Oscar Wilde

On this date in 1854, writer Oscar Wilde was born in Ireland. He studied at Trinity College on a scholarship. In 1874 he was awarded a scholarship to Oxford. His first book of poems was published in 1881 and he spent a year lecturing on aesthetics in the United States. Wilde married in 1884 and fathered two sons, working for a magazine and writing children’s stories. His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published in 1890. This was followed by his successful plays: “Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), “A Woman of No Importance” (1893), “Salome” (1894), “An Ideal Husband” (1895) and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895).

In 1895 he sued the father of his male lover for libel after Wilde was accused of homosexuality. Wilde dropped the ill-advised lawsuit but was then charged criminally and convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years’ hard labor. His health was broken by the ordeal. He wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” about it in 1898. Penniless, he moved to the continent, where he died of meningitis at age 46. On his deathbed, the lifelong skeptic, who had written “it is better for the artist not to live with popes,” (“The Soul of Man Under Socialism”) converted to Catholicism, a gesture perhaps imputed to his brain condition. 

A master of the epigram, Wilde is known for such one-liners as “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” “I think that God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.” “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” “He hasn’t a single redeeming vice.” “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” He reputedly said on his deathbed, “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.”

In his review of “Oscar Wilde: A Life” by Matthew Sturgis, David Hare wrote: “Those of us who love him are most moved by his generosity. He really did give extravagant sums of money to every beggar he passed, and was bewildered when, in his last years, acquaintances did not show him the same largess he had once extended to strangers. The act of exercising practical, daily kindness was at the heart both of his beliefs and of his way of life.” (New York Times, Oct. 13, 2021)

Hare added, “He brought to literature a liberating philosophy that struck hard at Victorian society, but also at our own. He did not believe that morality consisted of judging other people’s faults. He believed it consisted in judging your own.”

Of religion he wrote in “The Critic as Artist” in 1891: “A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.” “Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.” “There is no sin except stupidity.” D. 1900.

Freedom From Religion Foundation