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Oscar Wilde: Antidote to war


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

British writers on peace and war

Oscar Wilde: Crimson seas of war, Great Game in Central and South Asia

Oscar Wilde: Who would dare to praise the barren pride of warring nations?


Oscar Wilde
From The Critic as Artist (1890)

The Manchester school tried to make men realise the brotherhood of humanity, by pointing out the commercial advantages of peace. It sought to degrade the wonderful world into a common market-place for the buyer and the seller. It addressed itself to the lowest instincts, and it failed. War followed upon war, and the tradesman’s creed did not prevent France and Germany from clashing together in blood-stained battle. There are others of our own day who seek to appeal to mere emotional sympathies, or to the shallow dogmas of some vague system of abstract ethics. They have their Peace Societies, so dear to the sentimentalists, and their proposals for unarmed International Arbitration, so popular among those who have never read history. But mere emotional sympathy will not do. It is too variable, and too closely connected with the passions; and a board of arbitrators who, for the general welfare of the race, are to be deprived of the power of putting their decisions into execution, will not be of much avail…

Criticism will annihilate race-prejudices, by insisting upon the unity of the human mind in the variety of its forms. If we are tempted to make war upon another nation, we shall remember that we are seeking to destroy an element of our own culture, and possibly its most important element. As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular. The change will of course be slow, and people will not be conscious of it. They will not say ‘We will not war against France because her prose is perfect,’ but because the prose of France is perfect, they will not hate the land. Intellectual criticism will bind Europe together in bonds far closer than those that can be forged by shopman or sentimentalist. It will give us the peace that springs from understanding.


From A Chinese Sage (1890)

The accumulation of wealth is to him [Chuang Tsǔ] the origin of evil. It makes the strong violent, and the weak dishonest. It creates the petty thief, and puts him in a bamboo cage. It creates the big thief, and sets him on a throne of white jade. It is the father of competition, and competition is the waste, as well as the destruction, of energy. The order of nature is rest, repetition, and peace. Weariness and war are the results of an artificial society based upon capital; and the richer this society gets, the more thoroughly bankrupt it really is, for it has neither sufficient rewards for the good nor sufficient punishments for the wicked. There is also this to be remembered – that the prizes of the world degrade a man as much as the world’s punishments. The age is rotten with its worship of success…


Marie Saltus
From Edgar Saltus: The Man (1925)

With Mr. Saltus, Wilde was driving to his home in Chelsea on a bleak and bitter night. Upon alighting a man came up to them. He wore a jacket which he opened. From neck to waste he was bare. At the sight Mr. Saltus gave him a gold piece, but Wilde, with entire simplicity, took off his own coat and put it about the man. It was a lesson Mr. Saltus never forgot.

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