Ambrose Bierce in The Wasp
Ambrose Bierce’s stinging denunciation of Oscar Wilde appeared in the March 31, 1882, edition of “The Wasp.” Wilde had spoken in San Francisco on March 27, 1882, though there is no record of what Wilde thought of Bierce’s comments. Bierce’s invective was contained in his weekly column “Prattle”:
That sovereign of insufferables, Oscar Wilde has ensued with his opulence of twaddle and his penury of sense. He has mounted his hind legs and blown crass vapidities through the bowel of his neck, to the capital edification of circumjacent fools and foolesses, fooling with their foolers. He has tossed off the top of his head and uttered himself in copious overflows of ghastly bosh. The ineffable dunce has nothing to say and says it—says it with a liberal embellishment of bad delivery, embroidering it with reasonless vulgarities of attitude, gesture and attire. There never was an impostor so hateful, a blockhead so stupid, a crank so variously and offensively daft. Therefore is the she fool enamored of the feel of his tongue in her ear to tickle her understanding.
Bierce’s denunciation continued:
The limpid and spiritless vacuity of this intellectual jelly-fish is in ludicrous contrast with the rude but robust mental activities that he came to quicken and inspire. Not only has he no thought, but no thinker. His lecture is mere vebal ditchwater—meaningingless, trite and without coherence. It lacks even the nastiness that exalts and refines his verse. Moreover, it is obviously his own; he had not even the energy and independence to steal it. And so, with a knowledge that would equip and idiot to dispute with a cast-iron dog, and eloquence to qualify him for the duties of a caller on a hog-ranche, and an imagination adequate to the conception of a tom-cat, when fired by contemplation of a fiddle-string, this consummate and star-like youth, missing everything his heaven-appointed functions and offices, wanders about, posing as a statute of himself, and, like the sun-smitten image of Memnon, emitting meaningless murmurs in the blaze of women’s eyes. He makes me tired.
Bierce’s amazing invective ended with:
And this gawky gowk has the divine effrontery to link his name with those of Swinburne, Rossetti and Morris—this dunghill he-hen would fly with eagles. He dares to set his tongue to the honored name of Keats. He is the leader, quoth’a, of a renaissance in art, this man who cannot draw–of a revival of letters, this man who cannot write! This little and looniest of a brotherhood of simpletons, whom the wicked wits of London, haling him dazed from his obscurity, have crowned and crucified as King of the Cranks, has accepted the distinction in stupid good faith and our foolish people take him at his word. Mr. Wilde is pinnacled upon a dazzling eminence but the earth still trembles to the dull thunder of the kicks that set him up.
A lyic also appeared in this edition of The Wasp, possibly written by Bierce:
There was a sweet infant named Wilde
A precious and crystaline child;
While sucking his playthings,However he’d say things,
That proved that his mind was defiled.
Bierce was not apologetic for his excessively harsh criticism of Oscar Wilde. He wrote in the following week’s edition of The Wasp:
“To the many aggrieved correspondents and the few lachrymose personal friends who have done me the honor to protest against my ungentle–or as most of them prefer to say, ungentlemanly–rhapsody on Oscar Wilde, and who have made the novel suggestion that abuse is not criticsm, I beg to answer thus: 1. This is not a journal of criticsm. 2. In Mr. Wilde’s lectures there is nothing to criticise, for there is nothing of his own… .”