1882 | San Francisco

The Reply Churlish

Ambrose Bierce is not amused with Oscar Wilde.

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.

The limpid and spiritless vacuity of this intellectual jellyfish 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 verbal ditchwater—meaningless, 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 an idiot to dispute with a cast-iron dog, and eloquence to qualify him for the duties of a caller on a hog ranch, and an imagination adequate to the conception of a tomcat, when fired by contemplation of a fiddle string, this consummate and starlike youth, missing everything his heaven-appointed functions and offices, wanders about posing as a statute of himself and, like the sunsmitten image of Memnon, emitting meaningless murmurs in the blaze of women’s eyes. He makes me tired.

And this gawky gowk has the divine effrontery to link his name with those of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Morris—this dunghill he-hen would fly with eagles. He dares to set his tongue to the honored name of John 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.


Ambrose Bierce

From his Prattle column in The Wasp. Bierce published his denunciation four days after Wilde delivered a lecture at Platt’s Hall in San Francisco as part of his American speaking tour on aestheticism. A prolific newspaperman for decades, Bierce began to publish “Devil’s Dictionary” entries in 1881 and contradicted the editorial policy of his employer William Randolph Hearst by condemning the Spanish-American War in 1898. He disappeared in 1913: he is thought to have been traveling to Mexico to lend a hand in Pancho Villa’s revolution.