Wilde is piously intent in killing whatever remains of my soul, because he says to know an essence, you must stifle it: he wants me to yearn for my soul. Its value depends on how much exertion it takes to destroy it.
André Gide about Wilde, in a letter to Valéry from 1891.
Wilde was probably, as Jacques Barzun said, first and foremost a critic. And it is perhaps the critic in him than made him an aesthete, or viceversa. In his observant, searching qualities is that we find the playwright, poet and essayist flourish, in that strict scrutiny, as well as his qualities for a brilliant intelocution. He fabricated himself into an idiosyncratic concept art.
This, surprisingly, made him not embellished with artificiality, but rather an ardent skeptic towards it. We find strong observations on those who feed off from cheap sentiment, often in disguise of sublimity and true gratification, a perhaps more than often byproduct of affected Romanticism: A sentimentalist is simply one who wants to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it. We think we can have our emotions for nothing. We cannot. Even the finest and most self-sacrificing emotions have to be paid for. Strangely enough, that is what makes them fine. The intellectual and emotional life of ordinary people is a very contemptible affair. Just as they borrow their ideas from a sort of circulating library of thought—-the Zeitgeist of an age that has no soul—-and send them back soiled at the end of each week, so they always try to get their emotions on credit, and refuse to pay the bill when it comes in. You should pass out of that conception of life. As soon as you have to pay for an emotion you will know its quality, and be the better for such knowledge. And remember that the sentimentalist is always a cynic at heart. Indeed, sentimentality is merely the bank holiday of cynicism. (from De Profundis)
It may be that Frank Harris was right, and Wilde needed Germanic thought as opposed to French décadence, instead of adopting his life is too short to learn German stance, and would’ve acquired a more Goethian perspective, allowing some Stoicism, some temperance in his works… but then how can one not read The Portrait of Dorian Gray or Salomé and not feel fatally infected by his temptations and worldliness?
His birthday celebration was not without lavishness, rest assured. In a quite festive mood, an Irish Chocolate Whiskey Cake was baked, accompanied by some strong coffee and cookies. The work selected for the occasion was De Profundis, which was of course, the topic of ardent after-meal conversation.
Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.