Wilde's Writings on Trial

In his cross-examination of Oscar Wilde, Defense Attorney Edward Carson asked Wilde about the meaning of two of his more controversial writings (the writings below).  This literary part of the trial was far less incriminating than the witnesses Carson planned to produce,  and suggests that Carson enjoyed toying with Wilde.  For his part, Wilde did his best to turn the proceedings into a joke, often supplying flippant answers to Carson's questions.  Still, Wilde's answers were often very revealing of his philosophy of life.  Wilde's radical individualism, hedonism, and "camp" sensibility became apparent in his answers to Carson's questions about his writings (See transcript page).

Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young

 The first duty in life is to be as artifical as possible.
What the second duty is no one has as yet discovered.
Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attraciveness of others.
If the poor only had profiles there would be no difficulty in solving the problem of poverty.
Those who see any difference between soul and body have neither.
A really well-made buttonhole is the only link between Art and Nature.
Religions die when they are proved to be true. Science is the record of dead religions.
The well-bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.
Nothing that actually occurs is of the smallest importance.
Dullness is the coming of age of seriousness.
In all unimportant matters, style, not sincerity is the essential.
In all important matters, style, not sincerity is the essential.
If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.
Pleasure is the only thing one should live for. Nothing ages like happiness.
It is only by not paying one's bills that one can hope to live in the memory of the commercial classes.
No crime is vulgar, but all vulgarity is crime. Vulgarity is the conduct of others.
Only the shallow know themselves.
Time is a waste of money.
One should always be a little improbable.
There is a fatality about all good resolutions. They are invariably made too soon.
The only way to atone for being occasionally a little overdressed is by being always absolutely over-educated.
To be premature is to be perfect.
Any preoccupation with ideas of what is right or wrong in conduct shows an arrested intellectual development.
Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.
A truth ceases to be true when more than one person believes in it.
In examinations the foolish ask questions that the wise cannot answer.
Greek dress was in its essence inartistic. Nothing should reveal the body but the body.
One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.
It is only the superficial qualities that last. Man's deeper nature is soon found out.
Industry is the root of all ugliness.
The ages live in history through their anachronisms.
It is only the gods who taste of death. Apollo has passed away, but Hyacinth, whom men say he slew, lives on.
      Nero and Narcissus are always with us.
The old believe everything: the middle-aged suspect everything: the young know everything.
The condition of perfection is idleness: the aim of perfection is youth.
Only the great masters of style ever succeed in being obscure.
There is something tragic about the enormous number of young men there are in England at the present moment
      who start life  with perfect profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession.
To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.

The Preface to the Picture of Dorian Gray

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.
         The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.
Those who find the ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
         Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are cultivated. For these there is hope.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
         There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.
         Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.
          The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.
The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect
          use of an  imperfect medium. Noartist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.
No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.
          No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.
Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.
         Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.
From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling,
         the actor's craft is the type.
         All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
         Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
         When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making
          a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.

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