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which was first published in 'Lippincott's Magazine,' was full of subtle impressionism and highly wrought epigram, but owed notoriety to an undercurrent of very disagreeable suggestion. A 'Preface to Dorian Gray,' concluding 'All Art is quite useless,' appeared separately in the 'Fortnightly Review' (March 1891). In the previous number of the 'Review' readers had been more than ever bewildered by Wilde's exceptionally brilliant plea for socialism, on the ground that it would relieve us of ' the sordid necessity of living for others.' Later in the same year Wilde reprinted some 'literary wild oats' under the title 'Intentions' (three contributions to leading reviews). One of these, on 'Masks,' revealed an intimate knowledge of Shakespeare. 'A House of Pomegranates' (more fairy tales), 1892, was taken in the main at the author's valuation as ' intended neither for the British child nor the British public.'
Meanwhile in 1891 a blank-verse tragedy by Wilde, called 'The Duchess of Padua,' was produced in New York, and subsequently he found a more profitable mode of expression for his literary abilities in light comedies, which, despite his very narrow experience of modern stage conditions, were remarkable equally for theatrical and for literary skill. His first light comedy, 'Lady Windermere's Fan,' was produced at the St. James's Theatre on 20 Feb. 1892, and was printed next year. It was full of saucy repartee and overdone with epigram of the pattern peculiar to 'the author, namely, the inverted proverb, but it made a hit. It was followed at the Haymarket Theatre in April 1893 by 'A Woman of no Importance,' a drama of a similar kind, to the theatrical success of which the fine acting of Mr. Tree and Mrs. Bernard Beere greatly contributed (printed 1894, 4to).
In the summer of 1893 the licenser of plays refused to sanction the performance of 'Salome,' a play of more serious character, written in French. This was a marvel of mimetic power, which owed most perhaps to Flaubert's 'Herodias;' it was printed as 'Salome, Drame en un acte'(1893, 4to), and was rendered into English by Wilde's friend, Lord Alfred Douglas, in 1894 (London, 4to; with ten pictures by Aubrey Beardsley). The original version was produced by Madame Sarah Bernhardt in Paris in 1894. In 1894 was also published 'The Sphinx' (dedicated to Marcel Schwob), a poetical catalogue of 'amours frequent and free,' presented in the metre of 'In Memoriam.' In the same year, in a paper entitled 'Phrases and Philosophies for the use of the Young,' Wilde gave the tone to a magazine called 'The Chameleon,' two numbers of which were issued at Oxford in a very limited edition. The tortured paradoxes of the new cult were effectively parodied in Mr. Hichens's 'Green Carnation.' To the 'Fortnightly' of July 1894 Wilde contributed some curious ' Poems in Prose.' He could write English of silken delicacy, but in his choice of epithets there are frequently traces of that 'industry' which he denounced as the 'root of all ugliness.'
A third comedy, 'The Ideal Husband,' was successfully produced at the Haymarket on 3 Jan. 1895, although it was not printed until 1899. On 14 Feb. 1895 was given at the St. James's Theatre a fourth play in the light vein, 'The Importance of being Earnest : a trivial comedy for serious people' (1899, 4to), an irresistible dramatic trifle, at once insolent in its levity and exquisite in its finish. The Victorian era, it may fairly be said, knew no light comedies which for brilliant wit, literary finish, or theatrical dexterity were comparable with Wilde's handiwork.
The manuscript of a poetical drama by Wilde, entitled 'A Florentine Tragedy,' was stolen from his house in Tite Street in 1895, together with an enlarged version of an essay on Shakespeare's sonnets, entitled 'The History of Mr. W. H.,' of which an outline appeared in 'Blackwood's Magazine' in July 1889 ('The Portrait of Mr. W. H.')In the month following the successful production of 'The Importance of being Earnest' Wilde brought, with fatal insolence, an unsuccessful action for criminal libel against the Marquis of Queensberry. In the result he was himself arrested and charged with offences under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, and being found guilty after a protracted trial at the Old Bailey on 27 May 1895, he was sentenced by Mr. Justice Wills to two years' imprisonment with hard labour. Ruined in fortune as well as in fame, he soon afterwards passed through the bankruptcy court. While in prison he wrote a kind of apology for his life, a manuscript amounting to about forty-five thousand words, now in the hands of his literary executor, and also studied Dante assiduously, contemplating an essay on 'The Divine Comedy' which should develop a new theory. On 19 May 1897 he was released from prison. Thenceforth his necessities were provided _for by a small annuity purchased by his friends. After spending some time at Berneval, he in 1898 made his headquarters at the Hotel d'Alsace, Paris. While at Berneval he wrote and issued anonymously in London a powerful 'Ballad of Reading Gaol' (1898), the