by Oscar Wilde
CYRIL. Writing an article! That is not very consistent after what
you have just said.
VIVIAN. Who wants to be consistent? The dullard and the
doctrinaire, the tedious people who carry out their principles to
the bitter end of action, to the REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM of practice.
Not I. Like Emerson, I write over the door of my library the word
'Whim.' Besides, my article is really a most salutary and valuable
warning. If it is attended to, there may be a new Renaissance of
CYRIL. What is the subject?
VIVIAN. I intend to call it 'The Decay of Lying: A Protest.'
CYRIL. Lying! I should have thought that our politicians kept up
VIVIAN. I assure you that they do not. They never rise beyond the
level of misrepresentation, and actually condescend to prove, to
discuss, to argue. How different from the temper of the true liar,
with his frank, fearless statements, his superb irresponsibility,
his healthy, natural disdain of proof of any kind! After all, what
is a fine lie? Simply that which is its own evidence. If a man is
sufficiently unimaginative to produce evidence in support of a lie,
he might just as well speak the truth at once. No, the politicians
won't do. Something may, perhaps, be urged on behalf of the Bar.
The mantle of the Sophist has fallen on its members. Their feigned
ardours and unreal rhetoric are delightful. They can make the
worse appear the better cause, as though they were fresh from
Leontine schools, and have been known to wrest from reluctant
juries triumphant verdicts of acquittal for their clients, even
when those clients, as often happens, were clearly and
unmistakeably innocent. But they are briefed by the prosaic, and
are not ashamed to appeal to precedent. In spite of their
endeavours, the truth will out. Newspapers, even, have
degenerated. They may now be absolutely relied upon. One feels it
as one wades through their columns. It is always the unreadable
that occurs. I am afraid that there is not much to be said in
favour of either the lawyer or the journalist. Besides, what I am
pleading for is Lying in art. Shall I read you what I have
written? It might do you a great deal of good.
CYRIL. Certainly, if you give me a cigarette. Thanks. By the
way, what magazine do you intend it for?
VIVIAN. For the RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW. I think I told you that the
elect had revived it.
CYRIL. Whom do you mean by 'the elect'?
VIVIAN. Oh, The Tired Hedonists, of course. It is a club to which
I belong. We are supposed to wear faded roses in our button-holes
when we meet, and to have a sort of cult for Domitian. I am afraid
you are not eligible. You are too fond of simple pleasures.
CYRIL. I should be black-balled on the ground of animal spirits, I
VIVIAN. Probably. Besides, you are a little too old. We don't
admit anybody who is of the usual age.
CYRIL. Well, I should fancy you are all a good deal bored with
VIVIAN. We are. This is one of the objects of the club. Now, if
you promise not to interrupt too often, I will read you my article.
CYRIL. You will find me all attention.
VIVIAN (reading in a very clear, musical voice). THE DECAY OF
LYING: A PROTEST. - One of the chief causes that can be assigned
for the curiously commonplace character of most of the literature
of our age is undoubtedly the decay of Lying as an art, a science,
and a social pleasure. The ancient historians gave us delightful
fiction in the form of fact; the modem novelist presents us with
dull facts under the guise of fiction. The Blue-Book is rapidly
becoming his ideal both for method and manner. He has his tedious
DOCUMENT HUMAIN, his miserable little COIN DE LA CREATION, into
which he peers with his microscope. He is to be found at the
Librairie Nationale, or at the British Museum, shamelessly reading
up his subject. He has not even the courage of other people's
ideas, but insists on going directly to life for everything, and
ultimately, between encyclopaedias and personal experience, he
comes to the ground, having drawn his types from the family circle
or from the weekly washerwoman, and having acquired an amount of
useful information from which never, even in his most meditative
moments, can he thoroughly free himself.