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Title: Oscar Wilde: Art and Morality - A Defence of "The Picture of Dorian Gray"
Author: Mason, Stuart, 1872-1927 [Editor]
Language: English
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A Defence of "The Picture of Dorian Gray"


_What the public calls an unhealthy novel is always a beautiful and
healthy work of art._

London: J. Jacobs, Edgware Road, W.

The Editor wishes to express his indebtedness to the proprietors of the
various journals from which the reviews contained in this volume are
re-produced. In some instances he has not been able to trace the owner
of the copyright, owing to the journal having changed hands or become
extinct, and if he has infringed in any case he trusts that this
acknowledgment will be accepted.

The copyright of the eight letters by Oscar Wilde is the property of his
literary executor, with whose permission they are included in this book.




       *       *       *       *       *

_On the whole, an artist in England gains something by being attacked.
His individuality is intensified. He becomes more completely himself. Of
course, the attacks are very gross, very impertinent, and very
contemptible. But then no artist expects grace from the vulgar mind, or
style from the suburban intellect._

       *       *       *       *       *


"Why do you always write poetry? Why do you not write prose? Prose is so
much more difficult."

These were the words of Walter Pater to Oscar Wilde on the occasion of
their first meeting during the latter's undergraduate days at Oxford.[1]
Those were "days of lyrical ardours and of studious sonnet-writing,"
wrote Wilde, in reviewing one of Pater's books some years later,[2]
"days when one loved the exquisite intricacy and musical repetitions of
the ballade, and the vilanelle with its linked long-drawn echoes and its
curious completeness; days when one solemnly sought to discover the
proper temper in which a triolet should be written; delightful days, in
which, I am glad to say, there was far more rhyme than reason."

Oscar Wilde was never a voluminous writer--"writing bores me so," he
once said to André Gide--and at the time of which he speaks he had
published little except some occasional verses in his University
magazines. Then, in 1881, came his volume of collected poems, followed
at intervals during the next nine or ten years by a collection of fairy
stories and some essays in the leading reviews.

"I did not quite understand what Mr. Pater meant," he continues, "and it
was not till I had carefully studied his beautiful and suggestive essays
on the Renaissance that I fully realised what a wonderful self-conscious
art the art of English prose-writing really is, or may be made to be."

It has been suggested that it was his late apprenticeship to an art that
requires life-long study which rendered Wilde's prose so insincere,
resembling more the conscious artifice of the modern French school than
the restrained, yet jewelled style of Pater, whom he claimed as his
master in prose.

It was not till 1890 that he published his first and only novel, _The
Picture of Dorian Gray_, with its strangeness of colour and its
passionate suggestion flickering like lightning through the gloom of the
subject. The Puritans and the Philistines, who scented veiled
improprieties in its paradoxes, were shocked; but it delighted the
connoisseur and the artist, wearied as they were with the hum-drum
accounts of afternoon tea parties and the love affairs of the curate.

That such a master of prose and scholarship as Pater should have written
in terms of commendation of _Dorian Gray_ is sufficient to prove how
free from offence the story really is. In the original version of the
story one passage struck Pater as being indefinite and likely to suggest
evil to evil minds. This paragraph Wilde elaborated, but he refused to
suppress a single sentence of what he had written. "No artist is
consciously wrong," he declared.

A similar incident is recorded as early as 1878. Shairp, the Professor
of Poetry at Oxford, suggested some improvements in Wilde's Newdigate
Prize Poem _Ravenna_. Wilde listened to all the suggestions with
courtesy, and even took notes of them, but he went away and had the poem
printed without making a single alteration in it.

_The Picture of Dorian Gray_ first appeared on June 20th, 1890, in
_Lippincott's Monthly Magazine_ for July. It was published in America by
the J.B. Lippincott Company of Philadelphia simultaneously with the
English edition of the same magazine issued by Messrs. Ward, Lock and

A few weeks before the publication of his romance Wilde wrote a letter
to a publisher stating that his story would appear in Lippincott's on
the following 20th of June, and that after three months the copyright
reverted to him. The publication of _Dorian Gray_ would "create a
sensation," he wrote; he was "going to add two additional chapters," and
would the publishing house with whom he was corresponding care to
consider it?

Unfortunately the letter bears no indication of the house to which it
was sent. However, on the 1st of July in the following year _The Picture
of Dorian Gray_ was published in book form by Messrs. Ward, Lock and Co.
In this form it contained seven new chapters. The binding was of a rough
grey paper, the colour of cigarette ash, with back of parchment vellum.
The gilt lettering and design was by Charles Ricketts. A sumptuous
_édition de luxe_, limited to two hundred and fifty copies, signed by
the author, was also issued, the covers being similar to the ordinary
edition but the gilt tooling more elaborate.

In March, 1891, Wilde had written "A Preface to 'Dorian Gray'" in the
_Fortnightly Review_, in which he enunciated his creed as an artist.
This preface is included in all impressions of _Dorian Gray_ which
contain twenty chapters.

Wilde was indeed a true prophet when he foretold that his story would
create a sensation. Though it occupied but a hundred pages in a monthly
periodical, it was reviewed as fully as any _chef d'oeuvre_ of a leading
novelist. In one of his letters Wilde says that out of over two hundred
press cuttings which he received in reference to _Dorian Gray_ he took
public notice of only three. But it is impossible to doubt but that he
was thinking of his critics when he gave vent to his views on
journalists, and the attitude of the British public towards art, in his
essay on _The Soul of Man_ a few months later. "A work of art is the
unique result of a unique temperament," he writes. "Its beauty comes
from the fact that the author is what he is.... The moment that an
artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the
demand, he ceases to be an artist."

He considers it to be an impertinence for the public (represented by the
journalist) who knows nothing about art to criticise the artist and his
work. In this country, he declares that the arts that have escaped best
from the "aggressive, offensive and brutalising" attempts on the part of
the public to interfere with the individual as an artist, are the arts
in which the public takes no interest. He gives poetry as an instance,
and declares that we have been able to have fine poetry because the
public does not read it, and consequently does not influence it. But,

     "In the case of the novel and the drama, arts in which the public
     does take an interest, the result of the exercise of popular
     authority has been absolutely ridiculous. No country produces such
     badly written fiction, such tedious, common work in the
     novel-form.... It must necessarily be so. The popular standard is
     of such a character that no artist can get to it. It is at once too
     easy and too difficult to be a popular novelist. It is too easy,
     because the requirements of the public as far as plot, style,
     psychology, treatment of life, and treatment of literature are
     concerned are within the reach of the very meanest capacity and the
     most uncultivated mind. It is too difficult, because to meet such
     requirements the artist would have to do violence to his
     temperament, would have to write not for the artistic joy of
     writing, but for the amusement of half-educated people, and so
     would have to suppress his individualism, forget his culture,
     annihilate his style, and surrender everything that is valuable in

     "The one thing that the public dislikes is novelty. Any attempt to
     extend the subject-matter of art is extremely distasteful to the
     public; and yet the vitality and progress of art depend in a large
     measure on the continual extension of subject-matter. The public
     dislikes novelty because it is afraid of it.... A fresh mode of
     Beauty is absolutely distasteful to the public, and whenever it
     appears it gets so angry and bewildered that it always uses two
     stupid expressions--one is that the work of art is grossly
     unintelligible; the other, that the work of art is grossly immoral.
     When the public says a work is grossly unintelligible, it means
     that the artist has said a beautiful thing that is new; when the
     public describes a work as grossly immoral, it means that the
     artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is true. The former
     expression has reference to style; the latter to subject-matter.
     But it probably uses the words very vaguely, as an ordinary mob
     will use ready-made paving-stones. _There is not a single real poet
     or prose-writer of this_ (the nineteenth) _century on whom the
     British public has not solemnly conferred diplomas of
     immorality_.... Of course, the public is very reckless in the use
     of the word.... An artist is, of course, not disturbed by it. The
     true artist is a man who believes absolutely in himself, because he
     is absolutely himself. But I can fancy that if an artist produced a
     work of art in England, that immediately on its appearance was
     recognised by the public, through its medium, which is the public
     press, as a work that was quite intelligible and highly moral, he
     would begin seriously to question whether in its creation he had
     really been himself at all, and consequently whether the work was
     not quite unworthy of him, and either of a thoroughly second-rate
     order or of no artistic value whatsoever."

Wilde then goes on to discuss the use of other words by journalists
seeking to describe the work of an artist. These are the words "exotic,"
"unhealthy," and "morbid."[3] He disposes of each in turn. Briefly he
says, that the public is morbid, the artist is never morbid. The word
"exotic" merely expresses the rage of the momentary mushroom against the
immortal, entrancing and exquisitely lovely orchid. "_And,_" he
concludes, "_what the public calls an unhealthy novel is always a
beautiful and healthy work of art._"

[1] Oscar Wilde matriculated at Magdalen College, Oxford, October 17,
1874, and took his B.A. degree on November 28, 1878. Pater was at the
time a Fellow and Tutor of Brasenose.

[2] _The Speaker_, Vol I., No. 12, page 319. March 22, 1890.

[3] _The Times_, February 23rd, 1893, in reviewing "Salome", said: "It
is an arrangement in blood and ferocity, morbid, bizarre, repulsive and
very offensive." Wilde replied (_Times_, March 2nd), "The opinions of
English critics on a French work of mine have, of course, little, if any
interest for me."

In _The Soul of Man_ he wrote: "To call an artist morbid because he
deals with morbidity as his subject matter, is as silly as if one called
Shakespeare mad because he wrote 'King Lear.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

_One of the results of the extraordinary tyranny of authority is that
words are absolutely distorted from their proper and simple meaning, and
are used to express the obverse of their right signification._

       *       *       *       *       *


Time was (it was in the '70's) when we talked about Mr. Oscar Wilde;
time came (it was in the '80's) when he tried to write poetry and, more
adventurous, we tried to read it; time is when we had forgotten him, or
only remember him as the late editor of the _Woman's World_--a part for
which he was singularly unfitted, if we are to judge him by the work
which he has been allowed to publish in _Lippincott's Magazine_, and
which Messrs. Ward, Lock and Co., have not been ashamed to circulate in
Great Britain. Not being curious in ordure, and not wishing to offend
the nostrils of decent persons, we do not propose to analyse "The
Picture of Dorian Gray": that would be to advertise the developments of
an esoteric prurience. Whether the Treasury or the Vigilance Society
will think it worth while to prosecute Mr. Oscar Wilde or Messrs. Ward,
Lock and Co., we do not know; but on the whole we hope they will not.

The puzzle is that a young man of decent parts, who enjoyed (when he was
at Oxford), the opportunity of associating with gentlemen, should put
his name (such as it is) to so stupid and vulgar a piece of work. Let
nobody read it in the hope of finding witty paradox or racy wickedness.
The writer airs his cheap research among the garbage of the French
_Décadents_ like any drivelling pedant, and he bores you unmercifully
with his prosy rigmaroles about the beauty of the Body and the
corruption of the Soul. The grammar is better than Ouida's; the
erudition equal: but in every other respect we prefer the talented lady
who broke off with "pious aposiopesis" when she touched upon "the
horrors which are described in the pages of Suetonius and Livy"--not to
mention the yet worse infamies believed by many scholars to be
accurately portrayed in the lost works of Plutarch, Venus, and
Nicodemus, especially Nicodemus.

Let us take one peep at the young men in Mr. Oscar Wilde's story. Puppy
No. 1 is the painter of the picture of Dorian Gray; Puppy No. 2 is the
critic (a courtesy lord, skilled in all the knowledge of the Egyptians
and aweary of all the sins and pleasures of London); Puppy No. 3 is the
original, cultivated by Puppy No. 1 with a "romantic friendship". The
Puppies fall a-talking: Puppy No. 1 about his art, Puppy No. 2 about his
sins and pleasures and the pleasures of sin, and Puppy No. 3 about
himself--always about himself, and generally about his face, which is
"brainless and beautiful". The Puppies appear to fill up the intervals
of talk by plucking daisies and playing with them, and sometimes by
drinking "something with strawberry in it." The youngest Puppy is told
that he is charming; but he mustn't sit in the sun for fear of spoiling
his complexion. When he is rebuked for being a naughty, wilful boy, he
makes a pretty _moue_--this man of twenty! This is how he is addressed
by the Blasé Puppy at their first meeting:

"Yes, Mr. Gray, the gods have been good to you. But what the gods give
they quickly take away.... When your youth goes, your beauty will go
with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs
left for you.... Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies
and roses. You will become sallow, and hollow-cheeked, and dull-eyed.
You will suffer horribly."[5]

Why, bless our souls! haven't we read something of this kind somewhere
in the classics? Yes, of course we have! But in what recondite author?
Ah--yes--no--yes, it _was_ in Horace! What an advantage it is to have
received a classical education! And how it will astonish the Yankees!
But we must not forget our Puppies, who have probably occupied their
time in lapping "something with strawberry in it." Puppy No. 1 (the Art
Puppy) has been telling Puppy No. 3 (the Doll Puppy) how much he admires
him. What is the answer? "I am less to you than your ivory Hermes or
your silver Faun. You will like them always. How long will you like me?
Till I have my first wrinkle, I suppose. I know now that when one loses
one's good looks, whatever they may be, one loses everything.... I am
jealous of the portrait you have painted of me. Why should it keep what
I must lose?... Oh, if it was only the other way! If the picture could
only change, and I could be always what I am now!"[6]

No sooner said than done! The picture _does_ change: the original
doesn't. Here's a situation for you! Théophile Gautier could have made
it romantic, entrancing, beautiful. Mr. Stevenson could have made it
convincing, humorous, pathetic. Mr. Anstey could have made it
screamingly funny. It has been reserved for Mr. Oscar Wilde to make it
dull and nasty. The promising youth plunges into every kind of mean
depravity, and ends in being "cut" by fast women and vicious men. He
finishes with murder: the New Voluptuousness always leads up to
blood-shedding--that is part of the cant. The gore and gashes wherein
Mr. Rider Haggard takes a chaste delight are the natural diet for a
cultivated palate which is tired of mere licentiousness. And every
wickedness of filthiness committed by Dorian Gray is faithfully
registered upon his face in the picture; but his living features are
undisturbed and unmarred by his inward vileness. This is the story which
Mr. Oscar Wilde has tried to tell; a very lame story it is, and very
lamely it is told.

Why has he told it? There are two explanations; and, so far as we can
see, not more than two. Not to give pleasure to his readers: the thing
is too clumsy, too tedious, and--alas! that we should say it--too
stupid. Perhaps it was to shock his readers, in order that they might
cry Fie! upon him and talk about him, much as Mr. Grant Allen recently
tried in the _Universal Review_ to arouse, by a licentious theory of the
sexual relations, an attention which is refused to his popular chatter
about other men's science. Are we then to suppose that Mr. Oscar Wilde
has yielded to the craving for a notoriety which he once earned by
talking fiddle faddle about other men's art, and sees his only chance of
recalling it by making himself obvious at the cost of being obnoxious,
and by attracting the notice which the olfactory sense cannot refuse to
the presence of certain self-asserting organisms? That is an
uncharitable hypothesis, and we would gladly abandon it. It may be
suggested (but is it more charitable?) that he derives pleasure from
treating a subject merely because it is disgusting. The phenomenon is
not unknown in recent literature; and it takes two forms, in appearance
widely separate--in fact, two branches from the same root, a root which
draws its life from malodorous putrefaction. One development is found in
the Puritan prurience which produced Tolstoi's "Kreutzer Sonata" and Mr.
Stead's famous outbursts. That is odious enough and mischievous enough,
and it is rightly execrated, because it is tainted with an hypocrisy not
the less culpable because charitable persons may believe it to be
unconscious. But is it more odious or more mischievous than the "frank
Paganism" (that is the word, is it not?) which delights in dirtiness and
confesses its delight? Still they are both chips from the same
block--"The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" and "The Picture of Dorian
Gray"--and both of them ought to be chucked into the fire. Not so much
because they are dangerous and corrupt (they are corrupt but not
dangerous) as because they are incurably silly, written by simple
_poseurs_ (whether they call themselves Puritan or Pagan) who know
nothing about the life which they affect to have explored, and because
they are mere catchpenny revelations of the non-existent, which, if they
reveal anything at all, are revelations only of the singularly
unpleasant minds from which they emerge.

[4] _St. James's Gazette_, June 24th, 1890.

[5] Pp. 16, 17.

[6] p. 19.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Who can help laughing when an ordinary journalist seriously proposes to
limit the subject-matter at the disposal of the artist?_

       *       *       *       *       *


To the Editor of the _St. James's Gazette_.[7]

Sir,--I have read your criticism of my story, "The Picture of Dorian
Gray," and I need hardly say that I do not propose to discuss its merits
and demerits, its personalities or its lack of personality. England is a
free country, and ordinary English criticism is perfectly free and easy.

Besides, I must admit that, either from temperament or taste, or from
both, I am quite incapable of understanding how any work of art can be
criticised from a moral standpoint. The sphere of art and the sphere of
ethics are absolutely distinct and separate; and it is to the confusion
between the two that we owe the appearance of Mrs. Grundy, that amusing
old lady who represents the only original form of humour that the middle
classes of this country have been able to produce.

What I do object to most strongly is that you should have placarded the
town with posters on which was printed in large letters:--


Whether the expression "A Bad Case" refers to my book or to the present
position of the Government, I cannot tell. What was silly and
unnecessary was the use of the term "advertisement".

I think I may say without vanity--though I do not wish to appear to run
vanity down--that of all men in England I am the one who requires least
advertisement. I am tired to death of being advertised--I feel no thrill
when I see my name in a paper. The chronicle does not interest me any
more. I wrote this book entirely for my own pleasure, and it gave me
very great pleasure to write it. Whether it becomes popular or not is a
matter of absolute indifference to me. I am afraid, Sir, that the real
advertisement is your cleverly written article. The English public, as a
mass, takes no interest in a work of art until it is told that the work
in question is immoral, and your _réclame_ will, I have no doubt,
largely increase the sale of the magazine; in which sale, I may mention,
with some regret, I have no pecuniary interest.

I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,

                             OSCAR WILDE.

16, Tite Street, Chelsea, June 25th.

       *       *       *       *       *

To this the following Editorial note was appended:--

In the preceding column will be found the best reply which Mr. Oscar
Wilde can make to our recent criticism of his mawkish and nauseous
story, "The Picture of Dorian Gray". Mr. Wilde tells us that he is
constitutionally unable to understand how any work of art can be
criticised from a moral standpoint. We were quite aware that ethics and
æsthetics are different matters, and that is why the greater part of our
criticism was devoted not so much to the nastiness of "The Picture of
Dorian Gray," but to its dulness and stupidity. Mr. Wilde pretends that
we have advertised it. So we have, if any readers are attracted to a
book which, we have warned them, will bore them insufferably.

That the story is corrupt cannot be denied; but we added, and assuredly
believe, that it is not dangerous, because, as we said, it is tedious
and stupid.

Mr. Wilde tells us that he wrote the story for his own pleasure, and
found great pleasure in writing it. We congratulate him. There is no
triumph more precious to your æsthete than the discovery of a delight
which outsiders cannot share or even understand. The author of "The
Picture of Dorian Gray" is the only person likely to find pleasure in

[7] June 26th, 1890.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Why should an artist be troubled by the shrill clamour of criticism?_

       *       *       *       *       *


Mr. Oscar Wilde continues to carry on the defence of his novelette, "The
Picture of Dorian Gray". Writing to us under yesterday's date[8], he

In your issue of to-day you state that my brief letter published in your
columns is the "best reply" I can make to your article upon "Dorian
Gray." This is not so. I do not propose to discuss fully the matter
here, but I feel bound to say that your article contains the most
unjustifiable attack that has been made upon any man of letters for many

The writer of it, who is quite incapable of concealing his personal
malice, and so in some measure destroys the effect he wishes to produce,
seems not to have the slightest idea of the temper in which a work of
art should be approached. To say that such a book as mine should be
"chucked into the fire" is silly. That is what one does with newspapers.

Of the value of pseudo-ethical criticism; in dealing with artistic work
I have spoken already. But as your writer has ventured into the perilous
grounds of literary criticism I ask you to allow me, in fairness not
merely to myself, but to all men to whom literature is a fine art, to
say a few words about his critical method.

He begins by assailing me with much ridiculous virulence because the
chief personages in my story are puppies. They _are_ puppies. Does he
think that literature went to the dogs when Thackeray wrote about
puppydom? I think that puppies are extremely interesting from an
artistic as well as from a psychological point of view.

They seem to me to be certainly far more interesting than prigs; and I
am of opinion that Lord Henry Wotton is an excellent corrective of the
tedious ideal shadowed forth in the semi-theological novels of our age.

He then makes vague and fearful insinuations about my grammar and my
erudition. Now, as regards grammar, I hold that, in prose at any rate,
correctness should always be subordinate to artistic effect and musical
cadence; and any peculiarities of syntax that may occur in "Dorian Gray"
are deliberately intended, and are introduced to show the value of the
artistic theory in question. Your writer gives no instance of any such
peculiarity. This I regret, because I do not think that any such
instances occur.

As regards erudition, it is always difficult, even for the most modest
of us, to remember that other people do not know quite as much as one
does one's self. I myself frankly admit I cannot imagine how a casual
reference to Suetonius and Petronius Arbiter can be construed into
evidence of a desire to impress an unoffending and ill-educated public
by an assumption of superior knowledge. I should fancy that the most
ordinary of scholars is perfectly well acquainted with the "Lives of the
Cæsars" and with the "Satyricon."

"The Lives of the Cæsars," at any rate, forms part of the curriculum at
Oxford for those who take the Honour School of "Literæ Humaniores"; and
as for the "Satyricon" it is popular even among pass-men, though I
suppose they are obliged to read it in translations.

The writer of the article then suggests that I, in common with that
great and noble artist Count Tolstoi, take pleasure in a subject because
it is dangerous. About such a suggestion there is this to be said.
Romantic art deals with the exception and with the individual. Good
people, belonging as they do to the normal, and so, commonplace type,
are artistically uninteresting.

Bad people are, from the point of view of art, fascinating studies. They
represent colour, variety and strangeness. Good people exasperate one's
reason; bad people stir one's imagination. Your critic, if I must give
him so honourable a title, states that the people in any story have no
counterpart in life; that they are, to use his vigorous if somewhat
vulgar phrase, "mere catchpenny revelations of the non-existent." Quite

If they existed they would not be worth writing about. The function of
the artist is to invent, not to chronicle. There are no such people. If
there were I would not write about them. Life by its realism is always
spoiling the subject-matter of art.

The superior pleasure in literature is to realise the non-existent.

And, finally, let me say this. You have reproduced, in a journalistic
form, the comedy of "Much Ado about Nothing" and have, of course, spoilt
it in your reproduction.

The poor public, hearing from an authority so high as your own, that
this is a wicked book that should be coerced and suppressed by a Tory
Government, will, no doubt, rush to it and read it. But, alas, they will
find that it is a story with a moral. And the moral is this: All excess,
as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment.

The painter, Basil Hallward, worshipping physical beauty far too much,
as most painters do, dies by the hand of one in whose soul he has
created a monstrous and absurd vanity. Dorian Gray, having led a life of
mere sensation and pleasure, tries to kill conscience, and at that
moment kills himself. Lord Henry Wotton seeks to be merely the spectator
of life. He finds that those who reject the battle are more deeply
wounded than those who take part in it.

Yes, there is a terrible moral in "Dorian Gray"--a moral which the
prurient will not be able to find in it, but it will be revealed to all
whose minds are healthy. Is this an artistic error? I fear it is. It is
the only error in the book.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Editor added to this letter:--

Mr. Oscar Wilde may perhaps be excused for being angry at the remarks
which we allowed ourselves to make concerning the "moral tale" of the
Three Puppies and the Magic Picture; but he should not misrepresent us.
He says we suggested that his novel was a "wicked book which should be
coerced and suppressed by a Tory Government." We did nothing of the
kind. The authors of books of much less questionable character have been
proceeded against by the Treasury or the Vigilance Society; but we
expressly said that we hoped Mr. Wilde's masterpiece would be left

Then, Mr. Wilde (like any young lady who has published her first novel
"at the request of numerous friends") falls back on the theory of the
critic's personal malice. This is unworthy of so experienced a literary
gentleman. We can assure Mr. Wilde that the writer of that article had,
and has, no "personal malice" or personal feeling towards him. We can
surely censure a work which we believe to be silly and know to be
offensive, without the imputation of malice--especially when that book
is written by one who is so clearly capable of better things.

       *       *       *       *       *

As for the critical question, Mr. Wilde is beating the air when he
defends idealism and "romantic art" in literature. In the words of Mrs.
Harris to Mrs. Gamp, "Who's deniging of it?"

Heaven forbid that we should refuse to an author the supreme pleasure of
realising the non-existent; or that we should judge the "æsthetic" from
the purely ethical standpoint.

No; our criticism starts from lower ground. Mr. Wilde says that his
story is a moral tale, because the wicked persons in it come to a bad
end. We will not be so rude as to quote a certain remark about morality
which one Mr. Charles Surface made to Mr. Joseph Surface. We simply say
that every critic has the right to point out that a work of art or
literature is dull and incompetent in its treatment--as "The Picture of
Dorian Gray" is, and that its dulness and incompetence are not redeemed
because it constantly hints, not obscurely, at disgusting sins and
abominable crimes--as "The Picture of Dorian Gray" does.

[8] June 26th.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A true artist takes no notice whatever of the public. The public is to
him non-existent. He has no poppied or honeyed cakes through which to
give the monster sleep or sustenance. He leaves that to the popular

       *       *       *       *       *


To the Editor of the _St. James's Gazette_.[9]

Sir,--As you still keep up, though in a somewhat milder form than
before, your attacks on me and my book you not only confer upon me the
right, but you impose on me the duty of reply.

You state, in your issue of to-day, that I misrepresented you when I
said that you suggested that a book so wicked as mine should be
"suppressed and coerced by a Tory Government." Now, you did not propose
this, but you did suggest it. When you declare that you do not know
whether or not the Government will take action about my book, and remark
that the authors of books much less wicked have been proceeded against
in law, the suggestion is quite obvious.

In your complaint of misrepresentation you seem to me, Sir, to have been
not quite candid.

However, as far as I am concerned, this suggestion is of no importance.
What is of importance is that the editor of a paper like yours should
appear to countenance the monstrous theory that the Government of a
country should exercise a censorship over imaginative literature. This
is a theory against which I, and all men of letters of my acquaintance,
protest most strongly; and any critic who admits the reasonableness of
such a theory shows at once that he is quite incapable of understanding
what literature is, and what are the rights that literature possesses. A
Government might just as well try to teach painters how to paint, or
sculptors how to model, as attempt to interfere with the style,
treatment and subject-matter of the literary artist, and no writer,
however eminent or obscure, should ever give his sanction to a theory
that would degrade literature far more than any didactic or so-called
immoral book could possibly do.

You then express your surprise that "so experienced a literary
gentleman" as myself should imagine that your critic was animated by any
feeling of personal malice towards him. The phrase "literary gentleman"
is a vile phrase, but let that pass.

I accept quite readily your assurance that your critic was simply
criticising a work of art in the best way that he could, but I feel that
I was fully justified in forming the opinion of him that I did. He
opened his article by a gross personal attack on myself. This, I need
hardly say, was an absolutely unpardonable error of critical taste.

There is no excuse for it except personal malice; and you, Sir, should
not have sanctioned it. A critic should be taught to criticise a work of
art without making any reference to the personality of the author. This,
in fact, is the beginning of criticism. However, it was not merely his
personal attack on me that made me imagine that he was actuated by
malice. What really confirmed me in my first impression was his
reiterated assertion that my book was tedious and dull.

Now, if I were criticising my book, which I have some thoughts of doing,
I think I would consider it my duty to point out that it is far too
crowded with sensational incident, and far too paradoxical in style, as
far, at any rate, as the dialogue goes. I feel that from a standpoint of
art there are true defects in the book. But tedious and dull the book is

Your critic has cleared himself of the charge of personal malice, his
denial and yours being quite sufficient in the matter; but he has done
so only 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

Finally, Sir, allow me to say this. Such an article as you have
published really makes me despair of the possibility of any general
culture in England. Were I a French author, and my book brought out in
Paris, there is not a single literary critic in France on any paper of
high standing who would think for a moment of criticising it from an
ethical standpoint. If he did so he would stultify himself, not merely
in the eyes of all men of letters, but in the eyes of the majority of
the public.

You have yourself often spoken against Puritanism. Believe me, Sir,
Puritanism is never so offensive and destructive as when it deals with
art matters. It is there that it is radically wrong. It is this
Puritanism, to which your critic has given expression, that is always
marring the artistic instinct of the English. So far from encouraging
it, you should set yourself against it, and should try to teach your
critics to recognise the essential difference between art and life.

The gentleman who criticised my book is in a perfectly hopeless
confusion about it, and your attempt to help him out by proposing that
the subject-matter of art should be limited does not mend matters. It is
proper that limitation should be placed on action. It is not proper that
limitation should be placed on art. To art belong all things that are
and all 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

I now trust, Sir, that these attacks on me and my book will cease. There
are forms of advertisement that are unwarranted and unwarrantable.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

                         OSCAR WILDE.

16, Tite Street, S.W., June 27th.

[9] June 28th.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The public ... is always asking a writer why he does not write like
somebody else ... quite oblivious of the fact that if he did anything of
the kind he would cease to be an artist._

       *       *       *       *       *

Once more the Editor attempted to justify his reviewer's trenchant

Mr. Oscar Wilde makes his third and, we presume, his final reply to the
criticism which we published on "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Somewhat
grudgingly, but in sufficiently explicit terms, he withdraws the charge
of "personal malice" which he brought against the critic, and which, we
may again assure him, is absolutely unfounded.

But he adheres to the other charge of critical incapacity. Mr. Wilde
assures us that his book, so far from being dull and tedious, is full of
interest; an opinion which is shared (see the letter we print on another
page to-day) by his publishers' advertising agent-in-advance.

Well, we can only repeat that we disagree with Mr. Wilde and his
publishers' paragraphist.

Quite apart from "ethical" considerations, the book seems to us a feeble
and ineffective attempt at a kind of allegory which, in the hands of
abler writers (writers like Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Anstey, for instance)
can be made striking or amusing.

Mr. Wilde also says that we suggested that the author and publishers of
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" ought to be prosecuted by the Tory
Government, by which we presume he means the Treasury. No; we consider
that such prosecutions are ill-advised, and expressly suggested that
such action ought not to be taken against a book which we believed to be
rendered innocuous by the tedious and stupid qualities which the critic
discovered and explained. Secondly, Mr. Wilde hints that the "rights of
literature" include a right to say what it pleases, how it pleases and
where it pleases. That is a right not only not recognised by the law of
the land, but expressly denied by penalties which have been repeatedly
enforced. Then what does Mr. Oscar Wilde mean by talking about the
"rights of literature"? We will not insult an artist, who is by his own
account un-moral or supra-moral by suggesting that he means "moral
rights." But he tells us that limitations may be set on action but ought
not to be set on art. Quite so. But art becomes action when the work of
art is published. It is offensive publications that we object to, not
the offensive imaginings of such minds as find their pleasure therein.

       *       *       *       *       *


In the same issue of June 28th appeared the following letter:--

To the Editor of the _St. James's Gazette_.

Sir,--If Mr. Oscar Wilde is the last man in England (according to his
own account) who requires advertisement, his friends and publishers do
not seem to be of the same opinion. Otherwise it is difficult to account
for the following audacious puff-postive which has been sent through the
halfpenny post to newspaper editors and others:--

     Mr. Oscar Wilde will contribute to the July number of _Lippincott's
     Magazine_ a complete novel, entitled "The Picture of Dorian Gray,"
     which, as the first venture in fiction of one of the most prominent
     personalities and artistic influences of the day, will be
     everywhere read with wide interest and curiosity. But the story is
     in itself so strong and strange, and so picturesque and powerful in
     style, that it must inevitably have created a sensation in the
     literary world, even if published without Mr. Wilde's name on the
     title page.

     Viewed merely as a romance, it is from the opening paragraph down
     to the tragic and ghastly climax, full of strong and sustained
     interest; as a study in psychology it is phenomenal; judged even
     purely as a piece of literary workmanship it is one of the most
     brilliant and remarkable productions of the year.

Such, Sir, is the estimate of Mr. Wilde's publishers or paragraph
writer. Note the adjectival exuberance of the puffer--complete, strong,
strange, picturesque, powerful, tragic, ghastly, sustained, phenomenal,
brilliant and remarkable. For a man who does not want advertisement this
is not bad.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

June 27th.                       A LONDON EDITOR.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The sphere of art and the sphere of ethics are absolutely distinct and

       *       *       *       *       *


To the Editor of the _St. James's Gazette_.[10]

Sir,--In your issue of this evening you publish a letter from "A London
Editor" which clearly insinuates in the last paragraph that I have in
some way sanctioned the circulation of an expression of opinion, on the
part of the proprietors of _Lippincott's Magazine_, of the literary and
artistic value of my story of the "Picture of Dorian Gray."

Allow me, Sir, to state that there are no grounds for this insinuation.
I was not aware that any such document was being circulated; and I have
written to the agents, Messrs. Ward and Lock--who cannot, I feel sure,
be primarily responsible for its appearance--to ask them to withdraw it
at once. No publisher should ever express an opinion of the value of
what he publishes. That is a matter entirely for the literary critic to

I must admit, as one to whom contemporary literature is constantly
submitted for criticism, that the only thing that ever prejudices me
against a book is the lack of literary style; but I can quite understand
how any ordinary critic would be strongly prejudiced against a work that
was accompanied by a premature and unnecessary panegyric from the
publisher. A publisher is simply a useful middle-man. It is not for him
to anticipate the verdict of criticism.

I may, however, while expressing my thanks to the "London Editor" for
drawing my attention to this, I trust, purely American method of
procedure, venture to differ from him in one of his criticisms. He
states that he regards the expression "complete" as applied to a story,
as a specimen of the "adjectival exuberance of the puffer." Here, it
seems to me, he sadly exaggerates. What my story is is an interesting
problem. What my story is not is a "novelette"--a term which you have
more than once applied to it. There is no such word in the English
language as novelette. It should not be used. It is merely part of the
slang of Fleet Street.

In another part of your paper, Sir, you state that I received your
assurance of the lack of malice in your critic "somewhat grudgingly."
This is not so. I frankly said that I accepted that assurance "quite
readily," and that your own denial and that of your critic were

Nothing more generous could have been said. What I did feel was that you
saved your critic from the charge of malice by convicting him of the
unpardonable crime of lack of literary instinct. I still feel that. To
call my book an ineffective attempt at allegory that, in the hands of
Mr. Anstey might have been made striking, is absurd.

Mr. Anstey's sphere in literature and my sphere are different.

You then gravely ask me what rights I imagine literature possesses. That
is really an extraordinary question for the editor of a newspaper such
as yours to ask. The rights of literature, Sir, are the rights of

I remember once hearing M. Renan say that he would sooner live under a
military despotism than under the despotism of the Church, because the
former merely limited the freedom of action, while the latter limited
the freedom of mind.

You say that a work of art is a form of action: It is not. It is the
highest mode of thought.

In conclusion, Sir, let me ask you not to force on me this continued
correspondence by daily attacks. It is a trouble and a nuisance.

As you assailed me first, I have a right to the last word. Let that last
word be the present letter, and leave my book, I beg you, to the
immortality that it deserves.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

                         OSCAR WILDE.

16, Tite Street, S.W., June 28th.

       *       *       *       *       *


We should be sorry to deny the ex-editor of the _Woman's World_ the
feminine privilege of "the last word" for which he pleads to-day. At the
same time we cannot admit that we force upon Mr. Oscar Wilde the burden
of a newspaper controversy by "daily attacks."

Mr. Wilde published a book, and (presumably) submitted it to criticism:
we exercised our rights as critics of contemporary literature by
pointing out that we thought the book feeble and offensive. Mr. Wilde
replies, defending his book against our unfavourable criticism, and we
have again the right to point out that we do not consider that he has
satisfactorily met our arguments and our objections. For the rest, we
are quite willing to leave "The Picture of Dorian Gray" to the
"immortality it deserves." We must add one word. We congratulate Mr.
Wilde on his emphatic disavowal of the ridiculous puff preliminary which
his publishers had chosen to circulate.

Two days later (July 2nd) the Editor could not resist one more word:--

Modest Mr. Oscar Wilde. He has been having a little dispute with the
_Daily Chronicle_ as well as with the _St. James's Gazette_ and this is
what he writes to our contemporary:--

     My story is an essay on decorative art. It re-acts against the
     crude brutality of plain realism. It is poisonous, if you like, but
     you cannot deny that it is also perfect, and perfection is what we
     artists aim at.

[10] June 30th.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Art should never try to be popular. The public should try and make
itself artistic._

       *       *       *       *       *


Dulness and dirt are the chief features of _Lippincott's_ this month.
The element in it that is unclean, though undeniably amusing, is
furnished by Mr. Oscar Wilde's story of "The Picture of Dorian Gray." It
is a tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Décadents--a
poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic
odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction--a gloating study of the
mental and physical corruption of a fresh, fair and golden youth, which
might be horrible and fascinating but for its effeminate frivolity, its
studied insincerity, its theatrical cynicism, its tawdry mysticism, its
flippant philosophisings and the contaminating trail of garish vulgarity
which is over all Mr. Wilde's elaborate Wardour-street æstheticism and
obtrusively cheap scholarship.

Mr. Wilde says his book has "a moral." The "moral," so far as we can
collect it, is that man's chief end is to develop his nature to the
fullest by "always searching for new sensations," that when the soul
gets sick the way to cure it is to deny the senses nothing, for
"nothing," says one of Mr. Wilde's characters, Lord Henry Wotton, "can
cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but
the soul." Man is half angel and half ape, and Mr. Wilde's book has no
real use if it be not to inculcate the "moral" that when you feel
yourself becoming too angelic you cannot do better than rush out and
make a beast of yourself. There is not a single good and holy impulse of
human nature, scarcely a fine feeling or instinct that civilization, art
and religion have developed throughout the ages as part of the barriers
between Humanity and Animalism that is not held up to ridicule and
contempt in "Dorian Gray," if, indeed, such strong words can be fitly
applied to the actual effect of Mr. Wilde's airy levity and fluent
impudence. His desperate effort to vamp up a "moral" for the book at the
end is, artistically speaking, coarse and crude, because the whole
incident of Dorian Gray's death is, as they say on the stage, "out of
the picture." Dorian's only regret is that unbridled indulgence in every
form of secret and unspeakable vice, every resource of luxury and art,
and sometimes still more piquant to the jaded young man of fashion,
whose lives "Dorian Gray" pretends to sketch, by every abomination of
vulgarity and squalor is--what? Why, that it will leave traces of
premature age and loathsomeness on his pretty facy, rosy with the
loveliness that endeared youth of his odious type to the paralytic
patricians of the Lower Empire.

Dorian Gray prays that a portrait of himself which an artist (who raves
about him as young men do about the women they love not wisely but too
well) has painted may grow old instead of the original. This is what
happens by some supernatural agency, the introduction of which seems
purely farcical, so that Dorian goes on enjoying unfading youth year
after year, and might go on for ever using his senses with impunity "to
cure his soul," defiling English society with the moral pestilence which
is incarnate in him, but for one thing. That is his sudden impulse not
merely to murder the painter--which might be artistically defended on
the plea that it is only a fresh development of his scheme for realizing
every phase of life-experience--but to rip up the canvas in a rage,
merely because, though he had permitted himself to do one good action,
it had not made his portrait less hideous. But all this is inconsistent
with Dorian Gray's cool, calculating, conscienceless character, evolved
logically enough by Mr Wilde's "New Hedonism."

Then Mr. Wilde finishes his story by saying that on hearing a heavy fall
Dorian Gray's servants rushed in, found the portrait on the wall as
youthful looking as ever, its senile ugliness being transferred to the
foul profligate himself, who is lying on the floor stabbed to the heart.
This is a sham moral, as indeed everything in the book is a sham, except
the one element in the book which will taint every young mind that comes
in contact with it. That element is shockingly real, and it is the
plausibly insinuated defence of the creed that appeals to the senses "to
cure the soul" whenever the spiritual nature of man suffers from too
much purity and self-denial.

The rest of this number of _Lippincott_ consists of articles of harmless

[11] June 30th, 1890.

       *       *       *       *       *

_When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself._

       *       *       *       *       *



To the Editor of the _Daily Chronicle_.[12]

Sir,--Will you allow me to correct some errors into which your critic
has fallen in his review of my story, "The Picture of Dorian Gray,"
published in to-day's issue of your paper?

Your critic states, to begin with, that I make desperate attempts to
"vamp up" a moral in my story. Now I must candidly confess that I do not
know what "vamping" is. I see, from time to time, mysterious
advertisements in the newspapers about "How to Vamp," but what vamping
really means remains a mystery to me--a mystery that, like all other
mysteries, I hope some day to explore.

However, I do not propose to discuss the absurd terms used by modern
journalism. What I want to say is that, so far from wishing to emphasise
any moral in my story, the real trouble I experienced in writing the
story was that of keeping the extremely obvious moral subordinate to the
artistic and dramatic effect.

When I first conceived the idea of a young man selling his soul in
exchange for eternal youth--an idea that is old in the history of
literature, but to which I have given new form--I felt that, from an
æsthetic point of view, it would be difficult to keep the moral in its
proper secondary place; and even now I do not feel quite sure that I
have been able to do so. I think the moral too apparent. When the book
is published in a volume I hope to correct this defect.

As for what the moral is, your critic states that it is this--that when
a man feels himself becoming "too angelic" he should rush out and make a
"beast of himself." I cannot say that I consider this a moral. The real
moral of the story is that all excess, as well as all renunciation,
brings its punishment, and this moral is so far artistically and
deliberately suppressed that it does not enunciate its law as a general
principle, but realises itself purely in the lives of individuals, and
so becomes simply a dramatic element in a work of art, and not the
object of the work of art itself.

Your critic also falls into error when he says that Dorian Gray, having
a "cool, calculating, conscienceless character," was inconsistent when
he destroyed the picture of his own soul, on the ground that the picture
did not become less hideous after he had done what, in his vanity, he
had considered his first good action. Dorian Gray has not got a cool,
calculating, conscienceless character at all. On the contrary, he is
extremely impulsive, absurdly romantic, and is haunted all through his
life by an exaggerated sense of conscience which mars his pleasures for
him and warns him that youth and enjoyment are not everything in the
world. It is finally to get rid of the conscience that had dogged his
steps from year to year that he destroys the picture; and thus in his
attempt to kill conscience Dorian Gray kills himself.

Your critic then talks about "obtrusively cheap scholarship." Now,
whatever a scholar writes is sure to display scholarship in the
distinction of style and the fine use of language; but my story contains
no learned or pseudo-learned discussions, and the only literary books
that it alludes to are books that any fairly educated reader may be
supposed to be acquainted with, such as the "Satyricon" of Petronius
Arbiter, or Gautier's "Emaux et Camées." Such books as Le Conso's
"Clericalis Disciplina" belong not to culture, but to curiosity. Anybody
may be excused for not knowing them.

Finally, let me say this--the æsthetic movement produced certain curious
colours, subtle in their loveliness and fascinating in their almost
mystical tone. They were, and are, our reaction against the crude
primaries of a doubtless more respectable but certainly less cultivated
age. My story is an essay on decorative art. It re-acts against the
crude brutality of plain realism. It is poisonous, if you like, but you
cannot deny that it is also perfect, and perfection is what we artists
aim at.

I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,

                             OSCAR WILDE.

16, Tite Street, June 30th.

[12] July 2nd, 1890.

       *       *       *       *       *

_We allow absolute freedom to the journalist, and entirely limit the
artist. English public opinion, that is to say, tries to constrain and
impede and warp the man who makes things that are beautiful in effect,
and compels the journalist to retail things that are ugly, or
disgusting, or revolting in fact, so that we have the most serious
journalists in the world, and the most indecent newspapers._

       *       *       *       *       *


The following diatribe is from a journal, _The Scots Observer_[13],
which had an ephemeral existence in the early 'nineties. Under the
heading of "Reviews and Magazines" it launched forth in these words:--

     "Why go grubbing in muck heaps? The world is fair, and the
     proportion of healthy-minded men and honest women to those that are
     foul, fallen or unnatural is great. Mr. Oscar Wilde has again been
     writing stuff that were better unwritten; and while "The Picture of
     Dorian Gray," which he contributes to _Lippincott's_, is ingenious,
     interesting, full of cleverness, and plainly the work of a man of
     letters, it is false art for its interest is medico-legal; it is
     false to human nature--for its hero is a devil; it is false to
     morality--for it is not made sufficiently clear that the writer
     does not prefer a course of unnatural iniquity to a life of
     cleanliness, health and sanity. The story--which deals with matters
     only fitted for the Criminal Investigation Department or a hearing
     _in camera_--is discreditable alike to author and editor.

     Mr. Wilde has brains, and art, and style; but, if he can write for
     none but outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph-boys, the sooner
     he takes to tailoring (or some other decent trade) the better for
     his own reputation and the public morals."

[13] July 5th, 1890.

_The Scots Observer_ was edited by W.E. Henley. It was violently Tory in
character, and afterwards became _The National Observer_, but not even a
re-christening could save it from an early death.

       *       *       *       *       *

_We are dominated by journalism.... Journalism governs for ever and

       *       *       *       *       *


To this vulgar abuse Wilde condescended to reply in the following

                                             16, Tite Street, Chelsea,

                                                       9th July, 1890.

Sir,--You have published a review of my story, "The Picture of Dorian
Gray." As this review is grossly unjust to me as an artist, I ask you to
allow me to exercise in your columns my right of reply.

Your reviewer, Sir, while admitting that the story in question is
"plainly the work of a man of letters," the work of one who has "brains,
and art, and style," yet suggests, and apparently in all seriousness,
that I have written it in order that it should be read by the most
depraved members of the criminal and illiterate classes. Now, Sir, I do
not suppose that the criminal and illiterate classes ever read anything
except newspapers. They are certainly not likely to be able to
understand anything of mine. So let them pass, and on the broad question
of why a man of letters writes at all let me say this.

The pleasure that one has in creating a work of art is a purely personal
pleasure, and it is for the sake of this pleasure that one creates. The
artist works with his eye on the object. Nothing else interests him.
What people are likely to say does not even occur to him.

He is fascinated by what he has in hand. He is indifferent to others. I
write because it gives me the greatest possible artistic pleasure to
write. If my work pleases the few, I am gratified. If it does not, it
causes me no pain. As for the mob, I have no desire to be a popular
novelist. It is far too easy.

Your critic then, Sir, commits the absolutely unpardonable crime of
trying to confuse the artist with his subject-matter. For this, Sir,
there is no excuse at all.

Of one who is the greatest figure in the world's literature since Greek
days, Keats remarked that he had as much pleasure in conceiving the evil
as he had in conceiving the good. Let your reviewer, Sir, consider the
bearings of Keats' criticism, for it is under these conditions that
every artist works. One stands remote from one's subject-matter. One
creates it, and one contemplates it. The further away the subject-matter
is, the more freely can the artist work.

Your reviewer suggests that I do not make it sufficiently clear whether
I prefer virtue to wickedness or wickedness to virtue. An artist, Sir,
has no ethical sympathies at all. Virtue and wickedness are to him
simply what the colours on his palette are to the painter. They are no
more, and they are no less. He sees that by their means a certain
artistic effect can be produced and he produces it. Iago may be morally
horrible and Imogen stainlessly pure. Shakespeare, as Keats said, had as
much delight in creating the one as he had in creating the other.

It was necessary, Sir, for the dramatic development of this story, to
surround Dorian Gray with an atmosphere of moral corruption. Otherwise
the story would have had no meaning and the plot no issue. To keep this
atmosphere vague and indeterminate and wonderful was the aim of the
artist who wrote the story. I claim, Sir, that he has succeeded. Each
man sees his own sin in Dorian Gray. What Dorian Gray's sins are no one
knows. He who finds them has brought them.

In conclusion, Sir, let me say how really deeply I regret that you
should have permitted such a notice, as the one I feel constrained to
write on, to have appeared in your paper. That the editor of the _St.
James's Gazette_ should have employed Caliban as his art-critic was
possibly natural. The editor of the _Scots Observer_ should not have
allowed Thersites to make mows in his reviews. It is unworthy of so
distinguished a man of letters.

I am, etc.,

                           OSCAR WILDE.

To this letter the following editorial note was added:--

     It was not to be expected that Mr. Wilde would agree with his
     reviewer as to the artistic merit of his booklet. Let it be
     conceded to him that he has succeeded in surrounding his hero with
     such an atmosphere as he describes. This is his reward. It is none
     the less legitimate for a critic to hold and to express the opinion
     that no treatment, however skilful, can make the atmosphere
     tolerable to his readers. That is his punishment. No doubt, it is
     the artist's privilege to be nasty; but he must exercise that
     privilege at his peril.

During the next two weeks various correspondents aired their views on
the subject, and in the third week[14] Oscar Wilde replied to them

Sir,--In a letter, dealing with the relations of art to morals,
published in your columns--a letter which I may say seems to me in many
respects admirable, especially in its insistence on the right of the
artist to select his own subject-matter--Mr. Charles Whibley suggests
that it must be peculiarly painful to me to find that the ethical import
of "Dorian Gray" has been so strongly recognised by the foremost
Christian papers of England and America that I have been greeted by more
than one of them as a moral reformer.

Allow me, sir, to re-assure on this point not merely Mr. Charles Whibley
himself, but also your, no doubt, anxious readers. I have no hesitation
in saying that I regard such criticisms as a very gratifying tribute to
my story. For if a work of art is rich and vital and complete, those who
have artistic instincts will see its beauty, and those to whom ethics
appeal more strongly than æsthetics will see its moral lesson. It will
fill the cowardly with terror, and the unclean will see in it their own
shame. It will be to each man what he is himself. It is the spectator,
and not life, that art really mirrors.

And so in the case of "Dorian Gray," the purely literary critic, as in
the _Speaker_ and elsewhere, regards it as a "serious and fascinating
work of art"[15]: the critic who deals with art in its relation to
conduct, as the _Christian Leader_ and the _Christian World_, regards it
as an ethical parable: _Light_, which I am told is the organ of the
English mystics, regards it as "a work of high spiritual import"[16]:
the _St. James's Gazette_, which is seeking apparently to be the organ
of the prurient, sees or pretends to see in it all kinds of dreadful
things, and hints at Treasury prosecutions: and your Mr. Charles Whibley
genially says that he discovers in it "lots of morality."

It is quite true that he goes on to say that he detects no art in it.
But I do not think that it is fair to expect a critic to be able to see
a work of art from every point of view. Even Gautier had his limitations
just as much as Diderot had, and in modern England Goethes are rare. I
can only assure Mr. Charles Whibley that no moral apotheosis to which he
has added the most modest contribution could possibly be a source of
unhappiness to an artist.

I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,

                             OSCAR WILDE

[14] August 2nd.
[16] See ch. "THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY" - A Spiritualistic Review.

       *       *       *       *       *

_When it (the public) says a work of art is grossly unintelligible, it
means that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is new;
when it describes a work as grossly immoral, it means that the artist
has said or made a beautiful thing that is true. The former expression
has reference to style; the latter to subject-matter._

       *       *       *       *       *

This again led to further correspondence, and after an interval of two
weeks Oscar Wilde returned to the charges levelled against his book and
replied for the third and last time.[17] His letter dated from 16, Tite
Street, Chelsea, 13th August, 1890, was as follows:--

"Sir,--I am afraid I cannot enter into any newspaper discussion on the
subject of art with Mr. Whibley, partly because the writing of letters
is always a trouble to me, and partly because I regret to say that I do
not know what qualifications Mr. Whibley possesses for the discussion of
so important a topic. I merely noticed his letter because (I am sure
without in any way intending it) he made a suggestion about myself
personally that was quite inaccurate. His suggestion was that it must
have been painful to me to find that a certain section of the public, as
represented by himself and the critics of some religious publications,
had insisted on finding what he calls "lots of morality" in my story of
"The Picture of Dorian Gray."

Being naturally desirous of setting your readers right on a question of
such vital interest to the historian, I took the opportunity of pointing
out in your columns that I regarded all such criticisms as a very
gratifying tribute to the ethical beauty of the story, and I added that
I was quite ready to recognise that it was not really fair to ask of any
ordinary critic that he should be able to appreciate a work of art from
every point of view.

I still hold this opinion. If a man sees the artistic beauty of a thing
he will probably care very little for its ethical import. If his
temperament is more susceptible to ethical than to æsthetic influences
he will be blind to questions of style, treatment and the like. It takes
a Goethe to see a work of art fully, completely and perfectly, and I
thoroughly agree with Mr. Whibley when he says that it is a pity that
Goethe never had an opportunity of reading "Dorian Gray." I feel quite
certain that he would have been delighted by it, and I only hope that
some ghostly publisher is even now distributing shadowy copies in the
Elysian fields, and that the cover of Goethe's copy is powdered with
gilt asphodels.

You may ask me, Sir, why I should care to have the ethical beauty of my
story recognised. I answer--simply because it exists, because the thing
is there.

The chief merit of _Madame Bovary_ is not the moral lesson that can be
found in it, any more than the chief merit of _Salammbô_ is its
archæology; but Flaubert was perfectly right in exposing the ignorance
of those who called the one immoral and the other inaccurate; and not
merely was he right in the ordinary sense of the word, but he was
artistically right, which is everything. The critic has to educate the
public; the artist has to educate the critic.

Allow me to make one more correction, Sir, and I will have done with Mr.
Whibley. He ends his letter with the statement that I have been
indefatigable in my public appreciation of my own work. I have no doubt
that in saying this he means to pay me a compliment, but he really
over-rates my capacity, as well as my inclination for work. I must
frankly confess that, by nature and by choice, I am extremely indolent.

Cultivated idleness seems to me to be the proper occupation for men. I
dislike newspaper controversies of any kind, and of the two hundred and
sixteen criticisms of "Dorian Gray," that have passed from my library
table into the waste-paper basket I have taken public notice of only
three. One was that which appeared in the _Scots Observer_. I noticed it
because it made a suggestion, about the intention of the author in
writing the book, which needed correction. The second was an article in
the _St. James's Gazette_. It was offensively and vulgarly written, and
seemed to me to require immediate and caustic censure. The tone of the
article was an impertinence to any man of letters.

The third was a meek attack in a paper called the _Daily Chronicle_. I
think my writing to the _Daily Chronicle_ was an act of pure wilfulness.
In fact, I feel sure it was. I quite forget what they said. I believe
they said that "Dorian Gray" was poisonous, and I thought that, on
alliterative grounds, it would be kind to remind them that, however that
may be, it is at any rate perfect. That was all. Of the other two
hundred and thirteen criticisms I have taken no notice. Indeed, I have
not read more than half of them. It is a sad thing, but one wearies even
of praise.

As regards Mr. Brown's letter, it is interesting only in so far as it
exemplifies the truth of what I have said above on the question of the
two obvious schools of critics. Mr. Brown says frankly that he considers
morality to be the "strong point" of my story. Mr. Brown means well, and
has got hold of a half truth, but when he proceeds to deal with the book
from the artistic stand-point, he, of course, goes sadly astray. To
class "Dorian Gray" with M. Zola's _La Terre_ is as silly as if one were
to class Masset's _Fortunio_ with one of the Adelphi melodramas. Mr.
Brown should be content with ethical appreciations. There he is

Mr. Cobbam opens badly by describing my letter setting Mr. Whibley right
on a matter of fact as an "impudent paradox." The term "impudent" is
meaningless, and the word "paradox" is misplaced. 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. "Impudent paradox" is neither violent not abusive, but it is
not an expression that should have been used about my letter.

However, Mr. Cobbam makes full atonement afterwards for what was, no
doubt, a mere error of manner, by adopting the impudent paradox in
question as his own, and pointing out that, as I had previously said,
the artist will always look at the work of art from the stand-point of
beauty of style and beauty of treatment, and that those who have not got
the sense of beauty--or whose sense of beauty is dominated by ethical
considerations--will always turn their attention to the subject-matter
and make its moral import the test and touchstone of the poem or novel
or picture that is presented to them, while the newspaper critic will
sometimes take one side and sometimes the other, according as he is
cultured or uncultured. In fact, Mr. Cobbam converts the impudent
paradox into a tedious truism, and, I dare say, in doing so does good

The English public likes tediousness, and likes things to be explained
to it in a tedious way.

Mr. Cobbam has, I have no doubt, already repented of the unfortunate
expression with which he has made his _début_, so I will say no more
about it. As far as I am concerned he is quite forgiven.

And finally, Sir, in taking leave of the _Scots Observer_, I feel bound
to make a candid confession to you.

It has been suggested to me by a great friend of mine, who is a charming
and distinguished man of letters (and not unknown to you personally),
that there have been really only two people engaged in this terrible
controversy, and that those two people are the editor of the _Scots
Observer_ and the author of "Dorian Gray."

At dinner this evening, over some excellent Chianti, my friend insisted
that under assumed and mysterious names you had simply given dramatic
expression to the views of some of the semi-educated classes of our
community, and that the letters signed "H." were your own skilful, if
somewhat bitter caricature of the Philistine as drawn by himself. I
admit that something of the kind had occurred to me when I read "H.'s"
first letter--the one in which he proposed that the test of art should
be the political opinions of the artist, and that if one differed from
the artist on the question of the best way of mis-governing Ireland, one
should always abuse his work. Still, there are such infinite varieties
of Philistines, and North Britain is so renowned for seriousness, that I
dismissed the idea as unworthy of the editor of a Scotch paper. I now
fear that I was wrong, and that you have been amusing yourself all the
time by inventing little puppets and teaching them how to use big words.
Well, Sir, if it be so--and my friend is strong on the point--allow me
to congratulate you most sincerely on the cleverness with which you have
reproduced the lack of literary style which is, I am told, essential for
any dramatic and life-like characterisation. I confess that I was
completely taken in; but I bear no malice; and as you have, no doubt,
been laughing at me up your sleeve, let me join openly in the laugh,
though it be a little against myself. A comedy ends when the secret is
out. Drop your curtain and put your dolls to bed. I love Don Quixote,
but I do not wish to fight any longer with marionettes, however cunning
may be the master-hand that works their wires. Let them go, Sir, on the
shelf. The shelf is the proper place for them. On some future occasion
you can re-label them and bring them out for amusement. They are an
excellent company, and go well through their tricks, and if they are a
little unreal I am not the one to object to unreality in art. The jest
is really a good one. The only thing that I cannot understand is why you
gave the marionettes such extraordinary and improbable names.

I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,

                             OSCAR WILDE.

The correspondence continued for three weeks longer, but Oscar Wilde
took no further part in it.

[17] August 16th.

       *       *       *       *       *

_If a man's work is easy to understand an explanation is unnecessary,
and if his work is incomprehensible an explanation is wicked._

       *       *       *       *       *


The review in _The Speaker_[18] which Oscar Wilde referred to in his
letter to _The Scots Observer_ (see par. above starting with: 'And so
in the case of "Dorian Gray,"'), was as follows:--

By a stroke of good fortune, singular at this season the two stories[19]
which we have taken up to review this week turn out to be--each in its
way--of no slight interest. Of Mr. Wilde's work, this was to be
expected. Let it be granted, to begin with, that the conception of the
story is exceedingly strong.

A young man of remarkable beauty, perfect in body, but undeveloped,--or
rather, lacking altogether,--in soul, becomes the dear friend of a
painter of genius. The artist under the spell of this friendship, is
painting the youth's portrait. Enter to them the spirit of evil, in the
shape of Lord Henry Wotton, an extremely "fin de siècle" gentleman, who,
by a few inspiring words, supplies, or calls into life, the boy's
missing soul, and it is an evil one. Henceforward, the tale develops the
growth of this evil soul, side by side with this mystery--that while
vice and debauchery write no wrinkle on the boy's face, but pass from it
as a breath off a pane, every vile action scores its mark upon the
portrait, which keeps accurate record of a loathsome life.

It has been insinuated that this story should be suppressed in the
interest of morality. Mr. Wilde has answered that art and ethics have
nothing to do with each other. His boldness in resting his defence on
the general proposition is the more exemplary, as he might fairly have
insisted on the particular proposition--that the teaching of the book is
conspicuously right in morality. If we have correctly interpreted the
book's motive--and we are at a loss to conceive what other can be
devised--this position is unassailable. There is, perhaps, a passage or
so in the description of Dorian's decline that were better omitted. But
this is a matter of taste.

The motive of the tale, then, is strong. It is in his treatment of it
that Mr. Wilde has failed, and his mistakes are easy of detection.
Whether they can be as readily corrected is doubtful. To begin with, the
author has a style as striking as his matter; but he has entirely missed
reconciling the two. There is an amateurish lack of precision in the
descriptive passages. They are laboured, finikin, overlaid with paint;
and, therefore, they want vigour. "The Picture of Dorian Gray," has been
compared, very naturally, with "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"--and we would
invite Mr. Wilde to take up that story, and consider the bold, sharply
defined strokes with which its atmosphere and "milieu" are put in. Such
brevity as Mr. Stevenson's comes from sureness of knowledge, not want of
care, and is the first sign of mastery. Nor is Mr. Wilde too wordy
alone; he is too paradoxical. Only the cook who has yet to learn will
run riot in truffles, We will admit at once that Lord Henry's epigrams
are admirable examples, taken separately; but a story demands simplicity
and proportion, and here we have neither; it demands restraint, and here
we find profusion only; it demands point, and here the point is too
often obscured by mere cleverness. Lord Henry's mission in the book is
to lead Dorian Gray to destruction; and he does so, if you please, at
the end of a string of epigrams.

In fact we should doubt that Mr. Wilde possessed the true story teller's
temperament were it not for some half a dozen passages. Here is one
where, Dorian tells of his engagement to Sibyl Vane, the actress:--

     "Lips," he says, "that Shakespeare taught to speak have whispered
     their secret in my ear. I have had the arms of Rosalind around me,
     and kissed Juliet on the mouth."

     "Yes, Dorian, I suppose you were right," said Hallward slowly.

     "Have you seen her to-day?" said Lord Henry.

     Dorian Gray shook his head. "I left her in the forest of Arden, I
     shall find her in an orchard in Verona."

     Lord Henry sipped his champagne in a meditative manner. "At what
     particular point did you mention the word marriage, Dorian? and
     what did she say in answer? Perhaps you forgot all about it."

     "My dear Harry, I did not treat it as a business transaction, and I
     did not make any formal proposal. I told her that I loved her, and
     she said she was not worthy to be my wife. Not worthy! why, the
     whole world is nothing to me compared to her."

     "Women are wonderfully practical," murmured Lord Henry,--"much more
     practical than we are....[20]"

The last chapter of the tale is good story telling throughout, in style
and matter--as good as Chapter IX is bad.[21] And when Mr. Wilde
thoroughly sees why two particular sentences in that last chapter--"The
Park is quite lovely now. I don't think there have been such lilacs
since the year I met you,"--though trivial in themselves are full of
significance and beauty in their setting he will be far on the road to
eminence in fiction. He has given us a work of serious art, strong and
fascinating, in spite of its blemishes. Will he insist on being taken
seriously, and go on to give us a better?

[18] Vol. III., No. 27. July 5, 1890.

[19] The second story was "Perfervid: the Career of Ninian Jamieson," by
John Davidson (Ward and Downey).

[20] p. 34.

[21] Chapter IX in the _Lippincott_ version is Chapter XI in later
editions, the last chapter (XIII) being afterwards divided into two (XIX
and XX).

       *       *       *       *       *


A Spiritualistic Review.

The following review of "Dorian Gray" referred to by Oscar Wilde in his
second letter to the _Scots Observer_ (see page 71) was published in the
issue of _Light_ dated July 12th, 1890. This is "a Journal of Psychical,
Occult, and Mystical Research."

"M.A., Oxon," writing in the same paper a few weeks later mentions that
"Oscar Wilde says of _Light_ that it is 'The organ of the English
mystics,' and adds 'I do not like that word 'organ.'" At the same time
"M.A., Oxon," refers to the _Scots Observer_ as being "bright, wise,
witty, and not at all aggressive."

The review is here given in its entirety:

Mr. Oscar Wilde has created a new character in fiction, one likely to
absorb public attention with a similar weird fascination to that
produced by the renowned Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; and with a more
lasting and beneficial moral effect than had Mr. Stevenson's surprising
creation. A deeply conceived psychological study, upon entirely new
lines, enriched by the stored wealth of a mind which has spared no pains
in the pursuit of sensuous beauty, and which has, to all appearance,
revelled in deepest draughts from that sparkling and alluring fountain.
But what a spiritual lesson has he drawn therefrom--a lesson graphically
and powerfully set forth in the fascinating pages which present to us
the life of Dorian Gray. A modern Narcissus, enamoured of his own
beauty, which proves a lure to draw him down into the deepest hells of
sensual indulgence, from whence he sinks into a still deeper abyss of

Introduced as an innocent, rather effeminate youth of extraordinary and
fascinating beauty, Dorian Gray has his eyes opened to the fact that he
possesses beauty, and his slumbering vanity and egotism, awakened by the
insidious flatteries of a hardened cynic, spring at once into activity,
and from that moment begins the downward course. Skilfully the author
depicts the budding and gradual unfolding of this baleful life-blossom
of the animal soul, seeking only the selfish gratification of the
senses, refined indeed by education and artistic culture, but,
notwithstanding, purely animal--nay, at times, bestial. By degrees, the
still, small voice--the voice of the higher self which spiritually
overshadows the unsophisticated youth--is deadened in the soul. All the
humane, merciful, spiritually beautiful sentiments and emotions of the
better nature, are strangled in their infancy, for Dorian Gray drinks so
deeply of the intoxicating cup of sensuous gratification, that his
nature becomes transformed to that of a demon--beautiful outwardly, but
within hideous. All this is depicted with a master hand; the underlying
lesson, for those who can find it, being the danger to the soul which
lies in an egotistic love and idolatrous cherishing of one's own
personal beauty--for male or female equally perilous. But the author by
an ingenious device presents to us an objective image of the subjective
transformation gradually going on in Dorian Gray's soul, which, for
startling vividness and horror, surpasses the effects usually produced
by the novelist's art.

Dorian Gray, whilst retaining the youthfulness, vigorous health, and
unimpaired beauty of his external form, at the same time witnesses the
objective presentment of his soul's growing, loathsome hideousness; and
its falling into diseased decrepitude, into an ugliness beyond
conception. At first horrified by this, he becomes at length accustomed
to it, and at certain stages of his downward course, after the
commission of new excesses, he repairs to this silent recorder of his
deeds, and unveiling it, seeks for fresh indication of the gradual decay
and corruption which are unfailingly represented on this physical side
of his being. As time went on--

     "He grew more and more enamoured of his own beauty, more and more
     interested in the corruption of his own soul. He would examine with
     minute care, and often with a monstrous and terrible delight, the
     hideous lines that seared the wrinkling forehead, or crawled around
     the heavy sensual mouth, wondering sometimes which were the more
     horrible, the signs of sins or the signs of age. He would place his
     white hands beside the coarse bloated hands of the picture, and
     smile. He mocked the misshapen body and the failing limbs."[22]

Never does he feel a moment of repentance. The disgusting image,
however, haunts him with a terror of discovery, drawing him back from
distant places to assure himself of its hidden security, and to
contemplate it with a hideous fascination. The loathsome horror never
departs from his consciousness. From its veiled seclusion it exerts over
him a spell of diabolical enchantment, and he knows that it is he
himself; but his mirror presents to his gaze the personal beauty he
cherishes, and the world continues to be fascinated by his charm. Many
become fascinated to their serious moral and spiritual injury. His
victims are numerous; innocent women and upright young men, who, but for
him, would have led virtuous, useful lives. With his beautiful
body--cared for as one would care for some rare exotic blossom--going
about the world with a charming appearance of harmlessness and even
innocence, he murdered souls in secret, as completely as if with his
slender, white, taper fingers he might have clutched their throats and
strangled the life out of their bodies.

And all this rottenness, all this corruption, had been proximately
caused by a seed dropped into a soil prepared for it--the soul left
doubtless from the Karma of some previous life. A seed dropped from the
flattering tongue of Lord Henry Wotton, tended and skilfully fostered
into a surprising precociousness by his insidious, worthless cynicisms,
and oracular sophistries. A man out of whose life had departed every
wholesome savour, who poisoned the lives of others, and led them to sin,
whilst, apparently, he sinned not himself. As a friend once said to him,
"You never say a moral thing, and you never do a wrong thing. Your
cynicism is simply a pose." His whole life was, however, a sin,
concealed behind a mask of _bonhommie_, a fashionable cheerfulness and
pleasantness of manner; a hollow _cadavre_ full of the dust and ashes of
a burnt-out life. One of Lord Henry Wotton's specious sophistries was
this: "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it." As
well wrap oneself confidingly in the folds of a boa-constrictor, hoping
to save one's life thereby. Lord Henry's apt pupil, Dorian Gray,
followed this advice scrupulously, only to increase the power of
temptation, which never after found him unwilling, until at last all of
his higher nature was suffocated. The author skilfully depicts the
insidious, baleful influence of Lord Henry Wotton, but attributes the
corruption of Dorian Gray's soul to a book which Lord Henry loaned him.
He says:--

     "The Renaissance knew of strange manners of poisoning--poisoning by
     a helmet, and a lighted torch, by an embroidered glove, and a
     jewelled fan, by a gilded pomander, and by an amber chain. Dorian
     Gray was poisoned by a book. There were moments when he looked on
     evil simply as a mode through which he could realise his conception
     of the beautiful."[23]

Dorian Gray had conceived the idea that his life was the product of many
preceding lives. The author causes him to make the following

     "He used to wonder at the shallow psychology of those who conceive
     the Ego in man as a thing simple, permanent, reliable, and of one
     essence. To him, man was a being with myriad lives and myriad
     sensations, a complex multiform creature that bore within itself
     strange legacies of thought and passion, and whose very flesh was
     tainted with the monstrous maladies of the dead. He loved to stroll
     through the gaunt cold picture-gallery of his country house and
     look at the various portraits of those whose blood flowed in his
     veins. Here was Philip Herbert, described by Francis Osborne in his
     _Memoirs on the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James_ as one
     who was "caressed by the Court for his handsome face, which kept
     him not long company." Was it young Herbert's life that he
     sometimes led? Had some strange poisonous germ crept from body to
     body till it had reached his own? Was it some dim sense of that
     ruined grace that had made him so suddenly, and almost without
     cause, give utterance, in Basil Hallward's studio, to that mad
     prayer which had so changed his life? Here in gold embroidered red
     doublet, jewelled sur-coat, and gilt edged ruff and wrist-bands,
     stood Sir Anthony Sherard, with his silver and black armour piled
     at his feet. What had this man's legacy been? Had the lover of
     Giovanni of Naples bequeathed him some inheritance of sins and
     shame? Were his own actions merely the dreams that the dead man had
     not dared to realise? Here, from the fading canvas smiled Lady
     Elizabeth Devereux, in her gauze hood, pearled stomacher, and pink
     slashed sleeves. A flower was in her right hand, and her left
     clasped an enamelled collar of white and damask roses. On a table
     by her side lay a mandolin and an apple. There were large green
     rosettes upon her little pointed shoes. He knew her life, and the
     strange stories that were told about her lovers. Had he something
     of her temperament in him? Those oval heavy-lidded eyes seemed to
     look curiously at him. What of George Willoughby, with his powdered
     hair and fantastic patches? How evil he looked! The face was
     saturnine and swarthy, and the sensual lips seemed to be twisted
     with disdain. Delicate lace ruffles fell over the lean yellow hands
     that were so overladen with rings. He had been a macaroni of the
     eighteenth century, and the friend, in his youth, of Lord Ferrars.
     What of the second Lord Sherard, the companion of the Prince Regent
     in his wildest days, and one of the witnesses of the secret
     marriage with Mrs. Fitzherbert? How proud and handsome he was, with
     his chestnut curls and insolent pose! What passions had he
     bequeathed? The world had looked upon him as infamous. He had led
     the orgies at Carlton House. The Star of the Garter glittered upon
     his breast. Beside him hung the portrait of his wife, a pallid,
     thin-lipped woman in black. Her blood also stirred within him. How
     curious it all seemed!"[24]

What a pity Dorian did not see that the sole reason for a plurality of
lives was that very thirst of the animal soul for the sensual pleasures
of the material life in which he so wildly indulged, and yet with a
diabolical, smooth, and easy method in his madness, seeking ever the
externally beautiful. Beauty fled indeed before the gaunt ugliness of
crime; but when this happened to Dorian, he coolly turned his back and
went in search of new sensations.

     "And in his search for sensations that would be at once new and
     delightful and possess that element of strangeness that is so
     essential to romance, he would often adopt certain modes of thought
     that he knew to be really alien to his nature, abandon himself to
     their subtle influences, and then, having, as it were, caught their
     colour and satisfied his intellectual curiosity, leave them with
     that curious indifference that is not incompatible with a real
     ardour of temperament, and that, indeed, according to certain
     modern psychologists, is often a condition of it."[25]

Veil it as he would, his extreme moral corruption became known, crept
out from behind skilful concealments, and was borne by the breath of
gossip and scandal--whispering of its enormities. He was black-balled in
a West End Club,

     "and when brought by a friend into a smoking-room of the Carlton,
     the Duke of Berwick and another gentleman got up in a marked manner
     and went out. Curious stories became current about him after he had
     passed his twenty-fifth year. ... Men would whisper to each other
     in corners, or pass him with a sneer, or look at him with cold,
     searching eyes. Of such insolences and attempted slights, he, of
     course, took no notice; and in the opinion of most people his frank
     manner, his charming, boyish smile, and the infinite grace of that
     wonderful youth that seemed never to leave him were in themselves a
     sufficient answer to the calumnies (for so they called them) that
     were circulated about him."[26]

The life at length culminates in the commission of a crime of the most
cruel, treacherous, and dastardly character. It is successfully
concealed. The extraordinary coolness, even peace of mind, which Dorian
experiences after this deed of horror is powerfully depicted. But he
does feel a few momentary, weak qualms of conscience. He spares one of
his victims, and he thinks of beginning a new life. Then imagining
himself becoming purified he longs to see how his silent recorder looks.
He expects to find some wonderful improvement in the aspect of the
loathsome hidden self he has created, so he repairs to its hiding place.
It is more loathsome than ever, and presents new aspects of ugliness. In
a moment of supreme disgust and aversion he seizes a knife to destroy
it. By so doing he ends his physical life.

The only occult explanation of the catastrophe which befalls him is,
that he commits astral suicide by the murderous attack he ignorantly
makes upon that which represented to him his own soul. The blow reverts
to his physical body, and he falls dead.

There is in this book a wonderful spiritual insight into the inner life
of the human being. Arising, in all probability from that intuition we
all more or less possess; a sort of flash of truth upon the mind, which
is not known at the moment to be really true, but is supposed to be the
mere weaving of a graceful prolific fancy. A similar power lay at the
back of Mr. R. Stevenson's creation of Dr. Jekyll, casting upon the tale
so powerful a spiritual light, that all readers were held by the spell
of its enchantment. The same feeling of being under a spell fills the
reader of "The Picture of Dorian Gray." The same subtle, spiritual
effect of the _aura of evil_ flows out from the book--especially at
those moments when Dorian is contemplating the image of his soul's
corruption, not, in this instance, that the evil so powerfully felt
poisons the mind as poor Dorian was poisoned for life by his French
novel; but one gets a feeling of painful horror, and sickening disgust,
it is not easy to shake off. One seems to have glanced momentarily into
the deepest abysses of hell, and to have drawn back totally sickened by
a subtle effluvium. This singular power possessed by both these writers
reveals a certain growth or development in them of the spiritual nature,
which need not necessarily, as yet, convert either of these gentlemen
into saints, or angels, although doubtless they are both very good Men.

The lesson taught by Mr. Oscar Wilde's powerful story is of the highest
spiritual import; and if it can be, not _believed_ merely, but accepted
as a literal fact, a mysterious verity in the life of a human being,
that the invisible soul within the body, that alone which lives after
death, is deformed, bestialised, and even murdered by a life of
persistent evil, it ought to have the most beneficial effect upon

Let him depict the soul as he may, except in the case of Basil Hallward,
Mr. Wilde never rises above the animal soul in man. It is the animal
soul alone, dominated by a refined but perverted intellect, seeking an
animal gratification in sensuous beauty, which he puts before us. Dorian
Gray suffocated in its infancy the only germ of spiritual soul he

[22] Pp. 65, 66.

[23] p. 77.

[24] p. 75.

[25] p. 68.

[26] p. 74.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The fact of a man being a poisoner is nothing against his prose._

       *       *       *       *       *


Joe, the Fat Boy in Pickwick, startles the Old Lady;
Oscar, the Fad Boy in Lippincott's, startles
Mrs. Grundy:--
_Oscar, the Fad Boy_: "I want to make your flesh

_Reproduced by special permission of the proprietors
of "Punch."_


     By special permission of the Proprietors of _Punch_ the following
     review is reproduced from the issue of that journal dated July
     19th, 1890.


The Baron has read Oscar Wilde's wildest and Oscarest work, called
"Dorian Gray," a weird sensational romance, complete in one number of
_Lippincott's Magazine_. The Baron recommends any body who revels in
_diablerie_, to begin it about half-past ten, and to finish it at one
sitting up; but those who do not so revel he advises either not to read
it at all, or to choose the daytime, and take it in homoeopathic doses.

The portrait represents the soul of the beautiful Ganymede-like Dorian
Gray, whose youth and beauty last to the end, while his soul, like John
Brown's, "goes marching on," into the Wilderness of Sin. It becomes at
last a devilled soul. And then Dorian sticks a knife into it, as any
ordinary mortal might do, and a fork also, and next morning

"Lifeless but 'hideous,' he lay," while the portrait has recovered the
perfect beauty which it possessed when it first left the artist's easel.

If Oscar intended an allegory, the finish is dreadfully wrong. Does he
mean that, by sacrificing his earthly life, Dorian Gray atones for his
infernal sins, and so purifies his soul by suicide? "Heavens! I am no
preacher," says the Baron, "and perhaps Oscar didn't mean anything at
all, except to give us a sensation, to show how like Bulwer Lytton's
old-world style he could make his descriptions and his dialogue, and
what an easy thing it is to frighten the respectable Mrs. Grundy with a
Bogie." The style is decidedly Lyttonerary. His aphorisms are Wilde, yet
forced. Mr. Oscar Wilde says of his story, "it is poisonous if you like,
but you cannot deny that it is also perfect, and perfection is what we
artists aim at."[27] Perhaps, but "we artists" do not always hit what we
aim at, and despite his confident claim to unerring marksmanship, one
must hazard the opinion, that in this case Mr. Wilde has "shot wide."
There is indeed more of "poison" than of "perfection" in "Dorian Gray."

The central idea is an excellent, if not exactly a novel, one; and a
finer art, say that of Nathaniel Hawthorne, would have made a striking
and satisfying story of it. "Dorian Gray" is striking enough, in a
sense, but it is not "satisfying" artistically, any more than it is so
ethically. Mr. Wilde has preferred the senuous and hyperdecorative
manner of "Mademoiselle de Maupin," and without Gautier's power, has
spoilt a promising conception by clumsy unideal treatment.

His "decoration" (upon which he plumes himself) is indeed "laid on with a
trowel." The luxuriously elaborate details of his "artistic hedonism,"
are too suggestive of South Kensington Museum and æsthetic
Encyclopædias. A truer art would have avoided both the glittering
conceits, which bedeck the body of the story, and the unsavoury
suggestiveness which lurks in its spirit.

Poisonous! Yes. But the loathly "leperous distilment" taints and spoils,
without in any way subserving "perfection," artistic or otherwise. If
Mrs. Grundy doesn't read it, the younger Grundies do; that is, the
Grundies who belong to Clubs, and who care to shine in certain sets
wherein this story will be much discussed. "I have read it, and, except
for the ingenious idea, I wish to forget it," says the Baron.

[27] See letter to _Daily Chronicle_ page 61.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The note of doom that like a purple thread runs through the texture of
"Dorian Gray."_

       *       *       *       *       *



In all ages and climes mankind has found delight in romances based upon
the mystic, the improbable and the impossible, from the days when the
Norse poets sang their Sagas through long Northern nights, and the fair
Scheherezade, under Southern moon, charmed her bloodthirsty lord by her
tales of wonder, to our own day, when Stevenson and Crawford and Haggard
hold fancy spellbound by their entirely improbable stories. Scott and
Bulwer played with master hands upon the love of the mysterious and
supernatural inherent in mankind; Dickens and others have essayed to
gratify its demands, but with less daring, and, having an eye always on
the moorings of the actual, their success has been less marked. With the
elder Hawthorne such romance-writing seemed the natural growth of an
exquisitely sensitive and spiritual nature, while among later French
writers Théophile Gautier and Edmond About have entered into the domain
of the impossible as into the natural heritage of their genius, sporting
in its impalpable ether with the tuneful _abandon_ of a fish in the sea,
or a bird in the air, hampered by no bond of the actual, weighted by no
encumbrance of the material.

It is not strange that the great influx of realistic novels that has
flowed in upon the last decade should be followed by a revulsion to the
impossible in fiction. Men and women, wearied with meeting the same
characters and events in so-called romance that they encounter in
every-day life, or saddened by the depressing, if dramatic, pictures of
Tolstoi and the cool vivisection of humanity presented by Ibsen, turn
with a sense of rest and refreshment to the guidance of those who, like
Robert Louis Stevenson and Rider Haggard, lead them suddenly into the
mystic land of wonder, or, like Marion Crawford and Mrs. Oliphant,
delight to draw them, by gentle and easy stages, from the midst of a
well-appointed setting of every-day life into the shadowy borderland
that lies between the real and the unreal. Much of the success of such
romance writing rests upon the rebound, natural to humanity, from
intense realism to extreme ideality; more, perhaps, upon the fact that
this age which is grossly material is also deeply spiritual. With these
two facts well in view, Mr. Oscar Wilde has fallen into line, and
entered the lists with some of the most successful masters of fiction.
In his novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray," written for the July
_Lippincott's_, Mr. Wilde, like Balzac and the authors of "Faust" and
"John Inglesant," presents to us the drama of a human soul, while, like
Gautier and About, he surrounds his utterly impossible story with a
richness and depth of colouring and a grace and airiness of expression
that make the perusal of its pages an artistic delight.

If Mr. Wilde's romance resembles the productions of some of the writers
of the French school in its reality and tone, it still more strongly
resembles Mr. Stevenson's most powerfully wrought fairy tale, "Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," although the moral of the story is brought out
even more plainly--as plainly, indeed, as in the drama of "Faust." In
both Mr. Stevenson's and Mr. Wilde's stories there is a transformation
or substitution. In one the soul of Dr. Jekyll appears under different
exteriors; in the other some fine influence passes from the soul of
Dorian Gray into his portrait and there works a gradual and subtle
change upon the pictured lineaments. Although. Mr. Wilde's extravaganza
is far less dramatic than that of Mr. Stevenson, it has the advantage of
richer colouring and a more human setting, if we may so express it. The
characters in "The Picture of Dorian Gray," enjoy life more than Mr.
Stevenson's creations, who seem to have had so dull a time of it at the
best that they might have been expected to welcome a tragedy, as a
relief to the tedium of their daily lives. Mr. Utterson, we are told,
was good but he was evidently not particularly happy,[29] which was the
case with the other personages of the drama, with the exception of those
who were signally wretched. On the other hand, Mr. Wilde's characters
are happy during their little day. Their world is a luxurious, perfumed
land of delight, until sin transforms it, and, even after Lord Henry has
corrupted the nature of Dorian Gray with evil books and worldly
philosophy, he occasionally drinks of the waters of Lethe and enjoys
some fragments of what may be called happiness, while Lord Henry himself
seems to derive a certain satisfaction from the practice of his
Mephistophelian art and in his entire freedom from the restraints of
conscience. In a tale of the impossible it is not required that the
writer should be true to life, animate or inanimate, yet in the fact
that there are glimpses of light through the clouds that surround his
_dramatis personæ_, that they inhabit a world in which the laburnum
hangs out yellow clusters in June, and the clematis robes itself with
purple stars, and the sun sheds gold and the moon silver, despite the
tragedy that touches the lives of its inhabitants, is not Mr. Wilde
quite as true to nature as to art?

The reader may reasonably question the author's good taste in displaying
at such length his knowledge of antique decoration and old-world crime
as in Chapter IX,[30] which, besides being somewhat tiresome, clogs the
dramatic movement of the story. Yet, on the other hand, it must be
admitted that none but an artist and an apostle of the beautiful could
have so sympathetically portrayed the glowing hues and perfumes of the
garden in which Dorian Gray had first presented to his lips the cup of
life, and none other could have so pictured the luxurious surroundings
of his home, for whose embellishment the known world had been searched
for hangings, ornaments and _bric-à-brac_. Amid such an _entourage_ of
modern London life, with its Sybaritic indulgence, its keenness of wit
and its subtle intelligence, Mr. Wilde places his characters and works
out his miracle.

Viewing his own portrait, just completed by an artist friend, Dorian
Gray turns from it filled with envy and dissatisfaction, because it has
been whispered in his ear that youth is the supreme possession in life,
and that when youth and beauty have fled from his face and form this
pictured presentment will live for ever, a perpetual mockery of himself,
whom withering age has overtaken. Under the influence of his evil
genius, Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian Gray utters a prayer that he may
always remain young, and the portrait alone reveal the ravages of time,
sin and sorrow. The realization of this idea is the theory of Mr.
Wilde's romance, and the air of probability with which he has endowed
the absolutely impossible evidences the artistic and dramatic power of
the writer. The portrait of Dorian Gray, painted in days of innocence
and loveliness, when his mere presence symbolized to the artist the
entire harmony between beauty of body and beauty of soul, changes day by
day with the degradation of his nature, while the living Dorian Gray,
after years of sin, remorseless cruelty and corruption of thought and
action, preserves all the grace and fairness of his Antinous-like youth.

Love in this romance is an incident, not its crowning event, although an
important incident as a revelation of the character of Dorian Gray. The
reader never meets Sybil Vane; he merely sees her on the stage and hears
of her from the lips of her lover; yet even thus she appeals to us as an
exquisite personation of maidenhood with all its purity and all its
tenderness. As shadowy an outline as the fair child whom Bulwer allows
to captivate the imagination of Kenelm Chillingly, who caught
butterflies, talked philosophy and died young, yet who in her brief
transit across his path realized to his poetic soul all the best
possibilities of life, spiritual and material, Sibyl Vane comes to us
girt about with ideal charm, to fulfil her widely different mission,
which was to reveal to Dorian Gray the sad fact that his soul had passed
beyond her sweet and ennobling influence. His artistic and intellectual
senses were touched by her beauty and dramatic power, but to the beauty
that made her worthy to be loved, his eyes were blind, his heart was
insensible. The tragedy of the story, the climax of the situation, is
not the death of Sybil Vane, nor even the pitiless murder of the friend
who dared to give Dorian Gray good counsel, but the disclosure that
Dorian's soul, once open to all good influences, had, by yielding to the
malign domination of his evil genius, passed beyond the reach of love,
pity or remorse.

It is needless to say that Dorian Gray is not a very substantial
character. The most entertaining, though not the most exemplary,
personage of the story is Lord Henry Wotton, who by his preaching and
practice of the doctrine of hedonism leads Dorian Gray into all known
and unknown evil, until finally his darkling shadow outreaches in
depravity the imagination of his tempter. When his victim has sunk so
low in sin that the world shuns him, Lord Henry still enjoys his gay,
conscienceless existence, and continues to utter the persiflage that
constitutes much of the attraction of the book as well of his society.
Debonair, witty, learned, giving expression to aphorisms as keen as the
sayings of Thackeray's characters, with the moral element eliminated,
and as cynical as those of Norris, with exquisite taste and the
fascination of a finished man of the world, Lord Henry belongs as truly,
on the material side of his nature, to the life of to-day, as he
appertains on its spiritual side to the region of Pluto. A gay child of
the great London social world, he hovers airily around and about the
emotions of life, declaring that death is the only thing that ever
terrifies him, and that death and vulgarity are the only facts in the
nineteenth century that one cannot explain away. The climax of Lord
Henry's sardonic worldliness is reached when he becomes the spectator of
his own domesticity, if he may be said to have any, and speaks to Dorian
of his divorce from his wife as one of the latest sensations of London,
remarking _apropos_ of his music, "The man with whom my wife ran away
played Chopin exquisitely. Poor Victoria! I was very fond of her. The
house is rather lonely without her."

Lord Henry is so entirely true to himself and the worst that is in him
that towards the close of the book, when Dorian announces that he is
"going to be good," and begs his friend not to poison another young life
with the book with which he had corrupted his, we find ourselves
trembling for Dorian's one remaining ally, especially when he exclaims,
"My dear boy, you are really beginning to moralize. You will soon be
going about warning people against all the sins of which you have grown
tired. You are much too delightful to do that. Besides, it is no use.
You and I are what we are, and we will be what we will be." Had not the
hero stabbed himself, or his picture (which was it?) it is only a
question of time how soon Dorian Gray, with the slightest obtrusion of
conscience, would have ceased to charm him who had welcomed him as a
_débutant_ on the Stage of Pleasure, where, to use his favourite saying,
"the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it." Dorian Gray
struggling against the temptations of the world would have proved an
inartistic and disturbing element in the life of Lord Henry.

All that is needed to complete the tale is Lord Henry's own comment on
the highly dramatic taking-off of his friend. This chapter, Mr. Wilde,
true to his artistic instinct, has not finished, preferring to leave
appetite unappeased, rather than to create satiety by making his
Mephistopheles say precisely what one would expect him to say under the

[28] _Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, September, 1890._

[29] "When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are
not always happy."--DORIAN GRAY, chap. vi. (Ed.)

[30] Chapter XI. in the 1891 edition.

       *       *       *       *       *



Fiction which flies at all game, has latterly taken to the Impossible as
its quarry. The pursuit is interesting and edifying, if one goes
properly equipped, and with adequate skill. But if due care is not
exercised, the impossible turns upon the hunter and grinds him to
powder. It is a very dangerous and treacherous kind of wild-fowl. The
conditions of its existence--if existence can be predicated on that which
does not exist--are so peculiar and abstruse that only genius is really
capable of taming it and leading it captive. But the capture, when it is
made, is so delightful and fascinating that every tyro would like to
try. One is reminded of the princess of the fairy-tale, who was to be
won on certain preposterous terms, and if the terms were not met, the
discomfited suitor lost his head. Many misguided or over-weening youths
perished; at last the One succeeded. Failure in a romance of the
Impossible is apt to be a disastrous failure; on the other hand, success
carries great rewards.

Of course, the idea is not a new one. The writings of the alchemists are
stories of the Impossible. The fashion has never been entirely extinct.
Balzac wrote the "Peau de Chagrin," and probably this tale is as good a
one as was ever written of that kind. The possessor of the Skin may have
every thing he wishes for; but each wish causes the Skin to shrink, and
when it is all gone the wisher is annihilated with it. By the art of the
writer this impossible thing is made to appear quite feasible; by
touching the chords of coincidence and fatality, the reader's
common-sense is soothed to sleep. We feel that all this might be, and
yet no natural law be violated; and yet we know that such a thing never
was and never will be. But the vitality of the story, as of all good
stories of the sort, is due to the fact that it is the symbol of a
spiritual verity: the life of indulgence, the selfish life, destroys
the soul. This psychic truth is so deeply felt that its sensible
embodiment is rendered plausible. In the case of another famous
romance--"Frankenstein"--the technical art is entirely wanting: a worse
story from the literary point of view has seldom been written. But the
soul of it, so to speak, is so potent and obvious that, although no one
actually reads the book nowadays, everybody knows the gist of the idea.
"Frankenstein" has entered into the language, for it utters a perpetual
truth of human nature.

At the present moment the most conspicuous success in the line we are
considering is Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." The author's
literary skill, in that awful little parable, is at its best, and makes
the most of every point. To my thinking, it is an artistic mistake to
describe Hyde's transformation as actually taking place in plain sight
of the audience; the sense of spiritual mystery is thereby lost, and a
mere brute miracle takes its place. But the tale is strong enough to
carry this imperfection, and the moral significance of it is so
catholic--it so comes home to every soul that considers it--that it has
already made an ineffaceable impression on the public mind. Every man is
his own Jekyll and Hyde, only without the magic powder. On the bookshelf
of the Impossible, Mr. Stevenson's book may take its place beside

Mr. Oscar Wilde, the apostle of beauty, has in the July number of
_Lippincott's Magazine_, a novel, or romance (it partakes of the
qualities of both), which everybody will want to read. It is a story
strange in conception, strong in interest, and fitted with a tragic and
ghastly climax. Like many stories of its class, it is open to more than
one interpretation; and there are, doubtless, critics who will deny that
it has any meaning at all. It is, at all events, a salutary departure
from the ordinary English novel, with the hero and heroine of different
social stations, the predatory black sheep, the curate, the settlements
and Society. Mr. Wilde, as we all know, is a gentleman of an original
and audacious turn of mind, and the commonplace is scarcely possible to
him. Besides, his advocacy of novel ideas in life, art, dress and
demeanour had led us to expect surprising things from him; and in this
literary age it is agreed that a man may best show the best there is in
him by writing a book. Those who read Mr. Wilde's story in the hope of
finding in it some compact and final statement of his theories of life
and manners will be satisfied in some respects, and dissatisfied in
others; but not many will deny that the book is a remarkable one and
would attract attention even had it appeared without the author's name
on the title-page.

"The Picture of Dorian Gray," begins to show its quality in the opening
pages. Mr. Wilde's writing has what is called "colour," the quality that
forms the mainstay of many of Ouida's works,--and it appears in the
sensuous descriptions of nature and of the decorations and environments
of the artistic life. The general aspect of the characters and the tenor
of their conversation remind one a little of "Vivian Gray" and a little
of "Pelham," but the resemblance does not go far: Mr. Wilde's objects
and philosophy are different from those of either Disraeli or Bulwer.
Meanwhile his talent for aphorisms and epigrams may fairly be compared
with theirs: some of his clever sayings are more than clever,--they show
real insight and a comprehensive grasp. Their wit is generally cynical;
but they are put into the mouth of one of the characters, Lord Harry,
and Mr. Wilde himself refrains from definitely committing himself to
them; though one can not help suspecting that Mr. Wilde regards Lord
Harry as being an uncommonly able fellow. Be that as it may, Lord Harry
plays the part of Old Harry in the story, and lives to witness the
destruction of every other person in it. He may be taken as an
imaginative type of all that is most evil and most refined in modern
civilization,--a charming, gentle, witty, euphemistic Mephistopheles,
who deprecates the vulgarity of goodness, and muses aloud about "those
renunciations that men have unwisely called virtue, and those natural
rebellions that wise men still call sin." Upon the whole, Lord Harry is
the most ably portrayed character in the book, though not the most
original in conception. Dorian Gray himself is as nearly a new idea in
fiction as one has now-a-days a right to expect. If he had been
adequately realized and worked out, Mr. Wilde's first novel would have
been remembered after more meritorious ones were forgotten. But, even as
"nemo repente fuit turpissimus," so no one, or hardly any one, creates a
thoroughly original figure at a first essay. Dorian never quite
solidifies. In fact, his portrait is rather the more real thing of the
two. But this needs explanation.

The story consists of a strong and marvellous central idea, illustrated
by three characters, all men. There are a few women in the background,
but they are only mentioned: they never appear to speak for themselves.
There is, too, a valet who brings in his master's breakfasts, and a
chemist who by some scientific miracle, disposes of a human body: but,
substantially, the book is taken up with the artist who paints the
portrait, with his friend Lord Harry aforesaid, and with Dorian Gray,
who might, so far as the story goes, stand alone. He and his portrait
are one, and their union points the moral of the tale.

The situation is as follows. Dorian Gray is a youth of extraordinary
physical beauty and grace, and pure and innocent of soul. An artist sees
him and falls æsthetically in love with him, and finds in him a new
inspiration in his art, both direct and general. In the lines of his
form and features, and in his colouring and movement, are revealed fresh
and profound laws: he paints him in all guises and combinations, and it
is seen and admitted on all sides that he has never before painted so
well. At length he concentrates all his knowledge and power in a final
portrait, which has the vividness and grace of life itself, and,
considering how much both of the sitter and of the painter is embodied
in it, might almost be said to live. The portrait is declared by Lord
Harry to be the greatest work of modern art; and he himself thinks so
well of it that he resolves never to exhibit it, even as he would shrink
from exposing to public gaze the privacies of his own nature.

On the day of the last sitting a singular incident occurs. Lord Harry,
meeting with Dorian Gray for the first time, is no less impressed than
was Hallward, the artist, with the youth's radiant beauty and freshness.
But whereas Hallward would keep Dorian unspotted from the world, and
would have him resist evil temptations and all the allurements of
corruption, Lord Harry, on the contrary, with a truly Satanic ingenuity,
discourses to the young man on the matchless delights and privileges of
youth. Youth is the golden period of life: youth comes never again: in
youth only are the senses endowed with divine potency; only then are
joys exquisite and pleasures unalloyed. Let it therefore be indulged
without stint. Let no harsh and cowardly restraints be placed upon its
glorious impulses. Men are virtuous through fear and selfishness. They
are too dull or too timid to take advantage of the godlike gifts that
are showered upon them in the morning of existence; and before they can
realise the folly of their self-denial, the morning has passed, and
weary day is upon them, and the shadows of night are near. But let
Dorian, who is matchless in the vigour and resources of his beauty, rise
above the base shrinking from life that calls itself goodness. Let him
accept and welcome every natural impulse of his nature. The tragedy of
old age is not that one is old, but that one is young: let him so live
that when old age comes he shall at least have the satisfaction of
knowing that no opportunity of pleasure and indulgence has escaped

This seductive sermon profoundly affects the innocent Dorian, and he
looks at life and himself with new eyes. He realizes the value as well
as the transitoriness of that youth and beauty which hitherto he had
accepted as a matter of course and as a permanent possession. Gazing on
his portrait, he laments that it possesses the immortality of loveliness
and comeliness that is denied to him; and, in a sort of imaginative
despair, he utters a wild prayer that to the portrait, and not to
himself, may come the feebleness and hideousness of old age; that
whatever sins he may commit, to whatever indulgences he may surrender
himself, not upon him but upon the portrait may the penalties and
disfigurements fall. Such is Dorian's prayer; and, though at first he
suspects it not, his prayer is granted. From that hour, the evil of his
life is registered upon the face and form of his pictured presentment,
while he himself goes unscathed. Day by day, each fresh sin that he
commits stamps its mark of degradation upon the painted image. Cruelty
sensuality, treachery, all nameless crimes, corrupt and render hideous
the effigy on the canvas; he sees in it the gradual pollution and ruin
of his soul, while his own fleshly features preserve unstained all the
freshness and virginity of his sinless youth. The contrast at first
alarms and horrifies him; but at length he becomes accustomed to it, and
finds a sinister delight in watching the progress of the awful change.
He locks up the portrait in a secret chamber, and constantly retires
thither to ponder over the ghastly miracle. No one but he knows or
suspects the incredible truth; and he guards like a murder-secret this
visible revelation of the difference between what he is and what he
seems. This is a powerful situation; and the reader may be left to
discover for himself how Mr. Wilde works it out.

[31] _Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, September, 1890._

       *       *       *       *       *

_ ... Pater, who is, on the whole, the most perfect master of English
prose now creating amongst us._

       *       *       *       *       *


There is always something of an excellent talker about the writing of
Mr. Oscar Wilde, (wrote Pater, in reviewing "Dorian Gray" for _The
Bookman_[32]) and in his hands, as happens so rarely with those who
practise it, the form of dialogue is justified by its being really
alive. His genial, laughter-loving sense of life and its enjoyable
intercourse, goes far to obviate any crudity there may be in the
paradox, with which, as with the bright and shining truth which often
underlies it, Mr. Wilde, startling his "countrymen," carries on, more
perhaps than any other writer, the brilliant critical work of Mathew
Arnold. _The Decay of Lying_, for instance, is all but unique in its
half-humorous, yet wholly convinced, presentment of certain valuable
truths of criticism. Conversational ease, the fluidity of life,
felicitous expression, are qualities which have a natural alliance to
the successful writing of fiction; and side by side with Mr. Wilde's
_Intentions_ (so he entitles his critical efforts) comes a novel,
certainly original, and affording the reader a fair opportunity of
comparing his practice as a creative artist with many a precept he has
enounced as critic concerning it.

A wholesome dislike of the common-place, rightly or wrongly identified
by him with the _bourgeois_, with our middle-class--its habits and
tastes--leads him to protest emphatically against so-called "realism" in
art; life, as he argues, with much plausibility, as a matter of fact,
when it is really awake, following art--the fashion of an effective
artist sets; while art, on the other hand, influential and effective
art, has taken its cue from actual life. In "Dorian Gray" he is true,
certainly, on the whole, to the æsthetic philosophy of his _Intentions_;
yet not infallibly, even on this point: there is a certain amount of the
intrusion of real life and its sordid aspects--the low theatre, the
pleasures and griefs, the faces of some very unrefined people, managed,
of course, cleverly enough. The interlude of Jim Vane, his half-sullen
but wholly faithful care for his sister's honour, is as good as perhaps
anything of the kind, marked by a homely but real pathos, sufficiently
proving a versatility in the writer's talent, which should make his
books popular. Clever always, this book, however, seems intended to set
forth anything but a homely philosophy of life for the middle-class--a
kind of dainty Epicurean theory, rather--yet fails, to some degree in
this; and one can see why. A true Epicureanism aims at a complete though
harmonious development of man's entire organism. To lose the moral sense
therefore, for instance, the sense of sin and righteousness, as Mr.
Wilde's hero--his heroes are bent on doing as speedily, as completely as
they can, is to lose, or lower, organisation, to become less complex, to
pass from a higher to a lower degree of development. As a story,
however, a partly supernatural story, it is first-rate in artistic
management; those Epicurean niceties only adding to the decorative
colour of its central figure, like so many exotic flowers, like the
charming scenery and the perpetual, epigrammatic, surprising, yet so
natural, conversations, like an atmosphere all about it. All that
pleasant accessory detail, taken straight from the culture, the
intellectual and social interests, the conventionalities, of the moment,
have, in fact, after all, the effect of the better sort of realism,
throwing into relief the adroitly-devised supernatural element after the
manner of Poe, but with a grace he never reached, which supersedes that
earlier didactic purpose, and makes the quite sufficing interest of an
excellent story.

We like the hero and, spite of his somewhat unsociable, devotion to his
art, Hallward, better than Lord Henry Wotton. He has too much of a not
very really refined world in him and about him, and his somewhat cynic
opinions, which seem sometimes to be those of the writer, who may,
however, have intended Lord Henry as a satiric sketch. Mr. Wilde can
hardly have intended him, with his cynic amity of mind and temper, any
more than the miserable end of Dorian himself, to figure the motive and
tendency of a true Cyrenaic or Epicurean doctrine of life. In contrast
with Hallward the artist, whose sensibilities idealise the world around
him, the personality of Dorian Gray, above all, into something
magnificent and strange, we might say that Lord Henry, and even more
the, from the first, suicidal hero, loses too much in life to be a true
Epicurean--loses so much in the way of impressions, of pleasant
memories, and subsequent hopes, which Hallward, by a really Epicurean
economy, manages to secure. It should be said, however, in fairness,
that the writer is impersonal; seems not to have identified himself
entirely with any one of his characters; and Wotton's cynicism, or
whatever it be, at least makes a very clever story possible. He becomes
the spoiler of the fair young man, whose bodily form remains un-aged;
while his picture, the _chef d'oeuvre_ of the artist Hallward, changes
miraculously with the gradual corruption of his soul. How true, what a
light on the artistic nature, is the following on actual personalities
and their revealing influence in art. We quote it as an example of Mr.
Wilde's more serious style.

     "I sometimes think that there are only two eras of any importance
     in the world's history. The first is the appearance of a new medium
     for art, and the second is the appearance of a new personality for
     art also. What the invention of oil-painting was to the Venetians,
     the face of Antinous was to late Greek sculpture, and the face of
     Dorian Gray will some day be to me. It is not merely that I paint
     from him, draw from him, sketch from him. Of course I have done all
     that. But he is much more to me than a model or a sitter. I won't
     tell you that I am dissatisfied with what I have done of him, or
     that his beauty is such that Art cannot express it. There is
     nothing that Art cannot express, and I know that the work I have
     done, since I met Dorian Gray, is good work, is the best work of my
     life. But in some curious way ... his personality has suggested to
     me an entirely new manner in art, an entirely new mode of style. I
     see things differently. I can now recreate life in a way that was
     hidden from me before."[33]

Dorian himself, though certainly a quite unsuccessful experiment in
Epicureanism, in life as a fine art, is (till his inward spoiling takes
visible effect suddenly, and in a moment, at the end of his story) a
beautiful creation. But his story is also a vivid, though carefully
considered, exposure of the corruption of a soul, with a very plain
moral, pushed home, to the effect that vice and crime make people coarse
and ugly. General readers, nevertheless, will probably care less for
this moral, less for the fine, varied, largely appreciative culture of
the writer, in evidence from page to page, than for the story itself,
with its adroitly managed supernatural incidents, its almost equally
wonderful applications of natural science; impossible, surely, in fact,
but plausible enough in fiction. Its interest turns on that very old
theme; old because based on some inherent experience or fancy of the
human brain, of a double life: of Döppelgänger--not of two _persons_, in
this case, but of the man and his portrait; the latter of which, as we
hinted above, changes, decays, is spoiled, while the former, through a
long course of corruption, remains, to the outward eye, unchanged, still
in all the beauty of a seemingly immaculate youth--"the devil's
bargain." But it would be a pity to spoil the reader's enjoyment by
further detail. We need only emphasise once more, the skill, the real
subtlety of art, the ease and fluidity withal of one telling a story by
word of mouth, with which the consciousness of the supernatural is
introduced into, and maintained amid, the elaborately conventional,
sophisticated, disabused world Mr. Wilde depicts so cleverly, so
mercilessly. The special fascination of the piece is, of course, just
there--at that point of contrast. Mr. Wilde's work may fairly claim to
go with that of Edgar Poe, and with some good French work of the same
kind, done, probably, in more or less conscious imitation of it.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The Athenæum_ in reviewing "The Picture of Dorian Gray," in its issue
of June 27th, 1891, under the heading of "Novels of the Week," said:--

     Mr. Oscar Wilde's paradoxes are less wearisome when introduced into
     the chatter of society than when he rolls them off in the course of
     his narrative. Some of the conversation in his novel is very smart,
     and while reading it one has the pleasant feeling, not often to be
     enjoyed in the company of modern novelists, of being entertained by
     a person of decided ability. The idea of the book may have been
     suggested by Balzac's "Peau de Chagrin," and it is none the worse
     for that. So much may be said for "The Picture of Dorian Gray," but
     no more, except, perhaps, that the author does not appear to be in
     earnest. For the rest, the book is unmanly, sickening, vicious
     (though not exactly what is called "improper"), and tedious.

Mr. R.H. Sherard, in his recently published "Life of Oscar Wilde"
(Werner Laurie, 1906), gives some interesting particulars as to the
reasons which induced Wilde to write the book, while the views of a
French _littérateur_ on "Dorian Gray" may be read in M. André Gide's
"Study," a translation of which, by the present editor, was issued from
the Holywell Press, Oxford, in 1905.

[32] November 1891.

[33] Pp. 14, 15 (1891 edition).

       *       *       *       *       *

_A critic cannot be fair in the ordinary sense of the word._

       *       *       *       *       *


The question of the morality of "Dorian Gray" was dealt with very fully
during the trial of the Marquis of Queensberry for libel, and also in
the subsequent trials of Wilde himself, when, the libel action having
collapsed, Wilde was transferred from the witness-box to the dock.

At the trial of Lord Queensberry at the Old Bailey on April 3rd, 1895,
Sir Edward Clarke, in his opening speech for the prosecution, referred
to what he called "an extremely curious count at the end of the plea,"
namely, that in July, 1890, Mr. Wilde published, or caused to be
published, with his name upon the title page, a certain immoral and
indecent work, with the title of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," which was
intended to be understood by the readers to describe the relations,
intimacies and passions of certain persons guilty of unnatural
practices. That, said Sir Edward, was a very gross allegation. The
volume could be bought at any bookstall in London. It had Mr. Wilde's
name on the title page, and had been published five years. The story of
the book was that of a young man of good birth, great wealth and great
personal beauty, whose friend paints a picture of him. Dorian Gray
expresses the wish that he would remain as in the picture, while the
picture aged with the years. His wish was granted, and he soon knew that
upon the picture and not upon his own face the scars of trouble and bad
conduct were falling. In the end he stabbed the picture and fell dead.
The picture was restored to its pristine beauty, while his friends find
on the floor the body of a hideous old man. "I shall be surprised," said
Counsel in conclusion, "if my learned friend (Mr. Carson) can pitch upon
any passage in that book which does more than describe as novelists and
dramatists may, nay, must, describe the passions and the fashions of

Lord Queensberry's Counsel was Mr. (now Sir Edward) Carson, M.P. He
proceeded, after Sir Edward's Clarke's speech, to cross-examine Mr.
Wilde on the subject of his writings.

Counsel: You are of opinion, I believe, that there is no such thing as
an immoral book?

Witness: Yes.

Am I right in saying that you do not consider the effect in creating
morality or immorality?--Certainly, I do not.

So far as your works are concerned you pose as not being concerned about
morality or immorality?--I do not know whether you use the word "pose"
in any particular sense.

It is a favourite word of your own?--Is it? I have no pose in this
matter. In writing a play or a book I am concerned entirely with
literature, that is, with art. I aim not at doing good or evil, but in
trying to make a thing that will have some quality of beauty.

After the criticisms that were passed on "Dorian Gray" was it modified a
good deal?--No. Additions were made. In one case it was pointed out to
me--not in a newspaper or anything of that sort, but by the only critic
of the century whose opinion I set high, Mr. Walter Pater--that a
certain passage was liable to misconstruction, and I made one addition.

This is in your introduction to "Dorian Gray": "There is no such thing
as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written.
That is all."--That expresses my view of art.

Then, I take it that no matter how immoral a book may be, if it is well
written it is, in your opinion, a good book?--Yes; if it were well
written so as to produce a sense of beauty which is the highest sense of
which a human being can be capable. If it were badly written it would
produce a sense of disgust.

Then a well-written book putting forward perverted moral views may be a
good book?--No work of art ever puts forward views. Views belong to
people who are not artists.

A novel of "a certain kind" might be a good book?--I do not know what
you mean by "a novel of a certain kind."

Then I will suggest "Dorian Gray" as open to the interpretation of being
a novel of that kind.--That could only be to brutes and illiterates.

An illiterate person reading "Dorian Gray" might consider it such a
novel?--The views of illiterates on art are unaccountable. I am
concerned only with my view of art. I do not care twopence what other
people think of it.

The majority of persons would come under your definition of Philistines
and illiterates?--I have found wonderful exceptions.

Do you think the majority of people live up to the position you are
giving us?--I am afraid they are not cultivated enough.

Not cultivated enough to draw the distinction between a good book and a
bad book?--Certainly not.

The affection and love of the artist of "Dorian Gray" might lead an
ordinary individual to believe that it might have a certain tendency?--I
have no knowledge of the views of ordinary individuals.

You did not prevent the ordinary individual from buying your book?--I
have never discouraged him.

Mr. Carson then read an extract extending to several pages from "Dorian
Gray," using the version as it appeared in _Lippincott's Magazine_[34],
describing the meeting of Dorian Gray and the painter Basil Hallward.
"Now, I ask you, Mr. Wilde," added Counsel, "do you consider that that
description of the feeling of one man towards another, a youth just
grown up, was a proper or an improper feeling?"--"I think," replied the
author, "it is the most perfect description of what an artist would feel
on meeting a beautiful personality which was in some way necessary to
his art and life."

Counsel: You think that is a feeling a young man should have towards

Witness: Yes, as an artist.

Mr. Carson proceeded to read another long extract. Mr. Wilde asked for a
copy, and was given one of the complete edition. Mr. Carson in calling
his attention to the place, remarked, "I believe it was left out in the
purged edition?"

Witness: I do not call it purged.

Counsel: Yes, I know that; but we will see.

Mr. Carson then read a lengthy passage from "Dorian Gray" as originally
published[35], and said, "Do you mean to say that that passage describes
the natural feeling of one man towards another?"--"It would be the
influence produced on an artist by a beautiful personality," was the

Counsel: A beautiful person?

Witness: I said "a beautiful personality." You can describe it as you
like. Dorian Gray was a most remarkable personality.

May I take it that you, as an artist, have never known the feeling
described here?--I have never allowed any personality to dominate my

Then you have never known the feeling you describe?--No; it is a work of

So far as you are concerned you have no experience as to its being a
natural feeling?--I think it is perfectly natural for any artist to
admire intensely and love a young man. It is an incident in the life of
almost every artist.

But let us go over it phrase by phrase. "I quite admit that I adored you
madly." What do you say to that? Have you ever adored a young man
madly?--No; not madly. I prefer love; that is a higher form.

Never mind about that. Let us keep down to the level we are at now.--I
have never given adoration to any body except myself. (Loud laughter.)

I suppose you think that a very smart thing?--Not at all.

Then you never had that feeling?--No; the whole idea was borrowed from
Shakespeare, I regret to say; yes, from Shakespeare's sonnets.

Mr. Carson, continuing to read: "I adored you extravagantly?"--Do you
mean financially?

Oh, yes, financially. Do you think we are talking about finance?--I do
not know what you are talking about.

Don't you? Well, I hope, I shall make myself very plain before I have
done. "I was jealous of every one to whom you spoke." Have you ever been
jealous of a young man?--Never in my life.

"I wanted to have you all to myself." Did you ever have that
feeling?--No, I should consider it an intense nuisance, an intense bore.

"I grew afraid that the world would know of my idolatry." Why should he
grow afraid that the world should know of it?--Because there are people
in the world who cannot understand the intense devotion, affection and
admiration that an artist can feel for a wonderful and beautiful
personality. These are the conditions under which we live. I regret

These unfortunate people, that have not the high understanding that you
have, might put it down to something wrong?--Undoubtedly; to any point
they chose. I am not concerned with the ignorance of others.

In another passage Dorian Gray receives a book.[36] Was the book to
which you refer a moral book?--Not well written?

Pressed further upon this point, and as to whether the book he had in
mind was not of a certain tendency, Mr. Wilde declined with some warmth
to be cross-examined upon the work of another artist. It was, he said,
"an impertinence and a vulgarity." He admitted that he had in his mind a
French book entitled _A Rebours_. Mr. Carson wanted to elicit Mr.
Wilde's view as to the morality of that book, but Sir Edward Clarke
succeeded, on an appeal to the Judge, in stopping any further reference
to it.

Counsel then quoted another extract[37] from the _Lippincott_ version of
"Dorian Gray," in which the artist tells Dorian of the scandals about
him, and finally asks, "Why is your friendship so fateful to young men?"
Asked whether the passage in its ordinary meaning did not suggest a
certain charge, witness stated that it described Dorian Gray as a man of
very corrupt influence, though there was no statement as to the nature
of his influence. "But as a matter of fact," he added, "I do not think
that one person influences another, nor do I think there is any bad
influence in the world."

Counsel: A man never corrupts a youth?--I think not.

Nothing could corrupt him?--If you are talking of separate ages.

Mr. Carson: No, Sir, I am talking common sense.

Witness: I do not think one person influences another.

You do not think that flattering a young man, making love to him, in
fact, would be likely to corrupt him?--No.

On the assembling of the court on the following day, Mr. Wilde, who
arrived ten minutes late, after saying to the Judge, "My lord, pray
accept my apologies for being late in the witness-box," was examined by
Sir Edward Clarke. In reference to "Dorian Gray" the witness said: "Mr.
Walter Pater wrote me several letters about it, and in consequence of
what he said I modified one passage. The book was very widely reviewed,
among others by Mr. Pater himself. I wrote a reply to the review that
appeared in the _Scots Observer_."

The subject then dropped.

On the last day of Mr. Wilde's first trial at the Criminal Central
Court, May 1st, 1895, the Judge, Mr. Justice Charles, in his summing-up,
dealt with "the literary part of the case," and again "Dorian Gray" came
under consideration. The Judge said that a very large portion of the
evidence of Mr. Wilde at the trial of Lord Queensberry was devoted to
what Sir Edward Clarke had called "the literary part of the case." It
was attempted to show by cross-examination of Mr. Wilde, as to works he
had published, especially in regard to the book called "Dorian Gray,"
that he was a man of most unprincipled character with regard to the
relation of men to boys. His lordship said he had not read that book,
and he assumed that the jury had not, but they had been told it was the
story of a youth of vicious character, whose face did not reveal the
abysses of wretchedness into which he had fallen, but a picture painted
by an artist friend revealed all the consequences of his passion. In the
end he stabs the picture, whereupon he himself falls dead, and on his
vicious face appear all the signs which before had been upon the
picture. His lordship did not think that in a criminal case the jury
should place any unfavourable inference upon the fact that Mr. Wilde was
the author of "Dorian Gray." It was, unfortunately, true that some of
their most distinguished and noble-minded writers, who had spent their
lives in producing wholesome literature had given to the world books
which were painful to persons, of ordinary modesty and decency, to read.
Sir Edward Clarke had quoted from Coleridge, "Judge no man by his
books," but his lordship would prefer to say "Confound no man with the
characters of the persons he creates." Because a novelist put into the
mouth of his villain the most abominable sentiments it must not be
assumed that he shared them.

It will be remembered that on this occasion the jury were unable to
agree on a verdict as to whether Mr. Wilde was guilty or not of the
charges brought against him.

In the second trial, which began on May 22nd following, the subject of
his books was not mentioned.

[34] Pp. 6-10.

[35] Pp. 57-58.

[36] p. 63, 64.

[37] p. 79.

       *       *       *       *       *


Mr. Robert Buchanan, the well-known writer, in a letter dated April
23rd, 1895, expressed his own views on this subject in the columns of
_The Star_. Referring to an anonymous correspondent in the same
newspaper who had accused Mr. Wilde of "pagan viciousness"--this was
more than a month before a verdict of "Guilty" had been returned against
him--Mr. Buchanan asks, "Has even a writer like this no sense of humour?
Does he seriously contend that the paradoxes and absurdities with which
Mr. Wilde once amused us were meant as serious attacks on public
morality? Two thirds of all Mr. Wilde has written is purely ironical,
and it is only because they are now told that the writer is a wicked man
that people begin to consider his writings wicked."

"I think," he adds, "I am as well acquainted as most people with Mr.
Wilde's works, and I fearlessly assert that they are, for the most part,
as innocent as a naked baby. As for the much misunderstood "Dorian
Gray," it would be easy to show that it is a work of the highest
morality, since its whole purpose is to point out the effect of selfish
indulgence and sensuality in destroying the character of a beautiful
human soul. But it is useless to discuss these questions with people who
are colour-blind. I cordially echo the cry that, failing a little
knowledge of literature, a little Christian charity is sorely wanted."

       *       *       *       *       *


1890            1891
I                I
II               II
III              IV
IV               VI
V                VII
VI               VIII
VII              IX
VIII             X
IX               XI
X                XII
XI               XIII
XII              XIV
XIII             XIX, XX

       *       *       *       *       *


The following are the chief passages in the 1890 edition which are
omitted (or have undergone alteration) in the 1891 edition. (_The
figures in brackets refer to the page in the 1891 edition where the
omission or alteration is made_).




6 "Well, I will tell you what it is."

"Please don't."

"I must. I want you to explain...." (7)

6 "Well, this is incredible," repeated Hallward, rather
bitterly,--"incredible to me at times. I don't know what it means. The
story is simply this...."(8)

6 You know yourself, Harry, how independent I am by nature. My father
destined me for the army. I insisted on going to Oxford. Then he made me
enter my name at the Middle Temple. Before I had eaten half a dozen
dinners I gave up the Bar, and announced my intention of becoming a
painter. I have always been my own master.... (9)

7 I knew that if I spoke to Dorian I would become absolutely devoted to
him, and that I ought not to speak to him. I grew afraid.... (9)

7 perfectly audible to everybody in the room, something like, 'Sir
Humpty Dumpty--you know--Afghan frontier. Russian intrigues: very
successful man--wife killed by an elephant--quite inconsolable--wants to
marry a beautiful American widow--everybody does now-a-days--hates Mr.
Gladstone--but very much interested in beetles: ask him what he thinks
of Schouvaloff.' I simply fled....(11)

8 'Charming boy--poor dear mother and I quite inseparable--engaged to be
married to the same man--I mean married on the same day--how very silly
of me! Quite forget what he does....(11)

9 I couldn't be happy if I didn't see him every day. Of course sometimes
it is only for a few minutes. But a few minutes with somebody one
worships mean a great deal."

"But you don't really worship him?"

"I do."

"How extraordinary. I thought you would never care for anything but your
painting,--your art, I should say. Art sounds better, doesn't it?"...

10 After some time he came back. "You don't understand, Harry," he said.
"Dorian Gray is merely to me a motive in art.... (16)

10 "Because I have put into it all the extraordinary romance of which,
of course, I have never dared to speak to him.... (16)

10 I give myself away. As a rule, he is charming to me, and we walk home
together from the club arm in arm, or sit in the studio.... (17)

11, 12 Don't take away from me the one person that makes life absolutely
lovely to me, and that gives to my art whatever wonder or charm it
possesses. Mind, Harry, I trust you." ... (20, 21)


12 No wonder Basil Hallward worshipped him. He was made to be
worshipped.... (23)

16 You are a wonderful creature. You know more than you think.... (31)

19, 20 "This is your doing, Harry," said Hallward, bitterly.

"My doing?"

"Yes, yours, and you know it." Lord Henry shrugged his shoulders (40)

20 "And you know you have been a little silly, Mr. Gray, and that you
don't really mind being called a boy."

"I should have minded very much this morning, Lord Henry.".... (42)

21 It has nothing to do with our own will. It is either an unfortunate
accident, or an unpleasant result of temperament. Young men want....(44)

CHAPTER III. (IV). 22, 23 I think my husband has got twenty-seven of

"Not twenty-seven, Lady Henry?"

"Well, twenty-six, then...." (66)

23 leaving a faint odor of patchouli behind her. Then he shook hands
with Dorian Gray, lit a cigarette, and flung himself down on the
sofa.... (68)

24 "About three weeks. Not so much. About two weeks and two days."

"How did you come across her?".... (70)

24, 25 Its splendid sinners, and its sordid sins, as you once said....

27 thanks,--tell me what are your relations with Sibyl Vane?".... (76)

27 "I am not surprised."

"I was not surprised either. Then he asked me.... (77)

27 his three bankruptcies were entirely due to the poet, whom he
insisted on calling 'The Bard.' (78)

29 You won't be able to refuse to recognize her genius. (81)

"You don't mean to say that Basil has got any passion or any romance in

"I don't know whether he has any passion, but he certainly has romance,"
said Lord Henry, with an amused look in his eyes. "Has he never let you
know that?"

"Never. I must ask him about it. I am rather surprised to hear it. He is
the best of fellows, but he seems to me.... (82)


32 Hallward turned perfectly pale, and a curious look flashed for a
moment into his eyes, and then passed away, leaving them dull. "Dorian
engaged to be married!" he cried. "Impossible!" (107)

33 If a personality fascinates me, whatever the personality chooses to
do is absolutely delightful to me. (109)


44 we live in age when only unnecessary things are absolutely necessary
to us; (138)

48 all the terrible beauty of a great tragedy....(148)

49 I had buried my romance in a bed of poppies. (150)

49 absolutely true, and it explains everything." (152)

50 "But suppose, Harry I became haggard, and gray, and wrinkled?" What
then?" (153)


54 Hallward felt strangely moved. Rugged and straightforward as he was,
there was something in his nature that was purely feminine in its
tenderness. The lad was infinitely dear to him....

56 "Let us sit down, Dorian," said Hallward, looking pale and pained.
"Let us sit down. I will sit in the shadow, and you shall sit in the
sunlight. Our lives are like that. Just answer me one question."....

56, 57 "I see you did. Don't speak. Wait till you hear what I have to
say. It is quite true that I have worshipped you with far more romance
of feeling than a man usually gives to a friend. Somehow, I had never
loved a woman. I suppose I never had time. Perhaps, as Harry says, a
really '_grande passion_' is the privilege of those who have nothing to
do, and that is the use of the idle classes in a country. Well, from the
moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence
over me. I quite admit that I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly.
I was jealous of every one to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all
to myself. I was only happy when I was with you. When I was away from
you, you were still present in my art. It was all wrong and foolish. It
is all wrong and foolish.... I did not understand it myself.... It was
to have been my masterpiece. It is my masterpiece.... But, as I worked
at it, ... (169, 170)

57 "Did you really see it?"

"Of course I did." (172)

58 And now good-by, Dorian. You have been the one person in my life of
whom I have been really fond. I don't suppose I shall often see you
again. You don't know what it cost me to tell you all that I have told

58 But you mustn't talk about not meeting me again, or anything of that
kind. You and I are friends, Basil (173)


59 Mrs. Leaf, a dear old lady in a black silk dress, with a photograph
of the late Mr. Leaf framed in a large gold brooch at her neck, and
old-fashioned thread mittens on her wrinkled hands, bustled into the

"Well, Master Dorian," she said, "what can I do for you? I beg your
pardon, sir,"--here came a courtsey,--"I shouldn't call you Master
Dorian, any more. But, Lord bless you, sir, I have known you since you
were a baby, and many's the tricks you've played on poor old Leaf. Not
that you were not always a good boy, sir; but boys will be boys, Master
Dorian, and jam is a temptation to the young, isn't it, sir?"

He laughed. "You must always call me Master Dorian, Leaf. I will be very
angry with you if you don't. And I assure you I am quite as fond of jam
now as I used to be. Only when I am asked out to tea I am never offered
any. I want you to give me the key of the room at the top of the house."

59 He winced at the mention of his dead uncle's name.... "That does not
matter, Leaf," he replied, "All I want is the key."(176)

59 "No, Leaf, I don't. I merely want to see the place, and perhaps store
something in it,--that is all. Thank you, Leaf. I hope your rheumatism
is better; and mind you send me up jam for breakfast."

Mrs. Leaf shook her head. "Them foreigners doesn't understand jam,
Master Dorian. They call's it 'compot'. But I'll bring it to you myself
some morning, if you lets me."

"That will be very kind of you, Leaf, he answered, looking at the key;
and, having made him an elaborate courtsey, the old lady left the room,
her face wreathed in smiles. She had a strong objection to the French
valet. It was a poor thing, she felt, for any one to be born a

As the door closed, etc. (176)

60 Mr. Ashton, himself, the celebrated frame-maker. (179)

61 "A terrible load to carry," murmured Dorian, (180).

61 built by the last Lord Sherard for the use of the little nephew whom,
being himself childless, and perhaps for other reasons, etc. (181)

64 the French school of _Décadents_. (186).

64 "Ah, if you have discovered that, you have discovered a great deal,"
murmured Lord Henry, with his curious smile. "Come, let us go in to
dinner. It is dreadfully late, and I am afraid the champagne will be too
much iced." (188).


65 no less than five large-paper copies of the first edition, (189).

65 The boyish beauty that had so fascinated Basil Hallward, (190)

65 an age that was at once sordid and sensuous. (190)

66 That curiosity about life that, many years before, Lord Henry had
first stirred in him, (190, 191)

67 driving the anchorite out to herd with the wild animals.... (194)

68 the half-read book that we had been studying, (195)

68 re-fashioned anew for our pleasure in the darkness, (196)

74 the smoking-room of the Carlton,

74 Of all his friends, or so-called friends, Lord Henry Wotton was the
only one who remained loyal to him. (211)

74 rich and charming. (212)

74 the wit and beauty that make such plays charming. (212)

75 Lord Sherard, the companion of the Prince Regent. (214)

76 The hero of the dangerous novel. (215)

76 and the chapter immediately following, in which the hero describes
the curious tapestries that he had had woven for him from Gustave
Moreau's designs. (216)


77 It was on the 7th of November, the eve of his own thirty-second
birthday. (219)

79 the most dreadful things are being said about you in London,--things
that I could hardly repeat to you." (222)

79 You used to be a friend of Lord Cawdor. (224)

79 Dorian, Dorian, your reputation is infamous. I know you and Harry are
great friends. I say nothing about that now. (226)

81 You know I have been always devoted to you." (228)

81 "My God! don't tell me that you are infamous!" (229)

81 Don't keep me waiting." (229)


82 some scarlet on the sensual lips. (231)

82 "you met me, devoted yourself to me, flattered me.... (233)

83 "Can't you see your romance in it?" said Dorian bitterly.

"My romance as you call it...." (233)


100 He seized it, and stabbed the canvas with it, ripping the thing
right up from top to bottom. (333)

       *       *       *       *       *


 (i.) Dutch.
(ii.) French.
(iii.) German.
(iv.) Italian.
(v.) Polish.
(vi.) Russian.
(vi.) Swedish.


(a) Original Editions.

* I. i. LIPPINCOTT'S MONTHLY MAGAZINE. July, 1890. London: Ward, Lock &
Co. Price 1/-. Size 9 by 6 in. The cover, printed in red and black, is
inscribed: This Number contains a Complete Novel,/THE PICTURE OF DORIAN
GRAY./By OSCAR WILDE./ The story occupies pages 3 to 100.

* ii. LIPPINCOTT'S MONTHLY MAGAZINE. July, 1890. Philadelphia: J.B.
Lippincott & Co. Price 25 cents. Similar to above, but cover inscribed:
WILDE./Complete./It contains also a title-page with THE PICTURE/OF/
DORIAN GRAY,/by OSCAR WILDE./ Philadelphia:/J.B. Lippincott Company./

LIPPINCOTT'S/MONTHLY MAGAZINE. /With/Short Stories,/Essays (Critical and
Biographical), Poetry, and/Articles on Miscellaneous Subjects. /Ward,
Lock, Bowden & Co.,/ London: Warwick House, Salisbury Square, E.C./New
York: Bond Street./Melbourne: St. James's Street. Sydney: York Street./
(Half-title) THE COMPLETE NOVELS IN THIS VOLUME/ Comprise the following/


WHAT GOLD CANNOT BUY. By Mrs. Alexander./

THE MARK OF THE BEAST. By Katharine Pearson Woods./

A MARRIAGE AT SEA. By W. Clark Russell./

Pp. 578. Containing the monthly parts (without wrappers or
advertisements), for July to October, 1890.

Covers of pale blue, brown, or drab, lettered in red on front:--FOUR
COMPLETE/STORIES/FROM LIPPINCOTT/and in gold on back in five lines; with
WARD, LOCK & CO./London, New York Melbourne/at bottom. All edges cut and

Page 409 (September) contains "A Revulsion from Realism," by Anne H.
Wharton, and 412 "The Romance of the Impossible," by Julian Hawthorne,
these being reviews of "Dorian Gray."

iv. THE FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW. March 1891. London: Chapman & Hall. Price
2/6. This number contains on pages 480-1 "A PREFACE TO 'DORIAN GRAY,'"
consisting of 23 aphorisms and epigrams. In the novel, as it appeared in
book form in the following

July, another, the 13th, was added making 24 in all. It is as follows:
_No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything._

     In the 15th paragraph the author altered his words, _his art_ to
     _an art_, and in the 16th paragraph the words _form_ and _feeling_
     are no longer spelt with capital initial letters. The last word in
     the 23rd paragraph is changed from _inordinately_ to _intensely_.
     The Preface as revised appears in all editions of the book, which
     contain twenty chapters.

London, New York and Melbourne./1891./

     The edition was limited to 250 copies (signed by the author) on
     large sized (8-1/2 by 7 in.) Van Gelder hand-made paper, top edges
     gilt, sides uncut. With gilt lettering, and outside wrappers,
     designed by Charles Ricketts. Pp. vii., 334. Price 21/-.

ii. The same on small paper (7-1/2 by 5 in.) all edges uncut. Binding
similar to the last, but with less elaborate gilt tooling. Undated.
Price 6/-.

     The date of this edition is given in the _English Catalogue_ as
     May, 1891, but Messrs. Ward, Lock & Co., consider July 1st as the
     actual day of publication, though the _Athenæum_ reviewed the book
     under "Novels of the Week," on June 27. (see page 125).

iii. New Edition of the same (1894). Ward, Lock and Bowden. Undated.
Price 6/-.

     This edition was prepared for publication towards the end of 1894,
     but it was not issued. About a year later it was sold off to the
     booksellers as a "remainder," the date of his publication being
     according to the _English Catalogue_, October, 1895.

b) Unauthorised Editions.

and Co "American Series," No. 195. Size, 7 by 4-3/4 in. Blue and white
ornamental wrappers. Dated June 22, 1890. Price 25 cents. Several
impressions have been issued.

Munro's Sons. "Seaside Library," No. 2143. Pocket Edition. Size 7-1/4 by
5 in. Yellow wrappers. Dated May 11, 1895, pp. 125. Price 25 cents.
Several impressions have been issued.

* ii. The same. Later editions, from September, 1898, in blue and white
ornamental wrappers. The 4th impression was issued in December, 1905.
All are printed from stereotyped plates on coarse paper. Covers all
dated May 11, 1895.

* iii. The same. "Savoy Series," No. 221. White wrappers with picture
and lettering in brown. Cover dated 1900. The second impression was
issued in January, 1905, but all reprints bear date 1900.

* V. The same. A Novel. "Arrow Library," No. 166. 12mo. Pictorial
wrappers. New York: Street & Smith. Undated (1901).

Printed/1890. Size 8-3/4 by 5-3/4 in. Light blue-grey boards, label on
back. Uncut edges. This is an unauthorised reprint published in London
about 1903-4. Price from 10/6 to 21/-. Pp. 249.

Press, 1904. Size 8-3/4 by 6-1/4 in. Limited to 800 numbered copies. Top
edges gilt, sides uncut. Contains Publisher's note, Artist's preface,
and a short Biography of the Author. Facing title is a full-length
portrait of "Dorian Gray," by "Basil Hallward," which inspired the
story. Pp. xv., 334. Price $3.50c. With loose outside wrapper. The
publisher was Donald Bruce Wallace. The edition was transferred to
Brentano's of New York, in 1905. Price $3.00 net.

     The English Copyright of _Dorian Gray_ was purchased from Ward,
     Lock and Bowden, in January, 1905, by Charles Carrington, of Paris,
     who has issued the following editions.

Carrington. Cr. 8vo, Pp. vii., 334. Blue boards, gilt lettering with
title DORIAN GREY. Price 12/6. 1901.

IX. i. Same Publisher. New Edition. Size 7-1/2 by 5-1/2 in. Top edges
gilt, sides uncut. Shot green silk boards, with water-lily design in
black on front. Pp. vii., 327. 1905. Price 10/6.

ii. The same. An edition, strictly limited to 100 copies, on hand-made
paper, from the same plates. Issued in various forms of binding. Price
15s. No. IX. is now the "Sole Authorised Edition."

Mr. Charles Carrington has in preparation a new edition which will
contain some twenty-five illustrations (seven of which will be
full-page) most of them engraved on wood. The artist is M. Paul Thiriat.
The edition, each copy of which will be numbered, Will consist of:--

X. i. Library Edition. 100 copies on English antique paper, cloth bound,

ii. Seventy-five copies on English hand-made paper, bound in
water-coloured silk, 31/6.

iii. Fifty copies on Imperial Japanese vellum, with an extra set of the
illustrations printed on China paper, £3/3/-.

The size of the paper will be sm. 4to.

(c) Translations.

(i) Dutch.


2 vols., 8vo size, 7-7/8 by 5-1/2 in. Grey wove paper wrappers,
decorated with bands and printed in blue on front, back and ends.
Printed on wove paper with edges untrimmed.

Vol. I., pages 1-159 (Chapters I.-VIII.), Vol. II., pages 1-160
(Chapters numbered I.-XI.). Last page is dated "Den Haag, Febr., '93."
The Preface is omitted. In wrappers, price _fl_.3.25, cloth _fl_.3.90.

(ii) French

XII. i. LE PORTRAIT/DE/DORIAN GRAY./ (Traduit de l'Anglais). Paris
Albert Savine, éditeur, 12, rue des Pyramides, 12, 1895. Size 7-1/4 by
4-1/2 in. Yellow wrappers, Pp. 316. Price 3fr. 50c. (June 1895).

     The translators were Eugene Tardieu and Georges Maurevert.

ii. The same. Second Edition. July 1895.

XIII. i. The same. Type re-set. Pp. vii., 325. Price 3fr. 50c. Yellow
wrappers. Paris: P.V. Stock, Editeur, 27, rue de Richelieu. 1904.

ii. The same. Second Edition. 1904.

iii. The same. Third Edition. 1904 (July).

(iii) German.

* XIV. DORIAN GRAY./Von/OSCAR WILDE./Aus dem Englischen übersetzt und
mit einem Vorwort verschehen von Johannes Gaulke. Leipzig: Verlag von
Max Spohr. Not dated (September 1901). Size 8-1/2 by 5-3/4 in. Pale
green wrappers, uncut edges. Pp. 203. Price 3 marks; Bound 4 marks.

Greve. Minden in Westf: J.C.C. Bruns' Verlag. No date (1902). Size 7-3/4
by 5 in. Ribbed grey wrappers. Uncut edges. Pp. vi., 367. Price 3 marks
50 pf. Bound 4 marks 50 pf.

ii. The same. New Edition. DORIAN GRAYS BILDNIS, etc. (1903).

iii. The same (1904).

This edition has been reprinted several times.


This is Volume II. of an edition of the Works of Oscar Wilde, in six
volumes, published by the Wiener Verlag; (Vienna,) 1906, under the
general title of "Samtliche werke in Deutsche Sprache."

Grey paper wrappers, uncut edges, 2 marks. Edition de luxe, on hand-made
paper, limited to 100 copies, bound in crimson roan, top edges crimson,
sides uncut, 6 marks.

(iv) Italian.

_Varietas_, Milan, June, 1905, to May, 1906 (Nos. 14-25). Complete
version, without preface.


16mo, Biblioteca Varia Bideri, No. 31. Price 2 lire.

iii. IL RITRATTO DI DORIANO GRAY. Romanzo. Publicato par la Ditta Remo
Sandron. Palermo, 1907.

16mo. Pp. 262. Price 1 lira.

(v) Polish.

Wydanie "Przeglada Tygodniowy." Warszawa. 1906.

8vo. Pp. 327. Cena 1 rb.

(vi) Russian.

XIX. i. PORTRET DORIANA GREYA./ perevod S.Z. Izdanie W.M.
Sablina./Moskwa, 1905. 1 r. 50 c.

ii. New Edition, 1907

* XX. PORTRET DORIANA GREYA/ perevod A. Mintzlowoi Srysoonkami M.
Durnowa/Knigoizdatelstwo "Griff"/Moskwa 1906. 3 roub.

(vii) Swedish.

Engelskan. af N. Selander. Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Forlag. 1905.
Size 7-1/4 by 4-3/4 in. White wrappers (bearing etching of Wilde, by
Kelly). Pp. 307. Price 3kr.

ii. The same. Second Edition. 1905.

iii. The same. Third Edition, 1906.

NOTE.--Editions marked with an asterisk(*) contain the thirteen chapters
as originally contributed to _Lippincott's Monthly Magazine_.

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