A couple of days ago Oxford World's Classics posted a tweet in which they quoted Shaw. Here it is:
These words are part of a 1894 letter to aspiring drama critic Reginald Golding Bright (Bernard Shaw Collected Letters, Vol. I, pp. 460-1) in which Shaw advises him to "give up detesting everything appertaining to Oscar Wilde or to anyone else." Then, he goes on to write the words above, together with an interesting commentary on critical opinions:
"The critic’s first duty is to admit, with absolute respect, the right of every man to his own style. Wilde’s wit and his fine literary workmanship are points of great value. There is always a vulgar cry both for and against every man or woman of any distinction; and from such cries you cannot keep your mind too clear if you wish to attain distinction yourself. You know the sort of thing I mean: you have heard it about Whistler, Sarah Grand, Ibsen, Wagner—everybody who has a touch of genius. Excuse this scrap of sermon: I would not intrude it upon you if I did not know by experience the great difficulty of forming and holding to a genuine original opinion of public men on their own merits when so many fools are chattering about them in all directions."
It is interesting to note how Shaw once again praises Wilde and defends him from harsh criticism. As you may remember, other entries in this blog have touched on the Shaw-Wilde relationship, particularly on their seemingly conflicting aesthetic views. That is why I never grow tired of finding examples like these. Shaw's words are true in abstrac terms, but the fact that they were originally meant to advise critics on how to approach Wilde's works makes them especially meaningful.
Keller cartoon from The Wasp of San Francisco depicting Oscar Wilde on the occasion of his visit there in 1882.