Illusion is the first of all pleasures.
Oscar Wilde, 1854 - 1900
And where would we be without illusion, without imagination, without creativity? The Importance Of Being Earnest, one of Wilde's plays, was and still is widely performed. Wilde was earnest in just about everything he did. His creativity and imagination was what made him one of the most successful playwrights in the Victorian era.
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland in October 1854 and died November 30, 1900. In his short forty six years of life he accomplished a great deal with his creative writing. Wilde wrote only one novel, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, which was extremely controversial at the time and dealt with many issues that Wilde himself was having, but has since become a modern classic in Western literature. Wilde was also a playwright, novelist, poet, and author of many short stories. In this novel, as well as in his fairy tales, he wrote with a deep passion and instilled abiding love and dedication in his characters. This is so evident in his story of the golden statue of a prince and a little sparrow.
The Happy Prince was a statue of gold. Being thoroughly happy when he was alive, the prince never knew what the world outside his palace was like. The little sparrow had started on his way to Egypt, to the warmth before winter came to the land of his summer. When stopping for the night, he settled at the feet of the statue of the prince. When he felt drops of water fall on his head, the sparrow thought it was beginning to rain and started off to find a better shelter. The statue spoke to the sparrow and asked him to stay. He said it was not raining, that he was crying.
'When I was alive and had a human heart,' answered the statue, `I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the palace of Sans-Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep.'
The sparrow stayed with the prince and ran errands all over the city, to give precious jewels from the statue to the poor and miserable people in the city who were in great need. Each day, the sparrow said he must leave for Egypt, yet the prince begged and convinced him to stay "one more night with me". The sparrow, who learned to love the prince dearly stayed because, after the prince gave up his eyes of jewels for the poor, the sparrow said, "You are blind now, so I will stay with you forever". When the sparrow realized he was to die from the cold, he told the prince he was leaving now for sure.
Thinking his dear little friend was now going to Egypt, the prince said, "you must kiss me on the lips for I love you". The sparrow kissed the prince then fell dead at his feet. When the prince saw his beloved friend die, his leaden heart broke and cracked in two.
Until the age of nine, Wilde received his education at home. He was then enrolled in Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Fermanagh until he was sixteen. After Portora his studies centered on the classics at Trinity College in Dublin, from 1871 to 1874. The highest award Trinity offered to their classic students was the Berkeley Gold Medal, which Wilde won for his outstanding accomplishments. He won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford and studied there from 1874 - 1878. He continued his excellent record in studies and in 1878 won the Newdigate Prize for Ravenna, a poem he had written. He graduated in 1878 with a double first in Classical Moderations and in advanced studies of literature, Literae Humaniores (also known as "Greats" at Oxford).
Wilde's philosophy in life and personal preferences was not compatible with society's "norm" and caused him problems. It culminated in a sentence of two years in prison at hard labor, which cost him his health. He had become involved in the aesthetic and decadent movements and his physical appearance came to reflect that. His manner of dress, his long hair, the way he decorated his home all became influenced by this new thought process that became a recognized mode for the "cult" in society. His personal preferences and behavior came under criticism and were thought to be a form of gaining notoriety.
Regardless of his behavior in society, Wilde's inner life was a dedication to beauty and love. His passion came through in his writings and his stories are well loved.
`Bring me the two most precious things in the city,' said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.
`You have rightly chosen,' said God, `for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.'
Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince and Other Tales. London: 1888.
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