Fans of Anglo-Irish author and playwright Oscar Wilde know that his books and plays are an almost endless source of quotable quotations. But did you know that Wilde was also a prolific letter writer?
Thousands of Oscar Wilde’s letters survive, from his time at Portora School in the late 1860s through to the month of his death from meningitis in November 1900.
As Wilde never wrote an autobiography, his letters stand in as a timeline of his life—containing all the wit and wisdom you would expect.
As Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland said in The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde,
“… to read his letters, particularly those written to intimate friends without thought of publication, is as close as we shall come to the magic of hearing him in person.”₁
Let’s dive into some of the best quotes from Oscar Wilde’s letters.
“I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for laws.”
“… ‘too late now’ are in art and life the most tragical words.”
“A man whose desire is to be something separate from himself, to be a member of Parliament, or a successful grocer, or a prominent solicitor, or a judge, or something equally tedious, invariably succeeds in being what he wants to be. That is his punishment.”
“At every single moment of one’s life one is what one is going to be no less than what one has been.”
“To undress is romance, to dress, philanthropy.”
“If a man needs an elaborate tombstone in order to remain in the memory of his country, it is clear his living at all was an act of absolute superfluity. Keats’s grave is a hillock of green grass with a plain headstone, and is to me the holiest place in Rome.”
“Cultivated idleness seems to me to be the proper occupation for man.”
“… a nice letter is like a sunbeam and should not be treated as an epistle needing a reply.”
“Complex people waste half their strength in trying to conceal what they do. Is it any wonder they should always come to grief?”
“You know what beautiful, wise, sensible schemes of life people bring to one: there is nothing to be said against them: except that they are not for oneself.”
“Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.”
Find more Oscar Wilde quotes on our Oscar Wilde page!
1. Wilde’s letters were first published as The Letters of Oscar Wilde in 1963, edited by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Merlin Holland, Wilde’s only grandchild, studied his grandfather’s life for over thirty years.
In 2000, Holland revised and added new discoveries to the collection, resulting in The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde by Merlin Holland & Rupert Hart-Davis.
These Oscar Wilde quotes are from the letters published in the 2000 edition of the book.
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What do you think about these quotes from Oscar Wilde’s letters? Do you have another favorite Wilde quote to add to the list? Let us know in the comments!