Oscar Wilde, the great Irish writer and dramatist, was born in Dublin, Ireland on October 16, 1854. He was the son of a well-known surgeon of the city. He was educated there at Trinity College and at Magdalen College, Oxford. He had a brilliant academic career and while at Oxford won the Newdigate prize for the poem "Ravenna." After he graduated, he settled in London and soon acquired a reputation for his sparkling wit and unorthodox opinions. A volume of verse, Poems, published in 1881, was coolly received, but a lecture tour in the United States in the next year added to his reputation as leader of the cult of aesthetes whose motto was "art for art's sake."
Wilde's first literary success came in 1888 with the publication of a book of fairy stories, The Happy Prince and Other Tales. His novel The Plcture of Dorian Gray (1890) created a sensation largely by its theme of moral decay. In the next four years he produced four cleverly constructed plays (Lady Windimere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1894) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)) full of witty dialogue that earned him recognition as one of the greatest dramatists of his time. His fifth play, Salome (1893) was denied a license for public performance by the Lord Chamberlain in England but enjoyed great success in Paris with Sarah Bernhardt as the star.
Wilde's career was destroyed in 1895 when he was convicted of several counts of gross indecency and sentenced to two year of hard labour. Out of this suffering he produced the poem, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" and the biographical essay, "De Profundis." Prison had ruined Wilde's health and when he was released he went into exile in France where he lived under the name Sebastian Melmoth. He died in 1900. Shortly before his death Wilde spoke of having dreamed of having supper with the dead. His friend, Reggie Turner delighted him with the quip, "Dear Oscar, you were probably the life and soul of the party."
Hyde, H. Montgomery. 1975. Oscar Wilde.London: Mandarin.
Wilde is said to have made the following comments during his 1882 tour of North America:
Niagara Falls is simply a vast unnecessary amount of water going the wrong way and then falling over unnecessary rocks. The wonder would be if the water did not fall.
Niagara Falls must be the second major disappointment of American married life.
In the Rockies I saw the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across. Over the piano was printed a notice: "Please do not shoot the pianist: he is doing his best." The mortality among pianists in that place is marvellous.
- Quoted by John Robert Colombo in Colombo's Canadian Quotations.