Oscar Wilde was best known for his rapier-like acerbic wit and his flamboyant lifestyle.
But there was a gentler side to him that was best expressed in his children’s stories – notably the story of “The Happy Prince”.
If you have not read this story you have truly missed one of literarature’s greatest treasures. A brief synopsis follows.
Once upon a time there was a ruler who was known as the Happy Prince. His life was filled with parties and dances. He enjoyed the finest of foods. He wore all the latest fashions. There was nothing but joy and self-indulgence in his life. And then he died.
His Councilors decided to erect a statue in his memory – and it was indeed a fine statue. The prince’s likeness was cast exactly. His sword was encrusted with precious jewels, two rare emeralds were used for his eyes and the entire statue from head to toe was covered with fine gold.
One day, as winter approached, a swallow flew into the city. She had been separated from her flock on their way south and was exhausted from her effort to avoid the cold. She decided to rest for the night. She sat on the Happy Prince’s shoulder.
The statue startled the tired swallow by suddenly speaking to her. He told her that his whole life he thought of nothing and no one but himself. But now that he stood tall over the city he could see all the poverty, grief and want which was the life that most of his people knew.
He prevailed on the swallow to go on some errands of mercy for him – removing the jewels in his sword and in his eyes and finally removing all the gold leaf that adorned him and giving these to the poor.
At first the swallow was reluctant. She merely wanted to go south for the winter. But as she ran errand after errand for the Happy Prince her attitude changed. She was so taken with his kindness and compassion that she finally realized she loved him.
When all that was of value was gone, the Happy Prince told her that she must leave as it was getting bitterly cold. But the swallow could not tear herself away from him and she died, falling at his feet.
The following day the Town Councilors were walking through the square when they came to the statue of the Happy Prince. They were shocked to see the statue in its current state, bare of its beautiful jewels and gold leaf.
“How shabby the Happy Prince looks. And here is actually a dead bird lying at his feet. Well, we must have another statue – and it should be of myself”, said one of them. And they began to argue as to who should be the subject of this new statue. And argue. And argue.
They threw the dead bird on a garbage heap and had workmen pull down the statue of the Happy Prince and cast it into the furnace. But while the statue melted, the leaden heart that was inside would not burn. So they pulled it from the fire and threw it on the same pile where the little sparrow lay.
The final words of the story are these:
“Bring me the two most precious things in the city”, said God to one of his angels.
The angel returned with the leaden heart and the dead bird.
“You have chosen well”, said God. “For in my City of Paradise, this little bird shall sing forevermore and the Happy Prince shall praise me.”
I had thought to make copies of the story of “The Happy Prince”, sending one to each of our Members of Congress and a final one to the White House.
I just don’t think they would understand it.