Since I’ve been experiencing in the last month ‘the difficult art of prose’ in a foreign language (text will be rewritten three times, here’s the Italian original, definitely better) I’ve googled the said words and have found this article by Thomas Wright on Oscar Wilde that I liked quite a lot (and which incidentally considers the notion in an entirely different way.)
Apart from the difference between poetry writing and prose writing, the article is rich with details about Oscar Wilde’s education at Oxford (it seems that Wilde’s poetry blossomed at Oxford; then Walter Pater came and said: “Why do you always write poetry?”)
At Magdalen College, Oxford, “Wilde flourished in variegated ways – Thomas Wright narrates. “He mastered the rigors of the literae humaniores or ‘Greats’ course […]”
“During his undergraduate years Wilde also perfected the persona—part aesthete, part Disraelian dandy, and part Athenian philosopher—with which he would later make a splash in London’s artistic and social circles.
The aesthetic flaneur who liked to pose as a ‘dilettante trifling with his books’ at Oxford was really only pretending to be wicked. The truth was, Wilde read hard ‘surreptitiously, into the small hours’ in a bedroom bursting with books and cigarette smoke.”
“Along with all the primary and secondary set texts of his Greats course,” – Thomas Wright goes on – “he devoured at Magdalen the writings of Hegel, Kant, Schopenhauer, Darwin, Clifford, Buckle, and Spencer, drawing from them the central tenets of his own intellectual credo.”
After analysing the influence played on O.W. by Walter Pater and his Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873), the article mentions John Addington Symonds’ two-volume Studies of the Greek Poets (1873 & 1876), another of Wilde’s “golden books.”
What Thomas Wright writes here is interesting:
“A Trinity [College, Dublin, MoR] contemporary would recall Wilde’s love of Studies—the book was, he remembered, perpetually in Wilde’s hands. […]”
“Studies offers an imaginative analysis of most of the surviving corpus of Greek literature; Symonds also discusses Greek historiography, mythology, philosophy, and the genius of Greek art. In the late 19th century, classical works were often regarded, in Mahaffy’s words, as ‘mere treasure-houses of roots and forms to be sought out by comparative grammarians’, with many classicists focusing solely on the linguistic minutiae of the texts. The historicist school of scholarship was also prominent in the period […]
In Studies, Symonds eschewed both philological and historicist approaches. He attempted instead to enter [emphasis by MoR] into a stimulating dialogue, across the centuries, with the ancients. He regarded the Greeks as essentially modern men, whose literature spoke directly to 19th-century readers. He also believed that the ancients had exercised a profound influence on contemporary culture. “Except the blind forces of nature,” he declared, “nothing moves in this world that is not Greek in its origin”—a phrase that Wilde would quote with approval. Symonds drew attention to the many points at which modern and ancient cultures touched, comparing Aristophanes to Mozart, Aeschylus to Shakespeare, Greek Myth to Medieval Romance, and Greek drama to European Opera. Wilde marked many of these parallels in his copy of Studies.
Wilde enthusiastically embraced Symonds’s approach to the ancients […]
A side note by MoR. Symonds’ approach is extreme and simplistic. He doesn’t consider:
1. That the Greeks were just dwarfs on the shoulder of giants (their mythology, philosophy, science and art would not exist without the Egyptians, the Hebrews, the entire Fertile Crescent up to Mesopotamia) 2. that these giants were in their turn dwarfs, at their beginnings, on the shoulders of someone else (even though deprived of writing) 3. Rome’s substantial, and creative, contribution 4. the contribution of India and China, equally substantial 4. the Arabs etc.
And yet in many ways he is right, in my view, as this blog tries to point out in various ways (see a list of posts below, although ‘a quirky research on Romanness’ says it all’.)