Oscar Wilde

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We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 185430 November 1900) was an Irish essayist, novelist, playwright and poet.

See also:
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).

Quotes[edit]

  • God knows; I won't be an Oxford don anyhow. I'll be a poet, a writer, a dramatist. Somehow or other I'll be famous, and if not famous, I'll be notorious. Or perhaps I'll lead the life of pleasure for a time and then—who knows?—rest and do nothing. What does Plato say is the highest end that man can attain here below? To sit down and contemplate the good. Perhaps that will be the end of me too.
  • If it took Labouchere three columns to prove that I was forgotten, then there is no difference between fame and obscurity.
  • I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.
  • Tread Lightly, she is near
    Under the snow,
    Speak gently, she can hear
    The daisies grow.
  • Lo! with a little rod
    I did but touch the honey of romance —
    And must I lose a soul's inheritance?
  • And down the long and silent street,
    The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
    Crept like a frightened girl.
  • Be warned in time, James, and remain, as I do, incomprehensible: to be great is to be misunderstood.
  • The honest ratepayer and his healthy family have no doubt often mocked at the dome-like forehead of the philosopher, and laughed over the strange perspective of the landscape that lies beneath him. If they really knew who he was, they would tremble. For Chuang Tsǔ spent his life in preaching the great creed of Inaction, and in pointing out the uselessness of all things.
  • Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
    • "The Relation of Dress to Art," The Pall Mall Gazette (February 28, 1885)
    • reprinted in Aristotle at Afternoon Tea:The Rare Oscar Wilde (1991).
  • A poet can survive everything but a misprint.
  • Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event.
  • A simile committing suicide is always a depressing spectacle.
  • And, after all, what is a fashion? From the artistic point of view, it is usually a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.
  • We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.
  • It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is absolutely fatal.
  • The more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature's lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition.
    • Intentions (1891).
  • Art finds her own perfection within, and not outside of herself. She is not to be judged by any external standard of resemblance. She is a veil, rather than a mirror.
    • Intentions (1891).
  • All art is immoral.
    • Intentions (1891).
  • le mystère de l'amour est plus grand que le mystère de la mort.
  • The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.
  • Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.
  • I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works.
    • J’ai mis tout mon génie dans ma vie; je n’ai mis que mon talent dans mes œuvres.
    • Conversation with André Gide in Algiers, quoted in letter by Gide to his mother (30 January 1895); popularized by Gide and often subsequently quoted in Gide’s later work and in "Gide, André (1869-1951)" at Standing Ovations ; the conversation was again recalled in Gide’s journal of (3 July 1913), quoted in “André Gide’s ‘Hommage à Oscar Wilde’ or ‘The Tale of Judas’”, Victoria Reid (University of Glasgow, UK), Chapter 5 in Reception of Oscar Wilde in Europe, edited by Stefano Evangelista, (8 July 2010) part of a Continuum series The Reception of British and Irish Authors in Europe, ISBN 978-1-84706005-1, pp. 98–99, also footnote 6 (p. 99), quoting 1996 edition of Gide’s journal, pp. 746–47]
  • People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely because chickens run about so absurdly that it's impossible to count them accurately.
    • Letter from Paris, (May 1900).
  • It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.
    • The Model Millionaire, 1912.
  • Tell me, when you are alone with him [ Max Beerbohm ] Sphinx, does he take off his face and reveal his mask?
    • In a letter to Ada Leverson [Sphinx] recorded in her book Letters To The Sphinx From Oscar Wilde and Reminiscences of the Author (1930).
  • One can survive everything nowadays except death.
  • I have the kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lip.
    • In a journal or later note by George Cecil Ives recording a meeting with Wilde in 1900, Oscar Wilde: Myths, Miracles and Imitations (Cambridge University Press,1996), John Stokes.
  • Prayer must never be answered: if it is, it ceases to be prayer and becomes correspondence.
  • Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings warmth and richness to life that nothing else can bring.
  • After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second glass you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.
    • As quoted via the documentary Absinthe, regarding the drink many say he imbibed regularly

Vera; or, The Nihilists (1880)[edit]

online text

  • Fool, nothing is impossible in Russia but reform.
    • Michael, Act I
  • Reforms in Russia are very tragic, but they always end in a farce.
    • Baron Raff, Act IV

The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888)[edit]

  • "She said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses," cried the young Student; "but in all my garden there is no red rose."
  • Be happy, be happy; you shall have your red rose. I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart's-blood. All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power, though he is mighty.
    • "The Nightingale and the Rose".
  • Why, what a wonderful piece of luck! Here is a red rose! I have never seen any rose like it in all my life. It is so beautiful that I am sure it has a long Latin name.
    • "The Nightingale and the Rose".

The Decay of Lying (1889)[edit]

online text

  • If Nature had been comfortable, mankind would never have invented architecture...In a house, we all feel of the proper proportions. Everything is subordinated to us, fashioned for our use and our pleasure.
  • It is always the unreadable that occurs.
  • His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning.
  • Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
  • No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.

The Critic as Artist (1891)[edit]

online text

Part I[edit]

  • Meredith is a prose Browning, and so is Browning. He used poetry as a medium for writing in prose.
  • Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.
  • There is no mode of action, no form of emotion, that we do not share with the lower animals. It is only by language that we rise above them, or above each other—by language, which is the parent, and not the child, of thought.
  • Every great man nowadays has his disciples, and it is always Judas who writes the biography.
  • Truth, in the matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.
  • Oh! journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read.
  • I am but too conscious of the fact that we are born in an age when only the dull are treated seriously, and I live in terror of not being misunderstood.
  • The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.
  • It is well for his peace that the saint goes to his martyrdom. He is spared the sight of the horror of his harvest.
  • Action [...] is the last resource of those who know not how to dream.

Part II[edit]

  • It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection; through art and art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.
  • Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
  • A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
  • It is to do nothing that the elect exist. Action is limited and relative. Unlimited and absolute is the vision of him who sits at ease and watches, who walks in loneliness and dreams.
  • As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.
  • It is chiefly, I regret to say, through journalism that such people find expression. I regret it because there is much to be said in favor of modern journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community. By carefully chronicling the current events of contemporary life, it shows us of what very little importance such events really are. By invariably discussing the unnecessary, it makes us understand what things are requisite for culture, and what are not.
  • To be good, according to the vulgar standard of goodness, is obviously quite easy. It merely requires a certain amount of sordid terror, a certain lack of imaginative thought, and a certain low passion for middle-class respectability.
  • There is no sin except stupidity.
  • Ah! Don't say you agree with me. When people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.
    • also appears in Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), Act II
  • England has done one thing; it has invented and established Public Opinion, which is an attempt to organize the ignorance of the community, and to elevate it to the dignity of physical force.
  • A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.
  • One is tempted to define man as a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.

Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)[edit]

  • It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.
    • Lord Darlington, Act I
  • Nowadays we are all of us so hard up that the only pleasant things to pay are compliments. They're the only things we can pay.
    • Lord Darlington, Act I
  • I can resist everything except temptation.
    • Lord Darlington, Act I
  • Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.
    • Lord Darlington, Act I
    • Often quoted as: Life is far too important to be taken seriously.
  • I am the only person in the world I should like to know thoroughly.
    • Mr. Dumby, Act II
  • My experience is that as soon as people are old enough to know better, they don't know anything at all.
    • Cecil Graham, Act II
  • Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.
    • Lord Darlington, Act II
  • My own business always bores me to death. I prefer other people's.
    • Cecil Graham, Act III
  • Gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.
  • We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
    • Lord Darlington, Act III
  • In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
    • Mr. Dumby, Act III
  • A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. [Answering the question, what is a cynic?]
    • Lord Darlington, Act III
  • Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes. [First used by Wilde in Vera; or, The Nihilists.]
    • Mr. Dumby, Act III
  • I have never admitted that I am more than twenty-nine, or thirty at the most. Twenty-nine when there are pink shades, thirty when there are not.
    • Mrs. Erlynne, Act IV
  • What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us.
    • Lady Windermere, Act IV

A Woman of No Importance (1893)[edit]

  • The growing influence of women is the one reassuring thing in our political life.
    • Kelvil, Act I
  • Mrs. Allonby: They say, Lady Hunstanton, that when good Americans die they go to Paris.
    Lady Hunstanton: Indeed? And when bad Americans die, where do they go to?
    Lord Illingworth: Oh, they go to America.
    • Act I
  • The youth of America is their oldest tradition. It has been going on now for three hundred years.
    • Lord Illingworth, Act I
  • The English country gentleman galloping after a fox — the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.
    • Lord Illingworth, Act I
  • Kelvil: May I ask, Lord Illingworth, if you regard the House of Lords as a better institution than the House of Commons?
    Lord Illingworth: A much better institution of course. We in the House of Lords are never in touch with public opinion. That makes us a civilised body.
    • Act I
  • Lord Illingworth: The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden.
    Mrs. Allonby: It ends with Revelations.
    • Act I
  • Lady Hunstanton: But do you believe all that is written in the newspapers?
    Lord Illingworth: I do. Nowadays it is only the unreadable that occurs.
    • Act I
  • Lord Illingworth: Women have become too brilliant. Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humour in the woman.
    Mrs. Allonby: Or the want of it in the man.
  • Gerald: I suppose society is wonderfully delightful?
    Lord Illingworth: To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy.
    • Act III
  • Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.
    • Lord Illingworth, Act III
  • I am always astonishing myself. It is the only thing that makes life worth living.
    • Lord Illingworth, Act III
  • Moderation is a fatal thing, Lady Hunstanton. Nothing succeeds like excess.
    • Lord Illingworth, Act III
  • The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.
  • Children love their parents. Eventually they come to judge them. Rarely do they forgive them.
    • Mrs. Arbuthnot, Act IV

A Few Maxims for the Instruction of the Over-Educated (1894)[edit]

First published anonymously in the Saturday Review (17 November 1894); full text online
  • Education is an admirable thing. But it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
  • The English are always degrading truths into facts. When a truth becomes a fact it loses all its intellectual value.
  • It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.
  • The only link between Literature and the Drama left to us in England at the present moment is the bill of the play.
  • In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.
  • Friendship is far more tragic than love. It lasts longer.
  • Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious.
  • To be really mediæval one should have no body. To be really modern one should have no soul. To be really Greek one should have no clothes.
  • Even the disciple has his uses. He stands behind one's throne, and at the moment of one's triumph whispers in one's ear that, after all, one is immortal.
  • The only thing that can console one for being poor is extravagance. The only thing that can console one for being rich is economy.
  • Those whom the gods love grow young.
    • A humorous reference to Menander's "ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἀποθνῄσκει νέος [whom the gods love dies young]".

Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young (1894)[edit]

First published in the Oxford student magazine The Chameleon (December 1894); full text online
  • Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.
  • Religions die when they are proved to be true. Science is the record of dead religions.
  • If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.
  • Patriotism is the vice of nations.
  • Only the shallow know themselves.
  • In examinations the foolish ask questions that the wise cannot answer.
  • The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.
  • To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.
  • One should always be a little improbable.
  • Time is a waste of money.
  • The only way to atone for being occasionally a little over-dressed is by being always absolutely over-educated.

The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)[edit]

  • Really, if the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?
    • Algernon, Act I
  • Divorces are made in Heaven.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • I hear her hair has turned quite gold from grief
    • Algernon, Act I
  • I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • My dear fellow, the truth isn't quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl.
    • Jack, Act I
  • The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her if she is pretty and to someone else if she is plain.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • Ah! That must be Aunt Augusta. Only relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnerian manner.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune ... to lose both seems like carelessness.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant as the case may be.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • Jack: That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple.
    Algernon: The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!
    • Act I
    • Often quoted as "The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.".
  • I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • In married life, three is company, and two is none.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • Of course the music is a great difficulty. You see, if one plays good music, people don't listen, and if one plays bad music people don't talk.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn't. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • A Handbag?
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • Mothers, of course, are all right. They pay a chap's bills and don't bother him. But fathers bother a chap and never pay his bills.
    • Jack, Act I
  • No gentleman ever has any money.
    • Algernon, Act II
  • When a man does exactly what a woman expects him to do she doesn't think much of him. One should always do what a woman doesn't expect, just as one should say what she doesn't understand.
    • Algernon, Act II
  • I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.
    • Gwendolen, Act II
  • The home seems to me to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not?
    • Gwendolen, Act II
  • I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.
    • Cecily, Act II
  • The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.
    • Miss Prism, Act II
  • The absence of old friends one can endure with equanimity. But even a momentary separation from anyone to whom one has just been introduced is almost unbearable.
    • Cecily, Act II
  • Well, I can't eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One must eat muffins quite calmly, it is the only way to eat them.
    • Algernon, Act II
  • Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act III
  • To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other's character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act III
  • Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act III
  • I've now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.
    • Jack, Act III
  • If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.
    • Gwendolen, Act III

An Ideal Husband (1895)[edit]

  • Oh, I love London society! It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what society should be.
    • Mabel Chiltern, Act I
  • Science can never grapple with the irrational. That is why it has no future before it, in this world.
    • Mrs Cheveley, Act I
  • Even you are not rich enough, Sir Robert, to buy back your past. No man is.
    • Mrs Cheveley, Act I
    • Usually quoted as: No man is rich enough to buy back his own past.
  • I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.
    • Lord Goring, Act I
  • Sooner or later we have all to pay for what we do.
    • Mrs Chevely, Act I
  • Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.
    • Mrs Chevely, Act I
  • I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.
    • Lord Goring, Act I
  • Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious.
    • Lord Goring, Act II
  • Musical people are so absurdly unreasonable. They always want one to be perfectly dumb a the very moment when one is longing to be absolutely deaf.
    • Mabel Chiltern, Act II
  • All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive. All lives, save loveless lives, true Love should pardon.
    • Sir Robert Chiltern, Act II
  • Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • The only possible society is oneself.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • However, it is always nice to be expected, and not to arrive.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • Oh, why will parents always appear at the wrong time? Some extraordinary mistake in nature, I suppose.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • Lord Caversham: No woman, plain or pretty, has any common sense at all, sir. Common sense is the privilege of our sex.
    Lord Goring: Quite so. And we men are so self-sacrificing that we never use it, do we, father?
    • Act III
  • Do you really think, Arthur, that it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and courage, to yield to.
    • Sir Robert Chiltern, Act III
  • Women are never disarmed by compliments. Men always are.
    • Mrs. Cheveley, Act III
  • Lord Goring: Now I'm gonna give you some good advice.
    Mrs. Cheveley: Pray don't. You should never give a woman something she can't wear in the evening, Act III
  • Fathers should be neither seen nor heard. That is the only proper basis for family life. Mothers are different. Mothers are darlings.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • When one pays a visit it is for the purpose of wasting other people's time, not one's own.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • If we men married the women we deserved, we should have a very bad time of it.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • I don't at all like knowing what people say of me behind my back. It makes me far too conceited.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • Now don't stir. I'll be back in five minutes. And don't fall into any temptations while I am away.
    • Miss Mabel Chiltern to Lord Goring, just after accepting his proposal, Act IV

The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1895)[edit]

online text

  • Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good.
  • Charity creates a multitude of sins.
  • Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.
  • Sometimes the poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less.
  • As for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than to beg.
  • Misery and poverty are so absolutely degrading, and exercise such a paralysing effect over the nature of men, that no class is ever really conscious of its own suffering. They have to be told of it by other people, and they often entirely disbelieve them.
  • Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilisation.
  • For the recognition of private property has really harmed Individualism, and obscured it, by confusing a man with what he possesses. It has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man is.
  • Now, nothing should be able to harm a man except himself. Nothing should be able to rob a man at all. What a man really has, is what is in him. What is outside of him should be a matter of no importance.
  • With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
  • Wherever there is a man who exercises authority, there is a man who resists authority.
  • The note of the perfect personality is not rebellion, but peace.
  • It will be a marvellous thing--the true personality of man--when we see it. It will grow naturally and simply, flowerlike, or as a tree grows. It will not be at discord. It will never argue or dispute. It will not prove things. It will know everything. And yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. It will have wisdom. Its value will not be measured by material things. It will have nothing. And yet it will have everything, and whatever one takes from it, it will still have, so rich will it be. It will not be always meddling with others, or asking them to be like itself. It will love them because they will be different. And yet while it will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing helps us, by being what it is. The personality of man will be very wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child.
  • 'Know thyself' was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of the new world, 'Be thyself' shall be written.
  • Don't imagine that your perfection lies in accumulating or possessing external things. Your affection is inside of you. If only you could realise that, you would not want to be rich. Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches cannot. In the treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely precious things, that may not be taken from you. And so, try to so shape your life that external things will not harm you. And try also to get rid of personal property. It involves sordid preoccupation, endless industry, continual wrong. Personal property hinders Individualism at every step.
  • There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor.
  • Man reaches his perfection, not through what he has, not even through what he does, but entirely through what he is.
  • The things people say of a man do not alter a man. He is what he is. Public opinion is of no value whatsoever.
  • High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
  • All authority is quite degrading. It degrades those who exercise it, and degrades those over whom it is exercised.
  • When private property is abolished there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it will cease to exist.
  • The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.
  • A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.
  • A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want.
  • Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.
  • The public has always, and in every age, been badly brought up. They are continually asking Art to be popular, to please their want of taste, to flatter their absurd vanity, to tell them what they have been told before, to show them what they ought to be tired of seeing, to amuse them when they feel heavy after eating too much, and to distract their thoughts when they are wearied of their own stupidity. Now Art should never try to be popular. The public should try to make itself artistic. There is a very wide difference.
  • Art is Individualism, and Individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. Therein lies its immense value. For what it seeks to disturb is monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine.
  • They are always asking a writer why he does not write like somebody else, or a painter why he does not paint like somebody else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist.
  • In the old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press.
  • If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise authority over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit that he cannot receive any artistic impression from it at all. The work of art is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to dominate the work of art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is to be the violin on which the master is to play. And the more completely he can suppress his own silly views, his own foolish prejudices, his own absurd ideas of what Art should be, or should not be, the more likely he is to understand and appreciate the work of art in question.
  • People sometimes inquire what form of government is most suitable for an artist to live under. To this question there is only one answer. The form of government that is most suitable to the artist is no government at all. Authority over him and his art is ridiculous.
  • There are three kinds of despots. There is the despot who tyrannises over the body. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul and body alike. The first is called the Prince. The second is called the Pope. The third is called the People.
  • The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it.
  • Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.
  • A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.
  • For what man has sought for is, indeed, neither pain nor pleasure, but simply Life. Man has sought to live intensely, fully, perfectly. When he can do so without exercising restraint on others, or suffering it ever, and his activities are all pleasurable to him, he will be saner, healthier, more civilised, more himself. Pleasure is Nature's test, her sign of approval. When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his environment.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)[edit]

  • I never saw a man who looked
    With such a wistful eye
    Upon that little tent of blue
    Which prisoners call the sky.
    • Pt. I, st. 3.
  • When a voice behind me whispered low,
    "That fellow's got to swing."
    • Pt. I, st. 4.
  • 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!
    • Pt. I, st. 7.
  • It is sweet to dance to violins
    When Love and Life are fair:
    To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
    Is delicate and rare:
    But it is not sweet with nimble feet
    To dance upon the air!
    • Pt. II, st. 9.
  • Something was dead in each of us,
    And what was dead was Hope.
    • Pt. III, st. 29.
  • And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,
    None knew so well as I:
    For he who lives more lives than one
    More deaths than one must die.
    • Pt. III, st. 35.
  • And alien tears will fill for him
    Pity's long-broken urn,
    For his mourners will be outcast men,
    And outcasts always mourn.
    • Pt. IV, st. 23 -- Wilde's epitaph.
  • I know not whether Laws be right,
    Or whether Laws be wrong;
    All that we know who lie in gaol
    Is that the wall is strong;
    And that each day is like a year,
    A year whose days are long.
    • Pt. V, st. 1
  • The vilest deeds like poison weeds
    Bloom well in prison air;
    It is only what is good in man
    That wastes and withers there;
    Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate
    And the Warder is Despair.
    • Pt. V, st. 5.
  • And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
    In Humanity's machine.
    • Pt. V, st. 7.
  • How else but through a broken heart
    May Lord Christ enter in?
    • Pt. V, st. 14.

De Profundis (1897)[edit]

  • I have said to you to speak the truth is a painful thing. To be forced to tell lies is much worse.
  • A thing is, according to the mode in which one looks at it.
  • Only good questions deserve good answers.
  • It seems to me that we all look at Nature too much, and live with her too little.
  • The supreme vice is shallowness.
  • We are specially designed to appeal to the sense of humour.
  • We are the zanies of sorrow. We are clowns whose hearts are broken.
  • When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?
  • Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.
  • Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
  • For a sentimentalist is simply one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.
  • All trials are trials for one’s life, just as all sentences are sentences of death;

Quotes about Wilde[edit]

Alphabetized by author
  • From the beginning Wilde performed his life and continued to do so even after fate had taken the plot out of his hands.
    • W. H. Auden, "An Improbable Life," review of The Letters of Oscar Wilde (editor, Rupert Hart-Davis) in The New Yorker, (9 March 1963).
  • Despite the number of his books and plays, Mr. Wilde was not, I think, what one calls a born writer. His writing seemed always to be rather an overflow of intellectual temperamental energy than an inevitable, absorbing function. That he never concentrated himself on any one form of literature is a proof that the art of writing never really took hold of him.
    • Max Beerbohm, quoted in Saturday Review (8 December 1900).
  • An Assyrian wax statue, effeminate, but with the vitality of twenty men.
  • That sovereign of insufferables, Oscar Wilde has ensued with his opulence of twaddle and his penury of sense. He has mounted his hind legs and blown crass vapidities through the bowel of his neck, to the capital edification of circumjacent fools and foolesses, fooling with their foolers. He has tossed off the top of his head and uttered himself in copious overflows of ghastly bosh. The ineffable dunce has nothing to say and says it—says it with a liberal embellishment of bad delivery, embroidering it with reasonless vulgarities of attitude, gesture and attire. There never was an impostor so hateful, a blockhead so stupid, a crank so variously and offensively daft. Therefore is the she fool enamored of the feel of his tongue in her ear to tickle her understanding.
    The limpid and spiritless vacuity of this intellectual jellyfish is in ludicrous contrast with the rude but robust mental activities that he came to quicken and inspire. Not only has he no thoughts, but no thinker. His lecture is mere verbal ditch-water—meaningless, trite and without coherence. It lacks even the nastiness that exalts and refines his verse. Moreover, it is obviously his own; he had not even the energy and independence to steal it. And so, with a knowledge that would equip and idiot to dispute with a cast-iron dog, and eloquence to qualify him for the duties of a caller on a hog-ranch, and an imagination adequate to the conception of a tom-cat, when fired by contemplation of a fiddle-string, this consummate and star-like youth, missing everywhere his heaven-appointed functions and offices, wanders about, posing as a statue of himself, and, like the sun-smitten image of Memnon, emitting meaningless murmurs in the blaze of women’s eyes.
    He makes me tired. And this gawky gowk has the divine effrontery to link his name with those of Swinburne, Rossetti and Morris—this dunghill he-hen would fly with eagles. He dares to set his tongue to the honored name of Keats. He is the leader, quoth’a, of a renaissance in art, this man who cannot draw—of a revival of letters, this man who cannot write! This little and looniest of a brotherhood of simpletons, whom the wicked wits of London, haling him dazed from his obscurity, have crowned and crucified as King of the Cranks, has accepted the distinction in stupid good faith and our foolish people take him at his word. Mr. Wilde is pinnacled upon a dazzling eminence but the earth still trembles to the dull thunder of the kicks that set him up.
    • Ambrose Bierce in an unsigned comment from a column titled Prattle in the satirical magazine Wasp, San Francisco (31 March 1882).
  • Leyendo y releyendo, a lo largo de los años, a Wilde, noto un hecho que sus panegiristas no parecen haber sospechado siquiera: el hecho comprobable y elemental de que Wilde, casi siempre, tiene razón.
    • Reading and re-reading Wilde throughout the years, I notice a fact that people who praise him apparently haven't in the very least: the basic and verifiable fact that Wilde is almost always right.
    • Jorge Luis Borges, Obras completas, Vol. II, p. 70.
  • Como Chesterton, como Lang, como Boswell, Wilde es de aquellos venturosos que pueden prescindir de la aprobación de la crítica y aun, a veces, de la aprobación del lector, pues el agrado que nos proporciona su trato es irresistible y constante.
    • Like Chesterton, like Lang, like Boswell, Wilde is one of the happy few who do not need the approval of the critic, nor even, sometimes, the approval of the reader, for the pleasure they give us is constant and irresistible.
    • Jorge Luis Borges, Obras completas, Vol. II, p. 71.
  • The same lesson [of the pessimistic pleasure-seeker] was taught by the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion; but the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people. Great joy does not gather the rosebuds while it may; its eyes are fixed on the immortal rose which Dante saw.
  • He was a great artist. He also was really a charlatan. I mean by a charlatan one sufficiently dignified to despise the tricks that he employs. ... Wilde and his school professed to stand as solitary artistic souls apart from the public. They professed to scorn the middle class, and declared that the artist must not work for the bourgeois. The truth is that no artist so really great ever worked so much for the bourgeois as Oscar Wilde. No man, so capable of thinking about truth and beauty, ever thought so constantly about his own effect on the middle classes. ... One might go through his swift and sparkling plays with a red and blue pencil marking two kinds of epigrams; the real epigram which he wrote to please his own wild intellect, and the sham epigram which he wrote to thrill the very tamest part of our tame civilization.
  • Am reading more of Oscar Wilde. What a tiresome, affected sod.
    • Noël Coward, Diary for 14 July 1946, in The Noel Coward Diaries, ed. S Morley and G. Payn (1982)
  • Wilde's voice was of the brown velvet order — mellifluous — rounded — in a sense giving it a plummy quality — rather on the adenotic side — but practically pure cello — and very pleasing.
    • Franlin Dyall, quoted in Life of Oscar Wilde by Hesketh Pearson
  • Oscar Wilde did not dive very deeply below the surface of human nature, but found, to a certain extent rightly, that there is more on the surface of life than is seen by the eyes of most people.
    • J. T. Grein, quoted in Sunday Special (9 December 1900).
  • If, with the literate, I am
    Impelled to try an epigram,
    I never seek to take the credit;
    We all assume that Oscar said it.
  • Men lived more vividly in his presence, and talked better than themselves.
    • Arthur Ransome, in Oscar Wilde, A Critical Study.
  • He was never quite sure himself where and when he was serious.
    • Robert Ross, letter to Adela Schuster (23 December 1900).
  • What has Oscar in common with Art? except that he dines at our tables and picks from our platter the plums for the puddings he peddles in the provinces. Oscar -- the amiable, irresponsible, esurient Oscar -- with no more sense of a picture than of the fit of a coat, has the courage of the opinions -- of others!
  • The dinner table was Wilde's event and made him the greatest talker of his time…


Misattributed[edit]

  • Why was I born with such contemporaries?
  • I'm not young enough to know everything.
  • Illusion is the first of all pleasures.
    • Voltaire, "L'illusion est le premier plaisir" from the satirical poem "La Pucelle d’Orléans" [The Maid of Orleans]. For a complete review see the misattributed quotation entry at Oscar Wilde in America.
  • Be Yourself. Everyone Else Is Already Taken.
    • Anonymous advertising copywriter for Menards newspaper chain, according to Quote Investigator

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