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Poets and Poetry - The Insults of Oscar Wilde

...our second-rate litterateurs... are the mere body-snatchers of literature. The dust is given to one, and the ashes to another, and the soul is out of their reach.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
Ah! Meredith! Who can define him? His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning. As a writer he has mastered everything except language: as a novelist he can do anything, except tell a story: as an artist he is everything, except articulate.
THE DECAY OF LYING
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!
Jack: That wouldn't be at all a bad thing.
Algernon: Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow. Don't try it. You should leave that to people who haven't been at a University. They do it so well in the daily papers.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Anybody can be reasonable, but to be sane is not common; and sane poets are as rare as blue lilies, though they may not be quite so delightful.
A NOTE ON SOME MODERN POETS [POEMS BY HENLEY AND SHARP]
Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
Anybody can write a three-volumed novel. It merely requires a complete ignorance of both life and literature.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
As a rule, the critics -1 speak, of course, of the higher class, of those in fact who write for the sixpenny papers - are far more cultured than the people whose work they are called upon to review.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
As for modern journalism, it is not my business to defend it. It justifies its own existence by the great Darwinian principle of the survival of the vulgarest.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
As for Rossetti's elaborate system of punctuation, Mr. Knight pays no attention to it whatsoever. Indeed he shows quite a rollicking indifference to all the secrets and subtleties of style, and inserts and removes stops in a manner that is absolutely destructive to the logical beauty of the verse.
A CHEAP EDITION OF A GREAT MAN
As for that great and daily increasing school of novelists for whom the sun always rises in the East-End, the only thing that can be said about them is that they find life crude, and leave it raw.
THE DECAY OF LYING
As for the mob, I have no desire to be a popular novelist. It is far too easy.
DEFENCE OF DORIAN GRAY
As for the other, the scribblers and nibblers of literature, if they indeed reverence Rossetti's memory, let them pay him the one homage he would most have valued, the gracious homage of silence.
A CHEAP EDITION OF A GREAT MAN
As one turns over the pages the suspense of the author becomes almost unbearable.
THE DECAY OF LYING
Believe me, sir, Puritanism is never so offensive and destructive as when it deals with art matters.
DEFENCE OF DORIAN GRAY
Books of poetry by young writers are usually promissory notes that are never met.
ON YEATS's 'THE WANDERING OF OISIN'
But love is not fashionable any more, the poets have killed it. They wrote so much about it that nobody believed them.
THE REMARKABLE ROCKET
Eloquence is a beautiful thing, but rhetoric ruins many a critic; and Mr. Symonds is essentially rhetorical.
UNSIGNED REVIEW OF MR. SYMONDS' Life of Ben Jonson
En Route is most over-rated. It is sheer journalism. It never makes one hear a note of the music it describes. The subject is delightful, but the style is of course worthless, slipshod, flaccid. It is worse French than Ohnet's. Ohnet tries to be commonplace and succeeds. Huysmans tries not to be, and is.
FOURTH LETTER FROM READING PRISON
Every century that produces poetry is, so far, an artificial century, and the work that seems to us to be the most natural and simple product of its time is always the result of the most self-conscious effort.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
Every great man nowadays has his disciples, and it is always Judas who writes the biography.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
For in some respects Dickens might be likened to those old sculptors of our Gothic cathedrals. . . whose art lacking sanity was therefore incomplete. Yet they at least knew the limitations of their art, while Dickens never knew the limitations of his. When he tries to be serious, he only succeeds in being dull, when he aims at truth, he merely reaches platitude.
A NEW BOOK ON DICKENS
Formerly we used to canonise our heroes. The modern method is to vulgarise them. Cheap editions of great books may be delightful, but cheap editions of great men are absolutely detestable.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
French prose, even in the hands of the most ordinary writers, is always readable, but English prose is unreadable.
ENGLISH POETESSES
He has always been a great poet. But he has his limitations, the chief of which is, curiously enough, an entire lack of any sense of limit. His song is nearly always too loud for his subject.
ON MR. SWINBURNE'S LAST VOLUME
He has no enemies, and none of his friends like him.
ON GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, SEPTEMBER 1886
How should one stop to listen to the lucubrations of a literary gamin, to the brawling and mouthing of a man whose praise would be as insolent as his slander is impotent, or the irresponsible and irrepressible chatter of the professionally unproductive?
LETTER TO JOAQUIN MILLER, 28 FEBRUARY 1882
I am afraid that writing to newspapers has a deteriorating influence on style. People get violent, and abusive, and lose all sense of proportion when they enter that curious journalistic arena in which the race is always to the noisiest.
DEFENCE OF DORIAN GRAY
I am always amused by the silly vanity of those writers and artists of our day, who seem to imagine that the primary function of the critic is to chatter about their second-rate work.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
I am sure that you must have a great future in literature before you. . . Because you seem to be such a bad interviewer, I feel sure that you must write poetry. I certainly like the colour of your necktie very much.
[INTERVIEW FOR The Sketch]
I am very much pleased to see that you are beginning to call attention to the extremely slipshod and careless style of our ordinary magazine-writers.
HALF HOURS WITH THE WORST AUTHORS
I dislike modern memoirs. They are generally written by people who have either entirely lost their memories, or have never done anything worth remembering.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
I hate vulgar realism in literature. The man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for.
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
I quite admit that modern novels have many good points. All I insist on is that, as a class, they are quite unreadable.
THE DECAY OF LYING
If Poetry has passed him by, Philosophy will take note of him.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO WALT WHITMAN
If your pistol is as harmless as your pen, this young tyrant will have a long life.
VERA, OR THE NIHILISTS
In Art, the public accept what has been, because they cannot alter it, not because they appreciate it. They swallow their classics whole, and never taste them.
THE SOUL OF MAN UNDER SOCIALISM
In centuries before ours the public nailed the ears of journalists to the pump. That was quite hideous. In this century journalists have nailed their own ears to the keyhole. That is much worse.
THE SOUL OF MAN UNDER SOCIALISM
In fact, the popular novel that the public calls healthy is always a thoroughly unhealthy production; and what the public calls an unhealthy novel is always a beautiful and healthy work of art.
THE SOUL OF MAN UNDER SOCIALISM
In France, in fact, they limit the journalist and allow the artist almost perfect freedom. Here we allow absolute freedom to the journalist, and entirely limit the artist.
THE SOUL OF MAN UNDER SOCIALISM
In modern days... the fashion of writing poetry has become far too common, and should, if possible, be discouraged.
THE DECAY OF LYING
Inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write.
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
It is but a sorry task to rip the twisted ravel from the worn garment of a life, and to turn the grout in a drained cup. Better after all that we only know a painter through his vision and a poet through his song, than that the image of a great man should be marred and made mean by the clumsy geniality of good intentions.
A CHEAP EDITION OF A GREAT MAN
It is proper that limitations should be placed on action. It is not proper that limitations should be placed on art. To art belongs all things that are and things that are not, and even the editor of a London paper has no right to restrain the freedom of art in the selection of subject-matter.
DEFENCE OF DORIAN GRAY
It was a fatal day when the public discovered that the pen is mightier than the paving-stone, and can be made as offensive as the brickbat.
THE SOUL OF MAN UNDER SOCIALISM
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.
A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Lady Hunstanton: I don't know how he made his money, originally. Kelvil: I fancy in American dry goods. Lady Hunstanton: What are American dry goods? Lord Illingworth: American novels.
A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Let any sensible man outside the Browning Society, dip into the mysterious volume of literary hocus-pocus that has recently been solemnly reviewed, and see whether he can find a single passage likely to stir the pulses of any man or woman, create a desire to lead a higher, a holier, and a more useful life in the breast of the indifferent average citizen.
THE POETS AND THE PEOPLE
Life by its realism is always spoiling the subject-matter of art.
DEFENCE OF DORIAN GRAY
Lying and poetry are arts - arts, as Plato saw, not unconnected with each other - and they require the most careful study, the most disinterested devotion.
THE DECAY OF LYING
Mr. Henry James writes fiction as if it were a painful duty, and wastes upon mean motives and imperceptible 'points of view' his neat literary style, his felicitous phrases, his swift and caustic satire.
THE DECAY OF LYING
Mr. James Payn is an adept in the art of concealing what is not worth finding. He hunts down the obvious with the enthusiasm of a short-sighted detective.
THE DECAY OF LYING
Mr. Mahaffy shows an amount of political bias and literary blindness that is quite extraordinary. He might have made his book a work of solid and enduring interest, but he has chosen to give it a merely ephemeral value, and to substitute for the scientific temper of the true historian the prejudice, the flippancy, and the violence of the platform partisan.
ON MR. MAHAFFY's NEW BOOK [Green Life and Thought]
Mr. Marion Crawford has immolated himself upon the altar of local colour. . . he has fallen into a bad habit of uttering moral platitudes. He is always telling us that to be good is to be good, and that to be bad is to be wicked. At times he is almost edifying.
THE DECAY OF LYING
No country produces such badly written fiction, such tedious, common work in the novel-form, such silly, vulgar plays as in England.
THE SOUL OF MAN UNDER SOCIALISM
Old fashions in literature are as pleasant as old fashions in dress. I like the costume of the age of powder better than the poetry of the age of Pope.
ENGLISH POETESSES
On a lazy June evening no more delightful companion could be found than a poet who has the sweetest of voices and absolutely nothing to say.
POETRY AND PRISON
The ancient historians gave us delightful fiction in the form of fact; the modern novelist presents us with dull facts under the guise of fiction.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.
DEFENCE OF DORIAN GRAY
The English public like tediousness, and like things to be explained to them in a tedious way.
DEFENCE OF DORIAN GRAY
The fact is, that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesmanlike habits, supplies their demands.
THE SOUL OF MAN UNDER SOCIALISM
The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
There is always something peculiarly impotent about the violence of a literary man.
ON MR. MAHAFFY'S NEW BOOK [Greek Life and Thought]
There is much to be said in favour 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 what very little importance such events really have.
THE CRITIC AS ARTIST
To have a style so gorgeous that it conceals the subject is one of the highest achievements of an important and much admired school of Fleet Street leader-writers.
THE DECAY OF LYING
We fear that Mr. Routledge's edition will not do. It is well printed, and nicely bound; but his translators do not understand French.
ON BALZAC IN ENGLISH
What right has a man to the title of poet when he fails to produce music in his lines, who cannot express his thoughts in a simple language that the people can understand; but, on the contrary, has so imperfect a command of his mother tongue that all the efforts of a society of intellectual pickaxes cannot discover what his words really mean?
THE POETS AND THE PEOPLE
With regard to modern journalists, they always apologise to one in private for what they have written against one in public.
THE SOUL OF MAN UNDER SOCIALISM
You should study the Peerage, Gerald. It is the one book a young man about town should know thoroughly, and it is the best thing in fiction the English have ever done.
A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Your critic has cleared himself of the charge of personal malice... but he has only done so by a tacit admission that he has really no critical instinct about literature and literary work, which, in one who writes about literature, is, I need hardly say, a much graver fault than malice of any kind.
DEFENCE OF DORIAN GRAY

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