May 25, 1895
Wilde guilty of indecency
At the end of a sensational trial, Irish writer Oscar Wilde is convicted of "gross indecency" in his relations with the son of the Marquess of Queensberry. He was sentenced to two years hard labor. Wilde, whose wit and flamboyance placed him at the center of London social and literary circles, is best remembered for his comic masterpieces Lady Windermere's Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest. In his writing and conduct, he often tested the bounds of the prudish Victorian society of his day, which led to his imprisonment for homosexuality in 1895 at the height of his career. After his release in 1897, he moved to Paris, where he died two and a half years later.
May 25, 1803
Prolific Coiner of Popular Phrases Born
English politician, poet, playwright, and prolific coiner of popular phrases Edward George Bulwer-Lytton was born on this day in 1803. He went on to coin some of the most well known phrases in history, including "the pen is mightier than the sword," "pursuit of the almighty dollar," "the great unwashed," and the famous opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night."
Born in London to General William Earle Bulwer and Elizabeth Barbara Lytton, Bulwer-Lytton was a precocious, if delicate, child. At the tender age of 15 he published his first work, Ishmael and Other Poems. He went on to Trinity College and Trinity Hall where he won the Chancellor’s Gold Medal for English verse in 1825. Soon after earning his B.A. he published a small volume of poems, Weeds and Wild Flowers. Bulwer-Lytton married Rosina Doyle Wheeler, an Irish woman, in 1827, but the couple quarreled and eventually legally separated in 1836. By that time, his political career, started in 1831, had surged. He had entered Parliament as a Liberal, become friends with future English Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and converted to become a Tory, retired in 1941 in protest against the repeal of the Corn Laws, and finally rejoined in 1852 as a member for Hertfordshire.
But the politician achieved his greatest success, perhaps, in literary works. Bulwer-Lytton wrote in a variety of genres, including historical fiction, mystery, romance, occult, and science fiction. The 1828 novel, "Pelham, brought him renown and established Bulwer-Lytton as a respected writer—and a dandy. But it wasn’t until 1833 and the publishing of Godolphin that Bulwer-Lytton reached the height of his popularity. He penned many more works thereafter, including The Pilgrims of the Rhine, The Last Days of Pompeii, The Haunted and the Haunters, and The Coming Race.
In his prolific works, Bulwer-Lytton coined some phrases that resonated with his readers and became commonly used. In his play, Richelieu, he wrote, "…beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword." The Coming Race contains the line "pursuit of the almighty dollar," and Paul Clifford holds the disparaging phrase, "the great unwashed." That novel also contains one of Bulwer-Lytton’s best known lines, the first line, in fact of Paul Clifford: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
Today, that line lives on in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which contestants devise openings for imaginary novels inspired by Bulwer-Lytton’s opening line.