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Douglas Anchor


A STOCK argument of Wilde's critical has always been that, even if it can be demonstrated that Wilde has been grossly overrated in England, the fact of his popularity in foreign parts proves that there is in him the literary stuff which goes to the making of immortals. This, of course, is not philosophically true, being, in fact, the merest fudge. Wilde's books, it is true, have been translated into various languages—but which books? Well, ''Dorian Gray'' and "Salome," for the most part, with ''De Profundis" for a bad third, and the rest nowhere. What Wilde abroad really means is very prettily indicated by the following letter which was addressed to the editor of Everyman by one of Wilde's translators : —


"Please let me produce some figures to uphold your correspondent's statement in your issue of June 6th as to Oscar Wilde's popularity in Russia.

"I have had the honour of translating Wilde's works into Russian and can state that his books were among the best-selling fiction in this country. Some of Oscar Wilde's masterpieces, such as 'The Picture of Dorian Gray’, 'De Profundis’, 'Salome’ published in popular editions at 10 kopecks (2½d.) each have had a circulation (in the last four to five years) from eighty to one hundred thousand each, and are still selling briskly. Wilde's comedies are constantly on the repertory of the Moscow and St. Petersburg Imperial State Theatres, not counting the innumerable provincial stages.

“I can assure you that you will not find one educated person in Russia who has not read Wilde's works. I have received in the last seven to eight years hundreds of letters from quite unknown people all over Russia, with the expression of the strongest and sincerest admiration for one of 'the greatest writers of the world.'

“I must frankly acknowledge that nearly all the letters of my correspondents, ranking from all classes of Russian life, contain many bitter comments on the treatment Wilde received in the hands of his countrymen.

"I am. Sir, etc.,

"Michael Lykiardopulos

"Secretary of the

"Moscow." "'Moscow Art Theatre.'

This letter gives a curious insight into the whole business. Of course, "Dorian Gray" and ''Salome" at two-pence-halfpenny in England would sell like wildfire, just as a pirated "De Profundis" was sold a little while ago at a penny on the street corners. Nobody professed that this pirated "De Profundis" was being sold because of its literary value : it was sold and offered for sale in the gutter as ''the confession of Oscar Wilde," and it was bought in just the same way that the alleged confession of any other criminal would be bought. So that these books at ten kopecks in Russia point their own moral.

I do not know how cheaply or how dearly Wilde is sold in Paris and Berlin. But I do know that the vogue he has in both cities is largely based on his iniquities, and that this fact is equally deplored by right-thinking Frenchmen and right-thinking Germans. In the scandals which of late years have disgraced Berlin, the Wilde factor has been only too evident. The scandals to which I refer have occurred in so-called literary and artistic circles ; and wherever you have such scandals in such circles there you are bound always to find that Oscar Wilde sits enthroned. It is a deplorable thing, doubtless, but what is one to expect in the face of "Dorian Gray" ?

The bad influence of Wilde in both France and Germany has been noted and deprecated by more than one eminent writer, and the main force of criticism in both countries is in arms against it. In Russia his admirers belong chiefly to the anarchistic and revolutionary sections of the community, who, being in a large measure decadents and criminals themselves, have a natural sympathy with the work of a decadent criminal. In Russia they say Wilde must be a great man because he went to prison and is universally loved and admired by the English. In England we are told that Wilde's greatness cannot be disputed, inasmuch as he is loved and admired in Russia—at 10 kopecks a time.

Mr. Ransome is very amusing on Wilde's foreign successes. He says that we ''cannot afford to neglect the opinion of critical Germany,'' which, in point of fact, is just the opinion we can afford to neglect; and he quotes Mr. Ross as follows: ''In 1901, within a year of the author's death, it ("Salome") was produced in Berlin; from that moment it has held the European stage. It has run for a longer consecutive period in Germany than any play by any Englishman, not excepting Shakespeare. Its popularity has extended to all countries where it is not prohibited. It is performed throughout Europe, Asia and America. It is played even in Yiddish."

One would imagine that all Europe, Asia and America had rushed in a body to see this compelling drama. The facts are that, while it may have been staged at theatres of standing in Berlin and other cities, and may have had a long run in Berlin, its vogue elsewhere is not associated with either distinguished theatres or the best actors, having been, in fact, a rather hole-and-corner affair, and, whatever may have happened years ago, one may travel the globe nowadays without finding that Wilde comes anywhere near holding the stage in a substantial or perennial way.

Wilde, of course, has been pushed and boomed for all he is worth and for a good deal more than he is worth. The result is that he has come into a sort of artificial kingdom of his own, on the Continent and in America just as in England. But I maintain that it is a kingdom based on rottenness ; that it is an utterly insignificant kingdom in so far as it is taken to mean merit or worthiness in Wilde, and that, by its very nature, it is bound to fall and be forgotten. Wilde's supporters would appear to be very conscious of this fact, and that is perhaps why some of them fall into such fits of rage if anybody ventures to suggest that their idol is not entirely gold. There are no plays of Wilde's and no books of Wilde's which can last on their literary merits. His only chance is that he suffered imprisonment and he wrote certain improprieties. These have been put on a different basis for an enduring literary reputation, even in Asia or among the Jews.

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