Oscar Wilde? A. H. Cooper-Prichard? Alvin Redman? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The Irish playwright Oscar Wilde achieved his greatest fame in London. The historically fractured and deadly relationship between Ireland and England has led some intellectuals of the isles to adopt a skeptical attitude toward patriotic fervor. Intense emotions have been inspired by both patriotism and opposition to patriotism. The following remark has been attributed to Wilde:
Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.
I haven’t been able to find this saying in famous wit’s oeuvre. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in 1900. The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1931 book “Conversations with Oscar Wilde” by A. H. Cooper-Prichard. The author presented statements he heard spoken by Wilde during discussions and social events. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
“How is it,” I once asked him, “that people who are not possessed of a single other virtue should come out at times as patriots?”
“Exaggerated patriotism,” he answered, “is the most insincere form of self-conceit.” And at another time he said, “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.”
The accuracy of the quotation is based on the memory of Cooper-Prichard, and his book appeared decades after the words were spoken. Nevertheless, the citation is significant because it presents direct ear-witness testimony.
According to Cooper-Prichard another dialog reflecting Oscar Wilde’s attitude toward patriotism occurred in the early 1890s in a drawing-room in South Kensington, London: 2
AN AUNT. Oh, come, let us be patriotic!
OSCAR WILDE. ‘Let us sing unto the Lord a new song!’ and let that song be that to-day the World has become altogether too wide for mere Patriotism, which, after all, now is only the virtue of small minds.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1931, Conversations with Oscar Wilde by A. H. Cooper-Prichard (Arthur Henry Cooper-Prichard), Chapter 1: My Introduction To Oscar Wilde, Quote Page 20, Philip Allan, London. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 1931, Conversations with Oscar Wilde by A. H. Cooper-Prichard (Arthur Henry Cooper-Prichard), Chapter 5: Oscar Wilde at Afternoon Tea, Quote Page 99, Philip Allan, London. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩