Oscar Hngal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900) was an Irish poet, playwright, and intriguing personality. Wilde had such a sharp tongue that many believed he out-Shawed Shaw.
Wilde’s life, however, was colored by his libel suit and imprisonment because of his altercation with the Marquis of Queensberry. Wilde was known for his homosexuality. In British slang, Wilde’s first name, Oscar, came to mean a homosexual, and Oscarizing and Oscar-Wilding meant active homosexuality.
Wilde’s lover was the son of the Marquis of Queensberry. When the Marquis accused Wilde of sodomy, Wilde brought a libel suit against him. The government then instituted criminal charges against Wilde based on «immoral conduct»; Wilde lost both suits. For the criminal act, Wilde was sentenced to prison, where he wrote De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, works well appreciated by Wilde’s army of aficionados.
Wilde’s tongue was razor-edged. When a minor poet complained to Wilde that his poetry was receiving no reviews, that there was a «conspiracy of silence against him», and that he didn’t know what to do, Wilde replied, «Join it». To a chamber of commerce he remarked, «Niagara Falls would be more spectacular if it flowed the other way».
James Whistler, the famous painter whose Mother is a classic, engaged in a lively exchange with Wilde, who mentioned a certain clever remark and said, «I wish I had said it». Whistler, not to be outdone, replied, «You will, Oscar, you will». But Wilde’s incisive wit would not rest, for which we now have the word Wildean. «As for borrowing Mr. Whistler’s ideas», he wrote, «the only thoroughly original ideas I have ever heard him express have had reference to his own superiority as a painter over painters greater than himself».