Oscar Wilde Quotations

Oscar Wilde / 1854–1900 / Ireland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland / Poet, Dramatist, Short Story Author, Novelist, Essayist

Advice

It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is absolutely fatal.

The Portrait of Mr. W. H.,” Blackwood’s Magazine (1889); reprinted in subsequent editions of Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories, originally published in 1891.

America

We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.

“The Canterville Ghost,” The Court and Society Review (1887); reprinted in Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories (1891).

Animals

There is no mode of action, no form of emotion, that we do not share with the lower animals. It is only by language that we rise above them, or above each other—by language, which is the parent, and not the child, of thought.

“The Critic as Artist,” The Nineteenth Century, 1890; reprinted in Oscar Wilde, Intentions (1891).

Art

The more we study Art, the less we care for Nature.

Intentions (1891).

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).

We spend our days, each one of us, in looking for the secret of life. Well, the secret of life is in art.

“The English Renaissance of Art,” public lecture, New York City, 1882; reprinted in Oscar Wilde, Essays and Lectures, edited by Robert Ross (1908).

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.

“The Decay of Lying” (1889); reprinted in Oscar Wilde, Intentions (1891).

. . . alone, without any reference to his neighbours, without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing; and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all.

The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Fortnightly Review, February, 1891.

Calendars

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 New Calendar,” The Pall Mall Gazette, February 17, 1887.

Consistency

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

“The Relation of Dress to Art,” The Pall Mall Gazette, February 28, 1885; reprinted in Oscar Wilde, Aristotle at Afternoon Tea: The Rare Oscar Wilde, edited by John Wyse Jackson (1991).

Cynic

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

Lady Windemere’s Fan, Act III (1892); Lord Darlington.

Fashion

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.

“The Philosophy of Dress,” The New-York Tribune, 1885.

Genius

I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works.

In conversation with André Gide in Algiers, reported by Gide in a letter to his mother dated January 30, 1895.

Greatness

Be warned in time, James, and remain, as I do, incomprehensible: to be great is to be misunderstood.

Letter to James McNeill Whistler, February 23, 1885.

History

Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.

“The Critic as Artist,” The Nineteenth Century, 1890; reprinted in Oscar Wilde, Intentions (1891).

Ideas

An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.

Intentions (1891).

Income

It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.

“The Model Millionaire,” The World, 1912; reprinted in Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories (1891).

Life

 To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Fortnightly Review, February, 1891.

“Know thyself” was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of the new world, “Be thyself” shall be written.

The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Fortnightly Review, February, 1891.\

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Lady Windemere’s Fan, Act III (1892); Lord Darlington.

Love

The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.

Salome: A Tragedy in One Act (1893).

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!

The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (1898).

Man

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

“The Critic as Artist,” The Nineteenth Century, 1890; reprinted in Oscar Wilde, Intentions (1891).

Orphans

To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune … to lose both seems like carelessness.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Act I (1895); Lady Bracknell.

Poetry

A poet can survive everything but a misprint.

“The Children of the Poets,” The Pall Mall Gazette, October 14, 1886.

Popular Opinion

For to disagree with three-fourths of the British public on all points is one of the first elements of sanity, one of the deepest consolations in all moments of spiritual doubt.

“The English Renaissance of Art,” public lecture, New York City, 1882; reprinted in Oscar Wilde, Essays and Lectures, edited by Robert Ross (1908).

Prison

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.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (1898).

Religious Conversion

How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?

The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (1898).

Socialism

The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man is.

The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Fortnightly Review, February, 1891.

The trouble with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings.

Attribution unconfirmed.

Tastes

I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.

In conversation with Edgar Saltus, reported in the Saltus’s book, Oscar Wilde: An Idler’s Impression (1917).

Teaching

. . . everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching.

“The Decay of Lying” (1889); reprinted in Oscar Wilde, Intentions (1891).

Temptation

I can resist everything except temptation.

Lady Windemere’s Fan, Act I (1892); Lord Darlington.

Thinking

A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.

The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Fortnightly Review, February, 1891.

Tragedy

In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

Lady Windemere’s Fan, Act III (1892); Mr. Dumby.

Truth

I have said to you to speak the truth is a painful thing. To be forced to tell lies is much worse.

De Profundis (1897).