Page 1


DE PROFUNDIS


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Letters from a Self-made Merchant to his Son George Horace Lorimer Oscar Wilde Selected Poems

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DE PROFUNDIS BY

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PREFACE FOR

a long time considerable curiosity

has been expressed

DE

of

script

known

to

about

PROFUNDIS,

be in

my

many

quires

other friends.

little

its

was the

existence

The book

introduction, I

manu-

possession,

author having mentioned to

the

which

re-

and scarcely

have only to record

any explanation. it was written by my friend during the last months of his imprisonment,

that

that

while

it

was the only work he wrote in prison, and the last work

in prose

he ever wrote.

(The 'Ballad

204698 6


DE PROFUNDIS

vi

of Reading Gaol' was not

composed

nor even planned until he had regained his liberty.)

me

In sending

instructions with re-

gard to the publication of FUNDIS, Oscar '

it.

/ don't

Wilde wrote

defend

my

which

development

my

deal

of my

tellectual attitude

1

mental

my

and

the

life

inevit-

and

character

towards

explain

letter certain

with

in prison,

able evolution

PRO-

:

conduct.

Also there are in

passages

DE

in-

that has

taken place ; and I want you and others wJio still stand by me and have affection

for me to know exactly in what mood and manner I hope to face the world.

Of

course,

know

that

from one on

the

point of view,

day of my

I

release


PREFACE I shall be

merely passing

and

into another,

the whole

than

my

Still

I

and

from one prison when

there are times

world seems

cell,

vii

me no larger

to

as full of terror for me.

believe that at the

God

beginning

made a world for each separate man, and world, which

in that

should seek to

live.

At any

read

tJiose

pain

tlian the others.

parts of

not remind you is

with

me

evanescent

made.

my

you

will

course

I

need

how fluid a thing thought

substance

I

rate

letter with less

Of

with us all

Still

within us, one

is

and of what an

are

our emotions

do see a sort of possible art,

I may

see

people

they really are.

That

goal towards which, through progress. (

Prison

and

life

things as

makes one


DE PROFUNDIS

viii

is

why

turns one to stone.

it

It

is

the

people outside who are deceived by the illusions

of a

They revolve with its

We

unreality.

see

life

and

motion.

contribute to

who are immobile both

and know.

*

to

constant

in

life

Whether or not

the letter does

narrow natures and

me

it

has done good.

good

hectic brains, to

I

have " cleansed

my bosom of much perilous

stuff"

I need

wt remind you that mere expression an artist the supreme and only is to mode of live.

which there

Of I is

It

life.

t/te

have

is

by utterance that we

many, many things for to thank the Governor

none for which

I am more

grate-

ful than for his permission to write fully to you,

and

at as great

a length as

I


PREFACE

ix

I have had

desire.

For

within a

growing burden of bitterness, of

nearly two years

much of which the

I

have now got

rid.

On

other side of the prison wall there

some

are trees

black

poor

soot-besmirched

which are just breaking out into

buds of an almost

shrill green.

I know

quite well what they are going through.

They are finding I

1

expression.

venture to hope that

DE PROFUNDIS,

which renders so vividly, and so painfully, the effect of social debacle and imprisonment on a highly intellectual and artificial

nature, will give

many

readers

a different impression of the witty and delightful writer.

ROBERT ROSS


DE PKOFUNDIS .

.

SUFFERING

.

We

ment.

We

can

one very long mo-

is

cannot divide

only record

its

With

chronicle their return. itself

It

does not progress.

seems to

The

pain. life

circle

by seasons. moods, and

it

us time

It revolves,

round one centre of

paralysing immobility of a

every circumstance of which

is

re-

gulated after an unchangeable pattern, so that

we

eat and drink and

and pray, or kneel at

lie

down

least for prayer,

according to the inflexible laws of an iron

formula:

this

immobile

quality,


&

DE PROFUNDIS

that

makes each dreadful day

very minutest

detail

seems to communicate external

forces

whose existence

Of

the

itself to

those

essence

very

ceaseless

is

in the

like its brother,

of

change.

seed-time or harvest, of the reapers

bending over the corn, or the grape gatherers threading through the vines,

of the grass in the orchard

made white

with broken blossoms or strewn with fallen fruit

:

of these

we know

nothing,

and can know nothing. For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow.

The very sun and

moon seem taken from the day

may

us.

Outside,

be blue and gold, but

the light that creeps

down through

the

thickly-muffled glass of the small iron-


DE PROFUNDIS barred is

13

window beneath which one

grey

and niggard.

It

is

sits

always

twilight in

one's

cell, as

it

is

always

in

one's

heart.

And

in the

twilight

sphere of thought, no sphere

The thing

that

you

than in the

less

of time, motion

no

is

more.

personally

have

long ago forgotten, or can easily forget, is

happening to

happen to

member

me

this,

understand a

and

A

me now, and

again to-morrow.

and you little

of

in this

manner

writing.

week

later, I

am

Re-

be able to

will

why

will

am

I .

.

writing,

.

transferred here.

Three more months go over and

my

No

one knew how deeply mother dies. Her death I loved and honoured her.

was

terrible to

me; but

I,

once a lord


DE PROFUNDIS

14

of language, have no words in which to express

and

She and

bequeathed

a

my anguish my father had

name they had made not

honoured,

literature,

archaeology, and

science,

the public history of

my own

art,

in

disgraced that

made

a

it

people.

I

name

country, I

had

I

had

eternally.

I

had given

that they might

make

to brutes

it

it

brutal,

to fools that they might turn

synonym then, and

or

in

low byword among low had dragged it through the

very mire.

write

but

evolution as a nation.

its

me and

noble

in

merely

shame.

my

for

folly.

still suffer,

What is

it

I

and

into a

suffered

not for pen to

paper to record.

My

wife,

always kind and gentle to me, rather


DE PROFUNDIS that

than

I

from indifferent she was,

England

all

hear

should lips,

a

me

for

my

so

irremedi-

who had

me

personally, hearing

new sorrow had broken

life,

still

Even people who

me.

had not known that a

all

to

the

herself

of sympathy

Messages

me from

affection

as

ill

way from Genoa

the

to break to

loss.

reached

news

the

travelled,

tidings of so irreparable, able,

15

into

wrote to ask that some ex-

pression of their condolence should be

conveyed to me.

.

.

.

Three months go over. The calendar of my daily conduct and labour that hangs on the outside of with

upon

my name and it,

tells

me that

my

cell door,

sentence written it is

May.

.

.

.


DE PROFUNDIS

16

pleasure

Prosperity,

may

but sorrow

fibre,

of

and

be rough of grain and

all

success,

common

in

the most sensitive

is

There

created things.

is

nothing

that stirs in the whole world of thought to which

sorrow does not vibrate in

The

and exquisite pulsation.

terrible

thin beaten-out leaf of tremulous gold

that chronicles the direction of forces

the

cannot see

eye

coarse.

It

is

a

wound

is

in

comparison

that bleeds

when

any hand but that of love touches it, and even then must bleed again, though not in pain.

Where

there

is

sorrow

there

Some day people what that means. They

is

holy ground.

will

realise

will

know nothing

of

life

till

they

do.


DE PROFUNDIS and natures

When

17

can realise

like his

it.

was brought down from my prison to the Court of Bankruptcy, waited in between two policemen, I

the long

dreary corridor

the whole crowd,

whom

before

that,

an action so

sweet and simple hushed into silence,

he might gravely as,

him

passed

heaven for It

raise his hat to

me,

handcuffed and with bowed head,

was

mode down

in

of to

Men

by.

smaller this

love,

that

wash the

have gone to

things

spirit,

I

than

and with

the

saints

that.

this

knelt

feet of the poor, or

stooped to kiss the leper on the cheek. I

have never said one single word to

him about what he

did.

know

moment whether

to the present

I

do not


DE PROFUNDIS

18

he

is

aware that

of his action.

I

It

was even conscious not a thing for

is

which one can render formal thanks in

formal

words.

I

treasure-house of it

store

my

there as a secret

it

heart.

in I

the

keep

debt that I

am

glad to think I can never possibly reIt

pay.

by

the

tears.

embalmed and kept sweet

is

myrrh and cassia of When wisdom has been

many profit-

me, philosophy barren, and the proverbs and phrases of those who

less to

give

me

consolation

us dust and ashes in

my

mouth, the

have

sought to

memory of of love

that

like a rose,

lovely, silent act

unsealed for

has

wells of pity

little,

:

made the

and brought

me

all

the

desert blossom

me

out of the


DE PROFUNDIS of

bitterness

har-

with the wounded, broken, and

mony

great heart of the world. able

are

into

exile

lonely

19

to

When

people

not

merely

understand,

how

beautiful

why

it

meant

much

so

was, but

action

's

me, and

to

always will mean so much, then, perhaps, they will realise spirit

The poor more

kind,

are wise,

more

more

a man's

something

alty,

pathy

who

life,

is

in

others.

what .

.

is

than

we

a tragedy

a misfortune, a casu-

that

calls

for

sym-

They speak of one

in prison as of

trouble' simply.

in .

charitable,

sensitive

In their eyes prison

are.

in

how and

they should approach me.

It

is

one

who

is

'in

the phrase they

always use, and the expression has the


DE PROFUNDIS

20

perfect

wisdom of love

own rank

people of our

With

us, prison

and such

I,

right to

air

in

With

it.

different

it is

makes a man a

as I

pariah.

am, have hardly any

Our presence

and sun.

taints the pleasures of others.

We

are

unwelcome when we reappear.

To

re-

visit

the glimpses of the

us.

Our very

Those are

lovely

broken.

is

not for

children are taken away.

with

links

We

are

solitary, while our sons

are

moon

humanity

doomed still

live.

to

be

We

denied the one thing that might

heal us and keep us, that might bring balm to the bruised heart, and peace to the soul in pain. I

must say

.

.

.

to myself that I ruined

myself, and that nobody great or small


DE PROFUNDIS own

can be ruined except by his I

am

quite ready to

21

think

it

pitiless

at the present

am

I

so.

say

trying to say so, though they

hand.

not

may

moment.

This

indictment I bring without pity Terrible as was

against myself.

what

the world did to me, what I did to

myself was far more terrible I

was a man who stood

relations to the art

had

I

age.

the very forced

my

and had

afterwards.

hold such a position in their

It

cerned at

it

my

myself at

my manhood,

age to realise

lifetime,

ledged.

in symbolic

and culture of

realised this for

dawn of

Few men own

still.

is

all,

and have

it

so

acknow-

usually discerned,

by the

critic, long after

if dis-

historian, or the

both the

man and

his

-


DE PROFUNDIS

22

age have

was

made

With me

passed away. I

different.

others feel

bolic figure,

felt it.

but

it

myself,

it

and

Byron was a symwere to

his relations

the passion of his age and

its

weariness

of passion.

Mine were

more

more permanent, of more

noble,

to something

vital issue, of larger scope.

The

gods

everything.

had

But

given I let

me

almost

myself be lured

into long spells of senseless and sensual ease.

I

amused myself with being a

flaneur, a dandy, a

surrounded

man

myself with

of fashion.

the

I

smaller

natures and the meaner minds.

I be-

my own

genius,

came the

spendthrift of

and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy. Tired of being on the


DE PROFUNDIS heights,

I

What

me

new

the paradox was to

to

the

sensation

me

in the

of thought, perversity became

sphere to

went

deliberately

depths in the search for

23

in the sphere of passion.

at the end,

or both.

I

of others.

grew I

careless

of the lives

took pleasure

pleased me, and passed on.

that every

Desire,

was a malady, or a madness,

little

action of the

where I

it

forgot

common

day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore

what one has done

in the

chamber one has some day to I ceased to cry aloud on the housetop. be lord over myself. I was no longer secret

the captain of

know me.

it.

I

my

soul,

and did not

I allowed pleasure to

ended

in

horrible

dominate disgrace.


DE PROFUNDIS

24

There

is

only one thing for

me now,

absolute humility. I have lain in prison for nearly years.

two

Out of my nature has come

wild despair; an abandonment to grief

was piteous even to terrible and impotent rage that

look

and scorn

anguish that wept aloud

;

misery that could find no voice that was dumb.

I

of suffering.

than Wordsworth himself

I

Wordsworth meant when he Suffering

And

is

;

sorrow

Better

know what said

permanent, obscure, and dark

has the nature of

But while

;

have passed through

every possible mood

'

at;

bitterness

;

there

infinity.'

were

times

rejoiced in the idea that

were to be endless,

I

my

when

I

sufferings

could not bear


DE PROFUNDIS them

somewhere away

I find hidden

nature

something that

and suffering least of something hidden away in

is

the

the last thing

is

best

which

:

I

ultimate

have

arrived,

meaningThat

my

nature,

Humility. in

left

the

me, and

discovery

the

I

know

time.

nor

me

to

that

right out it

has

of

come

It could not have

later.

Had any one

It has

myself, so

at the proper

come

before,

me of it, I Had it been

told

would have rejected it. brought to me, I would have refused

As

I

found

it,

I

at

starting-

point for a fresh development.

come

that

all.

less,

like a treasure in a field, is

my

in

me

tells

nothing in the whole world

It

Now

without meaning.

be

to

25

want to keep

it

I

it.

must


DE PROFUNDIS

26

do it

so.

It

the one thing that has in

is

the elements of

a Vita it is

Nuova

for

life,

me.

Of

that one has. lost

It

is

only

one possesses

Now

I

life,

things

acquire

everything

when one

has

knows that

things, that one

all

all

One cannot

the strangest.

except by surrendering

it,

new

of a

it.

have

realised that

it

is

in

me, I see quite clearly what I ought

And when

to do; in fact, must do. I use such a

phrase as that,

not say that I

am

external sanction or

none.

than I

me

I

am

far

need

not alluding to any

command.

more of an

ever was.

I

I admit

individualist

Nothing seems to

of the smallest value except what

one gets out of

oneself.

My

nature

is


DE PROFUNDIS mode

seeking a fresh

That the

am

I

of self-realisation.

And

concerned with.

thing that I have got to do

first

to

is

is all

27

free

myself from

any possible

bitterness of feeling against the world. I

am

completely penniless, and abso-

Yet

lutely homeless.

there are worse

things in the world than that. quite candid

than go bitterness

out in

when from

my

I

say this

heart

I

am

that rather

prison against

with the

would gladly and readily beg If I bread from door to door.

world, I

my

got nothing from the house of the rich

would get something at the house of the poor. Those who have much I

are often greedy

always share.

I

;

those

who have

would not a

bit

little

mind


DE PROFUNDIS

28

sleeping in the cool grass in

and when

winter came

warm

the

myself by

summer,

on sheltering close

-

thatched

under the penthouse of a great barn, provided I had love in my heart. rick, or

The

external things of

me now

seem

life

of no importance at

all.

to

You

can see to what intensity of individual-

ism

have

I

rather,

am

or

arrived

the journey

for

is

arriving

long,

and

'where I walk there are thorns.'

Of

know

course I

on the highway that

if

ever I

night-time to

the

prison,

it

moon.

R

on the other

that to ask alms

not to be

is

my

lot,

and

lie

in the cool grass at

will

be to write sonnets

When will

I

go

be waiting

out of for

me

side of the big iron-studded


DE PROFUNDIS and he

gate,

own

of his

tion of I

am

the symbol, not merely

is

but of the

affection,

to

I

if I

may

may

live

at

affec-

I believe

others besides.

many

to have

enough about eighteen months that

29

any

on for rate, so

not write beautiful books,

at least read

beautiful books;

and what joy can be greater ? After that, I hope to be able to recreate my creative faculty.

But were things a friend

different

in the

left

world

am and the

me

I to accept the wallet

cloak of sheer penury free

from

scorn, life

I

with

all

:

had

I

not

were there

;

not a single house open to

had

:

as

in pity

;

and ragged long as I

resentment, hardness,

would be able to

face

mucn more calm and


DE PROFUNDIS

80

confidence than I would were

and

in purple

fine

my body and the soul

linen,

me sick with hate. And I really shall have no difficulty. When you really want love you will

within

find it waiting for you.

need not say that my task does not end there. It would be comparatively I

easy

if

it

before me. climb,

I

valleys

And

through.

of myself.

There

did.

have

hills

much I

is

much more

far steeper to

darker

have to get

to

pass

it all

out

Neither religion, morality,

nor reason can help

me

at

all.

Morality does not help me.

am

I

am

a

born antinomian.

I

who

exceptions, not for

laws.

are

made

for

But while

I

one of those

see that there

is


DE PROFUNDIS

31

nothing wrong in what one does, that there

is

one becomes.

I see

something wrong in what It is well to have learned

that.

The

Religion does not help me.

what

that others give to

is

faith

unseen, I

give to what one can touch, and look

gods dwell in temples made with hands; and within the circle of

at.

My

actual

experience

perfect and

may be, who have it

earth,

is

my

complete

for like

many

creed

too

:

made

complete,

or all of those

placed their heaven in this

I have found in

it

not merely

the beauty of heaven, but the horror of

hell

religion like

also.

at

all,

When

I

I

as if

feel

think I

about

would

to found an order for those

who


DE PROFUNDIS

32

cannot

believe

the

:

Confraternity

the Faithless, one might

on an

altar,

a priest, in

call

it,

of

where

on which no taper burned, whose heart peace had no

might celebrate with unand a chalice empty of

dwelling,

blessed bread

Every thing to be true must

wine.

become a

religion.

should

have

faith.

It

own

Its

which makes not

than

martyrs,

it

it

be

faith

or

must be nothing external symbols must be of my

it

Only that

creating.

find

its

less

saints, and praise God having hidden Himself from

agnosticism,

to me.

agnosticism

no

its

But whether

man.

And

ritual

sown

has

should reap daily for

its

its

its

own

secret

form.

within

is

spiritual

If I

may

myself, I


DE PROFUNDIS shall it

never find

already,

it

it:

have not got

if I

come

will never

33

to me.

Reason does not help me. It tells me that the laws under which I am convicted are

wrong and unjust

and

laws,

the system under which I have suffered a

wrong and unjust system.

how,

I

But, some-

have got to make both of these

And exactly

things just and right to me. as in

what a

Art one

only concerned with

particular thing

moment ethical

is

at a particular

is

to oneself, so

it

is

also in the

evolution of one's character.

I

have got to make everything that has

happened to

me good

for

me.

The

plank bed, the loathsome food, the hard ropes shredded finger -tips

into

grow

oakum

dull

till

one's

with pain, the


DE PROFUNDIS

84

menial

and

offices

finishes,

with which each day begins

the harsh orders that routine

seems to necessitate, the dreadful dress that

makes sorrow grotesque to look

at,

the silence, the solitude, the shame

each and

all

of these things I have to

transform into

There

is

a

spiritual

experience.

not a single degradation of the

body which

I

must not

try and

make

into a spiritualising of the soul. T

want

to get to the point

when

I

shall be able to say quite simply, and

without affectation, that the two great turning-points in

my life

me me

to

say that prison

is

father sent society sent

were when

Oxford, and

to prison.

my

when

I will

not

the best thing that

could have happened to

me;

for that


DE PROFUNDIS

35

phrase would savour of too great bitterness towards myself. say, or hear

it

typical a child of perversity, I

would sooner

I

said of me, that I

and

my

and the

my

for that perversity's sake,

turned the good things of

evil,

was so

age, that in

evil things of

my life my life

to to

good.

What by

is

said,

however, by myself or

others, matters

thing that

remainder

I

of

The important

little.

thing, the thing that

lies

before me, the

have to do,

my

if

is

days

the brief

not to

maimed, marred, and incomplete, absorb into

my nature

done to me, to make to accept

or

it

reluctance.

without

all it

is

be to

that has been part of me,

complaint, fear,

The supreme vV?

is


DE PROFUNDIS

36

Whatever

shallowness.

realised

is

is

right.

When

was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It is It was ruinous advice. first

I

only by realising what I

am

that I have

found comfort of any kind.

Now

advised by others to try on

my

I

am

release

to forget that I have ever been in a prison at

equally

all.

fatal.

I

It

know

that would be

would mean that

would always be haunted by an

I

intoler-

able sense of disgrace, and that those

things that are

meant

for

me

as

much

'

beauty of anybody the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the

as

for

else

the

silence of great nights, the rain falling


DE PROFUNDIS

37

through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making

would

all

be tainted for me, and lose

their healing

power and

communicating

own

is

of one's

is

power of one's

regret

to arrest one's

To deny

development.

their

To

joy.

experiences

periences

silver

it

one's

own

own ex-

to put a lie into the lips

own

life.

It

is

no

less

than a

denial of the soul.

For just of

no

all

kinds,

less

as the

body absorbs things things common and unclean

than those that the priest or a

vision has cleansed,

and converts them

into swiftness or strength, into the play

of beautiful muscles and the moulding of

fair flesh, into

of the hair, the

the curves and colours

lips,

the eye

;

so the soul


DE PROFUNDIS

38

in its turn has its

nutritive functions

and can transform into noble moods

also,

of thought and passions of high import

what ing

in itself is base, cruel

nay, more,

;

may

most august modes can often reveal

and degrad-

find in

these

its

of assertion, and

itself

most perfectly

through what was intended to desecrate or destroy.

The

fact

common

my

having

prisoner of a

must frankly

may

of

been

common

the

gaol I

accept, and, curious as

it

seem, one of the things I shall have

to teach myself

is

not to be ashamed of

must accept it as a punishment, and if one is ashamed of having been

it

I

punished, one might just as well never

have been punished at

all.

Of

course


DE PROFUNDIS there are

many

39

things of which I was

convicted that I had not done, but then there are

many

things of which I was

convicted that I had done, and a greater

which

I

as the

still

number of things in my life for was never indicted at all. And

gods are strange, and punish us

good and humane in us as much as for what is evil and perverse, I must accept the fact that one is

for

what

is

punished for the good as well as for the

evil

doubt that be.

It

one does.

that it

is

helps

one,

not

should

or

help

and not to be too

conceited about either.

as I

have no

quite right one should

one, to realise both,

am

I

ashamed of

And

my

if

I then

punishment,

hope not to be, I shall be able


DE PROFUNDIS

40 to

and

think,

walk,

and

live

with

freedom.

Many men on

their release carry their

prison about with them into the

and hide

it

air,

as a secret disgrace in their

and at length, like poor poisoned things, creep into some hole and die. It is wretched that they should have to hearts,

do

and

so,

it

is

of society that

do

should force them to

Society takes upon itself the

so.

right

wrong, terribly wrong, it

to

on the

inflict

appalling punishment

individual, but

it

has the

also

supreme

vice of shallowness, and fails

to realise

what

has done.

it

man's punishment to himself; that

him

at the very

is

is

over,

it

to say,

When

the

leaves

him

it

moment when

abandons its

highest


DE PROFUNDIS

41

duty towards him begins. It is really ashamed of its own actions, and shuns those

whom

it

has punished, as people

shun a creditor whose debt they cannot

whom they

pay, or one on

have

inflicted

an irreparable, an irremediable wrong. I

can claim on

my

what I have realise

what

side that if I realise

suffered,

society

has inflicted

it

on

should

me and ;

that there should be no bitterness or

hate on either side.

Of course

I

know

that from one point

of view things will be for

me

made

different

than for others; must indeed,

by the very nature of the case, be so.

The poor

thieves

made

and outcasts who

me

are imprisoned

here with

many

more fortunate than I

respects

are

in


DE PROFUNDIS

42

am.

The

green

field

little

grey city &t

in

way

that saw their sin

to find those

is

who know nothing

small

;

of what

they have done they need go no further than a bird might light

fly

and the dawn

world

is

shrivelled

;

between the twibut for

me

the

to a handsbreadth,

my name

and everywhere I turn written on the rocks in

lead.

is

For

I

have come, not from obscurity into the

momentary notoriety of

crime, but from

a sort of eternity of fame to a sort of eternity of infamy, to myself to have

required

showing,

and sometimes seem shown, that

if

indeed

between

famous and the infamous there one

step, if as

Still,

much

is

it

the

but

as one.

in the very fact that people will


DE PROFUNDIS me

recognise all

about

my

wherever

43

and know

I go,

life, as far as its follies go, I

can discern something good for me. will

force on

me

asserting myself

It

the necessity of again as

an

and

artist,

as

If I can pro-

soon as I possibly can.

duce only one beautiful work of art I shall

be able to rob malice of

and cowardice of

its sneer,

its

out the tongue of scorn by the

And

if

life

be,

problem to me, I to

life.

as

it

am no

venom,

and to pluck roots.

surely

less

is,

a

a problem

People must adopt some

atti-

tude towards me, and so pass judgment

both on themselves and me. Slot

say I

am

individuals.

care to

be

need

I

not talking of particular

The only people with

now

are

I

would

artists

and


DE PROFUNDIS

44

who have

people

suffered

know what beauty

know what sorrow demands on

am

I

is:

In

life.

nobody I

all

having been punished

must

I

my own

of

am

making any

life as

my own a whole

;

attain

is

one of the for

to,

first

the sake

perfection, and because

I

so imperfect.

Then Once by

else in-

not to be ashamed of

I feel that

points

who

that I have said

simply concerned with

mental attitude towards

and

those

and those who

is,

Nor am

me.

terests

:

I

I

must

knew

It

instinct.

once in

my

was akin to

learn

it,

to be happy.

knew

it,

was always springtime

heart.

joy.

how

or thought I

My

I filled

temperament

my life

to the

very brim with pleasure, as one might


DE PROFUNDIS fill

45

a cup to the very brim with wine.

Now

am

I

pletely

standpoint, and

conceive happiness difficult for

from a com-

life

approaching

new

me.

I

often

is

even

to

extremely

remember during

my

term at Oxford reading in Pater's Renaissance that book which has had

first

such strange influence over

how Dante those

who

places

low

my

life

the Inferno

in

wilfully live in sadness

going to the college library

;

and

and turning

to the passage in the Divine

where beneath the those

who were

'

dreary

Comedy marsh lie

sullen in the sweet

air,'

saying for ever and ever through their sighs '

Tristi

fummo

Nell aer dolce che dal sol

s'allegra.'


DE PROFUNDIS

46 I

knew

the church condemned acddia,

but the whole idea seemed to

me

quite

fantastic, just the sort of sin, I fancied,

a priest life

who knew nothing about real invent. Nor could I under-

would

stand

how Dante, who

says that

*

sorrow

remarries us to God,' could have been so harsh to those

who were enamoured

if any such there really had no idea that some day this

of melancholy, were.

I

would become to temptations of

While I

longed to

When I

I

after

me

my

was die.

one of the greatest

life.

in

It

Wandsworth was

two months

my

one

prison desire.

in the infirmary

was transferred here, and found myself

growing

gradually

health, I

was

filled

better

in

physical

with rage.

I deter-


DE PROFUNDIS mined

to

commit

day on which I time that I

suicide left

mood

evil

made up my mind

gloom

to smile again I

to

on the very

prison.

After a

passed away, and

to live, but to wear

as a king wears :

47

purple:

never

to turn whatever house

entered into a house of mourning:

make my friends walk slowly in with me: to teach them

ness

melancholy

is

the true secret of

life

maim them with an alien sorrow mar them with my own pain. Now I quite differently.

I

see

it

came

to see

their faces

their

me still

:

to to

:

feel

would be

both ungrateful and unkind of pull so long a face that

sad-

that

when my

me

to

friends

they would have to make longer in order to show

sympathy;

or,

if

I

desired

to


DE PROFUNDIS

48

to invite

entertain them,

down

them

silently to bitter herbs

baked meats.

to

sit

and funeral

must learn how to be

I

cheerful and happy.

The

last

two occasions on which

was allowed to

see

my

tried to be as cheerful as possible,

to

show

my

I

friends here, I

in

cheerfulness,

and

order to

make them some

slight return for their

trouble in coming

all

to see me. I

know, but

that pleases for

It

is

it is

the

way from town

only a slight return, the one, I feel certain,

them most.

I

saw

R

an hour on Saturday week, and I

tried to give the fullest possible expres

sion of the delight I really felt at our

meeting. ideas I

And that, in the views and am here shaping for myself, I


DE PROFUNDIS am

my for

is

quite right

fact that

now

shown to me by the time since

for the first

imprisonment

have a real desire

I

life.

There

me

before

is

would regard

that I

tragedy

if I

much

so

a

as

it

see

life,

know what

is

in

which

I

Sorrow, then, and one,

is

my new

less

mode

it

world

I think

is ?

is.

have all

than a

you want to

new world

you can guess what world

it.

and

art

in

a fresh

no

Do

to me. this

is

of

I long to live so that

can explore what

new world

terrible

little

new developments

each one of which

of perfection. I

do

to

died before I was allowed

to complete at any rate a I

49

It

been

that

it

is

the

living.

teaches


DE PROFUNDIS

50

I used to live entirely for pleasure, I

shunned suffering and sorrow of every I

kind.

ignore

hated both.

them

them, that

I

resolved

as far as possible is

to say, as

:

to

to treat

modes of im-

They were not part of my perfection. scheme of life. They had no place in

my philosophy. My as

life

me

to

Goethe's lines

to

quote

written by Car-

book he had given her years

and translated by him,

ago,

'

who knew

a whole, used often

lyle in a

also

mother,

I

fancy,

:

Who never ate his bread in sorrow, Who never spent the midnight hours Weeping and waiting for the morrow, He knows you not, ye heavenly powers.'

They were the

lines

which that noble


DE PROFUNDIS Queen

of

whom

Prussia,

51

Napoleon

treated with such coarse brutality, used to quote in her humiliation and exile;

they were the lines

mother often

my

quoted in the troubles of her later I

life.

absolutely declined to accept or ad-

mit the enormous truth hidden in them. I

could not understand

how

ber quite well that I did not

I

I

it.

used to

want to eat

rememtell

my

her

bread

in sorrow, or to pass

any night weepand for a more bitter ing watching dawn. I

had no idea that

special

things

store for

my But

life,

so

me:

it

was one of the

that the Fates had in that for a whole year of

indeed, I

was to do

has

portion

my

little else.

been

meted


DE PROFUNDIS

52

out to

me

months

I

and during the

;

after

have,

last

terrible

feM

difficul-

and struggles, been able to comprehend some of the lessons hidden in

ties

the

of

heart

people

who

One

It

discerns

cerned

without wis-

use phrases

dom sometimes mystery.

Clergymen and

pain.

talk of suffering as a

is

really

revelation.

never

dis-

One approaches

the

things

before.

a

one

whole of history from a different standpoint.

What

through

one

instinct,

had

about

felt art,

lectually and emotionally

is

dimly, intel-

realised with

perfect clearness of vision and absolute intensity of apprehension. I

now

see

that

sorrow, being the

supreme emotion of which

man

is

cap-


DE PROFUNDIS able, all

is

at once the type

great

always

What

art.

looking

for

the

test of

artist

mode

one and indivisible

reveals.

:

preoccupied with

arts

in

Of such modes

of existence there are not a few

and the

of

which the out-

in

:

expressive of the inward:

is

which form

is

which soul and body are

existence in

ward

and

the

is

53

youth youth

serve as a model for us at one

may moment

:

at

another

think that, in tiveness

of

its

we may

subtlety and

impression,

its

like to

sensi-

suggestion

of a spirit dwelling in external things

and making air,

its

raiment of earth and

of mist and city alike, and in

morbid tones,

of

its

its

moods, and

sympathy and colours, modern

landscape


DE PROFUNDIS

54 art

was

by

realising for us pictorially

is

such plastic perfection

realised in

the

subject

what

Greeks.

Music, in which

all

absorbed in expression and

is

cannot be separated from

it,

is

a com-

plex example, and a flower or a child

a

example, of what I mean

simple

but sorrow in life

and

is

;

the ultimate type both

art.

Behind joy and laughter there may be a temperament, coarse, hard and callous.

But behind sorrow there

always sorrow.

wears no mask.

is

Pain, unlike pleasure,

Truth in

art is

not

any correspondence between the essential idea and the accidental existence; it

is

not the resemblance of shape to

shadow,

or

of the

form

mirrored in


DE PROFUNDIS

55

the crystal to the form itself;

from a hollow

echo coming

more than in

it

hill,

moon and

Truth in with

art

itself:

For

:

is

the unity of a thing

the soul

made

the body instinct with

spirit.

to

truth.

illusions

made other,

to

eye

me

to

Other

of the

no truth com-

There are times

sorrow.

when sorrow seems only

to

the outward rendered ex-

this reason there is

parable

moon

Narcissus to Narcissus.

pressive of the inward:

incarnate

any

a silver well of water

is

the valley that shows the

the

no

it is

things or

to be the

may be

the appetite,

blind the one and cloy the

but

worlds been

out

of

built,

sorrow

have

the

and at the birth of

a child or a star there

is

pain.


DE PROFUNDIS

56

More than

there

this,

about sorrow

is

an intense, an extraordinary

reality.

have said of myself that

I

who

was one

stood in symbolic relations to the

and

art is

I

of

culture

my

There

age.

man in this with me who

not a single wretched

Wretched

place

along

does not stand in symbolic relation to the very secret of

of

life

is

For the

life.

suffering.

It

to

and

us,

we

that

what what

is is

sweet

is

all

so sweet

so

bitter

inevitably direct

is

When we

hidden behind everything. begin to live,

secret

what

is

bitter,

our desires

towards pleasures, and seek not merely for

a

*

month

or

twain

honeycomb,' but for taste

all

to

feed

on

our years to

no other food, ignorant

all

the


DE PROFUNDIS we may

while that

57

really be

starving

the soul.

remember talking once subject to one of the most I

personalities

I

whose

woman,

have

ever

on

this

beautiful

known: and

sympathy

a

noble

kindness to me, both before and since the tragedy of

been

not

does

all

else

description;

really assisted

know

it,

me, though

to

bear the

more than any my in the whole world has, and

burden of one

imprisonment, have

beyond power and

one who has she

my

troubles

through the mere fact of her exist-

ence, through her

partly

fluence

:

an a

being what

she

is

and partly an insuggestion of what one ideal

might become

as

well as a real help


DE PROFUNDIS

58

towards becoming

it;

a soul that ren-

ders the

common

air sweet,

what

spiritual

seem as simple and

is

and makes

natural as sunlight or the sea

whom

beauty and

in hand,

On

:

one for

sorrow walk hand

and have the same message.

the occasion of which I

ing I recall distinctly

how

am I

think-

said

to

her that there was enough suffering in

one narrow London lane to show that

God

did not love man, and that where-

ever there was any sorrow, though but that of a child in

over

some

little

a fault that

it

garden

had or

weeping had not committed, the whole face of

was completely marred. I waf She told me so, but entirely wrong. I could not believe her. I was not in creation


DE PROFUNDIS

59

the sphere in which such belief was to

be attained that

possible

Now

to.

it

of some kind

love

of

explanation

seems to

me

the only

is

the

extraor-

dinary amount of

suffering that there

in the world.

I cannot conceive of

is

any other explanation. I am convinced is no other, and that if the

that there

world has indeed, as I have built

of sorrow,

it

been

said,

has been built by

the hands of love, because in no other soul of man, for

way could the the

world

was

made, reach

stature of its perfection.

the

whom

the

full

Pleasure for

body, but pain for the

beautiful

beautiful soul.

When

I say that I

these things

I

am

convinced of

speak with too

much


DE PROFUNDIS

60

Far

pride.

like

off,

one can see the

it

it in

so a child

could.

realise

a

it

is

it

so

is

a child

And

But with me and different.

in

thing

but one loses

seems as

It if

a summer's day.

could reach

me

God.

city of

wonderful that

such as

a perfect pearl,

One can

a single

moment,

in the long hours that

follow with leaden feet.

It

is

so

diffi-

cult to keep 'heights that the soul

We

to

think

is

in

gain.' competent eternity, but we move slowly through time; and how slowly time goes with

us

who

in prison I

lie

need not

tell

again, nor of the weariness and despair

that

creep back

and into the

cell

into

one's

cell,

of one's heart, with

such strange insistence

that one

has,


DE PROFUNDIS as

it

61

were, to garnish and sweep one's

house for their coming, as for an un-

welcome guest, or a a slave whose slave

bitter master, it

or

one's chance

is

or choice to be.

And, though find

may is

in

it

at present

my

friends

a hard thing to believe,

true none the less, that for

freedom and idleness and comfort

more easy to learn the than

it

is

for

it

them living it is

lessons of humility

me, who begin

the day

by going down on ing

the floor

life

with

strictions

most it

its

of

my knees and washmy cell. For prison

endless privations and re-

makes one

terrible thing

breaks one's heart

to be broken

rebellious.

about

it is

hearts are

but that

it

The

not that

made

turns one's


DE PROFUNDIS

62

One sometimes

heart to stone.

feels

only with a front of brass and

that

it is

a

of scorn that one can get through

lip

the day at

all.

And

he who

in a state

is

of rebellion cannot receive grace, to use

the phrase of which the Church fond

so rightly fond, I

mood

in life as in art the

so

is

dare say

for

of rebellion

closes up the channels of the soul, and

shuts out the airs of heaven.

Yet

learn these lessons here, if I

am

them anywhere, and must be

my feet

are

to learn

filled

with

on the right road and

joy

if

my

face set towards

called beautiful,'

must

I

*

the gate which

though

I

may

fall

is

many

times in the mire and often in the mist

go

astray.

This

New Life, as through my

love of


DE PROFUNDIS Dante

sometimes to

I like

course no

new

life

at

and evolution, of

my

member when

was

my

round

ing

call

it, is

of

but simply the

all,

by means of development,

Continuance,

to one of

63

I

former at

friends as

I re-

life.

Oxford saying we were stroll-

Magdalen's

narrow

bird-

haunted walks one morning in the year before I took

my

degree, 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

passion hi

my

I

went

out,

the world soul.

and so

And

with that so,

I lived.

indeed,

My

only

mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of

to

me

and

what seemed

the sun-lit side of the garden,

shunned the other

side

for

its


DE PROFUNDIS

64-

shadow and

its

Failure,

gloom.

sorrow, despair, suffer-

grace, poverty,

ing, tears even, the broken

come from

dis-

in

lips

pain,

words that

remorse that

makes one walk on

thorns, conscience

that

-

self

condemns,

abasement

that

punishes, the misery that puts ashes on its

head, the anguish that chooses sack-

cloth for

its

raiment and into

drink puts gall

of which

I

all

:

was

its

own

these were things

afraid.

And

as I

had

determined to know nothing of them, I

was forced to

turn, to

feed on

taste each of

for a single

having lived for pleasure. full, as

in

them, to have for a

season, indeed, no other food at

I don't regret

them

all.

moment

I did it to the

one should do everything that one


DE PROFUNDIS

65

There was no pleasure I did not experience. I threw the pearl of my soul does.

into a cup of wine.

I

went down the

primrose path to the sound of flutes. lived

tinued the same

wrong because I

ing.

it

life

had to pass

course

would have been

on.

my

The

its secrets

all this is

prefigured in

to have con-

would have been

of the garden had

Of

But

on honeycomb.

I

limit-

other half

for

me

also.

foreshadowed and

books.

Some

of

The Happy Prince, some of The Young King, notably in the

in

it is it

in

pass-

age where the bishop says to the kneel*

ing boy,

Is not

He who made

misery

wiser than thou art'? a phrase which

when

I

wrote

it

seemed to

more than a phrase

;

me

little

a great deal of

it


DE PROFUNDIS

66 is

hidden away in the note of

doom

that like a purple thread runs through

the texture of Dorian Gray, in The Critic as Artist it is set forth in

colours

written down, and to read

it is

;

recurring

motifs

refrains

make Salome

a piece of music and bind

a ballad

as

the

;

in

the

man who from

it

a

moment

the is

*

incarnate.

make

of one's

be

life

no

one less

every is

together of

liveth for

the image ot for

It could not

At

so like

the bronze of the

Sorrow that abideth

otherwise.

to

has to

is

whose

poem

prose

image of the 'Pleasure that '

it

too easy

in letters

one of the

many

Man

The Soul of

in

;

single

what

it

have been

what one

than

ever'

moment is

going

one

has


DE PROFUNDIS Art

been. is

is

67

a symbol, because

man

a symbol. It

can fully attain to

if I

is,

it,

ultimate realisation of the artistic

For the

artistic

life

simply self-de-

is

Humility in the

velopment.

the life.

artist

is

his frank acceptance of all experiences,

just as love in the artist

is

simply the

sense of beauty that reveals to the world its

body and

its

soul.

In Marine the

Epicurean Pater seeks to reconcile the artistic life with the life of religion, in the deep, sweet, and austere sense of the

word.

But Marius

and one to template

whom

the

appropriate

is little

more than

an ideal spectator indeed,

a spectator:

it

is

spectacle

emotions,'

given 'to conof

which

life

with

Words-


DE PROFUNDIS

68

worth defines

as the poet's true

aim

;

yet a spectator merely, and perhaps a too

little

much occupied with the come-

liness of the

notice

to

sorrow that he I

benches of the sanctuary

that

it

is

is

the sanctuary of

gazing

at.

see a far more intimate and im-

mediate connection between life

of Christ and the true

artist

;

and

I take a

reflection that

made

Man

that

Christ-like

life

of the

life

keen pleasure

in the

own and bound me The Soul

to her wheel I had written in

of

true

long before sorrow had

days her

my

the

he

who would

must be

lead

a

entirely and

absolutely himself, and had

taken

as

my

types not merely the shepherd on

the

hillside

and the prisoner

in his cell,


DE PROFUNDIS

69

whom

the world

but also the painter to is

a pageant and the poet for

world

is

a song.

some Paris

physics had but

cafe,

the

remember saying

I

once to Andre Gide, as in

whom

we

sat together

that while

meta-

little real interest for

me,

and morality absolutely none, there was nothing that either Plato or Christ had said that could not

be transferred im-

mediately into the sphere of Art and there find

Nor

its

is it

complete fulfilment.

merely that we can discern

in Christ that close

union of personality

with perfection which forms the real distinction

between

the

romantic movement in basis of his nature

classical

life,

and

but the very

was the same as that

of the nature of the artist

an intense


DE PROFUNDIS

70

He

and flamelike imagination. in the entire sphere of

human

realised

relations

that imaginative sympathy which in the

sphere

of Art

creation.

is

He

the

sole

secret

the

understood

Or

leprosy

of the leper, the darkness of the blind, the fierce misery of those

who

live for

pleasure, the strange poverty of the rich.

Some one wrote you

are not

to

me

in trouble,

l

When

on your pedestal you are How remote was the

not interesting.' writer from

'the Secret

what Matthew Arnold of Jesus.'

calls

Either would

have taught him that whatever happens to another happens to oneself, and if

you want an inscription to read at dawn and at night-time, and for pleasure or for pain, write

up on the walls of your


DE PROFUNDIS house in the

letters for

moon

to silver,

71

the sun to gild and '

Whatever happens '

to oneself happens to another. Christ's place indeed

His whole sprang

is

of

conception

right

out

with the poets.

Humanity

the

of

imagination

and can only be realised by it. What God was to the pantheist, man was to Him. He was the first to conceive the Before his

divided races as a unity.

time there had

been gods

and men,

and, feeling through the mysticism of

sympathy that

made

in himself each

incarnate,

he

calls

had been

himself the

Son of the one or the Son of the other,

according to

his

mood.

More

than any one else in history he wakes hi us that

temper of wonder to which


DE PROFUNDIS

72

romance always something to

me

appeals.

There

is

still

almost incredible in the

idea of a young Galilean peasant imagining

that he could bear on his

own

the burden of the entire world

shoulders :

all

that

had already been done and suffered, and all that was yet to be done and suffered :

the sins of Nero, of Caesar Borgia, of

Alexander

vi.,

and

of

him who was

Emperor of Rome and Priest of the Sun the sufferings of those whose :

and whose dwelling among the tombs oppressed nation-

names is

are legion

:

alities, factory children, thieves, people

in prison, outcasts, those

who

are

dumb

under oppression and whose silence heard

is

only of

God; and not merely

this

but actually achieving

imagining


DE PROFUNDIS so that at the present

it,

who come

in contact

even though they

ality,

73

moment

all

with his person-

may

neither

bow

to his altar nor kneel before his priest,

some way

in

their sin

is

find that the ugliness of

taken away and the beauty of

their sorrow revealed to them. I

had

That

and Sophocles are of his entire life also

of poems. is

he ranks

said of Christ that

with the poets.

For

'

is

is

true.

Shelley

company. But the most wonderful his

pity and terror

'

there

nothing in the entire cycle of Greek

tragedy purity

to

of

touch the

it.

The

protagonist

absolute

raises

the

scheme to a height of romantic from which the sufferings of Thebes

entire art

and Pelops'

line are

by

their very horror


DE PROFUNDIS

74

excluded, and shows

was when he said

drama that

it

how wrong Aristotle

in his treatise

on the

would be impossible to

bear the spectacle of one blameless in pain.

Nor in ^Eschylus nor Dante,

stern masters of tenderness, in

human

speare, the most purely

great

artists, in

of

those

Shakeall

the whole of Celtic

the

myth

and legend, where the loveliness of the world is shown through a mist of tears,

man

and the

life

the

of a flower,

life

that,

for

of a

sheer

is

is

no more than there anything

simplicity

of

pathos

wedded and made one with sublimity of tragic effect, can be said to equal or

even approach the passion.

The

last act of Christ's

little

companions, one of

supper with his

whom

has already


DE PROFUNDIfc sold

him

for a price

;

quiet moon -lit garden coming close to him

him with

a kiss

the anguish in the

the false friend

;

so

to betray

as

the friend

;

75

believed in him, and on

who

whom

as

still

on a

rock he had hoped to build a house of refuge

for

Man, denying him

bird cried to the loneliness,

his

dawn;

his

submission,

ance of everything

;

his

the

as

own

utter

accept-

and along with

it all

such scenes as the high priest of ortho-

doxy rending the for

his

magistrate

raiment in wrath, and of

civil justice

calling

water in the vain hope of cleansing

himself of that stain of innocent blood that

tory

makes him the ;

scarlet figure of his-

the coronation ceremony of sorrow,

one of the most wonderful things

in


DE PROFUNDIS

76

the whole of recorded time

;

the cruci-

Innocent One before the eyes

fixion of the

of his mother and of the disciple

he loved;

the

soldiers

gambling

throwing dice for his clothes rible its

whom

;

and

the ter-

death by which he gave the world

most eternal symbol; and

burial in the

tomb of the

rich

his final

man,

his

body swathed in Egyptian linen with costly spices

and perfumes as though he son. When one con-

had been a king's

from the point of view alone one cannot but be grateful

templates of art

all this

that the supreme office of the Church

should be the playing of the tragedy

without

the

shedding of blood:

the

mystical presentation, by means of dia-

logue and costume and gesture even, of


DE PROFUNDIS the Passion of her Lord

;

a source of pleasure and

and

77

it is

awe

remember that the ultimate

to

always

me

the Greek chorus, lost elsewhere to is

to

survival of art,

to be found in the servitor answering

the priest at Mass.

Yet the whole tirely

one is

may

life

of Christ

sorrow and beauty be

in their

so en-

made

meaning and manifestation

really an

idyll,

though

it

ends with

the veil of the temple being rent, and the darkness coming over the face of the earth,

and the stone

of the sepulchre.

him

as a

rolled to the door

One always

thinks of

young bridegroom with his com-

panions, as indeed he somewhere describes

himself; as a shepherd straying through

a valley with his sheep in search of green


DE PROFUNDIS

78

meadow

or cool

stream

as

;

a singer

trying to build out of the music the walls of the City of

God

;

or as a lover

whose love the whole world was too

for

small. as

His miracles seem to as

exquisite

me

to be

the coming of spring,

and quite

as natural.

at all in

believing that such was the

charm of

his personality that his

I see

no

difficulty

mere

presence could bring peace to souls in anguish, and that those

garments or

his

who touched

his

hands forgot their pain by on the highway ;

or that as he passed

of

life

people

who had

seen nothing of

mystery saw it clearly, and others who had been deaf to every voice but

life's

that of pleasure heard for the

the

voice

of

love

and

first

found

time

it

as


DE PROFUNDIS '

'

musical as Apollo's lute

;

79

or that evil

men

passions fled at his approach, and

whose dull unimaginative but a

mode

the grave

of death rose as

when he

it

were from

them

called

when he taught on the

had been

lives

;

or that

hillside the

titude forgot their hunger

and

mul-

thirst

and

the cares of this world, and that to his friends

at

who

him

listened to

as he sat

meat the coarse food seemed

delicate,

and the water had the taste of good wine, and the whole house became full of the odour and sweetness of nard.

Renan gracious

in fifth

cording to St. it

says

his

Vie

Jesus

de the

that

gospel

ac-

Thomas, one might

call

gospel,

somewhere that

Christ's great

achievement was that he made himself


DE PROFUNDIS

80

much

as

loved

had been during certainly,

poets, he

He

his

if

his

And

lifetime.

place

among

is

the leader of

is

death as he

his

after

all

saw that love was the

the

the lovers. secret

first

men

of the world for which the wise

had been looking, and that it was only through love that one could approach either the heart of the leper or the feet

of God.

And

above

supreme of like

all,

Christ

individualists.

the most

Humility,

the artistic acceptance of

periences, tation.

is

It

all

ex-

merely a mode of manifesis

man's soul that Christ

always looking

for.

He

Kingdom,' and finds

He

is

compares

it

to

it

calls it

in

little

*

is

God's

every one.

things,

to a


DE PROFUNDIS

81

tiny seed, to a handful of leaven, to a

That

pearl.

is

because one

realises one's

only by getting rid of

soul

passions, all acquired culture, ternal possessions,

alien

all

and

all

be they good or

ex-

evil.

I bore up against everything with some stubbornness of will and much re-

bellion of nature,

tion,

my

wealth.

But

had

I

thing.

in

left

nothing

I

lost

till

the

had absolutely

I

world

my my

name,

happiness,

but

my

freedom,

one posi-

my

was a prisoner and a pauper. had my children left. still I

Suddenly they were taken away from the law. It was a blow so

me by

that I

appalling to

do,

so

knees, and

T

did

flung

bowed

my

not

know what

myself

on

my

head, and wept,


DE PROFUNDIS

82

'The body of the body of the Lord

and as

worthy

of

the only thing for

will

I

me was

no doubt sound

happier.

It

is

am not moment

saw then that

Since then

everything.

child I

:

That

either.'

seemed to save me.

its

a

said,

to accept

curious as

have

I

was of course

my

it

been

soul in

ultimate essence that I had reached.

In many ways but I found

I

it

waiting

When

friend.

with the soul

had been for

one comes

it

its

enemy,

me in

as

a

contact

makes one simple

as

a child, as Christ said one should be. It

is

possess *

Nothing

tragic their is

how few souls'

more

people

before

rare

in

they

ever die.

any man/

says Emerson, 'than an act of his own.'


DE PROFUNDIS It

is

Their

people.

some one

else's

their

mimicry,

Most people

true.

quite

other

83 are

are

thoughts

opinions, their lives a

a

passions

quotation.

Christ was not merely the supreme individualist,

but he

dividualist

in

tried

first

People

history.

make him out an

to

philanthropist, altruist

was the

or

ranked

in-

have

ordinary

him

as

an

with the unscientific and sen-

timental.

But he was

one nor the other.

really

neither

Pity he has, of

who

course, for the poor, for those

are

shut up in prisons, for the lowly, for the wretched;

but he has

far

more

pity for the rich, for the hard hedonists,

in

for those

who waste

becoming slaves to

their

freedom

things, for those


DE PROFUNDIS

S4

who wear

soft

seemed

him

to

and

pleasure

be really greater

to

And

tragedies than poverty or sorrow.

who knew

as for altruism,

he that

and

us,

that

one

grapes of thorns or

gather thistles

To

better than

vocation not volition that

it is

determines

in

live

and

Riches

houses.

kings'

raiment

cannot

from

figs

?

live for others as a definite self-

conscious aim was not his creed.

was not the he says,

'

basis of his creed.

It

When

Forgive your enemies,'

it

is

not for the sake of the enemy, but for one's

own

sake that he says

because love hate.

In

is

his

young man,

*

so,

and

more beautiful than

own Sell

all

to

the

that thou

hast

entreaty


DE PROFUNDIS and give to the poor,'

it is

state of the poor that

he

85

not of the is

thinking,

but of the soul of the young man, the

was marring. In his he is one with the artist

soul that wealth

view of

life

who knows

that

by the

inevitable law

of self-perfection, the poet must sing,

and the sculptor think the painter for his

and

the world a mirror

moods, as surely and

hawthorn

the

as

make

in bronze,

must

as certainly

blossom

in

and the corn turn to gold at harvest time, and the moon in her spring,

-

ordered wanderings change from shield to sickle, and from sickle to shield.

But while Christ did not say men, 'Live

for others,'

that

was no

there

to

he pointed out

difference

at

all


DE FROFUNDIS

86

between the

lives

of others and one's

own

life.

man

an extended, a Titan personality.

By

this

means he gave

to

Since his coming the history of each separate individual

or can be made,

is,

the history of the world.

Of

culture has intensified

personality

of man.

minded.

course,

made us myriadThose who have the artistic Art

has

temperament go into and learn how salt others,

the

and how steep

catch for a

moment

exile is

with Dante

the

bread

their stairs

;

of

they

the serenity and

calm of Goethe, and yet know but too well that Baudelaire cried to

'

O

God

Seigneur, donnez moi la force et le courage contempler mon corps et mon cceur sans

De

d^gofit.'


DE PROFUNDIS Out

of

own

their

the secret of his their

own they

to

handled

and

love

they

may

it

be,

make

new

it

eyes on

because they have listened

life,

one

hurt

look with

;

modern

sonnets

Shakespeare's

draw, to

87

of

Greek

or

nocturnes,

Chopin's

read

the

story of the passion of some dead

man

or

things,

for

some

dead

was

like

threads

woman

whose mouth was

of as

whose

fine

a

artistic

tem-

necessarily with what has

is

perament found expression. colours, in

and

gold,

pomegranate,

But the sympathy of the

the

hair

In

words

or

in

music or in marble, behind

masks of an JEschylean or through some Sicilian shep-

painted

play,

herds'

pierced

and jointed

reeds,

the


88

DE PROFUNDIS

man and

his

message must have been

revealed.

To

the

artist,

at

To him what

all.

But

to Christ

it

the only

is

expression

mode under which he can

conceive

dumb

is

was not

is

life

dead.

With

so.

a

width and wonder of imagination that fills

one almost with awe, he took the world

entire

of

the

inarticulate,

voiceless world of pain, as his

and made of himself Those of

piece.

who *

are

whose

whom

dumb under

silence

is

deal',

mouth-

have spoken, oppression and I

heard only of God,'

He

he chose as his brothers.

become eyes

kingdom,

eternal

its

the

sought to

to the blind, ears to the

and a cry in the

whose tongues had been

lips

tied.

of

those

His desire


DE PUOFUNDIS

89

was to be to the myriads who had found no utterance a very trumpet through which they might feeling,

with the

whom

to

call to

artistic

suffering

and

heaven.

And

nature of one

sorrow

modes through which he could

were realise

his conception of the beautiful, that

idea

is

of no value

nate and

the image of the

Sorrows, and

dominated

becomes

an

incar-

made an image, he made

is

of himself

till it

Man

as such has fascinated

art

as

of

and

no Greek god ever

succeeded in doing.

For the Greek gods,

in spite of the

white and red of their

fair fleet limbs,

really what they appeared to be. The curved brow of Apollo was like the

were not

sun's disc crescent over a hill at

dawn,


DE PROFUNDIS

90

and

his feet

were

as the wings of the

morning, but he himself had been cruel

Marsyas and had made Niobe childIn the steel shields of Athena's less. to

eyes there had been no pity for Arachne;

the all

pomp and

peacocks of Hera were

that was really noble about her

the Father of the

;

and

Gods himself had

been too fond of the daughters of men.

The two most deeply

suggestive figures

of Greek Mythology were, for religion,

Demeter, an Earth Goddess, not one of the Olympians, and for the son of a mortal the

moment

the

moment

But Life

art,

woman

Dionysus, to

whom

of his birth had proved also

of her death. itself

from

its

lowliest

most humble sphere produced one

and far


DE PROFUNDIS

91

more marvellous than the mother of Proserpina or the son of Semele.

Out

of the Carpenter's shop at Nazareth had

come

a

personality

than any made by

infinitely

greater

myth and legend,

and one, strangely enough, destined to reveal to the world the mystical meaning of wine and the real beauties of the lilies

of the

field

as

none, either on

Cithaeron or at Enna, had ever done.

The song of

Isaiah,

'

He

is

despised

and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: and we hid as

it

were our faces from him,' had

seemed to him to prefigure himself, and in him the prophecy was fulfilled. We

must not be Every

single

afraid

of such a phrase.

work of

art

is

the

fulfil-


DE PttOFUNDIS

92

ment art

is

of a prophecy

:

work

for every

of

the conversion of an idea into

an image.

Every

single

human being

should be the fulfilment of a prophecy for

every

human

some

realisation of

mind of God

:

being should be the ideal, either

or in the

the

in

mind of man.

Christ found the type and fixed

it,

and

the dream of a Virgilian poet, either at

Jerusalem

or

at

Babylon, became in

the long progress of the centuries incarnate in

him

for

whom

the

world

was waiting.

To me one

of the things in history

the most to be regretted Christ's

own

renaissance,

duced the Cathedral

at

is

that the

which has proChartres, the

Arthurian cycle of legends, the

life

of


DE PROFUNDIS St.

93

Francis of Assisi, the art of Giotto,

and Dante's Divine Comedy, was not

on

allowed to develop

but the

was

interrupted

lines,

gave us Petrarch, and Raphael's coes,

and

by

Renaissance that

classical

dreary

own

its

and spoiled

Palladian

architecture,

formal French tragedy, and Cathedral,

and

Pope's

everything

that

is

fres-

and

Paul's

St.

poetry,

and

made from with-

out and by dead rules, and does not

some

spring from within through

informing

romantic

But wherever

it.

movement

or the soul of Christ. Juliet,

in

the

spirit is

a

in art there some-

how, and under some form,

and

there

He

is

Winter's

is

Christ,

in

Romeo

Tale,

Proven9al poetry, in the Ancient

in

Mar-


DE PROFUNDIS

94

wer, in

La

We

Dame

Belle

in Chatterton's

owe

to

sans merci, and

Ballad of Charity.

him the most

diverse

things and people.

Hugo's Les Mise-

rabks, Baudelaire's

Fkurs du Mai, the

note of pity in Russian novels, Ver-

And Verlaine's poems, the stained glass and tapestries and the quattrocento work of Burne- Jones and Morris, laiiie

belong to him no

less

than the tower of

Giotto, Lancelot and Guinevere, Tannhauser, the troubled romantic

of Michael Angelo, pointed ture,

and

flowers

for

the

love

marbles architec-

of children

and

both of which, indeed, in

classical art there

was but

them

little

to

place,

enough grow or play in, but which, from the twelfth hardly

for


DE PROFUNDIS century

down

to

our

own

95 day, have

been continually making their appearances in at

art,

various

under various modes and

times,

coming

fitfully

wilfully, as children, as flowers, are

to

do:

as

if

and apt

spring always seeming to one

the flowers had been in hiding,

and only came out into the sun because they were afraid that grown up people would grow tired of looking for

them and give up the search; and the life of a child being no more than an April day on which there

and sun It

is

Christ's

is

both rain

for the narcissus.

the

own

imaginative

nature

that

centre

this

palpitating

The

strange figures

quality

of

makes him

of

romance.

of poetic

drama


DE PROFUNDIS

96

and ballad are made by the imagination

of

but

others,

out

own

of his

imagination entirely did Jesus of Naza-

The

reth create himself.

had

really

more

no

cry of Isaiah

to

do

with his

coming than the song of the nightingale has to do with the rising of the

moon

no more, though

He

less.

perhaps

was the denial

as

well

no as

the affirmation of prophecy.

For every

expectation that he

there was

another beauty,'

that

he

says

fulfilled

*

destroyed.

Bacon,

'

there

is

In

all

some

strangeness of proportion,' and of thosa

who

are born

that

is

dynamic are like

to

say,

forces

of the spirit

who

like

of those,

himself are

Christ says that they

the wind that 'bloweth where


DE PROFUNDIS and no man can

it

listeth,

it

cometh and whither

is

he

why

He

has

is

tell

whence That

goeth.'

so fascinating to artists.

the colour elements of

all

mystery,

it

<tf

strangeness,

:

sugges-

pathos,

He

tion, ecstasy, love.

life

appeals to the

temper of wonder, and creates tha'L mood in which alone he can be understood.

And

me

to

ber that

if

the

compact,'

it

he

is

is

world

"same substance.

a joy

to

remem-

'of imagination itself

I said in

is

all

of the

Dorian Gray

that the great sins of the world take

place

in

the brain

:

but

it

is

in the

brain that everything takes place.

know now

that

we do not

see

the eyes or hear with the ears. G

We with

They


DE PROFUNDIS

98

are really channels for the transmission,

adequate or inadequate, of sense imIt

pressions.

red, that the apple is odorous,

is

poppy

in the brain that the

is

that the skylark sings.

Of

I

late

have been studying with

diligence the four prose

At

Christ.

poems about

Christmas I managed to

get hold of a

Greek Testament, and

every morning,

after I

cell

and of

little

taken

polished

my

tins,

by chance anywhere.

way

of

Every one, even in disciplined

Endless

my

read a

I

the Gospels, a dozen verses

delightful

has

had cleaned

life,

for

a

should

repetition, in

spoiled

opening

us

It

is

the

day.

turbulent,

do

the

a

ill-

same.

and out of season, the freshness, the


DE PROFUNDIS

99

naivetd, the simple romantic

charm of

We

the Gospels. too

often

repetition

and is

far all

When

anti-spiritual.

returns to the into

them read

too badly, and

hear

far

a garden

Greek, of

it

like

is

out

lilies

one

going

of some

narrow and dark house.

And by the

to me, the pleasure reflection that

bable that

we have

it is

is

doubled

extremely pro-

the actual terms, the

ipsissima verba, used

by

Christ.

It

was

always supposed that Christ talked in

Aramaic. Even Renan thought

now we know that

so.

But

the Galilean peasants,

like the Irish peasants of

our own day,

were bilingual, and that Greek was the ordinary

language

of

intercourse

over Palestine, as indeed

all

all

over the


DE PROFUNDIS

100

Eastern world. that

I never liked the idea

we knew

of

own words

Christ's

only through a translation of a transIt

lation.

is

a delight to

me

to think

that as far as his conversation was concerned, Charmides might have listened

to

him,

and

with

reasoned

Socrates

him, and Plato understood him:

he really said eyw that

when he thought of the

che field and

how they

lilies

neither

spin, his absolute expression

toil

of

nor

was Kara-

rov aypov TTWS av^ai/et" ov

TO, Kpiva.

ouSe vyOei,

when he

that

et/u 6 TTOL^V 6 /eaXos,

and that

cried out

completed, has

'my

reached

his last life

its

word

has been fulfilment,

has been perfected/ was exactly as St.

John

tells

us

it

was

:

TereXeorai

no more.


DE PROFUNDIS While ticularly

in

101

reading the Gospels

that of St.

John

whatever early Gnostic took

and mantle

par-

himself, or his

name

I see the continual asser-

tion of the imagination as the basis of all spiritual

and material

life,

1 see also

that to Christ imagination was simply a form of love, and that to

him love was

meaning of the phrase. weeks ago I was allowed by

lord in the fullest

Some

six

the doctor to have white bread to eat instead of the coarse

black or brown

bread of ordinary prison great delicacy.

It will

fare.

It

is

a

sound strange

that dry bread could possibly be a deli-

cacy to any one.

To me

it is

so

much

so that at the close of each meal I carefully eat

whatever crumbs

may be

left


DE PROFUNDIS

102

on

have

tin plate, or

my

on the

fallen

rough towel that one uses as a cloth so as not to soil one's table

not from hunger

I

get

;

and

now

I

quite

do so suffi-

but simply in order that

cient food

nothing should be wasted of what given to me. Christ,

is

So one should look on love.

like

all

person-

fascinating

had the power of not merely beautiful things himself, but of saying

alities,

making other people say beautiful things him and I love the story St. Mark tells us about the Greek woman, who, to

when

;

as a trial

of her faith he said to

her that he could not give her the bread of the children of Israel, answered him that

dogs'

the it

little

dogs

(/cwapta,

should be rendered)

'little

who

are


DE PROFUNDIS

103

under the table eat of the crumbs that the children let for love

fall.

Most people live But it is by

and admiration.

love and admiration that If

any love

Nobody

is

is

should

live.

shown us we should recog-

we

nise that

we

are quite

unworthy of

it.

The worthy to be loved. loves man shows us that

God

fact that

in the divine order of ideal things it is

written that eternal love to

what

is

is

to be given

eternally unworthy.

Or

if

that phrase seems to be a bitter one to bear, let us say that every

of love, except is.

Love

is

one

is

worthy

him who thinks that he

a sacrament that should be

taken kneeling, and Domine, non sum dignus should be on the hearts of those

who

lips

receive

it.

and

in the


DE FROFUNDIS

104

If ever I write again, in the sense of

producing

two

*

I desire

Christ

as

work, there are just

and through to express myself: one

on

subjects

which is

artistic

which

the

romantic movement in is

'The

relation

artistic

of

precursor life':

the other

considered

life

The

to conduct.'

course, intensely fascinating,

the

in

first

its

is,

for

I

of see

in Christ not merely the essentials of

the supreme romantic type, but

all

the

accidents, the wilfulnesses even, of the

romantic temperament the

first

person

who

that they should live

He

fixed the phrase.

become.

He

was

*

flower-like fives.'

He took

children

what people should try He held them up as

as the type of

to

also.

ever said to people


DE PROFUNDIS examples to their

elders,

which

105 I

myself

have always thought the chief use of children, if

a use.

Dante

is

perfect should have

describes the soul of a

coming from the hand of God weeping and laughing like a little child,'

man *

what

as

and Christ also saw that the soul of each one should be a guisa di fandulla che

He

piangendo e ridendo pargoleggia. felt

that

life

was changeful,

and that to allow into

it

fluid, active,

to be stereotyped

any form was death.

He

saw that

people should not be too serious over material,

common

interests: that to

unpractical was to be a great thing

:

be

that

one should not bother too much over affairs.

man ?

The

He

is

birds

didn't,

why

should

charming when he

says,


DE PROFTJNDIS

106

'Take no thought for the morrow; is not the soul more than meat ? is not the

A

body more than raiment?'

Greek

might have used the latter phrase. It But only Christ is full of Greek feeling. could have said both, and so life

up

His

perfectly for us.

morality

is

all

what morality should thing '

Her

that

he

ever

sympathy, just

said

had

been,

sins are forgiven her because she

loved much,'

all

If the only

be.

it

would have been worth

while dying to have said is

summed

poetical

justice should be.

justice,

it.

His

exactly

justice

what

The beggar goes

to

heaven because he has been unhappy. I

eannot conceive a better reason for

his

being sent there.

The people who


DE PROFUNDIS work

for

107

an hour in the vineyard in the

cool of the evening receive just as

reward as those in the

day long they

?

thing.

who have

toiled there all

hot sun.

Why

Or perhaps they were

with the dull

treat

mechanical systems

lifeless

tions merely, as if

:

they were things,

there were excep-

anybody, or anything,

was

for that matter,

like

aught

else in

!

That which romantic

if

everybody alike: for him

there were no laws

the world

a different

Christ had no patience

that treat people as

art

is

the very keynote of

was to

basis of natural basis.

shouldn't

Probably no one deserved any-

kind of people.

and so

much

life.

And when

him the proper He saw no other

they brought

him


DE PROFUNDIS

108

one taken

in the very act of sin

showed him her sentence written

him what was

law, and asked

done, he wrote with

and

in the

to

be

on the

his finger

ground as though he did not hear them, and finally, when they pressed him again, 'Let him of you who has never sinned be the first to looked up and

said,

throw the stone at

her.'

was worth

It

while living to have said that.

Like

all

poetical

He knew

ignorant people.

he

natures

that in the

soul of one

who

always room

for a great idea.

is

loved

ignorant there

is

But he

could not stand stupid people, especially those

who

tion

people

:

are

made

who

stupid by educa-

are full of opinions not

one of which they even understand, a


DE PROFUNDIS peculiarly

modern

when he

Christ

of one

who

cannot use

it

summed up by

describes

it

as the type

has the key of knowledge,

and does not allow

himself,

other people to use

made

type,

109

though

it,

it

may be

to open the gate of God's King-

His chief war was against the That is the war every child Philistines.

dom.

of light has to wage.

was

Philistinism

the note of the age and community in

which he

accessibility

spectability,

their worship

entire

In their heavy

lived.

to

ideas,

their

dull

re-

orthodoxy,

of vulgar success, their

preoccupation

materialistic

their

tedious

in-

side

ridiculous estimate

of

with

the

gross

life,

and

their

of themselves and

their importance, the

Jews of Jerusalem


DE PROFUNDIS

110

in Christ's day were the exact counter-

own.

Christ

mocked

at

the 'whited

sepulchre' of respectability, and that phrase for ever.

our

of

part of the British Philistine

fixed

He treated worldly

success as a thing absolutely to be despised.

He

He

saw nothing

in

it

at

all.

looked on wealth as an encumbrance

to a man.

He

would not hear of

life

being sacrificed to any system of thought or morals.

He

pointed out that forms

and ceremonies were made

man

for forms

for

and ceremonies.

man, not

He

took

Sabbatarianism as a type of the things that should be set at nought. philanthropies, the

The

ostentatious

cold

public

charities, the tedious

formalisms so dear

to the middle-class

mind, he exposed


DE PROFUNDIS

111

To

with utter and relentless scorn.

what

is

termed orthodoxy

facile unintelligent

them, and

in

acquiescence

their

hands,

us,

merely a

is

it

;

but to

was

a

and paralysing tyranny. Christ He showed that the swept it aside. alone was of value. He took a spirit terrible

keen pleasure in pointing out to them that though they were always reading

the law and the prophets, they had not really the smallest idea of

them meant.

what

either of

In opposition to their

tithing of each

separate day into the

of prescribed duties, as

fixed routine

they tithe mint and rue, he preached the enormous importance of living completely for the

Those

moment.

whom

he saved from their sins


DE PROFUNDIS

112

are saved simply for beautiful in their lives.

moments

Mary Magdalen, when

she sees Christ, breaks the rich vase of alabaster that one of her seven lovers

had given

her,

and

spills

the odorous

spices over his tired dusty feet, and for

that one moment's

sake

sits

for

with Ruth and Beatrice in the

of the snow-white rose of Paradise. that Christ says to us little

warning

is

that

ever

tresses

All

by the way of a every

moment

should be beautiful, that the soul should

always be ready for the coming of the bridegroom, always waiting for the voice of the lover, Philistinism being simply that side of man's nature that

illumined by the imagination. all

the lovely influences of

life

is

not

He

sees

as

modes


DE PROFUNDIS of light:

113

the imagination itself

world of light.

The world

is

the

is

made by

and yet the world cannot understand that

is

because the imagination

a manifestation of love, and

is

it

it,

it

:

simply is

love

and the capacity for it that distinguishes one human being from another.

But

it is

that Christ

of most

when he is

deals with a sinner

most romantic,

real.

in the sense

The world had always

loved the saint as

being

the

nearest

possible approach to the perfection of

God.

Christ, through

stinct in him,

some divine

in-

seems to have always loved

the sinner as being the nearest possible

approach to the perfection of man.

His

primary desire was not to reform people, any more than his primary desire was to


DE PROFUNDIS

114

relieve suffering.

To

turn an interesting

thief into a tedious honest his aim.

He would

man was

have thought

not

little

Aid Society and other modern movements of the kind. The

of the Prisoners'

conversion of a publican into a Pharisee

would not have seemed to him a great achievement But in a manner not yet understood of the world he regarded

and suffering as being in themselves beautiful holy things and modes of persin

fection.

It seems a very dangerous idea. is

all

it

was

That

great ideas are dangerous. Christ's creed admits of

it is

It

That

no doubt

the true creed I don't doubt

myself.

Of

course the

sinner

must repent


DE PROFUNDIS But why?

116

Simply because otherwise realise what he

he would be unable to

The moment of repentance moment of initiation. More than

had done. is

the

that

it

:

is

the means

The Greeks thought

alters one's past.

that impossible.

Gnomic

aphorisms,

cannot alter the

that

it

Christ,

Even the Gods

past.'

commonest

Christ showed

do

sinner could

it,

was the one thing he could do* had he been asked, would have

I feel quite certain

said

the

often say in their

They '

that the

by which one

moment

about

the prodigal son

knees and wept, he

made

on

fell

his

that

it

his

having

wasted his substance with harlots, his swine-herding

husks

they

and ate,

hungering for beautiful

and

the

holy


116

DE PROFUNDIS

moments

in his

life.

It

difficult for

is

most people to grasp the

idea.

I dare

say one has to

stand

If

it.

go to prison to underso, it may be worth while

going to prison.

There Christ. false

is

something so unique about

Of

course just

as

dawns before the dawn

there

are

itself,

and

winter days so full of sudden sunlight that they will cheat the wise crocus into its

squandering

make some

gold before

its

time, and

foolish bird call to its

mate

to build on barren boughs, so there were Christians before Christ.

should be grateful. thing I

is

that there have been none since,

make one

Ass^v.

For that we

The unfortunate

exception,

St.

Francis of

But then God had given him


DE PROFUNDIS

117

at his birth the soul of a poet, as he

himself

when

quite

young had

in

mys-

marriage taken poverty as his bride :

tical

and with the soul of a poet and the body of a beggar he found the way to perfection not difficult.

He

Christ, and so he became

like him.

understood

We

do not require the Liber Conformitatum to teach us that the life of St. Francis

was the true Imitatio compared to

name

is

Christi,

a

poem

which the book of that

merely prose.

Indeed, that is the charm about Christ,

when

all is

of art

anything, his

:

he

is

just like a

work

does not really teach one

but by being brought

presence

And

said

He

becomes

one

everybody

is

into

something.

predestined

to

his


DE PROFUNDIS

118

Once

presence.

at least in his life each

man walks with Christ to Emmaus. As regards the other subject,

the

Relation of the Artistic Life to Conduct,

it

no doubt seem strange to

will

should select

you that I

it.

People

point to Reading Gaol and say, is

where the

Well,

it

is

on a

That

artistic life leads

a man.'

might lead to worse

places.

The more mechanical people life

*

to

whom

a shrewd speculation depending careful

means, always

calculation

of ways

know where they

going, and go there.

the ideal desire

They

of being

start

the

and are

with parish

beadle, and in whatever sphere they are

placed they succeed in being the parish beadle and

no more.

A

man whose

,


DE PROFUNDIS desire

is

119

to be something separate from

be a member of Parliament,

himself, to

or a successful grocer, or a prominent solicitor, or

tedious,

a judge, or something equally

what he wants to

wear

be.

That

and those in

whose

whom

incarnate,

desire

is

life,

People

solely for self-realisation

know where they know.

are going.

They

In one sense of the word

of course necessary, as the Greek

oracle said, to first

forces of

it is different.

can't is

being

his

those dynamic forces

never

it

is

it.

But with the dynamic become

in

punThose who want a mask have

ishment. to

succeeds

invariably

know

oneself

:

that

achievement of knowledge.

to recognise that the soul of a

is

the

But

man

is


DE PROFUNDIS

120

unknowable,

The

ment of wisdom. oneself.

ultimate

the

is

When

final

achieve-

mystery

is

one has weighed the

sun in the balance, and measured the

moon, and mapped out the

steps of the

seven heavens star by

Who

remains oneself.

own

orbit of his

soul

went out to look

star,

still

can calculate the

?

When

for his

he did not know that a

was waiting

there

the son

father's asses,

man

of

God

him with the very

for

chrism of coronation, and that his

own

soul was already the soul of a king. live long enough and to work of such a character that produce I shall be able at the end of my days to

hope to

I

'

say, life

Yes

!

this

leads a

just where the artistic

is

man

'

!

Two

of the most


DE PROFUNDIS come

perfect lives I have

own

121

across in

my

experience are the lives of Verlaine

and of Prince Kropotkin both of them have passed years in prison :

men who the

first,

Dante

;

:

the one Christian poet since

the other, a

man

with a soul of

that beautiful white Christ which seems

And

coming out of Russia. last

for the

seven or eight months, in spite of

a succession of great troubles reaching

me from

the outside world almost with-

out intermission,

I

have been placed in

direct contact with a in this prison

through

that has helped bility

spirit

I

working

man and

things,

me beyond any

of expression in words

while for the

ment

new

first

year of

did nothing else,

:

possi-

so that

my imprisonand can

re-


DE PROFUNDIS

122

member doing nothing

else,

but wring

hands in impotent despair, and say, 'What an ending, what an appalling

my

ending!'

now

I try to say to myself,

and sometimes when

I

am

not tortur-

ing myself do really and sincerely say, '

What

a beginning, what a wonderful It

beginning!'

may

really

be

It

so.

may become so. If it does I shall owe much to this new personality that has altered every man's

You may had

I

life

realise it

been released

tried to be, I

loathing

it

in this place.

when last

would have

and every

I say that

May,

as

I

left this place

official in it

with

a bitterness of hatred that would have poisoned

my

life.

I

have had a year

longer of imprisonment, but humanity


DE PROFUNDIS

123

has been in the prison along with us all

and now when

I

go out

I shall

remember great kindnesses that

always I

have

received here from

almost everybody,

and on the day of

my

give

many thanks

to

release I shall

many

people,

and ask to be remembered by them

in

turn.

The tirely

prison style

wrong.

absolutely and en-

would give anything to

I

be able to alter intend to try.

is

it

when

I

But there

go

is

out.

I

nothing in

the world so

wrong but that the spirit of humanity, which is the spirit of love, the spirit of the Christ churches,

may make

least possible to

much

who

it, if

is

not in

not right, at

be borne without too

bitterness of heart.


DE PROFUNDIS

124

know

I

me

also that

outside that

is

much

waiting for

is

very delightful, from

what St Francis of brother the wind, and

Assisi

calls

'my

my sister the

rain,'

down

to the

shop-windows and sunsets of great

cities.

lovely things both of them,

If I to

made

a

of

list

all

that

still

me, I don't know where

stop

:

for,

just as

for

God made the world me as for any one else.

may go

out with something

that I had not got before. tell

should

indeed,

much

Perhaps I

I

remains

you that to

me

need not

reformations

morals are as meaningless

Reformations in theology. propose to be a better

I

in

and vulgar ab But while to

man

is

a piece

of unscientific cant, to have become a

deeper

man

is

the privilege of those

who


DE PROFUNDIS hare suffered.

And

125

such I think I have

become. If after I

am free

a friend of mine gave

a feast, and did not invite

me

should not mind a

can be per-

I

bit.

to

it,

I

With freedom, fectly happy by myself. flowers, books, and the moon, who could not be perfectly happy

Besides, feasts

?

are not for

me

too

to care about them.

many

side of life

is

any more.

I

have given

That

over for me, very fortu-

nately, I dare say.

But

if after I

am free

a friend of mine had a sorrow and refused to allow

most

me

to share

bitterly.

it,

I

should feel

it

If he shut the doors of

the house of mourning against me, I would

come back again and again and beg

to be

admitted, so that I might share in what


DE PROFUNDIS

126 I

was

me

If he thought

entitled to share in.

unworthy, unfit to weep with him, I it as the most poignant humi-

should feel liation,

as the

most

terrible

which disgrace could be

But that could not

be.

inflicted

its

in

on me.

have a right

I

to share in sorrow, and he at the loveliness of the

mode

who can

look

world and share

sorrow, and realise something of the

wonder of both,

is

in

immediate contact

with divine things, and has got as near

any one can

to God's secret as

Perhaps there also,

no

less

may come

than into

my

get.

into life,

my a

art

still

deeper note, one of greater unity of Not passion, and directness of impulse.

width but intensity

modern

art.

We

is

are

the true aim of

no longer

in art


DE PROFUNDIS concerned with the type. exception that

put

we have

It

127

is

to do.

with the I cannot

sufferings into any form they

my

took, I need hardly say.

Art only begins

where Imitation ends, but something

must come

into

my

of words

memory

cadences, of more

of

perhaps, curious

architectural

simpler

work, of

fuller

richer

effects,

order,

of

of some

aesthetic quality at

any rate. was 'torn from the Marsyas

When

scabbard of his limbs

membre terrible

'

delta vagina della

sue, to use one of Dante's

Tacitean phrases

most

he had no

more song, the Greek said. Apollo had been victor. The lyre had vanquished the reed. mistaken.

But perhaps the Greeks were I hear in much modern Art


DE PROFUNDIS

128

the cry of

Marsyas.

It

bitter in

is

Baudelaire, sweet and plaintive in La-

martine, mystic in Verlaine.

It

is

in the

deferred resolutions of Chopin's music. It

is

in the discontent that haunts Burne-

Even Matthew Arnold,

women.

Jones's

whose song of

Callicles

tells

of

'the

triumph of the sweet persuasive lyre/ and the 'famous final victory,' in such a clear note of lyrical beauty, has not a

of

little

it

;

in the troubled

undertone

of doubt and distress that haunts his verses, neither

Goethe nor Wordsworth

could help him, though he followed each in turn,

and when he seeks to mourn

for Thyrsis

or to sing of the Scholar

it is

the reed that he has to take

Gipsy,

for the

rendering of his strain.

But


DE FROFUNDIS

129

whether or not the Phrygian Faun was I

silent,

cannot

necessary to

me

be.

Expression

as leaf

as

is

and blossoms are

to the black branches of the trees that

show themselves above the and are so

my

prison walls

the wind.

and the world there

art

wide

gulf,

there

is

is

restless in

Between is

now

a

but between art and myself

none.

I

hope at

least that there

none.

To

each

meted

out.

of us

My

public infamy,

different

lot

fates

are

has been one of

of long

imprisonment,

of misery, of ruin, of disgrace, but I

am

not worthy of I

rate.

that

I

tragedy

it

not yet, at any

remember that thought I if it

came

I

could to

me

used to say bear

a real

with purple


DE PROFUNDIS

130

and a mask of noble sorrow, but

pall

that the dreadful thing about modernity

was that

it

put tragedy into the raiment

of comedy, so that the great

seemed commonplace It

lacking in style.

modernity.

or grotesque 01

quite true about

It has probably always

true about actual all

is

It

life.

martyrdoms seemed

looker on.

realities

is

been

said that

mean

to the

The nineteenth century

no exception to the Everything

Is

rule.

about

my

tragedy

h&s

been hideous, mean, repellent, lacking in

style;

our

very

dress

makes

us

We are the zanies of sorWe are clowns whose hearts are broken. We are specially designed to

grotesque.

row.

appeal to the

sense

of humour.

On


DE PROFUNDIS November

down

From two

here from London.

two on that day on had to stand the centre platform

o'clock I

was brought

I

1895,

13th,

131

.

till

half-past

of Clapham Junction in convict dress,

and handcuffed, had

I

at.

ward

hospital

notice possible

laughed.

without

When Each

of the

moment's

a

Of

me.

to

was

I

objects

grotesque.

out

taken

given

being

world to look

for the

been

me

people saw

train

as

it

all

most

the

they

came up

Nothing could amusement. That was, of

swelled the audience.

exceed their

course, before A.S

they

knew who

soon as they had

they

laughed

an hour

I

still

stood

been

more. there

in

I

was.

informed

For

half

the

grey


DE PROFUNDIS

132

November

rain surrounded

by a jeering

mob.

For a year

me

after

that was done to

wept every day at the same hour and for the same space of time. That not such a tragic thing as possibly

is it

I

To

sounds to you.

prison

those

who

are in

a part of every day's

tears are

A

day in prison on which experience. one does not weep is a day on which one's heart

one's heart

Well, feel

is is

now

more

hard, not a

happy. I

am

regret

laughed than

for

really beginning to

for the people

myself.

when they saw me pedestal, I is

fc

day on which

was

I

Of

was not on

in the pillory.

who

course

my

But

it

very unimaginative nature that only


DE PROFUNDIS cares for people

A

pillory

a

is

should have

terrific

known

behind sorrow there

sorrow there

mock

still

is

to inter-

I

have said that

is

always sorrow.

to say that behind

always a

at a soul in pain

thing.

how

thing'.

They

reality.

also

pret sorrow better.

It were wiser

A

their pedestals.

be a very unreal

may

pedestal

on

133

And

soul. is

to

a dreadful

In the strangely simple economy

of the world people only get what they give,

and to those who have not enough

imagination to penetrate the mere out-

ward of

things,

and

feel pity,

can be given save that of scorn I write this account of the

my it

what

pity

?

mode

of

being transferred here simply that

should be realised

how hard

it

has


DE PROFUNDIS

134

been for

me

to get anything out of

my

punishment but bitterness and despair. I have,

then

however, to do

it,

and now and

have moments of submission

J

and acceptance.

All the spring

may

be hidden in the single bud, and the

low ground nest of the lark may hold the joy that

many

ever beauty of is

to herald the feet of

is

rose-red dawns. life

So perhaps what-

moment

render, abasement, and can, at lines

any

of

accepting

rate,

of sur-

humiliation.

I

merely proceed on the

my own development, all

me

remains to

still

contained in some

and,

that has happened to me,

make myself worthy of it. People used to say of too individualistic.

I

me

that I was

must be

far

more


DE PROFUNDIS of an individualist than I

must get

far

135

ever

I

was.

more out of myself than

ever I got, and ask far less of the world

than ever I asked.

my

Indeed,

ruin

came not from too great individualism of life, but from too little. The one disgraceful,

unpardonable,

time contemptible action

and of

to

my

all life

was to allow myself to appeal to society for help and protection. To have made such an appeal would have been from the

individualist

point

of

view

bad

enough, but what excuse can there ever be put forward

Of

for

having

made

it?

course once I had put into motion

the forces of society, society turned on

me and this

'

said,

Have you been

time in defiance of

my

living all

laws,

and


DE PROFUNDIS

136

do you now appeal to those laws for protection? You shall have those laws exercised to the

You

full.

shall abide

by what you have appealed result

ever

is

fell

am

The

to.'

Certainly no man so ignobly, and by such ignoble

I

in gaol.

instruments, as I did.

The

Philistine element in life

the failure to understand

art.

is

not

Charm-

ing people, such as fishermen, shepherds,

ploughboys, peasants and the

nothing salt

tine

about

art,

of the earth.

like,

know

and are the very

He

who upholds and

is

the Philis-

aids

the heavy,

cumbrous, blind, mechanical forces of society,

dynamic in a

man

and who force

or a

does

not

when he meets

movement.

recognise it

either


DE PROFUNDIS it

People thought

aave

entertained

things

of

dreadful of

dinner

at

and

life,

137

have

to

me

the

to

evil

found

But then, company. from the point of view through which I, as an artist in life, approach them pleasure in

their

they were delightfully suggestive and

The danger was

stimulating.

excitement. artist

.

.

was with

My

.

A

great friend of

ten years' standing

some time

business as an

Ariel.

wrestle with Caliban.

ago,

.

I set .

to

said

know

against

myself to

.

mine

came

and told

did not believe a single

was

half the

a friend of to see

me

me

that he

word of what

me, and wished

that he considered

me

me

quite

innocent, and the victim of a hideous


DE PROFUNDIS

138 I

plot. said,

burst into tears

what he

at

and told him that while there was

much amongst

the definite charges that

was quite untrue and transferred to

me

my

life

still

by revolting ma/ice, had been full of perverse

that

pleasures,

and

that unless he accepted that as a fact

about

me and

realised it to the full I

could not possibly be friends with him

any more, or ever be in his company. It was a terrible shock to him, but

we

are friends,

friendship on Emotional

and

I

have not got

forces,

as

where in Intentions, are

physical energy.

made

The

to hold so

some-

I

say

as

limited in

extent and duration as the

is

his

false pretences.

forces of

little

much can

cup that hold so


DE PROFUNDIS

139

much and no more, though purple vats of Burgundy be

wine to

the

all

the

filled

with

brim, and the treaders

stand knee-deep in the gathered grapes of the stony vineyards of Spain. is

no

error

There

more common than that of

thinking that those

who

are the causes

or occasions of great tragedies share in

the feelings suitable to the tragic

no

error

more

fatal

may be

:

than expecting it of shirt of flame

The martyr in his

them.

mood

'

'

looking on the face of God,

but to him

who

is

piling the faggots or

^osening the logs for the blast the whole scene is no more than the slaying of an

ox

is

to the butcher, or the felling of a

tree to the charcoal burner in the forest,

or the

fall

of a flower to one

who

is


DE PROFUNDIS

140

mowing down

the grass with a scythe.

Great passions are for the great of

soul,

and great events can be seen only by who are on a level with them.

those

know

I

of nothing

in

all

drama

more incomparable from the point of view of art, nothing more suggestive in

its

subtlety

of

observation,

than

Shakespeare's drawing of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They are Hamlet's

companions.

They have been his They bring with them

memories

pleasant

college friends.

At

the

him

of

days

together.

moment when they come

in the play he

is

across

staggering under

the weight of a burden intolerable to

one

of his

temperament.

The dead


DE PROFUNDIS

141

have come armed out of the grave to

impose on him a mission at once too He is great and too mean for him. a dreamer, and he

He

act.

and he

with

upon to

has the nature of the poet,

is

common

called

is

asked to grapple with the

complexity of cause and

effect,

in its practical realisation, of

life

which he knows nothing, not with life in its ideal essence, of which he knows

He

so much.

what to folly.

to

do,

has no conception of

and

folly is

to feign

Brutus used madness as a cloak

conceal the

sword of

the dagger of his

madness

is

a mere

of weakness.

and

his

jests

will,

his

purpose,

but the Hamlet

mask

for the hiding

In the making of fancies

he sees a chance of delay.


DF PROFUNDIS

142

He an

keeps artist

with

playing

with

plays

a

action

theory.

as

He

makes himself the spy of

his

actions, and listening to knows them to be but

own words

his *

proper

words, words,

words.'

Instead of trying to be the

hero of

his

own

history,

be the spectator of

He

disbelieves

in

his

he seeks to

own

everything,

tragedy. includ-

ing himself, and yet his doubt helps him not, as

it

comes not from scepticism but

from a divided

Of

all this

will.

Guildenstern and Rosen-

crantz realise nothing.

smirk says

and the

intonation.

smile,

other

They bow and

and what

echoes

When,

at

the

with last,

one

sickliest

by means

of the play within the play, and the


DE PROFUNDIS *

their

in

puppets

'

catches the conscience

his

Hamlet

dalliance,

of the King,

man

and drives the wretched from

143

in terror

and

Guilder) stern

throne,

Rosencrantz see no more

con-

in his

duct than a rather painful breach of

Court etiquette.

That

is

as far as they

can attain to in 'the contemplation of the spectacle of

life

emotions.'

are close to his very

secret

would them.

They

with appropriate

and know nothing of there

be

They

are the little

use

in

telling

cups that

much and no more.

can hold so

wards the close in

any

Nor

it.

a

it

is

suggested

Tothat,

for cunning spring another, they have met, or may meet,

caught

set

With a violent and sudden death.

But


DE PROFUNDIS

144

a tragic ending of this

touched

by

kind, though

humour

Hamlet's

with

something of the surprise and justice of comedy,

order

to

not for such as

really

They never

they. in

is

die.

who

Horatio,

Hamlet and

'report

his

cause aright to the unsatisfied,' '

Absents him from

And

felicity a while,

in this harsh world draws his breath in pain,

1

but Guildenstern and Rosencrantz

dies,

are as immortal as

and

tuffe,

are

They

should

Angelo and Tarrank

what modern

with life

them.

has con-

tributed to the antique ideal of friend-

He who

ship. citia

must

praise

are

find a niche

them

types

writes a

in

new De Amifor them,

Tusculan prose.

fixed

for

all

time.

and

They

To


DE PROFUNDIS

145

them would show 'a

censure

They

appreciation.'

their sphere: that

of soul there

and

thoughts

is

is

are merely out of all

In sublimity

no contagion.

high

lack of

emotions

High are

by

their very existence isolated.

I

am

to be released, if all goes well

with me, towards the end of May, and

hope to go at once to some side

village

M

abroad

with

little sea-

R

and

.

The

sea, as

his plays

Euripides says in one of

about Iphigeneia, washes away

the stains and wounds of the world. I

my

hope to be at least a month with friends, and to gain peace and

balance, and a less troubled heart, and K


DE PROFUNDIS

146

a

sweeter

mood.

I

have a strange

longing for the great simple primeval things, such as the sea, to

me no

of a mother than the Earth. to

me

we

that

much, and

all

look at Nature too

with her too

live

discern great sanity in the

They never

tude.

less

It seems

little.

Greek

I

atti-

chattered about sun-

sets, or discussed whether the shadows

on the grass were really mauve or not. But they saw that the sea was for the swimmer, and the sand

They loved the

the runner. the

shadow that they

forest

for

for the feet of

its

silence

cast,

at

trees

for

and

the

noon.

The

vineyard-dresser wreathed his hair with

ivy that he might keep off the rays

of the

sun

as

he

stooped over the


DE PROFUNDIS young

and

shoots,

147

for the artist

and

the athlete, the two types that Greece us,

gave

they plaited with garlands the

leaves of the bitter laurel

and of the

wild parsley, which else had been of no service to men.

We

ours a utilitarian age, and

call

we do not know thing.

We

the uses of any single

have forgotten that water

can cleanse, and the Earth

is

fire

purify,

mother to us

consequence our art

is

and that all.

of the

As a moon

and plays with shadows, while Greek art is of the sun and deals directly with

and

I

things.

elemental I

forces

want

to

feel

there

sure is

that

in

purification,

go back to them and

live in their presence*


DE PROFUNDIS

148

Of

course to one

am, 'Enfant de look

at

mon

siecle,'

world

the

modern

will

as

I

merely to

be

always

I tremble with pleasure

lovely. I

so

when

think that on the very day of

my

leaving prison both the laburnum and

the

lilac

be blooming in the gar-

will

dens, and that stir

into

I

restless

shall

that

all

Linnaeus

make

pale purple of

the fell

air shall

on

his

heath

of

swaying the other

plumes so be Arabia for me. its

knees and wept for

joy when he saw for the long

the wind

beauty the

gold of the one, and toss the

see

some

first

time the upland

English

made yellow with the tawny aromatic blossoms of the

know

that

for

common me,

to

furze

whom

;

and

I

flowers


DE PROFUNDIS

149

are part of desire, there are tears wait-

ing in the petals of

some

always been so with

me

There

hood.

not

is

rose.

from

a

It has

my

boy-

single colour

hidden away in the chalice of a flower, or the curve of a shell, to which, by

some subtle sympathy with the very soul

of things,

nature

my

Like Gautier,

answer.

does

not

have always

I

been one of those 'pour qui

le

monde

visible existe.' Still,

hind it

I

am

all this

may

conscious

now

that be-

beauty, satisfying though

be, there

is

some

spirit

hidden

of which the painted forms and shapes are but is

modes of

with this

come

in

manifestation,

spirit that I

harmony.

I

and

it

desire to be-

have grown tired


DE PROFUNDIS

150

of the articulate utterances of

The Mystical

things. in

tical

this is

it

men and

Art, the

Mys-

the Mystical in Nature

Life,

what

is

in

I

am

for.

looking

absolutely necessary for

me

It

to find

somewhere. All

trials

are trials for one's

life,

just

as all sentences are sentences of death

and three times have first

time

I left

I

been

;

The

tried.

the box to be arrested,

the second time to be led back to the

house

of

to pass

into

Society, as

no

have offer

;

the

detention,

a prison

we have

place

for

for

time

third

two

constituted

years. it,

will

me, has none to

but Nature, whose sweet rains

on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide,

fall


DE PROFUNDIS and secret valleys

may weep the

night

whose

in

She

undisturbed.

with

walk abroad

in

stars

151

silence I will

so that

hang

I

may

darkness without

the

stumbling, and send the wind over footprints so that

to

my

great

hurt

:

waters,

make me

none may track

she will cleanse

and

whole.

with

bitter

me

my me in

herbs


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De Profundis  

This short work of Wilde's was written during his two year incarceration for "gross indecency".

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