Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1854, was born Oscar Wilde.

Wilde was a poet and dramatist. He was famous for his wit and became infamous when he was prosecuted and imprisoned for homosexuality.

Wilde was the son of an eminent surgeon, Sir William Wilde and a poetess who was a leading specialist in Celtic folklore. He was educated at Portora Royal School, Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize in 1878, for the poem Ravenna. At Oxford, Wilde was considered an aesthete and a wit. He was noted to remark: “Oh, would that I could live up to my blue china!”

There was nothing extraordinary about Wilde’s early career. After leaving Oxford, he took up employment as a writer. He was a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette and wrote articles for Woman’s World. In 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd, daughter of a prominent barrister, with whom he had two children. He became somewhat of a society figure, known for his eccentric style of dress, which usually consisted of a velvet jacket, knee britches and black silk stockings. His gift for romanticism was revealed in his published children’s stories, The Happy Prince and Other Tales. In 1890, he produced a novel, A Picture of Dorian Gray, which combined the decadence associated with French literature and the ghoulish gothic style popular at home.

In the 1890s, Wilde discovered his true talent in writing comic plays, combining the elements of French farce with a satirical attack on the hypocrisy of aristocratic society.  These productions, packed with witty one-liners, brought Wilde to the peak of his popularity with the middle class, but not with the aristocracy, whose inane eccentricities were roundly lampooned.

Ironically, Wilde was, at the time, engaged in a close friendship with a young aristocrat, Lord Alfred Douglas, whose irate father, the Marquis of Queensberry, constantly harangued Wilde, accusing him of sodomy.  Wilde, badly advised by friends and lawyers alike, took legal action for criminal libel against Queensberry, but the case collapsed when evidence of Wilde’s homosexuality was presented for Queensberry’s defence. Now Wilde himself was put on trial and, despite his witty and proficient testimony on his own behalf, was convicted on the evidence of several young men, who were spared prosecution for their own part in the affair. Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labour.

Upon his release, Wilde left for France, in the hope of restoring his fortunes as a writer. He only had time to produce The Ballad of Reading Gaol, before he succumbed to meningitis and died in 1900. His famous last words were: “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.”

Wilde was famous for his extempore witticisms. Here are some of them.

A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

A true friend stabs you in the front.

America is the only country to go from barbarianism to decadence without passing through civilisation.

A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.

To be in society is merely a bore. To be out of it is simply a tragedy.

As yet, Bernard Shaw hasn’t become prominent enough to have any enemies, but none of his friends like him.

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