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The Wilde World

5 Jul

Hylas and nymphs

I embarked recently on my dad’s intimidating Collected Oscar Wilde. So far it has been accessed solely for plays and the occasional quote from a poem. Now I am reading essays, and an early favourite is, naturally, a dialectic.

Vivian: I intend to call it The Decay of Lying: A Protest.

Cyril: Lying! I should have thought that our politicians kept up that habit.

Vivian: I assure you they do not. They never rise beyond the the level of misrepresentation, and actually condescend to prove, to discuss, to argue. How different from the temper of the true liar, with his frank, fearless statements, his superb irresponsibility, his healthy, natural disdain of proof of any kind! After all, what is a fine lie? Simply that which its own evidence. If man is sufficiently unimaginative to produce evidence in support of a lie, he might just as well speak the truth at once. No, politicians won’t do.

Something may, perhaps, be urged on behalf of the Bar. The mantle of the sophist has fallen on its members. Their feigned ardour and their unreal rhetoric are delightful. They can make the worse appear the better cause, as though they were fresh from Leontine schools, and have been known to wrest from reluctant juries triumphant verdicts of acquittals for their clients, even when those clients, as often happens, were clearly and unmistakably innocent. But they are briefed by the prosaic, and are not ashamed to appeal to precedent. In spite of their endeavours, the truth will out. Newspapers, even, have degenerated. They may now be absolutely relied upon. One feels it as one wades through their columns. It is always the unreadable that occurs. I am afraid there is not much to be said in favour of either the lawyer or the journalist. Besides, what I am pleading for is lying in art.

Cyril: What magazine do you intend this for?

Vivian: The Retrospective Review. I think I told you that the elect had reviewed it.

Cyril: Whom do you mean by the ‘elect’?

Vivian: Oh, the Tired Hedonists, of course. It is a club to which I belong. We are supposed to fear faded roses, and to have a sort of cult for Domitian. I am afraid you are not eligible. You are too fond of simple pleasures.

Skilled Sophist. It has a good ring to it, eh? Maybe it shall be my matrimonial ad when I am jaded and over the hill.

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