Oscar Wilde

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Act happy, feel happy, be happy, without a reason in the world. Then you can love, and do what you will.
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We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-10-161900-11-30) was an Irish playwright, poet and author of essays and novels.


  • God knows; I won't be an Oxford don anyhow. I'll be a poet, a writer, a dramatist. Somehow or other I'll be famous, and if not famous, I'll be notorious. Or perhaps I'll lead the life of pleasure for a time and then—who knows?—rest and do nothing. What does Plato say is the highest end that man can attain here below? To sit down and contemplate the good. Perhaps that will be the end of me too.
    • Sheridan Morley, "Oscar Wilde" (George Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1976), p. 31.
    • Reply to his friend and contemporary David Hunter-Blair who asked him what his real ambition was, in about 1878.
  • Tread Lightly, she is near
    Under the snow,
    Speak gently, she can hear
    The daisies grow.
  • Lo! with a little rod
    I did but touch the honey of romance —
    And must I lose a soul's inheritance?** Helas!, l. 12-14 (1881)
  • Over the piano was printed a notice: Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.
    • Personal Impressions of America (Leadville) (1883)
  • Appearance blinds, whereas words reveal.
    • Personal Impressions of America (Leadville) (1883)
  • And down the long and silent street,
    The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
    Crept like a frightened girl.
  • Be warned in time, James, and remain, as I do, incomprehensible: to be great is to be misunderstood.
  • The honest ratepayer and his healthy family have no doubt often mocked at the dome-like forehead of the philosopher, and laughed over the strange perspective of the landscape that lies beneath him. If they really knew who he was, they would tremble. For Chuang Tsǔ spent his life in preaching the great creed of Inaction, and in pointing out the uselessness of all things.
  • Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
    • "The Relation of Dress to Art," The Pall Mall Gazette (February 28, 1885)
    • reprinted in Aristotle at Afternoon Tea:The Rare Oscar Wilde (1991)
  • A poet can survive everything but a misprint.
  • Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event.
  • A simile committing suicide is always a depressing spectacle.
  • And, after all, what is a fashion? From the artistic point of view, it is usually a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.
  • We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.
  • Art finds her own perfection within, and not outside of herself. She is not to be judged by any external standard of resemblance. She is a veil, rather than a mirror.
    • Intentions, (1891)
  • All art is immoral.
    • Intentions, (1891)
  • He is really not so ugly after all, provided, of course, that one shuts one's eyes, and does not look at him.
  • le mystère de l'amour est plus grand que le mystère de la mort.
  • The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.
  • On [George Bernard Shaw] An excellent man: he has no enemies, and none of his friends like him.
  • People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely because chickens run about so absurdly that it's impossible to count them accurately.
    • Letter from Paris, (May 1900)
  • It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.
    • The Model Millionaire, 1912.
  • Tell me, when you are alone with him [ Max Beerbohm ] Sphinx, does he take off his face and reveal his mask?
    • In a letter to Ada Leverson [Sphinx] recorded in her book Letters To The Sphinx From Oscar Wilde and Reminiscences of the Author (1930)

The Decay of Lying (1889)

  • Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
  • It is always the unreadable that occurs.
    • Vivian
  • His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning.
  • No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.
  • Art persists, it timelessly continues.

The Critic as Artist (1891)

  • Meredith is a prose Browning, and so is Browning. He used poetry as a medium for writing in prose.
    • Pt. I
  • Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.
    • Pt. I
  • Every great man nowadays has his disciples, and it is always Judas who writes his biography.
    • Pt. I / Gilbert
  • Truth, in the matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.
    • Pt. I
  • Oh! journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read.
    • Pt. I
  • I am but too conscious of the fact that we are born in an age when only the dull are treated seriously, and I live in terror of not being misunderstood.
    • Pt. I
  • The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.
    • Pt. I
  • It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection; through art and art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.
    • Pt. II
  • As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.
    • Pt. II
  • There is no sin except stupidity.
    • Pt. II
  • To be good, according to the vulgar standard of goodness, is obviously quite easy. It merely requires a certain amount of sordid terror, a certain lack of imaginative thought, and a certain low passion for middle-class respectability.
    • Pt. II

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

  • The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
    To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.
    • Preface; these sayings were originally published as a defense of his work in The Fortnightly Review (1 March 1891), and published as the work's Preface in subsequent editions.
  • The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.
    The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.
    • Preface
  • Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
    Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.
    They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
    • Preface
  • There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
    • Preface
  • The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.
    The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.
    • Preface
  • The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.
    • Preface
  • No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.
    • Preface
  • From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.
    • Preface
  • All art is at once surface and symbol.
    Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
    Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
    It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
    Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
    • Preface
  • We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
    All art is quite useless.
    • Preface
  • All bad art is the result of good intentions.
    • Preface
  • There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
    • Ch. 1
  • Conscience and cowardice are really the same things.
    • Ch. 1
  • A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
    • Ch. 1
  • Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know.
    • Ch. 1
  • Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love; it is the faithless who know love's tragedies.
    • Ch. 1
  • When I like people immensely, I never tell their names to any one. It is like surrendering a part of them.
    • Ch. 1
  • The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it.
    • Ch. 1
  • We shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly.
    • Ch. 1
  • The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.
    • Ch. 1
  • Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.
    • Ch. 1
  • Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is far the best ending for one.
    • Ch. 1
  • Now, the value of an idea has nothing whatsoever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it. Indeed, the probabilities are that the more insincere the man is, the more purely intellectual will the idea be, as in that case it will not be coloured by either his wants, his desires, or his prejudices.
    • Ch. 1
  • Genius lasts longer than beauty.
    • Ch. 1
  • If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat.
    • Ch. 1
  • The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
    • Ch. 2
  • He knew the precise psychological moment when to say nothing.
    • Ch. 2
  • The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.
    • Ch. 2
  • It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
    • Ch. 2
  • Beauty is a form of genius - is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation.
    • Ch. 2
  • Examinations, sir, are pure humbug from beginning to end. If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him.
    • Ch. 3
  • I always like to know everything about my new friends, and nothing about my old ones.
    • Ch. 3
  • The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray…
    • Ch. 3
  • Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes.
    • Ch. 3
  • Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
    • Ch. 4
  • Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.
    • Ch. 4
  • Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly.
    • Ch. 4
  • When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one's self, and one always ends by deceiving others.
    • Ch. 4
  • People are very fond of giving away what they need most themselves.
    • Ch. 4
  • Experience was of no ethical value. It was merely the name men gave to their mistakes.
    • Ch. 4
  • The people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination. Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect - simply a confession of failure.
    • Ch. 4
  • Punctuality is the thief of time.
    • Ch. 4
  • There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.
    • Ch. 4
  • Then she paused. A rose shook in her blood and shadowed her cheeks. Quick breath parted the petals of her lips. They trembled. A southern wind of passion swept over her and stirred the dainty folds of her dress. "I love him", she said simply.
    • Ch. 5
  • Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.
    • Ch. 5
  • Her eyes caught the melody and echoed it in radiance, then closed for a moment, as though to hide their secret. When they opened, the mist of a dream had passed across them.
    • Ch. 5
  • To be in love is to surpass one's self.
    • Ch. 5
  • The basis of optimism is sheer terror.
    • Ch. 6
  • Conscience makes egotists of us all.
    • Ch. 8
  • It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.
    • Ch. 8
  • You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.
    • Ch. 8
  • Nothing makes one so vain as being told that one is a sinner.
    • Ch. 8
  • I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.
    • Ch. 9
  • When a woman marries again, it is because she detested her first husband. When a man marries again, it is because he adored his first wife. Women try their luck; men risk theirs.
    • Ch. 15
  • Women love us for our defects. If we have enough of them, they will forgive us everything, even our intellects.
    • Ch. 15
  • A man can be happy with any woman, as long as he does not love her.
    • Ch. 15
  • It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about nowadays saying things against one behind one's back that are absolutely and entirely true.
    • Ch. 15
  • Each time that one loves is the only time one has ever loved.
    • Ch. 17
  • To be popular one must be a mediocrity.
    • Ch. 17
  • To define is to limit.
    • Ch. 17
  • A woman will flirt with anybody in the world as long as other people are looking on.
    • Ch. 18
  • To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.
    • Ch. 19
  • The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.
    • Ch. 19
  • The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history.
    • Ch. 20

Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)

  • Nowadays we are all of us so hard up that the only pleasant things to pay are compliments. They're the only things we can pay.
    • Lord Darlington, Act I
  • I can resist everything except temptation.
    • Lord Darlington, Act I
  • Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.
  • Often quoted as: Life is far too important to be taken seriously.
    • Lord Darlington, Act I
  • I am the only person in the world I should like to know thoroughly.
    • Mr. Dumby, Act II
  • My experience is that as soon as people are old enough to know better, they don't know anything at all.
    • Cecil Graham, Act II
  • Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.
    • Lord Darlington, Act II
  • My own business always bores me to death. I prefer other people's.
    • Cecil Graham, Act III
  • We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
    • Lord Darlington, Act III
  • In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
    • Mr. Dumby, Act III
  • What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
    • Lord Darlington, Act III
  • Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
    • Mr. Dumby, Act III
  • I have never admitted that I am more than twenty-nine, or thirty at the most. Twenty-nine when there are pink shades, thirty when there are not.
    • Mrs. Erlynne, Act IV
  • What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us.
    • Lady Windermere, Act IV

A Few Maxims For The Instruction Of The Over-Educated (1894)

First published anonymously in the Saturday Review (17 November 1894) Full text online
  • Education is an admirable thing. But it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
  • The English are always degrading truths into facts. When a truth becomes a fact it loses all its intellectual value.
  • It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.
  • In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.
  • Friendship is far more tragic than love. It lasts longer.
  • Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious.
  • To be really mediæval one should have no body. To be really modern one should have no soul. To be really Greek one should have no clothes.
  • Even the disciple has his uses. He stands behind one's throne, and at the moment of one's triumph whispers in one's ear that, after all, one is immortal.
  • Those whom the gods love grow young.

Phrases and Philosophies for the use of the Young (1894)

First published in the Oxford student magazine The Chameleon (December 1894) Full text online
  • Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.
  • Religions die when they are proved to be true. Science is the record of dead religions.
  • If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.
  • Only the shallow know themselves.
  • In examinations the foolish ask questions that the wise cannot answer.
  • The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.
  • To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.

A Woman of No Importance (1893)

  • Mrs. Allonby: They say, Lady Hunstanton, that when good Americans die they go to Paris.
    Lady Hunstanton: Indeed? And when bad Americans die, where do they go to?
    Lord Illingworth: Oh, they go to America.
    • Act I
  • The youth of America is their oldest tradition. It has been going on now for three hundred years.
    • Act I
  • The English country gentleman galloping after a fox—the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.
    • Act I
  • Kelvil: May I ask, Lord Illingworth, if you regard the House of Lords as a better institution than the House of Commons?
    Lord Illingworth: A much better institution of course. We in the House of Lords are never in touch with public opinion. That makes us a civilised body.
    • Act I
  • Lord Illingworth: The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden.
    Mrs. Allonby: It ends with Revelations.
    • Act I
  • Now-a-days it is only the unreadable that occurs.
    • Act I
  • Lord Illingworth: I am always astonishing myself. It is the only thing that makes life worth living.
    • Act III
  • Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.
    • Act III
  • I suppose society is wonderfully delightful. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy.
    • Act III
  • The growing influence of women is the one reassuring thing in our political life.
    • Act III
  • Mrs. Arbuthnot: [quoting Lord Illingworth from the first act] Children love their parents. Eventually they come to judge them. Rarely do they forgive them.
    • Act III

The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

  • Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?
    • Algernon, Act I
  • Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her if she is pretty and to someone else if she is plain.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • Ah! That must be Aunt Augusta. Only relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnerian manner.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant as the case may be.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!
    • Algernon, Act I
      • Often quoted as "The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple."
  • I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • In married life, three is company, and two is none.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • Of course the music is a great difficulty. You see, if one plays good music, people don't listen, and if one plays bad music people don't talk.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn't. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • A Handbag?!
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • Mothers, of course, are all right. They pay a chap's bills and don't bother him. But fathers bother a chap and never pay his bills.
    • Jack, Act I
  • No gentleman ever has any money.
    • Algernon, Act II
  • When a man does exactly what a woman expects him to do she doesn't think much of him. One should always do what a woman doesn't expect, just as one should say what she doesn't understand.
    • Algernon, Act II
  • I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.
    • Gwendolen, Act II
  • The home seems to me to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not?
    • Gwendolen, Act II
  • I hope you're not leading a double life, pretending to be wicked while being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.
    • Cecily, Act II
  • The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.
    • Miss Prism, Act II
  • The absence of old friends one can endure with equanimity. But even a momentary separation from anyone to whom one has just been introduced is almost unbearable.
    • Cecily, Act II
  • If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being immensely over-educated.
    • Algernon, Act II
  • Well, I can't eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One must eat muffins quite calmly, it is the only way to eat them.
    • Algernon, Act II
  • Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act III
  • To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act III
  • Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act III
  • I've now realised for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.
    • Jack, Act III

An Ideal Husband (1895)

  • Science can never grapple with the irrational. That is why it has no future before it, in this world.
    • Mrs Cheveley, Act I
  • Even you are not rich enough, Sir Robert, to buy back your past. No man is.
  • Usually quoted as: No man is rich enough to buy back his own past.
    • Mrs Cheveley, Act I
  • I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.
    • Lord Goring, Act I
  • Sooner or later we have all to pay for what we do.
    • Mrs Chevely, Act I
  • Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.
    • Mrs Chevely, Act I
  • I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.
    • Lord Goring, Act I
  • Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious.
    • Lord Goring, Act II
  • All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive. All lives, save loveless lives, true Love should pardon.
    • Sir Robert Chiltern, Act II
  • Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • The only possible society is oneself.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • However, it is always nice to be expected, and not to arrive.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • Oh, why will parents always appear at the wrong time? Some extraordinary mistake in nature, I suppose.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • No woman, plain or pretty, has any common sense at all, sir. Common sense is the privilege of our sex.
    • Lord Caversham, Act III
  • And we men are so self-sacrificing that we never use it [common sense], do we, father?
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • Fathers should be neither seen nor heard. That is the only proper basis for family life. Mothers are different. Mothers are darlings.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • My dear father, when one pays a visit it is for the purpose of wasting other people's time, not one's own.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • My dear father, if we men married the women we deserved, we should have a very bad time of it.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • I don't at all like knowing what people say of me behind my back. It makes me far too conceited.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • Now don't stir. I'll be back in five minutes. And don't fall into any temptations while I am away.
    • Miss Mabel Chiltern to Lord Goring, just after accepting his proposal, Act IV

The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1895)

  • Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.
  • A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.
  • High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
  • Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.
  • The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.
  • Charity creates a multitude of sins.
  • Closed eyes listen, afraid to see on their own. Easily influenced and simply conformed.
  • Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.
  • Now art should never try to be popular. The public should try to make itself artistic.
  • The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it.
  • In the old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)

  • I never saw a man who looked
    With such a wistful eye
    Upon that little tent of blue
    Which prisoners call the sky.
    • Pt. I, st. 3
  • When a voice behind me whispered low,
    "That fellow's got to swing."
    • Pt. I, st. 4
  • Yet each man kills the thing he loves
    By each let this be heard,
    Some do it with a bitter look,
    Some with a flattering word,
    The coward does it with a kiss,
    The brave man with a sword!
    • Pt. I, st. 7
  • It is sweet to dance to violins
    When Love and Life are fair:
    To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
    Is delicate and rare:
    But it is not sweet with nimble feet
    To dance upon the air!
    • Pt. II, st. 9
  • Something was dead in each of us,
    And what was dead was Hope.
    • Pt. III, st. 29
  • And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,
    None knew so well as I:
    For he who lives more lives than one
    More deaths than one must die.
    • Pt. III, st. 35
  • And alien tears will fill for him
    Pity's long-broken urn,
    For his mourners will be outcast men,
    And outcasts always mourn.
    • Pt. IV, st. 23 -- Wilde's epitaph
  • I know not whether Laws be right,
    Or whether Laws be wrong;
    All that we know who lie in gaol
    Is that the wall is strong;
    And that each day is like a year,
    A year whose days are long.
    • Pt. V, st. 1
  • The vilest deeds like poison weeds
    Bloom well in prison air;
    It is only what is good in man
    That wastes and withers there;
    Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate
    And the Warder is Despair.
    • Pt. V, st. 5
  • And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
    In Humanity's machine.
    • Pt. V, st. 7
  • How else but through a broken heart
    May Lord Christ enter in?
    • Pt. V, st. 14

De Profundis (1895)

  • I have said to you to speak the truth is a painful thing. To be forced to tell lies is much worse.
  • A thing is, according to the mode in which one looks at it.
  • It seems to me that we all look at Nature too much, and live with her too little.
  • The supreme vice is shallowness.
  • We are specially designed to appeal to the sense of humour.
  • We are the zanies of sorrow. We are clowns whose hearts are broken.
  • When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?
  • Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.
  • Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.


Note: A great many misquotations are attributed to Wilde. Please seek to verify the provenance of any quotations you believe should be ascribed to him. Once quote has been sourced, please remove it from this section and place it in the proper area of the "Sourced" section above.

  • The only creative thought one can have in an institution is how to get out.
  • A true friend stabs you in the front
  • Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
  • Bigamy is having a wife too many, monogamy is the same.
  • Buck up and be jolly, my dear lady! Stillbirth is a sign that God has a sense of humour!
    • Notes: It is claimed that Wilde said this upon visiting a London birthing ward and visiting with a distraught mother who had just birthed stillborn twins.
  • My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.
    • Note: Wilde said this in the Left Bank hotel in Paris where he passed away on November 30, 1900. The wallpaper has also since gone and the room re-furnished in the style of one of Wilde's London flats. See also Famous last words.
    • Sometimes misquoted as "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do."
  • I am dying as I have lived: beyond my means.
    • Note: Wilde is supposed to have said this on his deathbed, while drinking a glass of champagne.
  • I don't recognize you - I've changed a lot.
  • I have nothing to declare except my Genius.
    • This is one of Wilde's most famous sayings, which he is supposed to have said while passing through a customs checkpoint in New York. However, there is no contemporary evidence that such words were ever uttered, and the first record of them is by Arthur Ransome in his 1912 book Oscar Wilde: A Critical Study. For more see: http://www.owsoa.org/quotations1.htm
  • I have but the simplest taste - I am always satisfied with the best.
  • Illusion is the first of all pleasures.
  • In every first novel the hero is the author as Christ or Faust.
  • Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.
  • One of the requisites of sanity is to disagree with the majority of the British public.
  • Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.
  • Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
  • Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
    • Quoted by Frank Harris in Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions (1916)

About Oscar Wilde

  • An Assyrian wax statue, effeminate, but with the vitality of twenty men.
  • From the beginning Wilde performed his life and continued to do so even after fate had taken the plot out of his hands.
    • W. H. Auden, "An Improbable Life," review of The Letters of Oscar Wilde (editor, Rupert Hart-Davis) in The New Yorker, 9 March 1963.
  • What has Oscar in common with Art? except that he dines at our tables and picks from our platter the plums for the puddings he peddles in the provinces.
  • That sovereign of insufferables, Oscar Wilde has ensued with his opulence of twaddle and his penury of sense. He has mounted his hind legs and blown crass vapidities through the bowel of his neck, to the capital edification of circumjacent fools and foolesses, fooling with their foolers. He has tossed off the top of his head and uttered himself in copious overflows of ghastly bosh. The ineffable dunce has nothing to say and says it—says it with a liberal embellishment of bad delivery, embroidering it with reasonless vulgarities of attitude, gesture and attire. There never was an impostor so hateful, a blockhead so stupid, a crank so variously and offensively daft. Therefore is the she fool enamored of the feel of his tongue in her ear to tickle her understanding. The limpid and spiritless vacuity of this intellectual jelly-fish is in ludicrous contrast with the rude but robust mental activities that he came to quicken and inspire. Not only has he no thought, but no thinker. His lecture is mere vebal ditchwater—meaningingless, trite and without coherence. It lacks even the nastiness that exalts and refines his verse. Moreover, it is obviously his own; he had not even the energy and independence to steal it. And so, with a knowledge that would equip and idiot to dispute with a cast-iron dog, and eloquence to qualify him for the duties of a caller on a hog-ranche, and an imagination adequate to the conception of a tom-cat, when fired by contemplation of a fiddle-string, this consummate and star-like youth, missing everything his heaven-appointed functions and offices, wanders about, posing as a statute of himself, and, like the sun-smitten image of Memnon, emitting meaningless murmurs in the blaze of women’s eyes. He makes me tired. And this gawky gowk has the divine effrontery to link his name with those of Swinburne, Rossetti and Morris—this dunghill he-hen would fly with eagles. He dares to set his tongue to the honored name of Keats. He is the leader, quoth’a, of a renaissance in art, this man who cannot draw–of a revival of letters, this man who cannot write! This little and looniest of a brotherhood of simpletons, whom the wicked wits of London, haling him dazed from his obscurity, have crowned and crucified as King of the Cranks, has accepted the distinction in stupid good faith and our foolish people take him at his word. Mr. Wilde is pinnacled upon a dazzling eminence but the earth still trembles to the dull thunder of the kicks that set him up.
  • If, with the literate, I am
    Impelled to try an epigram,
    I never seek to take the credit;
    We all assume that Oscar said it.
  • The same lesson [of the pessimistic pleasure-seeker] was taught by the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion; but the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people. Great joy does not gather the rosebuds while it may; its eyes are fixed on the immortal rose which Dante saw.
  • The dinner table was Wilde's event and made him the greatest talker of his time…


  • Why was I born with such contemporaries?
  • I'm not young enough to know everything.

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