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Letters on Dorian Gray
by [?]

It was necessary, Sir, for the dramatic development of this story to surround Dorian Gray with an atmosphere of moral corruption. Otherwise the story would have had no meaning and the plot no issue. To keep this atmosphere vague and indeterminate and wonderful was the aim of the artist who wrote the story. I claim, Sir, that he has succeeded. Each man sees his own sin in Dorian Gray. What Dorian Gray’s sins are no one knows. He who finds them has brought them.

In conclusion, Sir, let me say how really deeply I regret that you should have permitted such a notice as the one I feel constrained to write on to have appeared in your paper. That the editor of the St. James’s Gazette should have employed Caliban as his art-critic was possibly natural. The editor of the Scots Observer should not have allowed Thersites to make mows in his review. It is unworthy of so distinguished a man of letters.–I am, etc.,




(Scots Observer, August 2, 1890.)

To the Editor of the Scots Observer.

SIR,–In a letter dealing with the relations of art to morals recently published in your columns–a letter which I may say seems to me in many respects admirable, especially in its insistence on the right of the artist to select his own subject-matter–Mr. Charles Whibley suggests that it must be peculiarly painful for me to find that the ethical import of Dorian Gray has been so strongly recognised by the foremost Christian papers of England and America that I have been greeted by more than one of them as a moral reformer.

Allow me, Sir, to reassure, on this point, not merely Mr. Charles Whibley himself but also your, no doubt, anxious readers. I have no hesitation in saying that I regard such criticisms as a very gratifying tribute to my story. For if a work of art is rich, and vital and complete, those who have artistic instincts will see its beauty, and those to whom ethics appeal more strongly than aesthetics will see its moral lesson. It will fill the cowardly with terror, and the unclean will see in it their own shame. It will be to each man what he is himself. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

And so in the case of Dorian Gray the purely literary critic, as in the Speaker and elsewhere, regards it as a ‘serious’ and ‘fascinating’ work of art: the critic who deals with art in its relation to conduct, as the Christian Leader and the Christian World, regards it as an ethical parable: Light, which I am told is the organ of the English mystics, regards it as a work of high spiritual import; the St. James’s Gazette, which is seeking apparently to be the organ of the prurient, sees or pretends to see in it all kinds of dreadful things, and hints at Treasury prosecutions; and your Mr. Charles Whibley genially says that he discovers in it ‘lots of morality.’

It is quite true that he goes on to say that he detects no art in it. But I do not think that it is fair to expect a critic to be able to see a work of art from every point of view. Even Gautier had his limitations just as much as Diderot had, and in modern England Goethes are rare. I can only assure Mr. Charles Whibley that no moral apotheosis to which he has added the most modest contribution could possibly be a source of unhappiness to an artist.–I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,




(Scots Observer, August 16, 1890.)

To the Editor of the Scots Observer.

SIR,–I am afraid I cannot enter into any newspaper discussion on the subject of art with Mr. Whibley, partly because the writing of letters is always a trouble to me, and partly because I regret to say that I do not know what qualifications Mr. Whibley possesses for the discussion of so important a topic. I merely noticed his letter because, I am sure without in any way intending it, he made a suggestion about myself personally that was quite inaccurate. His suggestion was that it must have been painful to me to find that a certain section of the public, as represented by himself and the critics of some religious publications, had insisted on finding what he calls ‘lots of morality’ in my story of The Picture of Dorian Gray.