VIP Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (October 16, 1854 - November 30, 1900)

Perhaps the wittiest man ever born, author and playwright Oscar Wilde tried hashish in Algiers, writing to Robert Ross in January 1895, “Bosie and I have taken to haschish: it is quite exquisite: three puffs of smoke and then peace and love.”

André Gide arrived there by chance and described in Si le grain ne meurt (1921) seeing Wilde at a café where old Arabs sat quatting on mats and smoking kief, and a young man arrived with "big black eyes having the langorous look that haschisch gives." Wilde's Parisian collaborator Marcel Schwob wrote in 1891, "While he ate–and he ate little–he never stopped smoking opium-tainted Egyptian cigarettes. A terrible absinthe-drinker, through which he got his visions and his desires."

Wilde was imprisoned in England for homosexuality, for two years hard labor from May 1895-97. He wrote (from prison) in De Profundis, "I remember when I was at Oxford saying to one of my friends. . . .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 the passion in my soul. And so, indeed, I went out, and so I lived." Amid that orchard the tree of life, with its "blind lush leaf," stood next to the tree of knowledge, with its "staring fury."y He wrote in 1886, "Our most fiery moments of ecstasy are merely shadows of what somewhere else we have felt, or of what we long some day to feel. . . . There is an unknown land full of strange flowers and subtle perfumes, a land of which it is joy of all joys to dream, a land where all things are perfect and poisonous."

After his release from prison, Wilde went to Paris where he lived in poverty and said he had lost the joy of writing. He died three years later at the age of 46, probably due to menengitis he developed after sustaining an ear injury in prison. In a final witticism he wrote, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go." One can only speculate about the creative output we lost from Wilde due to his persecution and early death.

As quoted by Albert Finney in A Man of No Importance (1994), Wilde said, "If I can produce only one beautiful work of art I shall be able to rob malice of its venom and cowardice of its sneer, and to pluck out the tongue of scorn by the roots." It's arguable his artistry had a great deal to do with today's acceptance of homosexuality.

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