Houses of Sleep
Willow Woman
East West
Decline of Taste
Note on Yeats
Oscar Wilde
Again on Hokku
On Poetry
Again on Poetry
Morning Fancy
Ink Slab 





LET me say that it was Wilde himself who misunderstood him before the large world was pleased to misunderstand him; he who found joy in his artistic self-deception, that is in the creation of a false self that would pass as the real self, had at last to cry over fate when from the realization of his being a social outcast he exclaimed : "If after I am free a friend of mine gave a feast and did not invite me to it, I should not mind a bit. I can be perfectly happy by myself. With freedom, flowers, books and the moon, who could not be perfectly happy?" Indeed the time when he found that the real self is alone worthy and kind came to him too late.
    I always thought that he was a moralist (who among the English authors, I should like to know, is not a moralist?), even a great moralist, from the reason that, like a pretty woman who always conceals her thoughts most beloved, he tried, often even with literary desperation, to hide the fact of his being a moralist; and he was very brilliant and quite distinguished particularly in the places where hr was greatly suspected. He himself was sometimes obliged to confess it, when he was maddened and excited in his most eventful literary life, as I see, for instance, in his Letters on Dorian Gray addressed to the editor of the St. James' Gazette or Somebody; and I will call "De Profundis" one of the greatest books of morality the modern age has produced. If a hypocrite were to conceal his true character rather than to claim something he has not, Wilde is in truth the first person to be entitled a literary hypocrite. There is a long history of hypocricy in England, that is more or less the history of English society artificially created, not naturally grown; when I make him represent the worst side, my mind dwells on his lack of sincerity at least in his early days. Although his cleverness was quite significant, it seems that he was ignorant of the fact that his way of concealing was after all the way of revealing; and the literary tricks or devices he played on us (and he was playing them on himself) are, to say the least, the most shabby part. When he talked on art and beauty, he was rather vague and [<119] always too talkative; and when he talked on himself, no greater bore than he could be found in all literature West or East. In a word he is often unbearable to our Japanese mind. I think it is safe to say from the Japanese viewpoint that the real artist and true aesthete will never talk so much about his art and aetheticism; although he meant to bring the creative possibility of general men of letters to a higher plane by sheer force of cleverness, his unavailing service proved that not cleverness in any form, but the magic of humanity and love itself alone have such a power. We have a Japanese word kusai which, though it is too commonplace a word, will be used of art or writing; kusai means "It smells too strong." Indeed Wilde's work, whether good or bad, altogether smells too strong perhaps through his lack of reflective modesty or through having too much audacity; and let me say that he often smelled bad; that is why I failed to make my Japanese mind interested in him before. I read somewhere in "De Profundis": "The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social [<120] position, brilliancy, intellectual daring; I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the colour of things there was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder."—Why, such is the language of youthful vulgarity. I admit his words that he created a new literature; but what he appears to have created in letters will be found at once to be nothing but the old truth or wisdom or beauty newly spoken. "And for the rest," I shall exclaim, "never would I care." His way of saying was in fact quite creditable; but when I think what a bad influence he had and is still having on younger tired brains by his acrobatic superficiality, I more blame and deny him than praise and accept him.
    However, I am happy to see that his vogue is spreading its wide wings even in this far-away Japan; what I like to dwell on is that the English society, not only the English reading public, seems to have finally realized what it inflicted on him, and looks as if, though rather late, it wished to atone. Wilde says in a certain part of "De Profundis": "I can claim [<121] on my side that if I realize what I have suffered, society should realize what it has inflicted on me; and that there should be no bitterness or hate on either side." I take it as his femininity when he said he had no hatred for society and really meant the reverse; and again as his hatred was not small, he wished to forget all about it. I read somewhere, although I forget just where, he said that the world will only remember you by what you did last; is there any greater sarcasm than that? It was his femininity that made him reveal his strength of suffering in his last days; again like a woman, he was born a spectator till suddenly he found himself to be an actor taking a shameful tragic rôle. In calling woman paradoxical I mean that Wilde was paradoxical. He who began his life with no real knowledge of the world and life, died as the master of it under the baptism of sorrow. Sorrow and humanity, both of them, are feminine; I think it is not necessary to prove with examples that "De Profundis" is a great feminine cry. I cannot be so heartless as to criticize it as mere literature. [<122]
    I often reflect upon the matter of Wilde's imprisonment, and wonder if it was not also the kindness of Great Nature to teach him the lesson of humanity; however, I cannot help feeling she was rather cruel when he was forced to learn it through Humility. He says: "As I found it, I want to keep it. I must do so, It is the one thing that has in it the elements of life, of a new life, a Vita Nuova for me." And he declares: "And the first thing that I have got to do is to free myself from any possible bitterness of feeling against the world." It is from such language that I admit even the name of greatness for Wilde, and am glad to forget the greater parts of stories, plays, poems and essays which always tired me; it is true that, if he had been the man who understood life and humanity as he did in the later dates, he would have written great books already in his younger age; but, as I said before, when he soared into the higher, nobler realization of his real self, his mind and strength had gone too far down and were too crushed for actual rising. Let me say here that he began life as an artist (to use his beloved word) and died, [<123] glad to say, as a man; he who entered into prison as a mere litterateur left there as a Life.
    No doubt he suffered in prison more and deeper than we Japanese fancy; if he had been a Japanese to whom visible beauty of Nature and life are not so attractive, he would have found at once the edifice of sanctuary undisturbed and serene under whose blessing his thoughts would have entered into philosophy and song; but he was far more physical indeed. How he suffered, I can well imagine, before he got his spiritual triumph. When I say that he was as a playwright, far below, for instance, Bernard Shaw, I am thinking of the fact that he was unable, at least before he was put in prison, to see the world and life with the naked eyes of man real and true; are there not, as some critic pleases to point out, places where he seems to use again his old silly trick of making a literature from his own misfortune or casuality or tragedy even in "De Profundis"? And again as an essayist, I should say that Chesterton is not inferior to Wilde; that the former, unlike the latter, has no particular aesthetic pretension pleases me immensely. As [<124] you know, paradox-making as only a sport or game quite harmless. It is not necessary to go into any long discussion of Wilde's merit as a poet or novelist. There is no denying that he was one of the most unique figures of the modern age; and his being an English writer of third rate makes us at once intimate and familiar, as we are only third rate human beings at our best.

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