"There Is No Sin Except Stupidity"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde, born in Dublin, received his advanced education at Oxford University. Here he was especially fascinated by the aesthetic teachings of Walter Pater (1839–1894) and John Ruskin (1819–1900). Later Wilde, with a wife to support and unable to make a living by poetry or lecturing, turned to book reviews and articles. For one of them, ordered by the editor of Nineteenth Century, he expounded the idea that criticism exists to aid people in understanding art. He employed a Platonic dialogue to provide a light tone to serious argument. The conversation takes place between Gilbert and Ernest in the library of a house in Piccadilly. Part I stresses the importance of discussing everything. The second part contains "Remarks upon the Importance of Doing Nothing." Gilbert provides the ideas. Ernest merely asks questions. Criticism, says Gilbert, makes the mind a fine instrument and makes culture possible. But one should not take a final position. Second-rate politicians and third-rate theologians, lacking "sweet reasonableness," do so and then quarrel with those who oppose them. Then Gilbert goes on to say:

. . . We are dominated by the fanatic, whose worst vice is his sincerity. Anything approaching to the free play of the mind is practically unknown amongst us. People cry out against the sinner, yet it is not the sinful, but the stupid, who are our shame. There is no sin except stupidity.