Oscar Wilde? Arthur Pendenys? Arthur James Balfour? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: An ill-intentioned biography is indistinguishable from a character assassination. The famous wit Oscar Wilde crafted a pertinent line on this topic. Here are three versions:
Every great man nowadays has his disciples, and
…it is usually Judas who writes the biography.
…it is invariably Judas who writes the biography.
…it is always Judas who writes the biography.
Would you please help me to determine which version is accurate?
Quote Investigator: In April 1887 Oscar Wilde published an unsigned article titled “The Butterfly’s Boswell” in “Court and Society Review”. Wilde’s piece sardonically discussed a recent fawning article about the painter James McNeill Whistler. In the following excerpt “Judas” denoted Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
Every great man nowadays has his disciples, and it is usually Judas who writes the biography. Mr. Whistler, however, is more fortunate than most of his confrères, as he has found in Mr. Walter Dowdeswell the most ardent of admirers, indeed, we might almost say the most sympathetic of secretaries.
Wilde employed this line on at least three different occasions, but he varied the phrasing slightly. Below are selected citations in chronological order.
- 1914, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde by Stuart Mason, The Butterfly’s Boswell by Oscar Wilde (Reprint of “The Butterfly’s Boswell” by unsigned from “Court and Society Review”, Page 378, Volume 4, Number 146, Date: April 20, 1887), Start Page 28, Quote Page 28, T. Werner Laurie Ltd., London. (Internet Archive archive.org; QI has not yet directly verified this excerpt in the 1887 periodical) link ↩