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Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde by Oscar Wilde

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'Yes, Death. Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown
earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to
silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time,
to forgive life, to be at peace. You can help me. You can open for
me the portals of Death's house, for Love is always with you, and
Love is stronger than Death is.'

Virginia trembled, a cold shudder ran through her, and for a few
moments there was silence. She felt as if she was in a terrible

Then the Ghost spoke again, and his voice sounded like the sighing
of the wind.

'Have you ever read the old prophecy on the library window?'

'Oh, often,' cried the little girl, looking up; 'I know it quite
well. It is painted in curious black letters, and it is difficult
to read. There are only six lines:

When a golden girl can win
Prayer from out the lips of sin,
When the barren almond bears,
And a little child gives away its tears,
Then shall all the house be still
And peace come to Canterville.

But I don't know what they mean.'

'They mean,' he said sadly, 'that you must weep for me for my sins,
because I have no tears, and pray with me for my soul, because I
have no faith, and then, if you have always been sweet, and good,
and gentle, the Angel of Death will have mercy on me. You will see
fearful shapes in darkness, and wicked voices will whisper in your
ear, but they will not harm you, for against the purity of a little
child the powers of Hell cannot prevail.'

Virginia made no answer, and the Ghost wrung his hands in wild
despair as he looked down at her bowed golden head. Suddenly she
stood up, very pale, and with a strange light in her eyes. 'I am
not afraid,' she said firmly, 'and I will ask the Angel to have
mercy on you.'

He rose from his seat with a faint cry of joy, and taking her hand
bent over it with old-fashioned grace and kissed it. His fingers
were as cold as ice, and his lips burned like fire, but Virginia did
not falter, as he led her across the dusky room. On the faded green
tapestry were broidered little huntsmen. They blew their tasselled
horns and with their tiny hands waved to her to go back. 'Go back!
little Virginia,' they cried, 'go back!' but the Ghost clutched her
hand more tightly, and she shut her eyes against them. Horrible
animals with lizard tails, and goggle eyes, blinked at her from the
carven chimney-piece, and murmured 'Beware! little Virginia, beware!
we may never see you again,' but the Ghost glided on more swiftly,
and Virginia did not listen. When they reached the end of the room
he stopped, and muttered some words she could not understand. She
opened her eyes, and saw the wall slowly fading away like a mist,
and a great black cavern in front of her. A bitter cold wind swept
round them, and she felt something pulling at her dress. 'Quick,
quick,' cried the Ghost, 'or it will be too late,' and, in a moment,
the wainscoting had closed behind them, and the Tapestry Chamber was
empty.--The Canterville Ghost


"Well," said Erskine, lighting a cigarette, "I must begin by telling
you about Cyril Graham himself. He and I were at the same house at
Eton. I was a year or two older than he was, but we were immense
friends, and did all our work and all our play together. There was,
of course, a good deal more play than work, but I cannot say that I
am sorry for that. It is always an advantage not to have received a
sound commercial education, and what I learned in the playing fields
at Eton has been quite as useful to me as anything I was taught at
Cambridge. I should tell you that Cyril's father and mother were
both dead. They had been drowned in a horrible yachting accident
off the Isle of Wight. His father had been in the diplomatic
service, and had married a daughter, the only daughter, in fact, of
old Lord Crediton, who became Cyril's guardian after the death of
his parents. I don't think that Lord Crediton cared very much for
Cyril. He had never really forgiven his daughter for marrying a man
who had not a title. He was an extraordinary old aristocrat, who
swore like a costermonger, and had the manners of a farmer. I
remember seeing him once on Speech-day. He growled at me, gave me a
sovereign, and told me not to grow up "a damned Radical" like my
father. Cyril had very little affection for him, and was only too
glad to spend most of his holidays with us in Scotland. They never
really got on together at all. Cyril thought him a bear, and he
thought Cyril effeminate. He was effeminate, I suppose, in some
things, though he was a very good rider and a capital fencer. In
fact he got the foils before he left Eton. But he was very languid
in his manner, and not a little vain of his good looks, and had a
strong objection to football. The two things that really gave him
pleasure were poetry and acting. At Eton he was always dressing up
and reciting Shakespeare, and when he went up to Trinity he became a
member of the A.D.C. his first term. I remember I was always very
jealous of his acting. I was absurdly devoted to him; I suppose
because we were so different in some things. I was a rather
awkward, weakly lad, with huge feet, and horribly freckled.
Freckles run in Scotch families just as gout does in English
families. Cyril used to say that of the two he preferred the gout;
but he always set an absurdly high value on personal appearance, and
once read a paper before our debating society to prove that it was
better to be good-looking than to be good. He certainly was
wonderfully handsome. People who did not like him, Philistines and
college tutors, and young men reading for the Church, used to say
that he was merely pretty; but there was a great deal more in his
face than mere prettiness. I think he was the most splendid
creature I ever saw, and nothing could exceed the grace of his
movements, the charm of his manner. He fascinated everybody who was
worth fascinating, and a great many people who were not. He was
often wilful and petulant, and I used to think him dreadfully
insincere. It was due, I think, chiefly to his inordinate desire to
please. Poor Cyril! I told him once that he was contented with
very cheap triumphs, but he only laughed. He was horribly spoiled.
All charming people, I fancy, are spoiled. It is the secret of
their attraction.

"However, I must tell you about Cyril's acting. You know that no
actresses are allowed to play at the A.D.C. At least they were not
in my time. I don't know how it is now. Well, of course, Cyril was
always cast for the girls' parts, and when As You Like It was
produced he played Rosalind. It was a marvellous performance. In
fact, Cyril Graham was the only perfect Rosalind I have ever seen.
It would be impossible to describe to you the beauty, the delicacy,
the refinement of the whole thing. It made an immense sensation,
and the horrid little theatre, as it was then, was crowded every
night. Even when I read the play now I can't help thinking of
Cyril. It might have been written for him. The next term he took
his degree, and came to London to read for the diplomatic. But he
never did any work. He spent his days in reading Shakespeare's
Sonnets, and his evenings at the theatre. He was, of course, wild
to go on the stage. It was all that I and Lord Crediton could do to
prevent him. Perhaps if he had gone on the stage he would be alive
now. It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good
advice is absolutely fatal. I hope you will never fall into that
error. If you do, you will be sorry for it."--The Portrait of Mr.
W. H.


Lady Windermere, before Heaven your husband is guiltless of all
offence towards you! And I--I tell you that had it ever occurred to
me that such a monstrous suspicion would have entered your mind, I
would have died rather than have crossed your life or his--oh! died,
gladly died! Believe what you choose about me. I am not worth a
moment's sorrow. But don't spoil your beautiful young life on my
account! You don't know what may be in store for you, unless you
leave this house at once. You don't know what it is to fall into
the pit, to be despised, mocked, abandoned, sneered at--to be an
outcast! to find the door shut against one, to have to creep in by
hideous byways, afraid every moment lest the mask should be stripped
from one's face, and all the while to hear the laughter, the
horrible laughter of the world, a thing more tragic than all the
tears the world has ever shed. You don't know what it is. One pays
for one's sin, and then one pays again, and all one's life one pays.
You must never know that.--As for me, if suffering be an expiation,
then at this moment I have expiated all my faults, whatever they
have been; for to-night you have made a heart in one who had it not,
made it and broken it.--But let that pass. I may have wrecked my
own life, but I will not let you wreck yours. You--why, you are a
mere girl, you would be lost. You haven't got the kind of brains
that enables a woman to get back. You have neither the wit nor the
courage. You couldn't stand dishonour! No! Go back, Lady
Windermere, to the husband who loves you, whom you love. You have a
child, Lady Windermere. Go back to that child who even now, in pain
or in joy, may be calling to you. God gave you that child. He will
require from you that you make his life fine, that you watch over
him. What answer will you make to God if his life is ruined through
you? Back to your house, Lady Windermere--your husband loves you!
He has never swerved for a moment from the love he bears you. But
even if he had a thousand loves, you must stay with your child. If
he was harsh to you, you must stay with your child. If he ill-
treated you, you must stay with your child. If he abandoned you,
your place is with your child.--Lady Windermere's Fan


Men don't understand what mothers are. I am no different from other
women except in the wrong done me and the wrong I did, and my very
heavy punishments and great disgrace. And yet, to bear you I had to
look on death. To nurture you I had to wrestle with it. Death
fought with me for you. All women have to fight with death to keep
their children. Death, being childless, wants our children from us.
Gerald, when you were naked I clothed you, when you were hungry I
gave you food. Night and day all that long winter I tended you. No
office is too mean, no care too lowly for the thing we women love--
and oh! how I loved YOU. Not Hannah, Samuel more. And you needed
love, for you were weakly, and only love could have kept you alive.
Only love can keep any one alive. And boys are careless often and
without thinking give pain, and we always fancy that when they come
to man's estate and know us better they will repay us. But it is
not so. The world draws them from our side, and they make friends
with whom they are happier than they are with us, and have
amusements from which we are barred, and interests that are not
ours: and they are unjust to us often, for when they find life
bitter they blame us for it, and when they find it sweet we do not
taste its sweetness with them . . . You made many friends and went
into their houses and were glad with them, and I, knowing my secret,
did not dare to follow, but stayed at home and closed the door, shut
out the sun and sat in darkness. What should I have done in honest
households? My past was ever with me. . . . And you thought I
didn't care for the pleasant things of life. I tell you I longed
for them, but did not dare to touch them, feeling I had no right.
You thought I was happier working amongst the poor. That was my
mission, you imagined. It was not, but where else was I to go? The
sick do not ask if the hand that smooths their pillow is pure, nor
the dying care if the lips that touch their brow have known the kiss
of sin. It was you I thought of all the time; I gave to them the
love you did not need: lavished on them a love that was not theirs
. . . And you thought I spent too much of my time in going to
Church, and in Church duties. But where else could I turn? God's
house is the only house where sinners are made welcome, and you were
always in my heart, Gerald, too much in my heart. For, though day
after day, at morn or evensong, I have knelt in God's house, I have
never repented of my sin. How could I repent of my sin when you, my
love, were its fruit! Even now that you are bitter to me I cannot
repent. I do not. You are more to me than innocence. I would
rather be your mother--oh! much rather!--than have been always pure
. . . Oh, don't you see? don't you understand? It is my dishonour
that has made you so dear to me. It is my disgrace that has bound
you so closely to me. It is the price I paid for you--the price of
soul and body--that makes me love you as I do. Oh, don't ask me to
do this horrible thing. Child of my shame, be still the child of my
shame!--A Woman of No Importance


Why can't you women love us, faults and all? Why do you place us on
monstrous pedestals? We have all feet of clay, women as well as
men; but when we men love women, we love them knowing their
weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections, love them all the
more, it may be, for that reason. It is not the perfect, but the
imperfect, who have need of love. It is when we are wounded by our
own hands, or by the hands of others, that love should come to cure
us--else what use is love at all? All sins, except a sin against
itself, Love should forgive. All lives, save loveless lives, true
Love should pardon. A man's love is like that. It is wider,
larger, more human than a woman's. Women think that they are making
ideals of men. What they are making of us are false idols merely.
You made your false idol of me, and I had not the courage to come
down, show you my wounds, tell you my weaknesses. I was afraid that
I might lose your love, as I have lost it now. And so, last night
you ruined my life for me--yes, ruined it! What this woman asked of
me was nothing compared to what she offered to me. She offered
security, peace, stability. The sin of my youth, that I had thought
was buried, rose up in front of me, hideous, horrible, with its
hands at my throat. I could have killed it for ever, sent it back
into its tomb, destroyed its record, burned the one witness against
me. You prevented me. No one but you, you know it. And now what
is there before me but public disgrace, ruin, terrible shame, the
mockery of the world, a lonely dishonoured life, a lonely
dishonoured death, it may be, some day? Let women make no more
ideals of men! let them not put them on alters and bow before them,
or they may ruin other lives as completely as you--you whom I have
so wildly loved--have ruined mine!--An Ideal Husband


Nations may not have missions but they certainly have functions.
And the function of ancient Italy was not merely to give us what is
statical in our institutions and rational in our law, but to blend
into one elemental creed the spiritual aspirations of Aryan and of
Semite. Italy was not a pioneer in intellectual progress, nor a
motive power in the evolution of thought. The owl of the goddess of
Wisdom traversed over the whole land and found nowhere a resting-
place. The dove, which is the bird of Christ, flew straight to the
city of Rome and the new reign began. It was the fashion of early
Italian painters to represent in mediaeval costume the soldiers who
watched over the tomb of Christ, and this, which was the result of
the frank anachronism of all true art, may serve to us as an
allegory. For it was in vain that the Middle Ages strove to guard
the buried spirit of progress. When the dawn of the Greek spirit
arose, the sepulchre was empty, the grave-clothes laid aside.
Humanity had risen from the dead.

The study of Greek, it has been well said, implies the birth of
criticism, comparison and research. At the opening of that
education of modern by ancient thought which we call the
Renaissance, it was the words of Aristotle which sent Columbus
sailing to the New World, while a fragment of Pythagorean astronomy
set Copernicus thinking on that train of reasoning which has
revolutionised the whole position of our planet in the universe.
Then it was seen that the only meaning of progress is a return to
Greek modes of thought. The monkish hymns which obscured the pages
of Greek manuscripts were blotted out, the splendours of a new
method were unfolded to the world, and out of the melancholy sea of
mediaevalism rose the free spirit of man in all that splendour of
glad adolescence, when the bodily powers seem quickened by a new
vitality, when the eye sees more clearly than its wont and the mind
apprehends what was beforetime hidden from it. To herald the
opening of the sixteenth century, from the little Venetian printing
press came forth all the great authors of antiquity, each bearing on
the title-page the words [Greek text which cannot be reproduced];
words which may serve to remind us with what wondrous prescience
Polybius saw the world's fate when he foretold the material
sovereignty of Roman institutions and exemplified in himself the
intellectual empire of Greece.

The course of the study of the spirit of historical criticism has
not been a profitless investigation into modes and forms of thought
now antiquated and of no account. The only spirit which is entirely
removed from us is the mediaeval; the Greek spirit is essentially
modern. The introduction of the comparative method of research
which has forced history to disclose its secrets belongs in a
measure to us. Ours, too, is a more scientific knowledge of
philology and the method of survival. Nor did the ancients know
anything of the doctrine of averages or of crucial instances, both
of which methods have proved of such importance in modern criticism,
the one adding a most important proof of the statical elements of
history, and exemplifying the influences of all physical
surroundings on the life of man; the other, as in the single
instance of the Moulin Quignon skull, serving to create a whole new
science of prehistoric archaeology and to bring us back to a time
when man was coeval with the stone age, the mammoth and the woolly
rhinoceros. But, except these, we have added no new canon or method
to the science of historical criticism. Across the drear waste of a
thousand years the Greek and the modern spirit join hands.

In the torch race which the Greek boys ran from the Cerameician
field of death to the home of the goddess of Wisdom, not merely he
who first reached the goal but he also who first started with the
torch aflame received a prize. In the Lampadephoria of civilisation
and free thought let us not forget to render due meed of honour to
those who first lit that sacred flame, the increasing splendour of
which lights our footsteps to the far-off divine event of the
attainment of perfect truth.--The Rise of Historical Criticism


There are two kinds of men in the world, two great creeds, two
different forms of natures: men to whom the end of life is action,
and men to whom the end of life is thought. As regards the latter,
who seek for experience itself and not for the fruits of experience,
who must burn always with one of the passions of this fiery-coloured
world, who find life interesting not for its secret but for its
situations, for its pulsations and not for its purpose; the passion
for beauty engendered by the decorative arts will be to them more
satisfying than any political or religious enthusiasm, any
enthusiasm for humanity, any ecstasy or sorrow for love. For art
comes to one professing primarily to give nothing but the highest
quality to one's moments, and for those moments' sake. So far for
those to whom the end of life is thought. As regards the others,
who hold that life is inseparable from labour, to them should this
movement be specially dear: for, if our days are barren without
industry, industry without art is barbarism.

Hewers of wood and drawers of water there must be always indeed
among us. Our modern machinery has not much lightened the labour of
man after all: but at least let the pitcher that stands by the well
be beautiful and surely the labour of the day will be lightened:
let the wood be made receptive of some lovely form, some gracious
design, and there will come no longer discontent but joy to the
toiler. For what is decoration but the worker's expression of joy
in his work? And not joy merely--that is a great thing yet not
enough--but that opportunity of expressing his own individuality
which, as it is the essence of all life, is the source of all art.
'I have tried,' I remember William Morris saying to me once, 'I have
tried to make each of my workers an artist, and when I say an artist
I mean a man.' For the worker then, handicraftsman of whatever kind
he is, art is no longer to be a purple robe woven by a slave and
thrown over the whitened body of a leprous king to hide and to adorn
the sin of his luxury, but rather the beautiful and noble expression
of a life that has in it something beautiful and noble.--The English
Renaissance of Art


ONE evening there came into his soul the desire to fashion an image
of The Pleasure that abideth for a Moment. And he went forth into
the world to look for bronze. For he could think only in bronze.

But all the bronze of the whole world had disappeared, nor anywhere
in the whole world was there any bronze to be found, save only the
bronze of the image of The Sorrow that endureth for Ever.

Now this image he had himself, and with his own hands, fashioned,
and had set it on the tomb of the one thing he had loved in life.
On the tomb of the dead thing he had most loved had he set this
image of his own fashioning, that it might serve as a sign of the
love of man that dieth not, and a symbol of the sorrow of man that
endureth for ever. And in the whole world there was no other bronze
save the bronze of this image.

And he took the image he had fashioned, and set it in a great
furnace, and gave it to the fire.

And out of the bronze of the image of The Sorrow that endureth for
Ever he fashioned an image of The Pleasure that abideth for a
Moment.--Poems in Prose


It was night-time and He was alone.

And He saw afar-off the walls of a round city and went towards the

And when He came near He heard within the city the tread of the feet
of joy, and the laughter of the mouth of gladness and the loud noise
of many lutes. And He knocked at the gate and certain of the gate-
keepers opened to Him.

And He beheld a house that was of marble and had fair pillars of
marble before it. The pillars were hung with garlands, and within
and without there were torches of cedar. And He entered the house.

And when He had passed through the hall of chalcedony and the hall
of jasper, and reached the long hall of feasting, He saw lying on a
couch of sea-purple one whose hair was crowned with red roses and
whose lips were red with wine.

And He went behind him and touched him on the shoulder and said to
him, 'Why do you live like this?'

And the young man turned round and recognised Him, and made answer
and said, 'But I was a leper once, and you healed me. How else
should I live?'

And He passed out of the house and went again into the street.

And after a little while He saw one whose face and raiment were
painted and whose feet were shod with pearls. And behind her came,
slowly as a hunter, a young man who wore a cloak of two colours.
Now the face of the woman was as the fair face of an idol, and the
eyes of the young man were bright with lust.

And He followed swiftly and touched the hand of the young man and
said to him, 'Why do you look at this woman and in such wise?'

And the young man turned round and recognised Him and said, 'But I
was blind once, and you gave me sight. At what else should I look?'

And He ran forward and touched the painted raiment of the woman and
said to her, 'Is there no other way in which to walk save the way of

And the woman turned round and recognised Him, and laughed and said,
'But you forgave me my sins, and the way is a pleasant way.'

And He passed out of the city.

And when He had passed out of the city He saw seated by the roadside
a young man who was weeping.

And He went towards him and touched the long locks of his hair and
said to him, 'Why are you weeping?'

And the young man looked up and recognised Him and made answer, 'But
I was dead once, and you raised me from the dead. What else should
I do but weep?'--Poems in Prose


When Narcissus died the pool of his pleasure changed from a cup of
sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, and the Oreads came weeping
through the woodland that they might sing to the pool and give it

And when they saw that the pool had changed from a cup of sweet
waters into a cup of salt tears, they loosened the green tresses of
their hair and cried to the pool and said, 'We do not wonder that
you should mourn in this manner for Narcissus, so beautiful was he.'

'But was Narcissus beautiful?' said the pool.

'Who should know that better than you?' answered the Oreads. 'Us
did he ever pass by, but you he sought for, and would lie on your
banks and look down at you, and in the mirror of your waters he
would mirror his own beauty.'

And the pool answered, 'But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on
my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever
my own beauty mirrored.'--Poems in Prose


Now when the darkness came over the earth Joseph of Arimathea,
having lighted a torch of pinewood, passed down from the hill into
the valley. For he had business in his own home.

And kneeling on the flint stones of the Valley of Desolation he saw
a young man who was naked and weeping. His hair was the colour of
honey, and his body was as a white flower, but he had wounded his
body with thorns and on his hair had he set ashes as a crown.

And he who had great possessions said to the young man who was naked
and weeping, 'I do not wonder that your sorrow is so great, for
surely He was a just man.'

And the young man answered, 'It is not for Him that I am weeping,
but for myself. I too have changed water into wine, and I have
healed the leper and given sight to the blind. I have walked upon
the waters, and from the dwellers in the tombs I have cast out
devils. I have fed the hungry in the desert where there was no
food, and I have raised the dead from their narrow houses, and at my
bidding, and before a great multitude, of people, a barren fig-tree
withered away. All things that this man has done I have done also.
And yet they have not crucified me.'--Poems in Prose


And there was silence in the House of Judgment, and the Man came
naked before God.

And God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

And God said to the Man, 'Thy life hath been evil, and thou hast
shown cruelty to those who were in need of succour, and to those who
lacked help thou hast been bitter and hard of heart. The poor
called to thee and thou didst not hearken, and thine ears were
closed to the cry of My afflicted. The inheritance of the
fatherless thou didst take unto thyself, and thou didst send the
foxes into the vineyard of thy neighbour's field. Thou didst take
the bread of the children and give it to the dogs to eat, and My
lepers who lived in the marshes, and were at peace and praised Me,
thou didst drive forth on to the highways, and on Mine earth out of
which I made thee thou didst spill innocent blood.'

And the Man made answer and said, 'Even so did I.'

And again God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

And God said to the Man, 'Thy life hath been evil, and the Beauty I
have shown thou hast sought for, and the Good I have hidden thou
didst pass by. The walls of thy chamber were painted with images,
and from the bed of thine abominations thou didst rise up to the
sound of flutes. Thou didst build seven altars to the sins I have
suffered, and didst eat of the thing that may not be eaten, and the
purple of thy raiment was broidered with the three signs of shame.
Thine idols were neither of gold nor of silver that endure, but of
flesh that dieth. Thou didst stain their hair with perfumes and put
pomegranates in their hands. Thou didst stain their feet with
saffron and spread carpets before them. With antimony thou didst
stain their eyelids and their bodies thou didst smear with myrrh.
Thou didst bow thyself to the ground before them, and the thrones of
thine idols were set in the sun. Thou didst show to the sun thy
shame and to the moon thy madness.'

And the Man made answer and said, 'Even so did I.'

And a third time God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

And God said to the Man, 'Evil hath been thy life, and with evil
didst thou requite good, and with wrongdoing kindness. The hands
that fed thee thou didst wound, and the breasts that gave thee suck
thou didst despise. He who came to thee with water went away
thirsting, and the outlawed men who hid thee in their tents at night
thou didst betray before dawn. Thine enemy who spared thee thou
didst snare in an ambush, and the friend who walked with thee thou
didst sell for a price, and to those who brought thee Love thou
didst ever give Lust in thy turn.'

And the Man made answer and said, 'Even so did I.'

And God closed the Book of the Life of the Man, and said, 'Surely I
will send thee into Hell. Even into Hell will I send thee.'

And the Man cried out, 'Thou canst not.'

And God said to the Man, 'Wherefore can I not send thee to Hell, and
for what reason?'

'Because in Hell have I always lived,' answered the Man.

And there was silence in the House of Judgment.

And after a space God spake, and said to the Man, 'Seeing that I may
not send thee into Hell, surely I will send thee unto Heaven. Even
unto Heaven will I send thee.'

And the Man cried out, 'Thou canst not.'

And God said to the Man, 'Wherefore can I not send thee unto Heaven,
and for what reason?'

'Because never, and in no place, have I been able to imagine it,'
answered the Man.

And there was silence in the House of Judgment.--Poems in Prose


From his childhood he had been as one filled with the perfect
knowledge of God, and even while he was yet but a lad many of the
saints, as well as certain holy women who dwelt in the free city of
his birth, had been stirred to much wonder by the grave wisdom of
his answers.

And when his parents had given him the robe and the ring of manhood
he kissed them, and left them and went out into the world, that he
might speak to the world about God. For there were at that time
many in the world who either knew not God at all, or had but an
incomplete knowledge of Him, or worshipped the false gods who dwell
in groves and have no care of their worshippers.

And he set his face to the sun and journeyed, walking without
sandals, as he had seen the saints walk, and carrying at his girdle
a leathern wallet and a little water-bottle of burnt clay.

And as he walked along the highway he was full of the joy that comes
from the perfect knowledge of God, and he sang praises unto God
without ceasing; and after a time he reached a strange land in which
there were many cities.

And he passed through eleven cities. And some of these cities were
in valleys, and others were by the banks of great rivers, and others
were set on hills. And in each city he found a disciple who loved
him and followed him, and a great multitude also of people followed
him from each city, and the knowledge of God spread in the whole
land, and many of the rulers were converted, and the priests of the
temples in which there were idols found that half of their gain was
gone, and when they beat upon their drums at noon none, or but a
few, came with peacocks and with offerings of flesh as had been the
custom of the land before his coming.

Yet the more the people followed him, and the greater the number of
his disciples, the greater became his sorrow. And he knew not why
his sorrow was so great. For he spake ever about God, and out of
the fulness of that perfect knowledge of God which God had Himself
given to him.

And one evening he passed out of the eleventh city, which was a city
of Armenia, and his disciples and a great crowd of people followed
after him; and he went up on to a mountain and sat down on a rock
that was on the mountain, and his disciples stood round him, and the
multitude knelt in the valley.

And he bowed his head on his hands and wept, and said to his Soul,
'Why is it that I am full of sorrow and fear, and that each of my
disciples is an enemy that walks in the noonday?' And his Soul
answered him and said, 'God filled thee with the perfect knowledge
of Himself, and thou hast given this knowledge away to others. The
pearl of great price thou hast divided, and the vesture without seam
thou hast parted asunder. He who giveth away wisdom robbeth
himself. He is as one who giveth his treasure to a robber. Is not
God wiser than thou art? Who art thou to give away the secret that
God hath told thee? I was rich once, and thou hast made me poor.
Once I saw God, and now thou hast hidden Him from me.'

And he wept again, for he knew that his Soul spake truth to him, and
that he had given to others the perfect knowledge of God, and that
he was as one clinging to the skirts of God, and that his faith was
leaving him by reason of the number of those who believed in him.

And he said to himself, 'I will talk no more about God. He who
giveth away wisdom robbeth himself.'

And after the space of some hours his disciples came near him and
bowed themselves to the ground and said, 'Master, talk to us about
God, for thou hast the perfect knowledge of God, and no man save
thee hath this knowledge.'

And he answered them and said, 'I will talk to you about all other
things that are in heaven and on earth, but about God I will not
talk to you. Neither now, nor at any time, will I talk to you about

And they were wroth with him and said to him, 'Thou hast led us into
the desert that we might hearken to thee. Wilt thou send us away
hungry, and the great multitude that thou hast made to follow thee?'

And he answered them and said, 'I will not talk to you about God.'

And the multitude murmured against him and said to him, 'Thou hast
led us into the desert, and hast given us no food to eat. Talk to
us about God and it will suffice us.'

But he answered them not a word. For he knew that if he spake to
them about God he would give away his treasure.

And his disciples went away sadly, and the multitude of people
returned to their own homes. And many died on the way.

And when he was alone he rose up and set his face to the moon, and
journeyed for seven moons, speaking to no man nor making any answer.
And when the seventh moon had waned he reached that desert which is
the desert of the Great River. And having found a cavern in which a
Centaur had once dwelt, he took it for his place of dwelling, and
made himself a mat of reeds on which to lie, and became a hermit.
And every hour the Hermit praised God that He had suffered him to
keep some knowledge of Him and of His wonderful greatness.

Now, one evening, as the Hermit was seated before the cavern in
which he had made his place of dwelling, he beheld a young man of
evil and beautiful face who passed by in mean apparel and with empty
hands. Every evening with empty hands the young man passed by, and
every morning he returned with his hands full of purple and pearls.
For he was a Robber and robbed the caravans of the merchants.

And the Hermit looked at him and pitied him. But he spake not a
word. For he knew that he who speaks a word loses his faith.

And one morning, as the young man returned with his hands full of
purple and pearls, he stopped and frowned and stamped his foot upon
the sand, and said to the Hermit: 'Why do you look at me ever in
this manner as I pass by? What is it that I see in your eyes? For
no man has looked at me before in this manner. And the thing is a
thorn and a trouble to me.'

And the Hermit answered him and said, 'What you see in my eyes is
pity. Pity is what looks out at you from my eyes.'

And the young man laughed with scorn, and cried to the Hermit in a
bitter voice, and said to him, 'I have purple and pearls in my
hands, and you have but a mat of reeds on which to lie. What pity
should you have for me? And for what reason have you this pity?'

'I have pity for you,' said the Hermit, 'because you have no
knowledge of God.'

'Is this knowledge of God a precious thing?' asked the young man,
and he came close to the mouth of the cavern.

'It is more precious than all the purple and the pearls of the
world,' answered the Hermit.

'And have you got it?' said the young Robber, and he came closer

'Once, indeed,' answered the Hermit, 'I possessed the perfect
knowledge of God. But in my foolishness I parted with it, and
divided it amongst others. Yet even now is such knowledge as
remains to me more precious than purple or pearls.'

And when the young Robber heard this he threw away the purple and
the pearls that he was bearing in his hands, and drawing a sharp
sword of curved steel he said to the Hermit, 'Give me, forthwith
this knowledge of God that you possess, or I will surely slay you.
Wherefore should I not slay him who has a treasure greater than my

And the Hermit spread out his arms and said, 'Were it not better for
me to go unto the uttermost courts of God and praise Him, than to
live in the world and have no knowledge of Him? Slay me if that be
your desire. But I will not give away my knowledge of God.'

And the young Robber knelt down and besought him, but the Hermit
would not talk to him about God, nor give him his Treasure, and the
young Robber rose up and said to the Hermit, 'Be it as you will. As
for myself, I will go to the City of the Seven Sins, that is but
three days' journey from this place, and for my purple they will
give me pleasure, and for my pearls they will sell me joy.' And he
took up the purple and the pearls and went swiftly away.

And the Hermit cried out and followed him and besought him. For the
space of three days he followed the young Robber on the road and
entreated him to return, nor to enter into the City of the Seven

And ever and anon the young Robber looked back at the Hermit and
called to him, and said, 'Will you give me this knowledge of God
which is more precious than purple and pearls? If you will give me
that, I will not enter the city.'

And ever did the Hermit answer, 'All things that I have I will give
thee, save that one thing only. For that thing it is not lawful for
me to give away.'

And in the twilight of the third day they came nigh to the great
scarlet gates of the City of the Seven Sins. And from the city
there came the sound of much laughter.

And the young Robber laughed in answer, and sought to knock at the
gate. And as he did so the Hermit ran forward and caught him by the
skirts of his raiment, and said to him: 'Stretch forth your hands,
and set your arms around my neck, and put your ear close to my lips,
and I will give you what remains to me of the knowledge of God.'
And the young Robber stopped.

And when the Hermit had given away his knowledge of God, he fell
upon the ground and wept, and a great darkness hid from him the city
and the young Robber, so that he saw them no more.

And as he lay there weeping he was ware of One who was standing
beside him; and He who was standing beside him had feet of brass and
hair like fine wool. And He raised the Hermit up, and said to him:
'Before this time thou hadst the perfect knowledge of God. Now thou
shalt have the perfect love of God. Wherefore art thou weeping?'
And he kissed him.--Poems in Prose


April 1st, 1897.

My Dear Robbie,--I send you a MS. separate from this, which I hope
will arrive safely. As soon as you have read it, I want you to have
it carefully copied for me. There are many causes why I wish this
to be done. One will suffice. I want you to be my literary
executor in case of my death, and to have complete control of my
plays, books, and papers. As soon as I find I have a legal right to
make a will, I will do so. My wife does not understand my art, nor
could be expected to have any interest in it, and Cyril is only a
child. So I turn naturally to you, as indeed I do for everything,
and would like you to have all my works. The deficit that their
sale will produce may be lodged to the credit of Cyril and Vivian.
Well, if you are my literary executor, you must be in possession of
the only document that gives any explanation of my extraordinary
behaviour . . . When you have read the letter, you will see the
psychological explanation of a course of conduct that from the
outside seems a combination of absolute idiotcy with vulgar bravado.
Some day the truth will have to be known--not necessarily in my
lifetime . . . but I am not prepared to sit in the grotesque pillory
they put me into, for all time; for the simple reason that I
inherited from my father and mother a name of high distinction in
literature and art, and I cannot for eternity allow that name to be
degraded. I don't defend my conduct. I explain it. Also there are
in my letter certain passages which deal with my mental development
in prison, and the inevitable evolution of my character and
intellectual attitude towards life that has taken place: and I want
you and others who still stand by me and have affection for me to
know exactly in what mood and manner I hope to face the world. Of
course from one point of view I know that on the day of my release I
shall be merely passing from one prison into another, and there are
times when the whole world seems to me no larger than my cell and as
full of terror for me. Still I believe that at the beginning God
made a world for each separate man, and in that world which is
within us we should seek to live. At any rate you will read those
parts of my letter with less pain than the others. Of course I need
not remind you how fluid a thing thought is with me--with us all--
and of what an evanescent substance are our emotions made. Still I
do see a sort of possible goal towards which, through art, I may
progress. It is not unlikely that you may help me.

As regards the mode of copying: of course it is too long for any
amanuensis to attempt: and your own handwriting, dear Robbie, in
your last letter seems specially designed to remind me that the task
is not to be yours. I think that the only thing to do is to be
thoroughly modern and to have it typewritten. Of course the MS.
should not pass out of your control, but could you not get Mrs.
Marshall to send down one of her type-writing girls--women are the
most reliable as they have no memory for the important--to Hornton
Street or Phillimore Gardens, to do it under your supervision? I
assure you that the typewriting machine, when played with
expression, is not more annoying than the piano when played by a
sister or near relation. Indeed many among those most devoted to
domesticity prefer it. I wish the copy to be done not on tissue
paper but on good paper such as is used for plays, and a wide
rubricated margin should be left for corrections . . . If the copy
is done at Hornton Street the lady typewriter might be fed through a
lattice in the door, like the Cardinals when they elect a Pope; till
she comes out on the balcony and can say to the world: "Habet
Mundus Epistolam"; for indeed it is an Encyclical letter, and as the
Bulls of the Holy Father are named from their opening words, it may
be spoken of as the "Epistola: in Carcere et Vinculis." . . . In
point of fact, Robbie, prison life makes one see people and things
as they really are. That is why it turns one to stone. It is the
people outside who are deceived by the illusions of a life in
constant motion. They revolve with life and contribute to its
unreality. We who are immobile both see and know. Whether or not
the letter does good to narrow natures and hectic brains, to me it
has done good. I have "cleansed my bosom of much perilous stuff";
to borrow a phrase from the poet whom you and I once thought of
rescuing from the Philistines. I need not remind you that mere
expression is to an artist the supreme and only mode of life. It is
by utterance that we live. Of the many, many things for which I
have to thank the Governor there is none for which I am more
grateful than for his permission to write fully and at as great a
length as I desire. For nearly two years I had within a growing
burden of bitterness, of much of which I have now got rid. On the
other side of the prison wall there are some poor black soot-
besmirched trees that are just breaking out into buds of an almost
shrill green. I know quite well what they are going through. They
are finding expression.

Ever yours,


- Letter from Reading Prison to Robert Ross.


Where there is sorrow there in holy ground. Some day people will
realise what that means. They will know nothing of life till they
do,--and natures like his can realise it. When I was brought down
from my prison to the Court of Bankruptcy, between two policemen,--
waited in the long dreary corridor that, before the whole crowd,
whom an action so sweet and simple hushed into silence, he might
gravely raise his hat to me, as, handcuffed and with bowed head, I
passed him by. Men have gone to heaven for smaller things than
that. It was in this spirit, and with this mode of love, that the
saints knelt down to wash the feet of the poor, or stooped to kiss
the leper on the cheek. I have never said one single word to him
about what he did. I do not know to the present moment whether he
is aware that I was even conscious of his action. It is not a thing
for which one can render formal thanks in formal words. I store it
in the treasure-house of my heart. I keep it there as a secret debt
that I am glad to think I can never possibly repay. It is embalmed
and kept sweet by the myrrh and cassia of many tears. When wisdom
has been profitless to me, philosophy barren, and the proverbs and
phrases of those who have sought to give me consolation as dust and
ashes in my mouth, the memory of that little, lovely, silent act of
love has unsealed for me all the wells of pity: made the desert
blossom like a rose, and brought me out of the bitterness of lonely
exile into harmony with the wounded, broken, and great heart of the
world. When people are able to understand, not merely how beautiful
-'s action was, but why it meant so much to me, and always will mean
so much, then, perhaps, they will realise how and in what spirit
they should approach me. . . .

The poor are wise, more charitable, more kind, more sensitive than
we are. In their eyes prison is a tragedy in a man's life, a
misfortune, a casuality, something that calls for sympathy in
others. They speak of one who is in prison as of one who is 'in
trouble' simply. It is the phrase they always use, and the
expression has the perfect wisdom of love in it. With people of our
own rank it is different. With us, prison makes a man a pariah. I,
and such as I am, have hardly any right to air and sun. Our
presence taints the pleasures of others. We are unwelcome when we
reappear. To revisit the glimpses of the moon is not for us. Our
very children are taken away. Those lovely links with humanity are
broken. We are doomed to be solitary, while our sons still live.
We are denied the one thing that might heal us and keep us, that
might bring balm to the bruised heart, and peace to the soul in
pain.--De Profundis


Sorrow, being the supreme emotion of which man is capable, is at
once the type and test of all great art. What the artist is always
looking for is the mode of existence in which soul and body are one
and indivisible: in which the outward is expressive of the inward:
in which form reveals. Of such modes of existence there are not a
few: youth and the arts preoccupied with youth may serve as a model
for us at one moment: at another we may like to think that, in its
subtlety and sensitiveness of impression, its suggestion of a spirit
dwelling in external things and making its raiment of earth and air,
of mist and city alike, and in its morbid sympathy of its moods, and
tones, and colours, modern landscape art is realising for us
pictorially what was realised in such plastic perfection by the
Greeks. Music, in which all subject is absorbed in expression and
cannot be separated from it, is a complex example, and a flower or a
child a simple example, of what I mean; but sorrow is the ultimate
type both in life and art.

Behind joy and laughter there may be a temperament, coarse, hard and
callous. But behind sorrow there is always sorrow. Pain, unlike
pleasure, wears no mask. Truth in art is not any correspondence
between the essential idea and the accidental existence; it is not
the resemblance of shape to shadow, or of the form mirrored in the
crystal to the form itself; it is no echo coming from a hollow hill,
any more than it is a silver well of water in the valley that shows
the moon to the moon and Narcissus to Narcissus. Truth in art is
the unity of a thing with itself: the outward rendered expressive
of the inward: the soul made incarnate: the body instinct with
spirit. For this reason there is no truth comparable to sorrow.
There are times when sorrow seems to me to be the only truth. Other
things may be illusions of the eye or the appetite, made to blind
the one and cloy the other, but out of sorrow have the worlds been
built, and at the birth of a child or a star there is pain.

More than this, there is about sorrow an intense, an extraordinary
reality. I have said of myself that I was one who stood in symbolic
relations to the art and culture of my age. There is not a single
wretched man in this wretched place along with me who does not stand
in symbolic relation to the very secret of life. For the secret of
life is suffering. It is what is hidden behind everything. When we
begin to live, what is sweet is so sweet to us, and what is bitter
so bitter, that we inevitably direct all our desires towards
pleasures, and seek not merely for a 'month or twain to feed on
honeycomb,' but for all our years to taste no other food, ignorant
all the while that we may really be starving the soul.--De Profundis


Far off, like a perfect pearl, one can see the city of God. It is
so wonderful that it seems as if a child could reach it in a
summer's day. And so a child could. But with me and such as me it
is different. One can realise a thing in a single moment, but one
loses it in the long hours that follow with leaden feet. It is so
difficult to keep 'heights that the soul is competent to gain.' We
think in eternity, but we move slowly through time; and how slowly
time goes with us who lie in prison I need not tell again, nor of
the weariness and despair that creep back into one's cell, and into
the cell of one's heart, with such strange insistence that one has,
as it were, to garnish and sweep one's house for their coming, as
for an unwelcome guest, or a bitter master, or a slave whose slave
it is one's chance or choice to be.

And, though at present my friends may find it a hard thing to
believe, it is true none the less, that for them living in freedom
and idleness and comfort it is more easy to learn the lessons of
humility than it is for me, who begin the day by going down on my
knees and washing the floor of my cell. For prison life with its
endless privations and restrictions makes one rebellious. The most
terrible thing about it is not that it breaks one's heart--hearts
are made to be broken--but that it turns one's heart to stone. One
sometimes feels that it is only with a front of brass and a lip of
scorn that one can get through the day at all. And he who is in a
state of rebellion cannot receive grace, to use the phrase of which
the Church is so fond--so rightly fond, I dare say--for in life as
in art the mood of rebellion closes up the channels of the soul, and
shuts out the airs of heaven. Yet I must learn these lessons here,
if I am to learn them anywhere, and must be filled with joy if my
feet are on the right road and my face set towards 'the gate which
is called beautiful,' though I may fall many times in the mire and
often in the mist go astray.

This New Life, as through my love of Dante I like sometimes to call
it, is of course no new life at all, but simply the continuance, by
means of development, and evolution, of my former life. I remember
when I was at Oxford saying to one of my friends as we were
strolling round Magdalen's narrow bird-haunted walks one morning in
the year before I took my degree, that I wanted to eat of the fruit
of all the trees in the garden of the world, and that I was going
out into the world with that passion in my soul. And so, indeed, I
went out, and so I lived. My only mistake was that I confined
myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit
side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and
its gloom. Failure, disgrace, poverty, sorrow, despair, suffering,
tears even, the broken words that come from lips in pain, remorse
that makes one walk on thorns, conscience that condemns, self-
abasement that punishes, the misery that puts ashes on its head, the
anguish that chooses sack-cloth for its raiment and into its own
drink puts gall:- all these were things of which I was afraid. And
as I had determined to know nothing of them, I was forced to taste
each of them in turn, to feed on them, to have for a season, indeed,
no other food at all.

I don't regret for a single moment having lived for pleasure. I did
it to the full, as one should do everything that one does. There
was no pleasure I did not experience. I threw the pearl of my soul
into a cup of wine. I went down the primrose path to the sound of
flutes. I lived on honeycomb. But to have continued the same life
would have been wrong because it would have been limiting. I had to
pass on. The other half of the garden had its secrets for me also.-
-De Profundis


it is when he deals with a sinner that Christ is most romantic, in
the sense of most real. The world had always loved the saint as
being the nearest possible approach to the perfection of God.
Christ, through some divine instinct in him, seems to have always
loved the sinner as being the nearest possible approach to the
perfection of man. His primary desire was not to reform people, any
more than his primary desire was to a relieve suffering. To turn an
interesting thief into a tedious honest man was not his aim. He
would have thought little of the Prisoners' Aid Society and other
modern movements of the kind. The conversion of a publican into a
Pharisee would not have seemed to him a great achievement. But in a
manner not yet understood of the world he regarded sin and suffering
as being in themselves beautiful holy things and modes of

It seems a very dangerous idea. It is--all great ideas are
dangerous. That it was Christ's creed admits of no doubt. That it
is the true creed I don't doubt myself.

Of course the sinner must repent. But why? Simply because
otherwise he would be unable to realise what he had done. The
moment of repentance is the moment of initiation. More than that:
it is the means by which one alters one's past. The Greeks thought
that impossible. They often say in their Gnomic aphorisms, 'Even
the Gods cannot alter the past.' Christ showed that the commonest
sinner could do it, that it was the one thing he could do. Christ,
had he been asked, would have said--I feel quite certain about it--
that the moment the prodigal son fell on his knees and wept, he made
his having wasted his substance with harlots, his swine-herding and
hungering for the husks they ate, beautiful and holy moments in his
life. It is difficult for most people to grasp the idea. I dare
say one has to go to prison to understand it. If so, it may be
worth while going to prison.

There is something so unique about Christ. Of course just as there
are false dawns before the dawn itself, and winter days so full of
sudden sunlight that they will cheat the wise crocus into
squandering its gold before its time, and make some foolish bird
call to its mate to build on barren boughs, so there were Christians
before Christ. For that we should be grateful. The unfortunate
thing is that there have been none since. I make one exception, St.
Francis of Assisi. But then God had given him at his birth the soul
of a poet, as he himself when quite young had in mystical marriage
taken poverty as his bride: and with the soul of a poet and the
body of a beggar he found the way to perfection not difficult. He
understood Christ, and so he became like him. We do not require the
Liber Conformitatum to teach us that the life of St. Francis was the
true Imitatio Christi, a poem compared to which the book of that
name is merely prose.

Indeed, that is the charm about Christ, when all is said: he is
just like a work of art. He does not really teach one anything, but
by being brought into his presence one becomes something. And
everybody is predestined to his presence. Once at least in his life
each man walks with Christ to Emmaus.--De Profundis


My lot has been one of public infamy, of long imprisonment, of
misery, of ruin, of disgrace, but I am not worthy of it--not yet, at
any rate. I remember that I used to say that I thought I could bear
a real tragedy if it came to me with purple pall and a mask of noble
sorrow, but that the dreadful thing about modernity was that it put
tragedy into the raiment of comedy, so that the great realities
seemed commonplace or grotesque or lacking in style. It is quite
true about modernity. It has probably always been true about actual
life. It is said that all martyrdoms seemed mean to the looker on.
The nineteenth century is no exception to the rule.

Everything about my tragedy has been hideous, mean, repellent,
lacking in style; our very dress makes us grotesque. We are the
zanies of sorrow. We are clowns whose hearts are broken. We are
specially designed to appeal to the sense of humour. On November
13th, 1895, I was brought down here from London. From two o'clock
till half-past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform
of Clapham Junction in convict dress, and handcuffed, for the world
to look at. I had been taken out of the hospital ward without a
moment's notice being given to me. Of all possible objects I was
the most grotesque. When people saw me they laughed. Each train as
it came up swelled the audience. Nothing could exceed their
amusement. That was, of course, before they knew who I was. As
soon as they had been informed they laughed still more. For half an
hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering
mob.--De Profundis


We call ours a utilitarian age, and we do not know the uses of any
single thing. We have forgotten that water can cleanse, and fire
purify, and that the Earth is mother to us all. As a consequence
our art is of the moon and plays with shadows, while Greek art is of
the sun and deals directly with things. I feel sure that in
elemental forces there is purification, and I want to go back to
them and live in their presence.

Of course to one so modern as I am, 'Enfant de mon siecle,' merely
to look at the world will be always lovely. I tremble with pleasure
when I think that on the very day of my leaving prison both the
laburnum and the lilac will be blooming in the gardens, and that I
shall see the wind stir into restless beauty the swaying gold of the
one, and make the other toss the pale purple of its plumes, so that
all the air shall be Arabia for me. Linnaeus fell on his knees and
wept for joy when he saw for the first time the long heath of some
English upland made yellow with the tawny aromatic brooms of the
common furze; and I know that for me, to whom flowers are part of
desire, there are tears waiting in the petals of some rose. It has
always been so with me from my boyhood. There is not a single
colour hidden away in the chalice of a flower, or the curve of a
shell, to which, by some subtle sympathy with the very soul of
things, my nature does not answer. Like Gautier, I have always been
one of those 'pour qui le monde visible existe.'

Still, I am conscious now that behind all this beauty, satisfying
though it may be, there is some spirit hidden of which the painted
forms and shapes are but modes of manifestation, and it is with this
spirit that I desire to become in harmony. I have grown tired of
the articulate utterances of men and things. The Mystical in Art,
the Mystical in Life, the Mystical in Nature this is what I am
looking for. It is absolutely necessary for me to find it

All trials are trials for one's life, just as all sentences are
sentences of death; and three times have I been tried. The first
time I left the box to be arrested, the second time to be led back
to the house of detention, the third time to pass into a prison for
two years. Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place
for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on
unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may
hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed.
She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the
darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so
that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great
waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.--De Profundis


June 1st, 1897.

My Dear Robbie,--I propose to live at Berneval. I will NOT live in
Paris, nor in Algiers, nor in Southern Italy. Surely a house for a
year, if I choose to continue there, at 32 pounds is absurdly cheap.
I could not live cheaper at a hotel. You are penny foolish, and
pound foolish--a dreadful state for my financier to be in. I told
M. Bonnet that my bankers were MM. Ross et Cie, banquiers celebres
de Londres--and now you suddenly show me that you have no place
among the great financial people, and are afraid of any investment
over 31 pounds, 10s. It is merely the extra ten shillings that
baffles you. As regards people living on me, and the extra
bedrooms: dear boy, there is no one who would stay with me but you,
and you will pay your own bill at the hotel for meals; and as for
your room, the charge will be nominally 2 francs 50 centimes a
night, but there will be lots of extras such as bougie, bain and hot
water, and all cigarettes smoked in the bedrooms are charged extra.
And if any one does not take the extras, of course he is charged

Bain, 25 C.
Pas de bain, 50 C.
Cigarette dans la chambre e coucher, 10 C. pour chaque cigarette.
Pas de cigarette dans la chambre e coucher, 20 C. pour chaque

This is the system at all good hotels. If Reggie comes, of course
he will pay a little more: I cannot forget that he gave me a
dressing-case. Sphinxes pay a hundred per cent more than any one
else--they always did in Ancient Egypt.

But seriously, Robbie, if people stayed with me, of course they
would pay their PENSION at the hotel. They would have to: except
architects. A modern architect, like modern architecture, doesn't
pay. But then I know only one architect and you are hiding him
somewhere from me. I believe that he is as extinct as the dado, of
which now only fossil remains are found, chiefly in the vicinity of
Brompton, where they are sometimes discovered by workmen excavating.
They are usually embedded in the old Lincrusta Walton strata, and
are rare consequently.

I visited M. le Cure {4} to-day. He has a charming house and a
jardin potager. He showed me over the church. To-morrow I sit in
the choir by his special invitation. He showed me all his
vestments. To-morrow he really will be charming in red. He knows I
am a heretic, and believes Pusey is still alive. He says that God
will convert England on account of England's kindness to les pretres
exiles at the time of the Revolution. It is to be the reward of
that sea-lashed island.

Stained glass windows are wanted in the church; he has only six;
fourteen more are needed. He gets them at 300 francs--12 pounds--a
window in Paris. I was nearly offering half a dozen, but remembered
you, and so only gave him something pour les pauvres. You had a
narrow escape, Robbie. You should be thankful.

I hope the 40 pounds is on its way, and that the 60 pounds will
follow. I am going to hire a boat. It will save walking and so be
an economy in the end. Dear Robbie, I must start well. If the life
of St. Francis of Assissi awaits me I shall not be angry. Worse
things might happen.



- Letter to Robert Ross.


April 16th, 1900.

My dear Robbie,--I simply cannot write. It is too horrid, not of
me, but to me. It is a mode of paralysis--a cacoethes tacendi--the
one form that malady takes in me.

Well, all passed over very successfully. Palermo, where we stayed
eight days, was lovely. The most beautifully situated town in the
world--it dreams away its life in the concha d'oro, the exquisite
valley that lies between two seas. The lemon groves and the orange
gardens were so entirely perfect that I became quite a Pre-
Raphaelite, and loathed the ordinary impressionists whose muddly
souls and blurred intelligences would have rendered, but by mud and
blur, those "golden lamps hung in a green night" that filled me with
such joy. The elaborate and exquisite detail of the true Pre-
Raphaelite is the compensation they offer us for the absence of
motion; literature and motion being the only arts that are not

Then nowhere, not even at Ravenna, have I seen such mosaics as in
the Capella Palatine, which from pavement to domed ceiling is all
gold: one really feels as if one was sitting in the heart of a
great honey-comb looking at angels singing: and LOOKING at angels,
or indeed at people, singing, is much nicer than listening to them,
for this reason: the great artists always give to their angels
lutes without strings, pipes without vent-holes, and reeds through
which no wind can wander or make whistlings.

Monreale you have heard of--with its cloisters and cathedral: we
often drove there.

I also made great friends with a young seminarist, who lived in the
cathedral of Palermo--he and eleven others, in little rooms beneath
the roof, like birds.

Every day he showed me all over the cathedral, I knelt before the
huge porphyry sarcophagus in which Frederick the Second lies: it is
a sublime bare monstrous thing--blood-coloured, and held up by lions
who have caught some of the rage of the great Emperor's restless
soul. At first my young friend, Giuseppe Loverdi, gave me
information; but on the third day I gave information to him, and re-
wrote history as usual, and told him all about the supreme King and
his Court of Poets, and the terrible book that he never wrote. His
reason for entering the church was singularly mediaeval. I asked
him why he thought of becoming a clerico, and how. He answered:
"My father is a cook and most poor; and we are many at home, so it
seemed to me a good thing that there should be in so small a house
as ours, one mouth less to feed; for though I am slim, I eat much,
too much, alas! I fear."

I told him to be comforted, because God used poverty often as a
means of bringing people to Him, and used riches never, or rarely;
so Giuseppe was comforted, and I gave him a little book of devotion,
very pretty, and with far more pictures than prayers in it--so of
great service to Giuseppe whose eyes are beautiful. I also gave him
many lire, and prophesied for him a Cardinal's hat, if he remained
very good and never forgot me.

At Naples we stopped three days: most of my friends are, as you
know, in prison, but I met some of nice memory.

We came to Rome on Holy Thursday. H- left on Saturday for Gland--
and yesterday, to the terror of Grissell {5} and all the Papal
Court, I appeared in the front rank of the pilgrims in the Vatican,
and got the blessing of the Holy Father--a blessing they would have
denied me.

He was wonderful as he was carried past me on his throne--not of
flesh and blood, but a white soul robed in white and an artist as
well as a saint--the only instance in history, if the newspapers are
to be believed. I have seen nothing like the extraordinary grace of
his gestures as he rose, from moment to moment, to bless--possibly
the pilgrims, but certainly me.

Tree should see him. It is his only chance.

I was deeply impressed, and my walking-stick showed signs of
budding, would have budded, indeed, only at the door of the Chapel
it was taken from me by the Knave of Spades. This strange
prohibition is, of course, in honour of Tannhauser.

How did I get the ticket? By a miracle, of course. I thought it
was hopeless and made no effort of any kind. On Saturday afternoon
at five o'clock H- and I went to have tea at the Hotel de l'Europe.
Suddenly, as I was eating buttered toast, a man--or what seemed to
be one--dressed like a hotel porter entered and asked me would I
like to see the Pope on Easter Day. I bowed my head humbly and said
"Non sum dignus," or words to that effect. He at once produced a

When I tell you that his countenance was of supernatural ugliness,
and that the price of the ticket was thirty pieces of silver, I need
say no more.

An equally curious thing is that whenever I pass the hotel, which I
do constantly, I see the same man. Scientists call that phenomenon
an obsession of the visual nerve. You and I know better.

On the afternoon of Easter Day I heard Vespers at the Lateran:
music quite lovely. At the close, a Bishop in red, and with red
gloves--such as Pater talks of in Gaston de Latour--came out on the
balcony and showed us the Relics. He was swarthy, and wore a yellow
mitre. A sinister mediaeval man, but superbly Gothic, just like the
bishops carved on stalls or on portals: and when one thinks that
once people mocked at stained-glass attitudes! they are the only
attitudes for the clothes. The sight of the Bishop, whom I watched
with fascination, filled me with the great sense of the realism of
Gothic art. Neither in Greek art nor in Gothic art is there any
pose. Posing was invented by bad portrait-painters; and the first
person who posed was a stock-broker, and he has gone on posing ever

I send you a photograph I took on Palm Sunday at Palermo. Do send
me some of yours, and love me always, and try to read this letter.

Kindest regards to your dear mother.



- Letter to Robert Ross.


{1} "The Influence of Pater and Matthew Arnold in the Prose-
Writings of Oscar Wilde," by Ernst Bendz. London: H. Grevel & Co.,

{2} "The Eighteen Nineties: A Review of Art and Idea at the Close
of the Nineteenth Century," by Holbrook Jackson. London: Grant
Richards Ltd., 1913.

{3} Mortimer Menpes.

{4} M. Constant Trop-Hardy, died at Berneval, March 2, 1898.

{5} Hartwell de la Garde Grissell, a Papal Chamberlain.

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