Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde by Oscar Wilde


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Page 1


This anthology is dedicated to Michael Lykiardopulos as a little token of
his services to English Literature in the great Russian Empire.


With the possible exceptions of the Greek Anthology, the "Golden
Treasury" and those which bear the name of E. V. Lucas, no selections of
poetry or prose have ever given complete satisfaction to anyone except
the compiler. But critics derive great satisfaction from pointing out
errors of omission and inclusion on the part of the anthologist, and all
of us have putatively re-arranged and re-edited even the "Golden
Treasury" in our leisure moments. In an age when "Art for Art's sake" is
an exploded doctrine, anthologies, like everything else, must have a
purpose. The purpose or object of the present volume is to afford
admirers of Wilde's work the same innocent pleasure obtainable from
similar compilations, namely that of reconstructing a selection of their
own in their mind's eye--for copyright considerations would interfere
with the materialisation of their dream.

A stray observation in an esteemed weekly periodical determined the plan
of this anthology and the choice of particular passages. The writer,
whose name has escaped me, opined that the reason the works of Pater and
Wilde were no longer read was owing to both authors having treated
English as a dead language. By a singular coincidence I had purchased
simultaneously with the newspaper a shilling copy of Pater's
"Renaissance," published by Messrs. Macmillan; and a few days afterwards
Messrs. Methuen issued at a shilling the twenty-eighth edition of "De
Profundis." Obviously either Messrs. Macmillan and Messrs. Methuen or
the authority on dead languages must have been suffering from
hallucinations. It occurred to me that a selection of Wilde's prose
might at least rehabilitate the notorious reputation for common sense
enjoyed by all publishers, who rarely issue shilling editions of deceased
authors for mere aesthetic considerations. And I confess to a hope that
this volume may reach the eye or ear of those who have not read Wilde's
books, or of those, such as Mr. Sydney Grundy, who are irritated by the
revival of his plays and the praise accorded to his works throughout the

Wilde's prose is distinguished by its extraordinary ease and clarity, and
by the absence--very singular in his case--of the preciosity which he
admired too much in other writers, and advocated with over-emphasis.
Perhaps that is why many of his stories and essays and plays are used as
English text-books in Russian and Scandinavian and Hungarian schools.
Artifice and affectation, often assumed to be recurrent defects in his
writings by those unacquainted with them, are comparatively rare. Wilde
once boasted in an interview that only Flaubert, Pater, Keats, and
Maeterlinck had influenced him, and then added in a characteristic way:
"But I had already gone more than half-way to meet them." Anyone curious
as to the origin of Wilde's style and development should consult the
learned treatise {1} of Dr. Ernst Bendz, whose comprehensive treatment of
the subject renders any elucidation of mine superfluous; while nothing
can be added to Mr. Holbrook Jackson's masterly criticism {2} of Wilde
and his position in literature.

In making this selection, with the valuable assistance of Mr. Stuart
Mason, I have endeavoured to illustrate and to justify the critical
appreciations of both Dr. Bendz and Mr. Holbrook Jackson, as well as to
afford the general reader a fair idea of Wilde's variety as a prose
writer. He is more various than almost any author of the last century,
though the act of writing was always a burden to him. Some critic
acutely pointed out that poetry and prose were almost side-issues for
him. The resulting faults and weakness of what he left are obvious.
Except in the plays he has no sustained scheme of thought. Even "De
Profundis" is too desultory.

For the purpose of convenient reference I have exercised the prerogative
of a literary executor and editor by endowing with special titles some of
the pieces quoted in these pages. Though unlike one of Wilde's other
friends I cannot claim to have collaborated with him or to have assisted
him in any of his plays, I was sometimes permitted, as Wilde acknowledges
in different letters, to act in the capacity of godfather by suggesting
the actual titles by which some of his books are known to the world. I
mention the circumstance only as a precedent for my present temerity. To
compensate those who disapprove of my choice, I have included two
unpublished letters. The examples of Wilde's epistolary style, published
since his death, have been generally associated with disagreeable
subjects. Those included here will, I hope, prove a pleasant contrast.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Wed 26th Jan 2022, 20:37