The return trip was like a funeral procession, depressed by the heavy irony of Huskisson’s accident, the unwelcome reception in Manchester, and multiple mechanical problems. At one point, several engines could not even make it up an incline, so the men got out to walk beside the laboring trains. On foot, Stanley noted the engines’ sparks, steam, and raining ash on the darkened landscape, “a strange but sombre illumination” and backdrop to the “utter uncertainty” people were feeling about the day (830). It seemed like an inauspicious start for the L&M if not the railway age itself. The day it was triumphantly born concluded with the ironic death of one of its ardent supporters. Its high-profile public celebration ended in sharp political critique. Its orderly proceedings gave way to a state of alarm and fatigue.
One of the moral paradoxes that The Importance of Being Earnest seems intended to express is the idea that the perfectly moral man is the man who professes to be immoral, who speaks truly by virtue of the fact that he admits to being essentially a liar. Wilde set great store in lying, which, he argued in a quasi-Platonic dialogue called “The Decay of Lying,” is a veritable art form. Art itself may really be what’s at stake here. From Wilde’s standpoint, the poseur is to be congratulated and commended if his affectations bespeak elegance and style and achieve beauty. If they do, he is close to an artist. If they don’t, he is only a hypocrite.