
' The Milesian Chief,' are made almost un- 
readable by a vicious and ranting style. When- 
ever Maturin was engaged in literary work he 
used to place a wafer on his forehead to let 
those who entered his study know that he was 
not to be disturbed. Mangan had more than the 
prevailing admiration for the grotesqueness of 
Maturin' s romances ; their terrible and awe- 
inspiring nature impressed him profoundly. He 
felt a kind of fascination for this lonely man of 
genius, whom at one period he might have 
called in his own words, 

" 'The Only, the Lonely, the Earth's Companionless One? ' 

" He opens his sketch, which is very character- 
istic of his style, with the humorous rhyme : 

" ' Maturin, Maturin, what a strange hat you're in ? ' 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

" ' I saw Maturin but on three occasions, 
and on all these within two months of his death. 
I was then a mere boy ; and when I assure the 
reader that I was strongly imbued with a belief 
in those doctrines of my church which seem 
(and only seem) to savour of what is theologi- 
cally called " exclusiveness," he will appreciate 
the force of the impulse which urged me one 
morning to follow the author of Melmoth into 
the porch of St Peter's Church in Aungier Street, 
and hear him read the burial service. Maturin, 
however, did not read, he simply repeated ; but 
with a grandeur of emphasis, and an impressive 
power of manner that chained me to the spot. 
His eyes, while he spoke, continually wandered 
from side to side, and at length rested on me, 
who reddened up to the roots of my hair at 
being even noticed by a man that ranked far 
higher in my estimation than Napoleon Bona- 
parte. I observed that, after having concluded 
the service, he whispered something to the clerk 
at his side, and then again looked steadfastly at 
me. If I had been the master of sceptres of 
worlds I would have given them all that 
moment to have been put in possession of his 

" ' The second time I saw Maturin he had 
been just officiating, as on the former occasion, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

at a funeral. He stalked along York Street 
with an abstracted, or rather distracted air, the 
white scarf and hat-band which he had received 
remaining still wreathed round his beautifully- 
shaped person, and exhibiting to the gaze of the 
amused and amazed pedestrians whom he almost 
literally encountered in his path, a boot upon 
one foot, and a shoe on the other. His long 
pale, melancholy, Don Quixote, out-of-the-world 
face would have inclined you to believe that 
Dante, Bajazet, and the Cid had risen together 
from their sepulchres and clubbed their features 
for the production of an effect. But Maturin's 
mind was only fractionally pourtrayed, so to 
speak, in his countenance. The great Irishman, 
like Hamlet, had that within him, which passed 
show, and escaped far and away beyond the 
possibility of expression by the clay lineament. 
He bore the " hunderscars " about him, but they 
were graven, not on his brow, but on his heart. 
" ' The third and last time that I beheld this 
marvellous man I remember well. It was some 
time before his death, on a balmy Autumn 
evening, in 1824. He slowly descended the 
steps of his own house, which, perhaps, some 
future Transatlantic biographer may thank me 
for informing him was at No. 42 York Street, 1 

1 41 is generally given as the number. 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and took his way in the direction of Whitefriar 
Street, into Castle Street, and past the Royal 
Exchange into Dame Street, every second person 
staring at him and the extraordinary double- 
belted and treble-caped rug of an old garment 
neither coat nor cloak which enveloped his 
person. But here it was that I, who had 
tracked the footsteps of the man as his shadow, 
discovered that the feeling to which some in- 
dividuals, rather over sharp and shrewd, had 
been pleased to ascribe this " affectation of 
singularity " had no existence in Maturin. For, 
instead of passing along Dame Street, where he 
would have been " the observed of all observers/' 
he wended his way along the dark and forlorn 
locality of Dame Lane, and having reached the 
end of this not very classical thoroughfare, 
crossed over to Anglesea Street, where I lost 
sight of him. Perhaps he went into one of those 
bibliopolitan establishments wherewith that 
Paternoster Row of Dublin then abounded. I 
never saw him afterwards. . . . An inhabitant 
of one of the stars dropped upon our planet 
could hardly feel more bewildered than Maturin 
habitually felt in his consociation with the 
beings around him. He had no friend, com- 
panion, brother ; he and the " Lonely Man of 
Shiraz " might have shaken hands and then 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

parted. He in his own dark way understood 
many people ; but nobody understood him in 
any way.' ' 

Till the age of eighteen Francesca Elgee de- 
voted herself entirely to study and reading. 
" Till my eighteenth year, I never wrote any- 
thing," she relates, " Then, one day, a volume 
of ' Ireland's Library,' issued from The Nation 
office by Mr Duffy, happened to come my way. 
I read it eagerly, and my patriotism was kindled." 
This volume was D' Alt on Williams' book, " The 
Spirit of the Nation." 

" Till then," says Lady Wilde, " I was quite 
indifferent to the National movement, and if I 
thought about it at all, probably had a bad 
opinion of its leaders. For my family was 
Protestant and Conservative, and there was no 
social intercourse between them and the Catholics 
and Nationalists. But once I had caught the 
National spirit, and all the literature of Irish 
songs and sufferings had an enthralling interest 
for me, then it was that I discovered that I could 
write poetry. In sending my verses to the 
editor of The Nation I dared not have my name 
published, so I signed them ' Speranza,' and 
my letters ' John Fenshaw Ellis,' instead of 
Jane Francesca Elgee." 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Lady Wilde did not commence contributing 
to The Nation in 1844, as her biographers state. 
Her first contributions appeared in that journal 
in 1847. She was at that time living with her 
parents at 34 Leeson Street, which is in a quarter 
which is the Bayswater of Dublin. Her most 
famous poem was entitled "A Million a Decade." 
These contributions were for the most part 
published in a small type column which pre- 
ceded the leading articles, and which appears to 
have been reserved for the efforts of amateur 
contributors, answers to correspondents, etc. 
Later on, however, that is to say in 1848, the 
honours of large type and prominent position 
were accorded to Speranza's poems and John 
Fenshaw Ellis' s prose. 

The girl's poetry has no particular merit 
either of expression or of thought, and, indeed, 
compared unfavourably with similar verse con- 
tributed by three other young women, whose 
Nationalism was of a more sincere type. These 
were known to the readers of The Nation as 
"Eva," "Mary," and " Thomasine." In his 
book, " My Life in Two Hemispheres," Sir 
Charles Gavan Duffy speaks of Speranza as the 
most gifted of the four, and, indeed, describes her 
as " a woman of genius." At the time that that 
book was written the former Nationalist editor, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the Revolutionary of 1848, was living in opulence 
and luxury at the Villa Marguerite in Nice ; 
decked with a British title and enriched with 
British gold. His sympathies would naturally 
tend rather to the one of the four women who 
like himself had abandoned the cause of National- 
ism as une eweur de jeunesse when that cause had 
become a desperate one and a more profitable 
field for enthusiasm and activity offered itself. 
Among the martyrs of 1848, not among those 
who had the fortune to die then, but amongst 
the poor, broken old men, who are dragging out 
penurious existences in Dublin at this very day, 
men who never abandoned the cause, and who 
will die as ardent Nationalists as they were when 
Duffy and Speranza fired them into acts which 
sent them into confinement in British gaols, 
neither Speranza nor Duffy are remembered, as 
Nationalists, with great esteem. The Fenian 
editor, O'Leary, states that "Speranza" was 
of the four poetesses on The Nation, the one 
who was considered the least talented, that 
Eva was held to be the most sincere and 
the most gifted. " Eva " was Miss Eva Mary 
Kelly. " Mary " was Miss Ellen Downing. As 
to " Thomasine " her anonymity has not been 

The great effect produced by Francesca Elgee 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

it is to be noted as characteristic that she ob- 
jected to the beautiful but unromantic name of 
Jane and never used it was when she de- 
nounced herself in open court as the authoress 
of the famous article " Jacta est Alea," for the 
publishing of which the future Sir Charles 
Duffy of the Villa Marguerite, Nice, was being 

This article appeared in No. 304 (printed 304) 
of The Nation which was published in Dublin 
under date of Saturday, 2gth July 1848. The 
Nation, a weekly magazine journal of sixteen 
pages, of the size of the Petit Journal, which was 
published at sixpence, was then in its sixth 
volume. On the number preserved in the 
National Library of Ireland, in Dublin, there is 
written upon the front page in ink the following 
words : " This is The Suppressed Number. I 
believe it is the only copy which escaped, and 
that was not seized and carried to the Castle." 
This statement appears to be erroneous, for 
other copies are in existence, including one at 
the British Museum. 

Lady Wilde's article was the second leader on 
the editorial page. The leading article, pre- 
sumably written by Sir Charles Gavan Duffy of 
the Villa Marguerite, Nice, was entitled " The 
Tocsin of Ireland," and is of that kind of politi- 
D 49 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

cal, inflammatory writing which, once one has 
read it, is immediately forgotten. On this 
article Francesca Wilde's article follows. It is 
published anonymously, and fills rather more 
than two columns of the paper. As it is a docu- 
ment of essential interest in the archives of the 
family of the man with whom this volume deals 
it is reproduced in extenso in the following 
chapter, just as it was printed in The Nation, 
with the misprints italicised. 

The 3O4th number of the revolutionary paper, 
edited by the future Sir Charles Gavan Duffy 
of the Villa Marguerite, Nice, contained much 
other matter which was calculated to incense 
the Castle. Amongst the topical articles which 
were published we find one on " Easy Lessons 
in Military Matters " by a veteran, which deals 
with such subjects as " Organisation," " Arms." 
Elsewhere in this journal the young Nationalist, 
who had been inflamed by the editorials of Sir 
Charles Gavan Duffy, was instructed " How 
to Break Down a Bridge, or Blow One Up," 
" How to buy and try a Rifle" ; and valuable 
topical information was also given on " Casting 

It may be added that Francesca Elgee had no 
dealings with the other people, apart from 
Duffy, who were active in agitation. In a 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

letter to Mr O'Donoghue, dated i3th November 
1888, she writes : "I can give no information as 
to the workers of '48. Sir Charles Duffy would 
be the best authority. His address is the Villa 
Marguerite, Nice, France." 


Lady Wilde's Appeal to Arms The Famous Article in The 
Nation A Specimen of Revolutionary Literature 
" A Hundred Thousand Muskets ! " Terrifying the Castle 
" The Glorious Young Meagher ! " An Exact Tran- 
script from the Copy in the National Library of Ireland. 

" THE Irish Nation has at length decided. 
England has done us one good service at least. 
Her recent acts have taken away the last miser- 
able pretext for passive submission. She has 
justified us before the world, and ennobled the 
timid, humble supplication of a degraded, in- 
sulted people, into the proud demand for inde- 
pendence by a resolved, prepared, and fearless 

" Now, indeed, were the men of Ireland 
cowards if this moment for retribution, combat, 
and victory, were to pass by unemployed. It 
finds them slaves, but it would leave them in- 

" Oh ! for a hundred thousand muskets 
glittering brightly in the light of heaven, and 
the monumental barricades stretching across 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

each of our noble streets, made desolate by 
England circling round that doomed Castle, 
made infamous by England, where the foreign 
tyrant has held his council of treason and ini- 
quity against our people and our country for 
seven hundred years. 

" Courage rises with danger, and heroism with 
resolve. Does not our breath come freer, each 
heart beat quicker in these rare and grand 
moments of human life, when all doubt, and 
wavering, and weakness are cast to the winds, 
and the soul rises majestic over each petty 
obstacle, each low, selfish consideration, and, 
flinging off the fetters of prejudice, bigotry, and 
egotism, bounds forward into the higher, di- 
viner life of heroism and patriotism, defiant as 
a conqueror, devoted as a martyr, omnipotent 
as a Deity ! 

" We appeal to the whole Irish Nation is 
there any man amongst us who wishes to take 
one further step on the base path of sufferance 
and slavery ? Is there one man that thinks that 
Ireland has not been sufficiently insulted, that 
Ireland has not been sufficiently degraded in her 
honour and her rights, to justify her now in 
fiercely turning upon her oppressor ? No ! a 
man so infamous cannot tread the earth ; or, 
if he does, the voice of the coward is stifled in 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the clear, wild, ringing shout that leaps from 
hill to hill, that echoes from sea to sea, that 
peals from the lips of an uprisen Nation ' We 
must be free ! ' 

" In the name then of your trampled, insulted, 
degraded country ; in the name of all heroic 
virtues, of all that makes life illustrious or death 
divine ; in the name of your starved, your 
exiled, your dead ; by your martyrs in prison 
cells and felon chains ; in the name of GOD and 
man ; by the listening earth and the watching 
heaven, I call on you to make this aspiration of 
your souls a deed. Even as you read these weak 
words of a heart that yet palpitates with an 
enthusiasm as heroic as your own, and your 
breast heaves and your eyes grow dim with 
tears as the memory of Ireland's wrongs rushes 
upon your soul even now lift up your right 
hand to heaven and swear swear by your un- 
dying soul, by your hopes of immortality, never 
to lay down your arms, never to cease hostilities, 
till you regenerate and save this fallen land. 

" Gather round the standard of your chiefs. 
Who dares to say he will not follow, when 
O'BRIEN leads ? Or who amongst you is so ab- 
ject that he will grovel in the squalid misery of 
his hut, or be content to be flung from the ditch 
side into the living tomb of the poorhouse, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

rather than charge proudly like brave men and 
free men, with that glorious young MEAGHER 
at their head, upon the hired mercenaries of 
their enemies ? One bold, one decisive move. 
One instant to take breath, and then a rising ; 
a rush, a charge from north, south, east and 
west upon the English garrison, and the land is 
ours. Do your eyes flash, do your hearts throb 
at the prospect of having a country ? For you 
have had no country. You have never felt the 
pride, the dignity, the majesty of independence. 
You could never lift up your head to heaven 
and glory in the name of Irishman, for all 
Europe read the brand of slave upon your brow. 

" Oh ! that my words could burn like molten 
metal through your veins, and light up this 
ancient heroic daring which would make each 
man of you a LEONIDAS each battle-field a 
Marathon each pass a Thermopylae . Courage ! 
need I preach to Irishmen of courage ? Is it so 
hard a thing then to die ? Alas ! do we not all 
die daily of broken hearts and shattered hopes, 
and tortures of mind and body that make life a 
weariness, and of weariness worse even than the 
tortures ; for life is one long, slow agony of 

" No ! it cannot be death you fear ; for you 
have braved the plague in the exile ship of the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Atlantic, and plague in the exile's home beyond 
it ; and famine and ruin, and a slave's life, and 
a dog's death ; and hundreds, thousands, a 
million of you have perished thus. Courage ! 
You will not now belie those old traditions of 
humanity that tell of this divine God-gift with- 
in us. I have read of a Roman wife who stabbed 
herself before her husband's eyes to teach him 
how to die. These million deaths teach us as 
grand a lesson. To die for Ireland ! Yes ; have 
we not sworn it in a thousand passionate words 
by our poets and orators in the grave resolves 
of councils, leagues and confederations. Now 
is the moment to test whether you value most 
freedom or life. Now is the moment to strike, 
and by striking save, and the day after the 
victory it will be time enough to count your 

" But we do not provoke this war. History 
will write of us that Ireland endured wrongs 
unexampled by any depotism sufferings un- 
equalled by any people her life-blood drained 
by a vampire host of foreign masters and officials 
her honour insulted by a paid army of spies 
her cries of despair stifled by the armed hand 
of legalised ruffianism that her peasants starved 
while they reaped the corn for their foreign 
lords, because no man gave them bread that 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

her pallid artisans pined and wasted, because no 
man gave them work that her men of genius, 
the noblest and purest of her sons, were dragged 
to a felon's cell, lest the people might hear the 
voice of truth, and that in this horrible atrophy 
of all mental and physical powers, this stagna- 
tion of all existences, whoever dared to rise and 
demand wherefore it was that Ireland, made so 
beautiful by God, was made the plague spot of 
the universe by man he was branded as a 
felon imprisoned, robbed, tortured, chained, 
exiled, murdered. Thus history will write of 
us. And she will also write, that Ireland did 
not start from this horrid trance of suffering and 
despair until 30,000 swords were at her heart, 
and even then she did not rise for vengeance, 
only prepared to resist. No we are not the ag- 
gressors we do not provoke this terrible war 
Even with six million hearts to aid us, and with all 
the chances of success in our favour we still offer 
terms to England. If she capitulates even now 
at the eleventh hour, and grants the moderate, 
the just demands of Ireland, our arms shall not 
be raised to sever the golden link that unites 
the two nations. And the chances of success 
are all with us. There is a God-like strength 
in a just cause a desperate energy in men who 
are fighting in their own land for the possession 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of that land. A glowing enthusiasm that scorns 
all danger when from success they can look on- 
ward to a future of unutterable glory and 
happiness for their country. Opposed to us are 
only a hired soldiery, and a paid police, who 
mere trained machines even as they are, yet 
must shudder (for they are men) at the horrible 
task of butchery, under the blasphemed name 
of duty to which England summons them. 
Brothers many of them are of this people they 
are called upon to murder sons of the same 
soil fellow-countrymen of those who are heroic- 
ally, struggling to elevate their common country. 
Surely whatever humanity is left in them will 
shrink from being made the sad instruments of 
despotism and tyranny they will blush to re- 
ceive the purchase -money of England which 
hires them for the accursed and fratricidal work. 
Would a Sicilian have been found in the ranks 
of Naples ? Would a Milanese have been de- 
tected in the fierce hordes of Austria ? No ; for 
the Sicilians prize honour, and the stately 
Milanese would strike the arm to the earth that 
would dare to offer them Austrian gold in pay- 
ment for the blood of their own countrymen. 
And heaven forbid that in Ireland could be 
found a band of armed fratricides to fight against 
their own land for the flag of a foreign tyrant. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

But if, indeed, interest or coercion should tempt 
them into so horrible and unnatural a position, 
pity, a thousand times pity for those brave 
officers who vaunt themselves on their honour. 
Pity for that brave soldiery whose Irish valour 
has made England illustrious, that they must 
stain honour, and fame, and profession, and 
their brave swords, by lending them to so in- 
famous a cause. Ah ! we need not tremble for 
a nation filled with a pure and holy enthusiasm, 
and fighting for all that human nature holds 
dear ; but the masters of those hired mercen- 
aries may well tremble for their cause, for the 
consciousness of eternal infamy will unnerve 
every arm that is raised to uphold it. 

" If the government, then, do not come for- 
ward with honest, honourable and liberal con- 
cessions, let the war active and passive com- 
mence. They confide in the discipline of their 
troops we in the righteousness of our cause. 
But not even a burning enthusiasm which they 
have not added to their discipline, could make 
a garrison of 30,000 men hold their ground 
against six millions. And one thing is certain 
that if the people do not choose to fight the 
garrison, they may starve them. Adopt the 
Milan method let no man sell to them. This 
passive warfare may be carried on in every 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

village in Ireland, while more active hostilities 
are proceeding through all the large towns and 
cities. But, to gain possession of the capital 
should be the grand object of all efforts. Let 
every line converge to this point. The Castle 
is the key - stone of English power ; take it, 
destroy it, burn it at any hazard become 
masters of it, and on the same ground from 
whence proceeded all those acts of insult and 
infamy which aroused the just retribution of a 
people's vengeance, establish a government in 
whom the people of all classes can place con- 

" On this pedestal of fallen tyranny and cor- 
ruption raise a structure of nobleness that will 
at once give security and prestige of time- 
honoured and trusted names to our revolution. 
For a people who rise to overthrow a despotism 
will establish no modification of it in its place. 
If they fight it is for absolute independence ; and 
as the first step in a revolution should be to 
prevent the possibility of anarchy, the men 
elected to form this government ought at once 
to take the entire progress and organisation of 
the revolution under their protection and 
authority. It will be their duty to watch that 
no crime be suffered to stain the pure flag of 
Irish liberty. We must show to the world that 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

we are fitted to govern ourselves ; that we are, 
indeed, worthy to be a free nation, that the words 
union, liberty, country, have as sacred a meaning 
in our hearts and actions as they are holy on 
our lips ; that patriotism means not merely the 
wild irresistible force that crushed tyranny, but 
reconstruction, regeneration, heroism, sacrifice, 
sublimity ; that we have not alone to break 
the fetters of Ireland, but to raise her to a 
glorious elevation defend her, liberate her, 
ennoble her, sanctify her. 

" Nothing is wanting now to complete our 
regeneration, to ensure our success, but to cast 
out those vices which have disgraced our name 
among the nations. There are terrible traditions 
shadowing the word Liberty in Ireland. Let it 
be our task, men of this generation descendants 
of martyrs, and sufferers, and heroes, to make 
it a glad evangel of happiness a reign of truth 
over fictions and symbols of intellect over pre- 
judice and conventionalism of humanity over 
tyranny and oppression. Irishmen ! this re- 
surrection into a new life depends on you ; for 
we have all lain dead. Hate, distrust, oppres- 
sion, disunion, selfishness, bigotry these things 
are Death. We must crush all vices anni- 
hilate all evil passions trample on them, as a 
triumphant CHRIST with his foot upon the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

serpent, and then the proud hallelujah of Free- 
dom will rise to heaven from the lips of a pure, 
a virtuous, a regenerated, a God-blessed people ; 
and this fair land of ours, which now affrights 
the world with its misery, will be one grand 
temple, in which we shall all kneel as brothers 
one holy, peaceful, loving fraternity sons of 
one common country children of one God 
heirs together of those blessings purchased by 
our blood a heritage of freedom, justice, inde- 
pendence, prosperity and glory ! " 


Lady Wilde's Nationalism The Influence of a Single Book 
Oscar Wilde's Similar Claim Meeting between Mr Duffy 
and Mr Ellis Speranza's Fine Gesture Her Admiration 
for Mr Duffy Pen-Portraits of Lady Wilde at Different 
Periods How she clung to Youth Her Fondness for 
Society Eccentricities of Dress Her Son's Resemblance 
to her Her Literary Labours A Letter to Mr 
O'Donoghue Brief Summary of Conclusions. 

IT was probably rather by the other contents 
of No. 304 of The Nation than by the article 
" Jacta Alea Est," that Dublin Castle was 
alarmed, and deemed it advisable to order the 
confiscation of this number, the suppression of 
the journal, and the arrest and arraignment of 
Mr (afterwards Sir Charles) Duffy. It would be 
difficult otherwise to understand these extreme 
measures, for the article is exactly of that class 
of revolutionary literature which is usually read 
with gratification by those in power. There is 
no mischief to be feared from rhapsodical 
generalities. On the other hand, the papers 
giving practical advice to the malcontents on 
subjects so subversive as the destruction of 
bridges and the manipulation of fire-arms cer- 
tainly warranted action. However that may be, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

it has generally been conceded to Lady Wilde 
that with her pen she made the Castle tremble : 
she stepped at once to the front as an ardent 
Nationalist and patriot ; and of none of her 
writings were her sons perhaps more proud than 
of the article which is given in the preceding 
chapter. Her Nationalism was, of course, not 
sincere. It could not be. She had been trained 
as a Protestant and a Conservative. Her re- 
lations, those of whom she was most proud, were 
beneficed dignitaries under the British Crown, 
just as later her husband was to become by 
appointment, warrant and viceregal favour, a 
dependent of British Royal favour, and she her- 
self during the last six years of her life was to 
draw from the Civil List a small alimony of 
imperial silver. No patriotism, no national 
spirit can be fired in man or woman by the 
perusal of a single book ; and of D' Alton 
Williams' work it may be said that it inspires 
nothing but ennui. It is not in this way that 
the Joans of Arc are driven forth to battle. It 
is, of course, probable that it was the perusal 
of this book which suggested to the young 
woman that evils existed, that here was a field 
for her literary activity, and that her spasmodic 
Nationalism was the result. It showed the 
young woman's practical sense that this National- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

ism was only spasmodic; for as we look back 
on the period of more than half-a-century which 
has elapsed since she first manifested its spirit, 
we observe that it has not been the worldly 
wise amongst Irish men and women who have 
espoused the National cause. For the true 
Nationalist there have been the galleys, the 
rifle, the scaffold, and, as a set-off from the de- 
rision of the worldly wise, the mute gratitude 
of the voiceless people and a martyr's crown. 
Lady Wilde's crassa Minerva did not allow her 
to cling to a cause of which she was so soon 
to discover that it was a hopeless one. Her 
Nationalism, if whim it were, she readily aban- 
doned, and she did not go through life explaining 
that the perusal of a single book had entirely 
changed the current of her thoughts, her pur- 
poses and aims. This was one of the mistakes 
that was made by her son, Oscar. It pleased 
him to say that some single book, which had 
come into his hands when he was a young man, 
had thus revolutionised his entire mentality ; and 
he attributed to the influence of this book all 
the things that seemed to have been prompted 
in him by what was not common-sense. In a 
passage in " The Picture of Dorian Gray," he 
describes how the hero of that novel fell under 
the influence of a single book. " It was the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

strangest book that he had ever read. It 
seemed to him that, in exquisite raiment, and to 
the delicate sound of flutes, the sins of the world 
were passing in dumb show before him. ... It 
was a poisonous book. The heavy odour of 
incense seemed to cling about its pages, and to 
trouble the brain. The mere cadence of the 
sentences, the subtle monotony of their music, 
so full as it was of complex refrains, and move- 
ments, elaborately repeated, produced in the 
mind of the lad, as he passed from chapter to 
chapter, a form of reverie, a malady of dreaming, 
that made him unconscious of the falling day 
and the creeping shadows. . . . For years 
Dorian Gray could not free himself from the 
influence of this book." 

This is, of course, silliness. Yet Oscar Wilde 
used to make the same silly, self-deceiving state- 
ment about himself, and attributed to some 
" poisonous book " which he had once read 
many of the abnormalities of his conduct. In 
this, no doubt, he was prompted by the story 
which he had heard at home as a boy, 
how the mother whom he so admired and 
so loved had been prompted to action and 
to an entire renunciation of early principles 
and creeds by the reading of a single book. 
The fact that the influence of this book 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

had been of the briefest was entirely over- 

The story of the first meeting between the 
editor of The Nation and " John Fenshaw Ellis " 
is well-known. It may, however, be repeated 
here, with the addition of Lady Wilde's own 
account of how it was that having long refused 
to let Mr Duffy call upon her she finally gave 
him permission to do so. 

''After a while," she relates, "Mr Duffy 
wished me to call at the office, and again ' Mr 
Ellis ' had to excuse himself from doing it. One 
day my nurse came into my room and found 
The Nation on my table. Then she accused me 
of contributing to it, declaring the while that 
such a seditious paper was fit only for the fire. 
The secret being out in my own family there was 
no longer much motive for concealment, and I 
gave my editor permission to call upon me. 
Even then, as Sir Charles Duffy has since told 
me he scarcely knew who * Speranza ' might be, 
and great was his surprise, therefore, when I 
stepped out from an inner room." 

Sir Charles Duffy relates in his " Young 
Ireland " that " Mr Ellis, whom hehad frequently 
requested to call upon him at The Nation office, 
pleaded that there were difficulties which ren- 
dered this course inpracticable. Finally, Mr 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Ellis asked the editor to call at 34 Leeson Street. 
Going to the house Duffy states that he was 
met by Sir George Smith, publisher to Dublin 
University, who presented him to Miss Jane 
Francesca Elgee, whom he describes as a tall 
girl, whose stately carriage and figure, flashing 
brown eyes, and features cast in an heroic mould 
seemed fit for the genius of poetry or the spirit 
of the revolution." 

After the suppression of The Nation, most of 
the leaders of the revolutionary movement were 
transported for treason-felony ; while Mr (after- 
wards Sir Charles) Duffy was put on trial for 
sedition. The attorney -general quoted from 
the article " Jacta Alea Est " in support of the 
charge, and declared that that article was 
sufficient to convict the prisoner at the bar. 
" I am the culprit, if culprit there be," cried a 
voice from the gallery of the court, and a young 
woman rose to her feet. It was Jane Francesca 
Elgee who by this fine gesture endeared herself 
for ever to the Irish Nation. The result was to 
trouble the minds of the jury ; they disagreed ; 
and the editor of The Nation was discharged to 
pursue his career more profitably to himself in 
another hemisphere. 

Speranza's admiration for this man appears 
to have been very great. The following is one 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of the many letters she wrote to him after her 
identity had been disclosed. 

" 34 LEESON STRBBT, Monday. 

" MY DEAR SIR, I return with many thanks 
the volume of Cromwell which has been travelling 
about with me for the last four months, and shall 
feel obliged for the two others when you are 
quite at leisure, though not even Carlyle can 
make this soulless iconoclast interesting. It is 
the only work of Carlyle' s I have met with in 
which my heart does not go along with his 

" I cannot forbear telling you, now the pen 
is in my hand, how deeply impressed I felt by 
your opening lecture to your club. It was the 
sublimest teaching, and the style so simple from 
its very sublimity it seemed as if truth passed 
directly from your heart to ours, without the 
aid of any medium at least I felt that every- 
where the thoughts struck you, nowhere the 
words, and this in my opinion is the perfection 
of composition. It is soul speaking to soul. I 
never felt the dignity of your cause so much as 
then to promote it any way seemed an object 
that would ennoble a life. Truly, we cannot de- 
spair when God sends us such teachers. But 
you will wish me away for another four happy 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

months if I write you such long notes. So I 
shall conclude with kind compliments to Mrs 
Duffy, and remain, yours very sincerely, 


" I only read your lecture some time or 
other I would like to hear you." 

A year or two before she died in the dismal 
house in Oakley Street, Chelsea, which her son 
William and his family shared with her, and of 
which her son Oscar paid the rent, Lady Wilde 
said to a young Irish poet : 

" I must go and live up Primrose Hill ; I was 
an eagle in my youth." 

By various writers various pictures have been 
given of this extraordinary woman at various 
periods in her life. There are many people still 
living in Dublin who remember No. i Merrion 
Square when it was the salon of the capital. 
On reception nights the crush of people in the 
drawing-rooms upstairs used to be so great that 
it was a familiar spectacle that of Lady Wilde 
elbowing her way through the crush and crying 
out, " How ever am I to get through all these 

As her beauty departed from her with the 
advance of years, Lady Wilde used to darken 
the rooms in which visitors saw her. Stories 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

got about that the purpose of this was to conceal 
some disfiguring mark on her face ; but the fact 
was merely that she did not wish people to 
notice the difference that Time had wrought on 
the features and complexion of the beautiful 
" Speranza " of 1848. A Miss Corkran gives 
the following account of a call she paid to Lady 
Wilde at No. I Merrion Square, an account 
which is not characterised by much sympathy 
or kindness : 

" I called at Merrion Square late in the after- 
noon, for Lady Wilde never received anyone 
until 5 P.M., as she hated strong lights ; the 
shutters were closed, and the lamps had pink 
shades, though it was full daylight. A very 
tall woman she looked over six feet high 
she wore that day a long crimson silk gown 
which swept the floor. The skirt was 
voluminous, underneath there must have been 
two crinolines, for when she walked there was a 
peculiar swaying, swelling movement, like that 
of a vessel at sea, with the sails filled with wind. 
Over the crimson silk were flounces of Limerick 
lace, and round what had been a waist an 
Oriental scarf embroidered with gold was 
twisted. The long, massive, handsome face was 
plastered with powder. Over her blue-black, 
glossy hair was a gilt crown of laurels. Her 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

throat was bare, so were her arms, but they 
were covered with quaint jewellery. On her 
broad chest was fastened a series of large minia- 
ture brooches, evidently family portraits . . . 
this gave her the appearance of a walking 
family mausolem. She wore white kid gloves, 
held a scent-bottle, a lace handkerchief , and a fan. 
Lady Wilde reminded me of a tragedy queen 
at a suburban theatre." 

Lady Wilde was very popular in Dublin with 
the people. It is related that " they used to 
cheer her when she was on her way to the 
drawing-rooms at the Castle"; just because 
some years previously she had urged a hundred 
thousand musketeers to march upon that very 
Castle, and to wipe it off the face of Ireland. 

In the story of " An Unhappy Friendship " 
we find the following reference to Lady Wilde 
at home in her son William's house in Park 
Street, Grosvenor Square, in 1883 : 

" During the first days of my stay there 
Oscar Wilde took me to a reception at his 
mother's house. ... I was presented as having a 
volume of poems in the press, and was graciously 
received. Later on, as I was standing talking 
to Anna Kingsford, Lady Wilde, holding some 
primroses in her hand, crossed the drawing-room, 
repeating ; ' Flowers for the poet ! Flowers 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

for the poet ! ' It was for me that they were 
intended, for she came up to me and decorated 
my coat with the posy." 

Lady Wilde was at that time about fifty- 
seven years of age. She had by then entirely 
renounced her natural, feminine, and pathetic 
endeavours to conceal the march of Time. Her 
receptions were in broad daylight, the deceptive 
flambeaux with their pink-shades had been put 
away till nightfall. She was a strikingly hand- 
some woman. Oetait quelqu'un. Her voice had 
a peculiar power and a peculiar charm. She 
seemed happy ; poverty and disaster had not 
yet come upon her ; her sons were both full 
of promise and achievement. There were to 
be noticed few of the peculiarities of dress to 
which Miss Corkran calls attention. Yet her 
black silk bodice was as covered with large old- 
fashioned medallions as is with orders on Garter 
nights the brochette of the diplomat whose back 
has been supple all through life. 

Her clinging to youth, her efforts to mask 
the advance of age, her horror for the stigmata 
of physical decay were all characteristics which 
she transmitted to her son Oscar. His books 
are full of rhapsodical eulogies of youth ; he 
never tires of satirising and condemning maturity 
and old age. In the same way her fondness for 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

large, showy and curious articles of jewellery, 
which, especially amongst the Jews, is a trait 
which often characterises men and women of 
genius, was directly transmitted to this son. 

The gradual descent of this woman in the 
social scale is one of the pathetic stories of 
literary history. This ex-revolutionary had for 
the society of the wealthy, the titled, the dis- 
tinguished, the same pronounced liking which 
was noticed in Oscar Wilde also. As long as it 
was possible for her to do so, indeed until at last 
broken down by disappointment and illness 
she finally took to the bed where she breathed 
her last after an agony of many months, she 
held her drawing-rooms. But the imperial days 
of Merrion Square, even the semi-aristocratic 
reunions of Park Street, were of the past. In 
the dingy house in Oakley Street, fit scene for 
the unspeakable tragedies that Time held in 
its lap, the gatherings were the shabby-genteel 
burlesque of a literary salon. Miss Hamilton 
has given a picture of such a reception in this 
house, which shows us Lady Wilde just before 
she resigned herself to desolation and solitude : 

" I had an invitation/' writes Miss Hamilton, 
" to her Saturday ' At Homes,' and on a dull, 
muggy December day, I reached the house. 
The hour on the card said, ' From five to seven,' 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and it was past five when I knocked at the 
door. The bell was broken. The narrow hall 
was heaped with cloaks, waterproofs, and 
umbrellas, and from the door for the reception- 
rooms were on the ground-floor came a confus- 
ing buzz of voices. Anglo-Irish and American, 
Irish literary people, to say nothing of a sprink- 
ling of brutal Saxons, were crowded together 
as thickly as sardines in a box. Red-shaded 
lamps were on the mantelpiece, red curtains, 
veiled doors and windows ; and through this 
darkness visible I looked vainly for the hostess. 
Where was she ? Where was Lady Wilde ? 
Then I saw her a tall woman, slightly bent 
with rheumatism, fantastically dressed in a 
trained black and white checkered silk gown ; 
from her head floated long, white tulle streamers, 
mixed with ends of scarlet ribbon. What 
glorious dark eyes she had ! Even then, and 
she was over sixty, she was a strikingly handsome 
woman. Though I was a perfect stranger to her, 
she at once made me welcome, and introduced 
me to someone she thought I would like to 
know. She had the art de faire un salon. If 
anyone was discovered sitting in a corner un- 
noticed, Lady Wilde was sure to bring up some- 
one to be introduced, and she never failed to 
speak a few happy words, which made the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

stranger feel at home. She generally pre- 
faced her introductions with some remarks 
such as ' Mr A., who has written a delightful 
poem/ or Miss B., who is on the staff of ' The 
Snap-dragon/ or ' Mrs C., whose new novel 
everyone is talking about/ As to her own talk 
it was remarkably original, sometimes daring, 
and always interesting. Her talent for talk 
was infectious ; everyone talked their best. 
There was tea in the back room, but no one 
seemed to care about eating and drinking. Some 
forms of journalism had no attraction for her. 
' I can't write/ I heard her say, ' about such 
things as Mrs Green looked very well in black, 
and Mrs Black looked very well in green.' ' 

Miss Hamilton also relates the following 
characteristic anecdote about Lady Wilde. 

" When I was at Oakley Street one day, I 
asked what time it was, as I wanted to catch a 

" ' Does anyone here/ asked Lady Wilde, 
with one of her lofty glances, ' know what time 
it is ? We never know in this house about 

" This," adds Miss Hamilton, " it seems to me, 
was a key to the way in which Lady Wilde 
looked at things. Trifles, everyday trifles, she 
considered quite beneath her ; and yet trifles 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

make up the sum of human life. She had a 
horror of the ' miasma of the commonplace ' ; 
her eyes were fixed on ideals, on heroes, ancient 
and modern and thus she missed much that 
was lying near her, ' close to her feet/ in her 
fervent admiration of the dim, the distant and 
the unapproachable." 

The great caricaturist Dickens, whose notice 
few of his distinguished contemporaries escaped, 
seems to have studied some of Lady Wilde's 
peculiarities from afar, and the results of his 
observations may be found here and there in 
his books. 

After her marriage " Speranza," abandoning 
poetry and the Young Ireland Movement of 
which she had sung : 

" We stand in the light of a dawning day " 

With its glory creation flushing ; 
And the life-currents up from the pris'ning clay, 
Through the world's great heart are rushing. 
While from peak to peak of the spirit land 

A voice unto voice is calling : 
' The night is over, the day is at hand, 
And the fetters of earth are falling ! ' 

turned to prose. 

In a letter dated from Oakley Street in '88 
she writes to Mr D. J. O'Donoghue the fol- 
lowing account of her literary and journalistic 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 


" In answer to the inquiries contained in 
your note I have to state that I contributed to 
many periodicals in London, amongst others to 
The University Magazine, Tinsley's Magazine, 
The Burlington Magazine, The Woman's World, 
The Queen, The Lady's Pictorial, The Pall Mall 
Gazette, and others whose names I cannot now 
recall. The more important writings of recent 
years are : ' Driftwood from Scandinavia ' 
(Bentley, i vol. 1867) ; ' Ancient Irish Legends ' 
(Ward and Downey, 2 vols. 1887) ; The 
American Irish, a political pamphlet, Dublin. 

" But I have recently devoted myself more 
to literature than to politics. Nationality was 
certainly the first awakener of any mental 
power of genius within me, and the strongest 
sentiments of my intellectual life, but the present 
state of Irish affairs requires the strong guiding 
hand of men, there is no place any more for 
the more passionate aspirations of a woman's 

In another letter to Mr O'Donoghue she 
states : " Also I did not write in 1844 for The 
Nation, nor did I write ' The Chosen Leader.' ' 

The following is a list of the best known 
among the books of Lady Wilde " Poems by 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

' Speranza,' " 1871 ; " Driftwood from Scan- 
dinavia," 1884 ; " Ancient Legends, Mystic 
Charms and Superstitions of Ireland," (2 vols. 
1887) ; " Ancient Cures, Charms and Usages 
of Ireland," 1890 ; " Social Studies," 1893. 

" She further," wrote The Times biographer of 
her after her death, "translated several French 
and German works, and was the author of 
' Ugo Bassi,' a tale of the Italian Revolution 
in verse, published in 1857 ; ' The First Tempta- 
tion,' 1863 ; ' The Glacier Land/ adapted from 
Dumas ; ' The Wanderer and his Home,' adapted 
from Lamartine ; and ' Pictures from the First 
French Revolution,' 1865-1875. In 1880 she 
issued the concluding portion of her husband's 
' Memoir of Beranger.' ' 

She was never photographed; and the only 
portraits which survive are engravings from 

Many of her writings were never published. 
Her poems are still read ; and that there is still 
a demand for her two books, " Ancient Cures," 
and " Ancient Legends," is shown by the fact 
that these two books were included in the 
recently-issued catalogue of a large new book- 
lending enterprise. 

Both these books, however, according to 
Lady Wilde's own statement, were largely taken 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

from materials collected by, or for her husband. 
" He would employ very many people/' she 
related once, " schoolmasters in the villages 
chiefly, who could speak both Irish and English, 
to investigate and collect all the local traditions, 
superstitions, etc., of the peasantry. When he 
died a great amount of material had been col- 
lected, much of which I have published in the 
last year or so in the volumes entitled ' Ancient 
Cures, Charms and Usages of Ireland,' and 
' Ancient Legends of Ireland.' Sir William had 
a passion for such research ; and in recognition of 
his services the Royal Irish Academy gave him 
its gold medal." 

This detailed investigation into the immediate 
parentage and remoter affinities and relation- 
ships of Oscar Wilde has afforded us many data 
which will go towards enabling the student of 
his life to understand some points in his complex 
character as well as a few of his peculiarities. 
Of these some came to him by direct inheritance, 
in his blood, so to say ; others were the result 
of that instinctive imitation of their parents 
and such of their kinsfolk as are held up as 
examples for their reverence and admiration 
which all children practise. Psychological 
influences have also been indicated. 

It may be well in conclusion to sum up under 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

their different headings certain characteristics 
of his which we are now able to trace back to 
their source. Under " direct inheritance," or 
" transmission by blood," may, perhaps, be 
classed his literary capacity, his gifts of poetry, 
languages, of ready mastery of difficult studies, 
his love of the beautiful, the sound common- 
sense of his normal periods, his family and 
personal pride, and his moral courage in the 
face of danger, but also an indifference to the 
dangers of alcoholism, an aversion from failure, 
physical, social and mental, an exaggerated 
esteem, on the other hand, for wealth, titles and 
social success, a tolerance for moral laxness. 

The instinctive imitation of childhood may 
explain his love for eccentricity in dress, his 
professions of an adoration for youth and a 
hatred for old age, his claim that the perusual 
of a single book entirely revolutionised his 

This rough classification is only advanced 
tentatively, as a suggestion, and with all due 
awe for the complex mysteries of the human 
soul. The psychology of an Oscar Wilde is not 
to be resolved into elemental factors by human 
intelligence. But the few data arrived at may 
render the problem of that psychology less 
bewildering, and at the same time, because of 
F 81 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the very dimness of the light which they cast, 
impress us with the magnitude and the obscurity 
of the problem. Now it is not right or lawful for 
man to judge or to condemn that which he 
cannot understand. When God withholds His 
light either on the acts or on the motives of a 
fellow man it means nothing more than this, that 
He reserves the judging of that man's acts 
and thoughts for His own supreme tribunal. 



Oscar Wilde's Christening The Selection of his Names His 
Later Dislike of them No. i Merrion Square The 
Merrion Square Jarvey Oscar Wilde and the Cab-drivers 
Oscar and his Brother Oscar's Sister His Poem on 
her Death His Early Upbringing His Precocity His 
Knowledge of French His Home-Life An Artificial 
Atmosphere Dangerous Environment Sir William 
Wilde's Love of Nature Oscar's Abhorrence from Nature 
His Enunciations on the Subject Oscar Wilde's 
Writings, Sincere, not Paradoxical. 

SUCH was the parentage of the child who was 
born on i6th October 1854, at No. i Merrion 
Square, in the mournful city of Dublin ; whose 
advent, because he was a boy, was a disappoint- 
ment to his mother, and who for a long time after 
his birth was treated as a girl, talked to as a girl, 
dressed as a girl. His father did not share his 
wife's caprice, and for his second son selected 
names of singular virility. These names were 
so chosen as to proclaim to the world the lad's 
close association by blood with the history of 
Ireland. Oscar is good Celtic, it is a name 
closely connected with Irish legend and record. 
And here another negation is necessary. Oscar 
Wilde was not the god-son of the Duke of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Ostergotland, although Speranza allowed it to 
be understood that it had been after this princely 
friend of the family that the boy was called. 
People living in Dublin who remember the 
christening and all the circumstances connected 
with that ceremony have stated that at the 
time of Oscar's birth the Wildes were not 
acquainted with the gentleman who is now the 
King of Sweden. The myth was one of those 
Schwaermereien on the part of Lady Wilde, to 
which reference has already been made. It is 
certain that before Oscar's birth the personality 
of the poet-prince must have greatly occupied 
Speranza' s thoughts for the personal resemblance 
between Oscar Wilde and the King of Sweden 
was one which struck everyone who knew the 
two men. More particularly was this resem- 
blance a striking one between the prince as a 
student at Upsala and Oscar Wilde as a student 
at Oxford. On page 39 of Dr Josef Linck's 
biography of " King Oscar" (" Konung Oscar," 
Adolf Bonnier, Stockholm) there appeared a 
portrait of the young duke, which vividly 
reminds one of Oscar Wilde at the same age. 
However, it appears to be the fact that the 
child's name was chosen by his father, who 
wanted him to have a good ancient Irish name. 
For the same reason he also caused his son to 


Photo by Elliot * fry. 


To face page 85. 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

be christened Fingal and O' Flaherty ; the latter 
from those " wild O'Flahertys " from whom 
Cromwell's soldiers in an addendum to the 
Litany prayed God to deliver them. At the 
same time the additional name of Wills was 
bestowed upon the boy. The motive of this 
selection was the same. It was to affirm his 
Irish nationality. The Wills family were wealthy 
county people who had been settled for over 
three hundred years in Ireland. It was a 
General Wills of this family, who, with General 
Carpenter, crushed the legitimate hopes of the 
loyal party at the Battle of the Boyne. With 
this family the Wildes were closely connected, 
and in a near degree Oscar Wilde was cousin 
to that gifted man, W. G. Wills, the dramatist, 
painter and poet. On the two cousins the 
wonderful of dramaturgy had descended to- 
gether with an allied strain of eccentricity, 
which, however, differed in its developments in 
the two favoured yet unhappy kinsmen. 

The second son of William Wilde by his 
marriage to Jane Francesca Elgee was accord- 
ingly christened, Oscar Fingal O' Flaherty Wills 
Wilde. In his youth and early manhood he 
was proud of these sounding patronymics. 
Later on he discarded the use of them. They 
irritated him. To refer to them was to pro- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

voke his great anger. They classified him; 
they labelled him ; they wrote him down as 
de son village ; and this was intolerable to him, 
to his cosmopolitan sense, to his disdain for 
partisanships, politics and protestations. He 
had a strong aversion from what was local in 
interest, from what was outre and self-assertive ; 
and in all these ways his Irish Christian names 
offended his taste. For the rest Oscar Wilde 
never willingly placed himself on the losing side 
in any division of men. Irishmen and Irish 
matters have always been as unpopular in the 
London society to which he aspired, as they are 
in lower spheres of the Anglo-Saxon Mob ; and 
although Oscar Wilde never denied his nation- 
ality he took particular care not to let it trans- 
spire. In some circles in Dublin it is held that 
he was an ardent Irish patriot, that the mantle 
that Speranza wore in '48 had descended upon 
his broad shoulders, that it was this very pride 
as an Irishman which prevented him from 
fleeing from a British Court of Justice when the 
opportunity offered itself to him so to do. If 
this was so he was able to dissimulate here also 
with astonishing skill. 

It was amongst luxurious surroundings that 
the child was reared. His father's house is one 
of the best houses in the best part of Dublin 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and good houses in the Irish capital are very good 
indeed. They are mute witnesses, as are also 
the fine broad streets to-day, of former opulence 
and splendour. There are few houses in London 
or other big English cities which can compare 
in comfort, amplitude, elegance and decoration 
with a very large number of the Dublin bourgeois 
palaces. No. i Merrion Square, which is a 
corner house, is situated in one of the pleasantest 
and most convenient parts of the town. From 
the front the windows overlook the Merrion 
Square Gardens ; there is a large garden at the 
back, and on the right is Lincoln Place. The 
house, which is now occupied by a dentist, is 
painted red on the Lincoln Place front, and the 
windows which look out on this side are of an 
Oriental style of architecture. It is a big, solid, 
substantial bourgeois house which makes some 
pretensions to originality and artisticness. It 
looks the ideal residence for a successful pro- 
fessional man who stands well at court, but it 
hardly strikes one as the fit dwelling-place for 
a revolutionary poetess, or as the birthplace 
of a man of genius who over shifting, lifting deeps 
and by circuitous routes was to come to a death- 
bed so forlorn and sombre. No tablet yet records 
the fact that in this house was born the author 
of " The Soul of Man," or of " De Profundis" ; 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

but on the tablets of the people's memory that 
record is engraved. Just opposite the house, 
at the corner of the gardens, is a cab-stand, and 
amongst the drivers is an elderly man who, 
when he sees any stranger looking up at No. i 
Merrion Square, touches his hat and says that 
his honour is no doubt looking at the house 
where " Sir Oscar Wilde " was born. The 
stranger may answer that he did not know 
that the poet had been knighted also, and then 
the jarvey says that " Sure and he was," that 
he was a great poet besides, and that as a lad, 
he had often driven the gentleman. He speaks 
of it with pride, as a thing to be remembered, 
and he has nothing but good things to say of the 
young man who was kind and genial, and who 
paid handsomely for each " set-down." Oscar 
Wilde was always a good friend to cab-drivers. 
At the time of his trial he was known as " one 
of the best riders in Chelsea " amongst the 
cabmen. He must, in his opulent days, have 
spent many hundred pounds a year in cabs. At 
one period he used to take a cab by the day, and 
the first address that he used to give to the 
driver was the Burlington Arcade where there 
was a florist's shop, where every day he fetched 
for himself a buttonhole flower costing half-a- 
guinea, and another costing half-a-crown for his 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

cabman for the day. The Dublin cabman does 
not recollect that his young patron had any 
partiality for buttonhole flowers, but he re- 
members that even in those days, Oscar Wilde 
would not drive in a cab which was drawn by a 
white horse, as he considered this most unlucky. 
For the rest, he speaks of the young man, as of 
all the Wilde family, with respect and regret. 
" It was a sad day," he says, " when they went 
across the water." 

As children the brothers William and Oscar 
were great friends ; and Oscar Wilde in after life 
frequently spoke of their mutual attachment. 
" I had a toy bear," he once related, " of which 
I was very fond indeed, so fond that I used to 
take it to bed with me, and I thought that 
nothing could make me more unhappy than 
to lose my bear. Well, one day Willy asked me 
for it ; and I was so fond of Willy that I gave it to 
him, I remember, without a pang. Afterwards, 
however, the enormity of the sacrifice I had 
made impressed itself upon me. I considered 
that such an act merited the greatest gratitude 
and love in return, and whenever Willy crossed 
me in any way I used to say : " Willy, you don't 
deserve my bear. Give me back my bear." 
And for years afterwards, after we had grown 
up, whenever we had a slight quarrel, I used to 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

say the same : " Willy, you don't deserve my 
bear. You must give me back my bear." He 
used to laugh at this recollection. 

A third child was born to Lady Wilde, the 
daughter she had longed for. " She was like 
a golden ray of sunshine dancing about our 
home," Oscar Wilde used to say of this sister. 
She did not live to reach womanhood ; her loss 
was the greatest grief that Lady Wilde knew 
until. . . . One of Oscar Wilde's most beautiful 
poems, a Requiescat, which appears in his first 
volume of poems, is dedicated to the girl's 
memory. He writes of her : 

" She hardly knew 
She was a woman, 
So softly she grew." 

There is one verse which renders a thought 
which must have come to all who mourn the 
dead : 

" Coffinboard, heavy stone, 

Lie on her breast. 
I vex my heart alone ; 
She is at rest." 

Already as a very small boy Oscar gave proof 
of great cleverness. A great novelist of Irish 
birth relates how as a boy he accompanied his 
mother to call on Lady Wilde, who was just 
then staying at a country house on the borders 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of Mayo and Galway, where Sir William Wilde 
had an estate. The caller asked Lady Wilde 
about the boys, and she answered : " Willy is 
all right, but Oscar is wonderful, wonderful. 
He can do anything." He was then nine years 
of age. In an article which Ernest La Jeunesse 
wrote about him after his death in Paris, the 
French critic referring to Wilde's wonderful 
knowledge and capacity said : "II savait tout." 
Indeed, few men have so impressed their con- 
temporaries with the feeling of omniscience. 

In a biographical notice of Oscar Wilde, which 
appeared in 1891, is the following passage, refer- 
ring to his early education. 

" The son of two remarkable people, Mr Wilde 
had a remarkable upbringing. From his earliest 
childhood his principal companions were his 
father and mother and their friends. Now 
wandering about Ireland with the former in 
quest of archaeological treasures, now listening 
in Lady Wilde's salon to the wit and thought of 
Ireland, the boy, before his eighth year had 
learnt the ways to ' the shores of old romance.' 
had seen all the apples plucked from the tree of 
knowledge, and had gazed with wondering eyes 
into ' the younger day.' This upbringing suited 
his idiosyncrasy ; indeed, with his tempera- 
ment it is impossible to conceive what else could 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

have been done with him. He had, of course, 
tutors, and the run of a library containing the 
best literature, and went to a Royal school ; but 
it was at his father's dinner-table and in his 
mother's drawing-room that the best of his 
early education was obtained. Another ex- 
perience, unusual to boyhood, had a powerful 
formative influence. He travelled much in 
France and Germany, becoming acquainted with 
the works of Heine and Goethe, but more 
especially with French literature and the French 
temperament. It was in France, at an age 
when other boys are grinding at grammar or 
cricket, that Oscar Wilde began to realise in 
some measure what he was. There he found 
himself for the first time in a wholly congenial 
environment. The English temperament there 
are those who deny that such a thing exists 
' like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and 
harsh ' responds indifferently to the aesthetic. 
In France Mr Wilde found everywhere exquisite 
susceptibility to beauty, and found also that he 
himself, an Irish Celt, possessed this suscepti- 
bility in all its intensity. French and Greek 
literature were the two earliest passions of his 
artistic life." 

That he was familiar with German literature 
as a boy is not the case, and it is also doubtful 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

if the French environment revealed to the lad 
anything within himself of which he was not 
aware. There is no special susceptibility to 
beauty in France ; indeed, in few countries is 
more profound indifference displayed by the 
great mass of the people to the wonderful 
natural and artistic beauty with which the 
country is endowed. In Oscar Wilde's youth 
the very beauties which he was afterwards to 
celebrate in periods so eloquent were the derision 
of the majority. As a young man Oscar Wilde 
used to echo the foolish contempt of Lamartine 
which was the fashionable attitude of the 
cognoscenti in France in his boyhood. Lamar- 
tine, expounded by him, appeared a French 
Martin Tupper. And this is but an instance. 
His visits to France seemed to have laid the 
foundations of that great knowledge of the 
French language which he displayed in the 
writing of " SalomeV' As to the writing and 
language of this play, the best French critics 
are unanimous in expressing their wonder that 
any foreigner could have acquired such a 
mastery of the French language, its beauties 
and intricacies. But as Ernest La Jeunesse 
has said : "II savait tout." French was so 
familiar to him that, as he used to say, " he often 
thought in French." As a preparation for a 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

literary career in England this was not a good 
thing. The most successful writer knows only 
the tongue in which he writes. Linguistic 
attainment spoils the mother-language for the 
unilingual reader. The average Englishman 
cannot " follow " the writer who at times thinks 
in a tongue which is not his own. He revolts 
against similes, deductions, points of view which 
are not English. The man whose books translate 
well into foreign languages is not likely to be 
very highly appreciated in his own country. 
That is why, perhaps, it has been said that 
posterity begins at the frontier. There are 
exceptions of course. Gerard de Nerval's 
translation of Goethe's " Faust " was such a 
beautiful work that Goethe himself wrote to 
the French poet to compliment him on the 
authorship of the French " Faust." But 
" Faust " is in itself an exception. It is what 
the Germans call a " Weltstueck," a term, by 
the way, which they have also applied to 
" Salome." Shakespeare reads badly in foreign 
translations even where the son of Hugo, under 
Victor Hugo's guidance, writes the version. 
Dickens never appealed to foreign nations in 
any degree equivalently to his wonderful in- 
fluence on his countrymen. 

It was an artificial atmosphere in which the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

lad, Oscar, was reared. It is wonderful that he 
escaped that taint of precocity for which the 
English dictionary has another and a less 
euphonious term. It is more wonderful still 
that until his inherent madness broke out he 
escaped the taint of moral laxness which infected 
the air of his father's house. Here high think- 
ing did not go hand in hand with plain living. 
The house was a hospitable one ; it was a house 
of opulence and carouse ; of late suppers and 
deep drinking ; of careless talk and example. 
His father's gallantries were the talk of Dublin. 
Even his mother, although a woman of spotless 
life and honour, had a loose way of talking 
which might have been full of danger to her 
sons. A saying of hers is still remembered in 
Dublin, which gives an echo of the way in which 
her attitude of revolt against the accepted and 
the commonplace prompted her to mischievous 
talk. " There has never been a woman yet in 
this world who wouldn't have given the top 
off the milkjug to some rian if she had met 
the right one." The mother's salon, the father's 
supper-table were frequented by boozy and 
boisterous Bohemians, than whom no city 
more than Dublin furnishes stranger specimens. 
How free was the conversation which went on 
there in the presence of the two lads may be 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

gathered from a remark which Oscar Wilde once 
made to a fellow-undergraduate at Trinity 
College. "Come home with me," he said, "I 
want to introduce you to my mother. We 
have founded a Society for the Suppression of 
Virtue." This statement, of course, partook 
of the nature of those remarks as to which a 
Prefect of Police in Paris once asked Charles 
Baudelaire, the poet, why a man of his genius 
often spoke in so foolish a way. " Pour etonner 
les sots," answered Baudelaire. " It was to 
astonish fools," without any doubt, that Oscar 
Wilde so spoke on that occasion, for there was 
no cleaner-lived young man than he. But his 
words show the prevailing moral atmosphere at 
home, and the dangers to which he was exposed. 
And no doubt also that having been exposed all 
through his youth to the contagion of im- 
morality his powers of resistance against moral 
disease had been so weakened that when the 
attack came he had not the strength to over- 
come it. There is a great analogy between 
physical and mental diseases. This record 
should teach a lesson to parents which they 
would do well to lay to heart. 

By his father as a lad he was taught to admire 
the beauties of Nature, but it did not appear 
in after life that he shared Sir William's en- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

thusiasm. Though he wrote much and well 
about flowers and birds and the beauties of 
the land under the moving seasons, he used 
to describe the country as " rather tedious " ; 
and to the end remained a dweller in cities. 
Atmospheric effects, the planets and the stars, 
the lights on land and sea, though he recognised 
their utility for poetical description, certainly 
never aroused emotions within him. Of Sir 
William, on the other hand, it is related that 
one night after everybody had retired to rest 
in the house which he owned at Howth, at the 
seaside near Dublin, a terrific storm having 
broken out overhead, he dragged a reluctant 
guest from his bed and up to the top of the 
house, there to admire with him the wonderful 
effects of the lightning flashes over the sea. 
" He kept me there for nearly an hour," related 
this guest afterwards, " and showed the greatest 
enthusiasm for the spectacle. I was far from 
sharing his excitement. It was drenching wet, 
and we were both lightly clad. Yet he kept 
appealing to me to join him in saying that it 
was the most wonderful night that I had ever 
spent." Oscar held that the monotony of life 
spent amidst rustic surroundings was fatal to 
artistic production. " One can only write in 
cities," he wrote in a letter to one of his friends, 
G 97 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

" the country hanging on one walls in the grey 
mists of Corot, or the opal mornings that 
Daubigny has given us." In the same letter, 
he speaks of " the splendid whirl and swirl of 
life in London/' His dislike for Nature and 
the natural life as contrasted to artificiality; 
and that mode of existence which claims to be 
the outcome of the highest civilisation developed 
as he grew older. The utterances of Vivian 
(through whose mouth Oscar Wilde speaks) 
where he decries Nature in " The Decay of 
Lying" are not so much brilliant paradox. 
They are the sincere expressions of Oscar 
Wilde's feeling on the subject. The passage 
from the first essay in " Intentions " may be 
quoted here. 

" 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 her 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 observation. 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 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

unfinished condition. Nature has good in- 
tentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said, 
she cannot carry them out. When I look at a 
landscape, I cannot help seeing all its defects. 
It is fortunate for us, however, that Nature is 
so imperfect, 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. . . . ' 

A little lower down, Vivian continues : 
" But Nature is so uncomfortable. Grass is 
hard and lumpy and damp, and full of dreadful 
black insects. Why even Morris's poorest 
workman could make you a more comfortable 
seat than the whole of Nature can. ... If 
Nature 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 sub- 
ordinated to us, fashioned for our use and our 
pleasure. Egotism itself, which is indoor life." 

People have been wont to point to " Inten- 
tions " as masterpieces of paradox. The truth 
is that these essays contain in paradoxical form 
Wilde's most orthodox creeds. The vigour with 
which he enunciates his opinions proceeds, no 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

doubt, from the knowledge that there is much 
pretence, not to say hypocrisy, in the general 
definitions of what is good and beautiful. This 
hypocrisy stirred his indignation and gave 
impetus to his pen. What ordinary man or 
woman of the world really cares for Nature 
in preference to urban haunts ? What sincerity 
is there in the gushing rhapsodies about the 
beauties of the country to which it is fashionable 
to give utterance. How many times does the 
London dame or squire look up to the stars ? 



Portora Royal School Its Sectarian Character Prompt Dis- 
illusionment Oscar's Proficiency Incapacity for Arith- 
metic His Appearance as a Boy His Precocity in a 
Dangerous Talent His Fondness for Dress His 
Unpopularity His Eager Thirst for Knowledge His 
Excellent Character Matriculation at T.C.D. His Re- 
putation there The Berkeley Gold Medal The Classical 
Scholarship His Marks Why he left T.C.D. He goes 
to Oxford A Turning-Point in his Life The Possible 
Dangers of a Student's Life His University Achieve- 
ments " Not a Reading Man."- 

THE school which was selected for Oscar Wilde 
by his parents was a school founded by an 
English prince, the father of that " Pretender " 
whom one of the boy's ancestors had helped to 
overthrow. Possibly it was Speranza's great 
detestation of the " soulless iconoclast/' Crom- 
well, that prompted her to send her sons to be 
alumni in a house of which King Charles was 
the founder, patron and benefactor, Portora 
Royal School, Enniskillen. Motives of economy 
may also have dictated this choice ; for compared 
with the fees of an English public school, the 
charges at Portora are very small. There are 
three terms in the year, and the fees for each 
boarder " a considerable reduction being made 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

in the case of brothers" are only 17, IDS. 
per term. According to the present synopsis 
of the course of instruction the work of the 
higher forms is mainly directed towards pre- 
paration for the universities, and especially for 
Trinity College, Dublin. The school is under 
the government of The Fermanagh Protestant 
Board of Education, of which the Right Rev. 
The Lord Bishop of Clogher, D.D., is the 
Chairman, and amongst the members of which 
are the Rector of Enniskillen and another 
Church of England clergyman. It is a sectarian 
school ; for we notice amongst the provisions 
of the " Course of Instruction " there that : 
" Religious training is regarded as of supreme 
importance. The boarders are regularly 
instructed in Divinity, and on Sundays attend 
the respective Protestant churches in charge 
of responsible masters." From what precedes 
it is easy to imagine the bias with which English 
and Irish history must have been taught in 
this school, what Whiggish principles must have 
been instilled hour by hour into the pupils' 
minds, and what the prevailing opinion among 
Oscar's pastors and masters on Irish Nationalism, 
and the doings of the Young Ireland Party 
may have been. For instance, one may fancy 
the views of the Lord Bishop of Clogher, D.D., 



To face paije 103, 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

on " The Glorious young Meagher." At first 
bewilderment must have come to the lad, who 
had been trained to admire his mother for the 
part she had taken in a movement which to the 
Right Rev. the Lord Bishop and the rest of 
The Fermanagh Protestant Board of Education 
must have appeared in much the same light as 
did to the Lord Archbishop of Munster the 
proceedings of John of Ley den and the other 
Anabaptists in 1536. Bewilderment would give 
place to an insight into the insincerity of most 
political professions, and from this to cynicism 
and general disbelief would be but one step. 
" If the gods of our faith be liars, in whom shall 
we trust ? " 

Oscar went to this school when he was eleven 
years old. Lady Wilde's description of him as 
a wonderful boy who could do anything seems 
to have been justified by his early achievements 
at Portora. In 1868 he was already very high 
up in the school ; he had, indeed, already reached 
the third class in his first year. It is recorded 
of him that he got " quicker into a book than 
any boy that ever lived." At the same time 
he was a great dunce in the mathematical class. 
He has been described by a schoolfellow of his, 
who is now a most distinguished man, as 
" absolutely incapable of mathematics." In 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

arithmetic he was hopelessly bad, and, as by the 
regulations of the school a certain proficiency in 
arithmetic was an indispensable qualification for 
the winning of certain prizes for scholarship, it 
was a usual thing to see young Oscar Wilde, on 
the eve of entering some examination, being 
coached in the elements of mathematical science 
by one of the junior masters. This early incapa- 
city for figures explains much of the recklessness 
of his after life. The careful and parsimonious 
of this world are by instinct mathematicians, at 
least as far as the four great rules are concerned. 
It is recorded of most spendthrifts, on the other 
hand, that the faculty of calculation is an element 
lacking in their mental composition. Has the 
world's history any record of an extravagant 
mathematician ? 

Oscar Wilde was a big boy, very tall for his 
age, and distinctly heavy of build. One of his 
schoolfellows says that " he used to flop about 
ponderously." He was not popular with the 
other boys. For one thing, he never played any 
games. In later life he used to say that he 
objected to cricket because the attitudes as- 
sumed were so indecent. He never rowed on 
the lake ; and he had for the musketry instructor 
and the drill sergeant contempt mingled with 
pity. His manner was very reserved, and he 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

used to keep aloof from the other boys. Another 
characteristic which made for his unpopularity 
amongst his schoolfellows, just as in later life 
it raised up against him so many implacable 
enemies, was the extraordinary gift he had of 
saying trenchant things about others. He was 
a very clever boy at giving nicknames. He was 
the ironical sponsor to the whole school from 
the Rev. William Steele, D.D., the headmaster, 
down to the smallest boy in class ib. As a 
man, few wits have ever said cleverer and at the 
same time more biting things about their con- 
temporaries. This capacity of his and his 
ruthless exercise thereof account for much of 
the hatred that is still alive against him years 
after his lonely death. Of one very famous 
contemporary Irish writer he remarked : " He 
has no enemies, but he is intensely disliked by 
his friends." Of the son of a famous pianist 
he once said, when the fact of this parentage 
was stated to him : " Well, I am glad that he 
has managed to survive it." Of an extra- 
ordinary Russian Jew who at various times 
essayed to fill in modern London the role of a 
Maecenas, a Heliogabalus, and other less worthy 
parts, and who hated Oscar Wilde with an 
intensity of hatred that almost made him 
interesting, he declared : " He came to London 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

in the hopes of founding a salon. He has 
succeeded only in opening a restaurant." He 
used to use this man's name as the symbol of 

ugliness. " As ugly as " was an expression 

constantly in his mouth. He described him as 
a " foetus in a bottle." In " Intentions " one 
finds many compliments, a rebours, addressed to 
various of the prominent writers of the time. 
We are told that Hall Caine writes at the top of 
his voice ; that Rudyard Kipling reveals life 
" by splendid flashes of vulgarity " ; that as one 
turns over the pages of one of James Payn's 
novels, " the suspense of the author becomes 
quite unbearable " ; that Henry James writes 
fiction as if it were a painful duty ; and that 
Marion Crawford has immolated himself on the 
altar of local colour. These remarks are all 
very clever, but they are not gratifying to the 
people about whom they were made, and would 
not tend to increase the satirist's number of 
friends. But Oscar Wilde seemed to go out of 
his way to offend people, not individuals alone, 
but whole sections of society. What solicitor, 
for instance, being present at the performance 
of his comedy, " The Importance of Being 
Earnest," and hearing his sneer at the social 
standing of the profession, as it was put into 
Lady Bracknell's mouth, but would feel a personal 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

grievance against the author for a gratuitous 
slight ? These are the words referred to : 

" Lady Bracknell : Markby, Markby & 
Markby ? A firm of the very highest position 
in their profession. Indeed, I am told that one 
of the Mr Markbys is occasionally to be seen 
at dinner-parties." 

Elsewhere every stockbroker gets an un- 
necessary wound to his self-esteem. Indeed, 
few of the professions escape the lash of satire 
which seems prompted merely by the contempt 
of a man professing to voice aristocratic and 
elegant society, and its alleged disdain for men 
and women who have to work for a living. He 
carried his imprudence to the extent of in- 
sulting journalists with tedious insistence, thus 
fouling the very trumpets of modern reputation. 
There are many points in Oscar Wilde's career 
which allow of a comparison between him and 
the great Napoleon ; and this deliberate delight 
in provoking enmities, this sheer reckless and 
uncharitable combativeness, is not the least 
striking characteristic common to both. In 
both men it arose from a delusion as to the 
extent of their powers, from a spirit of prepotence, 
from a most imprudent contempt of the 
aggregate force of the individual adversaries 
whom they so joyfully and so wilfully raised 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

up against themselves. This policy of mischief 
did not succeed in the hands of Napoleon ; it 
was therefore not likely to be more successful 
in the hands of Oscar Wilde. The latter was 
fond of reading the " Maximes " of the Due de la 
Rochefoucault, and might have remembered to 
his advantage that the epigrammatist said that 
the man who thinks that he can do without 
society makes a mistake, but that the man 
who thinks that society cannot do without him 
makes a still greater mistake. 

Although he is remembered at Portora as 
having been very clever in giving nicknames to 
others, none of his schoolfellows can recall what 
was his own particular soubriquet. He seems 
to have been generally known as " Oscar." As 
to his brother, Willy, he was known as " Blue- 
Blood." He was not a tidy boy ; he had 
inherited some of the paternal carelessness about 
his appearance, and having one day been re- 
monstrated with for the umber of his neck and 
hands, declared very proudly that his skin was 
dark, not because it was dirty, but because of 
the blue blood in the veins of the Wildes. This 
anecdote might have been left unrecorded, but 
for the fact that it shows that the Wilde boys 
held a high opinion of their social standing, and 
may explain Oscar's subsequent determined 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

efforts to establish himself in London society, as 
also his contempt, referred to above, for people 
whose blood was not blue, and who had to work 
for their maintenance. And here it may once 
more be repeated that the exigencies of this 
biography make it impossible to discard any 
fact, on which friendship or reverence might 
plead for silence, when that fact can serve to 
throw light upon the complex problem of the 
character which we are engaged in studying. 

Already in those days young Oscar Wilde 
showed that fondness for distinguished attire 
which ever marked him in life. He is re- 
membered at Portora as the only boy there who 
used to wear a top hat. " It was always a 
very fashionable hat, of the latest style." All 
the boys at Portora were provided, by school 
regulations as to the outfit, with one Black 
Silk Hat, but this was for Sunday wear only. 
Oscar never discarded his. He was always very 
well dressed, and wore his hair long. " He had 
a good wisp of hair ! " is said of him still in 
Enniskillen. He did not appear to be very 
friendly with his brother Willy. " He was very 
superior in his manner towards Willy." The 
latter was much more popular with the boys. 
The little boys at Portora, especially, had the 
greatest affection for Willy Wilde. Even in 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

those early days he had all the charming talents 
de socidtt which afterwards won him much 
success. He used to tell stories to the children, 
and he used to play the piano for them. 

Oscar was considered exceedingly clever in 
literature that is to say in his knowledge of 
books. At the same time the future author of 
" Intentions " never showed any superiority in 
composition. " He never stood out in essays/' 
remarks one of his masters, who adds : " Oscar 
Wilde was never looked upon as a formidable 
competitor by the boys who went in for examina- 
tions in Portora school." His conduct was 
uniformly good. There was not a breath of a 
complaint about him in any way, except some 
short time before he left the school, when, as 
one of his schoolfellows relates, " he got into 
an awful row with the headmaster. He had 
cheeked old Steele something awful." That 
there was nothing of the decadent about Oscar 
Wilde in his school-days is the ananimous 
declaration of many men who were boys at 
school with him. He was a great reader, and 
assimilated what he read in a remarkable 
manner. He used to get through a book with 
a speed that astonished everybody; and what 
he had read thus rapidly, he used to remember. 
He read nothing but English books, and these 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

were generally classical novels. He displayed 
no particular efficiency in French in those days. 
He had a great fondness for handsome books 
and choice editions. " When he came so pro- 
minently before the world as an aesthete/' 
relates a Don at T.C.D, "we all tried to 
remember any indication that he had given as 
a lad of a taste for beautiful things, and the only 
thing that we could recall in this connection was 
that he always had most expensive copies of class- 
books. He had, for instance, a beautiful large 
paper edition of ^schylus." During his last 
year at Portora, when he was a lad of sixteen, 
his eager thirst for knowledge and his great 
receptivity were matters of observation and 
comment. Often when Mr Purser was instruct- 
ing the class in history or in geography Oscar 
Wilde would contrive by means of some cleverly 
put question to lead the master into a dis- 
quisition on some topic on which he desired to 
gain information. The subject in hand would 
be forgotten ; the master, ever prompted by 
his pupil, would unbosom himself of his store 
of learning. Sometimes the whole of the hour 
would be thus absorbed. At other times the 
master would bring the discussion back to the 
subject of the lesson, and then it was a sight to 
see the lad, all alert, thinking and planning 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

how, next day, he could turn the master once 
more on to the question in which he needed 
instruction questions often as obstruse as the 
relative definitions of nominalism and realism. 

In arithmetic he made no progress at all 
while at school, and many boys remember the 
efforts which Mr Purser used to make to cram 
him with the elementary rules. 

It was, perhaps, in the competition for the 
Gold Medal which is the great distinction at 
Portora that Oscar Wilde displayed his peculiar 
capacity for mastering the contents of a classical 
book. " In the viva voce" says one of his 
competitors, " which was on the Agamemnon 
of ^Eschylus, he simply walked away from us 
all." He gained 25 per cent, higher marks in 
this examination than the nearest to him. 

In October 1871 Oscar Wilde matriculated 
at Trinity College, Dublin. In the matricula- 
tion examination where he obtained the second 
place his marks in the various subjects were 
as follows : (The maxim number of marks 
obtainable in each subject was 10.) 

Greek, Two Papers 8, 8. 
Latin, Two Papers 8, 7. 
Latin Composition 4. 
English Composition 5. 
History 8. 
Arithmetic 2. 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

His total was thus 50. The total obtained by 
another Portora boy, the gentleman who is now 
the Junior Bursar of Trinity College, and who 
ranks as one of the most distinguished classical 
scholars in the country, was 65. On the second 
day of the examination, where the subjects were 
the Higher Classics, Oscar Wilde obtained 46 
marks ; whilst the boy who had so outstripped 
him on the previous day in the rudiments only 
obtained 36 marks. Oscar Wilde's neglect of 
the rudiments was always a feature of his 

He is registered on the matriculation book 
of Trinity College in the following terms and 
under the headings given : 


Johannes Malet Praelector Primarius 

Dies Mensis Admissorum Nomina Qualitates Fidei Professiones 
Oct. 10 Oscar Wilde P. I. C. 

Patres Patrum Qualitates Nativitatum Loca Aetatis Anni 

Wm. Physician Dublin 16 

He was at that time just within six days of 
his seventeenth birthday. At this time of his 
life, therefore, Oscar Wilde displayed side by 
side, with a brilliant capacity for reading and 
understanding the classics, a not quite first-rate 
knowledge of the elements of classical knowledge. 
He was undistinguished in Latin composition, 
which exacts this mastery of the rudiments, 
H 113 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

mediocre in English composition, and un- 
satisfactory in arithmetic. It is related of 
Emile Zola, it may be remembered, that he was 
rejected at his examination for the baccalaureat 
degree for inefficiency in composition. 

During his year's attendance at Trinity 
College, Dublin, his conduct was irreproachable. 
" He left this College," says one of the Dons 
who was a fellow-student of his, " with the very 
highest character." Beyond the foolish remark 
of his, that invitation of a fellow-undergraduate 
to come to his father's house, which has been 
quoted above, not a single thing is remembered 
against him. It was for this reason, no doubt, 
that no official cognisance was taken by Trinity 
College, Dublin, of his public disgrace ; his 
name was not deleted on any of the honourable 
records on which his capacity, excellence and 
industry had inscribed it. At Portora Royal 
College, on the other hand, a resolution was 
taken by The Fermanagh Protestant Board of 
Education in virtue of which the inscription of 
honour of his name on the stone tablets of 
the schoolhouse would have been erased, when, 
mirabile dictu, it transpired that outraged Nature 
herself had forestalled The Fermanagh Pro- 
testant Board of Education in the execution 
of this salutary sacrifice. The slab on which 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Oscar Wilde's name was inscribed in letters of 
gold had cracked right across the ill-reputed 
words : Nature had effaced the name. In a 
less enlightened place, amongst the ignorant 
and superstitious Irish who are not Protestants, 
the circumstance might have been hailed as a 

He was considered a highly gifted, amiable 
young man, likely to win a high place as a scholar. 
In the various college examinations he con- 
tinually distinguished himself. He was first out 
of fourteen in the First Rank in the Michaelmas 
Prize Examination 1872 ; in Hilary Term he 
was third of the First Rank. The gentleman, 
now a Privy Councillor, who was Solicitor 
General under the last Tory Administration, 
was an undergraduate of the same standing as 
Oscar Wilde, and with the other junior freshman, 
competed in the same examinations. He did 
not, however, emerge from the Second Rank. 
In later life these two men were to be once more 
in fierce competition, the fiercest competition, 
perhaps, that has ever been waged in the Old 
Bailey Court between a witness for the prosecu- 
tion and a counsel for the defence ; and here too 
Oscar Wilde was to hold the superior rank. It 
has been stated that the barrister has admitted 
that until towards the very end of his cross- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

examination of the prosecutor he felt that he 
had had the worst of it all along. He was just 
about to sit down when an answer of fatal 
insolence and folly brought the whole of Wilde's 
splendid defence of himself crumbling to the 
ground, gave an opening to his more patient 
adversary, and exposed him to devastation and 
ruin. This cross-examination of Oscar Wilde 
in the Queensberry trial is still eagerly studied 
by advocates as a lesson how a barrister should 
act when brought face to face with a hostile 
witness of such consummate readiness, power 
and nerve. The barrister's triumph in this 
case was a complete one ; but the reason for that 
was rather because the witness had become 
intoxicated with his own triumph throughout, 
lost his head in consequence of this, and in an 
imprudent moment destroyed the whole effect 
of his previous answers. The report teaches 
what patience can do, and a knowledge of the 
rudiments; and in that sense is a triumph for 
the counsel. He might well have lost his head. 
He did not. He waited and watched, and in 
the words of a barrister who was sitting in 
court at his side, " pounced like a hawk," upon 
the witness when the long-waited- for oppor- 
tunity arose. 

Amongst certain men, prominent at Trinity 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

College, Oscar Wilde was held " an average sort 
of man/' and surprise was expressed when he 
came to the front. Such surprise can only 
have proceeded from that innocency and ignor- 
ance of the things of this world which are the 
most beautiful traits in the character of the 
deeply learned. Success in the world, the 
acclaim of the populace do not go to the modest 
and retiring scholar. It is an age of advertise- 
ment, and even the greatest talents must con- 
form to the commercial exigencies of the hour. 
One may see any day in any of the big public 
libraries, the shabby, hungered, half-blinded man 
of great learning and knowledge elbowed by 
the secretary of some popular novelist who 
is collecting facts for his master. The secretary 
is well-dressed, well-fed, and shines with the 
reflected light of his employer, who, very pro- 
bably, earns in one hour more than the great 
scholar can gain in a week of laborious days and 

In a letter written by Lady Wilde to Mr 
O'Donoghue she begs him not to omit to 
mention in writing a biographical notice of her 
that both her sons were Gold Medallists, " a 
distinction," she said, "of which they are both 
very proud." Oscar's gold medal was the 
Berkeley Medal. This prize was founded by 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the famous Bishop Berkeley, who denied the 
existence of matter, and of whom Lord Byron 
wrote that when he said that there was no 
matter it really was no matter what he said. 
It was possibly from a desire to be consistent 
with his principles that the Bishop left so small 
a sum for the purpose of this prize that the 
Berkeley Gold Medal is not materially one of 
much value. As a distinction, however, it is 
highly prized. The subject in which candidates 
were examined in 1874 was " The Fragments of 
the Greek Comic Poets, as edited by Meineke," 
and the prize was won by Oscar Wilde. It will 
illustrate to what financial straits the poor man 
was put even at a time when his name was in 
everybody's mouth, that in 1883 after his 
successful visit to Paris, and while he was 
lecturing all over England, he was obliged to 
go to the magistrate at Marlborough Police 
Court to make a statutory declaration con- 
cerning the loss of a pawn-ticket which was the 
voucher for Bishop Berkeley's gold medal. 

In the books of Trinity College there is no 
record of the marks earned by the various 
competitors who entered for the Berkeley Prize 
in 1874. The mere fact that this was won by 
Oscar Wilde is registered in the records of the 
college. With regard, however, to the scholar- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

ship which Oscar Wilde had won in the previous 
year full particulars of his various markings are 
to be found. They are of some interest, as 
illustrating the state of his mental capacity in 
the diiferent subjects in which the candidates 
were examined. 

Oscar Wilde's marks in the various subjects 
were the following. In each case 10 was the 
maximum number of marks obtainable. 

Viva Voce Thucydides 8. 

Viva Voce Tacitus 7^. 

Greek Prose Composition 5. (The examiner in this 
subject was Mr Stack, " a notoriously hard marker." The 
best marks given were 6, which were obtained by Joseph 
King, who, however, only got the last place but one 
among the selected candidates. He was ninth, while Oscar 
Wilde was sixth.) 

Greek Translation 7. (This was the best mark given.) 

Greek Tragedians (Questions on) 7. 

Latin Comedians (Questions on) 7. 

Latin Prose Translation on Paper 6. 

Latin Prose Composition 3$. 

Demosthenes 5 . 

Ancient History 7. 

Greek Verse (Passages on Paper) 5. 

Greek Verse Composition. i. (Here Mr Wm. Roberts 
was the examiner. He was a " character as a 'Varsity 
Don," a very hard examiner. In this subject most of the 
candidates scored no better than Oscar Wilde, some got 
no marks at all, a plump duck's egg figures against their 
names in the Trinity record. One or two got two marks. 
Messrs Montgomery and L. C. Purser, who were first and 
second in the final classification, each got five marks.) 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Greek Viva Voce (Mr Tyrell, examiner) 6. 
Latin Viva Voce (Mr Tyrell, examiner) 5^. 
Translation from Latin Poets 4. 

English Composition 6. (This was the highest number 
of marks scored in this subject by any of the candidates.) 
Latin and Greek Grammar 4. 

In the final result Oscar Wilde got the sixth 
place out of ten selected candidates. Joseph 
King, who was considered the cleverest man 
in the college was placed ninth. The following 
is the complete list of selected candidates in 
their order of merit. 


An examination of the marks obtained by Oscar 
Wilde sets forth that while still weak in the 
rudiments he had made great progress in English 
composition. He was to make still greater pro- 
gress in the event. 

The Trinity College Scholarships, like the 
Gold Medal, lack in that materialism which the 
Bishop denied. They carry with them no great 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

emolument. A T.C.D. scholar obtains rooms in 
college at half the usual fees charged to students. 
He has no fees to pay for tuition, and he gets 
his dinners for nothing. But there is no income 
attached to the position. " Oscar Wilde never 
held his scholarship at Trinity College," one 
learns, "as he preferred to go to Oxford, where 
better things are to be won." 

In the following year, accordingly, he went to 
Oxford, won a demyship at Magdalen College, 
of the annual value of 95, tenable for five years, 
and matriculated at Magdalen on iyth October. 

He writes in " De Profundis " of his entrance 
into the English University, as the great turning- 
point of his life. 

" I want to get to the point," he writes, " when 
I shall be able to say quite simply, and without 
affectation, that the two great turning-points in 
my life were when my father sent me to Oxford, 
and when society sent me to prison." 

It is possible that when he wrote those lines 
he was thinking that if he had never been sent 
to Oxford, the extraordinary latent madness 
which had brought him to the terrible place 
where he sat, might never have been roused into 
fatal activity. For there is no use denying it : 
Oxford, which is the finest school in the world 
for the highest culture, is also the worst training- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

ground for the lowest forms of debauchery. It 
all depends on the character of the student, his 
early home-training, his natural propensities, 
his physical state, his religious belief. Oxford 
produces side by side the saint, the sage, and 
the depraved libertine. She sends men to 
Parnassus or to the public-house, to Latium or 
the lenocinium. The Dons ignore the horrors 
which are going on under their very eyes. They 
are wrapped up in the petty concerns of the 
University hierarchy ; they are of men the most 
unpractical and least worldly; while possibly 
their deep classical studies have so familiarised 
them with certain pathological manifestations 
that they really fail to understand the horror 
of much that is the common jest of the under- 
graduates. Oxford has rendered incalculable 
services to the Empire, but she has also fostered 
and sent forth great numbers of men who have 
contributed to poison English society. It is 
very possible that if Sir William Wilde had not 
sent his second son to Oxford, but had left him in 
Ireland, where certain forms of perversion are 
totally unknown, and where vice generally is 
regarded with a universal horror which contrasts 
most strongly with the mischievous tolerances 
that English society manifests towards it, Oscar 
would now be living in Dublin, one of the lights 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of Trinity College, one of the glories of Ireland, 
a scholar and a gentleman of universal reputa- 
tion. Let any Oxford man who remembers 
his undergraduates days, who remembers the 
things that used to be jested about there, and 
the common talk at the wines about this man or 
that, ask himself when he has condemned Oscar 
Wilde whether alma mater may not have been 
to blame, in part if not in toto, for the tremendous 
and terrible metamorphosis that was worked in 
Oscar Wilde's character, admitting that the 
young man, who left Trinity College with a 
spotless reputation, really did develop in so 
short a time into the dangerous maniac such as 
he afterwards came to be considered. The man 
who approaches the study of this extraordinary 
degeneration of character (admitting the common 
aspect of the Oscar Wilde of later years to be 
justified) in a scientific spirit and without bias, 
cannot fail to feel the gravest suspicion that 
Oscar Wilde was to a very large extent a victim 
of the Oxford educational system, of the Oxford 
environment. To the same dangers as those to 
which he succumbed any impressionable lad is 
exposed, who, starting with no strong moral 
sense, his native virtue weakened by evil 
example at home, is immersed in a year-long 
course of study, in which in the finest language 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

that the world has ever voiced men and women 
are glorified who in the present day would be 
considered monsters fit only for the stake, and 
where in almost divine poetry are celebrated 
passions and acts which society and the church 
now point to as the very abomination of de- 
solation. In a pathetic letter which Oscar 
Wilde wrote to a friend of his after his release 
from prison he said : "I have still difficulty in 
understanding why the frequentation of Sporus 
should be considered so much more criminal than 
the frequentation of Messalina." It is, more- 
over, a well-established pathological fact that the 
men in whom certain aberrations develop with 
the most hideous fecundity are men of great 
scholarship whose moral sense has been warped 
by studies in which they have come to identify 
their environment with that of the men and 
women of antiquity. 

In scholarship Oscar Wilde progressed with 
surprising rapidity. His career as a student was 
a most successful one. He took a First Class 
in Moderations in the Honours School (Trinity 
Term 1876), and two year later, in Trinity 
Term 1878, he took a First Class in the " Honour 
Finals." Yet he was never a reading man, and 
was rarely to be seen at his books. 


Photo !>y Elliot & Fry. 

To face page 125. 


Oscar Wilde at Oxford John Ruskin The Extent of his 
Influence on Oscar Wilde Ruskin's Socialism Oscar 
Wilde as a Social Reformer His Immense Influence 
Abroad Oscar as an Undergraduate His Rooms at 
Magdalen His Appearance He is " Ragged " His 
Physical and Moral Courage His Leanings to Catholicism 
His Journey in Greece The Effect upon him Early 
Writings in Prose and Verse " Ravenna " The Irony 
of Fate " Ravenna " Symbolical of his own Career. 

DURING some part of Oscar Wilde's first term at 
Oxford that is to say, during one month in 
Michaelmas Term 1874 John Ruskin, Slade 
Professor of Fine Arts, was lecturing twice a 
week in the Oxford Museum on the " ^Esthetic 
and Mat hematic schools of Art in Florence." 
This was the second course of lectures delivered 
by Ruskin during that term, and this course was 
divided into eight lectures, classified under three 
separate titles. The first three lectures (Series 
A) dealt with (i) Arnolfo, (2) Cimabue, (3) 
Giotto. This series described the " Esthetic 
Schools of 1300." The next series of three 
lectures (Series B), treated of the " Mathematic 
Schools of 1400," and the various lectures ex- 
pounded, (4) Brunelleschi, the architect of the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Pitti Palace in Florence, (5) Quercia, and (6) 
Ghiberti. The " Final Efforts of Esthetic Art 
in Florence" formed the subject of the two 
concluding lectures (Series C), and these treated 
of (7) Angelico, and (8) Botticelli. 

Oscar Wilde was a constant attendant at these 
lectures, and there can be no doubt that they 
produced a very strong impression on his mind, 
as, indeed, Ruskin's discourses did on every man 
who heard them. They must have opened up 
a new field of interest to the young Irishman, 
have afforded him new subjects on which to talk, 
and have suggested to him, by the spectacle of 
the great enthusiasm which Mr Ruskin aroused, 
the opportunism of a minor apostolate in a creed 
so obviously popular and successful. But there 
does not appear to be any grounds for saying, as 
has so often been said, that Oscar Wilde was 
greatly influenced by Mr Ruskin. It was not 
probable that this would be so seeing that the 
whole period of Ruskin's public appearances that 
term did not exceed twenty- four days, and that 
in that period it is not possible for one man to 
influence another to the extent of tinging his 
whole psychology. Oscar Wilde was a man of 
extraordinary receptivity, but even to him it 
would have been impossible to absorb Ruskin's 
teachings and example so that these should 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

have any permanent effect on his character, in 
so short a period. At that time he was fresh at 
Oxford ; a hundred things presented themselves 
every day to divert his attention ; his mentality 
was in no way prepared to receive the master's 
teachings ; and altogether it seems as absurd to 
state that Ruskin influenced the whole of his 
character and his life by means of the eight 
lectures which Oscar Wilde attended as a fresh- 
man during his first term in Oxford, as it was 
incredible that the perusal of a single book 
could pervert the mental composition of a man. 
These matters have to be looked at from a 
scientific point of view ; the plain facts have 
to be considered and the evidence that can be 
adduced. There is no trace of any Ruskin 
influence in Oscar Wilde's after life, and it would 
be a psychological miracle if there had been. 

It is true that the young man was brought 
into personal contact with the master, and that 
he was one of the " ardent young men " who 
gathered round Mr Ruskin in his practical 
demonstrations of the Gospel of Labour. In 
one of the notices of Oscar Wilde's early life we 
find the following reference to this : " The 
influence of Ruskin was so great that Mr Wilde, 
though holding games in abomination, and 
detesting violent exercise, might have been seen 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

on grey November mornings breaking stones on 
the roadsides not unbribed, however ; ' he 
had the honour of filling Mr Ruskin's especial 
wheelbarrow/ and it was the great author of 
' Modern Painters ' himself who taught him 
how to trundle it." 

Mr E. T. Cook in his very able monograph, 
" Some Aspects of Mr Ruskin's Work/' which 
is one part of his " Studies in Ruskin/' gives 
the following account of the " road-digging 
experiment," referred to above. " No pro- 
fessor, I suppose, has had more power of personal 
influence over his pupils, or has used it more 
for good, than Mr Ruskin. One of the methods 
which he adopted for gathering a circle of ardent 
young men around him, and impregnating them 
with his spirit, was the subject of much sarcastic 
comment. This was the famous road-digging 
experiment. No one was more alive to the 
amusing side of the affair than Mr Ruskin 
himself. The road which his pupils made is, 
he has been heard to admit, about the worst in 
the three kingdoms, and for any level places 
in it he gives the credit to his gardener, whom 
he incontinently summoned from Brant wood. 
Nevertheless the experiment, even from the 
point of view of road-making, was by no means 
barren. An inch of practice is worth a yard of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

preaching ; and Mr Ruskin's road-digging at 
Hincksey gave a powerful stimulus to the Gospel 
of Labour, of the same kind as the later and 
independent stimulus of Count Tolstoi ; of 
whom Mr Ruskin has spoken gratefully in recent 
years as his successor. But the fact is that 
most of the Oxford road-diggers were attracted 
to the work, not for its own sake, but for the 
reward of it the reward of the subsequent 
breakfast-party and informal talks in Mr Ruskin's 
rooms at Corpus. It was in Mr Ruskin's Oxford 
Lectures and these supplementary enforcements 
of their teaching that the seeds were sown or 
watered, of that practical interest in social 
questions which is the ' Oxford movement of 
to-day.' " 

It would be an insult to the lofty intellect of 
Oscar Wilde, immature as he then was, receptive 
as he always was, to suppose that the socialism 
of Mr Ruskin, that Tolstoism d'avant la lettre, 
which enangers and disgusts every true reformer, 
had any influence upon him whatever, and that 
the author of that magnificent plaidoyer, " The 
Soul of Man Under Socialism," did not fully 
realise the grotesqueness of these bourgeois 
buffooneries. One has the highest respect for 
Mr Ruskin ; but what opinion is likely to be held 
by anyone who knows the real condition of the 
i 129 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

poor in the three kingdoms of England, Scot- 
land, and Ireland who is invited to admire the 
Slade Professor of Fine Art haranguing in the 
following terms an audience of young bourgeois 
and aristocrats, greasy and replete with 
unctuous breakfast, clad in warm clothing, 
opulent and perky : " I tell you that neither 
sound art, policy, nor religion can exist in Eng- 
land until, neglecting, if it must be, your own 
pleasure-gardens and pleasure-chambers, you 
resolve that the streets which are the habitation 
of the poor, and the fields which are the play- 
grounds of their children, shall be again restored 
to the rule of the spirits whosoever they are in 
earth and heaven, that ordain and reward, with 
constant and conscious felicity, all that is 
decent and orderly, beautiful and pure." This 
is the kind of talk that gets Social Reformers 
into Whig Cabinets and raises statues to them 
by subscription of the middle classes. It does 
not deceive the people for a single moment, 
and it does not for a single moment deceive 
those who instinctively or by long observation 
understand the wants of the people and know 
what wrongs of theirs ought to be redressed. It 
would not deceive Oscar Wilde, who intuitively 
rather than by observation, for he recoiled from 
any sights that might distress his aesthetic 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

taste, so fully understood the problem of the 
poor. It is among some of his friends an 
abiding regret that he was not spared a few 
years longer, so that in the depth of his despair 
he might have seen the wonderful triumph that 
Germany has prepared for him, might have 
watched the crowds flocking to the theatre to 
see " Salome " played, might have listened to 
the frantic enthusiasm which this play never 
fails to evoke, might a little later on have 
realised that it had been given to him by this 
play to stimulate to the highest expression of 
his wonderful art the composer Richard Strauss, 
whom the cognoscenti hail as the greatest maestro 
who ever lived. Amongst other of his friends 
the regret will be greater that it never came to 
his knowledge that all over Europe amongst the 
poor, oppressed and outcast, his name is rever- 
enced as that of an apostle of the liberties of 
man. No writing on the social question, 
perhaps, has produced a profounder impression 
than his on the continent, where " The Soul of 
Man " has been translated into every tongue. 
Amongst the very poorest and most forlorn, and 
most desperate of the helots of Europe, the Jews 
of Russia and Poland, Oscar Wilde, known to 
them only as the author of this essay, is re- 
garded in the light of a prophet, a benefactor, a 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

saint. In many of the awful kennels in Warsaw 
and Lublin, in Kieff and Libau his portrait is 
pinned to the wall. Such is the interest taken 
in him that recently, his friend, the author of 
" Oscar Wilde," " The Story of an Unhappy 
Friendship," received from a Jewish gentleman 
living in the East End of London a request that 
he should furnish his correspondent with bio- 
graphical details about Oscar Wilde, to be pre- 
fixed in form of a preface to a new edition of the 
Yiddish translation of " The Soul of Man," such 
particulars having been eagerly asked for from 
the Jewish proletariat all over Poland and Russia. 

Mr Ruskin left for Venice at the end of 
Michaelmas Term 1874, and did not return to 
Oxford till a year later, when he delivered a 
series of twelve lectures on " The Discourses of 
Sir Joshua Reynolds," during the month of 
November. During 1876 he did not lecture at 
all, and it was not till Michaelmas 1877 that 
he was seen again as Slade Professor of Fine Art. 
Under the circumstances it is nonsense to assert 
that his influence on Oscar Wilde extended any 
further than what is indicated in Walter 
Hamilton's most interesting book, " The 
^Esthetic Movement in England," in the chapter 
which treats of Oscar Wilde. 

" But unfortunately," he writes, " Mr Ruskin 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

left for Venice at the end of Mr Wilde's first term; 
not, however, before he had inoculated a number 
of the young collegians with artistic tastes. 
Mr Wilde occupied some fine old wainscoted 
rooms over the river in that college which is 
thought by many to be the most beautiful in 
Oxford. These rooms he had decorated with 
painted ceilings and handsome dados, and they 
were filled with treasures of art picked up at 
home and abroad ; and here he held social meet- 
ings, which were attended by numbers of the 
men who were interested in art, or music, or 
poetry, and who for the most part practised 
some one of these in addition to the ordinary 
collegiate studies." 

It was at this time, therefore, that a role was 
forced upon the young man, which he had no 
natural qualifications to play ; it was here that 
the curtain rose on that tragi-comedy in which 
his fine intellect was to lend itself to grotesque 
performances until, just before a period was 
put to his existence, he really found himself. 
It was from these reunions in Magdalen that 
dated that virtuosity in music and painting 
and the decorative arts which he was forced 
to assume by the hazards of life, his own 
necessities and the folly of his contemporaries. 
He knew little about music, and little about 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

painting, and in the matter of furniture, 
tapestries, wall-papers and architecture he was 
no more of a connoisseur than is any man who 
can assimilate the current modes and the 
chatter of the arbiters. During a long period of 
his life this pose which had been forced upon 
him must have galled his native rectitude. 
Face to face with himself he must have felt 
that it was an unworthy part for a man of his 
great intellect and wonderful gifts to play. 
Perhaps it was from this feeling that in some 
respects he was playing a double-faced role that 
proceeded that curious self-accusing manner, 
which all his intimates noticed in him, and 
which filled them with astonishment. It is a 
fact that music bored him ; it is a fact that he 
had no knowledge of any instrument ; it is 
probable that he could with difficulty distinguish 
one tune from another. Yet he was forced to 
posture as a connoisseur, and to speak and write 
about musicians and music with the air of one 
who was profoundly versed in all the technique 
of the art. A friend of his relates that the rare 
occasion on which he saw Oscar Wilde angry 
with him was once when he had frequently 
repeated in his presence a phrase from one of 
Oscar's essays, a phrase which had struck him 
by its effectiveness so that he had the pleasure 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

in repeating it that actors have in mouthing a 
" gag " which has caught the popular ear. 
This phrase was : "a splendid scarlet thing by 
Dvorak." At the third repetition of these 
words, Oscar Wilde flew into a veritable passion 
and rebuked the friend for wishing to ridicule 
him. It has always been held by the man who 
relates this story that Oscar's anger was caused 
by the suspicion that his friend knew that his 
claim to write about Dvorak or any other com- 
poser was a mere pretence, and that he cleverly 
veiled his ignorance by the use of sonorous and 
effective phrases. 

Mr Hamilton quotes the following passage 
as given by " one who was acquainted with Mr 
Wilde at Oxford " as descriptive of his life there : 

" He soon began to show his taste for art and 
china, and before he had been at Oxford very 
long, his rooms were quite the show ones of the 
college and of the university too. He was 
fortunate enough to obtain the best situated 
rooms in the college, on what is called the 
kitchen staircase, having a lovely view over the 
river Cherwell and the beautiful Magdalen 
walks, and Magdalen bridge. His rooms were 
three in number, and the walls were entirely 
panelled. The two sitting-rooms were connected 
by an arch, where folding doors had at one 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

time stood. His blue china was supposed by 
connoisseurs to be very valuable and fine, and 
there was plenty of it. The panelled walls were 
thickly hung with old engravings chiefly en- 
gravings of the fair sex artistically clad as nature 
clad them. He was hospitable, and on Sunday 
nights after " Common Room " his rooms were 
generally the scene of conviviality, where under- 
graduates of all descriptions and tastes were to be 
met, drinking punch, or a " B. and S.," with their 
cigars. It was at one of these entertainments 
that he made his well-known remark, " Oh, 
would that I could live up to my blue china ! " 
His chief amusement was riding, though he never 
used to hunt. He was generally to be met on 
the cricket-field, but never played himself ; and 
he was a regular attendant at his college barge 
to see the May eight-oar races, but he never used 
to trust his massive form to a boat himself." 

At this time he had not yet adopted those 
eccentricities of costume which a few years later 
attracted universal attention to his person. The 
portraits which exist of him as an undergraduate 
of Oxford represent him comfortably and soberly 
attired in a tweed suit, a flannel shirt, with a tie 
unassumingly gathered into a knot under his 
turn-down collar. In the winter he used to 
wear an ordinary grey ulster. His hair which 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

was brushed back from his forehead was not too 
long. The best known photograph of Oscar 
Wildcat this period that is to say in 1878 is the 
" amateurish and therefore faithful " picture of 
him taken by a man who was then a well-known 
character in Oxford, whose name was Guggen- 
heim. This man used to be known as " Gug" 
by the undergraduates. He was a kind of Hans 
Breitmann, a typical stage-German, with tasselled 
smoking-cap, carpet slippers, and a long-stemmed 
china pipe. His studio was in the " High," and 
he had a reputation for taking " College groups " 
in an effective manner. 

Oscar Wilde attempted while an under- 
graduate to render himself proficient in painting, 
but nothing that he ever painted has survived. 
There is a story that for a period during vacation 
he studied art in Paris ; and it is remembered at 
Oxford that being once asked by a Magdalen 
celebrity, as a joke, what he would do if his means 
suddenly failed him and if he were to be thrown 
on his own resources, he answered : "I should 
live in a garret and paint beautiful pictures." 
However, no one at Oxford, who knew him in 
those days, can remember seeing him paint, and 
a suspicion existed that he could not paint at 
all, and that his remark was only the outcome 
of the deception which he had resolved to prac- 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

tise. It is quite probable, though, that he may 
have attempted painting, and being dissatisfied 
with his progress preferred to " talk pictures " 
instead of painting them. II passa sa vie a se 
purler, and not with reference to pictures alone. 
Not in his dress, therefore, at that time, but in 
his conversation and manners rather did he 
assume that " dangerous and delightful dis- 
tinction of being different from others," of which 
he writes in his remarkable essay on Thomas 
Griffiths Wainewright ("Pen, Pencil, and Poison," 
in " Intentions"). Yet, such as it was, his affecta- 
tion irritated the undergraduates, and on one oc- 
casion, at least, they manifested their displeasure 
with the brutality which these over-fed young 
men sometimes display. Oscar was once 
" ragged " at Oxford. Some eight healthy 
young Philistines waylaid the " blue china 
cove " while out walking, fell upon him, bound 
him with cords and dragged him up a hill, 
trailing him along the ground. He was much 
hurt and bruised, but he did not resist, for that 
was useless ; nor did he protest with a single 
word. When at last they released him at the 
top of the hill he simply flicked the dust off his 
coat with the air of a Regency beau flipping the 
grains from his tabatiere off his lace jabot , and 
looking at the prospect said : " Yes ; the view 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

from this hill is really very charming." Courage 
was not wanting to him, either physical or moral. 
Indeed very few men have displayed either 
quality in a more remarkable degree. During 
the period that he was out on bail between his 
first and second trials his moral courage sur- 
prised and impressed all who beheld him. He 
refused to avoid the impending danger by flight ; 
with heroism he faced the awful prospect that 
lay before him. With regard to physical courage 
it is on record that while a young man in London 
he assisted a man, a friend, to escape from the 
police, and in the furtherance of this object ex- 
erted great physical strength, holding a door 
against a number of constables, while the fugitive 
was clambering out of the window to safety and 
freedom. In Paris he once expressed his desire 
to learn the use of the rapier so that he might be 
able to impose silence at the point of the sword 
on the slanderers who were attacking his re- 
putation. The fact is that Oscar Wilde was 
really a man of action. In this respect he 
resembles many great Irishmen who have found 
for their energies no other outlet than that of 
writing. This aspect of Oscar's character is 
held by certain of his friends who had the op- 
portunity of studying his nature at first hand. 
In other times and under other circumstances 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

he might have been one of the greatest men of 
action of the world. Possibly the fact that his 
surroundings did not permit him to give play 
to this desire for action, but pinned him down 
to the writing-table, generated not only that 
indolence and indifference which characterised 
him, but fostered also that pessimism which 
in the end killed him. " Cette tristesse et ce 
comique d'etre un homme," of which Octave 
Mirbeau speaks, and which make for despair, are 
felt by none so keenly as by men who, burning 
to do, are by circumstance condemned to in- 
activity. The men who banished Napoleon to 
St Helena could have found in the torture-house 
of the kings no infliction more cruel. 

During his stay in Oxford Oscar Wilde contri- 
buted various poems and prose writings to maga- 
zines published in Dublin, notably to the T.C.D. 
publication, Kottabos, and The Irish Monthly. 

His first contribution to Kottabos appeared 
in Vol. ii. (1877) where it may be found on page 
268. It is a poem headed : 


(The Rose of Love and with a Rose's Thorns) 

and begins : 

" My limbs are wasted with a flame. ..." 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

This poem appears under another title in his 
first volume of collected poems. On page 298 
of the same volume of Kottabos is to be found 
a poem, adapted from the Greek, entitled 
" Threnodia " (Eur. Hec. 444-483), and described 
as a " song sung by captive women of Troy on 
the sea-beach at Aulis, while the Achaeans were 
then storm-bound thro' the wrath of dishonoured 
Achilles, and waiting for a fair wind to bring 
them home." The first strophe is as follows : 

" O Fair Wind blowing from the sea ! 

Who through the dark and mist dost guide 
The ships that on the billows ride, 
Unto what land, ah, misery ! 
Shall I be borne, across what stormy wave 
Or to whose house a purchased slave ! " 

This Threnody was very judiciously omitted 
from his volume of poems. In the same volume 
we find on page 320, " A fragment from the 
Agamemnon of ^schylus " ; and on page 331, 
a poem beginning, " Two crowned Kings." All 
these poems are signed with his full initials, 
" O. F. O. F. W. W.," which shows that he had 
not yet come to regard with disfavour those 
patronymics which proclaimed his Irish descent 
and aggressively asserted his nationality. The 
same signature is found to a poem published on 
page 56 of the third volume of Kottabos (1881), 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

entitled "Wasted Days" ("From a Picture 
Painted by Miss V. T."). This poem is signi- 
ficant, because we find here the first indications 
that he was assuming a mode of writing about 
physical qualities which later on was to be 
brought up in evidence against him. Almost the 
very words are here employed which were re- 
peated in a letter, the writing of which, after it 
had been made public, may nearly be said to 
have precipitated his ruin. This poem begins : 

" A fair slim boy not made for this world's pain, 
Pale cheeks whereon no kiss has left its stain, 
Red underlip drawn in for fear of Love " 

and so on. 

It is on page 476 of the fifth volume of The 
Irish Monthly that one of the earliest published 
prose writings of Oscar Wilde is to be found. 
This was written in 1877 in Rome. It describes 
the Tomb of Keats, that Keats who was after- 
wards to inspire the writer with one of the 
noblest sonnets in the English language. 1 The 
short article is headed with a quotation from 
some guide-book : "As one enters Rome from 
the Via Ostiensis by the Porta San Paolo the 
first object that meets the eye is a marble pyra- 
mid which stands close at hand on the left." 

" This tomb," writes the young Oxonian, 

1 On the sale of the love-letters of Keats. 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

" had been supposed to be that of Remus. It 
really was that of one Caius Cestius, a Roman 
gentleman of small note who died about 30 B.C." 

" Yet," he continues, " though we cannot care 
much for the dead man who lies in lonely state 
beneath it, and who is only known to the world 
through his sepulchre, still this pyramid will be 
ever dear to the eyes of all English-speaking 
people, because at evening its shadow falls on 
the tomb of one who walks with Spenser, and 
Shakespeare, and Byron, and Shelley, and Eliza- 
beth Barrett Browning, in the great procession 
of the sweet singers of England." 

Speaking of the poet's likeness he says in a 
note : 

" I think that the best representation of the 
poet would be a coloured bust, like that of the 
young Rajah of Koolapoor at Florence, which 
is a lovely and lifelike work of art." 

He concludes : 

" As I stood beside the mean grave of this 
divine boy I thought of him as of a Priest of 
Beauty slain before his time ; and the vision of 
Guido's San Sebastian came before my eyes as 
I saw him at Genoa, a lovely brown boy, with 
crisp, clustering hair and red lips, bound by his 
evil enemies to a tree and, though pierced with 
arrows, raising his eyes with divine, impassioned 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

gaze towards the Eternal Beauty of the opening 
heavens. And thus my thoughts shaped them- 
selves to rhyme." 

Here follows the poem on the death of 
Keats, which here is entitled " Heu Miserande 

This description of Oscar Wilde's feelings by 
the grave of Keats is of special interest when it 
is remembered that after his release from prison 
he assumed the name of Sebastian. No doubt 
Guido's picture came before his eyes in his cell in 
Reading Gaol, and he felt of himself that though 
pierced with arrows his eyes were still fixed on 
the heavens, which during his confinement, as 
is very clearly shown in " De Profundis," had, 
indeed, opened before his gaze, revealing to 
him beauties of which he had never dreamed 

To The Irish Monthly he contributed various 
poems. In vol. iv. (1876), on page 594, we find 
a poem headed " The True Knowledge," be- 
ginning : 

" Thou knowest all I seek in vain 
What lands to till or sow." 

In vol. v. of the same publication are various 
pieces which afterwards appeared in the col- 
lected poems. We find on page 415 the poem 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

which in his volume is entitled " Sonnet on Ap- 
proaching Italy," and which begins : 

" I reached the Alps ; the soul within me burned." 

This sonnet is here entitled " Salve Saturnia 

On page 755 we find the poem " Vita Nuova," 
as in his volume it is called, beginning : 

" I stood by the unvintageable sea." 
In The Irish Monthly this poem is entitled 

HOI/TO? Ar^ooj/erof. 

Amongst other contributions to this volume 
of The Irish Monthly is his poem " Lotus Leaves," 
beginning : 

" There is no peace beneath the noon." 

It is stated that it was " impelled by Ruskin's 
lectures " that " Mr Wilde visited Italy." This 
is of doubtful exactness. If Mr Ruskin's dis- 
courses had inspired him with the desire to study 
the painters about whom the Slade Professor 
lectured, Oscar Wilde would have found the 
finest specimens of their art much nearer home. 
He very probably went to Italy for the same 
reason that takes many young Oxonians abroad, 
whose means are not stinted, and who are fond 
of travelling. There is amongst the writers of 
biographical notices often a desire to do what a 

K 145 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

French popular idiom describes as " chercher 
midi a quatorze heures," to attribute to all kinds 
of influences the most commonplace acts of the 
people of whom they treat. Cook & Sons and 
the other tourists' agencies take many more 
people to Italy than ever Ruskin's lectures will 
send there. The greatest of men have often the 
simplest motives for their ordinary acts. 

In the same notice we read, what is much 
more to the point, that " In Florence he became 
aware of the spiritual element in art, and turned 
wistfully towards that religion which had in- 
spired the great Italian painters. During this 
mood he produced some fine poems, notably 
that entitled ' Rome Unvisited,' which won high 
praise from Cardinal Newman ; but the last 
wave of the ebbing tide of the Tractarian Move- 
ment, though it lifted him off his feet, did not 
carry him away." It is quite true that at this 
time of his life he had some desire to join the 
Church of Rome. If he did not do so it was 
because his faith was never ardent. In later 
years it abandoned him altogether. He was a 
tolerant Agnostic. In " De Profundis" he 
writes : 

" Religion does not help me. The faith that 
others give to what is unseen I give to what one 
can touch and look at. My gods dwell in 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

temples made with hands. . . . When I think 
about religion at all I feel as if I would like to 
found an order for those who cannot believe : 
the Confraternity of the Faithless one might 
call it." 

Another consideration which may have re- 
strained him was that these reversions to Rome 
were much too common amongst Oxford under- 
graduates, and that the suspicion lurked in the 
minds of worldly men that in many cases they 
were simply caused by a desire for personal 
advertisement, a wish to do something different 
from others, to epater les contemporains : various 
motives which to a man of Oscar Wilde's good 
taste would appear eminently reprehensible. 

Towards the very end of his life he often ex- 
pressed the wish that he had sought refuge in 
the arms of the church which the spirit of Calvin 
does not infect. He is reported to have said 
more than once that if he had become a Roman 
Catholic when he was a young man he would 
never have fallen. He would certainly have 
suffered less at the hands of his new co-religion- 
aries. Indeed, it is difficult to understand why 
those who inspire themselves from the teachings 
of Calvin that is to say the very large majority 
of Englishmen and women and who should 
therefore accept his doctrine of the predestina- 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

tion of man to sin, of the futility of striving 
against its promptings, should with greater 
ferocity than any other sect proclaim the entire 
responsibility of the man who has sinned, and 
exact from him the uttermost suffering that 
mortal penance can inflict. 

" Nous tenons," writes Calvin, " que le peche 
originel est une corruption repandue par nos sens 
et affections en sorte que la droite intelligence 
et raison est pervertie en nous, et sommes comme 
pauvres aveugles en tenebres, et la volonte est 
sujette a toutes mauvaises cupidites, pleine de 
rebellion et adonnee au mal ; bref, que nous 
sommes pauvres captifs detenus sous la tyrannic 
du peche' : non pas qu'en malfaisant nous ne 
soyons pousses par notre volonte propre, telle- 
ment que nous ne saurions rejeter ailleurs la 
faute de tous nos vices, mais pour ce qu'etant 
issus de la race maudite d' Adam, nous n' avons pas 
une seule goutte de vertu a bien faire et toutes 
nos facultes sont vicieuses." 

It was the last act of friendship of a friend 
whose devotion to poor Wilde is the one beautiful 
thing in the terrible spectacle that humanity 
afforded in the final tragedy of that man's life, 
that on his deathbed Oscar Wilde was baptised 
into a kindlier creed than the one expounded 
above. Before the breath had left his body 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

pardon had entered into the death chamber ; and 
to his friends remains the supreme consolation 
that shrived and sung he was carried to his 
grave. What would have been his obsequies 
if this friend had not been by his side at the 
last ? 

In 1877 an event took place in connection 
with which it may truly be said that " a new 
influence entered his life." This was his journey 
in Greece with the party which accompanied 
John Pentland Mahaffy. Of this journey it has 
been said that it contributed to make a " healthy 
Pagan " of the man who was hesitating whether 
to join the Church of Rome. Wilde himself de- 
clared that the lesson he learned during his 
travels in Hellas was that it was very right for 
the Greek gods to be in the Vatican. " Helen," 
he declared, " took precedence of the Mater 
Dolorosa the worship of sorrow gave place 
again to the worship of beauty." It is very 
much to be doubted whether for these fine 
phrases there was any foundation whatever in 
fact ; whether the relative claims of Paganism 
and of Catholic Christianity ever troubled the 
young traveller's head at all. The influence to 
which reference is made above was much simpler 
and much more important. It was the result 
that might have been expected when an impres- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

sionable lad, deeply read in classical literature, re- 
ceived visual evidence of the actual existence of 
the beautiful things of which he had read. For 
the first time the true call of the Parthenon 
would reveal itself to his ears. Things which had 
been in his mind but words, words, words, be- 
came tangible and living realities. It was then, 
no doubt, that for the first time his true enthusi- 
asm for Beauty was aroused. It could hardly 
be otherwise seeing in whose company he was 
privileged to travel, and who the man was who 
was at his side to expound to him the marvels 
that Greece unfolds at every step. The full 
account of this journey in Greece is given in 
Professor Mahaffy's wonderful book, " Rambles 
in Greece," which was one of the favourite books 
of Monsieur Ernest Renan. Those who are in- 
terested in Oscar Wilde should not fail to read 
this book carefully, for though it bears no re- 
ference to his name, every page of it is significant 
to the man who tries to form a just appreciation 
of his extraordinary character. It allows one to 
assert without fear of contradiction that after 
his return from Greece, his apostolate in the 
cause of Beauty was no longer dictated by a 
sense of opportunism. Many writers allude to 
the wonderful beauty of ancient times, but for 
the most part their writings have the stamp of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

artificiality. When Oscar speaks of the beauty, 
for instance, of a Tanagra statuette he knows 
what he is talking about. In many minds the 
suspicion lurks that in everything on which he 
wrote and spoke he was apt to use words which 
had a fine sound and which conveyed an artistic 
suggestion so as to create an impression of his 
knowledge. It has been thought that the 
catalogues of Museums, the price-lists of jewellers 
and other artificers lay at his hand when he was 
writing, so as to enable him to heap up dazzling 
piles of coruscating words, which to him were 
words and nothing else. Zola practised this 
deception, and so did Victor Hugo, but never 
Oscar Wilde in his references to classical anti- 
quity. Take the example quoted above. He 
frequently refers in his writings, as he frequently 
referred in his talk, to Tanagra statuettes. Those 
who ever proclaimed the man an impostor have 
been heard say that of Tanagra statuettes he 
knew no more than any man who has access to 
dictionary or encyclopaedia. Now, during the 
many days that he spent in Athens with Pro- 
fessor Mahaffy and his friends, the Museums at 
Athens were sedulously visited, and particular 
attention seems to have been paid to these 
statuettes, which in 1877 had only recently been 
unearthed in Tanagra in Boeotia. With what 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

attention " these little figures of terra cotta, 
often delicately modelled and richly coloured 
both in dress and limbs " were then studied 
appears very clearly from Mahaffy's book. In 
Chapter III. of the " Rambles in Greece," under 
the heading, " Athens The Museums," we find 
several pages devoted to a learned and inter- 
esting description of these figurines. There can 
be no doubt that on his return from Greece there 
was no man in England better entitled and better 
qualified to talk and write about Tanagra 
statuettes than Oscar Wilde. And the same 
proof could be given of the genuine knowledge 
which he possessed of all the other beauties of 
antique times. When, during the visit to Paris 
in 1883, he was heard to say that he had passed 
hours in the Louvre in admiration before the 
Venus of Milos, people shrugged their shoulders 
and charged him with posturing affectation. 
Anyone who reads Mahaffy's book, and thus 
gathers under what guidance Oscar's eyes were 
opened to the admiration of Greek statuary, by 
what teaching his critical sense of this form of 
Art was created and fostered, will understand 
that his sincerity could in no way be called into 
account any more than his profound knowledge 
of the subject. The man was steeped in the 
glories that were Greece. Those wonderful 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

passages in " De Profundis" in which he writes 
with such facility and eloquence of the classic 
days were inspired by no readings from a prison 
Lempriere. They came to him as naturally as 
came to him those other passages which refer 
to the horrors, commonplaces of the life which he 
was leading. 

" For the Greek gods, in spite of the white 
and red of their fair fleet limbs, were not really 
what they appeared to be." Such are the 
opening words of a passage of great beauty 
which it can be maintained was written as 
simply and with no more straining for effect 
than, for instance, the passage beginning : 

" I am completely penniless and absolutely homeless." 

It is not possible here, although it would be 
of paramount scientific interest, to inquire too 
closely into the question whether with this 
awakening of enthusiasm for the beauties of 
antique Greece the latent tendency towards 
perversion was not also developed. If danger 
there be in a classical education to lads who 
have certain hereditary instincts and abnor- 
malities of temperament, certainly no more 
powerful means for breaking down such re- 
sistance as religious education, training, and 
example might oppose could have been found 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

than this journey in Greece. That remarkable 
writer, Henri de Regnier, in his study of Oscar 
Wilde, which appears in his volume, " Figures 
et Caracteres," directly attributes his downfall 
to the fact that he had so steeped himself in the 
life of gone-by days that he did not realise the 
world in which he was actually living. The re- 
sult would be that the laws of modern society 
would not restrain his powerful impulses. " Je 
n'insisterai pas sur les causes d'une pareille 
a venture," writes Henri de Regnier. " On les 
connait. M. Wilde croyait vivre en Italic au 
temps de la Renaissance ou en Grece au temps 
de Socrate. On l'a puni d'une erreur chronologi- 
que, et durement, etant donne qu'il vivait a 
Londres ou cet anachronisme est, parait-il, 
frequent." There can be little doubt that the 
views enunciated above will by a more en- 
lightened posterity be accepted in palliation of 
the things with which his name is so cruelly 
associated. That will be when men have at- 
tained to some scientific comprehension of mental 
pathology. At present even the pathology of 
the body is only just emerging from ignorance, 
superstition and charlatanism. 

The delights of the tour in Greece were so 
great how great they must have been will 
appear to anyone who reads Mahaffy's wonderful 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

book that Oscar Wilde failed to return to Oxford 
by the date when it was required of him to do. 
The Dons of Magdalen fined him forty-five 
pounds for this breach of discipline. The 
money was, however, returned to him when in 
the following year he so greatly distinguished 
himself by taking a First Class in the " Honour 
Finals," and by winning the Newdigate Prize 
for English Verse. The poem which he sent in 
for this competition was a poem entitled 
" Ravenna." It is considered by many of Oscar 
Wilde's admirers as a very fine piece of work, 
and it certainly shows a tremendous advance on 
the work which is to be found in the magazines, 
to which reference has been made above. By a 
curious coincidence, in which the ancients might 
have seen a manifestation of the dread irony of 
the gods, a fortuitous circumstance had equipped 
him admirably for success in this poetical tourney. 
A triumph resulted ; both he himself and his 
friends may have considered the circumstance 
a piece of rare good fortune. When we review 
his whole career we may ask ourselves if, indeed, 
it was for his happiness that this triumph was 
won, and that in consequence he turned with 
confidence to the pursuit of that career of letters 
which when it is pursued side by side with the 
quest of pleasure and excitement leads inevitably 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

to physical and mental ruin. The fortuitous 
circumstance referred to is described in the 
following terms by Mr Hamilton : 

" During a vacation ramble in 1877 he started 
for Greece. Visiting Ravenna by chance on the 
way he obtained material for a poem on that 
ancient city ; and singularly enough ' Ravenna/ 
was afterwards given out as the topic for the 
Newdigate competition, and on the 26th June 
1878 the Newdigate prize poem ' Ravenna ' 
by Oscar Wilde of Magdalen, was recited in the 
theatre, Oxford." The poem was, as is usual, 
published by Messrs T. Shrimp ton & Sons. The 
original edition is very rare, and high prices are 
obtained for copies. Many forged editions have 
been issued which can be distinguished from the 
original by the fact that on title and cover pages 
the University Arms are generally missing. The 
poem has been reprinted in extenso in Mr 
Mosher's collected edition of Wilde's poems, 
published in Portland, Mass. : a very beautiful 

The poem contains some beautiful lines, and 
anyone who remembers the extraordinary 
musical beauty of Oscar Wilde's voice will 
readily understand that, as is recorded in a con- 
temporary account of the recital of " Ravenna " 
by its author, " it was listened to with rapt 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

attention and frequently applauded " by the 
crowded audience. Here are the opening 
lines : 

" O lone Ravenna ! many a tale is told 
Of thy great glories in the days of old : 
Two thousand years have passed since thou didst see 
Caesar ride forth to royal victory. 
Mighty thy name when Rome's lean eagles flew 
From Britain's isles to far Euphrates blue ; 
And of the peoples thou wast noble queen, 
Till in thy streets the Goth and Hun were seen." 

So far the listening competitors may have 
wondered at their defeat. Immediately after- 
wards, however, they would be forced to admit 
that a true poet had revealed himself. 

" Discrowned by man, deserted by the sea, 
Thou sleepest, rocked in lonely misery ! 
No longer, now upon the swelling tide, 
Pine-forest like, thy myriad galleys ride ! 
For where the brass-peaked ships were wont to float, 
The weary shepherd pipes his mournful note ; 
And the white sheep are free to come and go 
Where Adria's purple waters used to flow." 

How many of those who were present in the 
Sheldonian on that June afternoon and ap- 
plauded the handsome youth as he recited in the 
most melodious of voices his effective lines 
realised that they were listening to what was a 
very allegory of the startling contrasts that were 
to mark the poet's life. Greatness was to come 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

to him, and upon greatness, desolation and 
lonely ruin were to follow. The man, though 
he knew it not, was telling the story of his own 
splendours to come, and of the misery that was 
to follow upon them. 



Oscar Wilde in Masquerade A Professor of ^Esthetics The 
Object Pursued The ^Esthetic Movement Oscar Wilde's 
Siege of London His Success and his Failure The Testi- 
mony of an Eye- Witness Society's Attitude towards him 
Possible Explanation of this Attitude Oscar Wilde's 
Repartee Whistler in the same Dilemma Wilde's 
Volume of " Poems " the Dress of the Cinderella Muse 
In what the "Poems" greatly triumphed " Howell and 
James " The Friendship of Edmund Yates The Ad- 
miration and Regard of Sarah Bernhardt The " Poems " 
and the Critics The " Poems n and a Professional 
Humorist The " Poems " in America Oscar Wilde 
sails for the States A Send-off in the " World " What 
Oscar may have felt. 

ON ist May in this year 1878 Oscar Wilde ap- 
peared at a fancy-dress ball at Headington Hill 
given by Mrs Morrell. He presented himself in 
the costume of Prince Rupert, and his fine and 
striking appearance was commented upon in the 
social chronicles of the time. For some period 
of his life subsequent to this event he was to be 
seen figuring in masquerade. Later on Society 
forced him to assume another travesti, which in 
its essential features was not dissimilar to the 
one he had assumed when he went up to London 
in the role of a " Professor of ^Esthetics and Art 
critic' as Foster describes him in his Alumni 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Oxonienses. The more one studies the lives of 
great men the more does the certitude impress 
itself upon one that our human destinies are 
ruled by a power of which a mocking irony is 
the prime characteristic. The ancients dis- 
covered it long ago ; the modern world is be- 
ginning to perceive it. For some part of his 
life Oscar Wilde masqueraded in defiance of 
Society, and then later on Society made him 
masquerade in defiance of himself. 

An authoritative writer, who, however, 
throughout Oscar Wilde's career was his sternest 
critic and censor, declared at the time of his 
downfall that Oscar Wilde had been heard to 
explain that the reason why he assumed that 
costume which it pleased him to describe as the 
" aesthetic costume " was merely to attract at- 
tention to his personality. He adds that Oscar 
Wilde had said that for months he had tried 
in vain to find a publisher for his collected poems, 
and that having failed to do so, because he was 
an unknown man, he determined to make him- 
self known, and had hit upon the device of ap- 
pearing in public in an extraordinary dress. He 
adopted as the " aesthetic costume " a velvet 
coat, knee-breeches, a loose shirt with a turn- 
down collar, and a floating tie of some unusual 
shade, fastened in a LavalliJre knot, and he not 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

unfrequently appeared in public carrying in his 
hand a lily or a sunflower, which he used to 
contemplate with an expression of the greatest 
admiration. Let it be added to this that he 
wore his hair long, and was clean-shaven as to his 
face ; and when it is remembered how striking 
a form and what memorable features were his 
already by Nature it will be understood what 
attention his appearance must have attracted. 
One might find other and more charitable ex- 
planations for this self-travesty ; perhaps with 
all the more justification that commerical in- 
stinct does not appear to have been very strong 
in Oscar Wilde. He was a young man at the 
time ; he was by nature and atavism inclined 
to Schwaermerei ; he may have thought that 
the costume suited him ; he may have wished 
to set Society at defiance at the prompting of 
that Anarchist spirit which was within him, as 
it is within all men who are really great. For 
the rest, whatever the man's motives were, that 
he gave effect to his plan shows that he possessed 
great moral courage. It is by no means every 
man who has the strength of mind to make a 
laughing-stock of himself in the eyes of London. 
The London gamins are pitiless ; and on each of 
his walks abroad the young " aesthete " must 
have veritably run the gauntlet. It may further 
L 161 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

be noted that many men and women of ap- 
proved capacity have shown and do show this 
curious love of self-advertisement. It has al- 
ways been the malady of the great ; in recent 
years it has grown into an epidemic. The ad- 
vance of commercialism may account for it. 
Commercialism has made it clear that the only 
method by which a man can call attention to 
the excellence of his wares is by persistent 
puffery. Artists, actors, writers, philosophers 
and politicians have equally wares to sell in 
this age every man who is not independent is a 
tradesman of sorts and one can hardly blame 
them if they adopt the means for selling these 
wares which succeed in other branches of trade. 
The public, moreover, is gradually becoming so 
accustomed to these methods that far from re- 
garding with suspicion the man of letters who 
by the eccentricity of his costume, the length 
of his hair, the frequency or the rarity of per- 
sonal mentions and portraits of him which 
appear in the papers, is the carrier of his own 
advertising boards, the importunate distributor 
of personal leaflets, it gives more and more its 
exclusive attention to the person who most 
loudly shouts his wares. This is the case in 
England and America. In the Latin countries 
and in Germany where art is still regarded in 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

much the same light as religion these tricks 
would fail of their desired effect. But in Eng- 
land we are a commercial nation, and as Doctor 
Johnson never tired of pointing out to Bos well, 
we must be dealt with by commercial methods. 
There is no call in this biography to give any 
extended description of that aesthetic movement 
in England with which Oscar Wilde for a short 
period of his life, and for motives which are not 
quite clear to us, associated himself. Anyone 
who is curious on the subject of one of those 
crazes which sent the British public once more 
into what Carlyle called a " bottomless abyss of 
delirium and confusion and nameless distrac- 
tion " l should read Walter Hamilton's excellent 
and most interesting book : " The ^Esthetic 
Movement in England," to which already fre- 
quent reference has been made, and from which 
material yet remains to be drawn. It is the 
work of a man who was not unsympathetic with 
the movement, and who had for the leaders and 

1 " Carlyle once observed to my father : Upon the whole, 
the British public, with its contagious enthusiasms, reminds 
me of nothing so much as the Gadarene swine. There they 
are quietly grubbing and grunting in search of what pignuts 
or other aliments may present themselves for their sustenance 
and comfort, when suddenly the devil enters into them, up 
go their tails into the sky, and away they go, plunging into 
bottomless abysses of delirium and confusion and nameless 
distraction " (" Random Reminiscences," by Charles H. E< 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

camp-followers of it esteem, admiration, or 
tolerance. And side by side with Mr Hamilton's 
book, the volumes of Punch for the years 
1880-1883 may be turned over. It is from the 
satirist that one learns most of social life ; and 
Juvenal and Saint Simon are the best historians. 

"The ^Esthetes," wrote Mr Hamilton, "are 
they who pride themselves upon having found 
out what is the really beautiful in nature and 
art, their faculties and tastes being educated up 
to the point necessary for the full appreciation 
of such qualities ; whilst those who do not see 
the true and the beautiful the outsiders in 
fact are termed Philistines." 

Even at the height of the craze there was a 
very considerable proportion of the public in 
England which did not even know the meaning 
of the word aesthetic. It was usual enough to 
hear people express the surmise that as anaes- 
thetic was something which sent you to sleep, 
an aesthetic must be something which. . . . The 
movement was generally associated with sun- 
flowers, certain peculiar shades in pottery and 
tissues, a languid demeanour, and a certain 
angularity of furniture and attitude. The 
penalty for this craze is still being paid by an 
innocent posterity in the enormities of cheap 
and tawdry accessories which are forced upon 




" 0, I feel just as happy as a bright Sunflower ! " 

Lays of Christy Minstrelsy. 

^Esthete of ^Esthetes ! 

What 's in a name.? 
The poet is WILDE, 

But his poetry 's tame. 


To face page 165. 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the ignorant public by the manufacturers under 
the sacred name of Art, never so ruthlessly pro- 
faned. As usual, certain men who put them- 
selves forward as active agents of the movement, 
of the reform, attained to popularity and wealth ; 
certain tradesmen, commercial or self-styled 
artistic, emerged from poverty and obscurity 
by supplying the properties of the burlesque 
which England was enacting. The sincere men 
who had initiated all this enthusiasm remained, 
as usual, in the background, and continue to-day 
in the same serene solitude and silence the work 
they then began. For his part in popularising 
their theories one might almost say in burles- 
quing them Oscar Wilde derived a certain and 
wide notoriety, leaped into the public eye, found 
a publisher for his poems, and, in the event, en- 
gagements to lecture in the three kingdoms and 
in America. On the other hand, he started his 
artistic career amidst the suspicion of his con- 
temporaries. This suspicion still clings to his 
name. The public memory is tenacious. The 
public mind does not readily accord to one man 
the right to play more than one part in life. It 
is diffident of versatility. Universality of genius 
it blankly refuses to admit. The funny man can 
never get people to take him seriously. Sydney 
Smith has described this. The Hanswurst must 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

be Hanswurst till the end of the chapter. There 
can be no doubt that Oscar Wilde's early ec- 
centricities created an erroneous impression con- 
cerning his capacities which for years militated, 
and in certain quarters still militates against the 
reputation which his high genius entitled him 
to enjoy. Fame is not to be violated with im- 
punity ; and when the claims of the Pont d' Arcole 
were denied, could the peacock's feather and the 
sunflower prevail ? The pose, such as it was, was 
eminently successful. If notoriety were sought 
after, it was gained to the fullest extent. Punch 
celebrates week in week out the eccentricities of 
the school. On the parts played in this circum- 
stance by both Du Maurier and Burnand Mr 
Hamilton's most interesting book can be con- 

There can be no doubt that all the time when 
Oscar Wilde was thus mumming and masquer- 
ading the bitterness at his heart was great. 
Knowing what was in him ; feeling the flame 
of the genius that burned within ; conscious 
of the part that he might have been playing on 
the stage of the world, to none more than to 
himself can his notoriety, acquired as it was and 
kept alive by such means, have appeared despic- 
able and a matter for regret. At the same time 
it helped him to some extent to gain that entree 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

into London society which when he left Oxford 
and went to the metropolis was his immediate 
object. The lion-hunters with which the capital 
abounds were not sorry to be able to produce 
at their tables and during their receptions the 
man about whom England was speaking, and of 
whom the comic papers made weekly sport. In 
this way he certainly achieved some part of his 
purpose, which, otherwise, might altogether have 
failed of effect. For in a world where the first 
question that is asked about a new-comer is : 
" What has he got ? " and the next is : " Who 
is he ? " the younger son of an Irish professional 
man, with the very smallest of incomes was 
doomed by the very nature of things to utter 
failure of his social ambitions. In addition to 
this the reputation of his brother Willy, who 
had preceded him to London, was already a 
damaging one ; and there is no doubt that Oscar's 
subsequent animosity towards his brother was 
caused by his remembrance of the extent to 
which he had been a stumbling-block in his early 
path, when the conquest of social London was 
the aim of his endeavours. But for the curiosity 
which attached to his name it is certain that 
none of the doors through which he desired to 
pass would ever have opened before him. As it 
was, he had the moderate social success which 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

London accords en passant to those who can 
divert its stagnant ennui. But he was never 
popular in society ; he was mistrusted and mis- 
understood ; and in the end he was disliked. His 
superiority was too crushing. The men and 
women who gathered round him wishing to 
laugh had the disagreeable surprise of finding 
that the buffoon's bladder was weighted with 
lead, and that the point of his wit left an in- 
tolerable sting behind it. A letter is in exist- 
ence written by a lady who belongs to the 
highest English nobility, and who saw him in 
those early days in London. She appreciated 
his qualities to the full, but she also was forced 
to admit that as far as winning the suffrages of 
what is known as good society in London he 
failed utterly. 

" I knew him," so runs the letter, " first at a 
Huxley dinner, just after he left Oxford. I was 
then old enough to be his mother, but I thought 
I had never met so wonderful and brilliant a 
creature. . . . Even you," she adds, addressing 
the person to whom this letter was written, 
" seem hardly to know how the ordinary run of 
English society hated him. I was never allowed 
to ask him to our house. How unconscious he 
must have been of this hatred when he thought 
that society would stand by him. . . . Poor 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

thing, that he should have represented an 
aristocrat to the howling crowd is most curious." 
One has to remember that England is a com- 
mercial country where worth, merit, character, 
quality, genius are estimated only by the amount 
of money which a man earns or possesses. The 
only poet who is allowed to show consciousness 
of superiority is the poet who can show from 
royalties earned by his books an income superior 
to that enjoyed by the people whom he wishes 
to impress with his superiority. Our novelists 
rank according to the amount of shillings or 
pounds they receive per thousand words. In 
England the poor man is not allowed to show 
pride. Assumption of superiority which in the 
man of genius is inevitable is resented in English 
society when that man of genius is not able to 
show the actual cash value of his talents. That 
the younger son of a Dublin oculist, who was 
reported to have a bare two hundred a year, 
derived from land in Ireland, should try to 
impress London*"society ; should show superi- 
ority and act with arrogance, was such an offence 
against the first precepts of English Society and 
the Church of England catechism that the hatred 
and indignation of his contemporaries can only 
be too readily believed. It requires a man more 
versed in psychology than is the ordinary man 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of the world to understand that a man of genius 
is proud because he is conscious of his superiority, 
because he cannot help but feel this superiority, and 
feeling it cannot help but show it, guard himself 
against this as carefully as he may. When 
Andre" Chenier waiting his turn at the guillotine 
struck his head against the uprights of the in- 
strument of punishment and infamy and cried 
out : " And yet there were great things here ! " 
the mob roared with laughter. The mob always 
laughs when the man whom it has degraded yet 
claims any kind of pre-eminence. Oscar Wilde 
in these early days of the attempted Conquest 
of London displayed a pride which impressed 
the onlookers as arrogance. He figured as the 
mattre ; he assumed the office of arbiter, and he 
was, perhaps, too young and inexperienced to 
carry the burthen of the part. He used to re- 
late with some gusto certain of the retorts which 
he had made during this period. They display 
that quality which Rabelais describes as outre- 
cuidance, which where it does not subjugate ex- 
cites inextinguishable enmity. One of these 
stories also shows his readiness of repartee. 
One day arriving very late at a luncheon party 
his hostess mildly remonstrated with him for 
the delay, pointing to the clock in support of 
her rebuke. " And what, madam," he answered, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

" do you think that that little clock knows of 
what the great golden sun is doing ? " The re- 
tort was an able one ; but none the less would 
that hostess feel that as an excuse for her burned 
entries and the inconvenience of her other guests ; 
it was hardly the amende honorable which she 
was entitled to expect, and in her heart there 
would be a feeling of grudge against the wit. 
This anecdote enables one to institute a com- 
parison between the readiness and powers of 
repartee of Oscar Wilde and the same qualities 
in that rival of his, Whistler. Whistler has al- 
ways been considered as far superior in this 
respect to Oscar Wilde, and tourneys of repartee 
are quoted in which invariably the younger 
man was defeated. Yet on a similar occasion, 
Whistler, arriving late for lunch and being 
chidden therefore, found nothing better to do, 
or to say, than to fix his eyeglass firmly in his 
eye, to stare around the room and to cry, " Ha ! 
Ha ! Lunch ! Lunch ! Lunch ! Bunch ! Bunch ! 
Bunch ! ' The hearers laughed and found the 
wit divine ; but when the thing had crystallised 
it must have appeared to the hostess even a 
more pitiful excuse than the one which had been 
tendered by Oscar Wilde. 

During his early years in London Oscar Wilde 
did not live with his mother and Willy. He 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

occupied lodgings in unfashionable districts. 
For some months he lived in a couple of furnished 
rooms in Salisbury Street, off the Strand, in the 
very Bohemia of letters. It was not till later 
that he moved to Charles Street, Grosvenor 
Square, which was his address during the last 
period of his bachelor days. His income was 
a very small one, and the struggle to figure as a 
man of the world was constant. By mortgaging 
and selling his property in Ireland, by the help 
of friends and by anonymous literary work, he 
was just able to maintain himself. If hopes of 
wealth ever came to him they proceeded from 
the fact that a rich friend, a lady, had bestowed 
upon him a large quantity of shares in Keeley's 
Perpetual Motion Engine, a fraud in which she 
had invested very largely, and in which she had 
the greatest confidence. At one time when 
Oscar's name was most prominently before 
London as the darling of London society his 
entire assets consisted of a sheaf of these worth- 
less green papers. 

If his desire in assuming the masquerade of the 
" aesthetic costume " was to influence a publisher 
to accept the risk of printing his poems, success 
here, at least, awaited him. He found in David 
Bogue, who was at that time in business as a 
high-class publisher in St Martin's Lane, a 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

commercial man ready to produce his book in 
the best style. In the Athenceum for 2nd July 
1881 the book was announced in the following 
terms : 

Now ready. Crown Svo. Price los. 6d. 


This advertisement to anyone who knows the 
difficulties that the young aspiring poet has in 
finding a publisher for his works is a plain certi- 
ficate of success. The price at which the volume 
was offered, the paper on which it was printed, 
and the parchment in which it was bound are all 
so many tributes to the skill with which the 
young man had impressed his personality on 
business London. It is not in this livery this 
court dress rather that the Cinderella Muse 
goes to the Palace of Fame, unless, indeed, a 
fairy godmother has intervened. 

The irony of things shows itself once more on 
this page of the Athenceum. As one glances 
down the list of David Bogue's announcements 
one notices among the other new books which 
he was issuing at the same time as Oscar Wilde's 
poems the following works : " Music and 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Morals/' by Haweis ; " Conscious Matter/' by 
W. Stewart Duncan ; and (here one can almost 
perceive the sardonic laughter of the immortals) 
" How to Make the Best of Life," by J. Mortimer 
Gran vile. 

This volume of poems consisted mainly of 
reprints of verses which Oscar Wilde had con- 
tributed to various periodicals, Kottabos, The 
Dublin University Magazine, The Irish Monthly, 
and certain London periodicals and journals. 
After leaving Oxford he had published poems 
in different weekly and monthly papers. Ed- 
mund Yates, who had a great esteem for him, 
and was always his literary and social protector, 
had opened to him the pages of Time and the 
columns of The World. Much of his most 
effective verse had appeared in The World. Of 
these poems, which have now been reprinted, 
and are open to the judgment, nothing need be 
said in criticism in this place beyond the fact 
that they appealed very strongly to the public 
of the day, and that four editions were readily 
sold in a few weeks. Many found great delight 
in them. The great and beautiful Ellen Terry, 
to whom the young poet dedicated two of the 
sonnets in this book, was charmed by his tributes ; 
and what better success could a poet desire than 
having hymned Ellen Terry to win a smile of 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

approval from her lips ? Of the two sonnets, 
" To Portia," and " To Queen Henrietta Maria," 
which appeared in this book, the one which 
gave most pleasure to the wonderful and great- 
hearted artist to whom they were addressed was 
the latter. This is it : 


In the lone tent, waiting for victory, 

She stands with eyes marred by the mists of pain, 
Like some wan lily overdrenched with rain, 

The clamorous clang of arms, the ensanguined day, 

War's ruin and the wreck of chivalry 

To her proud soul no common fear can bring, 
Bravely she tarrieth for her Lord, the King, 

Her soul a-fiame with passionate ecstasy. 

O Hair of Gold ! O Crimson Lips ! O Face ! 
Made for the luring and the love of man, 
With thee I do forget the toil and stress. 

The loveless road that knows no resting-place, 

Time's straitened pulse, the soul's dread weariness, 
My freedom and my life republican. 

This sonnet then achieved what many sonnets 
of far greater beauty have failed to achieve. It 
appealed to the lady to whom it was inscribed. 
It is still remembered as a tribute by one upon 
whom tributes have been rained down like the 
dew of heaven. For the rest this supreme 
artist like many other of the greatest women of 
the day has always had admiration for the poet 
and pity for the man. In the spring of 1905 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

while England was still wondering whether it 

would be right and seemly to pronounce the 

name of the man who, although he had written 

" De Profundis," had yet ten years previously 

been convicted of conduct for which he had paid 

the utmost penalty of the law and the further 

penalty of some years of lingering agony and a 

miserable death, at that time, then, Miss Terry 

had the courage, speaking publicly at Frascati's 

at a meeting of the Gallery First Nighters' Club, 

to include the name of Oscar Wilde amongst a 

list of men whom she used to see at the Lyceum 

in the old triumphant days. " In the gallery 

and pit at the dear old Lyceum," she said, 

" there used to be seen faces of many men who 

had won or were about to win distinction 

in the world the Burne- Joneses ; the Justin 

McCarthys ; Alfred Gilbert, the great sculptor ; 

the late Oscar Wilde ; the poet O'Shaughnessy." 

The reference was a courageous one ; the act 

was worthy of the woman. Its quotation here 

serves another purpose. It enables us to gather 

that in the days when Oscar Wilde was writing 

his verse he was not a prosperous man. The 

young man whose circumstances force him to go 

to the pit or the gallery of the theatre a la mode 

will find difficulty in storming the fortresses of 

the British aristocracy. For the " limitless 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

ambition " of his, of which he used to speak as 
a young man, aimed at the very highest social 
success. The upper middle-class from which he 
sprung filled him with disdain. He used to 
speak with contempt of Bayswater as the 
stronghold of all that was common and vulgar, 
and to be avoided. " A Bayswater view of 
things " he could find nothing more scathing 
than that. When in the end he found that the 
higher aristocracy, while willing enough to be 
amused by him, did not readily yield to his ad- 
vances, he came to speak with some contempt 
of the old nobility. " They are nothing but 
exaggerated farmers," he used to say. Amongst 
the modern souches he had some acquaintances, 
and, perhaps, because of their greater affability, 
these found no more valorous defender than 
Oscar Wilde. It was an imprudent thing for 
anyone to venture to joke on the nobility of 
the big brewers, for he happened to have some 
friends among men who had risen to the ranks 
of the aristocracy by the ladder of heaped-up 
barrels of beer. It is a fact that social success 
always impressed Oscar Wilde. The man who 
made money and " got on " in life enjoyed his 
regard ; for the failure he had nothing but ab- 
horrence. Intimate friends of his have won- 
dered to hear him speaking with praise of very 
M 177 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

common fellows who by reason of a little com- 
mercial cunning had reached to reputation and 
prosperity. In this respect he was essentially 
a worldly man, and, so considered, one wonders 
whether the Anarchist doctrines to which he 
later yielded did not result from his vexation 
at the small amount of real social success to 
which he attained as a young man. In only a 
very few good houses in London was he taken 
seriously, or invited as an honoured guest. 
Literary history affords few more distressing 
pictures than these early years of Oscar Wilde, 
where we see a man of supreme superiority wast- 
ing his time and humiliating himself in running 
after the worthless favours of men and women 
so entirely his inferiors. In the artistic world, 
however, his success was incontestable. He en- 
joyed from an early age the friendship and ap- 
proval of many men of high distinction. He 
was the associate of Whistler ; he sat at the feet 
of George Meredith ; he was the companion of 
the Pre-Raphaelites ; and he proclaimed a 
sympathy for Swinburne which the elder poet 
did not reciprocate. 

In later life he did not often refer to these 
days, and when he did so it was to talk of the 
arcana of London rather than of its heights. 
He had anecdotes to tell of an extraordinary 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

man named Howell, who seems to have exploited 
the naive Pre-Raphaelites in a pitiless and con- 
stant manner, and who had had many amusing 
passages of arms with Whistler. For the clever- 
ness of this man Oscar Wilde seemed to have 
some admiration. He used to quote as a witty 
saying of Howell's a retort that he once made 
when a group of artists, anxious to get rid of him, 
had offered to pay his passage out to Australia. 
' Who," said Howell, " would go to Australia, 
if he had the money to go with ? " He found 
that it was a very clever invention on the part 
of Howell, being asked one day by Whistler 
whether he had ever happened to ride in cab 
No. i in London to have answered : " No, but 
a few days ago I drove home in cab No. 2." 
He seems to have watched with poignant in- 
terest the career of that unfortunate artist 
Solomons, who, as Fate would have it, survived 
Oscar Wilde by some years, and died under 
circumstances not more tragic than those which 
attended the death of the man who used to 
express such pity for his terrible life. That even 
at the time when " Patience " had been running 
for some months and Bogue was announcing his 
poems at the price of half-a-guinea he had not 
imposed himself on true London society is made 
clear by a note which Edmund Yates, his friend, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

inserted in The World as a preliminary announce- 
ment of these poems. It appeared in the number 
for 6th July 1881, and runs as follows : " People 
who, hearing of Mr Oscar Wilde, ask who he is 
and what he has done, will now be able to learn, 
as a volume of Mr Wilde's collected poems will 
shortly be published." That Edmund Yates had 
a sincere admiration for Oscar Wilde will be all 
the more readily understood when it is recorded 
that many of Wilde's poems which appeared in 
The World had brought to the editor from 
different parts of the world letters of high 
commendation from the readers of that journal. 
One incident especially appealed to Yates. It 
came to his knowledge that a copy of The World 
containing Wilde's poem Ave Imperatrix had 
been received by a mess of British officers in one 
of the regiments which followed Lord Roberts 
on his march to Kandahar, and that these men 
had been struck with the truth and beauty of 
the picture which the poet had drawn of the 
very spot where they were encamped. Sarah 
Bernhardt's admiration for and friendship with 
the young poet would also impress that most 
Parisian of Londoners, Edmund Yates. Sarah 
always had a high regard for Oscar Wilde. She 
used to say that she had been charmed with the 
courtesy of his manner, and with his kindness of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

heart. " Most men who are civil to actresses 
and render them services," she used to say, 
" have an arriere-pensee. It was not so with 
Oscar Wilde. He was a devoted attendant, and 
did much to make things pleasant and easy for 
me in London, but he never appeared to pay 
court." In other words Sarah had discovered 
amongst the young men of London one who was 
an English gentleman in every sense of that 
much misused term. And this may be put on 
record here once and for all. Oscar Wilde was 
the beau iddal of an English gentleman. That 
is to say the sane Oscar Wilde. What he may 
have been when his epileptiform fits took him 
it is for the outcasts to say who saw him on these 
rare and mournful occasions. 

Oscar Wilde's volume of poems received with 
enthusiasm by the public found little favour 
with the critics. The book was roundly abused. 
The Saturday Review, which in those days had 
still some importance as an arbiter in literature, 
contemptuously disposed of the book in a few 
sentences at the end of an article on " Recent 
Poetry." This review appears in the number 
for 23rd July 1881. It begins: "Mr Wilde's 
verses belong to a class which is the special terror 
of the reviewers, the poetry which is neither 
good nor bad, which calls for neither praise nor 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

ridicule/and in which we search in vain for any 
personal touch of thought or music." Lower 
down, " The great fault of all such writing as 
this is the want of literary sincerity which it 
displays. For instance, Mr Wilde brings into 
his verse the names of innumerable birds and 
flowers, because he likes the sound of their 
names, not because he has made any observa- 
tion of their habits. He thinks that the meadow- 
sweet and the wood-anemone bloom at the same 
time, that that shy and isolated flower, the 
harebell ' breaks across the woodlands in 
masses/ ' like a sudden flush of sea/ and that 
owls are commonly met with in mid-ocean." 
Strong exception is next taken to the sensual 
tone of the poems, and the review concludes 
with the following: "This book is not with- 
out traces of cleverness, but it is marred 
everywhere by imitation, insincerity, and bad 

This reviewer was no doubt sincere, for we 
find in his comments the repetition of much that, 
so far, we have heard raised up in blame against 
the young poet. We have heard him spoken 
of as " an average sort of man " ; we know 
that his educational weakness was a neglect of 
the rudiments in this case he is blamed for a 
lack of the botanical and zoological rudiments ; 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and we have already seen him charged with 
imitation of others. Moreover, he is here once 
more rebuked for that imprudent manner of 
his of talking about the physical beauties of 
man and woman which later on was to render 
him such signal disservice. It was a habit 
gained from his classical training and his en- 
thusiasm for the literature of the ancients ; but 
it was a literary habit which in modern days was 
fraught with considerable danger. 

The AthencBum gave him the place of honour 
in its number for 23rd July 1881. The long 
review of his poems occupied its first page. The 
review is a very careful one, well-written, as are 
all the reviews in that periodical which stands 
first amidst the critical papers of the world. It 
was evidently the work of a man who was not 
biassed either for or against the young poet, and 
who had very conscientiously prepared himself 
for his task as the critic of the book. The 
review was an unfavourable one. It begins : 
" Mr Wilde's volume of poems may be regarded 
as the evangel of a new creed. From other 
gospels it differs in coming after, instead of be- 
fore, the cult it seeks to establish." " We fail 
to see however," continues the reviewer, after 
an exposition of Oscar Wilde's teachings, " that 
the apostle of the new worship has any distinct 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

message." Lower down, " Turning to the exe- 
cution of the poems there is something to ad- 
mire. Mr Wilde has a keen perception of some 
aspects of natural beauty. Single lines might 
be extracted which convey striking and accurate 
pictures. The worst faults are artificiality and 
insincerity, and an extravagant accentuation of 
whatever in modern verse most closely ap- 
proaches the estilo culto of the sixteenth century." 
An able and scientific, if not very charitable, 
requisitoire bearing out the charges in this in- 
dictment follows. The charge of imitation is 
particularly insisted upon. 

" The sonnet on the ' Massacres of the Chris- 
tians in Bulgaria ' reflects Milton's sonnet on 
the ' Massacres in Piedmont.' The ' Garden 
of Eros ' recalls at times Mr Swinburne at 
times Alexander Smith. In the descriptions of 
flowers which occur in the poem last named 
there is a direct and reiterated imitation of 

' Some violets lie 

That will not look the gold sun in the face 
For fear of too much splendour ' 

reminds one of the 

' Pale primroses 

That die unmarried ere they can behold 
Bright Phoebus in his strength.' 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Mr Wilde's 

' Budding marjoram, which but to kiss 
Would sweeten Cytheraea's lips ' 

and his 

' Meadow-sweet 
Whiter than Juno's throat ' 

brings back the 

' Violets dim, 

But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes 
Or Cytheraea's breath.' 

And the ' rustling bluebells ' rustling bluebells 
is a vile phrase that come 

' Almost before the blackbird finds a mate, 
And overstay the swallow ' 

are but the daffodils 

' That come before the swallow dares.' 

" Traces of this kind of imitation abound, and 
there is scarcely a poet of high mark in the 
present century whose influence is not per- 

The conclusion is not an inspiring one : 
" Work of this nature has no element of en- 
durance, and Mr Wilde's poems, in spite of some 
grace and beauty as we have said, will, when their 
temporary notoriety is exhausted, find a place 
on the shelves of those only who hunt after the 
curious in literature. They may, perhaps, serve 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

as an illustration in some chapter on the revival 
in the nineteenth century of the Gongorism of 
the sixteenth." 

Against the charge of imitation Wilde's warm- 
est friends will not be able were they desirous 
of so doing to defend him. He was essentially 
an artist, and the artist is essentially imitative. 
Art is imitation. The only original creation 
which is not the reproduction of anything else of 
which we know is the creation of the world, and 
on that circumstance the data are too vague for 
us to be quite certain that here too imitation did 
not overhang the labour. Models were certainly 
not lacking, or the astronomers have misled us. 
There has never been a writer yet against whom 
charges of plagiarism have not been brought. 
Of those charges Moliere briefly and wittingly 
exonerated himself. Moliere was in the right. 
The artist is entitled to appropriate for his own 
treatment the thoughts, the conceptions of 
others. It is not the highest form of literary 
art, but it gives pleasure, and it is a tribute to the 
man from whom the borrowing took place. It 
seems that it would be as unfair to say that a 
prima donna who sings us the Jewel Song out 
of " Faust " ought not to be listened to because 
we have heard other prime donne sing that song 
before she came upon the stage. It is one of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the most detestable axioms of commercial Philis- 
tinism that the exclusive right in a thought or 
a comparison belongs to the man who first voiced 
them. In the Republic of Letters and amongst 
true artists no such proprietary instinct prevails. 
It is the true artist's greatest joy to feel that he 
has given forth fecundating atoms which shall 
breed beauty in ages to come. 

Most of the reviews were equally unfavour- 
able. In some, private enmity was allowed to 
show itself. The notice which appeared in 
Punch may be humorous, it is certainly not 
marked with courtesy. As a specimen of the 
kind of criticism of himself , which Oscar Wilde 
had provoked, some extracts from this notice 
may be quoted. It commences thus : 

" Mr Lambert Streyke in The Colonel pub- 
lished a book of poems for the benefit of his 
followers and his own ; Mr Oscar Wilde has 
followed his example." As Mr Hamilton points 
out, the character of Lambert Streyke, in 
Burnand's adaptation The Colonel, is that of a 
paltry swindler, who shamming aesthetic tastes 
imposes upon a number of rather silly ladies, 
and is finally exposed by The Colonel. 

The review continues : " The cover is con- 
summate, the paper is distinctly precious, the 
binding is beautiful, and the type is utterly too. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

' Poems/ by Oscar Wilde, that is the title of the 
book of the aesthetic singer, which comes to us 
arrayed in white vellum and gold. There is a 
certain amount of originality about the binding, 
but that is more than can be said for the inside 
of the volume. Mr Wilde may be aesthetic, but 
he is not original. This is a volume of echoes, 
it is Swinburne and water, while here and there 
we notice that the author has been reminiscent 
of Mr Rossetti and Mrs Browning." 

The poems were commercially a great success, 
and this success pleased Oscar Wilde very much. 
He used to speak with pride of the fact that his 
volume of poems had run into four editions in 
as many weeks. For the rest, as his powers 
developed he came to look upon this early work 
in the light of a pechd de jeunesse. Certainly the 
author of " Keats' Love-letters " and other of 
his later poems could not help but be critical 
towards the verse contained in this volume. 
Yet such as it is it has outlived the various 
periods of notoriety which brought their author's 
name so prominently before the world. Re- 
cently republished in America by Mr Mosher of 
Portland a large and constant demand for the 
book continues. 

Already at the time of its original publication 
the American edition met with great success. In 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

a paragraph in The World for gth November 1881 
we read : " Mr Oscar Wilde has arranged to 
leave England next month for America where 
he will deliver lectures on Art subjects. Mr 
Wilde's volume of poems, which has had a very 
large sale in America, will have prepared the 
way for him and no doubt insured him a brilliant 
reception in that country. I hear that Mr Wilde 
is also making arrangements for bringing out an 
original play before he leaves London." The 
play here referred to is " Vera," a Nihilist 
drama. It was not produced until much later 
in America, where it met with instant failure. 
The great objection to the play was the fact 
that it contains only one female role, that of 
Vera, the Nihilist heroine. This drama has been 
printed, and can be obtained in London, with 
various annotations. 

It was not, as amiably represented by Edmund 
Yates, as the author of a successful volume of 
poems that Oscar Wilde received encouragement 
to go to America to lecture. It was suggested 
to him that a good deal of curiosity existed in 
that country in " the ^Esthetic Movement and 
School/' that his personality aroused interest, 
and that a profitable lecturing campaign might 
be carried out there. At the same time he was 
anxious to produce " Vera," which he had not 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

been able to place upon the stage in London. 
He had no arrangement with any impresario 
when he left England. Major Pond afterwards 
undertook to " run him " in the States ; that is 
to say after his appearance at the Chickering 
Hall and his success there. 

He sailed on board the Arizona on Saturday, 
24th December 1881, his original intention being 
to deliver one lecture on the " Recent Growth 
of Art in England/' and he proposed to be 
absent for three or four months. A few days be- 
fore his departure there appeared in The World, 
under the heading " The Lights of London/' 
a sketch of him by H. B., described as " Ego 
Up to Snuffibus Poet a," with certain humorous 
verses attached, of which the following may be 
quoted : 

" Albeit nurtured in democracy 

And liking best that state Bohemian 
Where each man borrows sixpence and no man 
Has aught but paper collars ; yet I see 
Exactly where to take a liberty. 

Better to be thought one, whom most abuse 

For speech of donkey and for look of goose, 
Than that the world should pass in silence by. 

Wherefore I wear a sunflower in my coat 
Cover my shoulders with my flowing hair 

Tie verdant satin round my open throat, 
Culture and love I cry, and ladies smile, 
And seedy critics overflow with bile 
While with my Prince long Sykes's meal I share." 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

The parody meant to be friendly, but there 
can be no doubt that it aroused bitter feelings 
of self-reproach in Oscar Wilde's mind. Of self- 
reproach, but also of indignant revolt against 
the order of things which in these modern days 
condemns a man of action to inactivity, who, if 
he would emerge from the stagnant obscurity 
to which the world condemns him, must play the 
part of pantaloon. Vital, full of genius and of 
that physical energy which is the genius of the 
body, fitted for any part that the world has ever 
yet bestowed upon a man, he found himself at 
twenty-seven years of age crossing the Atlantic 
in masquerade, to amuse, to be laughed at, and 
in his bitter humiliation to appear to take 
pleasure in the part. In the whole of his 
mournful career few periods can have been more 
full of suffering. We reach here the heights of 
tragedy to which Shakespeare attains in " King 
Lear." Higher heights, for the king was here a 
youth. We are to remember too that the man 
was a man of genius, and that being so he could 
not help but know it. 



Oscar Wilde's Remark about the Atlantic He is Interviewed 
His Personal Appearance Alleged Resemblance to 
Irving Oscar Wilde and the Actors How Irving once 
recalled Wilde's look Oscar's Lecture at the Chickering 
Hall The Opinion of New York Oscar Wilde at Boston 
The Harvard Students A Fiasco of Burlesque The 
Gentleman and the Boors Boston's Tribute to the Gentle- 
man His Lecturing Tour His Varied Fortunes Dif- 
ferent Impressions of Oscar Wilde Oscar Wilde and Walt 
Whitman Oscar Wilde's Kindness His Efforts on behalf 
of an English Friend He Rescues a Starving Chicago 
Sculptor Oscar Wilde and the Moncton Y.M.C.A. The 
Bunco Steerers American Dry Goods " Robert Els- 
mere " as a Top-Dressing The Production of " Vera " 
A Paragraph in Punch What America did for Oscar Wilde. 

THE next thing that London heard about Oscar 
Wilde was that on arriving in New York he had 
declared himself disappointed with the Atlantic. 
This remark of his was seized upon by his critics 
as a further proof of the man's intolerable conceit 
and arrogance. As a matter of fact it was the 
very simple expression of the feeling with which 
most people who cross the Atlantic for the first 
time look back on the passage when that voyage 
has been performed during fine weather. One 
expects a tumultuous sea, a succession of awe- 
inspiring spectacles, great heights, and abysmal 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

depths of surging waters ; and, when the sea is 
calm well, it is calm. The man could not say 
the simplest thing without exciting malevolent 

Before he landed Oscar Wilde was, as is usual 
in America with visitors of distinction, " inter- 
viewed " by various reporters who had come 
out to meet the Arizona. The report which 
appeared in the New York Herald gives, as 
he himself declared, the best account of what 
he said, and may therefore be reproduced 

" Men may come and men may go, but it is 
not every day that an apostle (thwaite) of 
aestheticism comes to the shores of America. 
It was for this reason that the Herald reporter 
met Mr Oscar Wilde at the first available place 
namely, quarantine. 

" Mr Wilde was not at all adverse to the 
American process of interviewing, and began by 
informing the reporter that he had come to the 
United States ' to lecture on the Renaissance ' 
which he defined as the ' revival of the intimate 
study of the correlation of all the arts.' 

" ' I shall lecture,' said Mr Wilde, a little 
reservedly, ' in Chickering Hall on the Renais- 
sance. My future movements will depend en- 
tirely upon the results of my lecture in a business 
N 193 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

sense. I have come here with the intention of 
producing upon the American stage a play 
which I have written, and which I have not, for 
reasons, been able to produce in London. It is 
exceedingly desirable that it should be produced 
with a cast of actors who shall be thoroughly able 
to represent the piece with all the force of its 
original conception.' 

" ' But/ said the reporter, ' do you not intend 
to produce a volume of poems while you are in 
America ? ' 

" ' No, I shall not, certainly for some time to 
come, publish another volume, but I hardly care 
to say what the future may develop.' 

" ' You will certainly lecture, however ? ' said 
the reporter. 

" ' I certainly shall, but I do not know if I 
shall lecture in other cities besides New York. 
It will depend entirely upon what encourage- 
ment I find in the acceptance of my school of 

"'Do you, then, call <f aestheticism " a philo- 
sophy ? ' asked the reporter. 

" ' Most certainly it is a philosophy. It is the 
study of what may be found in art. It is the 
pursuit of the secret of life. Whatever there 
is in all art that represents the eternal truth is 
an expression of the great underlying truth. So 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

far aestheticism may be held to be the study of 
truth in art.' 

" ' ^Estheticism,' said the reporter, ' has been 
understood in America to be a blind groping 
after something which is entirely intangible. 
Can you, the exponent of aestheticism, give an 
interpretation which shall serve to give a more 
respectable standing to the word ? ' 

" ' I do not know,' said Mr Wilde, ' that I can 
give a much better definition than I have al- 
ready given. But whatever there has been in 
poetry since the time of Keats, whatever there 
has been in art that has served to devolve the 
underlying principles of truth ; whatever there 
has been in science that has served to show to 
the individual the meaning of truth as expressed 
to humanity that has been an exponent of 
aestheticism.' J 

And so the two augurs parted, and without a 

Of Oscar Wilde's personal appearance at the 
time of his landing in New York it may be re- 
corded that when the late Sir Henry Irving ar- 
rived in America on his first visit to the States 
it was generally said that he much reminded 
people of Wilde. In Frederic Daly's mono- 
graph, " Henry Irving," we find the following 
passage in the chapter describing the reception 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

given to the great actor on his landing in New 
York : 

" But the only unkind thing said of Mr Irving 
on his arrival was that he resembled Mr Oscar 
Wilde. ' The figure was muscular, as the 
aesthete's was, and the face was long and a trifle 
like his ; but there was far more strength in it, 
and it was more refined and manly.' Thus 
there was a dash of bitterness in Mr Irving's first 
American cup, though the writer who com- 
mended the chalice to his lips was not without a 
desire to sweeten the draught." 

At the time of Sir Henry's first visit to 
America, Oscar Wilde had not yet shown him- 
self. He was still masquerading and mumming ; 
and if there is one person in the world for whom 
the hardworking and conscientious actor, the 
sincere artist, has a dislike, it is the man who 
acts, as an amateur, by grimace and posture on 
the stage of life. Oscar Wilde's worst enemies 
were amongst the actors, and the spirit that 
prompted this resentment was not always the 
natural and excusable feeling that vexed Henry 
Irving when he, the conscientious artist, found 
himself compared to a man as to whom he did 
not then understand on what he based his claims 
to rank as an artist. The same feeling was 
shown by Coquelin the younger, who is of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

modern actors one of the most hardworking, and 
in " The Story of an Unhappy Friendship " we 
find in this connection the following reference : 
" I had invited him to lunch with me at Paillard's 
to meet Coquelin cadet. . . . Coquelin cadet 
was not greatly impressed by my friend ; and I 
imagine that, as a general rule, Oscar Wilde did 
not have much success with actors. These may 
have thought his affectation, harmless as it was, 
an infringement on their own rights a trespass 
on their domain." 

When catastrophe came upon him there were 
two actors who most zealously worked to com- 
plete his downfall ; but in both cases there was 
personal animosity. 

It is difficult to trace any resemblance between 
Oscar Wilde in 1881 and Henry Irving some 
years later. Yet, on one occasion, one who knew 
both men did notice the most striking and ex- 
traordinary likeness. This man was attending 
one night the performance of the " Lyons Mail " 
in the beautiful Prince of Wales' Theatre in 
Birmingham. In the scene where Lesurques, 
having been denounced by the witnesses from 
the inn, makes his pathetic appeal to one of the 
women to speak the word which admitting her 
mistake shall absolve him from the horrible 
charge which has been brought against him, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and the witness turns mournfully but resolutely 
away, Lesurques' face assumed a look of agony 
and horror, as the vista of what lay before him 
opened out a look in which the blood rushed 
to the face and made it turgid and vultuous, 
there was at the same time a distending of the 
eyeballs, which seemed about to leap from their 
sockets, a twisting and contortion of the mouth 
roughly kneaded into a mass of agony by 
torturing hands, while the face lengthened as 
though by two crushing and simultaneous blows 
on each cheek it had been flattened downwards. 
The look of unspeakable anguish and dismay 
was cast sideways at the woman in whose silence 
Lesurques read his ruin, shame, and death. The 
spectator to whom reference has been made fell 
back in his chair from excess of emotion at the 
sight of a piece of acting so consummate. At 
that moment Irving presented the exact facial 
picture of Oscar Wilde, as looking sideways at 
the foreman of the jury from his place in the 
dock in the Old Bailey he listened to the verdict 
that meant to him ruin, shame, and death. 

The lecture at Chickering Hall was a great 
success. We read in the New York World the 
following account of Oscar Wilde's debut before 
the American public : 

"It is seldom that Chickering Hall has con- 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

tained so fine an audience as that which gathered 
there last evening (Monday, gth January 1882) 
to see Mr Oscar Wilde, and to listen to his ex- 
position of those peculiar views which have dis- 
tinguished him from everyday folk in England. 
And Mr Wilde was well worth seeing, his short 
breeches and silk stockings showing to even 
better advantage upon the stage than in the 
gilded drawing-rooms, where the young apostle 
has hitherto been seen in New York. No sun- 
flower, nor yet a lily, dangled from the button- 
hole of his coat ; indeed, there is room for 
reasonable doubt as to whether his coat had 
even one button-hole to be put to such artistic 
use. But judging his coat by the laws of the 
Philistines it was a well-fitting coat and looked 
as though it had been made for the wearer as a 
real coat and not as a mere piece of decorative 
drapery. Promptly at eight o'clock the young 
lecturer came upon the stage, and with the 
briefest possible introduction from Colonel Morse 
Mr Wilde began his lecture." 

In the New York review, The Nation, appeared 
at the end of that week a long article analysing 
the lecture and giving the impressions of the 
audience. 1 It was written by a representative 
man, who admits at the very outset of his re- 

1 Reprinted in the Appendix: 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

marks that Oscar Wilde's lecture was a success. 
Yet his conclusion was that " Mr Wilde was 
essentially a foreign product and can hardly 
succeed in this country. What he has to say 
is not new, and his extravagance is not extra- 
vagant enough to amuse the average American 
audience. His knee-breeches and long hair are 
good as far as they go ; but Bunthorne has really 
spoiled the public for Wilde." 

He was not taken seriously by many. An 
intimate friend of his relates that the only re- 
ference which he ever heard Oscar Wilde make 
to the coarse things of life was in connection with 
this lecture. " As soon as it was over," he said, 
" a number of fashionable young men who had 
been present, and who met me at the club to 
which I went that night, wished to take me out 
to the night-houses of New York. * Of course/ 
they said, ' after lecturing on Art and Culture, 
you will want to go and see the girls.' ' 

From a commercial point of view the lecture 
was a decided success, and at once a proposal 
was made to Oscar Wilde by that enterprising 
lecture-agent, the late Major Pond, who offered 
to " run him " for a series of lectures through 
the States. It has been generally understood 
that this series of lectures was very successful, 
that Oscar Wilde's progress through the States 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

was a triumphant one, and that the venture re- 
sulted in great financial benefit to himself and 
his impresario. Major Pond, however, himself 
stated, during his last visit to England and at a 
time when he had visited Hall Caine at Greeba 
Castle to endeavour to persuade the novelist to 
undertake a lecture-tour under his manage- 
ment, that Oscar Wilde's lectures had not been 
successful, and that he had abandoned the tour 
before the entire list of towns arranged for had 
been visited. This statement was made, how- 
ever, at a time when everybody who had any- 
thing to say in detriment to Oscar Wilde was 
only too ready to give utterance to it. At the 
same time the Major was speaking to two men 
whom he knew to be friends of Wilde which 
allows it to be supposed that he was speaking 
the truth ; and another thing is that Major Pond 
had been speaking very freely about the different 
men whom he had " run," and the financial re- 
sults which had been obtained. 

The first town that Oscar Wilde visited after 
leaving New York was Boston, where from the 
very nature of the place and the bent of its in- 
habitants he might have been assured of a large 
and attentive audience. The audience was, in- 
deed, large, but it was not a representative one. 
It was mainly composed of the curious who had 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

been attracted by the announcement that a 
number of Harvard students, dressed up in a 
burlesque of the " aesthetic costume," intended 
to be present, and most probably would " guy " 
the lecturer. A large audience congregated to 
see the fun, but the prominent Bostonians 
stayed away. The masqueraders waited until 
Oscar Wilde had stepped upon the platform, and 
then trooped in in single file, each assuming a 
demeanour more absurd than that of the man 
who followed him. There were sixty youths in 
the procession, and all were dressed in swallow- 
tail coats, knee-breeches, flowing wigs and green 
ties. They all wore large lilies in their button- 
holes, and each man carried a huge sunflower 
as he limped along. Sixty front seats had been 
reserved for the Harvard contingent, and it was 
amidst shouts of laughter that they filed into 
their places. The effect that they had wished 
to produce was, however, spoiled to some extent 
by the fact that Oscar Wilde had for that occasion 
discarded his peculiar costume and appeared in 
ordinary evening-dress, so that those of the 
audience to whom his usual appearance was not 
familiar entirely missed the point that the 
Harvard students wished to make. The young 
men behaved with little decorum. Though they 
did not " guy " the lecturer, whose counter- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

manoeuvre had somewhat abashed them, they 
took the opportunity of such pauses as occurred 
during the lecture when Oscar Wilde paused 
to drink water, to applaud in a most vigorous 
and derisive manner. Oscar Wilde, however, 
triumphed in the end, as an English gentleman 
always will triumph in a contest with boors. 
On the following day there appeared in that 
excellent paper, The Boston Evening Transcript 
(2nd February 1881) the following account of the 
lecture, which shows with what tact and success 
the young foreigner turned the tables on the men 
who had tried to discomfit him : 

" Boston is certainly indebted to Oscar Wilde 
for one thing the thorough-going chastening of 
the superabounding spirits of the Harvard fresh- 
man. It will be some time, we think, before a 
Boston assemblage is again invaded by a body 
of college youths, massed as such, to take pos- 
session of the meeting. This is not unimportant, 
for if the thing should grow into a practice and 
succeed, anything in the way of public enter- 
tainments here must finally be done with the 
leave only of the youngest and most ill-bred 
class of Harvard students. Whether in his first 
off-hand observation, or in the pointed remarks 
scattered through his address, or in the story he 
told of the Oxford boys and Mr Ruskin, nothing 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

could have been more gracious, more dignified, 
more gentle and sweet, and yet more crushing, 
than the lecturer's whole demeanour to them, 
and its influence upon the great audience was 
very striking. A goodly number of the latter, 
it seemed to us, had gone there to see the fun, 
in hopes of a jolly row ; but the tide of feeling 
was so completely turned by Mr Wilde's cour- 
teous and kindly dignity that even this portion 
of the audience took sides with him, and hissed 
down every attempt on the part of the rougher 
element to disconcert or interrupt the speaker 
by exaggerated and ill-timed applause. Mr 
Wilde achieved a real triumph, and it was by 
right of conquest, by force of being a gentleman 
in the truest sense of the word. His nobility 
not only obliged him it obliged his would-be 
mockers to good behaviour. He crowned his 
triumph, and he heaped coals of fire upon those 
curly and wiggy heads, when he, with simplicity 
and evident sincerity, made them an offer of a 
statue of a Greek athlete to stand in their 
gymnasium, and said he should esteem it an 
honour if they would accept it. This really 
seemed to stun the boys, for they even forgot to 
recognise the offer with applause. It was a lovely 
though sad sight, to see those dear silly youths 
go out of the Music Hall in slow procession, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

hanging their heads meekly, and trying to avoid 
observation, followed by faint expressions of 
favour from their friends, but also with some 
hisses. A lady near us said, ' How mortified I 
should be if a son of mine were among them ! ' 
We think that everyone who witnessed the 
scene on Tuesday evening must feel about it 
very much as we do, and that those who came 
to scoff, if they did not exactly remain to pray, 
at least, left the Music Hall with feelings of 
cordial liking, and perhaps, to their own sur- 
prise, of respect for Oscar Wilde." 

" Courteous and kindly dignity" : that was, 
perhaps, the trait in Oscar Wilde's character 
which won him such enthusiastic friendships, and 
so fervent a following of admirers. 

The conduct of these Harvard lads was re- 
membered at the time when it was the popular 
thing to heap abuse on Oscar Wilde, and in 1895 
many of the baser American prints retold the 
story, but gave the beau role to the lads who had 
been so sorely discomfited. Some Rochester 
students who had imitated the pranks of Har- 
vard also came in for commendation when to 
have flouted Oscar Wilde at any time in his career 
was supposed to entitle a man to social recog- 
nition and gratitude. But Rochester did not, 
in fact, come off any better in the encounter 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

between brains and manners with stupidity and 
boorishness than Harvard had done. 

By his lecture and especially by his demeanour 
in the course of its delivery Oscar Wilde won 
many friends in Boston ; and that city of learning 
having set the seal of its high approval both on 
the lecturer and the lecture, the respectful at- 
tention of cultured Americans throughout the 
States was, at least, ensured to him. Some of 
the Boston ladies expressed the highest en- 
thusiasm for the handsome young poet. Oscar 
Wilde's behaviour towards them only increased 
the respect with which he had come to be re- 

" Oh, Mr Wilde," said to him at a reception 
by a young lady, " you have been adored in 
New York, but in Boston you will be wor- 

" But I do not wish to be worshipped," said 

A circumstance which made for such success 
as he enjoyed during his lecture-tour was the 
support given by the Irish- Americans to the son 
of Speranza. Certain remarks in his lectures in 
which England and English society were scath- 
ingly criticised appealed strongly to this section 
of his audiences. " To disagree with three- 
fourths of all England on all points is one of the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

first elements of sanity," is one of these remarks. 
But for the Americans, in general, there was such 
praise in some of his sayings as may have satis- 
fied the almost morbid national self-conscien- 
tiousness of that country. "It is rather to 
you," he said, in the course of his lecture on the 
English Renaissance, " that we turn to perfect 
what we have begun. There is something 
Hellenic in your air and world. You are young ; 
' no hungry generations tread you down,' and 
the past does not mock you with the ruins of a 
beauty, the secret of whose creation you have 
lost. Love art for its own sake, and then all 
things that you need will be added to you." 
The Americans called this " taffy," but they 
liked it. 

From Boston he went to Omaha, where he 
lectured on " Decorative Art." In the course 
of the lecture he described American furniture 
as " not honestly made and out of character." 
This remark may not have pleased his audience, 
but it was a plain expression of the truth, and 
that he made it shows that he had an observant 
eye, and even in the matter of household furni- 
ture could tell bad workmanship from good. 
Only last year there was published in London a 
book by J. Morgan Richards, one of the keenest 
American business men living, who speaking 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

about the various kinds of goods which American 
commerce had unsuccessfully tried to introduce 
into England, specially refers to American 
furniture, which he describes in almost the very 
words which the young aesthete used in his 
lecture in Omaha. When in an obituary notice 
of Oscar Wilde that wonderful writer, Ernest La 
Jeunesse, said of him, // savait tout (he knew 
everything), he advanced a proposition which 
Oscar Wilde's admirers could support with 
numerous arguments and illustrations. 

" Wherever he went in the States," says Mr 
Walter Hamilton, " he created a sensation, and 
it was gravely asserted that he had been induced 
to cross the Atlantic in order to work up an 
interest in " Patience," the satire of that opera not 
having been sufficiently understood in the States 
except by reading people. Such an idea had 
probably never entered his head ; he is scarcely 
the man to condescend to become an advertising 
medium for a play which professes to ridicule 
nearly everything he holds sacred in art or 
poetry, but his visit did certainly have a most 
beneficial effect upon the success of the piece, 
which, beyond a certain point, had created little 
interest amongst middle-class Americans, whose 
ideas of culture are only awakened by an oc- 
casional visit to Europe." Mr Hamilton in his 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

commendable enthusiasm for Oscar Wilde is 
here rather too severe both on the middle-class 
Americans and on Gilbert and Sullivan's 
operetta. The middle-class Americans are cer- 
tainly not lacking in culture; in this respect, 
indeed, they show themselves superior to the 
middle-classes of Europe. And as to ff Patience " 
the main idea of that amusing and inspiriting 
piece is one which men have appreciated ever 
since stage-plays first existed. It is a theme 
which has been handled by most dramatists. 
It is Moliere's Tartu ffe treated in Gilbert's 
kindly and humane manner. It would appeal 
to anyone who had never heard of Oscar Wilde 
or of the " aesthetic movement." This slight 
opera -bouffe parodies in advance the great 
movement that is still going on in France the 
struggle between the intelleduels and the military 
party. It is very much more than an amusette, 
though as such, thanks to Sullivan's delightful 
music, it takes the highest place amongst pieces 
of its kind. 

Louisville was another city which he visited, 
and where he lectured on " Decorative Art." 
Some offence was taken here at his description 
of American houses as " illy designed, decorated 
shabbily, and in bad taste " ; but on the whole 
the reception was a favourable one, and the local 
o 209 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

papers were filled with flattering articles about 
the lecturer. 

His experiences were varied. In some cities 
he had a fine welcome, and a large audience ; in 
other places he was received with indifference, 
or even ridicule, and the takings at the door of 
the lecture-hall were not sufficient to cover 
Major Pond's expenses. At Denver he lectured 
to a very rough audience, and he used to relate 
that the week previously a man had been shot 
in the public room in which he lectured there, 
while he had turned his back on the crowd for 
the purpose of examining a chromo-lithograph. 
" Which shows," Oscar Wilde used to add, 
" that people should never look at chromo- 

" From the States he went to Canada, visiting 
Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, and Tor- 
onto ; in the latter city he was present at a 
Lacrosse match between the Torontos and the 
St Regis Indians, which he pronounced a charm- 
ing game, quite ahead of cricket in some respects. 
His lecture in the Grand Opera House, Toronto, 
was attended by noo persons, and wherever 
he went his movements and lectures created 
great interest." 

" Charming " was at that time his favourite 
word to express his approval. Later on he 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

adopted the word " amazing " to describe any- 
thing very good. The opposite feeling was 
expressed by the word " tedious," which he 
retained till the end of his life. 

He proceeded from Canada to Nova Scotia, 
lecturing at Halifax on 8th October 1882, and 
on the following day. The subjects of his 
lectures were " The Decorative Arts " and " The 
House Beautiful." The following account of his 
personal appearance was given by a writer in the 
Halifax Morning Herald, who prefaces his article 
by referring to the " winning and polite friendli- 
ness " with which he was received by Oscar 

" The apostle had no lily, nor yet a sunflower. 
He wore a velvet jacket which seemed to be a 
good jacket. He had an ordinary necktie, and 
wore a linen collar about number eighteen on a 
neck half-a-dozen sizes smaller. His legs were 
in trousers, and his boots were apparently the 
product of New York art, judging by their 
pointed toes. His hair is the colour of straw, 
slightly leonine, and when not looked after, goes 
climbing all over his features. Mr Wilde was 
communicative and genial ; he said he found 
Canada pleasant, but in answer to a question as 
to whether European or American women were 
the more beautiful he dexterously evaded his 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

querist : " That I cannot answer here, I shall 
wait till I get in mid-ocean, out of sight of both 
countries. Your women are pretty, especially 
in the South, but the prettiness is in colour and 
freshness and bloom, and most of your ladies will 
not be pretty in ten years.' 

" ' I believe you discovered Mrs Langtry ? ' 
A look of rapture came to Oscar's face, and with 
a gesture, the first of the interview, he said : 
' I would rather have discovered Mrs Langtry 
than have discovered America. Her beauty is 
in outline perfectly moulded. She will be a 
beauty at eighty-five. Yes ; it was for such 
ladies that Troy was destroyed, and well might 
Troy be destroyed for such a woman.' ' 

He, on that occasion, expressed his opinion that 
Poe was the greatest American poet ; and of 
Walt Whitman, he said that " if not a poet, he 
was a man who sounds a strong note, perhaps 
neither prose nor poetry, but something of his 
own that is grand, original and unique." 

It would seem from the account of The Morn- 
ing Herald reporter that Oscar Wilde during his 
Canadian tour had been dyeing his hair, for never 
at any time could its natural colour have been 
described as the colour of straw. It was of a 
peculiarly rich brown, a very beautiful colour, 
and it was opulent and abundant. During his 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

lecture - tours Oscar Wilde always carried a 
" make-up " box with him. As he was playing 
a part he seemed to feel that he might enlist 
all the advantages that actors assume. The 
reference to the absence of gestures on his part 
is interesting. This struck other people who 
met Oscar Wilde in the States, elsewhere than 
on the lecture-platform. Some people male- 
volently spoke of it as affected languor : one 
very prominent American statesman used to 
describe a visit he paid to Oscar in his hotel in 
Boston, where he found him lying on a sofa 
smoking cigarettes, and he said that he had been 
most unfavourably impressed by seeing a young 
man in such a state of " slackness." This 
gentleman who was a person of very great im- 
portance in the States seems to have expected 
to find Oscar Wilde " hustling " round his room. 
It did not occur to him, nor to the other people 
who blamed Oscar for affected languidness, that 
the exertion of lecturing to large audiences night 
after night, in addition to the filling of innumer- 
able social engagements, might make it necessary 
for the young man to rest himself whenever op- 
portunity to do so offered itself. Poor Oscar 
Wilde ! The simplest things he did were turned 
into reproaches against him. For every act of 
his an evil motive was uncharitably devised. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

One would fancy that he committed an un- 
pardonable offence in ever coming into the 
world at all. He was accused of posturing on 
his very death-bed. What ferocity does great 
pre-eminence not arouse in the envious heart 
of man ! 

Some time after his visit to Halifax Oscar 
Wilde visited Walt Whitman. The meeting was 
not any more successful than was the meeting 
between him and Paul Verlaine. Oscar Wilde 
was " distressed " by the poverty of Walt Whit- 
man's appearance, his shabby attire, and especi- 
ally by the untidiness and squalor of the one 
room in which the American poet lived. The 
place was littered with great heaps of news- 
papers, for Walt Whitman collected everything 
that was printed about him, and these papers 
were strewn all over the room, and over them 
was so thick a coat of dust that it was impossible 
for any visitor to find a clean spot where to 
sit down. Walt Whitman, primaeval, natural, 
aboriginal, would feel little sympathy for the 
dandified Hellene. One may think of a meeting 
between Alcibiades and Diogenes to understand 
the lack of sympathy that must have reigned 
during this memorable interview. 

Oscar Wilde's great kindness of heart fre- 
quently manifested itself during this lecture-tour. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

While in Philadelphia he made great efforts to 
find a publisher for an American edition of the 
poems of a friend of his, a young Oxford man, 
who since has come to very high honours, and 
whose verse was certainly of a very high order. 
But at that time the young poet was unknown, 
and the American publishers fought shy of the 
expense of publishing the volume. At last one 
firm agreed to produce the poems provided that 
Oscar Wilde wrote a preface to the verse. He 
at once agreed to do so, and the preface which 
he wrote is one of the finest pieces of prose 
that he had written up till then. The book was 
printed in lamentable style ; the notions of the 
publishers as to what constituted the " aesthetic 
decoration " of a volume were curious in the 
extreme ; and the English poet-friend felt him- 
self aggrieved by Oscar Wilde. After receiving 
the book from America he wrote a letter to 
Oscar putting a period to their friendship, 
candidly stating that his political ambitions 
would be balked by its continuance, and parti- 
cularly chiding him for having allowed his poems 
to be produced in a style which could only cover 
their author with ridicule. 

Oscar Wilde's comment on this letter was 
characteristic : " What he says," was his only 
remark, " is like a poor little linnet's cry by the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

side of the road along which my immeasurable 
ambition is sweeping forward." The poor man 
was not to know to what a goal of glory he was 
to reach, per varios casus per tot discrimina 
rerum. The frantic applause of the Dresden 
Opera-house fell short of the lonely grave in 
Bagneux cemetery. 

On his arrival in Chicago, where he lectured 
afterwards to very large audiences, he received 
a letter at his hotel from a young Irish sculptor 
who told him of the misery in which he was 
living, of the anguish that he, an artist, who felt 
himself capable of great things, suffered to be 
slighted and ignored in such a city as Chicago, 
and begged him to come to the garret which was 
his studio and look at his work and give him the 
encouragement of his praise, if praise he could 
find to give. Directly after receiving this letter 
Oscar Wilde set out for the address given by the 
writer, and after a hazardous excursion into the 
slums of Chicago found John Donoghue's abode. 
He stayed with him for a long time, he praised 
his work, he comforted him, he told him the 
great consolation of I' Art pour I' Art, and he did 
not leave him without commissioning him to do 
a piece of work. The next evening John 
Donoghue sitting amongst the audience in the 
crowded lecture-hall suddenly heard Oscar Wilde 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

in the course of his lecture reproach the fashion- 
able and distinguished men and women who 
were listening with rapt attention to his words 
with the fact that a young sculptor of undoubted 
genius who was living in their midst was being 
allowed by them in their ignorance and indiffer- 
ence to Art to die of hunger and that starvation 
which more rapidly kills the artist the con- 
temptuous neglect of the public. He went on 
to describe his visit to John Donoghue's studio ; 
he spoke of the beautiful things that he had 
seen there, of the beautiful things that this 
young man could do, of the honour which he 
could bring to the city of Chicago if only people 
would encourage his endeavours. The conse- 
quence was that next day John Donoghue was 
everywhere discussed in Chicago ; people flocked 
to his studio ; commissions poured in ; and after 
a very short while one of those munificent 
patrons of art who exist in America alone, 
as though Maecenas had transmigrated to the 
States after the Fall of the Roman Empire, came 
forward with an offer to maintain the young 
man during a course of study in the ateliers of 
France and Italy. John Donoghue's artistic 
career was assured. He came to Europe, he 
studied, he prospered. But he was not a great 
man, nor was he a great artist. In Oscar Wilde's 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

adversity he had not a word of comfort to send 
him, but the circumstances of his own death 
seem to show that in his last days he reproaches 
himself for his ingratitude. 

Mr Walter Hamilton describes a curious in- 
cident which occurred towards the end of Oscar 
Wilde's tour in Nova Scotia. 

" After leaving Halifax, Oscar Wilde went to 
lecture in several smaller towns in Nova Scotia, 
amongst others to Moncton, where his experiences 
were of a somewhat unpleasant description, 
owing to a misunderstanding he had with a so- 
called Young Men's Christian Association ; it 
arose thus : Two committee men had been 
negotiating to secure him. The Y.M.C.A. com- 
mittee telegraphed to Mr Wilde's agent, offering 
$75 for a lecture on Friday night. Mr Husted 
answered that the terms were satisfactory for 
Thursday night, and requested a reply. This 
was about 4 P.M. At about 8 P.M., four hours 
later, the Y.M.C.A. replied that Thursday night 
was satisfactory. Mr Wilde then replied in 
effect : ' Waited till 7, then had to close with 
other parties. Sorry.' Another committee of 
townspeople had in the meantime closed with 
Mr Wilde. Then the Y.M.C.A. obtained a writ 
which was served on Mr Wilde. The Y.M.C.A. 
laid damages at $200 ; Mr Husted offered to 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

give them $20 and pay costs. This was not 
accepted. Finally, Mr Estey and Mr Weldon 
gave their bonds for $500 for Mr Wilde's 
appearance. The action of the Y.M.C.A. is 
generally condemned in the colony, both by 
the very pious, who lift up their eyes and 
hands in pious horror at one who attempts to 
raise the love of Art and Beauty into a kind of 
religious worship ; and by the ungodly, who see 
that the Y.M.C.A. merely sought to fill its 
coffers out of the attraction of the Arch Prophet, 
irrespective of his teachings, and failing that, 
feed their revenge by attempts to levy black- 

The incident is worth recording, because it 
shows that Oscar Wilde's financial position to- 
wards the end of his lecturing-tour was such 
that he was not unwilling to accept the sum 
of 15 for travelling to a small town like 
Moncton and lecturing there, and that he had no 
objection to appearing under the auspices of a 
Young Men's Christian Association. It also 
shows that by this time Major Pond had deter- 
mined his arrangement, for the name of Mr 
Wilde's agent appears to have been Husted. 

Yet he did not return to New York without 
a substantial sum of money, and his mode of life 
there previous to his departure for Europe was 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

such that it attracted the attention of the New 
York flash men. Oscar Wilde fell into the hands 
of the " bunco steerers." He was actually in- 
volved into playing a game of poker with some 
affable gentlemen whose acquaintance he had 
made in a casual manner. They had intro- 
duced themselves to him as having attended his 
lecture in Boston with great edification to them- 
selves. The result of the friendly game was 
what might have been expected. Oscar Wilde 
was cleared out of all the cash he had in his 
pocket, and when he left the table he had to give 
a cheque for a large amount on a New York 
bank to settle what he owed as losses. However, 
not long after he had left the house where he had 
been fleeced it occurred to him that he had 
simply been swindled, and promptly drove to 
the bank and stopped the cheque. The men, it 
appeared were notorious " bunco steerers." 

During his visit to America his irony did not 
spare the Americans, and he gave utterance 
to a few remarks which would not make for his 
popularity amongst the people against whom 
they were aimed. Some of these sayings he 
afterwards used in his plays. He was, perhaps, 
proudest of having defined American dry goods 
as the productions of the American novelists. 
The American novelists lui en ont gardJ une dent, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

On a subsequent occasion he found everybody in 
the States reading " Robert Elsmere," and dur- 
ing a luncheon party in Dublin after his return 
from the States he described how in the trains 
every passenger seemed to have a cheap edition 
of this book in his or her hands. " As each page 
is finished it is torn out and flung through the 
window," he said, " So that in the end the 
American prairie will get a top-dressing of 
Robert Elsmere." 

One disappointment had awaited Oscar Wilde 
in America ; he was unable to find a manager who 
was prepared to produce " Vera," so that in his 
original purpose in going to America he was not 
successful. " Vera " was produced about a year 
later in New York at a trial evening, but badly 
mounted, badly played, it met with so unfavour- 
able a reception that it was instantly withdrawn. 
It was not a good play in the sense of a stage 
piece. But it certainly merited to be spoken 
of with more respect than in the following 
paragraph in Punch, in which Wilde's disappoint- 
ment at the Adelphi was recorded. In its 
number for loth December 1881 the following 
" Impressions Du Theatre " appeared : " The 
production of Mr Oscar Wilde's play ' Vera ' 
is deferred. Naturally no one would expect a 
Veerer to be at all certain : it must be, like a 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

pretendedly infallible forecast, so very weather- 
cocky. Vera is about Nihilism, this looks as if 
there was nothing in it. But why did Mr O. 
Wilde select the Adelphi for his first appearance 
as a Dramatic Author, in which career we wish 
him cordially all the success he may deserve ? 
Why did he not select the Savoy ? Surely 
where there's a Donkey Cart we should say 
D'Oyly Carte there ought to be an opportunity 
for an 'Os-car ? " 

" In answer to numerous inquiries we beg to 
state that as far as we know the Wilds of Scot- 
land are no relation to the Wildes of Ireland. 

Although he did not succeed in placing his 
drama, and though the lecture-tour was not as 
fruitful as he may have been led to expect after 
his triumphant reception both in New York and 
in Boston, this year's travelling in America was 
productive of the greatest good in the develop- 
ment of his character. Brought into daily and 
hourly contact with the most energetic of men, 
his latent energy aroused itself. He returned to 
Europe sharpened and stimulated to a degree 
that made him almost irrecognisable. America 
" had taken all the nonsense out of him," if so 
trivial a phrase may be used in this connection. 
The dealings he had had with men, the struggles 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

both social and commercial in which he had in 
the main triumphed had given him experience 
which years of life in London might never have 
afforded. His eyes had, moreover, been opened 
to the exact value, as an asset to a man who 
wishes to reach to influence and power, of the 
affectations which he had till then assumed. He 
had had, so to speak, a sound commercial train- 
ing during those twelve months in America. 
The conclusion to which he came in the end was 
that it would be to his interest to discard the 
unworthy posturings which till then had dis- 
figured him. He dropped his masquerade over 
board into the Atlantic and never again assumed 
it. And here masquerade applies as much to 
affectation of manner and speech as to the 
actual disguise he had been wearing. 



A Man of Moods He goes to Paris His Success there Why 
it was not Greater Oscar Wilde and Edmond de Gon- 
court Oscar Wilde and Daudet His Visit to Victor 
Hugo His Imitation of Balzac His Sincerity of Pur- 
pose " The Duchess of Padua " The History of this 
Play Dr Max Meyerfeld's Version Its Ill-fated Pro- 
duction in Hamburg " The Sphynx " and " The Harlot's 
House " Oscar Wilde as seen in Paris in 1883 His Fine 
Character His High Morality His Mode of Life Oscar 
Wilde and Paul Bourget Oscar Wilde's Straits He is 
forced to leave Paris " Exit Oscar ! " and Edmund 
Yates' Reply. 

OSCAR WILDE was a man of moods. He himself 
used to speak of these moods as periods through 
which he has passed. When he reached Paris 
in the spring of 1883 he described himself as 
beginning a new period of his life. He repudiated 
all responsibility for the Oscar Wilde of the 
" aesthetic movement." " That was the Oscar 
Wilde of the second period," he used to say, " I 
am now in my third period." 

On returning from America, after a very short 
stay in London, he proceeded immediately to 
Paris. Here he definitely abandoned his peculiar 
costume. For a short time still he wore his hair 
long, but he had not been very many days in 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Paris before he discovered that an affectation 
of Bohemianism was a pose which the men of 
letters in France who counted had long since 
abandoned. Murger's heroes were entirely out 
of date. A transformation imposed itself, and 
one day he went to the coiffeur, from whose 
hands he emerged with the appearance of a 
gentleman in the mode of the day. He used to 
explain that it had been on contemplating the 
bust of Nero in the Louvre that he had decided 
that hair must not be worn long, and he used to 
speak of the style in which he then wore it as 
" my Neronian coiffure." Very shortly after his 
arrival in Paris Mr Theodore Child, the corre- 
spondent of The World, recorded the event in his 
journal in the following terms : " Amongst other 
illustrious visitors to Paris, besides the Gladstone 
family, we have had and still have, Oscar Wilde. 
Mr Wilde, is, of course, utterly unknown to the 
French, and does not probably intend to take 
any measures to make himself known. Last 
week he was entertained at dinner by some 
English and American artists and journalists, 
and at dessert he made a very clever little 
speech on his American experience. Generally 
speaking, Mr Wilde told us, while in America he 
had to converse on art with people who derived 
their notions of painting from chromo-lithographs, 
p 225 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and their notions of sculpture from the figures in 
front of the tobacconist's shops. In Colorado, 
however, and the Rocky Mountains, Mr Wilde 
was agreeably surprised by the aesthetic predis- 
positions of the natives, and at Leadville in 
particular, he found some of his own theories 
on art-police fully accepted. " When I arrived 
in Leadville," Mr Wilde said, " in the evening I 
went to the Casino. There I found the miners 
and pianist sitting at a piano over which was 
this notice : ' Please do not shoot at the pianist, 
he is doing his best.' I was struck with this 
recognition of the fact that bad art merits the 
penalty of death, and I felt that in this remote 
city, where the aesthetic applications of the re- 
volver were already admitted in the case of 
music, my apostolic task would be much simpli- 
fied, as indeed it was." 

Oscar Wilde had very tactfully come to the 
conclusion that as there was a great deal of what 
was ridiculous in the pretentious of the Oscar 
Wilde of the " second period," it would be the 
wisest thing to do, to laugh with his mockers, 
and he certainly seemed to take huge delight in 
bringing out the funny aspects of what he called 
his " apostolic task." He was full of anecdotes 
about his American tour, and it is a great pity 
that he never gave execution to the plan he had 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

formed on leaving America of writing a volume 
of his American impressions. It would have 
been full of humour, and from the nature of the 
man the humour would have been kindly. He 
was bitter only against affectation and pre- 
tentiousness. The simple and kindly Americans 
would have been spared the lash of his satire. 

The story about the pianist in Leadville was 
a favourite one of his, and he developed it as he 
repeated it. On the 5th of May of that year he 
was dining with Edmond de Goncourt who in 
his diary thus records what Oscar Wilde told 
him : 

" Dined with the poet Oscar Wilde. 

' This poet, who tells the most improbable 
stories, gives us an amusing picture of a town 
in Texas, with its population of convicts, its 
revolver habits, its pleasure resorts, where one 
reads on a notice : ' Please not to shoot at the 
pianist who is doing his best.' He tells us of the 
hall at the Casino, which, as it is the biggest room 
in the place, is used for the Assize-Court, and here 
they hang criminals on the stage after the per- 
formance. He told us that he had seen there a 
man who had been hanged clinging to the scenery 
uprights, while the audience fired their revolvers 
at him from their seats. 

" In those places, it would also appear, the 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

theatrical managers look out for real criminals to 
play the parts of criminals, and when ' Macbeth ' 
is to be staged and a person is wanted for the 
role of Lady Macbeth offers are made to a 
woman who has been convicted for poisoning, 
and who has just been released after serving her 
sentence. One sees posters thus worded : ' The 
part will be taken by Mrs X.,' and, in brackets, 
the words ' (10 Years Penal Servitude).' ' 

It may be noted that Monsieur de Goncourt 
did not faithfully record in his diary the things 
that he heard. He allowed his fine imagination 
to play when he sat down to his Journal des 
Goncourt. His entries have little historical 
value. He used to " touch up " an anecdote ; 
he used to add to a statement of fact. He was 
always preoccupied as to the effect that the 
passage would produce on the reader. This 
great artist would have made the ideal city 
editor on a New York journal. In his diary for 
1895 he records a conversation which he had 
with a gentleman who told him of Wilde's ar- 
rival at midnight at his mother's house in 
Oakley Street, after his release on bail, in a 
manner in which malevolence seems to have 
guided his pen. The gist of this page is that 
everybody was drunk in the house in Oakley 
Street, and for this statement his informant's 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

narrative had not given the shadow of a sug- 

Theodore Child was in error when he wrote 
that Oscar Wilde did not probably intend to take 
any measures to make himself known in Paris. 
He did take active measures. He had brought 
with him from London a number of copies of his 
volume of " Poems/' and soon after he had settled 
down in his rooms in the Hotel Voltaire on the 
Quai Voltaire he sent his book accompanied by 
a letter to a number of leading men in Paris, 
both writers and painters. At the time of his 
trial, in many drawing-rooms this volume and the 
letter which had accompanied it were laid out 
on view, as curiosities d'actualite, and people were 
able to convince themselves of the extraordinary 
knowledge of French which these well-written 
letters displayed. His advances were favourably 
received as such advances always are in humane 
and enlightened Paris and many doors were 
opened to him. He was frequently in the ex- 
clusive society which numbered Edmond de 
Goncourt amongst its ornaments ; he frequented 
the leading painters of the impressionist school ; 
and he was welcomed at the house of Sarah 
Bernhardt where he met many of the most 
distinguished people in Paris. He was generally 
liked and admired, but he would certainly have 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

produced a better impression in literary Paris if 
he had not deemed it necessary to " amaze " the 
Parisians by telling them stories and making 
statements to them, which with all their bad- 
auderie they could not accept as truthful fact. 
For instance, at an evening party on 2ist April, 
Oscar Wilde speaking to Monsieur de Goncourt 
in the presence of a large number of highly- 
cultured people was heard to remark that the 
only Englishman who till then had read Balzac 
was Swinburne. Such a statement as that would 
appear to the people who overheard the remark, 
nothing more than what the French call une 
blague, and Oscar Wilde would create the im- 
pression of being un blagueur. Now no worse 
impression can be created in literary Paris than 
this. The Parisians have a certain reverence 
for the things of literature and art ; they desire 
these things to be treated with the respect that 
is accorded to religion by others; and to be 
paradoxical and outre about them is to forfeit 
the attention of those whose good opinion it is 
worth while to cultivate. It is to be feared that 
Oscar Wilde was never really understood in Paris. 
A man who does not take himself seriously in 
Paris, as a writer or an artist, will never induce 
people to take him seriously. A large number 
of Parisians listening to Wilde's brilliant talk, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and failing to perceive the humour which over- 
hung his remarks simply set him down as a 
charlatan who was trying to deceive them, and 
resented the attempt. It is only since his death, 
since the publication of Jean Joseph- Ren aud's 
masterly translation of " Intentions," and the 
writings which have appeared on " De Pro- 
fun dis " that the Parisian men of letters are 
beginning to see that they had totally misunder- 
stood the brilliant young man who made such 
efforts to interest and amuse them. At the 
same time it is not difficult to imagine what 
effect must have been produced on an audience 
of artists in Paris when Oscar Wilde told them 
a thing which he was at that time very fond of 
repeating that he used to spend hours at the 
Louvre in rapt admiration before the Venus of 
Milos. Alphonse Daudet who met him in those 
days in Paris, both at his own house and at 
soirees, notably at the house of the famous 
painter of Parisian landscapes, de Nittis, con- 
ceived from hearing him talk in this manner a 
distrust of him which he was never able to cast 
off. Now Daudet was very quick at noting the 
salient traits in a man's character, and it shows 
that Oscar Wilde must have dissembled his real 
nature with the greatest skill, the most unfor- 
tunate ability, for he was just of that exquisite 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

artistic mould which would have delighted 
Alphonse Daudet, while his kindness of heart 
and great refinement would have won for him 
the warm friendship of the impressionable 
Southerner. Daudet was deceived by Oscar 
Wilde's outward manner, which shows that he 
must have exerted great powers to dissimulate 
the superiority of his nature, just as others who 
came into contact with Daudet by a similar 
exertion of profound hypocrisy were able to 
deceive him as to their worthlessness. 

At Victor Hugo's house Oscar Wilde enjoyed 
one evening no little success, although the 
master himself did not interrupt his usual nap 
to listen to his visitor: but it was just after 
Swinburne's visit to Hugo's house and the 
habitues of Hugo's salon were most interested 
to hear Wilde speak of the English poet. There 
was a lady there, a Polish princess, who had 
translated some of Swinburne's poems into 
French, who was so pleased with Oscar Wilde's 
eloquent championship of the poet, against whom 
a certain hostility reigned in that milieu, that 
she became the speaking-trumpet of the young 
Irishman's fame in the many good houses in 
Paris which she visited. 

Although Oscar Wilde had laid aside his 
aesthetic masquerade there were certain points 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

about his dress which did not please the 
Parisians. For one thing he used to wear fur- 
coats. Of these he had two or three. One was 
a very noticeable one, being made of green cloth 
with black brandebourgs. Now, in those days 
gentlemen did not wear fur-coats in Paris. It 
was also his habit to have his hair curled every 
day. There was too much " get-up " about his 
appearance to please the Paris men of the world. 
As a matter of fact, though Paris did not per- 
ceive it, Oscar Wilde was paying to French 
literature the compliment of modelling himself 
on the great writer Balzac. He was then in a 
period of imitation of this great writer for whom 
his admiration increased with each year of his 
life. When at work at the Hotel Voltaire he 
used to put on a white gown with a monkish 
cowl, because it was in a dressing-gown like this 
that Balzac, who wrote mostly at nights, used 
to work. At the time when Balzac, who had 
doomed himself for years to celibacy and con- 
tinence, at last went courting, the recluse as- 
sumed all the graces of the contemporary 
Parisian dandy. He wore the most elegant 
costumes, he adorned himself with jewellery, 
and he carried when he went abroad a walking- 
stick which was so noticeable that it inspired 
Delphine Gay with the subject of a novel, " La 

2 33 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Canne de Monsieur de Balzac." In all these 

points Oscar Wilde imitated the master with 

whose industry and enthusiasm for literary art 

he was endeavouring to imbue himself. He 

dressed much after the fashion of the fops of 

1848, he wore noticeable jewellery, and he 

carried a stick which was the replica of Balzac's 

canne. This was a stick of ivory with the 

pummel set with turquoises. The costume was 

the outward sign of a very laudable effort. It 

can be to nothing but the credit of any writer 

to wish to imitate Balzac ; and if by adopting his 

peculiarities a man might hope to attain to any 

degree of his powers of production and style, 

one would like to see the whole Republic of 

Letters curled as to the hair, bejewelled, clad 

in 1848 costumes, and carrying ivory sticks with 

turquoise-stone pummels. But Paris did not 

understand the suggestion of Oscar Wilde's dress, 

and did not believe that a man who seemed to 

talk so flippantly had any real artistic strivings 

in him. Oscar forgot that not any more in 

Paris than in London, in London than in Berlin, 

are men prone to a charitable interpretation of 

any act of fellow man. He was labelled a poseur 

when he was only trying by dressing a part to 

enter into the very spirit of the man whom he 

wished to imitate in his excellent qualities. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Many of the greatest actors which the stage has 
ever produced would have failed utterly to re- 
present the parts in which they most triumphed, 
had they not been allowed to " dress the parts." 
Paris might have understood this, but preferred 
to disbelieve that any such strivings animated 
the young man. Yet at that very time he was 
actually inspiring himself from Balzac's example, 
and at no period in his life, except, perhaps, when 
he was writing " De Profundis," did he more 
sternly discipline himself to that constant labour 
which, as Balzac said, is the law of art. During 
those months at the Hotel Voltaire he wrote that 
great play " The Duchess of Padua," which some 
of his admirers rank with the Elizabethan master- 
pieces. This play was originally written for 
Mary Anderson, and while Oscar was yet in Paris 
the manuscript was sent to her for her perusal. 
She declined it, greatly to the author's secret 
discomfiture. Mary Anderson probably saw 
that it was not likely to succeed as a play for 
the stage. This opinion proved itself in the 
event to be a right one. The " Duchess " has 
been tried twice in two different languages and 
has failed each time. The first performance was 
given in New York in the early nineties. It 
gained a great succes d'estime, but it never came 
to be considered a paying piece. Only last year 

2 35 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

negotiations were being made between a beauti- 
ful young American actress, who was anxious 
to mount the play and take the part of the 
Duchess, and a lady who owns the American 
acting rights. The negotiations fell through on 
other grounds but those of terms ; and when it 
is recorded that the only fee demanded by the 
holder of the copyright for the right of perform- 
ance was five pounds a week, it will be under- 
stood at what a low figure the financial pos- 
sibilities of the play were estimated in the 
American theatrical world. But the play for all 
that had warm admirers. Indeed, it was at the 
suggestion of her mother that the young Ameri- 
can actress referred to above had desired to 
mount the " Duchess of Padua." In a letter to 
one of Oscar Wilde's friends this lady wrote : 

" Many years ago I saw a performance (in 
New York) of Oscar Wilde's play ' The Duchess 
of Padua ' with Laurence Barrett and Mina Gale 
in the leading roles. The play made a decided 
impression on me, and I have often wondered 
why it has not been revived." 

This play has not been published in England, 
but an excellent German translation by Doctor 
Max Meyerfeld of Berlin appeared more than a 
year ago. This version was produced in De- 
cember 1904 at one of the leading theatres in 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Hamburg. It was not a success, and after three 
nights was withdrawn. It cannot be said that 
justice was done to it, nor that it had a fair 
trial. The translation is excellent. Doctor 
Meyerfeld has rendered Oscar Wilde's verse in 
German verse of quite equal merit, nor has he 
in any way sacrificed the original to the neces- 
sities of translation. The German play is in 
itself a fine piece of literature. The acting was, 
however, deplorable. The man who played the 
part of Guido was suffering from influenza, and 
for this reason made a burlesque of the last act. 
In this act the great scene is where the Duchess 
finding Guido asleep in his prison addresses him 
in impassioned language. The Duchess's fine 
tirade was at the Hamburg theatre constantly 
interrupted by the snuffling, sneezing, and cough- 
ing of the sleeping hero. The Duchess was her- 
self by no means word-perfect. But the climax 
of misfortune was reached on the night of the 
third performance when the actor who played 
the part of the Cardinal suddenly went mad on 
the stage and had to be removed vi et armis to a 
lunatic asylum. The Official Receiver in Oscar 
Wilde's bankruptcy then intervened, questioning 
the right of the poet's literary executors to give 
Dr Meyerfeld the right to produce the play in 
Germany; and under the circumstances the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Doctor thought it advisable to withdraw it 
from the stage. 1 

His version was enthusiastically reviewed in 
The Daily Chronicle by William Archer, who 
saluted Oscar Wilde as having revealed himself 
in this play a dramatic poet of very high rank. 
It was this play which Oscar Wilde was writing 
at the time when the Paris men of letters were 
regarding him with suspicion as a literary char- 
latan. As an artist, and as an intellect, there 
were not more than three men in the Paris 
literary world of that day who were the equals 
of this literary charlatan. Some of his finest 
verse was also written at this time, notably " The 
Sphynx," over which he laboured with the appli- 
cation of Flaubert, but perhaps with better re- 
sults. This piece has been published several 
times. The original edition was issued in a 
beautiful form in September 1894 by Messrs 
Elkin Matthews and John Lane. It is a master- 
piece of the poetry which is not spontaneous. 
The inspiration came from Poe through Baude- 
laire. Both these poets were at that time ex- 
ercising upon Oscar Wilde as strong an influence 
as in another way was Balzac. In the " Harlot's 

1 " The Duchess of Padua " was revived early this year in 
Berlin. It was killed by the critics, and its ill-fated per- 
formance resulted in a heavy financial loss to the devoted 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

House," a poem which he wrote at the same 
time, Oscar Wilde was more himself. As to the 
publication of this poem we find in the ex- 
cellent bibliography which is appended to the 
translation of Andre Gide's monograph on 
Wilde the following note : " The original publi- 
cation of ' The Harlot's House ' has not yet been 
traced. The approximate date is known by a 
parody on the poem, called ' The Public House/ 
which appeared in The Sporting Times of i3th 
June 1885. In 1904 a privately printed edition, 
on folio paper, with five illustrations by Althea 
Gyles, was issued by the Mathurin Press, London. 
In 1905 another edition was privately printed 
in London, 8 pp., wrappers." It was a short 
lyrical poem. The poet is standing in the street 
outside the house of the Scarlet Woman and 
looks up at the windows of which the blinds are 
drawn down. It is night, and on the blinds 
appear the " silhouettes " of the dancing figures, 
the " marionettes " within. In this poem Oscar 
Wilde overcame his objection to the use of words 
ending in " ette " for which he professed a real 
artistic horror. The last lines of the poem in 
which he speaks of the dawn fleeing down the 
street like a frightened girl are very beautiful. 
Perhaps the tone of the whole thing, like that 
of " The Sphynx," is not " robust," but, as we 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

have said, Oscar Wilde was then impregnated 
with the essence of Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mai. 
To those who came to know him intimately 
in those days in Paris he appeared one of the 
most gifted as also one of the best of men. He 
was then in the height of his intellectual powers. 
The fiend of his insanity never betrayed its 
presence by the faintest indication. His refine- 
ment and chastity of speech and life seemed to 
show how well he had schooled himself in the 
example of the great artist whom he had set up 
above him as his master. He was the most 
delightful companion that a man could meet. 
More than personal magnetism emanated from 
his joyous personality. Men used to wonder 
what this quality was in him that seemed to 
stimulate in those who came near him every 
desirable faculty. To-day, when the scientists 
speak of radio-activity, men might wonder 
whether in human beings also this principle did 
not exist so that such men as possess this quality 
can as readily affect those who approach them as 
substances which are brought into the proximity 
of radium are affected. A distinguished man 
was heard to wonder whether there be not sexes 
of the intellect. " Most men would then appear 
to have female intellects ; the very rare, the 
geniuses, having male intellects. From the con- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

tact of the two, great thoughts spring off. I 
know," he added " that my brain never seems 
to live nor to be so fertile as it does when I am 
in the company of Oscar Wilde." His geniality 
was another trait that endeared him to all who 
saw him in private life. His joyousness of life 
was as exhilarating as a draught of generous 
wine. He seemed a happy man. His happiness 
made others feel the folly of despondency and 
pessimism. His gratitude to his Maker for his 
creation was revealed in the intense delight he 
took in every little thing that is good and 
pleasant in the world. As to his morality we 
read in " The Story of an Unhappy Friendship." 
" The example of his purity of life in such a city 
as Paris, of his absolute decency of language, of 
his conversation, in which never an improper 
suggestion intruded, the elegance and refinement 
which endowed him, would have compelled even 
the most perverse and dissolute to some re- 
straint. The companionship of Oscar Wilde, in 
the days in which I lived in his intimacy, would 
have made a gentleman, at least outwardly, of a 
man of bad morals and unclean tongue." 

He used to live in great luxury, dining every 
evening, when he had money, at the most 
fashionable Parisian restaurants. He preferred 
Bignon's in the Avenue de TOp^ra, but he some- 

Q 241 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

times went to the Cafe de Paris, which was quite 
as expensive, or, when he felt inclined for the 
Latin Quarter, to Foyot's or to La venue's. At 
this last place he used to meet John Sargent the 
painter, and Paul Bourget ; and in the album at 
that cafe John Sargent one day sketched his 
portrait with that of Bourget and another friend. 
With Bourget he had some relationship, and the 
two used frequently to meet at the Cafe d'Orsay, 
which has long since disappeared. Although 
Bourget has never written anything about Wilde 
it was obvious in those days that he was 
impressed by the man's genius ; his constant 
deference and the things which he said about 
him were proof of that. 

He was not always prosperous. The funds 
which he had brought with him from America, 
not a large amount, had been exhausted ; his 
work produced nothing, and his expenses were 
heavy. His resources during that period in 
Paris were derived from the final disposal of his 
property in Ireland. There was a small estate 
called the Red Island which at that time was 
being melted into gold. There were times when 
he was very pressed for money, when the fashion- 
able restaurants had to be abandoned. During 
these periods he used to take his meals in his 
hotel, and it was at his hotel that with no 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

splendour he was forced to entertain the poet, 
Rollinat, for whose book " La Main de Tropp- 
mann " he professed a great admiration. The 
macabre was then greatly preoccupying his mind, 
but that it never corrupted his bounding optim- 
ism his whole subsequent career establishes. 

Mary Anderson's refusal of the " Duchess of 
Padua " was a great disappointment to him. He 
had hoped from the proceeds of that play to be 
able to continue his luxurious life of literary 
activity in Paris. But, as there was nothing to 
be looked for from this source, and as the lawyers 
in Ireland declared it impossible to squeeze any 
more gold out of the barren acres of the Red 
Island, the Paris days had to be brought to an 
end. He returned to England in the summer of 
1883 under the necessity of finding a means of 
gaining his livelihood. An important journal 
then published an article concerning his position, 
achievements and prospects, the tone of which 
is best explained by the title under which it 
appeared : " Exit Oscar." Edmund Yates re- 
butted this article in the next number of The 
World, and said that in any case Oscar's exit 
was a very brilliant one after the great artistic 
and social successes which he had enjoyed in 
Paris. The fact was, however, that his position 
at that time was a very difficult one. Yet with 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

great courage and a never-failing dignity he faced 
the situation, and, in the event, came through 
it triumphantly. An American firm of lecture- 
agents which had a branch in London approached 
him immediately on his return to London and, 
having no option in the matter, he came to terms 
with them. It was under their auspices that he 
lectured one afternoon in the Prince's Hall, 
Piccadilly, before a moderate audience. He was 
at that time living in two small rooms at the 
top of a house in Charles Street, Grosvenor 
Square. To outward appearance he was very 
prosperous, and must have continued to stir the 
gall of the envious. He smoked Parascho 
cigarettes, and was sometimes to be seen dining 
in the grill-room of the Cafe Royal with Whistler. 
But the meal was ever a frugal one, and the wine 
which accompanied the modest grill was always 
a claret chosen from the very top of the list. 



Oscar Wilde on the Lecture-Platform His Provincial Audi- 
ences What the People hoped to see What they saw 
And heard Two Pen Pictures by Provincials How 
People of Refinement considered him The Opinion of a 
Distinguished Woman Oscar Wilde released from this 
Penance His Marriage with Constance Lloyd The Ex- 
traordinary Wedding Dresses The Foreboding of Cer- 
tain Oscar Wilde's New Home His Straightened Cir- 
cumstances Some Fine Writings His Failure as a 
Lecturer The Dublin Fiasco A Prophet in his own 
Country The Caution of The Freeman's Journal The 
Wildes' Poverty His Two Sons. 

IMMEDIATELY after the lecture in the Prince's 
Hall Oscar Wilde commenced to visit various 
provincial towns in different parts of the kingdom 
to give his address on " The House Beautiful," 
under a contract with a firm of lecture-agents. 
The labour was not distasteful to him, and the 
fees earned in this way were at that time his sole 
resource. He was so poor in the autumn of 1883 
that he was frequently obliged to have recourse 
to the pawnbrokers, and just before his first 
lecture in London, a friend accompanied him to 
Marlborough Street Police Court to swear to the 
loss of a pawn-ticket before the magistrate. The 
same friend remembers a day, at about the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

same time, when he was entirely devoid of funds, 
and for once, at least, could have written himself 
down, impransus, as he retired to bed. Under 
no other circumstances would he have brought 
himself to associate his name with the enterprise 
of those provincial lectures, so clear was it made 
to him that its success was expected not from 
the value and the interest of the address, but 
from the notoriety attaching to his name as the 
eccentric " aesthete." The great majority of the 
people who came to his lectures paid the en- 
trance fee with no other purpose than to stare 
at the man who was reported to have a strange 
passion for sunflowers and lilies. Everybody 
had heard of " the aesthetic movement," very 
few even knew the meaning of the adjective. 

It was to imbeciles of this calibre that this 
scholar was forced by his necessity to discourse. 
His lectures were not successful in any degree, 
nor can the speculation have been a very pro- 
fitable one to the agents who had engaged upon 
it. People were vastly disappointed to find that 
his appearance, dress, and manners were no 
different from those of any gentleman. The ad- 
vertisements of these lectures which appeared in 
some provincial town were calculated to arouse 
the highest expectations of the morbidly curious. 
A show was promised ; the subject-matter of the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

lecture was not referred to. On certain news- 
paper files in different parts of the country one 
may still read display advertisements, running 
down whole columns, after some such fashion 
of vulgarity as this : 





It was in this way that it was brought to the 
public notice that a gentleman of rare scholarship 
and great erudition designed to address a 
meeting on a subject on which, at least, from a 
careful study of its masters and extensive reading 
and observation he was adequately qualified to 
speak. One day in Charles Street one of his 
friends picked up a provincial newspaper which 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

was lying on his table. Oscar Wilde, whose 
manners were always gentle and urbane, flushed 
red, and violently snatched it from his hands. 
" Do not look at that ! " he cried, crushing the 
paper up and flinging the ball into the fire. His 
friend, had, however, noticed an advertisement 
similar in tone to the one of which a part is 
given above. Nobody felt more keenly the de- 
gradation of these exhibitions than the potential 
author of "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" 
himself. Although his want of money was 
pressing at this time he indignantly refused to 
appear in " aesthetic costume," in spite of the 
fact that for such an additional attraction a 
much higher fee would have been paid to him. 
In view of his refusal the agents, who were well 
aware that it was the person of Oscar Wilde 
and not at all what he might have to say about 
beautiful houses that would attract the sight- 
seers of the provinces, were obliged to conceal 
the fact that no spectacle was to be afforded. 
The references to " the great aesthete " in the 
advertisements contained the suggestion that 
something laughable was to be on exhibition, 
and when the audience discovered that instead 
of watching the antics, and listening to the 
patter, of a buffoon, they were expected to lend 
ear to a disquisition delivered by a scholar which 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

invited their minds to ascend to a plane of in- 
accessible height they were not slow to express 
their disappointment and disapproval. On 
several occasions the room emptied itself during 
the progress of the lecture. 

It will be of interest to put on record here in 
spite of the vulgarity of their style two pen- 
pictures of him drawn at the time in different 
places by two provincial journalists, for they will 
show first what the audience had expected to 
see, and secondly how they were impressed by 
his appearance and delivery. They are repre- 
sentative of opinions expressed throughout the 

This is the first : 

" We were informed by the advertisement pamphlet that 
this gentleman has, since the publication of his book of poems 
in 1890, devoted his time to public addresses. So, as poets 
do not often come before the public personally, we were 
naturally anxious to see what a poet-lecturer was like. With 
imaginary visions of celebrated poets in mind we were 
anxiously awaiting the appearance of Mr Wilde upon the plat- 
form, when the curtain was drawn asunder, and in walked 
not a Tennyson, but a Long-fellow. For the first quart d'heura 
we could not erase the impression from our minds that the 
subject of the lecture was not ' the house beautiful, 1 but ' the 
man beautified.' This cheveux de frise he gets very warm 
on the subject of friezes proved at a glance how highly the 
lecturer estimated the power of capillary attraction, for his 
head seemed surrounded with a perfect halo of artificially- 
arrayed curls, which, if removable, would doubtless fetch a 
figurative sum at an auction sale as a most admirable substitute 
for a lady's bonnet. Joking apart, no gentleman would con- 
tradict a lady who said that Mr Wilde could rejoice in the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

possession of a hairy head which at once stamps him as a 
master of artistic decoration. His collar had evidently been 
made to an original design, which has no doubt been deposited 
at South Kensington and the pattern patented, or it must have 
been in the market long ago. His necktie was neither tied 
nor untied, but, like the clerical collar, puzzled one to know 
where it began and how it ended. His cuffs were equally 
aesthetic and ' took one by the collar.' Mr Wilde's theory 
as to the harmonious arrangement of colours in art decoration 
is that our backgrounds should consist of tertiary or neutral 
tints, relieved by small objects or ornaments of rich primary 
colour or bright appearance. The man beautified was accord- 
ingly arrayed in the neutral tints of black and white, with the 
rich relief in the shape of a red silk handkerchief peeping out 
from the left side of his vest, and a massive watch-chain 
pendant, which appeared like the name-label on a bunch of 
keys, inasmuch as no one else had one just like it. In (not on) 
those marvellous members of the human body, the hands, 
were held a pair of white silk gloves, which if the owner did not 
know to be useful at all events felt to be beautiful. Tall and 
graceful, and presenting a youthful appearance, he delivers 
his lecture with clear, distinct articulation, never hesitating 
for a word, nor striving after nights of eloquence, but handling 
his subject with an amount of assurance and self-possession 
that gives you the impression that he must be quite as high 
an authority as Morris or Ruskin, whom he quotes to agree or 
disagree with. . . . The closing part of his lecture on art 
education drew forth repeated applause, and, in fact, the whole 
of it was sufficiently interesting to gain for him unbroken 
attention during the hour and a half which his lecture occupied. ''- 

This is how the second provincial journalist 
wrote : 

" Oscar Wilde, the aesthetic the ineffable the exponent 
of the principle of eternal loveliness has visited us and is 
human. He is not an angel after all ! Nor is he a deity 
springing to us out of the dark past. His food must have 
been other than the nectar'd sweets the poets love to write 
about ; in fact he can be seen, and heard, and handled, for 
he is a man. This revelation will come as an unwelcome 
surprise to many. One so delightfully out of sympathy with 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the age, with such ineffable yearnings towards the romantic 
past, with such inexpressible aspirations towards the beauteous 
future, when the essential ugliness of to-day shall only be re- 
membered as a hideous dream, such a man cannot be ought 
not to be one of us. So I am sure many think. I believe 
it was Mrs Browning who describes how sad we feel when we 
find our cherished idols simply to be clay ; but I can confess 
to no such revelation of feeling when Mr Oscar Wilde stepped 
on to the platform and I discovered he had no wings. Mr 
Oscar Wilde is tall, well-proportioned, with a poet's hair, and 
shall I say it a mildly epicurean countenance. In his 
appearance there was nothing Byronic, or Bulwerian, or 
Carlylean, or Ruskinesque ; a little that savoured of Count 
d'Orsay, Beau Brummel, and more that suggested the tradi- 
tional diner-out. His dress had few peculiarities, being 
ordinary evening-dress, a very wilderness of shirt-front, re- 
lieved by a half-concealed scarlet handkerchief, deftly placed 
inside his vest. His pose and manner might have been artistic, 
but were not particularly effective. His voice is a moderately 
pleasing one, with an occasional lisp to give it an aristocratic 
tone. His action what little there was of it was striking. 
He spoke entirely extempore, not even availing himself of the 
use of notes. For very much more than an hour he addressed 
his audience. There was no hesitation, and there was no 
fire. Only once there was an approach to pathos, and as far 
as I could detect only one quotation from the poets, excepting 
an extract he gave in the form of a letter I think of John 
Keats. He came to speak to us on an important subject. 
And here I must say, that if his lecture had been called the 
' Home Beautiful,' instead of the ' House Beautiful,' I should 
have been better pleased. Englishmen especially such as 
would go and hear such a discourse as Oscar Wilde's do not 
care much for their " houses," they care everything for their 
homes. An Englishman never says he is going to his ' house,' 
but always that he is going ' home.' A house to an English- 
man is an empty building. The same building filled with 
furniture, and all sorts of lovely things plus wife and children 
becomes a home." 

On people of refinement the impression pro- 
duced was, of course, a different one. Many 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

people in many parts of the country remembering 
him as he appeared to them twenty-two years 
ago speak regretfully of his fate. Over women 
his personality seems to have exercised a great 
influence. " I can remember him," writes a 
lady of refinement and culture from a Midland 
town, " as though I had seen him yesterday. My 
mother was delighted with his appearance ; she 
often afterwards spoke of his hair and his hands 
and his tie oh ! his tie, how it impressed us all. 
For my part, though I was only a girl then, I 
felt he was saying things which nobody present 
could understand, and it seemed to me at times 
as though he knew it also. I felt it was a pity 
he should have had to come here at all, for I 
suppose it was necessity that drove him on to the 
lecture- platform. Many of the things he said 
have remained familiar in my mind ever since. 
I never see a big curtain-pole without thinking 
of what he said about the sins of the upholsterer, 
and I know that I never drink a cup of tea at a 
railway refreshment-room without remembering 
how he described the cup out of which he drank 
his coffee at the hotel in San Francisco, where 
he contrasted the crockery of the Chinese in the 
Chinese quarter of that city, with the domestic 
vessels used by the Europeans. It was a real 
distress to me to sit in that lecture-room 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

looking at this wonderful youth and listening to 
his profound and beautiful words, while the rest 
of the audience were either gazing with dismay 
and surprise, or showing how bored they were. 
The room was not half-full to begin with, and 
during the whole course of the lecture people 
kept getting up and going out. But he seemed 
quite indifferent to the mood of his audience, 
his manner, if I may use the term in such a 
connection, was quite business-like. It was as if 
he was saying to himself, ' I am here to say cer- 
tain things, and I shall go on speaking until I 
have said them/ He began speaking the 
moment he came on the stage, and when he had 
said his last word he walked off as if anxious 
to catch a train and get away from us all." 

Those amongst his provincial audiences who 
listened to him, and who attempted to be critical, 
were in the habit of saying that his weakness as 
a lecturer was in a tendency to exaggeration. 
Some Joseph Prud'homme of the provinces 
sagely remarked : " He pronounces as dicta, 
with the authority of an oracle, principles which 
are essentially debateable." 

The most favourite criticism, however, of Oscar 
Wilde's lecture on " The House Beautiful " a 
criticism which can be found in similar phrase- 
ology in contemporary prints all over the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

country, and not in the provinces alone was 
to the effect that : " Mr Oscar Wilde seems to 
ignore the deeply-rooted prejudice that aestheti- 
cism if not symbolic of weakness and effeminacy, 
is, at least, the antithesis of that moral and in- 
tellectual robustness which we, in this age, are 
accustomed to respect." 

From this bondage, from these chains, which 
to such an artist must have been galling indeed, 
Oscar Wilde was to be rescued by the gentle and 
beautiful Constance Lloyd. To her for some 
time past he had been paying attentions ; it was 
during the course of his lecture-tour that he was 
able to visit Dublin and ask her to become his 
wife. Constance Lloyd admired him and loved 
him ; she put her hand into his. She was 
wealthily connected ; she was assured of a good 
income on her marriage by her grandfather, who 
had instituted her to be his heiress. The 
marriage took place on the 29th of May 1884 ; 
we find the following announcement of it in The 
Times for 3ist May : "On 2gth May, at St 
James's Church, Paddington, by the Rev. Walter 
Abbott, Vicar, Oscar, younger son of the late 
Sir William Wilde, M.D., of Dublin, to Constance 
Mary, only daughter of the late Horace Lloyd, 
Esq. Q.C." Edmund Yates gave a friendly 
notice of the occurrence in The World for 4th 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

June 1884 : " Mr Oscar Wilde's wedding went 
off with more simple effect than the large crowd 
who thronged the church had possibly come out 
to see. Owing to the illness of Mr John Horatio 
Lloyd, the bride's grandfather, the ceremony 
was meant to be of rather a private character, 
and only the near relatives were asked to meet 
at Lancaster Gate after the service. There is 
only this much to be recorded about it : that 
the bride, accompanied by her six pretty brides- 
maids, looked charming ; that Oscar bore him- 
self with calm dignity ; and that all most intim- 
ately concerned in the affair seemed thoroughly 
pleased. A happy little group of intimes 
saw them off at Charing Cross." Yet the 
baroque and the bizarre were not wanting in 
this wedding which sealed a union which was 
to end in such unhappiness. It appeared that 
Oscar Wilde felt it incumbent on him as a 
" Professor of Esthetics " to give such directions 
as to the dresses of his bride and bridesmaids 
as might impress the onlookers with the fact 
that it was no ordinary wedding that they were 
attending. A brief description of these dresses 
will establish this suggestion. " The bride's 
rich creamy satin dress was of a delicate cowslip 
tint ; the bodice, cut square and somewhat low 
in front, was finished with a high Medici collar ; 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the ample sleeves were puffed ; the skirt, made 
plain, was gathered by a silver girdle of beautiful 
workmanship, the gift of Mr Oscar Wilde ; the 
veil of saffron-coloured Indian silk gauze was 
embroidered with pearls and worn in Marie 
Stuart fashion ; a thick wreath of myrtle leaves, 
through which gleamed a few white blossoms, 
crowned her fair frizzed hair ; the dress was 
ornamented with clusters of myrtle leaves ; the 
large bouquet had as much green in it as white. 
The six bridesmaids were cousins of the bride. 
Two dainty little figures, that seemed to have 
stepped out of a picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 
led the way. They were dressed in quaintly- 
made gowns of Surah silk, the colour of a ripe 
gooseberry ; large pale yellow sashes round their 
waist ; the skirts falling in straight folds to the 
ankles displayed small bronze, high-heeled shoes. 
Large red silk Gainsborough hats decked with 
red and yellow feathers shaded the damsels' 
golden hair ; amber necklaces, long yellow 
gloves, a cluster of yellow roses at their throats, 
a bouquet of white lilies in their hands, com- 
pleted the attire of the tiny bridesmaids. The 
four elder bridesmaids wore skirts of the same 
red Surah silk, with over-dresses of pale blue 
mousseline de laine, the bodices made long and 

pointed ; high crowned hats trimmed with 


Photo by Riechgit: 


To face page 217. 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

cream-coloured feathers and red knots of ribbon, 
lilies in their hands, amber necklaces and yellow 
roses at their throats made up a sufficiently 
picturesque ensemble. One of the ladies present 
wore what was described as a " very aesthetic 
costume." It was composed of "an under- 
dress of rich red silk with a sleeveless smock of 
red plush, a hat of white lace trimmed with 
clusters of red roses under the brim and round 
the crown." This gaudy and displeasing picture 
must be recalled. It proves as nothing else 
could prove the entire confidence of Constance 
Lloyd in the artistic pretensions of her husband. 
No woman who was not blindly convinced 
of the superiority of her bridegroom's taste 
would have consented to such a masquerade. 
It may have occurred to some of the on- 
lookers that a union so initiated could not 
contain the elements of happiness. Where 
the woman is entirely hypnotised and sub- 
jugated her marriage is not often a happy one 
for her. 

On the day of his wedding Oscar Wilde took 
his young wife over to Paris, and the first weeks 
of the honeymoon were spent in that city. They 
occupied a suite of rooms at the Hotel Wagram 
in the rue de Rivoli. They both seemed to be 
radiantly happy. Oscar was a gallant and de- 
R 257 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

voted husband, and Constance seemed to be 
swathed in rapturous delight. If ever her 
husband left her alone to go out with any friend, 
a few minutes after his departure a messenger 
would arrive at the hotel bearing for the bride 
a bouquet of exquisite flowers together with a 
note couched in language of such impassioned 
adoration that it charmed her solitude and made 
her happy even though her loved one was away. 
Mrs Wilde's dowry enabled the young couple 
to take the lease of a good house in Tite Street, 
Chelsea, which was the last home of his own 
that Oscar was to possess. It was decorated 
under the direction of Whistler, and was sub- 
stantially furnished. At the very top of the 
house a work-room had been installed for Oscar 
Wilde, the furniture of which was painted red. 
But he never used this room. The little writing 
that he ever did at home was done in a small 
study which was to the right of the entrance 
passage. Mrs Wilde's income at that time was 
not large she did not come into her grand- 
father's fortune until much later, and it became 
immediately necessary for Oscar to find re- 
munerative employment. He turned to journa- 
lism for livelihood, and he accepted occasional 
engagements on the lecture-platform. He was 
a constant contributor of anonymous work to 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

The World and The Pall Mall Gazette. Much of 
his writings at this time have been traced, and 
were recently being hawked round the London 
publishing-houses by speculators in his notoriety. 
It was a disservice to his reputation, it would 
appear, which would concern these literary re- 
surrection-men but little. The work was poor ; 
it was the hack-work, current 'e calamo, of a man 
who had no heart in his labours; and "poorer 
stuff," said one London publisher to whom this 
volume was offered, " I never read in my life." 
Yet at the same time he was writing those ex- 
quisite fairy-stories, which were afterwards re- 
published in a volume by David Nutt. " The 
Happy Prince and Other Tales " (1888) ; a volume 
which many of his admirers look upon as his 
best and most characteristic prose work. There 
are no fairy-stories in the English language to 
compare with them. The writing is quite 
masterly; the stories proceed from a rare and 
opulent imagination ; and while the tales that 
are told interest the child no less than the man 
of the world there underlies the whole a subtle 
philosophy, an indictment of society, a plea for 
the disinherited, which make of this book and 
of the " House of Pomegranates " (1891) two 
veritable requisitoires against the social system, 
as crushing as " The Soul of Man." And yet 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

as one reads these tales the lesson that the 
author wishes to teach never forces itself upon 
him. Unlike Lewis Carroll and Hans Andersen 
Oscar Wilde tells a story which a child can read 
with pleasure and interest, and without that un- 
comfortable feeling that moral medicine is being 
administered to him in literary preserves. If 
Oscar Wilde had had hopes that the lecture- 
platform would afford a source of income to 
him he was doomed to disappointment. In 
January 1885 he delivered at the Gaiety, 
Dublin, under the management of Mr Michael 
Gunn, two afternoon lectures. The first, given on 
the afternoon of Monday, 5th January, was on 
"Dress" (Beauty Taste Ugliness in Dress); 
and the second, on Tuesday, treated of "The 
Value of Art in Modern Life." Of both these 
lectures a resumJ appears at the end of this 
volume. The enterprise was a disastrous failure. 
Dublin was indifferent to the son of Speranza, 
indifferent to the son of Sir William Wilde, in- 
different to the brilliant Trinity College man 
who had so distinguished himself and his country 
at Oxford, and to the poet and lecturer who had 
set two worlds talking. We find in The Free- 
man's Journal for 6th January the following 
prefatory remarks to its notice of the lecture on 
" Dress " :- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

" Although the fact of the lecture taking place 
was fully announced for days in advance the 
attendance was hardly satisfactory. At most, 
about 500 persons were present, chiefly in the 
dress circle and stalls. But the audience though 
not large was highly intelligent, critical and 
appreciative of the matter and style of the 
lecturer. Evidently people have ceased to re- 
gard Mr Wilde as the eccentric apostle of a 
momentarily fashionable craze, to be seen, heard 
and laughed at." 

A highly appreciative account of the lecture 
followed, but that afternoon the attendance was 
very much smaller. Possibly the high prices 
charged for admission frightened the public. Mr 
Gunn was asking 2is., 303., and 423. for private 
boxes, and proportionate prices for the rest of the 
house. At that time matinee performances of 
a pantomime were being given at the Gaiety, 
and it is related that a gentleman accompanied 
by two boys came by mistake into the theatre, 
sat down and listened patiently for some time 
to Oscar's discourse, and finally got up ex- 
claiming : " What's all this ? When's the 
pantomime going to begin ? " In the following 
month there appeared in The Dublin University 
Review, of all publications the one in which the 
greatest deference ought to have been paid to 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the Berkeley Medallist, son of Sir William Wilde, 
and a frequent contributor to its pages, two 
sarcastic and cutting notices of his lecture. 
These are they : 

" We confess that before a visit to the Gaiety 
Theatre dispelled the illusion we had thought 
that the re-appearance of Mr Oscar Wilde before 
a Dublin audience would have excited very 
general interest among his fellow-citizens. In- 
deed, in spite of the fact that Mr Wilde, like 
the elephant Jumbo, with whose notoriety his 
popularity was contemporaneous, has ceased to 
attract the sympathy and the shillings of the 
public, we feel bound to express our belief of 
the talents of that gentleman, and our regret 
that they have not latterly been more usefully 
employed. The indifference with which the 
lecturer was received cannot fairly be ascribed 
to any falling off in the quality of the lectures, 
which formed not only a complete exposition 
of Mr Wilde's peculiar philosophy of art, but 
were in themselves instructive and suggestive. 
However, a few more lectures as unfortunate, 
from a commercial point of view, as those re- 
cently delivered in this city will materially 
remedy this defect, and will help to restore 
Mr Wilde to public favour. Meanwhile he will 
not regret the decrease on his receipts, for as 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

he stated in his second lecture : ' True Art is 
economical.' " 

In the same number of the official organ of 
T.C.D. appears a letter on Sir Noel Paton's 
picture " Lux in Tenebris." "It is pretty 
enough," says the writer, " but it no more 
realises the idea of a spiritual light shining in the 
moral darkness of the world than would, let us 
say, a picture of Mr Oscar Wilde preaching about 
dress-improvers at the Gaiety." 

This was Dublin's salute to the most talented 
man to whom she had ever given birth. For 
the rest, although in Ireland one finds little of 
that horror against the mention of Oscar Wilde's 
name which still lingers in England, in certain 
quarters, where one would least expect to find 
it, it persists. In the summer of last year a 
gentleman being desirous of purchasing a photo- 
graph of Oscar Wilde as a child, and of getting 
information as to the early life of Speranza, sent 
an advertisement embodying his requirements 
to The Freeman's Journal, where, if anywhere in 
Ireland, Lady Wilde's memory ought to have 
been revered. The advertisement was eventu- 
ally inserted, but not for several days, during 
which the manager was communicating with the 
editor the acting-editor not having dared to 
assume so grave a responsibility as to whether 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

an advertisement referring to Lady Wilde and 
her son could be allowed to appear in the journal ! 
Mr Whistler's attack on Oscar Wilde the de- 
tails of which can be found set out in "The Gentle 
Art of Making Enemies " did much to reduce 
still lower any chances of success as a lecturer 
which remained to Oscar Wilde. Whistler made 
it public that Oscar Wilde's lecture on the English 
Renaissance was mainly made up from facts and 
opinions which he, Whistler, had supplied to the 
lecturer. It would have been just as easy for 
that admirable actor, Hermann Vezin, to have 
rushed into print and to have declared that 
Oscar's manner on the stage was the result of 
some training in elocution and gesture which he 
had given him before he commenced his lecture- 
tour. But then Hermann Vezin is not only a 
great artist, he is a true and loyal friend. 
This source of income having failed there were 
periods of real poverty in the elegant house in 
Tite Street. A lady who lived near the Wildes 
has recorded that at that time she was frequently 
called upon by Mrs Wilde to lend her money, 
even small sums such as the purchase of a pair 
of boots might demand. At the same time the 
expenses of the manage were increasing. In June 
1885 and again in November 1886 a son was 
born to them. Stray writings for the papers, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and an occasional signed contribution to the 
reviews could not produce the income which 
was necessary to supplement the wife's allow- 
ance, and in the end Oscar Wilde turned to 
journalism for a living for himself and his 



Oscar Wilde in Fleet Street Editor of The Woman's World 
Pegasus in the Plough His Loyalty to his Employers 
The Industrious Apprentice Lady Wilde and Constance 
Wilde as Contributors A Severe Editor A Kindly 
Critic His List of Contributors His Later Attacks on 
Journalists The Possible Explanation of this Attitude 
His Consistency in the Matter Oscar Wilde and M'Clure's 
Magazine Oscar Wilde and Le Journal His Contribu- 
tions to The Daily Chronicle The Disinterestedness of 
this Work. 

IT was at this time in his career that he came 
to be seen, periodically, in that Fleet Street of 
which, afterwards, he was to speak with such 
acerbity and contempt. 

A firm of publishers of Ludgate Hill the 
Messrs Cassell & Co. had come to the conclusion 
that his reputation as a leader of fashion and an 
arbiter of the elegancies might be turned to pro- 
fitable account on behalf of a certain monthly 
publication, issued from their printing-presses, 
which at that time enjoyed no high degree of 
public favour. The belief was held in La Belle 
Sauvage Yard that the name of Oscar Wilde 
printed in large letters upon the cover of this 
magazine to be styled afresh : The Woman's 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

World would attract the attention and the 
custom also of the fashionable women to whom 
it was supposed to appeal, bringing in the train 
of their patronage that multitude of purchasers, 
who ensure commercial success. In this belief 
these printers proposed to him the direction of 
The Woman's World: the terms offered were 
what in his straitened circumstances, with the 
fresh charges upon him, he could not with 
prudence refuse, and the bargain was struck. 
If, after a prolonged test, the adventure did not 
result in satisfaction, it was not because the new 
editor failed in vigilance or assiduity, but be- 
cause London society, in the sense of fashionable 
people, had not yet come under the sway of his 
influence. His connection with The Woman's 
World lasted from October 1887 to September 

The amusing spectacle was thus afforded 
during this period, of a scholar, a critic, an artist 
acting as overseer and salesman of such pro- 
ductions of the pen as treat of the chatter of the 
shops, the commonplaces of tiring-room and 
pantry, the futilities of changing modes. " Are 
Servants a Failure ? " " Fancy Dresses for 
Children," " Typewriting and Shorthand for 
Women," are the titles of some of the papers 
for which the future author of " The Soul of Man 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Under Socialism " and of " De Profundis "had 
to arrange, of which when written to approve, 
and which he had to send out to the world 
under his imprimatur. The history of the for- 
lorn makeshifts and expedients to which neces- 
sity often constrains the most gifted men of 
letters affords no example more apposite than 
this part of Oscar Wilde's life. It reminds one 
of the experiences of Charles Baudelaire, the 
poet, when a committee of French provincial 
shareholders had brought him away from Paris, 
from the writing of the Fleurs du Mai and the 
translating of Edgar Allan Poe, to edit a local 
paper. If Charles Baudelaire, however, failed 
from the very outset, because he despised his 
work and approached his task in that spirit, it 
must be said of the Irish poet-editor that he 
very earnestly did his best for his employers. 
An apprentice to journalism, he displayed all 
those qualities of industry, punctuality, and 
ardour which, as Hogarth would have us believe, 
lead men to high honours and great wealth in 
the city of London. It was in the irony of 
things that a career thus entered upon should 
have led him, if not to Tyburn, at least to the 
Old Bailey and the Bankruptcy Court. 

Baudelaire's first inquiry on entering the 
office of the provincial newspaper which he was 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

to publish, was as to where the "editorial brandy- 
bottle " was kept. Wilde, was, perhaps, even 
more a slave to the nicotine habit, than 
Baudelaire, to alcohol, yet he very cheerfully 
accommodated himself to the strict rule im- 
posed by Messrs Cassell & Co., that no smoking 
is allowed, under any pretext, in any part of 
their buildings. He seemed to take real pleasure 
in the hours which he spent in La Belle Sauvage 
Yard, because of the opportunities which were 
there afforded him of meeting Wemyss Reid, the 
editor of The Speaker, a man of great scholarship 
and refinement, for whom he had a great ad- 
miration. He used to take the underground 
railway from Sloane Square to Charing Cross, 
and thence walk up the Strand and Fleet Street 
to his office. The days had not yet come when 
he could declare that " he never walked." He 
was always dressed with elegance and care, 
presenting in his appearance a strong contrast 
to the types which are sometimes to be seen in 
that part of London. His regularity was at that 
time remarked upon. He was, no doubt, making 
a strong effort to subject himself to discipline. 
At the same time, no doubt, the interest and 
dignity of his position appealed to his histrionic 
nature. He walked, an editor, amongst the 
proletarians of the press. He had the satis- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

faction of showing that the part of journalist 
could be dressed by the tailors of Bond Street, 
the hatters and glovers of Piccadilly, and adorned 
by the florists of the Burlington Arcade at a 
time, too, when he was, perhaps, one of the 
very poorest editors in London. 

It appeared to his friends, at times, that he 
enjoyed the dignity, as well the meagre patronage 
of his editorial office. He was once heard to 
say, with some pride in his tones, speaking of his 
power of remunerating contributors : "I pay a 
guinea a page, no matter if most of the space is 
occupied by illustrations or not." That he had 
the interests of his employer at heart was shown 
by the fact that he never allowed feelings of 
friendship to interfere with the impartial per- 
formance of his duty as an editor. He was 
frequently applied to for commissions by needy 
Bohemian acquaintances, but where he con- 
sidered that a man was not fitted to write for 
his periodical, he told him so. Lady Wilde and 
his wife contributed one or two articles each to 
The Woman's World during Oscar Wilde's editor- 
ship, but in every case the article on its own 
merits was well worthy of acceptance, and would 
have earned the fee paid from any editor in 
London. In the volume for 1889 we find from 
Lady Wilde's pen a collection of " Irish Peasant 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Tales." There are five of these tales, " A Night 
with the Fairies/' " A Legend of Shark/' " Fairy 
Help," " The Western Isles," and " St Patrick 
and the Witch." 

Constance Wilde's contribution during this 
year to the magazine of which her husband was 
editor is an illustrated, well " documented " 
paper on " Muffs," a good specimen of the 
" Museum-made " article. 

It may be said that since the magistrate, 
Brillat-Savarin, wrote his " Physiologic du Gout," 
and showed that a cookery-book can be made 
a work of literary art, never has literary skill 
been put in stranger fashion at the service of the 
commonplaces of domestic life than appears in 
the pages of The Woman's World under Oscar 
Wilde's editorship. " Que diable allait-elle faire 
dans cette galere ? " might be asked of literature. 
The magazine was too admirable to succeed. 
Its style was too refined for the people to whom 
the subjects treated of appealed, and those people 
who might have delighted in the style were kept 
aloof by the subjects. 

Oscar Wilde's personal contributions to this 
periodical apart from certain articles on special 
literary subjects took the form of a monthly 
causerie, published under the title of " Some 
Literary Notes." Considerable care and in- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

dustry were expended by the editor on these 
articles. They usually occupied five pages of 
The Woman's World, and were quite the most 
interesting literary criticism then appearing in 
London. But what student of contemporary 
literature was going to hunt out these " literary 
notes " between an article on " The Gymnasium 
for Girls," by Mrs L. Ormiston Chant, and a 
paper on " Field- Work for Women," by Ouida. 

Oscar Wilde's criticisms are always kindly, 
and full of instruction, which is just what criti- 
cism, if it is to have any value, should be. 
These pages are filled with dicta and epigram on 
the art of literature, which no future compiler 
of a complete edition of his works should fail to 

In the important matter of obtaining the 
services of distinguished people as contributors 
to his magazine, without possessing a free hand 
in fixing the scale of remuneration, Wilde was 
remarkably successful. During the first six 
months of 1899 he obtained for The Woman's 
World contributions from Oscar Browning, E. 
Nesbit, Annie Thomas, Ella Hepworth Dixon, 
Amy Levy, Ouida, Carmen Sylva, Blanche 
Roosevelt, the Countess of Portsmouth, St 
Heliers, Gleeson White, Miss Olive Schreiner, 
Lady Sandhurst, Miss F. L. Shaw, Miss Marie 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Corelli, Arthur Symons, and Mrs Crawford. 
Marie Corelli' s contribution was a long article 
on Shakespeare's mother, which at the present 
rates in the literary Rialto could probably be 
disposed of by an efficient agent for twenty times 
the amount which the editor of The Woman's 
World was enabled to offer. 

It should be added that Oscar Wilde was an 
editor whom it was not easy to please. He 
would tolerate no slovenliness of writing. In 
the matter, for instance, of punctuation he was 
scrupulous in the extreme. If anywhere on a 
printed or manuscript page laid before him a 
poor little comma had intruded where it had 
no right to be, or one had deserted its post, his 
flashing glance would immediately turn to the 
spot. One of his stories was that his hostess 
in a country house having asked him at dinner 
how he had spent the day he had answered : 
''' I have been correcting the proofs of my 
poems. In the morning, after hard work, I 
took a comma out of one sentence." " And in 
the afternoon ? " "In the afternoon, I put it 
back again." He was here jesting at what was 
a marked characteristic of his literary technique. 

During all this time, apart from his editor- 
ship, he was a frequent contributor to the 
weekly and daily press, as well as to the 
s 273 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

magazines. He wrote anonymously for The Pall 
Mall Gazette, in whose columns he revealed him- 
self as a brilliant paragraphist, who did not dis- 
dain the piquancy of personalities ; he contri- 
buted much to The World under Yates's editor- 
ship ; his name is to be found under many 
magazine articles which have long since been 
forgotten. One remembers, for instance, an 
article on " London Models " which appeared 
in The English Illustrated Magazine (vol. vi. 
1888-1889), which is a good specimen of purely 
journalistic work. 

It was not till a year or two later that he 
began to speak with such detestation of journa- 
lists. It is possible that it had taken him just 
so long to discover that the reputations which 
are made by newspapers have no real foundation 
in the hearts of the people, that interviews and 
paragraphs, and the whole gamut of periodical 
puffery, although they may make a person 
notorious, do not bestow upon him that popu- 
larity which is associated with the substantial 
benefices of fame. It is an experience which 
most public men have made ; and those who 
have expected great results from the persistent 
clamour of the journalists, do often, when dis- 
appointed in these expectations, manifest ran- 
cour and resentment towards those whom at an 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

earlier date they fostered. From a very early 
stage in his career Oscar Wilde had been one 
of the men in England whose names were most 
widely known he himself once said that a 
year or two after he came to London his name 
was a household word throughout the country 
but naturally as long as his reputation rested 
alone on this foundation he got nothing from it 
but such enjoyment as vanity might thence 
derive, and it is possible, what has been noticed 
in many other instances, that a peevish resent- 
ment arising from his disappointment prompted 
him to that contumely of journalists which un- 
fortunately he continued to display long after 
real service to the public had brought true fame 
and its tangible rewards. 

In the days of his own connection with the 
periodical press he sometimes used to speak in 
praise of certain of the characteristics of journa- 
lism. After the appointment of his brother 
William Wilde to the staff of The Daily Tele- 
graph he was heard to say : " There is a great 
fascination in journalism. It is so quick, so 
swift. Willy goes to a Duchess's ball, he slips 
out before midnight, is away for an hour or two, 
returns, and as he is driving home in the morning, 
can buy the paper containing a full account of 
the party which he has just left." Like every- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

body else in England he expressed the greatest 
admiration for the work which his brother did 
in reporting the judicial proceedings of the 
Parnell commission. Yet in 1891, a bare year 
after he had turned his back on Fleet Street, 
he wrote that passage on British journalism 
which occurs in " The Soul of Man Under 
Socialism," which aroused against him the 
terrible hatred, suppressed at the time, which 
blazed forth at the time of his fall. One extract 
from this passage will suffice here. " In cen- 
turies before ours the public nailed the ears of 
journalists to the pump. That was quite hid- 
eous. In this century journalists have nailed 
their own ears to the keyhole. That is much 
worse." This vituperation of journalists was a 
constant feature of his conversation during the 
next few years. He frequently requested his 
brother not to dare speak to him of his " vile 
gutter friends from Fleet Street." He never 
missed an opportunity of insulting the press in 
his plays. 

If there was ever any truth in the statement 
which has been frequently made that at one 
time in his life Oscar Wilde thirsted after news- 
paper notoriety with the eagerness of which 
certain contemporary writers afford so painful 
an example, it is a fact that when " The Ideal 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Husband " was being written he had entirely 
set his face against it. In January 1895 he was 
approached by the Messrs M'Clure, of M'Clure's 
Magazine, who were anxious to publish about 
him an article in the form of an interview. It 
should be stated that this magazine was already 
at that time a great power in the United States, 
and that the foremost writers and celebrities in 
other walks of life in all parts of the world had 
been glad to avail themselves of a publicity so 
beneficial and far-reaching. The writing of this 
article was to be done by one of Wilde's oldest 
friends, whose name was widely known in 
America in connection with work of this kind. 
The request of the Messrs M'Clure was answered 
by Oscar Wilde in a letter which he wrote from 
Tite Street to this friend, in which he said that 
he did not like the tone of his editor's letter 
that to speak of wishing for " Oscariana " was 
an impertinence that he understood that it was 
usual that a fee should be paid to the person 
interviewed, and that he would in no way assist 
in the production of the article unless he first 
received a cheque for 20. As at that time such 
a sum was of no importance to him whatever, 
and as in any other way he would have been glad 
to assist his old friend in his work, this letter 
affords good proof that personal advertisement 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

by newspaper publicity had become entirely 
distasteful to him. 

He was consistent in this dislike until the end. 
It occurred to some of his friends who watched 
him during his second Trial at the Old Bailey 
that the way in which on the posters of the 
newspapers his name was placarded all over 
London afforded him some satisfaction, and a 
remark of his on the subject is on record ; l but 
this may be explained by that natural and 
pathetic prompting that moves every poor 
mortal to endeavour to find in any great personal 
disaster some scrap of consolation. 

In his greatest distress, at a time when he 
needed money most badly, after his ruin had 
been consummated, he refused the most sub- 
stantial offers from the proprietors of newspapers, 
and not only from those who merely wished to 
trade in the notoriety of his name. After his 
release from prison, while he was living in 
Berneval, it was suggested to Fernaud Xau, 
the proprietor of Le Journal, one of the prin- 
cipal papers in Paris, that Oscar Wilde could 
write effective articles on various questions of 

1 " The town was placarded with his name ; and one night, 
alluding to this, I said : ' Well, you have got your name before 
the public at last.' He laughed, and said : ' Nobody can pre- 
tend now not to have heard it.' ' Oscar Wilde. The Story 
of an Unhappy Friendship ' 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

literature and art on which his authority was 
uncontested. Xau agreed to place his name on 
his list of contributors, which included many 
of the leading politicians and all the foremost 
literary celebrities of France. The terms he 
offered as remuneration were the same as those 
paid to the first writers. There was here no 
suggestion at all that Oscar Wilde's collabora- 
tion was desired because the scandal which at- 
tached to his name would appeal to the morbid- 
minded, and create a profitable sensation. It 
was a plain, business-like offer from a very 
shrewd business-man to a writer of eminent 
and recognised capacity. It was a proposal 
which most authors of high standing and Euro- 
pean reputation would have taken as a compli- 
ment. Yet, although at that time Oscar Wilde 
was in sad difficulties through want of money, 
he declined the offer without one moment's 
consideration. This refusal was courteously 
worded ; it was with scathing contempt that he 
repelled any approaches from the traffickers in 
sensation. It is reported that when, just previ- 
ous to his release from Reading Gaol, the Gover- 
nor informed him that the correspondents of an 
American paper who had been waiting in 
Reading for some days past were prepared to 
pay him a very large fee for the privilege of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

being allowed to interview him on the subject 
of his prison experiences he expressed his sur- 
prise that any one should venture to make such 
proposals to a gentleman. 

Some time previous to this release he had 
been speaking to a person in the prison about 
his future prospects. He had said that poverty 
awaited him outside the prison-gates. His friend 
said that " by writing an article or two for the 
monthlies he would be able to earn an immediate 
supply of money." " Ah," said Oscar Wilde, 
" I remember when one editor of the Nineteenth 
Century used to come to my house and solicit 
an article, and now I suppose he wouldn't accept 
one were I to offer it for nothing." 

This friend in relating this conversation adds : 
" I endeavoured to make as light of his troubles 
as possible, and assured him that all he required 
was pen, ink and paper. ' My friend,' he said 
he repeated these words on several occasions 
' You do not know the world as well as I do. 
Some people might read what I chose to write 
out of morbidness, but I don't want that, I wish 
to be read for Art's sake, not for my notoriety.' ' 

His only contributions to journalism, after he 
left prison, were the long letters which he wrote 
under the title of " The Case of Warder Martin," 
on " Some Cruelties of Prison Life," and the letter 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

" Don't Read This if you wish to be Happy 
To-Day. " These appeared in The Daily Chronicle 
on Friday, 28th May 1897, and on 24th March 
1898, respectively. Of these letters it need only 
be said of them that they were written from a 
pure spirit of philanthropy. No self-interest 
prompted its author to take pen in hand. It is 
a fact, which should be recorded here, that when 
he wrote the first letter he was extremely doubt- 
ful whether the editor would venture to publish 
it. It should be added in proof that gain was 
not his motive, that although a friend, the editor 
of one of the most important reviews in London, 
would, as he knew, have paid almost any fee for 
this contribution, he preferred to give it to the 
world through the agency of a daily paper, be- 
cause he considered first that this exposure of 
abuses and cruelty should not be delayed one 
day longer than could be avoided, and secondly 
that the wider publicity of a newspaper with a 
great circulation would more effectively arouse 
public opinion. The amount of the fee paid to 
him, if any fee was paid, is not known, but it 
certainly did not exceed if indeed it reached the 
foison of the sums which out of a meagre purse, 
at a time of great need, he gave away to his 
poor comrades in misfortune, those who had 
been prisoners with him in Reading Gaol. 



Some Traits of his Character Oscar Wilde in Matters of 
Money His Extreme Delicacy of Feeling Oscar Wilde 
as a Talker The Testimony of a Gentleman of Letters 
And of a Man of Action Oscar Wilde as a Man of Action 
The Reasons of his Popularity His Small Actual Pro- 
duction His Immense Real Output The Value of his 
Work The Testimony of a Scholar " The Picture of 
Dorian Gray " How it was Written The Refutation 
of a Charge Wilde and Henley. 

ALTHOUGH during the first years of his married 
life Oscar Wilde's difficulties were often very 
great, not on one single occasion in the whole of 
his life even in the starveling years after his 
release from prison did he obtain or attempt to 
obtain resources by any means unworthy of 
proper pride, of self-respect, of delicacy. He 
loved money for the pleasures that it commands ; 
but he did not love it enough to let it soil his 
lordly hands. In this respect his pride reached 
to arrogance. In money matters he was the 
soul of honour another point in his character 
which in a commercial country and amongst the 
Bohemians of art and letters would win little 
recognition. His generosity was unbounded. 
" I have no sense of property," he used to say; 


a z 

* " 

O H 

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The Life of Oscar Wilde 

but he did not add that for the property of 
others he had a respect as stern as to his own 
belongings he was totally indifferent. " Friends 
always share," he wrote to a man at Reading, 
who had been good to him. He was praying his 
acceptance of a sum of money, for the man had 
lost his employment. This man, just before 
Oscar Wilde's release, had begged him, knowing 
that the prisoner was penniless, and greatly con- 
cerned as to his position, to accept the loan of 
five pounds which he had saved up. With the 
most delightful badinage did C. 3.3. refuse the 
offer. He pretended that to a man of his 
extravagance such a sum would be useless. All 
this was so as to refuse without hurting the 
feelings of his friend a sum of money which to 
a working-man meant much. In the end he said 
that if things came to the worst and he did 
wake up one morning to find himself without a 
breakfast he would write for the five pounds and 
" buy a sandwich with it." The man said : 
" And a cigar." " I hardly think that it would 
run to that," said Oscar, " but if there is any- 
thing over I will buy a postage stamp and write 
to acknowledge the money." His generosity 
even was misconstrued. Gifts which had been 
made by him out of sheer kindness of heart were 
represented as bribes for nameless purposes. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Towards his mother his liberality knew no limits. 
For years before his fall he maintained her in 
the affluence which she enjoyed. 

During the eight years 1884-1891, although 
the total of his published work was not great, 
and judged by its quantity alone the man may 
be considered not to have greatly progressed, 
his development of those qualities and talents 
which were his especial distinction was as 
astounding as it was delightful. Those years 
were to the people who came into contact with 
him memorable as a succession of the rarest 
intellectual banquets. His spendthrift genius 
kept open house. He spoke, and those who 
heard him wondered why the whole world was 
not listening. There never can have been in 
the world's history a talker more delightful. 
A great lady said of him to Henri de Regnier 
that when Oscar Wilde was speaking it seemed 
to her that a luminous aureole surrounded his 
noble head. This remark is also repeated and 
confirmed by the testimony of Jean Joseph- 

Henri de Regnier, that gentilhomme de lettres 
in the republic of literature, the elegant and 
delicate writer of the daintiest prose in the 
French language, the poet of distinction, the 
novelist of refinement, pays in his book of essays 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Figures el Caracteres a tribute to Oscar Wilde 
which (for nobility always does compel) he 
made public at a time when to write in praise 
of him was to court obloquy and foul sus- 
picion. Writing of the impression which in 
those days Oscar Wilde produced in Paris he 
says : 

" He pleased, he amused, he astounded. 
People grew enthusiastic about him ; people 
were fanatics where he was concerned." It 
should be noted that Henri de Regnier speaks 
here of the highest Parisian society, the milieu 
in which he himself, an elegant man of the 
world, moves. He describes the dinner at which 
the lady referred to above made her memorable 
pronouncement. " The dinner, elegant and pro- 
longed, was held in a luxurious room, brilliantly 
lighted. Scented violets were banked up on the 
cloth. In the cut-crystal glasses champagne 
sparkled ; fruits were being peeled with knives 
of gold. M. Wilde was speaking. There had 
been invited to meet him certain guests who 
were not talkative, and who were disposed to 
listen to him with pleasure. Of this conversation 
and of others I have kept a vivacious and lasting 
remembrance. M. Wilde spoke in French with 
an eloquence and a tact which were far from 
common. His expressions were embellished 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

with words which had been most judiciously 
selected. As a scholar of Oxford, M. Wilde 
could as easily have employed Latin or Greek. 
He loved the Greek and Roman antiquities. 
His causerie was all purely imaginative. He 
was an incomparable teller of tales ; he knew 
thousands of stories which linked themselves 
one to the other in an endless chain." 

Henri de Regnier here remarks what anyone 
who with due attention reads Oscar Wilde's 
fairy stories will observe : 

" This" (by telling stories) "was his way of 
saying everything, of expressing his opinion on 
every subject : it was the figurative hypocrisy of 
this thought " (the way in which he veiled his 
thoughts) . . . 

" One might not press M. Wilde too closely 
for the meaning of his allegories. One had to 
enjoy their grace and the unexpected turns he 
gave to his narratives, without seeking to raise 
the veil of this phantasmagoria of the mind 
which made of his conversation a kind of 
' Thousand and One Nights ' as spoken. 

" The gold- tipped cigarette went out and 
lighted itself again incessantly in the lips of the 
story-teller. As his hand moved with a slow 
gesture the scarabceus of his ring threw off its 
green lights. The face kept changing its ex- 





To face page 287. 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

pression with the most amusing mimicry, the 
voice flowed on unceasingly, dragging a little, 
always equal. 

" M. Wilde was persuasive and astonishing. 
He excelled in giving a certificate of truth to 
what was improbable. The most doubtful 
statement when uttered by him assumed for the 
moment the aspect of indisputable truth. Of 
fable he made a thing which had happened 
actually, from a thing which had actually 
happened he drew out a fable. He listened to 
the Scheherazade that was prompting him from 
within, and seemed himself first of all to be 
amazed at his strange and fabulous inventions. 
This particular gift made of M. Wilde's conver- 
sation something very distinct amongst contem- 
porary causeries. It did not, for instance, re- 
semble the profound and precise ingenuity of 
M. Stephane Mallarme, which explained facts 
and things in a manner so delicate and exact. 
It had nothing of the varied, anecdotic talk of 
M. Alphonse Daudet with his striking aperfus 
on men and things. Nor did it resemble in any 
way the paradoxical beauty of the sayings of 
M. Paul Adam, or the biting acridity of M. Henri 
Becque. M. Wilde used to tell his stories like 
Villiers de 1' Isle- Adam told them. . . . M. 
Wilde charmed and amused, and he gave one the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

impression that he was a happy man at ease in 

This is the impression of Oscar Wilde as re- 
corded by a man of letters who is also a man 
of the world, member of the best and most re- 
fined society in Paris. We are able to give in 
contrast another picture of Wilde in Paris, as a 
causeur, by another man of letters of high dis- 
tinction, Monsieur Jean Joseph-Renaud, whose 
testimony should be of special value in England. 
Jean Joseph-Renaud is one of the finest athletes 
in France. There is nothing morbid, nor de- 
cadent, nor pessimistic about him. He can box, 
both in the English and the French styles ; he 
is a sportsman in every sense of the word, and 
he has the distinction of being the best gentle- 
man fencer in France. He is well known 
amongst English swordsmen, and has given them 
cause to remember him. Those who witnessed 
his performances at the tournament at the 
Crystal Palace a year or two ago will be able to 
confirm the statement that there is nothing 
morbid, nor effete, about Jean Joseph-Renaud, 
and that what he says about Wilde is sincere 
and from the heart. The following true account 
of his first meeting with Oscar Wilde, and of the 
effect which he produced upon the company in 
that house in Paris has been described by a 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

great English novelist, who is at the same time 
our sternest literary critic, as masterly in its 
truthful representation of the man described. 
It shows us Wilde wishing at any cost to 
" amaze," and having failed in his first manner 
readily adopting another mode in which he 
triumphed, carrying all before him. The passage 
is from the preface to Monsieur Jean Joseph- 
Renaud's excellent translation of " Intentions." 
Renaud was a mere lad when he first met Wilde 
at the house of some of Mrs Wilde's relations in 
Paris. This is what he writes : 

" When, an hour late, Mr Wilde entered the 
drawing-room, we saw a tall gentleman, who 
was too stout, who was clean-shaven, and who 
differed from any Auteuil bookmaker, by clothes 
in better taste than a bookmaker wears, by a 
voice which was exquisitely musical, and by the 
pure blue light, almost like that of a child's 
eyes, which shone in his look. In his bulky 
cravat of greenish silk an amethyst sparkled 
with a subdued light ; his grey gloves, which 
were so fine as to be almost transparent, moulded 
his graceful hands ; an orchid was shrivelling 
itself up in his button-hole. Without listening 
to the names of the people who were introduced 
to him he sat down, and with an air of ex- 
haustion begged Madame Lloyd to order the 

T 289 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

shutters of the dining-room to be closed and 
candles to be lighted. He said that he could 
not possibly stand the light of day. . . . 

" The table decorations had to be altered, be- 
cause the mauve flowers would have brought 
him bad luck. Then, as soon as the hors 
d'ceuvres had been served he took definite pos- 
session of the conversation. What a disappoint- 
ment awaited us. He spoke ' pretentiously/ 
asked questions, and did not wait for the replies, 
or addressed himself to people with too great 
directness ; ' You have never seen a ghost ? 
No ! Oh ! Now you, Madame, yes, you, Madame, 
your eyes seem to have contemplated ghosts. . . .' 
Then he declared that one night in a bar each 
table was put in its place, and the floor was 
swept, not by waiters, but by ' the angels of the 
close of the day.' His British accent reminded 
us of Sarah Bernhardt. ... He next began to 
tell us, speaking almost in whispers, as though 
he were telling us secrets, and using mysterious 
phrases, some poetical and simple tales . . . 
about a young fisherman who pretends every 
night as he returns from the sea to have seen 
syrens ; one day he really does see a syren, but 
when he comes home he does not say so ... 
about a sculptor who with the bronze of a 
statue of ' Pain Which Lives for Ever ' moulds 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the statue of ' Pleasure which Lasts but for one 
Moment . ' Next he returned to what was macabre, 
and described at length the sensations which a 
visit to the Morgue in the different capitals of 
the world procures to a man. We found in M. 
Wilde the hoaxing cynicism of Baudelaire and 
Villiers de V Isle- Adam as it appeared through 
an English medium. Already that fashion of 
amazing people seemed much out of date, and 
to this audience of intelligent bourgeois it was 
successful only in the bad sense of the word. 
The poet noticed this. He kept silent during 
the rest of the meal. But later on in the 
drawing-room, while coffee was being served, 
the conversation having turned on the success 
of a French comedy in England and Germany, 
he gently suggested that our prodigious theatri- 
cal instinct explains many of our acts ; French 
foreign politics, for instance, are theatrical ; they 
aim rather at the finest attitude, the most 
striking phrases, the most effective gestures, 
than at any practical successes. He then ex- 
amined our history at length, from Charles X. 
up to modern times, from a paradoxical point 
of view. His conversation transformed itself, 
he displayed extraordinary knowledge and wit. 
Men, deeds, treaties, wars passed under re- 
view with appreciations, unsuspected, amusing, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

exact. He made them glitter under the light 
of his words, even as a jeweller awakes new 
lights in his gems. 

" He then went on to talk about Lady Bless- 
ington and Disraeli. 

" To tell us of the pains of love of Lady 
Blessington he little by little raised himself to 
a lofty and intoxicating lyricism ; his fine voice 
hymned, grew tender, rang out, like a viol, in 
the midst of the emotional silence. This 
Englishman, who just before had appeared 
grotesque, reached, reached with simplicity, ay, 
surpassed, the expressive power of the most 
admirable odes of humanity. Many of us were 
moved to tears. One had never thought that 
the words of man could attain to such splendour. 
And this took place in a drawing-room, and the 
man who was speaking never spoke otherwise 
than as a man speaks in a drawing-room. We 
could understand that a great lady had said of 
him : ' When he is speaking I see round his 
head a luminous aureole.' ' 

Many Parisians who heard him in those days 
found apt the comparison which an English 
friend of his writing in the Gaulois had traced 
between his sayings and the largesse of his wit 
and the jewels of Buckingham at the Court of 
France. " Ses mots," so ran the phrase, " se 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

repandaient autour de lui comme autour de 
Buckingham, a la cour de France, se repandaient 
les bijoux par calcul mal attaches au pourpoint 

Padraic Colum, the young Irish poet, to 
whom his admirers look for such great things, 
describes in one of his poems in a very striking 
way how treasures for the future are laid up in 
the minds of men by the words of a teacher. 

" But what avail my teaching slight ? 
Years hence in rustic speech, a phrase 
As in wild earth a Grecian vase." 

To Oscar Wilde, the talker, posterity will owe 
a great debt. 

His voice was inimitable, though in itself an 
imitation. He had robbed Sarah Bernhardt of 
her golden voice, but he put the larceny to such 
a use that the crime became an act of social virtue. 
The most wonderful things said in the golden 
voice of the most wonderful woman : that was 
the conversation of Oscar Wilde. To have 
heard him speak has made the fortune of in- 
numerable little men. There are homunculi 
triumphing in the drawing-rooms of the two 
hemispheres, who only faintly echo his manner. 
The smallest small change from his royal store- 
house has made hundreds appear rich. Out of 
the tatters of his imperial mantle, which dis- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

aster dragged in the mire, many writers, many 
speakers, have cut for themselves resplendent 
robes in which they strut their small parades 
and enjoy their tiny triumphs. One constantly 
sees in modern literature books which bear upon 
the face of them the proof that the author's 
whole equipment was that he " remembers to 
have heard Oscar Wilde speaking." One of the 
most successful books which has appeared in 
France during the last fifteen years, a work 
which is hailed as an artistic masterpiece, and 
which at the same time is a huge commercial 
success, is just Wilde talking. " II passa sa 
vie a se parler," and the irony of the gods 
sentenced him to the silence of the tomb in the 
two most fruitful years of his life, when his 
genius had reached its apogee ! 

It was in his wonderful conversation that he 
found an issue for the bubbling energy of his 
brain, for his supreme activity. For we have 
always to remember that Oscar Wilde was a 
man of action, condemned by the social order 
of things to inactivity. It is, probably, because 
Jean Joseph-Renaud, himself a man of action, 
recognises this energy in Oscar Wilde also that 
he has espoused his cause and his defence with 
ardour so zealous. To the man of action ab- 
solute inactivity is physically impossible, and 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

as he must be doing he will perform antics 
rather than do nothing. Many of the apparent 
buffooneries which in his youth were reproached 
against Oscar Wilde were the result merely of 
a chafing exuberance. He sought, indeed, saner 
outlets, and his misfortune was that circum- 
stances ever barred the way. It is a fact that 
at one time not long after his marriage he was 
seriously considering the question of presenting 
himself as a candidate for Parliament. It is 
deeply to be regretted that his poverty prevented 
the realisation of this project. In a political 
career there was no height to which he could 
not have aspired. He had every one of the gifts 
that would have made of him in diplomacy 
an ornament and a treasure to the State. He 
would have filled the House of Commons with 
delight. He was a born orator. This he attri- 
buted himself to his nationality. Speaking of 
the Irish, he once said, referring to himself, in 
that self-accusing way which was one of the 
pathetic traits of his character : " We are too 
poetical to be poets. We are a nation of bril- 
liant failures, but we are the greatest talkers 
since the Greeks." He had all the compelling 
power of great orators. He could move his 
audience by the sheer beauty of his tones. We 
have heard Renaud's testimony. Here is another 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

instance : when he was lecturing in Dublin the 
audience was not at all sympathetic. His open- 
ing remark, " Let there be nothing in your 
houses which was not a joy to the man who 
made it," was received with ironical laughter. 
He immediately went off into a eulogy of Ireland, 
and gradually worked his hostile audience into 
sympathy which reached the culminating point 
of enthusiasm when he declared in accents which 
filled many eyes with tears : " When the heart of 
a nation is broken, it is broken in music." It 
was by his manner of speaking to women and 
children that he won such undying admirations 
from them. A charming scene is related by an 
Irish poet who was lunching once at Oakley 
Street with Oscar Wilde. Amongst the guests 
was a pretty girl, who was barely seventeen 
years old, and who had come up to town for her 
first season. When Oscar came in the girl 
exclaimed : " Oh ! Mr Wilde, where are your 
curls ? " 

" Oh ! " said Oscar, " I never wear them 
after the season is over." 

"But, Mr Wilde, your curls are real ones ! " 

" Oh ! No ! I keep them in a bandbox at 
home. I will put them on and wear them for 
you the next time you come." 

It was all so prettily said, with such kindness 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and humanity that that girl, remembering the 
encounter, and having come to know how other 
men would have spoken, could not help but 
think of the poor gentleman with grateful 

At a dinner given by Mr Frank Harris in 
honour of the Princess of Monaco, one of our 
most distinguished novelists, who had been 
estranged from Oscar Wilde during ten years, 
was introduced to him afresh. " That night," 
he relates, " Oscar Wilde's conversation was of 
the most extraordinary brilliancy. He subju- 
gated us all. For my part I found him most 
delightful, and thought with regret of all the 
pleasure which I had missed during the ten years 
in which we had avoided each other." On the 
morning after that dinner, the Princess sent her 
portrait to Oscar Wilde, and on it she had written 
the words : 

" Au vrai Art, A Oscar Wilde." 

In prison he seems to have preserved his 
power of repartee. There are things on record 
which were there spoken in the watchful whispers 
of those who are dumb by law and under penalty, 
and which scintillate with wit. When freedom 
released his tongue his friends found that he had 
never been more brilliant. Ernest La Jeunesse 
in an article which reaches that high point of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

literary excellence that it may be said of it that 
it is a tribute to the great man about whom it was 
written, gives a striking picture of this dying 

" He is haunted with a foreboding of death, 
which in the end will kill him. He then tells all 
his stories in one breath : it is the bitter yet 
dazzling final piece of a display of superhuman 
fireworks. Those, who, at the end of his life, 
heard him unravel the skein of gold and jewelled 
threads, the strong subtleties, the psychic and 
fantastic inventions with which he proposed to 
sew and embroider the tapestry of the plays 
and poems which he was going to write, those 
who saw him proud and indifferent, affronting 
extinction and coughing or laughing out his 
ultimate phrasings, will keep the remembrance 
of a sight at once tragic and lofty, the sight of a 
man damned yet impassive, who refuses to perish 

Another picture of Oscar Wilde as a talker, 
at this time in his life when the voice was so 
soon to be hushed, is given by one who had 
known him for years, and who saw him in those 
last days. It was not a friend. 

" Of course, he had his bad moments, moments 
of depression and sense of loss and defeat, but 
they were not of long duration. It was part of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

his pose to luxuriate a little in the details of his 
tragic circumstances. He harrowed the feelings 
of many of those whom he came across ; words 
of woe poured from his lips ; he painted an 
image of himself, destitute, abandoned, starving 
even (I have heard him use the word after a 
very good dinner at Paillard's) ; as he proceeded 
he was caught by the pathos of his own words, 
his beautiful voice trembled with emotion, his 
eyes swam with tears ; and then suddenly, by 
a swift, indescribably brilliant, whimsical touch, 
a swallow-wing flash on the waters of eloquence, 
the tone changed and rippled with laughter, 
bringing with it his audience, relieved, delighted, 
and bubbling into uncontrollable merriment. 
He never lost his marvellous gift of talking ; 
after he came out of prison he talked better than 
before. Everyone who knew him really before 
and after his imprisonment is agreed about 
that." l 

He had the delightful way of speaking to the 
poor, to inferiors as society calls them, which 
distinguishes gentlemen. Amongst this class he 
enjoyed great popularity. He is still remem- 
bered by them. In a recent letter a gentleman 
writes : " By a queer coincidence my cook was 
once in his service. She has nothing but good 

1 From an article signed " A " in The St James's Gazette. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

to say of him and of ' his sweet face.' ' One 
could adduce hundreds of similar testimonies. 
In Reading Gaol he was the most popular 
prisoner, not only with the prisoners but with 
the warders. At Berneval Monsieur " Sebastian 
Melmoth " was the coqueluche of the village. 
The peasants adored him ; the village children 
loved him ; and the coast - guardsmen were 
Melmoth's men to a man. He had eminently 
that quality of ingratiating himself with the 
humble, without sacrificing a tittle of his 
dignity, to which the Germans give the name of 
" leutselig." There is no English equivalent 
for this word ; " affable " does not render it. 
The French spoke of him as un homme doux. 
He was a kind-hearted gentleman, nothing more. 
It is possible that a pathologist would have 
seen in the extraordinary brilliancy of Oscar 
Wilde's talk, in its unceasing flow and the ap- 
parently inexhaustible resources of wit and 
knowledge on which he drew, the prodromes of 
the disease of which he died. The cause of his 
death was meningitis, which is an inflammation 
of the brain, and it is possible that for many 
years before this disease killed him it may have 
existed in a subacute and chronic state which 
might account for the almost feverish energy 
of his cerebration. But to the ordinary man 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

no saner, no serener, speaker ever appeared. He 
seemed at all times master of himself; it was, 
indeed, this perfect maestria of his powers of 
conversation which so astounded those who 
approached him. When one comes to think of 
the matter why should not Oscar Wilde's friends 
be satisfied that his memory should go down to 
the after-ages as that of one of the most brilliant 
talkers who ever lived ? There are men high in 
humanity's Walhalla who left little behind them 
but the echoes of their voice. The greatest 
philosophers, the men who gave new religions to 
the world, did not write ; they talked. Did 
Christ write, did Mahound write, did Socrates 
write ? If Oscar Wilde had had the fortune to 
find amongst his associates a disciple who would 
have taken the trouble to record his teachings 
for he was always teaching when he spoke, 
he would have been remembered in the world's 
history as one of the wisest of philosophers. He 
was the head of a new school of philosophy ; his 
philosophy had in its tenets the real secret of 
human happiness, and what grander eulogy can 
there be for any school than that ? He was an 
optimist who understood to the very extremest 
extent why mankind is prone to pessimism. He 
felt keener than most men the horrors of life, 
the cruelties of the world, the desperate sufferings 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

that social injustice inflicts, and yet he had 
found a way to happiness out of all these evil 
things. Nobody could listen to him without 
being benefited. His talk was a cry of Sursum 
Cor da. He taught you to know evil, and by 
deriding it to enjoy good. What reason was 
there that he should write at all ? 

Yet he was always blaming himself for his 
indolence. He had acquired Carlyle's table for 
his study, and sometimes sitting at it, toying 
with his pen, he used to say : "I ought to 
be putting black upon white, black upon 
white." Those years may have appeared barren 
to himself, who was always self-accusing ; and 
those who measure genius by its output may 
point to his small production when they deny 
the genius of Oscar Wilde. Yet there are many 
who find that what he did write during that 
period of his life was sufficient to give him a very 
high place in English literature and amongst the 
philosophers of the world. These deny that he 
was in the right when he once said plaintively : 
" I have put my genius into my life ; into my 
books I have put my talents only." The effect 
that has been produced by his essay " The Soul 
of Man," which originally appeared in The 
Fortnightly Review in February 1891, has been 
described. It brings hope and comfort to 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

thousands of the world's most cruelly disin- 
herited. Who shall say what has been the 
wide-spreading and most beneficial influence of 
that marvellous book " Intentions " ? Let one 
testimony be quoted. It is that of a man of the 
very highest scholarship and learning in England, 
whose bent has led him specially to study the 
religions and the philosophical systems of the 
world. " My experience may be interesting," 
he writes in a letter. " After taking a high 
degree in Classics at Cambridge, and then 
reading literature and science, for mere love of 
beauty and truth, I happened after about six 
years of this, to come across ' Intentions.' This 
first reading showed me something different from 
any other writer ; I seemed to see the meaning 
of literature and art as I never had before ; in 
fact he taught me the secret I had always missed. 
I said : ' Never man spoke like this man.' It 
was a revelation ; more so than when I read 
Plato. I secured all his books I could. Every 
friend of mine with any culture or insight seems 
to have the same experience on reading him. 
This is really a remarkable fact, and when my 
first judgment of him, as the best of them all, 
was always inviting reconsideration in my own 
mind, as too remarkable to be true, I found 
others holding the same judgment. ... I have 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

always had what I don't like to call an infallible 
taste in art and literature my friend . . . can say 
something as to that but I mention this ab- 
surdly egoistic belief simply because at first I 
had at times a lurking suspicion that my taste 
must be wrong, because of my estimate of Wilde. 
But I have never found reason to alter it." The 
name of the friend whom the writer quotes as 
his surety is, indeed, a patent of critical taste in 
literature, scholarship and art. 

"Intentions," "The Soul of Man," his Fairy- 
stories " The Happy Prince," and " The House 
of Pomegranates " : it was in these books that 
his philosophy was expounded. The only other 
work of importance which he published during 
this period that is to say, from the date of his 
marriage until 1892, when he came to popularity 
and its dangers was his novel " The Picture of 
Dorian Gray." This story was written to the 
order of the proprietors of Lippincotfs Monthly 
Magazine, an American periodical which in 1890 
was publishing a complete novel by some author 
of repute as a supplement to the other contents. 
Oscar Wilde was one of the men who were in- 
vited by the editor to contribute a complete 
tale. When to a literary artist is given an order 
to produce a work of a certain length in a certain 
time, the result is rarely, from the point of view 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of art, a satisfactory one. The book must from 
its very nature smack of artificiality. It is the 
manufactured article, not the spontaneous crea- 
tion of art. Oscar Wilde was at that time when 
the order reached him in considerable financial 
embarrassment, and people who saw him then, 
remember how delighted he was, poor fellow, 
with an order, which promised him a welcome 
emolument. It is not conceivable that under 
these circumstances he would deliberately write 
a book of corrupt morals, calculated to pervert. 
He was too anxious to fill the contract with 
satisfaction to the proprietors of the magazine. 
It would have been a disaster to him if the 
editor of Lippincott's had refused the manuscript 
on the ground that the work was an immoral one, 
unfit for publication in the pages of a household 
magazine. This entirely disposes of the absurd 
charge that in writing " Dorian Gray " Oscar 
Wilde set himself the task of producing a corrupt 
book. There are people who found it so. This 
was one of the charges which were brought 
against him at the trial. He defended himself 
with splendid folly. If he had simply stated 
the facts he would have found the defence far 
more effective with an Old Bailey jury. " I was 
poor," he might have said, " at the time when I 
was asked to write that book. If the manuscript 
u 305 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

had dissatisfied the editor and he had returned 
it I could not have enforced payment if the 
book was an immoral one and I had deliberately 
written it so. Therefore it is absurd to say that 
I wrote it as an immoral book." It is difficult 
to understand what grounds there are for so 
qualifying this book. It seems to any man of 
the world who reads it that the author is almost 
too emphatic in his homily against vice. He 
thumps his cushion with such vigour that he 
really jars upon one's nerves. One wonders 
what these vices may be which call forth such 
vigour of denunciation. He reminds one of 
Calvin, if one could associate Calvin with any- 
thing that is graceful and delicate. The book 
might be described as silly, as obviously intended 
to dpater les sots, for one knows of all the nasty 
little vices of silly little men, and the contem- 
plation of them certainly does not excite one to 
any feeling of tragic horror. The whole thing is 
entirely artificial. It is literature, not life, and 
that is perhaps the cruellest thing that one says 
about a work which professes to be a novel. 
How purely Oscar Wilde in those days looked 
upon this book, not as the exposition of any 
particular creed of his, but as an article of 
commerce, produced to order, for payment, 
for the middle-class market, is shown by the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

fact that when he was arranging to issue the 
book in volume form, and it was pointed out to 
him that the length of the manuscript did not 
reach the tare exacted by the trade for goods of 
that kind, he willingly supplied sufficient ad- 
ditional matter to make up the required weight. 
Works of art are not thus produced. The book 
was a commercial speculation ; he wanted money 
for it, and from it, and he was much too level- 
headed a man to spoil his chances of a financial 
success by publishing anything which would 
fatally damn the book. If there be such 
hideous immorality in the book as certain per- 
ceive, Oscar Wilde must have written it un- 
consciously. His particular mania was decidedly 
epileptiform ; and a characteristic of those 
maladies is that the sufferers do things, being 
entirely unconscious that they are doing them. 
In this case " Dorian Gray" would be the best 
documentary evidence of the poor man's irre- 
sponsibility for the mad acts which later dis- 
figured his career. The whole pother about 
" Dorian Gray " is only an exemplification of the 
saying of the French argousin : " Give me three 
lines of any man's writing and I will hang him." 
The book was not very well received. It 
was not at the time a commercial success. 
The reviewers were not enthusiastic. In the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Athcnceum for 2yth June 1891 we find the 
following brief notice of this book : 

" Mr Oscar Wilde's paradoxes are less weari- 
some when introduced into the chatter of society 
than when he rolls them off in the course of his 
narrative. Some of the conversations in his 
novel are very smart, and while reading it one 
has the pleasant feeling, not often to be enjoyed, 
of being entertained by a person of decided 
ability. The ideas of the book may have been 
suggested by Balzac's ' Peau de Chagrin,' and 
is none the worse for that. So much may be 
said for the ' Picture of Dorian Gray,' but no 
more, except, perhaps, that the author does not 
appear to be in earnest. For the rest, the book 
is unmanly, vicious (though not exactly what is 
called improper) and tedious." 

In November of the same year there appeared 
the first number of The Bookman, a literary 
organ which specially appeals to the middle- 
classes, and where books are mainly considered 
from the bookseller's point of view. The editor, 
Dr Robertson Nicoll, is a very shrewd man, 
who would have been the last person in the 
world to allow a book of patent immorality to 
be noticed in his columns. Yet not only did he 
allow it to be reviewed, at length, but he en- 
trusted the reviewing of it to no less a person 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

than Walter Pater, which meant that every 
lover of literature in the world almost would 
read the review of " Dorian Gray." Walter 
Pater's review is finely written, but it hardly en- 
ables one to ascertain what was his true opinion 
of the book. What he says about its author 
himself is, perhaps, more interesting and may be 
quoted : 

" There is always something of an excellent 
talker about the writings of Mr Oscar Wilde ; 
and in his hands, as happens so rarely with those 
who practise it, the form of dialogue is justified 
by its being really alive. His genial laughter- 
loving sense of life and its enjoyable intercourse 
goes far to obviate any crudity that may be in 
the paradox, with which, as with the bright and 
shining truth which often underlies it, Mr Wilde 
startling his ' countrymen ' carries on, more per- 
haps than any other writer, the brilliant critical 
work of Matthew Arnold. ' The Decay of 
Lying/ for instance, is all but unique in its half 
humorous, yet wholly convinced, presentment of 
certain valuable truths of criticism. Conversa- 
tional ease, the fluidity of life, felicitous ex- 
pression are qualities which have a natural 
alliance to the successful writing of fiction ; and 
side by side with Mr Wilde's ' Intentions ' (so 
he entitles his critical efforts) comes a novel, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

certainly original, and affording the reader a fair 
opportunity of comparing his practice as a 
creative artist with many a precept he has de- 
nounced as critic concerning it." 

Lower down Walter Pater says : "A true 
Epicureanism aims at a complete though har- 
monious development of man's entire organism. 
To lose the moral sense therefore, for instance, 
the sense of sin and righteousness, as Mr Wilde's 
hero his heroes are bent on doing as speedily, 
as completely as they can is to lose, or lower 
organism, to become less complex, to pass from 
a higher to a lower degree of development. . . . 
Dorian himself, though certainly a quite unsuc- 
cessful experiment in Epicureanism, in life as a 
fine art is (till his inward spoiling takes visible 
effect suddenly, and in a moment, at the end of 
his story) a beautiful creation. But his story 
is also a vivid, though carefully considered ex- 
posure of the corruption of a soul, with a very 
plain moral, pushed home, to the effect that vice 
and crime make people coarse and ugly. ..." 

It is one of the strangest things in literary 
history that this book should have been indicted 
as an immoral work wilfully written to corrupt 
the reader. 

Oscar Wilde was indignant with his critics, 
and in The Daily Chronicle for 2nd July 1890, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and The Scots Observer for I2th July, 2nd August, 
and i6th, he published certain " replies " to 
these criticisms. One of his remarks has often 
been quoted. He said that he did not wish to 
become a popular novelist. " It is far too easy," 
he said. The Scots Observer, which afterwards 
became The National Observer, was under the 
direction of Mr Henley, who was considered an 
arbiter in matters of literature. Oscar Wilde 
had considerable admiration for this man. 
He is reported to have said : " The Essays 
of the Renaissance are my Golden Book. I 
never travel without them. But it is the 
very flower of the Decadence. The last trum- 
pet should have sounded at the moment it 
was written." A man who was present said : 
" But Mr Wilde, won't you give us time to read 
them ? " " Oh, for that," said Oscar Wilde, 
" you will have time in either world." After his 
first meeting with Henley during which while 
the editor of The Scots Observer was grim and 
sardonic and said nothing, while Oscar was ex- 
ceptionally brilliant, he said : "I had to strain 
every nerve in conversation to equal Henley." 
Henley afterwards remarked of Wilde : "He is 
the sketch of a great man." 

Oscar's brilliant endowments had won him 
many enemies. He was widely envied. But 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

his detractors had the sop of consolation that in 
the commercial sense of the word he was not 
successful. They were able to point to a very 
great number of writers, journalists and novelists 
who were making very much larger incomes than 
Oscar Wilde. This was not difficult, for he was 
making no income at all. In a commercial 
country where repute goes by earnings, and talent 
is estimated by what it produces in actual hard 
cash, it was an easy matter under these circum- 
stances for Oscar's enemies to deny that he had 
any talent at all. They did not fail to take 
advantage of the opportunity. Until the end of 
1891 it was the common comment on him that 
he had advertised himself into notoriety by 
posturings of various kinds, but that there was 
really no thing in him ; that the public had " no 
use for him," and, that but for his wife's income 
he would have found his social level long since. 
These statements gave pleasure and solace to 
the jealous. The time was close at hand when 
Oscar Wilde was to show them that he under- 
stood as well as any man the secret of great 
popularity, and that he could make money with 
his pen. After the brilliant success of his first 
play, " Lady Windermere's Fan," it was no 
longer open to people to say that the public 
would have none of him. It created great heart - 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

burnings in London, much hypertrophy of the 
gall-bladders. Yet, if his enemies could only 
have foreseen to what disaster success was to 
hurry him, none more eagerly than they would 
have joined in the frantic applause with which 
every night his theatre rang. 



Annus Mivabilis " Lord Arthur Savile's Crime " Mrs Wilde's 
Copy Lady Windermere's Fan The Premiere Oscar 
Wilde before the Curtain Comments on His Attitude 
The Obvious Explanation " A Woman of no Import- 
ance " " An Ideal Husband " Some Criticisms A New 
Departure " The Importance of being Earnest " Its 
Reception The Critics Disarmed Its Supernatural 
Cleverness What that Portended Oscar Wilde's Psy- 
chopathia The Causes of its Periodical Outbreak The 
Unconsciousness of the Afflicted A Document from Hall 
Caine's Collection The Corruption of London Facts 
afterwards Remembered The New Hedonists Then and 
Now Oscar Wilde in Paris Two Pen-Pictures of him 
Octave Mirbeau and de Regnier. 

THE year 1892 was the annus mirabilis of our 
poor hero's life. It was to put within his 
grasp those things which seemed desirable to 
him, the things for which he had laboured so 
long, amidst such disappointments, and with 
efforts so varied. He was not to know then, 
nor were his delighted friends to know what 
success was to bring in its train, nor what would 
be the dreadful effect of the intoxicating draught 
of triumph which at last he was able to raise 
to his lips in the golden beaker of popular fame. 
The year began auspiciously for him, for in 
January the foremost organ of English criticism, 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

the Athenaum, which had steadily censured his 
work in the past, reviewed in a flattering and 
advantageous manner another collection of short 
stories : " Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and 
Other Stories," which had been published in the 
previous July by Messrs Osgood, M'llvaine & 
Co. These stories were meant to teach nothing ; 
they were amusettes merely, intended to interest 
and amuse, "pot-boilers" as the argot of the 
craft calls them. When Oscar Wilde wrote 
apropos of the reviews of " Dorian Gray " that 
he had no wish to become a popular novelist 
because that was far too easy he was indulging 
in no vainglorious boast. Ne faict ce tour qui 
veult, could not be said to him. It was a posi- 
tive fact that had he chosen to write marketable 
stuff there was nobody in London who could 
have produced a more saleable and more popular 
" line " of fictional reading-matter. He could 
invent amusette stories by the hundreds. Many 
of his friends have heard him to do it. When he 
was living in Charles Street, Grosvenor Square, 
his brother Willy, who used to write stories for 
the papers and the magazines, often came to him 
in the mornings, while Oscar was still in bed, 
and would say : " Oscar, I want the plot of a 
story or two. Yates is asking me for some." 
Then Oscar, still puffing his cigarette, would 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

begin to invent stories. One morning, a friend 
of his recalls, he thus invented the plots of six 
short stories for his brother in less than half-an- 
hour. The stories were afterwards written, and 
proved very popular. He furnished many other 
men with the ideas which Nature had refused 
to them. He equipped many writers with their 
entire stock-in-trade. The mere eavesdropper 
at his door showed that he could found a literary 
reputation and a fortune on such fragments of 
Oscar Wilde's conversation, as, straining his 
ears, he was able to overhear. In " Lord Arthur 
Savile's Crime," he gives a specimen of this 
kind of work. It is not an exaggeration to say 
that had he chosen he could have produced a 
volume of, at least, equal merit every month of 
his life. But he despised work of that kind. 
" It was far too easy." Still the elements of 
popularity and of financial reward were there. 
Here, for instance, is the opinion of the 
Athenaeum referred to above. Now the Aihe- 
naum's opinions have an undoubted effect on 
the trade, and it is in the hands of the retail 
bookseller that the fame and fortune of literary 
craftsmen rest in our commercial England. 

" Mr Oscar Wilde's little book of stories," so 
runs this review, which appeared in the number 
for 23rd January 1892, " is capital. They are 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

delightfully humorous, witty, and fresh, sparkling 
with good things, full of vivacity and well put 

' The Canterville Ghost ' is a first-rate ghost 
story, told partly from the point of view of the 
ghost himself a most refreshing novelty and 
partly from that of the American family who 
have bought the ancestral home of the Canter- 
villes. ' Lord Arthur Savile's Crime ' is a very 
good story, too, told in a vein of drollery which 
is quite distinctive. These two pieces will bear 
reading aloud a decidedly severe test." 

As late as last year there was on sale in one of 
the second-hand book-shops in London a copy 
of this book, which was inscribed : 

" Constance from Oscar, July, '91." 

It was the copy which he had presented to his 
wife. In this volume the following passages 
were marked in pencil, no doubt by the author 
himself, wishing to call attention to certain parts 
of the book which Sterne, had he been the writer, 
would probably have printed on purple patches. 
It will give a taste of the quality of this book if 
we reproduce three passages so marked. 

" 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 so different. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Most men and women are forced to perform 
parts for which they have no qualifications. 
Our Guildensterns play Hamlet for us, and our 
Hamlet has to jest like Prince Hal. The world 
is a stage, but the play is badly cast." 

" And yet it was not the mystery, but the 
comedy of suffering that struck him ; its ab- 
solute uselessness, its grotesque want of meaning. 
How incoherent everything seemed ! How lack- 
ing in all harmony ! He was amazed at the 
discord between the shallow optimism of the day 
and the real facts of existence. He was still 
very young." 

It was perhaps not, after all, to draw the at- 
tention of his wife to the purple patches in his 
book that Oscar Wilde made those pencil-marks 
in this volume. It was, perhaps, in one of those 
lucid moments of foreboding which come to 
certain men. He may have foreseen the part 
that was to be forced upon him to play ; have 
felt in advance the absolute uselessness of the 
suffering which he was to undergo ; and have 
detected behind the shallow optimism of the 
day what were the real facts of existence. In 
the concluding words of the third passage we 
also detect a strange application to his own case 
as the future was to reveal it. 

" The great piles of vegetables looked like 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

masses of jade against the morning sky, like 
masses of green jade against the pink petals of 
some marvellous rose. Lord Arthur felt curi- 
ously affected, but could not tell why. There 
was something in the dawn's loveliness that 
seemed to him inexpressibly pathetic, and he 
thought of all the days that break in beauty and 
that set in storm." 

The time was, however, now at hand when 
his apparent optimism and that mask of strong 
confidence in himself which gave such umbrage 
to his rivals were to receive at the hands of the 
British public their fullest warranty. It was on 
the night of 2Oth February that there was pro- 
duced at the St James's theatre the new and 
original play in four acts, " Lady Winder- 
mere's Fan," by Oscar Wilde. The performance 
announced itself as a success even before the 
curtain had risen on the first act. The house 
was full, the audience was a friendly one. Still, 
London Society was yet unconquered. The 
audience, if friendly, was not a brilliant one. 
It was la grande Boheme that came to judge of 
Oscar Wilde as a dramatist." " Never," says a 
contemporary writer, " did audience at a premiere 
appear less brilliantly attired. The duchesses, 
countesses, and other grandes dames whose 
foibles and follies were to be held up over the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

footlights were absent. Amongst the ladies 
present whose toilettes were noticed were Mrs 
Bram Stoker ' in a wonderful evening wrap of 
striped brocade/ Mrs Jopling-Rowe 'becom- 
ingly arrayed in shrimp-pink, lightly accented 
with black/ Mrs Pinero, Miss Julia Neilson, 
and Miss Florence Terry. Mrs Oscar Wilde 
was there, and we read that ' she looked 
charming in her pale-blue brocaded gown made 
after the fashion of Charles I.'s time, with 
its long tabbed bodice, slashed sleeves, and 
garniture of old lace and pearls.' Amongst other 
distinguished people in the audience were, Mrs 
Langtry, Mrs Campbell-Praed, Mr Bancroft, Mrs 
Hare, Mr Charles Matthews, Mr Inderwick, Dr 
Playfair, Mr Luke Fildes, Mr Forbes-Robertson, 
and Mr Oswald Crawford." 

The success of the play was never in doubt, 
and here again Oscar Wilde's peculiar genius 
triumphed. He established the falsity of that 
axiom, "The play is the thing," which the 
greatest of dramatists laid for the guidance of 
future playwrights. His play was not the thing, 
to which he had paid attention, on which he had 
laboured. His story was of the kind which has 
always tempted tyro dramatists. It was only 
another version of " The Wife's Secret." For 
the first night or two of " Lady Windermere's 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Fan/' the secret of Mrs Erlynne's identity was 
kept from the audience until the denouement, 
which was, of course, the greatest mistake that 
the playwright could have committed. Mrs 
Erlynne is Lady Windermere's mother, a de- 
classee who is supposed to be dead, but whom 
Lord Windermere befriends for her daughter's 
sake. From this proceeds the entanglement. 
In a caricature of Oscar Wilde which appeared 
in the following number of Punch he was re- 
presented as leaning on a pedestal with his elbow 
propped upon volumes of " Odette," " Fran- 
cillon," and " Le Supplice d'Une Femme," to 
make room for which a bust of Shakespeare has 
been dethroned. At his feet is a volume of 
Sheridan's comedies. The suggestion was, of 
course, that he had drawn his inspiration from 
these various works. Many other plays in 
which the donnde is almost identical with that 
of " Lady Windermere's Fan " might have been 
cited. The question was not there. It was by 
his way of treating a time-old subject that he 
scored his great success. His dialogue was 
wonderful because it was he himself talking all 
the time. As he never failed to charm and de- 
light, almost to the point of mental intoxication, 
those who were privileged to listen to him, there 
was no reason that his success should have been 
x 321 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

any smaller here. For the rest, the play was 
beautifully produced. The dresses and decora- 
tions were magnificent, and the acting far from 
being as Oscar Wilde once put it " a source 
of danger in the perfect representation of a work 
of art," made a play of what risked at one time 
to be classed only as a spoken extravaganza. 

At the end of the performance in answer to 
the enthusiastic calls of the audience Oscar 
Wilde came in front of the curtain. He was 
carrying a half -smoked cigarette in his hand. 
He made a curious speech, in which he said that 
he was pleased that they had enjoyed themselves, 
which was what he could say of himself. The 
carrying of a cigarette, and the tone of the speech 
were most adversely commented upon by the 
critics. Clement Scott in Monday's Daily Tele- 
graph was severe on the breach of manners 
committed, " when undeterred by manager, 
unchecked by the public voice, unreprimanded 
by men, and tacitly encouraged by women, an 
author lounges in front of the footlights without 
any becoming deference of attitude, takes no 
trouble to fling aside his half-smoked cigarette, 
and proceeds to compliment the audience on its 
good sense in liking what he himself has con- 
descended to admire." In Truth the chastise- 
ment administered was much more severe. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

These are some extracts from the article which 
appeared in that journal : 

"It is strange that the legitimate Irish suc- 
cessor to Joe Miller should have forgotten one of 
the stalest stories of his native Dublin. There 
was once on a time a row in a Dublin gallery. 
' Throw him over ! Turn him out/ were the 
cries vociferously yelled by the gods. But dur- 
ing the lull there came a reproving voice : ' Be 
aisy bhoys ! Don't waste him. Spile a fiddler 
with him ! ' They were dangerously near spoil- 
ing a fiddler with Oscar Wilde last Saturday 
night. No one was quite prepared for his last 
move in calm effrontery, deliberately planned 
and gratuitously offensive. It took the whole 
audience aback. But when the meaning of the 
whole thing dawned upon those present, when it 
was discovered that the so-called dramatist was 
calmly puffing himself between the whiffs of a 
cigarette in a public playhouse I could see the 
fists and toes of countless men nervously twitch- 
ing. They wanted to get at him. Luckily for 
Oscar the well-known pittites and gallery boys 
do not patronise the St James's Theatre, else 
that famous speech would never have been 
finished without serious damage to Mr Alex- 
ander's property." 

In Punch of the following week the incident 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

was the subject of an article illustrated with the 
caricature referred to above, and entitled " A 
Wilde ' Tag ' to a Tame Play/' where Oscar 
Wilde's gaucherie was humorously and not too 
unkindly satirised. 

For that his conduct was nothing but a 
gaucherie it needs not charity to believe. It is 
obvious. The man was under the shock of a 
great joy. He had temporarily lost his head. 
He did not know what he was doing. We have 
all read of the strange antics which dramatic 
authors have performed under similar emotion. 
Daudet, for instance, used to go rushing along 
the streets of Paris like a madman. In Oscar's 
case emotion would be all the more overwhelming 
that the verdict of the audience that night meant 
for him rescue from all the forlorn makeshifts 
and hazardous expedients of his career, release 
from poverty, popular affirmation of a talent 
which his detractors had persistently denied, 
all those things in fact, which artists may dis- 
dain but for lack of which they perish. He was 
a bulky, full-blooded man ; the blood rushed 
to his head, and he was unconscious of what he 
was doing. As to the cigarette, well, it was half- 
smoked. It had not been lighted for the pur- 
pose of the entry. He was such a habitual 
smoker that probably he did not even know that 

3 2 4 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

he had a cigarette in his hand. Such smokers 
notice nothing except when they are not smok- 
ing. As to his remarks, it was the bafouillage 
of a man who was not master of himself. Pos- 
sibly he remembered vaguely in his confusion that 
the Latin dramatists used to put into the mouths 
of the actor who spoke last a message to the 
audience to applaud. Poor Oscar's classical 
training played him unconsciously a nasty trick. 
His " Vos Plaudite " was taken as an offence. 
The thing is so obvious. Is it probable that a 
man who had been struggling for years for 
success, popularity and money from his pro- 
fession would deliberately insult his audience 
and ruin the prospects which had shown them- 
selves so rosy ? The man was not a fool, and it 
seems as unlikely unless we are to consider 
him suffering that night from one of the attacks 
of his epileptiform malady that he would have 
acted as he did from a deliberate and calculated 
wish to treat his patrons with insolent arrogance, 
as that he purposely made a corrupt and im- 
moral book of his novel. 

For the rest, the London public took no notice 
of the incident. The author's private manners 
did not concern it at all. There was a good play 
to be seen at the St James's Theatre, and London 
went to see it. The opinion, then expressed, 

3 2 5 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

has been ratified since. The play has frequently 
been revived, and each time with increased suc- 
cess. It is playing this year in America before 
enthusiastic houses. On the Continent, with 
the exception, perhaps, of Italy /i" this play meets 
with little approval. For the French it is 
choses vues ; the Germans speak of it as a 
Gartenmauer comedy, which means something 
that appeals only to the public in a certain en- 

As he drove home radiant that night Oscar 
Wilde could say to himself : "I am the author 
of ' Lady Windermere's Fan.' ' No doubt that 
he did say it. May it be hoped that no fore- 
boding came to trouble his tranquil joy, no fore- 
boding of the times so close at hand when he 
might be called by no other name than that. 

Three years of prosperity and triumph were 
to be accorded to him. The period of want was 
over ; he was acknowledged one of the first 
playwrights on the English stage ; his income 
sprang from nothing to several thousands a 
year. During this period of three years he pro- 
duced successfully three other plays. On igth 
April 1893 was performed his " A Woman of 
No Importance." On this occasion he was 
blamed for not responding to the cry of the 
audience for a speech. This time, however, he 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

had kept his head, for such emotions as had 
moved him on the night of his first success 
come to a man once only in life. " A Woman 
of No Importance " frequently played since, 
formerly as by the author of " Lady Winder- 
mere's Fan," and now under the author's real 
name, has continued to please and amuse the 
English-speaking audiences of two worlds. 

In 1895 he produced two plays of a very 
different character. The one, " An Ideal 
Husband," was first brought out on 3rd 
January. The Times critic wrote of this per- 
formance : 

" ' An Ideal Husband ' was brought out last 
night with a similar degree of success to that 
which has attended Mr Wilde's previous pro- 
ductions. It is a similar degree of success due 
to similar causes. For ' An Ideal Husband ' is 
marked by the same characteristics as ' Lady 
Windermere's Fan ' and ' A Woman of No Im- 
portance.' There is a group of well-dressed 
men and women on the stage talking a strained 
inverted but rather amusing idiom, while the 
action, the dramatic motive springs from a con- 
ventional device of the commonest order of 

The Athenceum's criticism may also be quoted 
in part. It endeavours to explain Oscar Wilde's 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

dramaturgical process, and to account for his 
undeniable success. 

" One of the constituent elements of wit is the 
perception of analogies in things apparently dis- 
parate and incongruous. Accepting this as a 
canon, and testing it by the pretensions of Oscar 
Wilde in his latest play, the writer might be pro- 
nounced the greatest of wits, inasmuch as he 
perceives analogies in things absolutely anta- 
gonistic. His presumable end is gained, since 
a chorus of laughter attends his propositions or 
paradoxes. It requires, however, gifts of a kind 
not usually accorded to humanity to think out 
a statement such as ' High intellectual pleasures 
make girls' noses large ! ' ' Only dull people 
are brilliant at breakfast. . .' ' All reasons are 
absurd/ and the like." 

An intimate friend of Oscar Wilde's remembers 
talking of this criticism with the playwright. 
"It is not very difficult, Oscar," he said, " to 
see what suggested to you the statements which 
the critic finds so weird. When you wrote that 
about girls' noses you had probably in mind the 
connection between the pains of thought and 
that French expression which describes the 
lengthening of the nose as an outward physical 
sign of mental perplexity or chagrin, faire un 
nez. As to the remark about dull people being 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

brilliant at breakfast you obviously meant that 
nervous, high-strung people, people of pleasure, 
of thought, of midnight labours are, in fact, at 
their worst at breakfast time, when by contrast 
with them the eupeptic, healthy, people not of 
nervous temperaments appear at their best." 
" You are quite right," said Oscar, " but you 
overlook the third statement complained of. 
All reasons are absurd ! '' 

Till then Oscar Wilde's success as a playwright 
had been great ; yet he had not so far shown 
even a small part of the splendid service which 
it was in his power to render to the gaiety of our 
nation. In the early part of January he devoted 
a fortnight to the writing of a comedy of the 
farcical order to which he gave the name of 
' The Importance of Being Earnest " : this 
was produced for the first time on i4th February 
at the St J ames' s Theatre . The author described 
this piece himself as a " trivial comedy for serious 
people." He is reported also to have said of it 
that " the first act is ingenious, the second 
beautiful, the third abominably clever." As a 
matter of fact, the whole is abominably clever, 
while, perhaps, also both ingenuity and beauty 
are lacking. The plot certainly displays none 
of the former quality and beauty, except in the 
abstract sense which applies to any work of art 

3 2 9 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

which is close to perfection of its kind, has, of 
course, nothing to do, in that galere. Clever it 
is beyond praise, because here once again we 
have Oscar Wilde joking as only Oscar Wilde 
could joke. It is an extravaganza spoken by 
Oscar through the mouths of a number of men 
and women. 

" Almost every sentence of the dialogue," 
said The Times critic next morning, " bristles 
with epigram of the now accepted pattern, the 
manufacture of this being apparently conducted 
by its patentee with the same facility as ' the 
butter woman's rank to market.' ' 

' Yet frivolous, saucy, and impertinent as Mr 
Wilde's dialogue is," wrote the Aihenceum critic, 
" and uncharacteristic also, since every personage 
in the drama says the same thing, it is, in a way, 
diverting. The audience laughs consumedly, 
and the critic, even though he should chafe, 
which is surely superfluous, laughs also in 
spite of himself. There is, moreover, a grave 
serenity of acquiescence in the most mon- 
strous propositions that is actually and highly 

The writer of "At The Play " in the March 
number of The Theatre found the " new trivial 
comedy f a bid for popularity in the direction 
of farce.' Stripped of its ' Oscarisms ' regarded 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

purely as a dramatic exercise it is not even a 
good specimen of its class." 

The critic in Truth fairly surrendered at last. 

" I have not the slightest intention of seriously 
criticising Mr O. Wilde's piece at the St James's," 
he writes under the heading of " The Importance 
of Being Oscar/' " as well might one sit down 
after dinner and attempt gravely to discuss the 
true inwardness of a souffld. Nor, unfortunately, 
is it necessary to enter into details as to its wildly 
farcical plot. As well might one, after a success- 
ful display of fireworks in the back garden, set to 
work laboriously to analyse the composition of 
a Catherine Wheel. At the same time I wish to 
admit, fairly and frankly, that ' The Importance 
of Being Earnest ' amused me very much." 

The public never had a moment's hesitation 
about the play. Each audience laughed as never 
has audience laughed before in a theatre where 
the work of an English writer of comedy has 
been performed. Oscar Wilde had transplanted 
to London the exuberant gaiety of Paris, without 
appealing by even the faintest suggestion to that 
fumier of which Heine spoke as being the soil 
on which all French comedy and farce thrive. 
The play is a clean play, a play of the " knock- 
about " farcical order, with this tremendous dis- 
tinction that the knock-about here is not a 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

physical conflict, but a perpetual tussle of wit 
and repartee. It was aptly described as a 
" fantastic farce." We had here the true Oscar, 
or rather one of the true Oscars, full of rollicking, 
boyish, extravagant humour, turning to mirth 
all things. . . . Many people who had all along 
been hostile to him as a man and as a writer, 
who " had seen nothing in his works," and had 
professed to be bored by his more serious 
comedies, became Wilde's men heart and soul 
after having witnessed this play. A great Irish 
writer remarked recently that after he had seen 
" The Importance of Being Earnest " in Dublin, 
he began to look forward with impatience to the 
day when Oscar Wilde's ashes should be brought 
from Bagneux cemetery back to his native land, 
and a statue to the great dramatist should be 
raised on the banks of the Anna Liffey. And 
these were the words of a cynical man of the 
world, ever chary of praise. 

After that night at the St James's Theatre 
London felt itself, indeed, the imperial city which 
is under tribute to no other nation for its enjoy- 
ments as for its wants. One may fancy what 
would have been the feeling of the Romans if 
one day a dramatist had risen up amongst them 
who rendered their arena free of Greece. Our 
pride was flattered ; we could hurl back the re- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

proach of national dulness ; we foresaw with 
pleasurable and gratified anticipation the return 
to the English stage of the laurel-wreath that 
centuries ago had been wrested from us by the 
foreigner. We felt that we could close our 
front-door and put out a notice to the Ibsens, 
the Scribes, the Sardous, the Mosers, the Brissons, 
the Capuses, and the rest that we thanked them 
kindly for their calls, but that we needed nothing 
that day or on any subsequent day. 

Alas ! not one of those who witnessed that 
wonderful premiere at the St James's Theatre 
unless, indeed, somewhere in the stalls or boxes 
there may have been seated in observation some 
acute pathologist did realise that the very 
brilliancy which so delighted him was but a 
symptom of a cruel mental disease. The clever- 
ness displayed appeared to the dazzled audience 
supernatural. It was so indeed. As one may 
see in the circus-ring clowns and acrobats who 
perform prodigious feats because before they 
come into the arena they have stimulated to the 
uttermost their nerves and muscles, and for a 
short time, indeed, do appear to be capable of 
deeds of skill and daring which no ordinary man 
might with impunity attempt ; as one sees in 
the Indian bazaar the feeble fakir, frenzied with 
drugs, running a tigerish course of devastation 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and murder : so here too an agency was at work 
which had forced the genius of the man who so 
impressed us with its splendour over the narrow 
border-line of which Dry den speaks. 

From circumstances which so soon afterwards 
became matters of public knowledge and dismay 
there can be no doubt that it was a diseased brain 
which had fashioned for delight and laughter 
these splendid and exuberant imaginings. 

It will be remembered that in the early part 
of 1892 Oscar Wilde suddenly passed from a 
precarious and troubled existence, from which 
sheer penury was not always absent, to a height 
of prosperity and prospects of great wealth and 
power. Even the strongest heads have been 
known to turn under such a shock. In Oscar 
Wilde's case we have a man, who by predis- 
position and atavism on both sides of his family 
was one least prepared to withstand a shock so 
powerful. Physical causes contributed to in- 
flame what may be described as the psychical 
traumatism caused by this blow. He was ever 
a man fond of the pleasures of the table, of 
wines and spirits, and the use of the narcotic, 
tobacco. Till that point in his career absence 
of means had put a certain check upon extra- 
vagant indulgence. After his accession to pros- 
perity this check was removed, and for many 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

months, indeed, for the period of three years, he 
was overstimulating his body and poisoning his 
nerve-centres to an extent which is revealed to 
us by the complete state of neurasthenia into 
which he fell shortly before his death. A very 
distinguished lady who has made a life-study of 
the question of nutrition on the mental state of 
man recently expressed in a letter her con- 
viction that it was to his irregular mode of life 
that much of Oscar Wilde's downfall could be 
attributed, both before and after his confinement 
in a gaol. 

" My belief is," she wrote to the author of 
" The Story of an Unhappy Friendship" " and 
you seem to suggest something of the same kind 
that the prison fare restored his health and his 
brain, and that had he had some really true 
friend who could have kept all alcohol and all 
meat and high living from him he would have 
returned to his poor wife, and all would have been 
different. I am so entirely convinced this is the 
case in hundreds of cases. The return to old 
drinks and the old foods reproduces the old self- 
same mental aberration which continually makes 
prisoners return to exactly the same state they 
were in before they went to prison, and to commit 
the same crimes." 

The temperance lecturers, if they had the 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

courage to quote the example, could find in the 
cases of those two brilliant men, William and 
Oscar Wilde, most striking demonstrations of the 
truth of their teachings, and the importance of 
their warnings. The man who drinks may not 
injure himself, he may die in good repute and lie 
buried under eulogistic marble, but he transmits 
to his aftercomers in their life-blood the very 
germs of dissolution, crime, and death. Oscar 
paid in his innocent person the toll that Nature 
exacted for the centuries of Hibernian convivia- 
lity of rollicking ancestors. He was never once 
intoxicated in his life ; except in the very last 
mournful weeks of his life, when he sought in 
alcohol a stimulus to his flagging brain, he held 
excess in abhorrence ; yet by reason of his 
descendance his indulgences, such as they were, 
in strong drink and gourmandising on stimulating 
foods, which would have been harmless to a man 
not predisposed by heredity, incontestably pro- 
duced the terrible mischief which was the cause 
of his ruin, disgrace and death. We have in his 
life the clearest demonstration of this fact. One 
has but to compare his mental, moral, and 
physical condition while he was leading a life of 
excess, with the man whom we see in his cell 
in Reading Gaol, writing " De Profundis." 
Max Nordau was in the right when he spoke of 

33 6 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Oscar Wilde as a degenerate, and his essay would 
have had more effect had it been worded with 
more charity and less rancour. There was in 
the composition of that wonderful brain, hidden 
somewhere, a demon factor, which the coup de 
fouet of alcohol and excess of stimulating food 
could lash into periodical activity. The evidence 
is very strong that Oscar Wilde's special form of 
disease was epileptiform, as indeed are all the 
most cruel afflictions of the brain. One striking 
characteristic of these formidable maladies is 
that their victim, who, while under the influence 
of the paroxysm he commits the most atrocious 
deeds, is, when he recovers his sanity, totally 
unconscious of what he has done. When Hall 
Caine some years ago was preparing for a book 
on drunkenness he was supplied by the great 
American temperance lecturer, Gough, with an 
illustration of the fatal dangers of drink to certain 
natures. " A man," related Gough, " woke up 
one morning in the lock-up in New York. Hor- 
ribly ashamed to find himself, a worthy, re- 
spectable citizen, in such a place, he called to the 
warder and asked him what could have caused 
his arrest. ' I suppose I got drunk last night ? ' 
he said. ' You did so/ said the warder. ' My 
poor wife ! ' cried the man bitterly ashamed, 
' what will she say when she hears that ? ' He 
Y 337 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

then asked how soon it would be before he was 
taken before the magistrate to pay his fine and 
to return home. ' You won't go up to-day/ 
said the warder. ' You are in for murder. You 
killed someone last night ! ' The horrified 
prisoner refused to believe it. When at last 
the dreadful truth dawned upon him that the 
warder was speaking seriously, and that, indeed, 
his hands were stained in blood, he thought first 
of all of the misery and consternation which this 
would produce at home. ' My poor wife ! My 
poor wife ! ' he cried. ' Why, man ! ' cried the 
warder, almost indignantly, for he supposed the 
man to be feigning ignorance, ' sure and it's 
your wife that ye've murdered.' This was with- 
out a doubt a man suffering, though he did not 
know it, from an epileptiform affliction. He was 
a man who if he had never got drunk might have 
lived a blameless and honoured life. The alcohol 
had whipped the sleeping fiend into activity. 
There are thousands of men walking about 
London at this moment who are in his case. 
One reads every day in the law reports, in the 
sordid and mournful records of the police-courts 
and the Old Bailey, of cases which exactly tally 
with this one. That Oscar Wilde's psycho- 
pathia was the same, every piece of evidence 
that we have before us goes to confirm. Alcohol 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

was sheer poison to him. All the extraordinary 
acts which he committed, the acts of sheer in- 
sanity, were committed, not when he was drunk, 
for he never was drunk, but when alcohol had 
developed an epileptic crisis in his head. It is 
such a pity that people, because they are still 
so entirely under the stupid domination of the 
Church, will not approach the consideration of 
these matters in a purely scientific spirit. After 
each crisis Oscar Wilde seems to have been totally 
unconscious of having done anything bad, de- 
testable, shameful, or even unusual. Under no 
other condition could he have maintained the 
serene and tranquil dignity which stamped him 
in his sane moments. Many of his friends re- 
fused to believe one word of the charges brought 
against him when the terrible revelations of the 
Old Bailey were made. Many even to-day re- 
fuse to believe them. It must be remembered, 
also, that until the very day of his arrest his 
wife had not the faintest suspicion of anything 
wrong in his conduct. Such consummate dis- 
simulation, where it is not hypocrisy and Oscar 
Wilde was no hypocrite, could not be a hypo- 
crite, was too arrogant to be a hypocrite is in- 
variably the concomitant of the worst forms of 

During the three or four years of his excessive 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

indulgences in drink and food his conduct ap- 
pears, from what was heard afterwards, to have 
caused disquietude to his friends, and disgust 
to his enemies. After his downfall one heard 
that during that time his example had made 
London " impossible." This one man, it was 
stated, had corrupted the metropolis of the 
world's greatest empire. He had infected six 
millions of men and women. These statements, 
when people came to reflect, did not appear, even 
to those who had never paused to consider 
causes, so entirely preposterous. It was re- 
membered that during the period referred to the 
language of certain market-porters, cornermen, 
and fishwives in London had been far from 
select ; that during those years the Divorce 
Courts had never once suspended their sittings, 
except in times of vacation ; that the attend- 
ances at many churches and chapels in the 
metropolis had often been mournfully exiguous ; 
and that it was dangerous for any respectable 
woman to walk alone and unattended after 
midnight in the Haymarket or Piccadilly. 

It is incontestable also that during that period 
a number of minor writers of verse, who called 
themselves new Hedonists or modern decadents, 
published little books of unpleasing verses, and 
that one or two publishers did in the issuing of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

these verses realise a certain competency. But 
the readers of these verses were very few, and 
the nasty, little poets soon crept back into their 
suburban kennels, to take to easier and more 
remunerative forms of writing. If one looks 
to-day for the pornographic pleiad which was 
oozed forth on to the surface of the London mud 
in those days, it is not even in the purlieus of 
Parnassus that such individuals as have sur- 
vived will be found. They are middle-aged now, 
the new Hedonists, whiskered and paunchy. 
The thin veneer of artistry has long since been 
peeled off their faces, and the rank stigmata of 
the Philistine now stand forth. There is a 
horrible passage in one of Lombroso's books in 
which, writing of criminal women, he says that 
in youth it is very difficult, almost impossible, 
for the physiologist to detect the sure signs of 
their criminality. The freshness of their com- 
plexions, the chubbiness of their faces hide the 
stigmata. It is only towards middle-age that 
these signs, which all along have been there, 
though concealed by the mask of youth, come 
forth in all their horrible significance. This 
passage often occurs to him who to-day considers 
the men who formed the band of decadents and 
hedonists, who mimicked Oscar Wilde in his acts 
of insanity, thinking in that wise to gain some 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of the refulgence which shone from the genius 
of his lucid intervals. 

During those years he frequently crossed to 
Paris. There, at least, and speaking generally, 
no suspicion assailed him. In the essay by 
Henri de Regnier, to which reference has been 
made above, we find a pen portrait of him as 
he was at that time, and before quoting it it 
may be as well to put down what was the 
opinion of this writer on Oscar Wilde, as he 
summed it up at the end of his essay, which, it 
should be remembered, was written after all 
the exposure had taken place. 

" In any case," he writes, " we may ignore 
what was his manner of life in London, and re- 
call only that we met in Paris an amiable and 
eloquent gentleman of that name whom all will 
remember who are fond of beautiful language 
and beautiful stories." 

This is the picture which Henri de Regnier 
paints of Oscar Wilde in the early nineties : 

" Each year, in the spring and sometimes in 
the winter, one used to meet a perfect English 
gentleman in Paris. He used to lead in Paris 
the life which Monsieur Paul Bourget, for in- 
stance, might lead in London, frequenting 
artists, and showing himself in salons and 
fashionable restaurants in the company of the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

leaders of mundane society ; seeking in one word 
all things which can interest a man who knows 
how to think, and who knows how to live. 

" This foreigner was tall and of great corpul- 
ence. A high complexion seemed to give still 
greater width to his clean-shaven and proconsular 
face. It was the unbearded (glabre) face that 
one sees on coins. The eyes smiled. The hands 
seemed to be beautiful : they were rather fleshy 
and plump, and one of them was ornamented 
with a ring in which a beetle of green stone was 
set. The man's tall figure allowed of his wearing 
ample and masterly frock-coats, which opened 
out on somewhat ' loud ' waistcoats of smooth 
velvet or flowered satins. Oriental cigarettes 
with gold tips were ever consuming themselves 
into smoke in his mouth. A rare blossom in his 
button-hole gave a finishing touch to his rich 
attire in which every detail seemed to have been 
carefully studied. From cab to cab, from cafe 
to cafe, from salon to salon, he moved with the 
lazy gait of a stout man who is rather weary. 
He carried on his correspondence by means of 
telegrams, and his conversation by means of 
apologues. He passed from a luncheon with 
Monsieur Barres to a dinner with Monsieur 
Moreas, for he was curious about all kinds of 
thoughts and manners of thinking, and the bold, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

concise and ingenious ideas of the former in- 
terested him as much as the short, sonorous and 
peremptory affirmations of the latter. Paris 
welcomed this traveller with a certain amount 
of curiosity. M. Hugues Le Roux praised him, 
M. Teodor de Wyzewa scratched him, but no- 
thing disturbed his stolid bearing, his smiling 
serenity, and his mocking beatitude. Which of 
us did not meet him during those years ? I 
also had the pleasure of seeing him, and of seeing 
him again sometimes. His name was Oscar 
Wilde. He was an English poet and a man 
of wit." 

However, when he was accompanied, as he 
sometimes was, by the evil genius of his life, 
he seems in Paris, also, to have displayed eccen- 
tricities which did not escape the keen and 
satirical observation of certain. In Octave 
Mirbeau's book, "Le Journal d'Une Femme de 
Chambre," there is a picture of Oscar Wilde, 
which reveals him as the poseur that he seemed 
to be when his fits were upon him, or when he 
had at his side to prompt him the corrupting 
influence which we have indicated. Mirbeau 
describes a soiree, a dinner-party in the grande 
Boheme of Paris, at which are present two English 
guests, Lucien Sartorys and Sir Harry Kimberly. 
The characteristics of these two friends are de- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

scribed in the crude realism of expression which 
is employed throughout the book by Mirbeau. 
Sir Harry Kimberly is Oscar Wilde. It is ap- 
parent that Mirbeau must have met him at some 
such dinner-party as is depicted here, and that 
Oscar Wilde was talking nonsense. He records 
a long story which Oscar Wilde told on that oc- 
casion, adding just enough of his own to carry 
the bathos of it to its lowest point ; he casti- 
gates the attitudes of the foolish women who 
were listening, and quotes their foolish comments. 
The incident covers many pages of the book. 
Kimberly concludes his story by saying : " And 
that is why I have dipped the point of my golden 
knife in the preserves which the Kanaka virgins 
had prepared, in honour of a betrothal, such as 
our century, ignorant of beauty, never saw the 
like of in splendour and magnificence." 

After the dinner, Kimberly goes from group 
to group asking : " Have you drunk of the milk 
of the fisher-weasel ? Oh ! Drink the milk of 
the fisher- weasel. . . . It is so ravishing ! " 

We see here the Oscar Wilde as he was at 
first during that scene which is described by 
Jean Joseph-Renaud. But, unlike as on that 
occasion, he was unconscious of the effect that 
he was producing. 

We find also in " The Story of an Unhappy 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Friendship " that the author, who was one of 
Oscar Wilde's oldest friends, visiting him in 
January of 1895, detected a surprising change 
in him both physically and mentally. This is 
the passage referred to : " It was at Christmas 
that I met him last, before the catastrophe of 
1895, and my impression was altogether a pain- 
ful one. He was not the friend I had known 
and admired for so many years. I dined with 
him at Tite Street : for once there was no 
pleasure, but distress rather, in the occasion. 
He looked bloated. His face seemed to have 
lost its spiritual beauty, and was oozing with 
material prosperity. And his conversation also 
was not agreeable. I concluded that too much 
good living, and too much success had momen- 
tarily affected him both morally and physically. 
There is an American slang-phrase which exactly 
describes the impression that he produced upon 
me. He seemed to be suffering from a swollen 



A Sagacious and Benevolent Autocrat How he could have 
saved Oscar Wilde The Advantages of the Bastille 
Restraint at Last Under what Circumstances The Un- 
consciousness Displayed Oscar Wilde's Graphology 
Isabella, Baroness of Ungern-Sternberg Her Reading 
of his Character The Sister of Nietzsche Wilde's Mental 
Recovery in Prison Oscar Wilde released on Bail 
Hunted from House to House Takes Refuge with his 
Mother His Position The Sale at Oakley Street 
" Salomd " His Bearing before the Trial Abyssus 
Abyssum Invocat The End Silence Above, Clamour 

WHEN one contemplates the spectacle afforded 
by this man of genius, endowed with gifts which 
made for the pride and joy of the nation, and 
which in this sense were part of the imperial 
inheritance, it must fill many with regret that 
we do not live in England under the sway of a 
sagacious and benevolent autocrat. If, as, from 
the evidence that is now before us, appears 
patent, there were times in Oscar Wilde's life 
when his conduct, his utterances, his demeanour 
must have revealed to any but the most super- 
ficial observer that the man was not entirely 
responsible at certain periods and under certain 
influences, what a subject for regret it must 



The Life of Oscar Wilde 

ever be that no authority there was which, able 
to disregard the democratic clamour of the ab- 
solute right of man to complete personal liberty, 
could have imposed upon him a necessary 
wholesome and politic restraint. Had Louis 
XIV. been living as autocrat of England, or even 
Napoleon, and had there raised itself in the 
centre of London a beneficent Bastille, what 
grander use could there ever have been for the 
discreet lettre de cachet, which for a time would 
have put the man under that salutary restraint, 
which afterwards, under tragic circumstances, 
worked in his whole organism a reformation so 
astonishing and so splendid ! But alas, we live 
under a democratic government, with all the 
incoherences which must proceed from the 
association of two ideas democracy and govern- 
ment so antagonistic. We profess such re- 
spect for the liberty of the individual that we 
complacently look on at the antics of the partially 
demented until some act is committed which 
puts him within the grasp of the law. We then 
punish him for a crime which is our own, and, 
accomplices before the fact, we force him to 
bear the responsibility which is entirely ours. 
It is painfully illogical, but where the mob is 
allowed to interfere in matters of government 
nothing else is to be expected. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

In Oscar Wilde's case things happened as 
they do happen in democratic governments. 
His intermittent insanity, stimulated by the 
worst influences, led him to acts which at last 
enabled the authorities to move ; and that re- 
straint was put upon him which applied in 
another fashion would have preserved to Eng- 
land one of the men most fitted to serve her in 
the field of intellectual delight. The criminal 
law interfered at last, and great scandal was 
thereby caused, which could have been avoided 
by a Monsieur de Sartine, or other Public Inter- 
ferer, acting in the general interests of the public 
and the private interests of the man, if our 
commonsense allowed of the employment of an 
official so useful. 

Various causes contributed to the gust of 
horror by which the unhappy man, after these 
exposures, was swept over into the bottomless 
abyss. For centuries past the promptings of his 
insanity have been invested in the public mind, 
at least as far as England and her English-speak- 
ing colonies are concerned, with all the dread 
that acts of sacrilege inspire. When in the reign 
of Queen Elizabeth the secular courts took over 
from the ecclesiastical tribunals the estimate of 
criminality and the punishment of offenders, 
there were thus transmitted for all their rigours 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

three classes of offence, for which the Church 
had a special designation, not to be heard by 
ears polite. Of these heresy was one, and usury 
another. We have lived down the horror that 
heresy used to inspire, and we no longer those 
of us who are of the Established Church desire 
to see Non-Conformist Ministers burned at any 
stake ; and as to usury, which term covers 
banking and other financial operations, we have 
grown in England to look upon the pursuit of 
this as one of the most desirable and respectable 
professions that a man can follow. Yet in the 
times of Queen Elizabeth the practice of hetero- 
doxy and such financial methods as flourish to- 
day were acts of sacrilege, and inspired people 
with the horror of such. The hatred which 
suddenly blazed forth against Wilde in the 
masses of the people proceeded from this in- 
stinctive horror of sacrilegious acts. One must 
go back to the Middle Ages, to the times when 
the odium theologicum burned most fiercely, to 
find any such outbreak of public indignation 
against a single man. Contributory causes were 
the detestation in which society held the writer 
who had so mercilessly exposed its follies, pre- 
tences and vices ; the long-harboured rancour 
of the Calvinists to whom Wilde had given 
mortal offence by his audacity in teaching that 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

life was a very good thing, that the world was 
full of pleasures, and that the man lived most 
wisely who most enjoyed all the good things 
that human existence can afford ; the personal 
enmity of a great number of people, provoked 
by a variety of motives, none honourable, nor 
worthy, but all human. Amongst the indifferent 
the satisfaction at the man's removal was akin 
to that which the owl of whom Gray writes in 
his Elegy may have felt when its complaints to 
the moon had been heard, and the cause of them 
had been suppressed. There is much of the 
moping owl in a large section of our stolid 
Britishry, and people of that category dislike 
nothing more intensely than the man of radio- 
activity who bustles into the stagnant area of 
their gelid dulness, and interferes with their 
somnolent eupepsia. To be forced to think, to 
be forced to laugh, to be taught things, in one 
word to be interfered with. No ! No ! NO ! 
Away with him ! In the official classes, the 
judicial and police authorities, the feeling against 
the man was one of intense exasperation at his 
folly in provoking an inquiry. An official of 
the Home Office said at the time : " There are 
on the books at Scotland Yard upwards of 
20,000 persons belonging to the better classes in 
London alone, who are watched by the police, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

but who are not interfered with because they 
do not themselves provoke investigation." 

The spectacle of men dealing out what it 
pleases them to call justice is at no time an 
inspiriting one. The simian grotesqueness of 
man never more clearly nor burlesquely mani- 
fests itself than in those attitudes which he 
considers the fullest of dignity, and in those 
functions in which he feels that he is raising 
himself above the very low level on which 
Creation has placed him. It does not come 
within the province of this book to record other- 
wise than in the most perfunctory manner these 
repulsive proceedings. The attitude of the 
accused man is, however, of psychological in- 
terest, and it will be necessary to follow him to 
some extent through the period where Law and 
Justice were to use one of their stock phrases 
" dealing with him." 

Being one night close upon intoxication, and 
being urged on by a person, who had a great and 
pernicious influence with him, Oscar Wilde in 
March 1895 laid an information for criminal 
libel against the Marquess of Queensberry. That 
he was irresponsible at the time when he com- 
mitted what the National Dictionary of Bio- 
graphy calls an " act of fatal insolence," is very 
clearly shown by his own appreciation of his 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

conduct, when a healthy regime had once more 
triumphed over his insanity. In " De Pro- 
fundis " we find the following passage referring 
to this act : " The one disgraceful, unpardon- 
able, and to all time contemptible action of my 
life was to allow myself to appeal to society for 
help and protection. To have made such an 
appeal would have been from the individualist 
point of view bad enough, but what excuse can 
there ever be put forward for having made it ? 
Of course, once I had put into motion the forces 
of society, society turned on me and said, 
' Have you been living all this time in defiance 
of my laws, and do you now appeal to these laws, 
for protection ? You shall have those laws exer- 
cised to the full. You shall abide by what you 
have appealed to.' The result is I am in gaol. 
Certainly no man ever fell so ignobly, and by 
such ignoble instruments, as I did." 

The case against the Marquess of Queensberry 
commenced at the Old Bailey in the first week 
of April. Oscar Wilde, the prosecutor, goes 
down to the court in a brougham with two 
horses and liveried servants. His psychopathia 
was at this moment perilously tending towards 
megalomania and what that portends. His ar- 
rogance was superb ; and from its resources he 
drew the wonderful energy and mental activity 
2 353 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

with which he faced the long cross-examination 
to which he was put by Edward Carson. Though 
he talked in such a way as to appal the simple 
citizens who sat in the jury-box, yet his evident 
superiority in the tourney was so great that by 
sheer force of his personality and genius he 
might have carried the day, but for that fatal 
slip which, occurring at the very end of the en- 
counter, and just as the advocate was about to 
sit down, brought the whole edifice tumbling 
about his head. That evening it was communi- 
cated to him in a circuitous fashion, but with too 
apparent explicitness, that his wisest course 
would be to leave the country. He refused to 
flee. The next day the prosecution broke down, 
and a verdict of acquittal was pronounced in 
favour of the Marquess. Steps were immediately 
taken to secure the arrest of the prosecutor, but 
such delays occurred, or were purposely allowed 
to occur, that the warrant was not executed till 
late in the evening. Oscar Wilde had spent 
that afternoon in a private sitting-room at a 
hotel, smoking cigarettes, drinking whisky and 
soda, and reading now the Yellow Book, and now 
the evening papers. He evinced neither dis- 
may nor trepidation when the officers entered 
the room, and on alighting from the cab at Scot- 
land Yard he had a courteous discussion with 



To face page 355. 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

one of the detectives about the payment of the 
cabman. The unconsciousness displayed would 
not have deceived a mental pathologist for one 
moment as to his mental state and consequent 

Arrested on 5th April, and lodged in Holloway 
on the following day, he spent nineteen days in 
prison before he was brought to trial at the Old 
Bailey. During that period he largely recovered 
his sanity. His physique was still in an abnor- 
mal condition, as the writing of some of his 
letters shows. It is the writing of a neuropath. 
In the number for March - April 1905 of the 
Graphologische Monatshefte, published in Munich, 
there appeared a study of Oscar Wilde's char- 
acter, as revealed by his handwriting, from the 
pen of a very distinguished Russian lady, the 
Baroness Isabella von Ungern-Sternberg of 
Revel. Madame d' Ungern-Sternberg is the 
Vice-Presidentess of the Paris Graphological 
Society, and the study is a purely scientific one. 
It is worthy of the attention of all those who 
wish to provide themselves with every possible 
means of arriving at a solution of the formidable 
problem of Oscar Wilde's mentality. The three 
pieces of his writing on which she based her 
study were three letters. Of these, one was 
written in 1883 to a friend, just after Wilde's 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

departure from Paris, the second was a letter 
from Holloway Prison, written while he was 
under remand, and the third was a note written 
not long before his death. The Baroness's study 
of Wilde's writing seems to have inspired her with 
as great an admiration for his character as her 
reading of "Intentions" had originally roused 
her enthusiasm for his talents. A very striking 
sentence in her estimate of the writing declares : 

" Pathalogisches ist in Wildes Handschrift 
nicht zu finden, auch nicht in der Probe Fig. 2, 
sobald wir absehen von der begreiflichen Erre- 
gung durch Angst und Hoffnung, Krankheit und 

This means that there was nothing in his 
writing to reveal a pathological condition ; that 
is to say when he was sane, for he does not 
appear to have written during the paroxysms 
of his dementia. The specimen referred to is 
the letter from Holloway. Here there is nothing 
pathological, but at the same time the writing 
shows illness. A curious incident may be re- 
lated in connection with the Baronne d'Ungern- 
Sternberg's essay. It so exactly tallied with the 
opinion which the sister of Nietzsche had formed 
of Oscar Wilde's character, from her study of 
his works, and from all that she had heard and 
read about him, that this distinguished lady 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

became an immediate convert to the scientific 
truth of graphology. 

He appears to have suffered very greatly 
during this confinement. " Wilde looked care- 
worn and much thinner " is what the reporters 
remarked about his appearance in the Old 
Bailey dock on 26th April. In the letter re- 
ferred to above he had spoken of himself in the 
following terms : " I am ill apathetic. Slowly 
life creeps out of me." 

The trial ended in a disagreement of the jury. 
Shortly afterwards Oscar Wilde was released on 
bail to await a fresh trial at the next sessions. 
The amount was fixed at two thousand five 
hundred pounds, of which nearly three fourths 
were provided by a young nobleman, who was 
but slightly acquainted with the prisoner, and 
who realised almost the entire fortune at his 
command to supply the money. 

On leaving Holloway Prison Wilde drove to 
a hotel where rooms had been engaged for him. 
As he was sitting down to dinner in his private 
room the manager of the hotel came in, shouted 
out that he knew who he was, and ordered him 
to leave the house at once. From thence Wilde 
drove to another hotel. Here he secured a 
room, and dinnerless, for he had no appetite 
left, was about to go to bed, when again he was 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

driven forth into the streets. Some men, it 
appeared, had followed him from the gates of 
Holloway Prison at whose instigation we need 
not inquire and had determined that he should 
nowhere find shelter that night. They had 
threatened the manager of the second hotel 
that if he did not turn Oscar Wilde away they 
would wreck his house. 

He appears to have been refused admission, 
having been recognised, at other London hostel- 
ries that night. In the end he turned his 
thoughts towards his mother's home. Long 
past midnight his brother Willy heard a knock 
at the door of the house in Oakley Street. When 
he had opened the door, Oscar Wilde, pale as 
death, dishevelled, unnerved, staggered into the 
narrow hall, and sinking exhausted on to a chair 
cried out : " Willy, give me a shelter or I shall 
die in the streets." 

Willy Wilde frequently related the incident 
afterwards, but with a mixing of metaphors 
which sufficiently indicates the condition into 
which he was passing. 

" He came," he used to say, " tapping with 
his beak against the window-pane, and fell down 
on my threshold like a wounded stag." To the 
horrors of that period of waiting the touch of the 
grotesque was not to be wanting. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

He was entirely ruined, if such an expression 
may be applied to a man who had but to sit 
down and write in order to earn money. He 
had no money ; his home had been sold up ; 
of personal property he had nothing more than 
the few clothes and trinkets which he brought 
with him to Oakley Street. For on his arrest the 
usual had happened. Creditors rushed clamor- 
ously to precipitate his downfall. Judgments 
were " signed," and executions " put in." On 
the day of the sale the house in Tite Street 
was invaded by a motley crowd, amongst which 
the genuine purchasers were few, the prurient 
sensation-mongers and the shifty-eyed thieves 
were many. Many articles were stolen ; doors 
were feloniously broken open. Never was such 
hamesucken perpetrated before with such im- 
punity. Here is the account which an Irish 
publisher gives of his visit to Tite Street during 
the sale : 

" I went upstairs and found several people 
in an empty room, the floor of which was strewn, 
thickly strewn, with letters addressed to Oscar 
mostly in their envelopes and with much of 
Oscar's easily recognisable manuscript. This 
looked as though the various pieces of furniture 
which had been carried downstairs to be sold 
had been emptied of their contents on to the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

floor. It is usual at sales, of course, for the 
furniture to be sold in each room as it stands. 
After I had been in the room some time, a 
broker's man came up and said : ' How did you 
get into this room ? What business have you 
in this room ? f I said : ' The door was open 
and I walked in.' Then the man said : ' Then 
somebody has broken open the lock, because I 
locked the door myself.' ' It was no doubt from 
this room that various of Oscar's manuscripts 
which have never been recovered were stolen. 
There were the scenarios of one or two comedies ; 
a whole poetic drama, " The Woman Covered 
With Jewels," and the manuscript of a work 
entitled ' The Incomparable and Ingenious 
History of Mr W. H. Being the True Secret of 
Shakespeare's Sonnets, Now for the First Time 
here Fully Set Forth." This manuscript had 
been in the hands of Messrs Elkin Mathews & 
John Lane, who had already some time previ- 
ously announced it as being in preparation. On 
the day of Oscar Wilde's arrest, the manuscript 
was returned to his house. Nothing has ever 
been heard of it again. Certainly after Oscar 
Wilde's arrest there was no more opening for 
a work which was to establish that it was under 
the influence of an absorbing adoration for Mr 
W. H. that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets. It 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

is the only thing that Oscar ever wrote in which 
he dallied with the abnormal ; and, perhaps, for 
his reputation amongst the majority it is as 
well that instead of seeing the light of day this 
work is resting in the innermost recesses of the 
Cupboard of Poisons of some rich literary dilet- 
tant. In Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine for 
July 1889 there appeared an article by Oscar 
Wilde entitled " The Portrait of Mr W. H.," in 
which he only very faintly indicates the theory 
to which he was to give such a development in 
the longer work. It was to form a piece of 
documentary evidence in support of his plea of 
the dignity, beauty, and advantages of those 
warm friendships between men, which he uttered 
in the witness-box at the Old Bailey amidst the 
moved silence even of his enemies. 

The sale at Tite Street was not a sale ; it was 
the pillage of an unprotected house. People 
stole with the greatest effrontery. The prices 
realised for such articles as did come to the 
hammer were ridiculously low. " There was a 
fine Whistler there," said the Irish gentleman 
referred to above, " the picture of a girl, with 
the butterfly signature. I wanted to buy it. 
But the crowd in the room was so dense that one 
could not move, and I was unable to bid. It was 
knocked down for six pounds." 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

From his plays there was nothing to be hoped 
for. His name, immediately after his arrest, 
had been effaced both on posters and pro- 
grammes ; the withdrawal of the plays was only 
a question of the time it took for the managers 
to reconcile interest with outraged feelings. For 
the rest, he had largely mortgaged his interests 
in these performances. From his books there 
was nothing to receive. The only asset that he 
possessed was the play " Salome," which he had 
written in French in 1892, and which had been 
accepted for production by Madame Sarah 
Bernhardt. Her intention had been to perform 
it in London, but the Lord Chamberlain's Licen- 
ser of Plays refused to allow its performance. 
It was a Biblical piece ; and in those days Mr 
George Alexander and Mr Hall Caine had not 
yet demonstrated the utility of the stage in 
drawing the public " nearer to the Great White 
Throne." Oscar Wilde's indignation at this re- 
fusal was very great, and he spoke at the time of 
leaving England and becoming a naturalised 
Frenchman. If he had followed up his purpose 
he would have been living now. 

While he was in Holloway, having no money 
for the purposes of his defence, he communicated 
through a friend with Madame Bernhardt offer- 
ing to sell her the rights in " Salome " for a lump 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

sum. The figure he mentioned was about the 
sixth part of what that poetic piece has already 
realised in royalties from Germany alone, with- 
out counting the sums which it is now producing 
as libretto in Strauss' s opera. Madame Bern- 
hardt missed an excellent investment on this 
occasion, which as her conduct in this matter 
was entirely guided by business considerations 
may be for her to-day the subject of some regret. 
It is not to over-estimate the productiveness of 
" Salome " to say that anyone who had pur- 
chased it in 1895 for two or three thousand 
pounds would have invested his money at a 
thousand per cent. But, of course, Madame 
Bernhardt could not foresee that. She shed 
tears over Oscar Wilde's painful position, she 
sent him messages of sympathy, and she refused 
to assist him financially in any way. But for 
the generosity of Sir Edward Clarke in under- 
taking to defend him at the Old Bailey without 
a fee, it seems certain that Oscar Wilde would 
have been abandoned to the usual resources of 
poor prisoners. He had come to that : he was 
a poor prisoner : he might have been the bene- 
ficiary of an eleemosynary Old Bailey "soup." 
Sir Edward Clarke's sympathy with artists is 
notoriously not a great one ; he was the only 
man in London who refused to sign the petition 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

that the great Sir Henry Irving should be buried 
in Westminster Abbey ; and this in spite of the 
fact that they had been schoolfellows together. 
His principles and convictions must have been 
outraged by the principles and theories of Oscar 
Wilde (who, of course, had no convictions) yet 
he very generously undertook to defend him 
without remuneration. 

His friends had, of course, abandoned him. 
The usual had taken place. It is foolish to ex- 
pect exceptional conduct from the average. 
There had been the usual denials. The Atlantic 
cable was used by one person in his eager haste 
to repudiate the fallen man and his many ob- 
ligations to him. The actors took their revenge 
for that stinging remark about " the source of 
danger." Every door was shut upon the un- 
happy man. This was, perhaps, what afflicted 
him most. In his terrible awakening what sur- 
prised and distressed him beyond anything else 
was that " people to whom he had been kind, 
and nothing but kind, should turn upon him." 
There were, equally, of course, a few courtisans de 
la dernier e heure. A man of such charm, such 
generosity and goodness could not but have 
friends who preferred him in disgrace and shame 
and peril to the people who turned their backs 
upon him. There were a few who would gladly 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

have gone to prison in his stead, would gladly 
have died for him. This is no hyperbole. More 
than one man since his downfall and ruin did 
die by his own hand, because he could not 
survive Oscar Wilde's catastrophe. More than 
a score of men are dragging out a broken life, 
who had not the courage to put an end to suffer- 
ings to which time can bring no surcease. It 
will not be necessary to say that the " R. " of 
" De Profundis," to whom Oscar Wilde pays a 
beautiful tribute in that book, a tribute worthy 
of the man's beautiful conduct, was loyal then 
as ever. And there were two or three others. 

During the period that he spent in Oakley 
Street, while on bail, Oscar Wilde seemed to 
have entirely recovered his sanity of mind. His 
physical condition was however deplorable. His 
nerves were wrecked. He was in fever all the 
time. He was paying his debt to Nature for 
years of indulgence. He was consumed with 
burning thirst. One of his friends was running 
out all day to fetch soda-water and lemonade 
for him. He drank gallons of liquid in the 
twenty-four hours. His moral attitude was 
splendid. He had made up his mind to face 
the worst. The advisability of flight was urged 
upon him by one of his friends. He refused to 
listen to the suggestion. It appears that Lady 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Wilde had said that if he left the country she 
would never speak to him again ; but it is certain 
that the son of Speranza had never seriously 
entertained the project of showing his heels to a 
Sassenach judge and gaoler. His brother Willy 
was almost melodramatic in his protestations 
that a Wilde would not flee. "He is an Irish 
gentleman, and he will face the music," was 
what he used to repeat with almost tedious in- 
sistence. One day he announced that he had 
decided to sell his library in order to find the 
funds for sending back to France the particular 
friend who was the advocate of a discreet 
evanishment, for he entertained the idea that 
the reason why that friend did not return home 
was that he had not the means to do so. By a 
curious coincidence one of the very few books 
which constituted the " library " was a copy of 
the essays of that Montaigne, whose remark, 
" Were I to be accused of stealing the towers 
of Notre Dame the first thing I should do would 
be to put the frontier between myself and the 
gens de la justice" was being quoted in support 
of his advice by the friend whose removal he 
desired. It is very certain that Willy Wilde 
felt strongly that the honour of the family would 
be compromised by Oscar's flight. A young 
Irish poet relates that visiting Oakley Street 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

during that period " Willy came theatrically 
into the room and said : ' Who are you ? What 
do you want ? ' I told him who I was," he 
says, " and added that I had a note for Oscar 
Wilde. Willy then asked, ' Are you urging him 
to flee ? Because if you are, I won't let him 
have the note.' ' 

" I think," the Irish poet has said since, 
" that the whole family Irish pride being 
aroused felt that the cowardice of running 
away would be a far greater disgrace than the 
disgrace of a conviction and imprisonment. 
For the rest," he adds, " prison does not seem 
such a disgrace in Ireland, and that for historical 

Oscar Wilde's bearing on the night before the 
last day of his second trial, in the supreme 
moments of his liberty, filled all those who saw 
him with respect and admiration. His serenity 
had returned to him. His sweet, gentle dignity 
had clothed him anew. The tragic horror of the 
moment had aroused in him the perfect man- 
liness that periods had lulled into apathetic 
quiescence. He took farewell of his friends ; 
he informed each one of a little gift, from the 
poor trinkets which remained to him, which he 
had destined as a souvenir in case he did not 
return home on the morrow. It is very certain 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

that at that moment he felt that if a conviction 
ensued he would never see any of his friends 
again ; that he felt that he was being tried for 
his life, and that prison would speedily kill him. 
He retired early from the mournful gathering, 
saluting by kissing her hand with stately courtli- 
ness, his brother's wife, whose kindness and 
sympathy had deeply touched his heart. He 
spent, before he sought his sleepless couch, a long 
hour with the mother, deeply loved and deeply 
honoured, whom he was never to see again. 

Late in the afternoon of the following day, 
Saturday, 25th May 1895, Oscar Wilde was 
found guilty and sentenced to two years hard 
labour. There had been six counts against him. 
He was asked after his release by a very old 
friend as to the justice of the finding, and he 
said: " Five of the counts referred to matters 
with which I had absolutely nothing to do. 
There was some foundation for one of the 
counts." " But then why," asked his friend, 
" did you not instruct your defenders ? " " That 
would have meant betraying a friend," said 
Oscar. Circumstances which have since tran- 
spired have established what for the rest was 
never in doubt in the minds of those who heard 
it made the absolute truth of this statement. 

When the verdict became known outside the 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

court, a foul rabble, believing that an aristocrat 
had been condemned, filled the Old Bailey with 
shouts of delight. Men and women joined hands, 
and a clumsy saraband was danced. Cruelty, 
the lascivia di sangue, glutted itself. There was 
a peculiar irony in this blood-lust which every- 
where in England found expression, for, as the 
pathologists affirm, it is a morbid manifestation 
very directly akin to the aberration to which 
the prisoner had fallen a victim. From evil, 
evil is bred. Abyssus abyssum invocat. 

The question presented itself to many : 
Where was our national regard for Jesus Christ 
as we exulted in the downfall and misery of the 
man whom we had punished ? The clergy held 
their tongues. The Church had nothing to say. 
The doctors, the men of science, the patholo- 
gists, the students and masters of psychology, 
who could have shown that the man was irre- 
sponsible : they were all mute. On the heights 
there was neither sound nor motion : in the 
depths males and females shouted and danced 
for gladness. 

What ripples of mocking laughter must run 
through Olympus if ever the careless gods from 
their lofty seats do deign to look down upon the 
world and see what men we are and what are 
the things we do. 

2 A 369 


Oscar Wilde in Prison The Effect of the Simple Life A 
Splendid Renovation " De Profundis " The Sincerity 
of the Book How Religion came to Wilde The Scientific 
Explanation of the Phenomenon A Quotation from 
" The Tree of Life "Oscar Wilde Visited by his Wife- 
Constance Wilde Why the Reconciliation never took 
Effect Oscar Wilde as a Husband and a Father The 
Testimony of Ernest La Jeunesse A Prison Conversation 
Oscar Wilde's Views on Religion The Impression he 
produced in Prison Described as a Saint. 

IN Wandsworth Prison first and then in Reading 
Gaol, Oscar Wilde's mental development reached 
a point of transcendency to which never in the 
world of men he could have hoped to attain. 
There had been forced upon him the recluse life 
which has raised many men in the world's 
history towards the stars, but which, perhaps, 
never before demonstrated its reforming and 
enhancing powers in a manner more magnificent, 
more orbicular, more triumphant. In the old 
days he had tried to imitate Balzac in his mode 
of life ; but Society and Pleasure had ever 
knocked at the door of his cell, nor had he had 
the strength of will great enough to resist their 
allurements. Now there were iron bars between 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

him and the wasteful pleasures of the world ; 
a claustration, as strict if less severe than that 
which Balzac imposed upon himself, held him 
fast, and he had the time to think. He had the 
time to think, and with a brain which at last had 
recovered its splendid normal power. The prison 
regime, the enforced temperance in food, the 
enforced abstinence from all narcotic drugs and 
drink, the regular hours, the periodical exercise : 
the simple life, in one word, had restored to him 
the splendid heritage that he had received from 
Nature. What the real Oscar Wilde was, and of 
what he was capable were now to be made 
patent. In " De Profundis" he laid his soul 
bare, and the impartial are to judge from that 
book of the man's new powers, as a thinker 
and as a literary artist. His friends will ask no 
more than that, reserving to themselves the high 
delight of taking a holy joy in the lofty virtues 
which that book reveals, the kindness, the 
patience, the resignation, the forgiveness of sins, 
so splendid that one may almost believe that in 
his ardent meditations on Christ, he was able 
to bring the Bodily Presence of the God who 
taught these things into his cell, and to learn 
from the divine lips themselves what is the true 
secret of human happiness. In the ensuing 
chapter we have from the pen of a man who saw 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

him day by day in prison a description of him 
which shows that he put into hourly practice 
the lessons he had learned. Critics abroad have 
said that " there is too much about Christ " in 
" De Profundis," overlooking the fact that the 
book is from first page to last inspired by Christ, 
that no man who had not found Christ could 
have written that book, nor lived as the man 
who wrote it did live. In England one heard it 
said that it is absurd to believe that an agnostic, 
a sensualist would turn to religion, and the 
blasphemous statement has been made that this 
book is in its way no more sincere than the dying 
confessions of many prison-cells, the greasy cant 
that officious chaplains win from fawning 
prisoners ! One has heard the word HYPO- 
CRISY pronounced ! It is a thousand pities 
that people are placed by common consent in 
places of authority and allowed to pronounce 
opinions, who from a total absence of scientific 
training, are utterly imcompetent to opine and 
unworthy to pronounce. It is an elementary 
fact that when the mind of man either by his 
own volition or by the force of exterior circum- 
stances is concentrated on the bare facts of 
existence it becomes religious. 

" It is also noteworthy," writes Mr Ernest 
Crawley, in his remarkable and most interesting 

37 2 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

study of religion, " The Tree of Life," " that, 
while the over-cultured man and the abstract 
thinker so often discard religion, simpler and 
actually more complete souls cleave to it with 
an instinctive faith. But every man, when he 
happens to be brought face to face with the 
eternal realities of existence. . . . becomes, ipso 
facto, a religious subject/* 

In " De Profundis " Oscar Wilde describes the 
road by which he came from hyper-culture and 
abstract thought to a simplicity and complete- 
ness of soul. 

In the same book may be found many of the 
awful details of his prison life. None of the 
humiliation, none of the sufferings ordained by 
our prison regulations were spared to him : he, 
himself, would have been the last to wish that 
any exception should be made in his favour. The 
first three months of his confinement in Wands- 
worth Gaol were months of atrocious anguish. 
He relates that the idea of suicide was at all 
times with him ; the want of means wherewith 
to effect his purpose alone saved his life. At 
the end of this period he was seen by a friend, 
who found him " greatly depressed," prone to 
tears. His hands were disfigured, the nails were 
broken and bleeding, the face was emaciated and 
irrecognisable. In the following month that is 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

to say on 2ist September 1895 he was visited in 
prison by his wife, by special permission from 
the Home Office. His appearance produced 
upon the unfortunate woman an impression, 
from the shock of which she never recovered. 
After leaving the gaol she wrote to the friend 
who had induced her to take to the prisoner the 
solace of her forgiveness and love a pathetic 
letter, in which unconsciously she revealed how 
great her affection still was for her husband. 
" It was indeed awful," she wrote, " more so 
than I had conception of. I could not see him, 
and I could not touch him, and I scarcely spoke." 
It is in those words " I could not touch him " 
that one reads the love that still was in her ; for 
to touch the cherished one is ever an instinctive 
prompting. The poor woman left him, having 
made up her mind, as she afterwards told the 
same friend, to take him back to her after his 
imprisonment was over. In the spring of the 
following year, as Oscar Wilde gratefully re- 
cords in " De Profundis," she travelled all the 
way from Genoa to London to break to him the 
terrible news of his mother's death. This was 
the last time that the two met. After Oscar 
Wilde's release circumstances arose which delayed 
their definite reconciliation, and then came that 
which parts the tenderest spouses. Constance 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Wilde, who had been long ailing, and who had 
never recovered from the horrible shock of the 
catastrophe which shattered her home, was re- 
leased, from a world so full of cruel surprise to 
the simple and gentle, by death. She died in 
Genoa about one year after her husband had left 
prison. She was a simple, beautiful woman, too 
gentle and good for the part that life called upon 
her to play. She was a woman of heart whom 
kindlier gods would never have thrown into the 
turmoil and stress of an existence which was all 
a battle. 

Her death was to Oscar Wilde's affectionate 
heart a sorrow which accentuated his despair. 
His love for her, for the very reason that it never 
was a strong physical attachment, was pure, deep, 
and reverent. " From a poet to a poem " is 
what he once wrote in her album. This ap- 
parent cynic was, in fact, endowed with all 
the family virtues which men love to record of 
the departed. His conduct towards his mother 
is known ; and as a husband he was what he had 
been as a son. These Irishmen are very wonder- 
ful in their loyalty towards their own kin. He 
was no friend of his brother in his lifetime, but 
he never allowed anyone to say in his presence 
a single word of disparagement about him. He 
quarrelled with several friends who had ventured 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

to speak slightingly about Willy : that ten years' 
quarrel with a famous Irish writer, to which re- 
ference has been made, arose from no other 
cause. After Willy's death his memory had a 
champion in Oscar Wilde. For his children he 
felt deep affection. Ernest La Jeunesse in that 
masterly article which he wrote after Wilde's 
death relates what a revelation it was to him 
to hear Oscar speaking about his sons. It 
showed a new man to him ; an Oscar Wilde 
whom he had not known, of whose existence 
he had never had the joyful comprehension. 
He spoke so simply, like a good father, and with 
such joy and gladness. The passage is one 
which in an essay that to read is pure delight 
from the beauty of the thing forces tears even 
from those who are reluctant to yield to such 
emotions in the midst of the highest spiritual 
delight. To many people who knew Oscar 
Wilde well the statement of his domestic 
virtues will appear unwarranted. It should be 
remembered of him, however, that he took par- 
ticular pains to cloak those qualities which 
might cause him to be compared to the general. 
A noticeable trait in his character was that al- 
though he was loudly assertive of his literary, 
artistic, and ethical principles he never spoke 
about himself as a man. He had a horror of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

anything that resembled self-aggrandisement ; 
and it cannot be doubted that he strove with all 
his power against that habit of self-accusation 
which at times was a pathetic feature of his 
conversation; because to speak evil of oneself 
even appears to the hypercritical and uncharit- 
able only a subtle form of self-adulation. 

In spite of the stringent prison regulations he 
appears to have had many opportunities for con- 
versation, and records of such conversations have 
been jealously preserved. At the time when he 
was writing " De Profundis " he had one after- 
noon a long talk with a man in Reading Gaol, 
who, writing from memory, supplies for the 
purpose of this biography the following account 
of it :- 

" We had been talking of Robert Emmet, 
when I incidentally remarked that it was curious 
that he an atheist should have made so many 
allusions to the Supreme Being and a future 
state in the course of his speech from the dock. 

" ' That was no doubt due to his Celtic tem- 
perament,' said Oscar Wilde. ' Those who are 
governed by their emotions are more given to 
hero-worship and the worship of the gods than 
practical people who believe in logic and are 
governed by what they choose to term their 
reason. Imaginative people will invariably be 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

religious people for the simple reason that re- 
ligion has sprung from the imagination.' 

" I pointed out that Shelley and Voltaire were 
highly imaginative people and were sceptics. 

" ' Of course/ he replied, ' we must allow for 
exceptions. I am one myself, but it is an open 
question whether the two poets you mention 
were unbelievers or simply agnostics. Besides, 
one's religious opinions are often greatly influ- 
enced by private and local events or national 
contingencies. I daresay the oppression of 
Church and State on the poor in France was the 
direct cause of Voltaire's apostasy.' 

" ' And may have led to yours,' I ventured 
to say. 

" He remained silent for some time, then 
stepped aside to allow a fly, which was floating 
round the door, to enter his cell. ' You see,' he 
observed, watching its movements, 'it will be 
company for me when you have gone.' I 
laughed, and repeated my question. 

" ' What,' he said, ' was the cause of my be- 
coming a man ? Remember I once was a 

" ' Well,' I said hesitatingly, ' I suppose it 
was natural development.' 

" ' Just so,' he answered, ' and the cause of 
my apostasy is spiritual development, or the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

natural evolution of the mind. You will ob- 
serve that the various races of the world have 
various forms of supernatural belief, and if you 
examine closely into those forms you will find 
they accord more or less with the racial char- 
acteristics of the people who hold them. And 
what is true in regard to races is equally true 
when applied to individuals, I mean individuals 
who can claim individuality each one makes 
his own God, and I have made mine. My God 
might not suit you, nor your God suit me, but as 
my God suits myself I wish to keep him, and 
when I feel so inclined to worship him.' 

" ' What is your God, then ? ' I asked. 
' Art ? ' 

" ' No,' he said, ' Art is but the disciple, or, 
perhaps, I should say the Apostle. It was 
through Art I discovered him, and it is through 
Art I worship him. Christ, to me, is the one 
supreme Artist, and not one of the brush, or 
the pen, but, what is more rare, he was an 
Artist in words. It was by the voice he found 
expression that's what the voice is for, but 
few can find it by that medium, and none in the 
manner born of Christ.' 

" ' If we acknowledge the divinity of Christ,' 
said I, ' neither his words nor his books, his 
fastings nor his final sufferings should excite our 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

admiration any more than the strength of the 
elephant or the fleetness of the deer. If we al- 
low he was a supernatural being, gifted with 
miraculous power, his sufferings became a farce ; 
they resemble a millionaire choosing to suffer 
the pangs of hunger in the midst of plenty, or 
the fanatic who deliberately inflicts pain on his 
body for the purification of his soul.' 

" ' The divinity of Christ,' said he, ' in its 
generally accepted sense, I, of course, do not 
believe, but I see no difficulty whatever in believ- 
ing that he was as far above the people around 
him as though he had been an angel sitting on 
the clouds.' (Here followed a panegyric of 
Christ something similar to that drawn in " De 

" On another occasion when speaking on the 
same subject I wished to know which label I 
would present him with, supposing I had a 
bundle containing the names of the world's 
religions and non-religions, and to say ( Take 
this it fits you.' 

" He smiled and said he would not accept 
any one of them. * This,' he said, touching 
the round piece of cardboard on his coat, 
" indicates my address, or rather the number of 
my room, and does so correctly, I daresay. 
But you couldn't find a card in your supposi- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

titious bundle that would correspond with my 

' ' Yours is a unique creed, then/ I responded, 
' why not explain its tenets and you may make 
a convert ? ' 

" ' I do not want any converts,' he replied, 
' the moment I discovered that anyone else 
shared my belief I would flee from it, I must 
either have it all to myself or not at all.' 

" ' Selfish man ! ' I cried. 

' To be a supreme Artist,' said he, ' one must 
first be a supreme Individualist.' 

" ' You talk of Art,' said I, ' as though there 
were nothing else in the world worth living for.' 
' For me,' said he sadly, ' there is nothing 

' Do you know," he said suddenly, ' the Bible 
is a wonderful book. How beautifully artistic 
the little stories are ! Adam and his wife alone 
in the beautiful garden, where they could have 
enjoyed all the pleasures of life by simply obeying 
the laws. But he refuses to become a machine, 
and so eats the apple I, also, would have eaten 
that apple and in consequence is expelled.' 

" ' Then, young Joseph sold into Egypt as a 
slave, when he blossoms out as the ruler of a 
kingdom, and his subterfuge to obtain his 
brother. In nearly every chapter you can find 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

something so intensely interesting that one 
pauses to wonder how it all came to be written. 
The Psalms of David ; the Song of Solomon 
how grand it is ! And the story of Daniel ; all 
appeal to me as a lover of language, and as a 
lover of Art. And if I am delighted with the 
Old Testament imagery I am charmed with the 
New. Christ, Paul, and most of the other char- 
acters in the book have for me a singular fas- 
cination. Then take the last book of all. How 
powerful must have been the imagination of the 
writer ! Why, I know of nothing in the whole 
world of Art to compare with it, especially those 
tenth, eleventh and twelfth chapters. Really, 
I have no sympathy with stupid people who 
cannot admire a book unless they believe in its 
literal truth.' 

" I reminded him that the leading agnostics 
of the century had paid tribute to the beauty of 
the scriptures, and mentioned Renan, Huxley 
and Ingersoll. 

" ' I very much admire,' he said, ' Renan's 
" Life of Jesus " ; and Huxley had a captivating 
style which is seldom to be met with in men of 
science, for instance, I remember reading where 
he said " that one could not be a true soldier 
of science and a soldier of the Cross," and I 
thought it a very fine sentence, although I did 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

not believe it, for between matter of fact and 
matter of faith there is a wide gulf which science 
cannot bridge.' 

' When I go out from here I should like to 
find a quiet, nice little Church, I shouldn't in the 
least mind what its denomination was so long as 
it had a nice, simple-minded and good-hearted 
clergyman, one who had religion within himself 
and did not preach somebody else's opinions 
and practise somebody else's formulas, a man 
who thought of the sinner more than the stipend. 
I can never belong to any of the conventional 
forms of religion, but I should like to be able to 
extract the good there may be in all.' ' 

In " De Profundis " we have Wilde's own 
account of his prison and, of what it meant to 
him. In the following chapter we have an ob- 
jective description of his life there. The 
warder's account of his character as it displayed 
itself in prison is confirmed by many witnesses. 
The man appeared to all who beheld him in 
prison as the beau ideal of the Christian gentle- 
man. It is on record that on the night of his 
departure many of the wretched prisoners in 
Reading Gaol were rebuked and even punished 
for the loudness of their lamentations. One of 
these men said after his release, that when C. 3.3. 
went, his last hope seemed to have abandoned 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

him. His sympathy for his fellow-prisoners was 
so great that he often risked severe punishment 
in order to give to this one or to that the com- 
fort of his consolations. Some of the notes 
which he wrote while in prison to fellow-prisoners 
are still in existence, and some have found their 
way into the market for curiosities. De Mon- 
taigne's remark is here applicable once more. 
There have been people who have seen in these 
notes, words of encouragement for the most 
part, the most evil meanings. His sympathy 
went beyond mere words. Through his friends 
he was enabled to help with money many of his 
fellow-prisoners, who, leaving the gaol destitute, 
would otherwise have fallen immediately back 
into crime. While he was in Reading Gaol some 
lads, mere children, were committed to prison 
for snaring rabbits. The magistrates had given 
these hardened poachers the option of paying 
fines, and it was with his money that Oscar 
Wilde enabled them to gain their freedom. After 
his release he befriended several of those whose 
acquaintance he had made in prison. Although 
he spoke of himself as an agnostic in gaol, as 
is recorded in the conversation above, he showed 
by his conduct that Christianity had altogether 
taken possession of him. The singular sweet- 
ness and charm of his manners after he came 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

out of prison, his tolerance, his gentleness, his 
entire self-effacement, impressed all those who 
came near him. The warder whose story now 
follows says of Oscar Wilde that in prison he 
appeared a saint. So, too, he appeared to many 
who saw him during the few months after his 
release, until fatality had driven him back to 
companionships in the atmosphere of which 
nothing that was good or noble could subsist. 

2K 385 



(Written by one of the warders in Reading Gaol} 

THERE are supreme moments in the lives of men, 
as there are events in the histories of nations, 
which mark epochs and stand out in bold relief 
from the many others which go to make up the 
sum-total of their existence. Those moments in 
the life of Mr Wilde were when he stepped out of 
the dock at the Old Bailey, a ruined man, and 
with a sentence of two years' imprisonment 
hanging over his unfortunate head. 

There are days, months, and years in the lives 
of some men which to them are an eternity ; for 
them the hand of Time has ceased to move ; 
the clock no longer strikes the recurring hour ; 
for them there is no dawn ; there is no day 

1 This chapter has been contributed to this biography by a 
man who was a warder in Reading Gaol at the time of Oscar 
Wilde's imprisonment there. The express condition under 
which it was contributed was that it should be printed exactly 
as it stood in the manuscript, with no alteration of a single 
phrase or word or expression. This condition has been faith- 
fully observed, and the chapter has been printed as it was 
writ tent 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

occasionally, perhaps, a twilight, for, as the 
adage has it, " Hope springs eternal in the 
human breast " ; they live through one long, 
bewildering night a night of terror, a night of 
appalling darkness, unrelieved by a single star ; 
a night of misery, a night of despair ! 

Two years' imprisonment meant to the Poet 
one long, dreary night a night spent in an In- 
ferno, a night without variation, a night without 
dreams : no dreams, but nightmares, rendered 
the more ghastly because of their terrible reality. 
From them there was no awakening. Night- 
mares wherein men were flogged ! wherein men 
were executed ! 

Others, it may be urged, have been in prison 
before the Poet ; others since and others now. 
Ah, yes ! but they were not poets, they are not 
poets, in the sense he was. Their sufferings, no 
doubt, are great, but his were greater. Reared 
in the lap of luxury, living in an atmosphere 
of culture and refinement, he, the Apostle of 
^Estheticism, was suddenly hurled from the 
proud pinnacle on which his genius had placed 
him, and, without passing through any inter- 
mediate stage, found himself encased amid walls 
of iron and surrounded by bars of steel. He 
who formerly devoted himself to the producing 
of the highest works of Art, was now shredding 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

tarred ropes in a dismal cell. He, with a poet's 
weakness for adornment, was now attired in the 
garb of gloomy grey, taken from a prison ward- 
robe. He, to whom expression was life nay, 
more than life itself was suddenly reduced to 
a silence more silent than the grave ; and he 
who had made a name, glorious in the world of 
literature, had now only a number. His was 
worse than suffering ; his was a tragedy, and 
one of the greatest that the nineteenth cen- 
tury has to record. 

For the first eighteen months of his im- 
prisonment all the rigours of the system were 
applied to him relentlessly. He had to pick 
his quantity of oakum, or bear the punishment 
that was sure to follow ; turn the monotonous 
crank, along with his fellows, by which the 
prison was supplied with water ; read the silly 
books from the library, or pace his cell, a prey 
to his own sad thoughts, until his health broke 
down under the unnatural strain, and, to prevent 
his being sent to a madhouse, he was allowed 
the privilege of having a limited number of books, 
which were sent by friends, and which afterwards 
found a place amongst others less abstruse on 
the shelves of the prison library. 

Later he was allowed a more important 
privilege the privilege of writing and to this 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

concession the world owes " De Profundis." 
He wrote mostly in the evenings, when he knew 
he would be undisturbed. In his cell were two 
wooden trestles, across which he placed his 
plank bed. This was his table, and, as he him- 
self observed : " It was a very good table, too." 

His tins he kept scrupulously clean ; and in the 
mornings, after he had arranged them in their 
regulated order, he would step back, and view 
them with an air of child-like complacency. 

He was dreadfully distressed because he could 
not polish his shoes or brush his hair. " If I 
could but feel clean," he said, " I should not feel 
so utterly miserable. These awful bristles " 
touching his chin " are horrid." Before leav- 
ing his cell to see a visitor he was always careful 
to conceal, as far as possible, his unshaven chin 
by means of his red handkerchief. He showed 
great agitation when a visitor was announced. 
" For I never know," he said, " what fresh 
sorrow may not have entered my life, and is, in 
this manner, borne to me, so that I may carry 
it to my cell, and place it in my already over- 
stocked storehouse, which is my heart. My 
heart is my storehouse of sorrow ! " 

It was during the latter part of the Poet's 
imprisonment that the order was issued for 
" first offenders " to be kept apart from the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

other prisoners. They were distinguished by 
two red stars, one of which was on the jacket 
and the other worn on the cap, and in conse- 
quence were known as " Star-class men." The 
order, not being retrospective, did not apply to 
the Poet, and in consequence he, like the re- 
mainder, had to stand with his face to the wall 
when any of the " star-class " were passing in 
his vicinity. The framers of the order were, no 
doubt, actuated by the best of motives, but its 
too literal interpretation caused it to look rather 
ludicrous. I have seen the Poet having to 
stand with his face to the wall while a villainous- 
looking ruffian, who had been convicted for half 
killing his poor wife, passed him. In fact, 
nearly every day he was forced to assume 
this undignified position, which might have 
been obviated but for the crass stupidity of 

In Church the Poet seemed to suffer from 
ennui. He sat in a listless attitude with his 
elbow resting on the back of his chair, his legs 
crossed, and gazed dreamily around him and 
above him. 

There were times when he was so oblivious of 
his surroundings, so lost in reverie, that it re- 
quired a friendly " nudge " from one of the 
" lost sheep " beside him to remind him that a 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

hymn had been given out, and that he must rise 
and sing, or at least appear to sing, his praises 
unto God. 

When the Chaplain was addressing his shorn 
and grey-garbed flock, telling them how wicked 
they all were, and how thankful they should all 
be that they lived in a Christian country where 
a paternal Government was as anxious for the 
welfare of their souls as for the safe-keeping of 
their miserable bodies ; that society did not wish 
to punish them, although they had erred and 
sinned against society; that they were under- 
going a process of purification ; that their prison 
was their purgatory, from which they could 
emerge as pure and spotless as though they had 
never sinned at all ; that if they did so society 
would meet and welcome them with open arms ; 
that they were the prodigal sons of the com- 
munity, and that the community, against which 
they had previously sinned, was fattening calves 
to feast them, if they would but undertake to 
return to the fold and become good citizens, 
the Poet would smile. But not his usual smile : 
this was a cynical smile, a disbelieving smile, 
and often it shadowed despair. " I long to rise 
in my place, and cry out," said he, " and tell the 
poor, disinherited wretches around me that it 
is not so ; to tell them that they are society's 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

victims, and that society has nothing to offer them 
but starvation in the streets, or starvation and 
cruelty in prison ! ' 

I have often wondered why he never did cry 
out, why he was able to continue, day after day, 
the dull, slow round of a wearisome existence 
an existence of sorrow : sorrow benumbed by its 
awful monotony ; an existence of pain, an exist- 
ence of death. 

But he faithfully obeyed the laws, and con- 
scientiously observed the rules, prescribed by 
Society for those whom it consigns to the abodes 
of sorrow. I understand he was punished once 
for talking. I have no personal knowledge 
of the circumstance, but I know that it would 
be almost a miracle for one to serve two years' 
imprisonment without once being reported. 
Some of the rules are made with no other object 
than to be broken, so that an excuse may be 
found for inflicting additional punishment. 1 
However, he could not have been punished by 
solitary confinement for fifteen days, as has 
been stated. A governor is not empowered to 
give more than three days. But twenty-four 
hours' bread and water is the usual punishment 
for talking, and, if it be the first offence, the de- 
linquent is generally let off with a caution. 

1 The writer, it should be remembered, is a prison warder. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

During the period of his incarceration the 
Poet suffered in health, but he seldom com- 
plained to the doctor. He was afraid of doing 
so lest he should be sent to the sick-ward. He 
preferred the seclusion of his cell. There he 
could think aloud without attracting the glances 
or the undertone comments of the less mobile- 
minded. There he could be alone alone with 
the spectre of his past, alone with his books, 
alone with his God ! 

When I entered his cell on a certain bleak, 
raw morning in early March I found him still 
in bed. This was unusual, and so I expressed 
surprise. " I have had a bad night," he ex- 
plained. " Pains in my inside, which I think 
must be cramp, and my head seems splitting." 
I asked whether he had better not report 
sick. "No," he said; "not for anything; I 
shall be better, perhaps, as the day advances. 
Come back in a few minutes, when I will be up." 

I returned to his cell a few minutes afterwards, 
and found he was up, but looking so dreadfully 
ill that I again advised him to see the doctor. 
He declined, however, saying he would be all 
right when he had had something warm to 

I knew that in the ordinary course of events 
he would have nothing for at least another hour, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

so I resolved to find something to give him in the 
meanwhile myself. I hastened off, and warmed 
up some beef-tea, poured it into a bottle, placed 
the bottle inside my jacket, and returned to- 
wards his cell. While ascending the staircase 
the bottle slipped between my shirt and skin. 
It was very hot. I knew that there was an 
unoccupied cell on the next landing, and I 
determined to go there and withdraw the bottle 
from its painful position. But at that moment 
a voice called me from the central hall below. 
I looked down, and saw the Chief Warder. He 
beckoned me towards him. I went back. He 
wished to speak concerning a discrepancy in the 
previous night's muster report. I attempted to 
elucidate the mystery of two prisoners being 
in the prison who had no claim on its hospi- 
tality. I am afraid I threw but little light on the 
mystery. I was in frightful agony. The hot 
bottle burned against my breast like molten lead. 
I have said " there are supreme moments in the 
lives of men." Those were supreme moments 
to me. I could have cried out in my agony, 
but dared not. The cold, damp beads of per- 
spiration gathered on my brow ; I writhed and 
twisted in all manners of ways to ease myself 
of the dreadful thing, but in vain. I could 
not shift that infernal bottle try as I might. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

It lay there against my breast like a hot poultice, 
but hotter than any poultice that was ever made 
by a cantankerous mother or by a cantankerous 
nurse. And the strange thing about it was that 
the longer it lay the hotter it became. The 
Chief eyed me curiously. I believe he thought 
I had been drinking. I know I was incoherent 
enough for anything. At last he walked off, and 
left me, for which I felt truly thankful. I 
bounded up the iron stairs, and entered the 
Poet's cell, and, pulling out the burning bottle, I 
related, amid gasps and imprecations, my awful 
experience. The Poet smiled while the tale was 
being told, then laughed actully laughed. I 
had never seen him laugh naturally before, and, 
with the same qualification, I may add that I 
never saw him laugh again. 

I felt angry because he laughed. I told him 
so. I said it was poor reward for all I had 
undergone to be laughed at, and, so saying, I 
came out, and closed the door I closed it with 
a bang. 

When I took him his breakfast he looked the 
picture of contrition. He said he wouldn't 
touch it unless I promised to forgive him. 

" Not even the cocoa ? " I asked. 

"Not even the cocoa," he replied; and he 
looked at it longingly. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

"Well, rather than starve you, I'll forgive 

" And supposing I laugh again ? " said he, 
with a smile. 

" I sha'n't forgive you again," I said. 

The following morning he handed me a sheet 
of foolscap blue official paper. " Here is some- 
thing," said he, "which is not of much value 
now, but probably may be if you keep it long 

I had no opportunity of reading then, but when 
I had read it I was struck by the power and 
beauty of its expresssion. It was headed : " An 
Apology," and written in his old, original, and 
racy style. The flow of subtle humour, the wit 
and charm of the many epigrams, the naivete 
contained in some of the personal allusions, were 
captivating. As a lover of style, I was capti- 
vated, and told him so. 

" Ah ! " said he, "I never thought to resume 
that style again. I had left it behind me as a 
thing of the past, but yesterday morning I 
laughed, which showed my perversity, for I 
really felt sorry for you. I did not mean to 
laugh : I had vowed never to laugh again. 
Then I thought it fitting when I had broken one 
vow to break the other also. I had made two, 
and I broke both, but now I have made them 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

again. I never intend to laugh, nor do I in- 
tend ever again to write anything calculated 
to produce laughter in others. I am no longer 
the Sirius of Comedy. I have sworn solemnly 
to dedicate my life to Tragedy. If I write any 
more books, it will be to form a library of 
lamentations. They will be written in a style 
begotten of sorrow, and in sentences composed in 
solitude, and punctuated by tears. They will 
be written exclusively for those who have 
suffered or are suffering. I understand them, 
and they will understand me. I shall be an 
enigma to the world of Pleasure, but a mouth- 
piece for the world of Pain." 

In conversation the Poet was always perfectly 
rational. His every action during the day was 
rational, but, when left to himself in the evening, 
he underwent a transformation, or, it might be 
more appropriate to term it, a transfiguration. 
It was when he was alone in his cell, when the 
doors were double-locked, when the gas was 
flickering, when the shadows of night were fall- 
ing, when all was quiet, when all was dead. The 
grim and watchful warder moves around with 
velvety tread. There is a still and awful silence 
a silence in the warder's slippers, a silence in the 
cells, a silence in the air. The dark, sombre 
shadow stops at the door of each living sepulchre, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

and gazes in ; he peers through the aperture of 
glass, to satisfy himself that the tomb has not 
become too realistic, that it still contains the 
living, that none have dared to cheat the law 
have dared to baffle Justice. 

The view is nearly the same in each : a drab 
and ghostly figure seated on a stool, finishing 
the day's task, which will be collected at the 
hour of eight, or, if he has already finished his 
work, he sits staring with vacant eyes into 
vacancy, or looks for consolation in the Book 
of Common Prayer. 

The watching figure glides on, now stops, 
peers into another cell near the end of the 
corridor. The cell is marked .3.3. it is the 
cell of the Poet ! Around the whole circle of 
living sepulchres no sight like this ! No sight 
more poignant ! No sight more awe-inspiring ! 
No sight more terrible. The Poet is now 
alone ! Alone with the Gods ! Alone with the 
Muse ! 

He is pacing his cell one, two, three. 
Three steps when he has to turn. Three steps 
and turn again. His hands behind his back, a 
wrist encircled by a hand, and thus backwards 
and forwards, to and fro, he goes, his head 
thrown back, smiling but, Heavens, what a 
smile ! 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

His eyes those wonderful eyes ! are fairly 
dancing. Now they are looking towards the 
ceiling but far beyond the ceiling, looking even 
beyond the depths of airy space, looking into the 
infinite. Now he laughs ! What a laugh ! 
Piercing, poignant, bitter all and more are 
condensed in that awful laugh. His powerful 
imagination is at work. Though his body is 
in fetters his soul is free for who can chain 
the soul of a poet ? It roams on high and 
mighty altitudes high above the haunts of men. 
Then higher yet, above the silvery clouds, it 
soars, and finds a resting-place among the pale 
shadows of the moon. 

Then back to earth it comes with one fell 
stroke, as lightning flashed from heaven back 
through the iron window, back to the prison cell. 
Hush ! ... He speaks ! ... He breathes the 
sacred name of Mother, and calls his wife 
by name ! He sheds a tear, it glistens on his 
cheek, when, lo ! an angel comes and the tear 
evaporates. And thus his life, whate'er he may 
have done, was purged from his account by one 
hot tear that trickled from a heart redeemed 
and purified by suffering. But hark! He 
speaks again. He addresses an imaginary vis- 
itor, with hands outstretched towards his little 
stool : 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

" Long, long ago, in boyhood's days, I had a fond ambition : 
I intended to reform the world, and alter its condition. 
I raised myself through Art alone to a very high position, 
And now, my friend, you see me, a poor victim of attrition." 

He laughs again, and repeats the last few 
words : " A victim of attrition. Piti-less attri- 
tion." He turns away, and resumes his melan- 
choly walk ; then stops once more before his 
visionary visitor, and raises his finger. " The 
world," he says, with a tinge of egotism, "is 
not so solid after all. I can shake it with an 
epigram and convulse it with a song." 

He laughs once more, then sinks upon the 
prison stool, and bows his head. And here we 
leave him to think his thoughts alone Alone ! 

Let no one mock those nightly scenes, and say 
the Poet was not sincere. In prison he was the 
very soul of sincerity and remember, no man can 
wear a mask in prison. You may deceive the 
governor, you may deceive the chaplain, you 
may deceive the doctor, but you cannot deceive 
the warder. His eye is upon you when no 
other eye sees you, during your hours of sleep 
as well as during your hours of wakefulness. 

What the Poet was before he went to prison 
I care not. What he may have been after he 
left prison I know not. One thing I know, 
however, that while in prison he lived the life 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of a saint, or as near that holy state as poor 
mortal can ever hope to attain. 

His gentle smile of sweet serenity was some- 
thing to remember. It must have been a smile 
like this that Bunyan wore as he lay in Bedford 
Gaol dreaming his wonderful dreams. It must 
have been a similar smile that illumined the 
noble face of St Francis of Assisi when he spoke 
of " his brother the wind and his sister the 

Had Hugo been an artist with the brush as 
he was artist with the pen he would have de- 
picted such a smile as shimmering over the 
features of the good bishop when he told his 
great white lie to save poor Jean Valjean. And, 
who can say that the Prince of Peace Himself 
would have considered such a smile unworthy 
of His countenance as He uttered the sweet 
words of invitation to the little children whom 
the disciples wished to keep away ? One can 
remember such a smile although one's pen fails 
to describe its sweetness, as it fails to describe 
the sweet perfume of the rose. It was a smile 
of resignation, a smile of benevolence, a smile 
of innocence, a smile of love. 

Farewell, brave heart ! May your sleep be 
as peaceful as your smile. May the angels hover 
around your tomb in death as they hovered 

2 C 4OI 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

around your tomb in life. And, had you been 
destitute of every other attribute that goes to 
make the perfect man, that smile alone would 
have served you as your passport through the 
gates of Paradise and onwards to the Great 
White Throne ! 

Farewell ! I have kept my promise. I have 
remembered you during all the years that have 
intervened since that memorable day we shook 
hands and parted in your cold and cheerless cell. 
You asked me to think of you sometimes. I 
have thought of you always ; scarcely one 
single day has passed since then that I have not 
thought of you you who were at once my 
prisoner and my friend. 



To face paye 403. 


Oscar Wilde released Sebastian Melmoth Berneval How 
he appeared to his Friends The Prison Taint Degrada- 
tion which had not degraded Why he could not work 
" The Case of Warder Martin " " Don't read this " 
" The Ballad of Reading Gaol " He proceeds to Naples 
His Condition there As to one of his Friends He 
returns to Paris The Testimony of the Police Monsieur 
Dupoirier His last Moments Oscar Wilde is released 
His Burial and Grave Post Funera His Continental 
Reputation The Significance of this Spendthrift Loss. 

AFTER his release from Reading Gaol having 
refused the offer of certain American journalists 
to pay him a large sum for an account of his 
life in prison, with the remark he could not 
understand that such offers should be made to 
a gentleman he immediately crossed over to 
France. His deference to English society was 
such that he felt that, having offended his coun- 
try, he must consign himself to a perpetual exile 
from England. For the rest, he had reason to 
expect sympathy and welcome in France, where 
his case at the time of his downfall had been 
widely discussed, with general commiseration. 
It was held that the man had been very harshly 
dealt with. Several prominent men had written 
about him. Henri de Regnier and Paul Adam, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

who already at that time held high positions in 
French literature, in which to-day they rank as 
masters, had published articles describing his 
great good qualities, and paying respectful 
homage to the convict in Wandsworth Gaol. 
Henri Bauer, an influential critic, had published 
an account of Wilde's condemnation and the 
treatment that was being dealt out to him, 
which thrilled civilised France with horror. A 
house had been taken for him at a village called 
Berne val, on the sea-coast to the N.E. of Dieppe. 
He had assumed the name of Sebastian Melmoth, 
and his immediate purpose was to live here in 
retirement, giving himself up to work. Those 
amongst his friends who had means had sub- 
scribed a sum which was handed to him on his 
release, and there was also paid over to him the 
balance of a gift of one thousand pounds which 
had been applied to his purposes during his 

There is no worse school for husbandry than 
a place where money has no use. The truth of 
this is shown by the unvarying recklessness of 
sailors. Prisoners display on their release an 
extravagance as imprudent. The ship, as the 
gaol, obliterates all notions of the value of 
money. In Oscar Wilde's case contributory 
causes were his native generosity and the new 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

feeling of charity which filled his softened heart. 
His resources melted away in his hands ; he 
sent presents of money to many of his late 
fellow-prisoners ; he entertained at Dieppe a 
band of Montmartre poets, and at Berneval, on 
the occasion of the Queen's Jubilee, the whole 
village school of children ; he rescued the poet 
Ernest Dowson from a position of great em- 
barrassment at the inn at Arques. He spent 
money with the recklessness of sailors on shore 
and prisoners free of gaol. No doubt it pleased 
him could not help but please him, having been 
humiliated so long to enjoy the power which 
money gives in the spending of it. He was only 
a man after all, with human weaknesses. That 
he did feel the humiliation is shown in another 
way. There are in existence some letters which 
he wrote to the warder who had befriended him. 
In one of these he indulges in the delicious 
pleasure of rebuking in his turn one of the class 
under whose domination and rebuke he had 
lived for so many months. The man had 
written to him as " Oscar Wilde," " Care of 
Sebastian Melmoth," and this is how Oscar 
Wilde reproves him : "I must begin by scolding 
you thoroughly for a piece of carelessness on 
your part. I told you I had changed my name, 
and wrote out most carefully for you my new 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

name and address in spite of this you write to 
me on the envelope as Oscar Wilde, Esqre., Care 
of Sebastian Melmoth. Now, this was silly of 
you. I changed my name so as not to be 
bothered, and then you go and write to me as 
Oscar Wilde. You must be careful and thought- 
ful about things. Just as much trouble is caused 
by carelessness as by crime, my friend." Lower 
down he tells the man who was anxious to 
leave the prison service, that he has recommended 
him for a post, and adds : "I have spoken highly 
of your character and intellect. Let me beg 
of you to deserve all I have said of you. You 
have, I think, a good chance of a good place, 
so you must be as sound and straightforward 
and as good a fellow as possible." 

He hankered after respectability. In inviting 
friends to visit him at Berneval he used to ask 
those who were married to bring their wives 
with them, as though he felt that the presence 
of ladies under his roof would vouch for its 
respectability in his own eyes. He may have 
fancied that prison had attainted him. It would 
have been difficult for him to avoid such a 
feeling. In his case there was not a single thing 
he ever said, nor a single thing he ever did, 
not a glance, not a flash of expression, not the 
shadow of a thought, that could have betrayed 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

to the keenest observer, ignorant of the fact, 
that this man had spent two years as a common 
prisoner in a common gaol. Degradation had 
failed to degrade him. His intimates noticed 
only how vastly improved he was in physique, 
in nerve and muscle, in energy and courage ; 
how his whole being seemed rejuvenated, his 
whole character sweetened. They attributed it 
to the prison regime for in those days they 
did not know how, in the lonely meditation of 
his cell, he had found the true secret of life. 
He showed himself to those who had the privilege 
of seeing him during the weeks which he spent 
in Berneval a gentleman, a hero, and a Christian. 
It is the privilege and the distinction of those 
who take Christ as their model in life, who 
follow Him in humility, in resignation, and kind- 
ness, to receive at the hands of men treatment 
no other than that which was accorded to Him 
also. One cannot doubt that a man so keen 
of intelligence as Oscar Wilde well foresaw, when 
he came to that determination which he so 
eloquently sets forth in " De Profundis," what 
the world would reserve for one who should 
oppose to cruelty, mansuetude ; to insult, for- 
bearance ; to hatred, forgiveness ; and to con- 
tempt, the sublime pity which charity inspires. 
He was admirably instructed in the ways of 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

society : he was essentially a man of the world. 
He could give, in the old days, the most useful 
advice on how best to act in the worldly sense. 
A friend recalls how he once said of suicide that 
it was wrong, because it was the highest compli- 
ment that an individual could pay to society. 
Of course, he knew, when he left prison in the 
state of mind into which he had schooled him- 
self, exactly what he had to expect from the 
world. He had accepted in advance all the 
outrages that were to be heaped upon him ; 
deliberately he had entered upon a martyrdom 
for which the world was to refuse him any 
crown. With his great powers and the renewed 
vigour of his body he could have dominated the 
world. To effect that, as we now see if we 
direct our eyes towards Germany, he had but 
to let himself live. But Christianity possessed 
him ; he had laid aside all combativeness, and 
he allowed himself to die. 

His noble purpose he maintained during those 
first months with a courage which surprised his 
friends. Only on very rare occasions did a 
flash of regret for the things that he had lost 
disclose some streak of bitterness in his heart. 
There were very rare moments when he spoke 
with irritation, of which it was but too easy 
for his friends to trace the cause. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

From the very first he had the great mortifica- 
tion to find that, under the new circumstances of 
his life, work would be difficult to him. That 
is to say, he recognised from the first that, as he 
could no longer write under his name, he would 
be unable to produce anything worthy of him- 
self. He was one of those artists who write for 
fame ; for whom the money consideration is 
nothing. He could not constrain himself to 
hack-work : anonymity's black cloak enshrouded 
his brain. He needed applause ; he thirsted 
after personal triumph those were essential 
factors in his artistic temperament. So though 
he never spoke more brilliantly than during the 
last years of his life, because there the reward 
was immediate in the applause of the marvelling 
listeners, he wrote nothing, all stimulus being 

We have in a letter which he addressed to a 
working man in Reading, after his letter, " The 
Case of Warder Martin " had appeared in The 
Daily Chronicle (28th May 1897), the pathetic 
proof of this natural hunger for applause, which 
gives to the great starvation of literary artists 
its keenest pang. 

" What does Reading say to it all ? " he asks. 
" Have you seen any of the warders ? I sup- 
pose not." Then he passes on to other things, 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

but presently comes back to the subject of his 
famishing curiosity. " Have you heard any- 
thing said about me, with reference to my 
letter ? Anything nice ? " In the many 
pathetic letters from his pen which are in exist- 
ence, one will search in vain for a passage more 
pathetic than this. And we are to remember 
that the man who was so anxious to hear that 
people were talking about him as a literary 
artist had only a few days previously refused 
with indignation to lend himself to the wide 
publicity offered by American correspondents. 
It was not notoriety after which he hankered ; 
it was recognition of his literary powers. 

" The Case of Warder Martin," which has 
frequently been reprinted since his death, was 
a plea for the better treatment of children in 
prison in particular, and in general for the more 
humane application of the right of punishment. 
It is a noble plea, written in noble language, and 
the best documentary evidence that the most 
exacting can demand of the complete mental 
recovery and wonderful psychological trans- 
formation of its author. Let any man read 
first " The Importance of being Earnest," which 
was the last thing he wrote before going into 
prison, and next this letter in the Chronicle , 
and then say, if he dare, that Oscar Wilde's an- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

nouncement in " De Profundis," that meditation 
had made a new and different man of him, was 
lure and deception. 

He returned to the subject of prison treatment 
in a letter entitled " Don't read this if you 
want to be Happy to-day," which appeared 
in the Chronicle on 24th March 1898. These 
two letters, and his " Ballad of Reading Gaol," 
of which the leit-motiv is no different, are all 
that he wrote after his release from prison. He 
was keenly interested in this subject of prison 
reform. Amongst the books which were found 
in his room in the hotel where he died were 
several in which this subject is treated. He had 
John Howard's book on "Prisons," and a number 
of magazines containing articles on prison life. 
' The Ballad of Reading Gaol " has been 
described by certain authorities as the finest 
ballad in the English language. In July 1904 
there appeared in The Nineteenth Century, in 
an article by Lady Currie, entitled " Enfants 
Trouves of Literature," a critical notice of this 
poem. The name of the review in which this 
appeared is significant, when we remember what 
Oscar Wilde had said, in one of his prison con- 
versations, about the way in which his name 
would be regarded in that quarter. Lady Currie 
writes of the " terrible ' Ballad of Reading Gaol/ 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

with its splendours and inequalities, its mixture 
of poetic force, crude realism, and undeniable 
pathos." The writer adds lower down : "All 
is grim concentrated tragedy from cover to 
cover. A friend of mine," she continues, " who 
looked upon himself as a judge in such matters, 
told me that he would have placed certain 
passages in this poem, by reason of their terrible, 
tragic intensity, upon a level with some of the 
descriptions in Dante's ' Inferno,' were it not 
that ' The Ballad of Reading Gaol ' was so much 
more infinitely human." 

In the preface to the translation of Andre 
Gide's mischievous memoir of Oscar Wilde 
is quoted the following extract from a review 
in one of the leading London papers : 

' The whole is awful as the pages of Sophocles. 
That he has rendered with his fine art so much 
of the essence of his life and the life of others 
in that inferno to the sensitive is a memorable 
thing for the social scientist, but a much more 
memorable thing for literature. This is a 
simple, a poignant, a great ballad, one of the 
greatest in the English language." 

It is very certain that there is in poetic de- 
scription nothing in the world's literature more 
powerful, more overwhelming, than the account 
Oscar Wilde gives of the sleepless night which 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

he spent on the eve of the execution, those verses 
ending with the lines : 

" At last I saw the shadowed bars, 

Like a lattice wrought in lead, 
Move right across the whitewashed wall 

That faced my three-plank bed, 
And I knew that somewhere in the world 

God's awful dawn was red." 

The very nature of a ballad demands a certain 
naivete of expression, a certain laxity in the 
rhymes. It is, however, a curious thing that it 
is a makeshift rhyme which is used in the one 
verse that, while it appeals most strongly to 
those who are morbid-minded, inspires some of 
the poet's friends with the feeling that it shows 
that, in spite of his splendid renovation, the 
obliquity of vision which was ever one of his 
great defects had not altogether been overcome. 

These are the lines referred to : 

" Yet each man kills the thing he loves, 

By each let this be heard, 
Some do it with a bitter look, 

Some with a flattering word, 
The coward does it with a kiss, 

The brave man with a sword ! " 

The thing is not true ; if it were true it is 
badly expressed, and what is intended for an- 
tithesis degenerates on examination into anti- 
climax. Yet many find these lines the finest 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

in a ballad which is filled with beauties. Was 
this the poor man's final indulgence in his elfin 
joy in " astounding fools," or was he in earnest ? 

The Ballad was published early in 1898. 
Oscar Wilde had expended over it an immense 
amount of labour. It had been revised and 
corrected with a precise regard of even the 
slightest detail, of which we get some conception 
from the many letters which he wrote to his 
publisher, Mr Leonard Smithers, while the book 
was passing through the press. Almost each 
word in the poem was made the subject of long 
consideration, of discussion. He advises on 
changes in the punctuation. The rudiments had 
caught him up at last. 

These same letters give evidence of the very 
mournful condition to which he had at last 
come. They are full, on the one hand, of de- 
scriptions of his poverty and needs ; on the 
other of recriminations against his friends. In 
one letter we read : (< My present position is so 
awful that I began to-day a modern social 
comedy and would in consequence have had 
an excellent appetite for dinner had there been 
any dinner." 

Elsewhere he threatens suicide. " I shall take 
steps," he says. 

He was then living in Naples. The circum- 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

stances under which he had been obliged to 
leave Berneval, and to return to the least desir- 
able companionship that the world of men 
offered to his choice, are summed up in the 
following sentence by the author of " Twenty 
Years in Paris": 

" The time came, however, when, being 
without money, repulsed, abandoned, desolate, 
he could no longer resist entreaties which offered 
to him companionship in the place of utter 
loneliness, friendship in the place of hostility, 
homage in the place of insult, and in the place 
of impending destitution a luxurious and elegant 

Measures were, however, taken at once by 
third parties to break up this association, and, 
all supplies being refused, Oscar Wilde's con- 
dition in Naples became the hazardous existence 
which he describes in his letters to Smithers. 
His irritation at the collapse of his resolutions, 
at their overthrow by the very force of things, 
was so great that he turned upon all men. He 
wrote abusive letters to his friends, not even 
sparing the noblest of them, Robert Ross, the 
subject of the glowing eulogy which one finds 
in "De Profundis." Those words are letters 
patent of immortality; but simple justice, not 
lordly generosity, directed that splendid tribute. 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

This Robert Ross's conduct towards Oscar 
Wilde was and is the most beautiful thing that 
the history of noble friendships records. That 
he gave him everything that he had may be 
nothing ; it may be nothing that he bore obloquy 
and endured suffering for his sake ; that he 
visited him constantly in prison ; that he fought 
and worked unceasingly to safeguard his friend's 
interests, keeping a level and commercial head 
in the midst of the unceasing onslaughts of the 
harpies who kept swooping down upon Oscar 
Wilde's prostrate body; that he watched over 
him like a tender brother during those awful 
months in Paris ; that he was with him in his 
last illness, tending him with the gentleness of 
a sister of charity ; that it was he who brought 
God at last into the gloomy room in the Hotel 
d' Alsace, and so obtained that the man who was 
accursed of men went out of this world with the 
kiss of pardon on his forehead, with body sancti- 
fied and anointed, under the shadow of the 
cross ; that he ordained his honourable obse- 
quies, and was one of the very rare mourners 
who followed him to the grave. All these 
things, from the nature of the man, may be 
nothing; but what is unusual and splendid, a 
disillusion to the pessimists, a delight to those 
who, quand msme, would think well of humanity, 




." r -:. r i.- 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

is that, though five years have now passed since 
Oscar Wilde died, he pursues quietly the level 
way of his noble friendship. He is one of the 
very rare people with whom the dead do not die 
quick. He goes on being good to Oscar Wilde. 
He devotes his means to the payment of his 
friend's creditors. He jealously fosters his 
friend's literary reputation. He watches over 
his grave at Bagneux, looking forward to the 
day when he shall be able, of his own means, to 
secure a permanent and worthier resting-place 
for his ashes. Such constancy after death is not 
a virtue of which humanity has warranted the 
expectation. Devotion dies by slow J^IM^ 
when the loved one is no longer anything but a 
memory, a name. Evil breeds evil; but here 
also good was bred, and in this mournful his- 
tory this friendship is a beautiful and pleasant 

Oscar Wilde lived for three and a half years 
after his release from prison. After he had left 
Italy he returned to Paris. Here for some time 
he resided in a hotel in the Rue Marsollier. He 
was forced to leave this house ImafflBf he could 
not pay his bill. He was literally turned out 
into the streets. From this position he was 
rescued by the landlord of a small hotel in the 
Rue des Beaux-Arts, Monsieur Dupoirier, who 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

had known him in his prosperous days. Du- 
poirier offered him rooms in his house, and went 
to the hotel in the Rue Marsollier, and dis- 
charged the bill, recovering Wilde's property. 
From that time on Wilde resided at Number 13 
Rue des Beaux-Arts, which is within five minutes' 
walk of the Hotel Voltaire of his imperial days. 
He had no superstitious dread of the number of 
the house, which was to be his final dwelling- 
place, though, like all great minds, he enter- 
tained many other superstitions. One can 
understand this. The great mind recognises, 
what the fool does not, that there are powers in 
the universe of which he has no comprehension, 
although he discerns their manifestations. Oscar 
Wilde was superstitious. For instance, he con- 
sidered it very unlucky to drive in a carriage 
which was drawn by a white horse. 

Of the Hotel d' Alsace it would not be fair to 
say that it was squalid. It is related that Mon- 
sieur Dupoirier remarked, after Wilde's death, 
that it was very unfair for the newspaper writers 
to speak of his house as a hotel of the tenth 
order, when the fact was that it was une maison 
de cinquieme categoric. It was the kind of house 
where regular lodgers are few, and where the 
profits of the undertaking are derived mainly 
from stray visitors. At the back of the house 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

was a small yard or garden, where Oscar often 
used to sit of afternoons, reading books and 
sipping absinthe. 

It has been stated that his life in Paris during 
this period was one of shameful relapse. Calumny 
is still at work with his memory. The fact 
should be put on record that he was at all times 
under the close supervision of the police. An 
influential friend of his once asked Henri Bauer 
to use his interest with the Minister of Fine Arts 
on Oscar Wilde's behalf. Henri Bauer after- 
wards reported that the Minister had said that 
he would do nothing for a man who frequented 
such company as Oscar Wilde was in the habit 
of frequenting, that the police were carefully 
watching him, and that on the least provocation 
he would be arrested. Now, as he was never 
interfered with to the time of his death, it seems 
very clear that he did nothing that warranted 
such interference, and that calumny has dis- 
covered what the spies of the Rue de Jerusalem 
failed to observe. 

One wonders who the associates were to whom 
the police had referred in their report to the 
Minister. The people with whom he used to be 
seen were reputable enough as the large tolerance 
of Paris goes. The poor man could not choose 
his associates, and as he loved to talk he 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

was sometimes glad, in his loneliness, of any 

He appears, at least during the last year of his 
life, to have been provided with means. His 
incurable generosity, no doubt, accounts for the 
fact that, though his monthly bill at Dupoirier's 
hotel was never a large one, he died owing the 
friendly little man close upon one hundred 
pounds, and that there were many other debts 
in Paris. Dupoirier's bill, and some of the other 
accounts, have since been paid we need not 
ask by what devoted friend. 

Of the awful tragedy of his last months 
Ernest La Jeunesse gives a striking account in 
his article in the Remie Blanche, Here is a short 
passage describing his condition towards the 
end : 

" He has been into the country and to Italy, 
he longs for Spain, he wishes to return to the 
shores of the Mediterranean : all that he can 
have is Paris, a Paris which shuts door after 
door against him, a Paris which has no longer 
more to offer him than holes into which he may 
creep to drink, a Paris which is deaf, a famished, 
spasmodic Paris, flushed here, there pale, a city 
without eternity and with no myth. Each day 
brings sufferings with it for him, he has no 
longer either a court or a true friend, he falls 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

into the blackest neurasthenia. ... He is 
haunted with the foreboding of death, which in 
the end will kill him." 

For months before he died he suffered from 
pains in the head. At the same time he was 
lashing his moribund energies by the use of 
alcohol. Dupoirier relates that he used to write 
all night, keeping his strength alive with brandy. 

In the end the pains grew so intolerable that 
the doctors said that an operation would be 
necessary. But the operation threatened to be 
a very difficult one, for it was impossible to 
locate the exact spot where surgical treatment 
would benefit the patient. Only one of the great 
masters of surgery could be trusted, so the 
physicians said, with such an operation. A 
huge fee was mentioned as the amount that 
would probably be demanded by such a master. 
" Ah, well, then," said Oscar, " I suppose 
that I shall have to die beyond my means." 
"He must have suffered terribly," says Du- 
poirier, " for he kept raising his hands to his 
head to try and ease the torture. He cried out 
again and again. We used to put ice on his head. 
I was ever giving him injections of morphine." 
Robert Ross was with him at the end. That he 
brought a Roman Catholic priest to the dying 
man has already been recorded with a recog- 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

nition of the kindness of the act. There was 
another friend also in attendance. But fate 
would have it that neither of the two were there 
when Oscar Wilde breathed his last. This was 
at two o'clock on the afternoon of soth November 
1900. Dupoirier was holding him in his arms 
when he passed away. 

He had foreseen that he would not live to see 
the dawn of the new century. A journalist 
has recorded a remark that Oscar Wilde made 
in this connection. 

" The last time I saw him," he writes, " was 
about three months before he died. I took 
him to dinner at the Grand Cafe\ He was then 
perfectly well and in the highest spirits. All 
through dinner he kept me delighted and 
amused. Only afterwards, just before I left 
him, he became rather depressed. He actually 
told me that he didn't think he was going to 
live long; he had a presentiment, he said. I 
tried to turn it off into a joke, but he was quite 
serious. ' Somehow,' he said, ' I don't think 
I shall live to see the new century.' Then a long 
pause. ' If another century began, and I was 
still alive, it would really be more than the 
English could stand.' ' 

He was buried in Bagneux Cemetery on 3rd 
December 1900, where he lies in the I7th Grave 


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The Life of Oscar Wilde 

of the 8th Row of the I5th Division. The in- 
scription on his tomb is as follows : 

Oct. i6th., 1854 N v - 3oM., 1900 

Verbis meis addere nihil audebant et 
super illos stillabat eloquium meum. 

JOB xxix. 22. 

The five years' lease of this grave was renewed 
in 1905 by Robert Ross, who hopes before that 
period has elapsed to be able to remove the 
ashes to a permanent resting-place in one of the 
Parisian cemeteries, when the friends and ad- 
mirers of the poet will be able, if they wish to 
do so, to raise a monument over his grave. 

" Deaths are apt to be tragic," is the comment 
which was made upon his passing by one who 
described his last hours. His death, coming when 
it did, avoidable as it was, wasteful as it was, 
was more cruel and more tragic than any passing 
of which literary history has record. If he had 
only taken care of himself ; if someone had been 
by him to take care of him ! Time was preparing 
for him a splendid triumph. The harvest was 
near to the ripening. England had rejected him, 
sacrificing the artist to the mental patient, but 
other countries, indifferent to everything but the 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

artist's work, were just about to open their arms. 
If he could have lived only three or four short 
years longer he would have found in the plaudits 
of the whole Continent some solace for all his 
terrible sufferings. In Germany he is to-day 
a "World's Poet," and "Salome" is a 
" World's Play." And we are not to dispute 
the literary taste of Germany. Oscar Wilde 
has been placed high in Germany's Walhalla. 
In Italy his success is no less startling. The 
Italians do not resent the comparison of him 
to the divine Alighieri. It may be very 
foolish, very wrong, but it simply is so. Nor 
have his sufferings, the miserable story of his life, 
created interest through pity, and set afoot a 
passing mode. A large number of Germans 
know nothing about the man Oscar Wilde, barely 
know his name, and yet are enthusiasts about 
his work. A friend of his, travelling to Russia 
at the beginning of last year, fell into conversa- 
tion in the train with a banker who was re- 
turning to Bromberg from an audience with the 
Emperor. This gentleman told him that he had 
spent one evening at the theatre, where he had 
seen Oscar Wilde's " Salome," and he described 
the extraordinary impression it had produced 
on the audience. This seems to have been as 
great as that which was produced in the Paris 



To face page 425. 

The Life of Oscar Wilde 

Salon by the exhibition of the pictures forming 
Tissot's illustration of the Life of Christ. " I 
too," said the banker, " though I am a hard- 
headed man of business, I felt like doing extra- 
ordinary things. I felt like springing up in my 
seat, and shouting out, and waving my arms. 
Such a mental convulsion I never felt within my- 
self, never thought I could feel in myself." The 
friend then began to refer to Wilde's history, 
and discovered that the banker did not even 
know the name of the author of " Salome"," and 
had never heard a single word about his life ! 

Amongst literary Germans this ignorance does 
not, of course, prevail. There, thanks to the 
activity of the devoted Doctor Meyerfeld of 
Berlin, one of the foremost of German critics, 
Wilde's reputation is founded on a solid ex- 
position of his literary achievements. Meyerfeld 
has rendered great services to his memory, not 
only by writing about the man and the artist, 
but by defending his memory against the 
literary harpies of his country who have sought 
to snatch profit from the public interest. Every 
German scribbler has his contribution on Wilde 
to the periodicals, but Meyerfeld is there to 
bludgeon the traffickers back into their dens. 

Yes ; the death, occurring when it did, was in- 
deed tragic. There are those who hold it as sad 


The Life of Oscar Wilde 

in reality as the realistic parable in which Zola 
describes, by means of the death of Gervaise, 
the certain destruction of those in whom the 
power of resistance has been destroyed by unjust 
circumstances. One might change one word in 
Zola's tragic page, and write : 

" Mais la verite etait qu'il s'en allait de 
misere, des ordures et des fatigues de sa vie 

" Sa vie gat<e " : that was it. 

These circumstances may afford satisfaction 
to the moralists and the unscientific : to those 
who have the cult of literature, and that patriot- 
ism which desires to see England take a fore- 
most place also in the intellect of the world, they 
can bring nothing but poignant regret. These 
cannot but deplore a loss, an unnecessary, 
spendthrift, wasteful loss, which deprives Eng- 
land of a genius who, as what we observe to-day 
on the Continent incontestably establishes, could 
have restored having found himself our litera- 
ture and our stage to the rank of supremacy from 
which for centuries past they have been 



To face page 426. 



MR OSCAR WILDE delivered on Monday, at Chickering 
Hall, a lecture on "The English Renaissance," which 
might fairly be called a success. In the present days 
of easily manufactured notoriety a young man who has 
managed to establish a doubt in the minds of the public 
as to whether he is a profound thinker or an utter fool 
may be said to be on the high road to a very substitute 
for fame, and this is what Mr Wilde had previous to 
his lecture succeeded in doing. The difficulty with his 
future career is likely to be that his lecture solves the 
doubt, and that he will be unable to keep alive any 
curiosity on the subject. When we say that he solves 
the doubt we mean, of course, that he is a profound 
thinker not by any means, to parody a phrase of his 
own, a thinker of unthought thoughts, but of thoughts 
thought and expressed too, for that matter, a great 
number of times before, though not thought nor ex- 
pressed so profoundly as by Mr Wilde, nor in his own 
manner. To say that the aesthete is a disciple of 
Ruskin gives a meagre idea of the chameleon-like 
power of imitative reproduction which he displays. 
His hospitable mind has opened its doors to Ruskin, 
Millais, Holman Hunt, Dante Rossetti, Swinburne, 
Baudelaire, Gautier, William Morris, Burne- Jones, 
Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley, Walt Whitman, Goethe, 
and Gilbert and Sullivan. It may seem at first that it 



would be difficult for even a deep young man to find 
a common basis for an aesthetic movement in all these ; 
but Mr Wilde is not only deep enough for this, but 
far too deep to explain what the common basis is or 
what he has to do with it himself. Under these cir- 
cumstances, and at the risk of violating Mr Wilde's 
fundamental maxim of criticism that the function 
of the critic is to hold his peace at all times and in all 
places we will venture to offer a suggestion or two 
in explanation of the somewhat mysterious phenomenon 
presented by Mr Wilde's lecture tour. 

When Mr Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites set about 
reforming public taste in England they were forced 
to enter upon something very like a crusade. Almost 
every canon of art criticism that existed had to be de- 
molished, and its opposite established in its place. 
Springing up in a community strongly impregnated 
with moral and religious ideas, it is no wonder that the 
teachings of the school should have taken a religious 
tone. Appeals to the love of beauty alone would 
hardly have aroused the dull British Philistine from 
his contented, vulgar lethargy. To touch him at all 
it was necessary to stir his conscience ; and the fore- 
runners of the aesthetic movement who, by the way, 
were all sincere men, and loved art themselves with a 
semi-religious fervour became the founders of a pro- 
selytising church, a sort of artistic Rock of Ages in the 
weltering and waste of the British Philistinism . They 
brought the pure milk of the Word to the heathen, 
showed him his errors, touched his soul, awoke him to 
the new life, lifted him out of the mire of sin in which 
he lay wallowing, and showed him the true path. The 
unconverted heathen mocked and raged, as the heathen 
always do, and set up mere false gods in the shape of 
bad pictures, and ridiculed the true faith in the columns 



of their heathen organ, Punch. They could not 
butcher the apostles, or give them to wild beasts to 
devour, but they inflicted upon them all the social 
persecution that the mild manners of modern times 
permit, by making them have a thoroughly " bad 
time." The persecution had its natural effect in 
strongly stimulating the devotion and zeal of the sect, 
and no one who has given any attention to its writings 
or teachings can have failed to notice the sacerdotal 
tone assumed by it a tone of which there is a faint 
echo in Mr Wilde's platitudes and paradoxes, and even 
in his dimly religious voice. 

Everybody knows now how the Church spread ; how 
little by little the old Philistines were converted and 
new-born Philistines were baptised into the new faith. 
The rage of the heathen disappeared, and on every side 
the galleries of the old religion were cleared of their 
Philistine rubbish, and swept and garnished to make 
room for what was purely true and precious in art. 

The success of any church in converting the heathen, 
of course, puts it in a different attitude towards society 
from that which it occupies in the days of adversity. 
The Philistine, who, though a man of sin, has a good 
deal of sense, always keeps his eyes on the children of 
light, and is always willing to take his cue from them 
when he finds it necessary to do so, and when he does 
do this he does it handsomely. The Philistine is after 
all the same flesh and blood as the rest of us, though 
so hopelessly sunk in the mire. After a time he too 
joined the Church, and, so far as fashionable society in 
England is concerned, it may be said to have been con- 
verted for ten years. The connection between the 
decorative or aesthetic movement, which Mr Wilde, 
with delightful impudence, is undertaking to further 
in this country, and the old Pre-Raphaelite crusade is 



easy enough to trace. It too has been completely 
successful, and is in full possession of the walls, floors, 
ceilings, and furniture of the " best society " in England, 
and to a great and increasing extent of the United 
States. Mr Wilde, therefore, instead of being, as he 
represents himself, a missionary preaching art to the 
heathen in the wilderness at the sacrifice of fortune, 
fame, and everything that the Philistine holds most 
dear, stands to art more in the relation of the fashion- 
able preacher of the " swell " congregation to religion. 
To compare profane things to sacred, Mr Wilde is the 
Charles Honeyman of the religion of which Ruskin was 
the St Paul. When Ruskin preached society was 
Philistine, but it now forms the congregation. We all 
know the spirit in which we listen to the fashionable 
preacher how we like to hear him denounce sin, and 
expose the vanity and frivolity of worldly pursuits, 
the money-loving and commercial spirit of the age, 
and how true we feel it to be that collections ought 
to be taken up for the conversion of others. There is 
the same vagueness too about the articles of Mr Wilde's 
faith that there is about those of the Reverend Charles. 
The aesthetic principles which he announced on Monday 
at Chickering Hall were in a strange jumble, the chief 
merit of which lay in the serene superiority of the 
lecturer to the confusion which he produced in the 
mind of his audience, and which we notice has led one 
reporter of it to imagine that he said that English 
asstheticism sprang from the union of Hellenism with 
the romantic spirit, "as from the marriage of Faust 
and Helen of Troy sprang the beautiful Lady 

Mr Wilde, again, represented himself as being de- 
termined to carry on the warfare of art against Philis- 
tinism to the bitter end, but really he brings peace 



rather than a sword. Art, when first introduced among 
the Philistines, did lead to an internecine struggle. 
It introduced discord into every family set father 
against son, and mother against daughter. It inspired 
passions in the simple-minded, barbarous Anglo-Saxon 
which nothing else but religion and the study of 
language had ever produced. But it is easy to see from 
the reception we have given to Mr Wilde that he is 
not an iconoclast, or in any danger of suffering the 
fate of a martyr. He is, as we have said, spreading 
the true faith in Art, much as a fashionable preacher 
spreads the true faith in the Gospel. He and his con- 
gregation are really all of one mind, but he has the gift 
of expression, the sweet eloquence which the successful 
preacher must always have, and he thoroughly appre- 
ciates the value of extravagance in attracting attention. 
He is glad to have even his congregation laugh at him, 
if they will only join in his prayer to the Steel of Toledo 
and the Silk of Genoa, or acknowledge the supreme 
importance of the " gaudy leonine beauty " of the sun- 
flower and the " precious loveliness " of the lily. 

It makes little difference whether Maudle is the 
caricature of Mr Wilde or Mr Wilde a realisation of 
Maudle. It is the doubt which gives reality to both. 
There is nothing that shows Mr Wilde in his true light 
so completely as his great appreciation of Bunthorne. 
Bunthorne is an impostor, an " aesthetic sham," and 
his existence every night tends to make the whole 
aesthetic movement ridiculous. Now, it is very true 
that all new moments in art or poetry have had their 
parodists and their satirists. But it never occurred to 
any reformer before Mr Wilde that it would be a good 
thing to encourage parody and satire as a means of 
keeping the ball going. The same manager " runs " 
the lecture tour of the aesthete and the operatic com- 


pany which heaps ridicule upon him. You hear the 
true Gospel at Chickering Hall, and join the mocking 
laughter of the heathen at the absurdity of it at the 
Standard Theatre. We must say that, to our mind, 
Mr Gilbert has the best of the joke. Real reformers 
have usually hated, as only just men can hate, those 
who sneer at reform. It was left to Mr Wilde to dis- 
cover the commercial value of ridicule in the good 
cause. Mr Wilde is a poet, a preacher, and a man of 
the world. As a man of the world, he knows that 
the true way to attract attention is to shock people's 
sense of decency, and the true way for a preacher to 
become fashionable is to make the Word pleasant and 
soothing to fashionable people, and that a very good 
substitute for fame is the notoriety attracted bysilliness. 
Mr Wilde is an essentially foreign product, and can 
hardly succeed in this country. What he has to say 
is not new, and his extravagance is not extravagant 
enough to amuse the average American audience. His 
knee-breeches and long hair are good as far as they go ; 
but Bunthorne has really spoiled the public for Wilde. 

I2th January 1882. The Nation. 


HE used to commence his lecture on the " House 
Beautiful " by saying that he would refrain from 
"giving a definition of the abstract principle of beauty" ; 
that metaphysicians, rhetoricians, and poets had all 
tried to do so in vain. 

" There was a time," he continued, " when every 
house was beautiful. There was once a spirit which 



touched everything into loveliness." The right basis 
of every artistic movement was to " value and honour 
handicraft." Delicacy of hand, refinement of imagina- 
tion, the eye to see beauty, and the power to transmit 
that beauty to others unless all this were honoured 
" art might become the luxury of a few people, or it 
might be the fashion of a few seasons," but it would 
be nothing more. He referred to what he had seen 
in the Chinese quarter of San Francisco, where all the 
little vessels and cups of the Chinese were articles of the 
greatest taste, while he in his hotel had his tea given 
him in a " delf cup of the size of half a brick." All 
rules for decoration must be general. ^Estheticism is not 
a style, but a principle. All rules applicable to decora- 
tion must be " broad, workaday, and not abstruse." 
Mr William Morris's first rule was : " Not to have any- 
thing in the house but what one knows to be useful 
and what one thinks to be beautiful." "What strange 
ornaments," said Oscar Wilde, " are to be seen in the 
houses of very charming people. Wax flowers " (here 
people used to laugh) " horrible things perpetrated in 
Berlin wool" (Laughter) "and the endless array of anti- 
macassars, which seems to reduce life to ' the level of an 
eternal washing-day.' " (This was always applauded, 
and became a household phrase.) The lecturer then 
quoted Mr Morris's second principle : " Not to have 
anything but what is felt to have been a joy to some- 
one to make it, and a joy to others to use it." " This 
table-cloth," said Oscar Wilde, pointing to the one on 
the table in front of him which was usually a showy 
one of indescribable pattern " must have been made 
by someone who worked under permanent depression 
of spirits." (Laughter.) The third principle was : " Not 
to have in one house any imitation of one texture in 
another." Wood painted like stone, paper appearing 
ZE 433 


like marble, and other things which Ruskin condemned 
so forcibly. For a man, said Ruskin, to have on the 
walls of his hall a marble paper was extremely im- 
moral. He (Oscar,. Wilde) would leave out of his 
dictionary all fine ethical words about art. To him 
the " morality of art was its beauty, the immorality 
its ugliness," and that could be said without going into 
graver moral questions. We ought not, then, to think, 
but to be absolutely certain that there is nothing in 
our house which is not useful and that is not beautiful. 
He was often asked : " What is the true artistic colour ? " 
He was unable to reply. All colours were artistic. He 
smiled when he read in the newspapers that such and 
such a colour would be a fashionable one for the season. 
As in music, so in colour : one note was not more 
beautiful than another. The combination of notes was 
music, the combination of colours was beauty. How 
we should smile if it were to be announced that B Flat 
would for some months be the fashionable note what 
a dreary lookout it would be ! But quite as depressing 
was it to be told that one particular colour would be 
fashionable for the season. It was essential to true 
decoration that there should be a knowledge of back- 
ground, of neutrals, and of tertiary colours, so as to 
produce the impression without glare. Gold was a 
neutral, its object to give tone, but it had been made 
into a primary colour. It was always safe to treat 
walls as background and keep bright colours for detail. 
Porcelain, silk, and such-like textures were best for 
bright colours Colour not merely makes things 
beautiful, but is often the substitute for architectural 
features, which in themselves are not possible to us. 
" The fault of most rooms," Mr Wilde said, " was in 
their being too high." He then had a good-humoured 
tilt at the scientific doctors who advocate high rooms. 



Ventilation was what was wanted. You need not light 
your rooms with five glaring lights of a chandelier 
hanging from a " plaster vegetable " in the centre of 
the ceiling. There was no reason why rooms should 
not be lighted with candles or oil-lamps. The lecturer 
then went on to describe how a room too high or too 
low should be treated in its decoration. The sten- 
cillings of Japan, designed by the first Japanese artists, 
were then described. Large windows and windows 
coming too low were condemned. Plate-glass gives 
glare, but not light. Glare is to light what noise is to 
music. When ugly windows are obtained, then the 
upholsterer is sent for to see what he can do. The up- 
holsterer has no scruples. He brings a pole as heavy 
as a ship's mast, and massive rings thereon to support 
a curtain not to fall into folds and reach only to the 
floor but to trail and to be looped with woollen bands ; 
and all other kinds of wickedness the upholsterer de- 
signs. (Laughter.) The beauty of small panes and 
coloured glass was then pointed out. Coloured glass 
made " light beautiful." Dreary, white, shining marble 
chimney-pieces were next satirised, and were described 
as things which it would be wicked to sell and still 
more wicked to give away. The problem was : What 
to do with them ? Mirrors came in for unqualified 
condemnation. A room was supposed to have four 
walls. All sorts of fantastic shapes were given by a 
mirror reaching from the chimney-piece to the ceiling, 
and every straight line was deflected. Mirrors were 
one of the unpunished crimes of the nineteenth century- 
He did not want to say anything more severe than that. 
When the present century came in there was a feeling 
that all useful things should be made as ugly as possible. 
Useful things ugly, and then the rooms filled with a 
number of delicate little luxuries. The common things 



of life ought to be made so beautiful that nothing shall 
hereafter be called common. The qualities of good 
furniture were that it should be well made, be comfort- 
able, and be made by people of refinement for people of 
refinement. There was something in art besides 
honesty. Honesty was not a principle but a condition 
of art. Furniture well made, and of good materials, 
grew more beautiful the longer you had it. The most 
comfortable chairs were not the softest. In conclusion, 
the lecturer, in an eloquent peroration, showed how all 
possibility of having in England beautiful things de- 
pended upon the honour and dignity given to handi- 
craft. It was here that the lecturer became most 
effective and impressive, and most earnestly did he 
plead that handicraft might have a place in the educa- 
tion of every child. We in England have made a great 
mistake, he continued. The attention of children has 
been fixed to books when it ought not to have been. 
Who cannot remember, when a child, looking at a 
blacksmith at work or spending an hour in a carpenter's 
shop ? Every child likes to see something made, and 
likes to make something. A school should be the most 
beautiful place in every town and village so beautiful 
that the punishment for undutiful children should be 
that they should be debarred from going to school the 
following day. In all schools there should be a con- 
stant succession of new and delightful things, so that 
children could not weary or become indifferent to any- 
thing that was beautiful. He considered that it would 
be a very good thing if some of the bits of decorative 
art which were stored up at South Kensington and 
similar museums were lent to the schools throughout 
the country for the edification and delight of the 
children. There was no place so absolutely depressing 
as a museum. There was a better use of art than 

43 6 


looking at it on a rainy day. Give a child something 
to make, and he would be happy and a perfectly 
happy child would be a perfectly good child. Children 
might be taught to do something in wood, something 
in leather, in pottery, in furniture, in decorative art, 
and in metal- working. The artistic power of every 
child was great. The problem of the age was the 
noisy boy who would not go to school nor learn his 
lessons, but spent his time in throwing stones at 
windows. What was the matter with him ? He had 
simply discovered that he had hands, and that they 
were given him for something. Many people do 
nothing with their hands but cover them with kid gloves. 
The human hand has marvellous powers. Every child 
loved beautiful things. The taste of a child was often 
perfectly faultless. A child knew that what was 
beautiful must be good. If such children were taught 
the nobility of all handicraft that lesson would be 
quite as important as teaching them the population of 
Madagascar, or the names of the Saxon kings, or in the 
incidents in the private lives of people who never lived. 
Open the child's eyes to see the beauty of land and 
sea, of the flight of birds, of the budding of a flower, 
and the falling of a leaf, and they will feel it a joy, 
and desire to communicate that joy to others and 
almost every noble lesson of life will have been learned. 
They will learn to love all that is beautiful and to hate 
all that is ugly. Moral tales do not accomplish much 
good. The boy who throws a stone does not always 
fall into the well, as the tale states. This is soon dis- 
covered, and then comes the revolt of life against 
literature. Every child cannot be made into an artist. 
The lecturer closed his remarks by quoting the words 
of " one who loved beauty more than anything else " 
John Keats, who, replying to someone who asked him 



to venerate some principle or other, said : "I venerate 
only the Supreme Being, the memory of great men, and 
the principle of Beauty." 


WITHIN the last few years in that country and else- 
where there had been a strong development of artistic 
feeling and artistic beauty in the houses, not alone of the 
wealthy, but of all classes. A better perception of 
form and colours and a greater sense of harmony ran 
through every room. Certain old ornaments had dis- 
appeared. The wax peach no longer ripened in the 
glass shade. Cumbrous and useless furniture had been 
more and more laid aside. He would endeavour to 
show the scientific basis of the movement. Modern 
science taught that every organism, whether plant or 
animal, sought its proper environment. There was no 
reason why mankind should not seek for theirs. Plato in 
his " Republic " taught that children should be brought 
up in the midst of fair sights and sounds, so that the 
soul might be brought naturally into harmony with 
the eternal world. Formerly abstract definitions of the 
beautiful were aimed at. But the artistic temperament 
was better developed by beautiful surroundings by 
giving a perception of every particular beauty. He 
was not sure that the real meaning of art was under- 
stood. Most people imagined that it was in some way 
synonymous with ornamentation. But ornamentation 
was merely a branch of art. Art was primarily a 
question of construction, next of adaptability to a 
purpose, and lastly of proportion. Within the last 



few years ornamentation had become an enemy of art. 
Some of the most beautiful things were entirely without 
ornament. In opposition to this they saw vases and 
articles of pottery beautiful in form, but covered with 
meaningless landscapes and sprawling flowers. The 
manufacturers said the public would not buy the 
things unless they were covered with ornament. 
Another thing which hindered artistic development, 
was the wrong use of materials. They saw looking- 
glasses framed in plush and painted with flowers. 
Plush was chiefly good for the delicate folds that it 
afforded, and the merit of a looking-glass was that it 
reflected its object. But these effects were lost in 
such frames. Nature was beautiful in its exquisite 
details and in the pageantry of its changing moods. 
Nature was an ideal to itself, but, as regarded art, it 
was not an ideal at all. Art was not a mere imitation 
of natural objects. Decorative art, like music, depended 
absolutely on certain laws on laws of alternation, 
symmetry, and series, corresponding more or less to 
melody in music ; on laws of repetition and mass, 
corresponding to harmony. Nature was the rough 
material from which art selected. Look at the examples 
of old Celtic art, and at Persian, Hindoo, and other 
Oriental arts in their general characteristics, except 
Japanese. In old Celtic art there was no imitation of 
a single object in nature. The prohibition in the Koran 
of the imitation of natural objects led to an exceedingly 
fine school of Mohammedan decorative art. These all 
dealt in exquisite lines, beautiful proportions, and lovely 
masses of colour. Bad ornamentation had arisen from 
the separation of the functions of the artist, the decor- 
ator, and the workman. Ornament should never for a 
moment disturb outline and proportion, nor should it 
add to the apparent weight of anything. With regard 



to materials, when wood was used curves should be 
avoided. The curved furniture of the Louis Quatorze 
period was invariably gilt, so as to look like metal. In 
modern English furniture they saw the mahogany 
writhing into all sorts of shapes, giving a sense of in- 
security and heaviness. But should not art be national ? 
He felt obliged to say No. National art was as im- 
possible as national mathematics. Mathematics was 
the science of truth and art was the science of the 
beautiful. Both were founded on natural laws of 
universal application. But the national idea might be 
imparted in details. The Greeks made a certain use 
of the honeysuckle in the ornamentation of their 
buildings, but now, provided the principle of decora- 
tion were adhered to, any other flower would do as 
well. Therefore they should not furnish their houses 
as if they wished to please a professor of history. If he 
were asked for a definition of what a really beautiful 
thing was, he was not sure that his answer would not 
be such an object as would harmonise with all other 
beautiful objects, no matter of what century or nation. 
They would agree because they expressed the same 
laws. Between examples of ancient Irish art and 
examples from the Alhambra, or from Oriental mosques 
of the Byzantine period, there would, therefore, be no 
discord. They could select from all these, and the best 
furnished house would be the one which could not be 
absolutely localised as regarded forms of art. Every- 
thing should be in proportion as to colour and form, 
and a mere spirit of archaeology should not prevail. 
Why was this movement called " aesthetic " ? There 
was a deeper sense in that word than the merely beauti- 
ful. In past ages decorative art was symbolic and ex- 
pressive of ideas. Afterwards it became simply im- 
pressive, and consequently aesthetic. In the hands of 



the Greeks it became after a time simply impressive, 
and in the period of the Renaissance Italian decorative 
art took the same direction. Symbolism had a ten- 
dency to putrefaction and to the stoppage of growth ; 
on the other hand, when the aesthetic impulse came 
into play there was a constant growth and admission 
of new light. When art was healthy it was constantly 
changing in its details. To us in the nineteenth 
century the aesthetic side of art had more application 
than the symbolic. Anciently symbolism was a means 
of conveying ideas in novels, religion, and philosophy, 
but, since printing, the enormous increase of books had 
almost put an end to that function, and ornamentation 
now mainly appealed to the eye and thereby a 
greater amount of beauty was attained. The beauty of 
a rose was not enhanced by a long botanical name. 
Decoration was to be distinguished from imaginative 
art. Decorative art emphasised its material and made 
it more beautiful than before ; imaginative art anni- 
hilated its material. They did not regard the canvas 
of a picture or the stone of a piece of sculpture. Again, 
they could place a piece of decorative art where they 
liked, but they could not do so with a picture. They 
had to hang a picture where they could see it under 
certain conditions of light and shade. Decorative art 
depended largely on traditions, whereas the art of 
the picture or the statue was purely individual. De- 
corative art was purely impressive, like music. They 
did not ask what a piece of music meant, but how it 
affected them. But imaginative art expressed not 
merely the facts of nature but the wonderful power of 
the hand and eye of the artist. What chiefly con- 
stituted the artist was his power of vision. He thought 
that in art schools here there was too much use 
of hard outline. The Japanese artists did better by 



teaching their students to use a soft brush, and also by 
making them paint from the shoulder, without any rest 
for the wrist. The Greeks discovered what was 
beautiful, but the Dutch school of artists were the 
first to discover that ugly objects might be made 
beautiful. There was no object in life so hideous that 
it might not become beautiful under certain conditions 
of light and shade. What the artist should do is to 
watch for the moment when indifferent obj ects became 
thus transformed. Modern painters were too much in 
the habit of taking subjects from history and literature 
and of resorting to symbolism. There was also too 
great a tendency to special subjects. At a London 
exhibition a young artist gained great eclat by a picture 
in which he introduced in the foreground three silver 
birch-trees. For a while afterwards the public would 
have nothing but silver birch-trees. The artist wisely 
remonstrated against this, and painted a picture with 
trees of a different kind, which he exhibited, and was 
informed by a dealer that a gentleman was ready to pay 
him his own price for it if only he would put three 
silver birch-trees in the foreground. (Here the first 
laugh was taken.) The practice of decorative art en- 
nobled labour, and contained within itself an enormous 
store of economic wealth, owing to the extent to which 
the value of the material was enhanced by the work of 
the artist. It was always possible for a nation by 
artistic power to give to the commonest material 
vastly increased value. There was no reason why we 
in Ireland should not do this. There was in all the 
Celtic races this power of decoration. Whether they 
viewed the remains of ancient art in the Royal Irish 
Academy or in the museums of Northern Europe, they 
would be struck by the far greater sense of beauty 
evinced in the early Celtic work than in the old English 



art, which was deficient in delicacy and sense of pro- 
portion. (Applause.) And there was no reason why 
they should not show that those perceptions of the 
beautiful, and capacities of delicate handling as to hue 
and colour, were not dead. 

" DRESS " 

IT was strange that, whereas so much attention had 
been paid to the decoration of our homes, very little 
care had been bestowed on the national dress of our 
men and women. No matter how beautiful a house 
might be, it should be only a background for the men 
and women who dwell in it. The beauty of the house 
was abnormal so long as the art of dress was neglected. 
When he called it an art he did not exaggerate its im- 
portance. To be dressed well requires that one should 
be a master of colour and form. The beauty of a dress 
consists in its giving expression to the grace and free- 
dom of the body. It should suit and yield to its every 
motion, and not be a mere prison in which the body 
is confined. Before there is any reform in our national 
costumes the natural motions and functions of the 
body must be better and more widely understood. A 
great aid to the general acquiring of that necessary 
knowledge would be the teaching of drawing. A desire 
to draw is natural ; no boy or girl fails to cover its 
lesson book with pictures of its parents and 
friends or of the house over the way. Writing, on the 
contrary, is an acquired art, and there is no reason 
why children should not be taught drawing as they 
are taught writing. They might commence by drawing 



plane figures, squares, or cubes, proceeding afterwards 
to the study of the human figure in the first place from 
the casts of the ancient Greek statues. They would 
then learn that the waist, for instance, is the most 
delicate and graceful curve in the entire body, and that 
it is not necessarily beautiful if it happens to be small. 
Nothing is beautiful because it is simply small or large, 
and the waist is beautiful only when it is in perfect 
proportion with the other parts of the human figure. 
Similarly the foot is beautiful when it gives the idea 
of being the firm basis on which the body rests ; and the 
hand is not beautiful in proportion to its smallness, 
but when its curves and those of the wrist are graceful 
and unbroken. The poets, who are generally blamed 
for everything (here the first laugh was usually heard), 
are probably responsible for the idea that a small 
waist is necessarily beautiful. Chaucer and Dunbar 
are amongst the guilty : one talks of a lady whose 
waist was " as small as a willow wand." In the same 
way, it is almost impossible to take up a novel in which 
the lady has not extremely small hands and feet. 

The child who has learned to draw will know that 
the effect of horizontal lines upon the figure is to re- 
duce its apparent height, whilst that of vertical lines 
is to increase the height. The same principle, as is 
well known, holds in the case of a house. If a ceiling 
be too high a fault very common in our modern houses 
it is easy to reduce its seeming height by running any 
broad band, such as a dado, horizontally round the 
room. If, on the contrary, the ceiling be too low as 
occasionally occurs in very old houses proportion may 
be given by making the leading lines vertical. In 
dress, if a lady be too tall, a broad belt or sash lessens 
her apparent height ; while, if she happens to be small, 
the lines of her dress should be as much as possible 



vertical. A person looking at the fashion plates of the 
period of the First French Empire will be struck by 
the apparent height of the beautiful ladies of the time. 
The cause is that the skirts were lengthened by shorten- 
ing the waist. As regards the question of colour, he 
should remind them that in decorating a room unless 
it was wanted to be a museum they should have 
some scheme of colour. The same holds true of dress. 
He thought that at most three colours, unless very 
exquisitely harmonised, were as many as could be safely 
employed, for it should be understood that any con- 
trasting colour concentrated attention on a mere detail. 
Vivid colours in ribbons or feathers in the head-dress 
are dangerous also, because they interfere with the 
attention, and attract undue observation. Large checks 
should not be worn, as they render any irregularity of 
the figure at once apparent. Recently he had gone into 
a shop in London to purchase some stamped velvet or 
plush. After a lengthened search he was obliged to ask 
the shopman to show him something that would not 
require a man some ten or twelve feet high to be in 
proportion. The figures on all that the shopman had 
shown were large 'enough for the paper of a considerable 
building. Anything else, the shopman said, was un- 
fashionable. When he mentioned the word " fashion" 
he named the greatest enemy of art in this as in all 
other centuries. It is a giant that puts men in chains. 
Art seeks to give expression to individuality ; fashion 
insists upon every man doing as every other man. If 
there were anything beautiful or excellent in fashions 
they would not have to be changed every six months. 
The Egyptians had preserved their national dress for 
nearly 2000 years ; the Greeks maintained theirs for 
over 900. With us a young lady spends her pocket- 
money buying a bonnet which she wears for a few 



weeks, to the admiration and rage of her neighbourhood ; 
and then comes her dearest friend, who mentions, quite 
casually, that nobody wears a bonnet of that shape or 
colour now. (Laughter.) More money is spent on bon- 
nets alone than would suffice, if the figures were made 
public, to drive the husbands of the kingdom to despair. 
(Applause and laughter.) It is not that they are beauti- 
ful. Time was when great merchants and nobles 
dressed their wives in brocades and cloth of gold. 
More money in proportion is expended now, because 
fashion changes so often. The economy would indeed 
be great if dress could be rendered permanent. In 
England, as in every other country, the national 
costume was permanent until the end of the sixteenth 
century. Catherine de Medicis, who had been accused 
of nearly every possible crime, was guilty of the intro- 
duction of the corset and the farthingale. The former 
was an iron band, very broad, and arranged so as to 
be fastened with links and hooks at the back and under 
the shoulders. In it the body was iron-bound like an 
American trunk. The farthingale was a cage, some- 
times of osier, at times strengthened with iron ribs, that 
depended from the waist and kept the dress extended 
to a monstrous degree. A lady thus attired would 
occupy all to herself as much room as would suffice for 
a moderate political meeting. (Laughter.) The same 
fashion may be seen caricatured in Hogarth's works, 
and in our time it has been known as the crinoline. It 
is now disused, and upon that at least we might con- 
gratulate ourselves. But what was the meaning of that 
wicked thing known as the dress improver ? (Applause 
and laughter.) Of course, none of those present were 
capable of wearing it, but for the benefit of others he 
would point out that its effect is to cut across the curve 
of the body just as it becomes beautiful. An ideal 



dress was that of the Athenian woman in the days of 
Athenian glory, when she was pre-eminent in her arts 
and in her philosophy. They borrowed from the 
Orient, from which all things have come, a soft variety 
of woollen cloth similar to cashmere. The Assyrians, 
with the Oriental fondness for bright colours, dyed their 
dress in vivid shades. The Greeks, with more artistic 
feeling, discarded the colours and the horizontal lines 
of the Assyrian girdle, which they diminished to two 
small cords that served to relieve the vertical lines of 
the robes by retaining oblique folds in position. The 
lecturer described the ancient Greek costume in detail. 
Of course, he added, in our colder climate it would be 
unsuitable, but two lessons may be learned from the 
facts known of it. The first is that as a dress material 
woollen cloth is superior to any other. It is a mistake 
to suppose that woollen textures are of necessity 
clumsy and coarse. The woollen stuffs of cashmere 
were finer than the finest silk. The other point observ- 
able in the costume he had described is that it was un- 
divided and unseamed. The beauty of the dress was 
entirely dependent upon the manner in which it was 
worn. The use of wool as the basis of materials for 
dress was greatly recommended by eminent physicians. 
It was cool in summer and warm in winter, whilst per- 
fectly flexible and light. Its employment in lawn- 
tennis, rowing, and cricketing clothes might be instanced 
as an example. A cloak with a hood, not intended 
merely for an ornament, was a very ancient and most 
admirable garment. It was decidedly Irish in very 
remote times, as their sculptures in Kilconnell Abbey 
proved. The hood should be made to protect the head 
from rain that was its use. A head-dress as at present 
worn is rarely of any advantage to the wearer. It 
generally assumes the form of a stuffed bird perching 



upon a small piece of tulle. (Laughter.) Recently he saw 
in one of the French journals a drawing of a bonnet, 
with the note underneath : " With this style the mouth 
is worn slightly open." (Laughter.) That was surely the 
ne plus ultra of folly . (Applause.} Referring to the sub- 
ject of male attire, the lecturer declared that the tall top- 
hat was as wicked and monstrous as the worst of the 
feminine articles of apparel. It was supposed to give 
very great respectability on week-days and irreproach- 
able orthodoxy on Sundays. (Laughter.} High-heeled 
boots were next vigorously condemned, and Wilde con- 
cluded his lecture by impressing on his hearers that 
beauty in dress consisted in the perfect adaptability of 
the garments to the needs of the wearer. 







EDITIONS ONLY ..... 453 




1. FRENCH ...... 461 

2. GERMAN . . . . .461 

3. ITALIAN . . . . . . 463 

4. POLISH ...... 463 

5. RUSSIAN ...... 463 

6. SPANISH .... . . 463 

7. SWEDISH . . V . . . 463 

2 F 449 



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poem appeared first in some periodical not later than 
June 1885, but the original publication has not yet been 

Impressions of America. Edited by Stuart Mason. Sunderland : 
Keystone Press, 1906. 


Bibelot, The. (Portland, Maine, U.S.A.) 
June 1904. " Poems in Prose." 
July 1905. " Lecture on the English Renaissance." 
" Rose Leaf and Apple Leaf : L'Envoi." 

Blackwoo(ts Edinburgh Magazine. 

July 1889. " The Portrait of Mr W. H." 

Burlington, The. 

} anuary 1 88 1 . " The Grave of Keats." 

Centennial Magazine, The. (Sydney.) 

February 1889. " Symphony in Yellow." 



Century Guild Hobby Horse, The. 

July 1886. " Keats' Sonnet on Blue." 

Chameleon, The. 

December 1894. "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of 
the Young." 

Comhill Booklet, The. (Boston, U.S.A.) 

October 1900. "The Ballad of Reading Gaol." 

Court and Society Review, The. 

February 23, March 2, 1887. "The Canterville Ghost." 
May 11, 18, 25, 1887. "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime. A Story 

of Cheiromancy." 
December 13, 1887. " Un Amant de Nos Jours." 

Daily Chronicle, The. 

July 2, 1890. " Dorian Gray." 

May 28, 1897. "The Case of Warder Martin. Some Cruel- 
ties of Prison Life." 

March 24, 1898. " Don't Read This if You Want to be Happy 

Dramatic Review, The. 

January 23, 1886. "Sonnet on the Recent Sale by Auction of 
Keats' Love Letters." 

Dublin University Magazine, The. 

November 1875. " Chorus of Cloud Maidens." 
January 1876. " From Spring Days to Winter." (For Music.) 
March 1876. "Graffiti d'ltalia. I. San Miniato." (June 15.) 
June 1876. "The Dole of the King's Daughter." (For a 


September 1876. " AfXivov, cuAivov enre, T& S'eu VIKCITW." 
July 1877. "The Grosvenor Gallery." 

Eclectic Magazine, The. (New York.) 

February 1889. " The Decay of Lying : A Dialogue." 
August 1 889. " The Portrait of Mr W. H." 
April 1891. " The Soul of Man under Socialism." 

El Mercurio de America. 

December 1898. " Balada de la Carcel de Reading." (Spanish 
by Dario Herrera.) 

English Illustrated Magazine, The. 
January 1889. " London Models." 



Fortnightly Review, The. 

January i, 1889. "Pen, Pencil, and Poison : A Study." 

February i, 1891. "The Soul of Man under Socialism." 

March i, 1891. "A Preface to 'Dorian Gray.'" 

July i, 1894. "Poems in Prose." 
Green Room, The. (Routledge's Christmas Annual.) 

1880. "Sen Artysty; or, the Artist's Dream." (Translated 

from the Polish.) 
Humboldt Library of Science, The. (New York.) 

January 1892. "The Soul of Man under Socialism." 
In a Good Cause. 

1885. " Le Jardin des Tuileries." 
Irish Monthly, The. 

September 1876. "The True Knowledge." 

February 1877. "Lotus Leaves." 

June 1877. " Salve Saturnia Tellus." 

July 1877. "The Tomb of Keats." 

December 1877. " HOVTOS 'Ar/air/eros." 

April 1878. " Magdalen Walks." 

Kottabos. Trinity College, Dublin. 

Trinity Term, 1876. " brigi&vpov "E/awros "Av0os.' ("The 

Rose of Love, and with a Rose's Thorns.") 
Michaelmas Term, 1876. " G/arjv^Si'a." (Eur. Hec., 444-483.) 
Hilary Term, 1877. "A Fragment from the Agamemnon of 

"A Night Vision." 
Michaelmas Term, 1877. "Wasted Days." (From a picture 

painted by Miss V. T.) 
Hilary Term, 1879. "La Belle Marguerite." Ballade du 

Moyen Age. 
Michaelmas Term, 1879. "Ave! Maria." 

La Plume. (Paris.) 

December 15, 1900. " Le Rossignol et la Rose." (French by 

Stuart Merrill.) 
Lady's Pictorial, The. 

Christmas, 1887. "Fantaisies Ddcoratives i. Le Panneau. 

2. Les Ballons." 

Christmas, 1888. "The Young King." 
Lippincotfs Monthly Magazine. 

July 1890. "The Picture of Dorian Gray." 




December 8, 1900. " Theocritus." 
Month and Catholic Review, The. 

September 1876. " Graffiti d'ltalia." (Arona. Lago Maggiore.) 

Nineteenth Century, The, 

May 1885. "Shakespeare and Stage Costume." 

January 1889. " The Decay of Lying : A Dialogue." 

July, September 1890. "The True Function and Value of 

Criticism ; with Some Remarks on the Importance of 

Doing Nothing : A Dialogue." 

Notes and Queries. 

August i, 1903. "The Thames Nocturne of Blue and Gold." 

Our Continent. (Philadelphia.) 

February 15, 1882. "Impressions i. Lejardin. 2. La Mer." 

Pall Mall Gazette, The. 

October 14, 1884. "On Woman's Dress." 

November 11, 1884. "More Radical Ideas upon Dress 


February 21, 1885. " Mr Whistler's Ten O'Clock." 
February 28, 1885. " The Relation of Dress to Art. A Note 

in Black and White on Mr Whistler's Lecture." 
September 20, 25, 1894. " The Ethics of Journalism." 
October 2, 1894. " The Green Carnation." 

Papyrus, The. (Cranford, U.S.A.) 

May 1905. "From the 'Ballad of Reading Gaol,' and from 

'De Profundis.'" 
Queen, The, The Lady's Newspaper. 

December 8, 1888. "English Poetesses." 
Reynolds' Newspaper. 

May 14, 1905. "The Harlot's House." 
Saunders 1 Irish Daily News. 

May 5, 1879. " Grosvenor Gallery." (First Notice.) 
Scots Observer, The. 

July 12, August 2, 16, 1890. " Mr Wilde's Rejoinder." (Letters 

on " Dorian Gray.") 
Seaside Library. (New York.) 

January 19, 1882. "Lecture on the English Renaissance." 
Shaksperean Show-Book. 

1884. " Under the Balcony." 

45 6 



Summer Number, 1885. " Roses and Rue." 

Speaker, The. 

February 8, 1890. "A Chinese Sage." 
March 22, 1890. " Mr Pater's Last Volume." 
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Spirit Lamp, The. (Oxford.) 

December 6, 1892. "The New Remorse." 

February 17, 1893. "The House of Judgment." 

June 6, 1893. "The Disciple." 
Tablet, The. 

December 8, 1900. " The True Knowledge." 

April 1 879. " The Conqueror of Time." 

July 1879. " The New Helen." 

January 9, 1890. " Reply to Mr Whistler." 
Waifs and Strays. (Oxford.) 

June 1879. "Easter Day." 

March 1880. " Impression de Voyage." 
Wilshire's Magazine. (Toronto.) 

June 1902. " The Soul of Man." (Selections.) 
Woman's World, The. 

November, December 1887 ; January, February, March 1888. 
" Literary and Other Notes." 

November 1888. "A Fascinating Book." 

December 1888. "A Note on Some Modern Poets." 

January to June 1889. " Some Literary Notes." 
World, The. 

June 11, 1879. "To Sarah Bernhardt." 

July 16, 1879. " Queen Henrietta Maria ( Charles I., Act Hi.)." 

January 14, 1880. " Portia." 

August 25, 1880. " Ave Imperatrix ! A Poem on England." 

November 10, 1880. " Libertatis Sacra Fames." 

March 2, 1881. " Impression de Matin." 

November 14, 1883. Telegram to Whistler. 

February 25, 1885. Letter to Whistler. 

November 24, 1886. Note on Whistler. 

May 25, 1887. " Lady Alroy." 

June 22, 1887. "The Model Millionaire." 




Ballades and Rondeaus, Chants Royal, Sestinas, Villanelles, Sfc. 
Selected, with Chapter on the Various Forms, by Gleeson 
White. London : Walter Scott, 1887. 
Villanelle " Theocritus." 
Best of Oscar Wilde, The. Selected by Oscar Harrmann. Edited 

by W. W. Massie, Avon Press, New York, 1905. 
"The Sphinx." 
Prose Extracts. 

"The Ballad of Reading Gaol." 
Short Poems. 
Book of Jousts, A. Edited by James M. Lowry. London : 

Leadenhall Press, E.G. (N.D.) 
"A Night Vision." 

Book-Song. An Anthology of Poems of Books and Bookmen from 
Modern Authors. Edited by Gleeson White. London : 
Elliot Stock, 1893. 

" To my Wife : With a Copy of my Poems." 
" With a Copy of the ' House of Pomegranates.' " 
Dublin Verses by Members of Trinity College. Edited by H. A. 

Hinkson. London : Elkin Mathews, 1895. 
" Requiescat." 
" The True Knowledge." 
" Salve Saturnia Tellus." 
" Theocritus." 

" The Dole of the King's Daughter." 
Epigrams and Aphorisms. Selected by George Henry Sargent. 

Boston : John W. Luce, 1905. 

Essays, Criticisms and Reviews. London : Privately Printed, 1901. 
Literary Notes, etc., contributed to The Woman's World, 

Every Day of the Year. Edited by Jas. L. and Mary K. Ford. 

New York : Dodd, Mead & Co. 
" At the Grave of Keats." 
" Queen Henrietta Maria." 
"The Grave of Shelley." 
" Louis Napoleon." 



Golden Gleams of Thought. Edited by S. P. Linn. Chicago: 

A. C. McClurg & Co. 
" At the Grave of Keats." 

Golden Poems. Edited by Francis F. Browne. Chicago : A. C. 

McClurg & Co. 
" Requiescat." 
Serenade, " The Western Wind is Blowing Fair." 

Household Book of Poetry, The. Edited by Charles A. Dana. 

New York : D. Appleton & Co. 
"Ave Imperatrix!" 

Odes from the Greek Dramatists. Translated into Lyric Metres by 
English Poets and Scholars. Edited by Alfred W. 
Pollard. London : David Stott, 1890. 
"Nubes." ("Chorus of Cloud Maidens," from Aristo- 

Oscariana. Epigrams. Privately Printed. London : Arthur 
Humphreys, 1895. 

Poems and Lyrics of Nature. Edited, with an Introduction, by 
Edith Wingate Kinder. London : Walter Scott Limited. 

" Les Silhouettes." 

" La Fuite de la Lune." 

" Le Reveillon." 

Poets and the Poetry of the Century, The. Edited by Alfred H. 
Miles. Vol. viii. (1891.) "Robert Bridges and Con- 
temporary Poets." London : Hutchinson & Co. 

" Ave Imperatrix ! " 


" Requiescat." 

" On the Sale by Auction of Keats' Love Letters." 

" Libertatis Sacra Fames." 

"To Milton." 

" Melas ! " 

Sebastian Melmoth (Oscar Wilde). London : Arthur L. Hum- 
phreys, 1904. 
Maxims and Epigrams. 
"The Soul of Man." 



Sonnets of this Century. Edited and Arranged, with a Critical 
Introduction on the Sonnet, by William Sharp. London : 
Walter Scott, 1886. 
" Libertatis Sacra Fames." 
" On the Sale by Auction of Keats' Love Letters." 

Victorian Anthology. Edited by E. C. Steadman. New York : 

Houghton, Miffin & Co. 
" Ave Imperatrix ! '' 

Voice, Speech, and Gesture. New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons. 
"A Woman of No Importance." (Scene: Gerald and his 

Werner's Readings and Recitations. No. 4. All-Round Recita- 
tions. Compiled and Arranged by Elsie M. Wilbor. 
New York : Edgar S. Werner Publishing Co. 1891. 
" Guido Ferranti." (Scene from "The Duchess of Padua.") 


The following works have been fraudulently attributed to Oscar 
Wilde, generally by unscrupulous publishers : 

The Shamrock. (A poem published in The Sunday Sun about 
September 1894. Wilde repudiated the authorship in his 
letters to The Pall Mall Gazette on "The Ethics of 

The Priest and the Acolyte. (Reprinted from The Chameleon, 
Vol. i, No. i, December 1894. The real author was an 
undergraduate at Oxford.) 

What Never Dies. (An English translation of " Ce Qui ne Meurt 
pas," by Barbey d'Aurevilly. Published in Paris about 1902.) 

The Satyricon of Petronius. (A translation attributed to Wilde by 
the publisher in Paris who also issued "What Never Dies.") 

Ego Te Absolvo, Old Bishops, and The Orange Peel. (Three 
stories published in an American magazine, over Wilde's name, 
shortly after his death. They have been translated into 
French, and published by P. V. Stock in a volume containing 
"Lord Arthur Savile's Crime" and the five tales included in 
"The Happy Prince." The translator, M. Albert Savine, 
however, in a note says : " Nous les traduisons ici bien que 
1'authenticite' nous en paraisse dminemment suspecte.") 




Ballade de la Geole de Reading, By Henry D. Davray. Paris : 
Societd du Mercure de France, 1898. 

De Profundis. Precede de lettres ecrites de la Prison par Oscar 
Wilde a Robert Ross, Suivi de La Ballade de la Geole de 
Reading. Same translator and publishers. 1905. 

Intentions. By J. Joseph-Renaud. Paris : P. V. Stock, 1905. 
(Pages 279-294 contain " Phrases et Philosophies a 1'usage de 
la Jeunesse.") 

La Maison des Grenades. By George Khnopff. Paris : Editions de 
la Plume, 1902. 

Le Crime de Lord Arthur Savile. By Albert Savine. Paris : 
P. V. Stock, 1905. 

Le Portrait de Dorian Gray. (By Eugene Tardieu and Georges 
Maurevert.) Paris: Albert Savine, 1895. New Edition, 
Paris : P. V. Stock, 1904. 

Le Portrait de Monsieur W. H. By Albert Savine. Paris : 
P. V. Stock, 1906. 


Bunbury ("The Importance of Being Earnest"). By Felix Paul 
Greve. Minden : J. C. C. Bruns' Verlag. (N.D.) (1903.) 

Canterville Ghost. By Anne Marie von Boehn. Munich : Max 
von Boehn, 1897. 

Das Bildnis des Mr W. H., and Lord Arthur Saviles Verbrechen. 

By Felix Paul Greve. Minden in Westf. : J. C. C. Bruns' 

Verlag, 1904. 
Das Granatapfelhaus. By F. P. Greve. Leipzig : Im Insel- Verlag, 

Das Sonnettenproblem des Herrn W. H. By Johannes Gaulke. 

Leipzig : Verlag von Max Spohr. (N.D.) (1902.) 

De Profundis. Aufzeichnungen und Briefe Ausdem Zuchthaus in 
Reading. By Max Meyerfeld. Berlin : Verlag S. Fischer, 



Der gluckliche Prinz und andere Erzahlungen. By Johannes 
Gaulke. Leipzig : Verlag von Max Spohr, 1903. 

Der gluckliche Prinz Moderne Marchen. By Else Otten. 

Leipzig: Hermann Seemann Nachfolger, 1903. 
Der Sozialismus und die Seele des Menschen, and other Essays. 

By Hedwig Lachmann and Gustav Landauer. Berlin : Karl 

Schnabel, 1904. 
Die Ballade vom Zuchthause zu Reading. By Wilhelm Scholer- 

mann. Leipzig : Im Insel- Verlag, 1903. 

Die Herzogin von Padua. Eine Tragodie aus dem 16. Jahrhundert. 

By Max Meyerfeld. Berlin : Egon Fleischel & Co. (N.D.) 

Dorian Gray. By Johannes Gaulke. Leipzig : Verlag von Max 

Spohr. (N.D.) (1901.) 
Dorian Grays Bildnis. By F. P. Greve. Minden : J. C. C. Bruns' 

Verlag. (N.D.) (1903.) 
Ein idealer Gatte. By Isidore Leo Pavia and Hermann Freih. v. 

Teschenberg. Leipzig : Verlag von Max Spohr, 1903. 

Eine Frau ohne Bedeutung. Same translators and publishers } 

Ernst Sein. Eine triviale Komodie fur seriose Leute. By Her- 
mann Freih. v. Teschenberg. Leipzig: Verlag von Max 
Spohr, 1903. 

Fingerzeige. By F. P. Greve. Minden : J. C. C. Bruns' Verlag. 
(N.D.) (1903.) 

Intentionen. By Ida and Arthur Roessler. Leipzig : Friedrich 

Rothbarth, 1905. 
Lady Windermertfs Facher. Das Drama einesguten Weibes. By 

Isidore Leo Pavia and Hermann Freih. v. Teschenberg. 

Leipzig : Verlag von Max Spohr, 1902. 

Lehren und Spriiche and Gedichte in Prosa. By Franz Blei in 
" In Memoriam Oscar Wilde." Leipzig : Insel- Verlag, 1904. 

Salome. Drame in einem Aufzuge. By Isidore Leo Pavia and 
Hermann Freih. v. Teschenberg. Leipzig : Verlag von Max 
Spohr, 1903. 

Salome. Tragoedie in einem Akt. By Hedwig Lachmann. 
Leipzig : Im Insel- Verlag, 1903. 


Salome. Drama in einem Aufzug. By Dr Kiefer. No. 4497 
Universal-Bibliothek. Leipzig : Verlag von Philipp Reclam, 
jun. (N.D.) 

Oscar Wilde. By Hedwig Lachmann. (Contains translations of 
" The Harlot's House," and other poems.) Berlin and Leipzig : 
Verlegt bei Schuster & Loeffler, 1905. 


De Profundis. Seguito da Alcune Lettere inedite di O. Wilde. 
Versione Italiana di Olga Bicchierai. Venezia : S. Rosen, 
Editore, 1905. (This edition contains the letters from prison 
in English.} 

Dorian Gray was published as a serial in a newspaper. Intentions 
has also been published. 


Salome. Dramat W I Akcie. Przeklad Jadwigi Gasowskiej. 
Munich : Dr J. Marchlewski & Co., 1904. 


De Profundis. 1905. 

Salome. Translated by the Baroness Rodoshefsky, 1905. 


Balada de la Carcel de Reading. By D. H. (Dario Herrera of 
Buenos Ayres). El Mercurio de America, December 


De Profundis. By Anna Lamberg. Stockholm : Wahlstrom & 
Widstrands Forlag, 1905. 

Dorian Grays Portrait. By N. Selander. Stockholm : Albert 
Bonniers Forlag, 1905. 



Lbgnens For/all och Andra Uppsatser. By Edv. Alkman. Stock- 
holm : P. A. Norstedt & Soners Forlag, 1893. 

Lord Arthur Savzle's brott en studie af plikten, and Spbket Pa 
Canterville en hylo-idealistisk saga. By Michael Gripen- 
berg and Ernst von Wendt. Helsingfors ; Forlags A. B. 
Helios, 1905. 

Salome Sorgspel i en Akt. By Edv. Alkman. Stockholm : 
Wahlstrom & Widstrand, 1895. 

Spoket pa Canterville och andra Noveller och Sagor. By Ernst 
Lundquist. Stockholm : Albert Bonniers Forlag, 1906. 

NOTE. This list of translations does not profess to be complete. It is 
compiled mainly from the writer's own collection. 

Several editions of many of the works have been issued, but the date of 
the first edition is given whenever possible. 



ADAM, PAUL, 287 ; cited, 403-404 
Esthetic Movement, 163-166, 246 
Alcohol, 11-12,335-339 
Anderson, Mary, 235 
Archer, William, cited, 238 
Art, Wilde's attitude towards, 379, 

381-382, 409 
Athenaum, Wilde's work reviewed 

in, 183-186, 308, 315-317. 327- 

328, 33 



Balzac, 39, 233-236 
Baudelaire, Charles, 40, 96, 238, 


Bauer, Henri, 404, 419 
Bernhardt, Sarah, 180, 181, 229, 

293, 362-363 
Bogue, David, 172 
Bookman, "The Picture of Dorian 

Gray" reviewed in, 308-310 
Boston Evening Transcript quoted, 

Bourget, Paul, 242, 342 


Caine, Hall, cited, 337-338 

Calvinism, 147-148 

Carlisle, Lord, 19 

Carlyle, Thomas, quoted, 163 note 

Carson, Edward, 5, 115-116, 354 

"Case of Warder Martin, The," 

280-281, 409-410 
Child, Theodore, quoted, 225-226, 


Clarke, Sir Edward, 363-364 
Colum, Padraic, cited, 293 
Cook, E. T., quoted, 128-129 
Coquelin cadet, 197 
Corkran, Miss, quoted, 71-72 
Crawley, Ernest, quoted, 372-373 
Currie, Lady, quoted, 411-412 

Daily Chronicle, Wilde's letters to, 
280-281, 310-311, 409-411 

Daily Telegraph, William Wilde on 
staff of, 275-276 ; quoted, 322 

Daudet, Alphonse, 231-232, 287, 


" De Profundis" quoted, 7, 121, 
146-147, 353; cited, 144, 153, 
365, 415; examination of, 371- 


De Goncourt, Edmond, 227-229 
De 1'Isle-Adam, Villiers, 287, 291 
De Regnier, Henri, 284 ; quoted, 

154, 285-288, 343-344; cited, 


De Wyzewa, Teodor, 344 
Dickens, Charles, 77 
Donoghue, John, 216-218 
Downing, Miss Ellen, 48 
Dowson, Ernest, 405 
Dublin Royal Victoria Eye and 

Ear Hospital, 15-18 
Dublin University Review quoted, 

" Duchess of Padua, The," 235-238, 

and note 
Duffy, Sir C. Gavan, 46-51, 63, 

Dupoirier, M., 417-418, 420-422 

2 G 



Elgee, Jane Francesca. See Wilde, 


Elgee, Judge, 38 
Emmet, Robert, 377 
English Illustrated Magazine, 

Wilde's contributions to, 274 

Figures et Caracteres quoted, 285- 

Freeman's Journal, 263 ; quoted, 


Furniss, Harry, 29 
Fynn, Miss (Mrs Thomas Wilde), 


GIDE, ANDRE, 239, 412 
Goethe quoted, 32, 33 
Gough cited, 337-338 
Greaves, Dr Robert, II 
Guggenheim, 137 
Gunn, Michael, 260, 261 

HAMILTON, Miss, quoted, 74-77 
Hamilton, Walter, quoted, 156, 

208, 218-219; cited, 132, 135, 

" Happy Prince and Other Tales, 

The," 259-260, 304 
" Harlot's House, The," 238-239 
Harris, Frank, 297 
Harvard students, 202-205 
Healy, Father, cited, 28-29 
Hedonists, 340-341 
Henley, W. E., 311 
"House of Pomegranates, The," 

259-260, 304 
Howell, 179 
Hugo, Victor, 232 
Husted, Mr, 218-219 

" Importance of Being Earnest, 
The," 329-33 2 

" Intentions " quoted, 98-99 ; cited, 
106, 138; translation of, into 
French, 231, 289; appreciation 
of, 303 ; Pater's criticism of, 309 

Ireland census, Sir William 
Wilde's work on, 19 ; National 
movement (1847), 46, 48-50, 52- 
62 ; Revolution of 1798, 37 

frisk Monthly, 142, 144, 145 

Irishmen, characteristics of, 295, 

Irving, Henry, 195-198 

" JACTA ALEA EST," 49-50, 52-62, 

Joseph-Renaud, Jean, 294 ; cited, 
231, 284, 288 ; quoted, 289-293 

Journalism, Wilde's attitude to- 
wards, 274-278 

KEATS, 142-144 
Kelly, Miss Eva Mary, 48 
Kingsbury, Miss (Mrs Elgee), 38 
Kottabos, 140-141 

LA JEUNESSE, ERNEST, cited, 91, 

208, 376 ; quoted, 297-298, 420 
"Lady Windermere's Fan," 312- 

313, 319-326 
Langtry, Mrs, 212 
Le Journal, 278 
Le Roux, Hugues, 344 
Lectures by Wilde 

Advertisements of, 246-248 

" Decorative Art," 207, 209, 21 1 

" Dress," 260, 443-448 

" The English Renaissance," 193, 
207, 264, 427-432 

"The House Beautiful," 211, 
245, 251, 253-254, 432-438 

"The Value of Art in Modern 

Life," 260, 43 8 -443 
Lippincotf s Monthly Magazine, 304 
Lloyd, Constance. See Wilde, Mrs 



" Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and 

Other Stories," 315-319 
" Lux in Tenebris," 263 

M ( C lure's Magazine, 277 
Mahaffy, 1'rof., 150-152 
Mallarme, Stephane, 287 
Mangan, Clarence, 41 
Maturin, Rev. Charles, 38-46 
Meningitis, 300 
Meyerfeld, Dr Max, 230-238, and 

note, 425 

Mirbeau, Octave, quoted, 344-345 
Monaco, Princess of, 297 
Morning Herald (Halifax, N.S.), 

quoted, 211-212 

Nation, 46-48 

Nation (New York), quoted, 199- 

200, 427-43 2 

Nature, Wilde's attitude towards, 


New Hedonists, 340-341 
New York Herald, interview in, 


New York World quoted, 198-199 
Nicoll, Dr Robertson, 308 
Nineteenth Century, 208, 411 
Nordau, Max, cited, 336-337 

O'DoNOGHUE, D. J., 36, 41, 77, 

O'Flyn, Miss (Mrs Ralph Wilde), 


Ormsby, Sir Charles, 38 
Oscar, King of Sweden, 84 
Ousel ey, Gideon, 9 
Ouseley, Gen. Sir Ralph, 9 
Ouseley, Sir Ralph, 8 
Ouseley, Sir Wm., 8-9 
Oxford poet friend, 215-216 

Oxford University Characteristics 
of, 121-123 ; Ruskin's influence 
at, 125-130 

Pall Mall Gazette, Wilde's contribu- 
tions to, 259, 274 

Paris literary sensibilities in, 
230-231 ; Wilde's honeymoon in, 
257-258 ; estimate of his conversa- 
tional powers in, 285-293 ; visits 
10(1892-95), 342 ; last days in, 418 

Pater, Walter, 309-310 

" Patience," 208-209 

"Picture of Dorian Gray, The," 
65-66, 304-310 

Poe, E. A., 212, 238 

"Poems," 173-175, 180-189 

Pond, Major, 190, 200-201, 219 

Portora, IOI et seq. , 114 

" Portrait of Mr W. H., The," 361 

Punch, " Poems " reviewed in, 187- 
188 ; quoted, 221-222 ; cited, 321, 

Punctuation, 273 


"6, 352-354 

RAVENNA, 155-157 

Reading Goal warder, account of 

Wilde by, 386-402 ; letter from 

Wilde to, 405-406 
Red Island property, 242-243 
Reid, Wemyss, 269 
Religion, Wilde's attitude towards, 

146-147, 371-372, 378-381, 383. 


Rollinat, 243 

Ross, Robert, 415-417, 421, 423 
Richards, J. Morgan, cited, 207 
Ruskin, John, 125-130, 132-133 

St fames s Gazette quoted, 298-299 
"Salome," 362, 424-425 



Sargent, John, 242 

Saturday Review, "Poems" re- 
viewed in, 181-182 

Scots Observer {National Observer], 
Wilde's letters to, 311 

Scott, Clement, quoted, 322 

Sebastian Melmoth, 38, 144, 300, 
404, 405 

Shakespeare's Sonnets, 360 

Shelley, P. B., 378 

Smithers, Leonard, 414 

Solomons, 179 

"Soul of Man under Socialism, 
The," 129-131, 259, 302 

Speranza. See Wilde, Lady 

"Sphynx, The," 239 

Steele, Rev. Wm., 105 

" Story of an Unhappy Friendship, 
The," quoted, 72-73, 241, 278 
note, 335, 345-346 

Swinburne, A., 230, 232 

TAN AGRA statuettes, 151-152 

Terry, Ellen, 174-176 

Thackeray quoted, 39 

Theatre quoted, 330-331 

"Thomasine," 48 

Times, Wilde's work reviewed in, 

327, 330 
Truth quoted, 322 - 323 ; Wilde's 

work reviewed in, 331 
Trinity College, Dublin, 112-115, 


" Twenty Years in Paris " quoted, 

ISABELLA VON, cited, 355-356 

" VERA," 189, 221-222 
Vezin, Hermann, 264 
Voltaire, 378 

Whitman, Walt, 212, 214 

Wilde, Lady (Jane Francesca Elgee) 
(mother), family of, 35-38 ; birth, 
37 ; literary abilities, 30-32 ; con- 
tributions to The Nation, 46-48 ; 
"Jacta Alea Est," 49-50, 52-62, 
68 ; nationalism, 64 - 65 ; mar- 
riage, 1 8 ; desire that second 
child should be a girl, 5-6, 83 ; 
daughter of, 90 ; toleration of her 
husband's infidelities, 27-28 ; her 
salon, 70 ; in Park Street, 72 ; in 
Oakley Street, 70, 74-76; liter- 
ary works, 78-79 ; contributions 
to The Woman's World, 270-271 ; 
pension of, 20, 64 ; Oscar's rela- 
tions with, 6-7, 284, 368, 375 ; 
approves Oscar's remaining in 
England, 366 ; appearance of, 
71-74; Schwaermerei, 33-34, 36, 
84 ; tendency to self-delusion, 35 ; 
clinging to youth, 73 ; quoted on 
Sir Wm. Wilde's literary position, 

Wilde, Oscar Fingal O'Flaherty 


Career, chronological sequence of 
birth, 3-5, 83 ; names, 83- 
86 ; home, 86 - 87, 95 - 96 ; 
school, 92, 101 et seq. ; un- 
popularity with schoolfellows, 
104-105; gold medallist, 112; 
foreign travel, 92-93 ; at Trinity 
College, Dublin, 112-115; 
Berkeley gold medallist, 20-21, 
117 ; enters Magdalen College, 
Oxford, 121 ; Ruskin's lectures 
and influence, 125-130; sesthe- 
ticism, 133-138 ; ragging, 138; 
visits to Italy, 145-146; visit 
to Greece, 149-154; success in 
the schools, 124; First Class 
and Newdigate Prize, 155; 
literary work, 140-146; in 
London, 159, 166-169, 171- 



Wilde, Oscar continued 

\T 2; aesthetic costume, 1 60; 
unpopularity, 168-169; publi- 
cation of "Poems," 173-175, 
180-189; American tour, 189- 
190, 193-210, 219-223, 225- 
227 ; Chickering Hall lecture, 
198-200; Boston lecture, 202- 
206 ; Omaha, Louisville, and 
Denver, 207-210; Canada and 
Nova Scotia, 210-219; Monc- 
ton Y.M.C.A., 218-219; in 
Paris, 224-243 ; financial diffi- 
culties, 242 - 246 ; returns to 
England, 243 ; lectures in 
London, 244 ; in the provinces, 
2 45' 2 53 > marriage, 254-257 ; 
honeymoon in Paris, 257-258 ; 
home in Chelsea, 258 ; journal- 
istic work, 259 ; fairy stories, 
259-260 ; financial difficulties, 
264, 305 ; birth of his sons, 
264 ; editor of The Woman's 
World, 266-273 ; other journal- 
istic work, 273-274; "Lord 
Arthur Savile's Crime," 315- 
319; "Lady Windermere's 
Fan," 319-326; "A Woman 
of No Importance," 326-329 ; 
"An Ideal Husband," 327; 
" The Importance of Being 
Earnest," 329-334 ; visits to 
Paris, 342 ; the Queensberry 
trial, 5, 116, 352-354 ; arrested, 
354-355 ; first trial, 357 ; goes 
to Oakley Street, 358 ; sale at 
Tite Street, 359-361 ; second 
trial and sentence, 278, 368 ; 
in prison, 370-373 ; visit from 
his wife, 374 ; conversations in 
prison, 377-383. 3 86 '4O2 ; rela- 
tions with fellow-prisoners, 383- 
384; "De Profundis," see 
that title ; released, 403 ; at 

Wilde, Oscar continued 

Berneval, 404; "Ballad of 
Reading Gaol," 411-414; fin- 
ancial straits, 278-281, 415 ; at 
Naples, 415 ; in Paris, 417-420; 
last days, 420-422 ; baptised 
into Roman Catholic Church, 
148, 416, 421 ; death, 422 ; 
tomb, 422-423 
yEstheticism, in 
Ambition, 177 
Anarchism, 161, 178 
Artificiality, 233 
Cleverness, 91, 103, no 
Conversational powers, and 

love of talking, 32, 284-295, 

297-301, 409, 419 
Courage, 139, 244 
Courtesy, 180-181, 205, 211, 

296, 299-300 
Detail, carefulness as to, 273, 


Dignity, 205, 244, 367 
Dogmatism, 253 
Energy, 294 
Family feeling, 6-7, 284, 368, 

Generosity, 282-284, 383-384, 

404, 420 
Geniality and kindliness, 214, 

241, 309 
Gentleness, 385 
Honour in money matters, 282 
Indolence, 140 
Inherited tendencies, 80-8 1 
Inventive faculty, 315-316 
Linguistic facility, 30 
Magnetic influence, 240 
Mathematics, incapacity for, 

103-104, 112; 
Optimism, 301-302 
Pessimism, 140 
Practicality, 34 



Wilde, Oscar continued 

Pride and arrogance, 170, 282, 

339, 353 

Repose of manner, 213 
Satire and repartee, powers of, 

105-107, 170-171, 220, 297 
Self-accusation, habit of, 295, 

302, 377; self-confidence, 319 
Superstitiousness, 418 
Voice, 293, 295 
Youth, ardour for, 4, 73, 81 

Appearance, 29, 104, 196, 21 1, 

225, 233, 249, 251, 289,343 
Book read in youth, alleged 

influence of, 65-66 
Dress, 109, 233-234, 250, 269- 

270, 289, 343 
Epileptiform malady, 34, 181, 

37, 325, 334, 337-339 
Estimates, 91, 208, 342, 426 
among European Jews, 
131-132 German, 424 
Italian, 424 
Handwriting, 355-356 
Irish nationality, concealment 

of, 86 
Names, 38, 83-86, 141, 144, 

404, 405 
Philosophy, 301 
Religious views, 146-147,371- 

372, 378-381, 383, 384 
Smoking, addiction to, 269, 

324-325, 334 
Social celebrities, preference 

for, 74, 177-178 
Words affected, 210-211 
Wilde, Mrs (wife), marriage of, 
254-257 ; contributions to The 
Woman's World, 270-271 ; copy 
of "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime " 
inscribed to, 317 ; visits her 

Wilde, Mrs continued 
husband in gaol, 374 ; tells him 
of his mother's death, 7, 374 ; 
death and estimate of, 375 

Wilde, Ralph (great-grandfather), 

Wilde, DrThomas(great-uncle), 8,9 

Wilde, William (brother), at school, 
108-110; on Daily Telegraph 
staff, 275-276; Oscar's relations 
with, 89, 109, 167, 375-376; 
supplied with story plots by Oscar, 
315-316 ; otherwise mentioned, 
36, 70, 358, 366-367 

Wilde, Sir William Robert Wills 
(father), family of, 7-9 ; early 
years, 9-10; medical studies, II ; 
illness, n ; medical success, 13- 
15; voyage in the Crusader, 14; 
founds Eye and Ear Hospital, 15- 
18 ; publication on Dean Swift, 
18; marriage, 18 ; visits Stock- 
holm, 18 ; knighted, 18-20 ; 
Cunningham medallist, 20, 80 ; 
as landlord, 21-22 ; literary work, 
22, 24, 80 ; foreign appreciations 
of, 23-24 ; Oscar's attitude 
towards, 6 ; characteristics, 25, 
27-29 ; death and funeral, 26 

Wills, W. G., 85 

"Woman Covered with Jewels, 
The," 360 

"Woman of No Importance, A," 

Woman's World, 266-273 

World quoted, 225-226, 254-255 ; 
cited, 243 ; Wilde's contributions 
to, 259, 274 

XAU, FERNAND, 278-279 

YATES, EDMUND, 174, 179-180; 
cited, 243 ; quoted, 254-255 




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