Part 3 out of 4
paint him. One was about his two boys, Vyvyan and Cyril.
"Children are sometimes interesting," he began. "The other night I was reading
when my wife came and asked me to go upstairs and reprove the elder boy: Cyril,
it appeared, would not say his prayers. He had quarrelled with Vyvyan, and
beaten him, and when he was shaken and told he must say his prayers, he would
not kneel down, or ask God to make him a good boy. Of course I had to go
upstairs and see to it. I took the chubby little fellow on my knee, and told
him in a grave way that he had been very naughty; naughty to hit his younger
brother, and naughty because he had given his mother pain. He must kneel down
at once, and ask God to forgive him and make him a good boy.
"'I was not naughty,' he pouted, 'it was Vyvyan; he was naughty.'
"I explained to him that his temper was naughty, and that he must do as he was
told. With a little sigh he slipped off my knee, and knelt down and put his
little hands together, as he had been taught, and began 'Our Father.' When he
had finished the 'Lord's Prayer,' he looked up at me and said gravely, 'Now I'll
pray to myself.'
"He closed his eyes and his lips moved. When he had finished I took him in my
arms again and kissed him. "That's right," I said.
"'You said you were sorry,' questioned his mother, leaning over him, 'and asked
God to make you a good boy?'
"'Yes, mother,' he nodded, 'I said I was sorry and asked God to make Vyvyan
a good boy.'
"I had to leave the room, Frank, or he would have seen me smiling. Wasn't it
delightful of him! We are all willing to ask God to make others good."
This story shows the lovable side of him. There was another side not so
amiable. In April, 1893, "A Woman of No Importance" was produced by Herbert
Beerbohm Tree at The Haymarket and ran till the end of the season, August 16th,
surviving even the festival of St. Grouse. The astonishing success of this
second play confirmed Oscar Wilde's popularity, gave him money to spend and
increased his self-confidence. In the summer he took a house up the river at
Goring, and went there to live with Lord Alfred Douglas. Weird stories came to
us in London about their life together. Some time in September, I think it was,
I asked him what was the truth underlying these reports.
"Scandals and slanders, Frank, have no relation to truth," he replied.
"I wonder if that's true," I said, "slander often has some substratum of
truth; it resembles the truth like a gigantic shadow; there is a likeness
at least in outline."
"That would be true," he retorted, "if the canvas, so to speak, on which the
shadows fall were even and true; but it is not. Scandals and slander are
related to the hatred of the people who invent them and are not in any shadowy
sense even, effigies or images of the person attacked."
"Much smoke, then," I queried, "and no fire?"
"Only little fires," he rejoined, "show much smoke. The foundation for what you
heard is both small and harmless. The summer was very warm and beautiful, as
you know, and I was up at Goring with Bosie. Often in the middle of the day we
were too hot to go on the river. One afternoon it was sultry-close, and Bosie
proposed that I should turn the hose pipe on him. He went in and threw his
things off and so did I. A few minutes later I was seated in a chair with a
bath towel round me and Bosie was lying on the grass about ten yards away, when
the vicar came to pay us a call. The servant told him that we were in the
garden, and he came and found us there. Frank, you have no idea the sort of
face he pulled. What could I say?"
"'I am the vicar of the parish,' he bowed pompously.
"'I'm delighted to see you,' I said, getting up and draping myself carefully,
'you have come just in time to enjoy a perfectly Greek scene. I regret that I
am scarcely fit to receive you, and Bosie there;--and I pointed to Bosie lying
on the grass. The vicar turned his head and saw Bosie's white limbs; the sight
was too much for him; he got very red, gave a gasp and fled from the place.
"I simply sat down in my chair and shrieked with laughter. How he may have
described the scene, what explanation he gave of it, what vile gloss he may have
invented, I don't know and I don't care. I have no doubt he wagged his head and
pursed his lips and looked unutterable things. But really it takes a saint to
suffer such fools gladly."
I could not help smiling when I thought of the vicar's face, but Oscar's tone
was not pleasant.
The change in him had gone further than I had feared. He was now utterly
contemptuous of criticism and would listen to no counsel. He was gross, too,
the rich food and wine seemed to ooze out of him and his manner was defiant,
hard. He was like some great pagan determined to live his own life to the very
fullest, careless of what others might say or think or do. Even the stories
which he wrote about this time show the worst side of his paganism:
"When Jesus was minded to return to Nazareth, Nazareth was so changed that He
no longer recognised His own city. The Nazareth where he had lived was full of
lamentations and tears; this city was filled with outbursts of laughter and
song. . . . .
"Christ went out of the house and, behold, in the street he saw a woman whose
face and raiment were painted and whose feet were shod with pearls, and behind
her walked a man who wore a cloak of two colours, and whose eyes were bright
with lust. And Christ went up to the man and laid His hand on his shoulder, and
said to him, 'Tell me, why art thou following this woman, and why dost thou look
at her in such wise?' The man turned round, recognised Him and said, 'I was
blind; Thou didst heal me; what else should I do with my sight?'"
The same note is played on in two or three more incidents, but the one I have
given is the best, and should have been allowed to stand alone. It has been
called blasphemous; it is not intentionally blasphemous; as I have said, Oscar
always put himself quite naively in the place of any historical character.
The disdain of public opinion which Oscar now showed not only in his writings,
but in his answers to criticism, quickly turned the public dislike into
aggressive hatred. In 1894 a book appeared, "The Green Carnation," which was a
sort of photograph of Oscar as a talker and a caricature of his thought. The
gossipy story had a surprising success, altogether beyond its merits, which
simply testified to the intense interest the suspicion of extraordinary
viciousness has for common minds. Oscar's genius was not given in the book
at all, but his humour was indicated and a malevolent doubt of his morality
insisted upon again and again. Rumour had it that the book was true in every
particular, that Mr. Hichens had taken down Oscar's talks evening after evening
and simply reproduced them. I asked Oscar if this was true.
"True enough, Frank," he replied with a certain contempt which was foreign to
him. "Hichens got to know Bosie Douglas in Egypt. They went up the Nile
together, I believe with 'Dodo' Denson. Naturally Bosie talked a great deal
about me and Hichens wanted to know me. When they returned to town, I thought
him rather pleasant, and saw a good deal of him. I had no idea that he was
going to play reporter; it seems to me a breach of confidence--ignoble."
"It is not a picture of you," I said, "but there is a certain likeness."
"A photograph is always like and unlike, Frank," he replied; "the sun too, when
used mechanically, is merely a reporter, and traduces instead of reproducing
"The Green Carnation" ruined Oscar Wilde's character with the general public.
On all sides the book was referred to as confirming the worst suspicions: the
cloud which hung over him grew continually darker.
During the summer of 1894 he wrote the "Ideal Husband," which was the outcome of
a story I had told him. I had heard it from an American I had met in Cairo, a
Mr. Cope Whitehouse. He told me that Disraeli had made money by entrusting the
Rothschilds with the purchase of the Suez Canal shares. It seemed to me strange
that this statement, if true, had never been set forth authoritatively; but the
story was peculiarly modern, and had possibilities in it. Oscar admitted
afterwards that he had taken the idea and used it in "An Ideal Husband."
It was in this summer also that he wrote "The Importance of Being Earnest," his
finest play. He went to the seaside and completed it, he said, in three weeks,
and, when I spoke of the delight he must feel at having two plays performed in
London at the same time, he said:
"Next year, Frank, I may have four or five; I could write one every two months
with the greatest ease. It all depends on money. If I need money I shall write
half a dozen plays next year."
His words reminded me of what Goethe had said about himself: in each of the ten
years he spent on his "Theory of Light" he could have written a couple of plays
as good as his best. The land of Might-have-been is peopled with these gorgeous
Oscar had already found his public, a public capable of appreciating the very
best he could do. As soon as "The Importance of Being Earnest" was produced
it had an extraordinary success, and success of the best sort. Even journalist
critics had begun to cease exhibiting their own limitations in foolish fault-
finding, and now imitated their betters, parroting phrases of extravagant
Oscar took the praise as he had taken the scandal and slander, with complacent
superiority. He had changed greatly and for the worse: he was growing coarser
and harder every year. All his friends noticed this. Even M. Andre Gide, who
was a great admirer and wrote, shortly after his death, the best account of him
that appeared, was compelled to deplore his deterioration. He says:
"One felt that there was less tenderness in his looks, that there was something
harsh in his laughter, and a wild madness in his joy. He seemed at the same
time to be sure of pleasing, and less ambitious to succeed therein. He had
grown reckless, hardened and conceited. Strangely enough he no longer spoke
His brother Willie made a similar complaint to Sir Edward Sullivan. Sir Edward
"William Wilde told me, when Oscar was in prison, that the only trouble between
him and his brother was caused by Oscar's inordinate vanity in the period before
his conviction. 'He had surrounded himself,' William said, 'with a gang of
parasites who praised him all day long, and to whom he used to give his
cigarette-cases, breast pins, etc., in return for their sickening flattery. No
one, not even I, his brother, dared offer any criticism on his works without
If proof were needed both of his reckless contempt for public opinion and the
malignancy with which he was misjudged, it could be found in an incident which
took place towards the end of 1894. A journal entitled "The Chameleon" was
produced by some Oxford undergraduates. Oscar wrote for it a handful of sayings
which he called "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young." His
epigrams were harmless enough; but in the same number there appeared a story
entitled "The Priest and the Acolyte" which could hardly be defended. The mere
fact that his work was printed in the same journal called forth a storm of
condemnation though he had never seen the story before it was published nor had
he anything to do with its insertion.
Nemesis was following hard after him. Late in this year he spoke to me of his
own accord about Lord Queensberry. He wanted my advice:
"Lord Queensberry is annoying me," he said; "I did my best to reconcile him and
Bosie. One day at the Cafe Royal, while Bosie and I were lunching there,
Queensberry came in and I made Bosie go over and fetch his father and bring him
to lunch with us. He was half friendly with me till quite recently; though he
wrote a shameful letter to Bosie about us. What am I to do?"
I asked him what Lord Queensberry objected to.
"He objects to my friendship with Bosie."
"Then why not cease to see Bosie?" I asked.
"It is impossible, Frank, and ridiculous; why should I give up my friends for
"I should like to see Queensberry's letter," I said. "Is it possible?"
"I'll bring it to you, Frank, but there's nothing in it." A day or two later he
showed me the letter, and after I had read it he produced a copy of the telegram
which Lord Alfred Douglas had sent to his father in reply. Here they both are;
they speak for themselves loudly enough:
It is extremely painful for me to have to write to you in the strain I must; but
please understand that I decline to receive any answers from you in writing in
return. After your recent hysterical impertinent ones I refuse to be annoyed
with such, and I decline to read any more letters. If you have anything to say
do come here and say it in person. Firstly, am I to understand that, having
left Oxford as you did, with discredit to yourself, the reasons of which were
fully explained to me by your tutor, you now intend to loaf and loll about and
do nothing? All the time you were wasting at Oxford I was put off with an
assurance that you were eventually to go into the Civil Service or to the
Foreign Office, and then I was put off with an assurance that you were going to
the Bar. It appears to me that you intend to do nothing. I utterly decline,
however, to just supply you with sufficient funds to enable you to loaf about.
You are preparing a wretched future for yourself, and it would be most cruel and
wrong for me to encourage you in this. Secondly, I come to the more painful
part of this letter--your intimacy with this man Wilde. It must either cease
or I will disown you and stop all money supplies. I am not going to try and
analyse this intimacy, and I make no charge; but to my mind to pose as a thing
is as bad as to be it. With my own eyes I saw you both in the most loathsome
and disgusting relationship as expressed by your manner and expression. Never
in my experience have I ever seen such a sight as that in your horrible
features. No wonder people are talking as they are. Also I now hear on good
authority, but this may be false, that his wife is petitioning to divorce him
for sodomy and other crimes. Is this true, or do you not know of it? If I
thought the actual thing was true, and it became public property, I should be
quite justified in shooting him at sight. These Christian English cowards and
men, as they call themselves, want waking up.
Your disgusted so-called father,
In reply to this letter Lord Alfred Douglas telegraphed:
"What a funny little man you are! Alfred Douglas."
This telegram was excellently calculated to drive Queensberry frantic with rage.
There was feminine cunning in its wound to vanity.
A little later Oscar told me that Queensberry accompanied by a friend had called
"What happened?" I asked.
"I said to him, 'I suppose, Lord Queensberry, you have come to apologise for the
libellous letter you wrote about me?'
"'No,' he replied, 'the letter was privileged; it was written to my son.'
"'How dared you say such a thing about your son and me?'
"'You were both kicked out of The Savoy Hotel for disgusting conduct,'
"'That's untrue,' I said, 'absolutely untrue.'
"'You were blackmailed too for a disgusting letter you wrote my son,'
he went on.
"'I don't know who has been telling you all these silly stories,' I replied,
'but they are untrue and quite ridiculous.'
"He ended up by saying that if he caught me and his son together again he would
"'I don't know what the Queensberry rules are,' I retorted, 'but my rule is to
shoot at sight in case of personal violence,' and with that I told him to leave
"Of course he defied you?" I questioned.
"He was rude, Frank, and preposterous to the end."
As Oscar was telling me the story, it seemed to me as if another person were
speaking through his mouth. The idea of Oscar "standing up" to Queensberry or
"shooting at sight" was too absurd. Who was inspiring him? Alfred Douglas?
"What has happened since?" I enquired.
"Nothing," he replied, "perhaps he will be quiet now. Bosie has written him a
terrible letter; he must see now that, if he goes on, he will only injure his
own flesh and blood."
"That won't stop him," I replied, "if I read him aright. But if I could see
what Alfred Douglas wrote, I should be better able to judge of the effect it
will have on Queensberry."
A little later I saw the letter: it shows better than words of mine the tempers
of the chief actors in this squalid story:
"As you return my letters unopened, I am obliged to write on a postcard. I
write to inform you that I treat your absurd threats with absolute indifference.
Ever since your exhibition at O. W.'s house, I have made a point of appearing
with him at many public restaurants such as The Berkeley, Willis's Rooms, the
Cafe Royal, etc., and I shall continue to go to any of these places whenever
I choose and with whom I choose. I am of age and my own master. You have
disowned me at least a dozen times, and have very meanly deprived me of money.
You have therefore no right over me, either legal or moral. If O. W. was to
prosecute you in the Central Criminal Court for libel, you would get seven
years' penal servitude for your outrageous libels. Much as I detest you, I am
anxious to avoid this for the sake of the family; but if you try to assault me,
I shall defend myself with a loaded revolver, which I always carry; and if I
shoot you or if he shoots you, we shall be completely justified, as we shall be
acting in self-defence against a violent and dangerous rough, and I think if you
were dead many people would not miss you.--A. D."
This letter of the son seemed to me appalling. My guess was right; it was he
who was speaking through Oscar; the threat of shooting at sight came from him.
I did not then understand all the circumstances; I had not met Lady Queensberry.
I could not have imagined how she had suffered at the hands of her husband--a
charming, cultivated woman, with exquisite taste in literature and art; a woman
of the most delicate, aspen-like sensibilities and noble generosities, coupled
with that violent, coarse animal with the hot eyes and combative nature. Her
married life had been a martyrdom. Naturally the children had all taken her
side in the quarrel, and Lord Alfred Douglas, her especial favourite, had
practically identified himself with her, which explains to some extent, though
nothing can justify, the unnatural animosity of his letter. The letter showed
me that the quarrel was far deeper, far bitterer than I had imagined--one of
those dreadful family quarrels, where the intimate knowledge each has of the
other whips anger to madness. All I could do was to warn Oscar.
"It's the old, old story," I said. "You are putting your hand between the
bark and the tree, and you will suffer for it." But he would not or could not
"What is one to do with such a madman?" he asked pitiably.
"Avoid him," I replied, "as you would avoid a madman, who wanted to fight with
you; or conciliate him; there is nothing else to do."
He would not be warned. A little later the matter came up again. At the first
production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" Lord Queensberry appeared at the
theatre carrying a large bouquet of turnips and carrots. What the meaning was
of those vegetables only the man himself and his like could divine. I asked
Oscar about the matter. He seemed annoyed but on the whole triumphant.
"Queensberry," he said, "had engaged a stall at the St. James's Theatre,
no doubt to kick up a row; but as soon as I heard of it I got Alick (George
Alexander) to send him back his money. On the night of the first performance
Queensberry appeared carrying a large bundle of carrots. He was refused
admittance at the box-office, and when he tried to enter the gallery the
police would not let him in. He must be mad, Frank, don't you think? I am
glad he was foiled."
"He is insanely violent," I said, "he will keep on attacking you."
"But what can I do, Frank?"
"Don't ask for advice you won't take," I replied. "There's a French proverb
I've always liked: 'In love and war don't seek counsel.' But for God's sake,
don't drift. Stop while you can."
But Oscar would have had to take a resolution and act in order to stop, and he
was incapable of such energy. The wild horses of Fate had run away with the
light chariot of his fortune, and what the end would be no one could foresee.
It came with appalling suddenness.
One evening, in February, '95, I heard that the Marquis of Queensberry had left
an insulting card for Oscar at the Albemarle Club. My informant added gleefully
that now Oscar would have to face the music and we'd all see what was in him.
There was no malice in this, just an Englishman's pleasure in a desperate fight,
and curiosity as to the issue.
A little later I received a letter from Oscar, asking me if he could call on me
that afternoon. I stayed in, and about four o'clock he came to see me.
At first he used the old imperious mask, which he had lately accustomed himself
"I am bringing an action against Queensberry, Frank," he began gravely, "for
criminal libel. He is a mere wild beast. My solicitors tell me that I am
certain to win. But they say some of the things I have written will be brought
up against me in court. Now you know all I have written. Would you in your
position as editor of "The Fortnightly" come and give evidence for me, testify
for instance that 'Dorian Gray' is not immoral?"
"Yes," I replied at once, "I should be perfectly willing, and I could say more
than that; I could say that you are one of the very few men I have ever known
whose talk and whose writings were vowed away from grossness of any sort."
"Oh! Frank, would you? It would be so kind of you," he cried out. "My
solicitors said I ought to ask you, but they were afraid you would not like to
come: your evidence will win the case. It is good of you." His whole face was
shaken; he turned away to hide the tears.
"Anything I can do, Oscar," I said, "I shall do with pleasure, and, as you know,
to the uttermost; but I want you to consider the matter carefully. An English
court of law gives me no assurance of a fair trial or rather I am certain that
in matters of art or morality an English court is about the worst tribunal in
the civilised world."
He shook his head impatiently.
"I cannot help it, I cannot alter it," he said.
"You must listen to me," I insisted. "You remember the Whistler and Ruskin
action. You know that Whistler ought to have won. You know that Ruskin was
shamelessly in fault; but the British jury and the so-called British artists
treated Whistler and his superb work with contempt. Take a different case
altogether, the Belt case, where all the Academicians went into the witness box,
and asserted honestly enough that Belt was an impostor, yet the jury gave him a
verdict of L5,000, though a year later he was sent to penal servitude for the
very frauds which the jury in the first trial had declared by their verdict he
had not committed. An English law court is all very well for two average men,
who are fighting an ordinary business dispute. That's what it's made for, but
to judge a Whistler or the ability or the immorality of an artist is to ask the
court to do what it is wholly unfit to do. There is not a judge on the bench
whose opinion on such a matter is worth a moment's consideration, and the jury
are a thousand years behind the judge."
"That may be true, Frank; but I cannot help it."
"Don't forget," I persisted, "all British prejudices will be against you.
Here is a father, the fools will say, trying to protect his young son. If
he has made a mistake, it is only through excess of laudable zeal; you would
have to prove yourself a religious maniac in order to have any chance against
him in England."
"How terrible you are, Frank. You know it is Bosie Douglas who wants me to
fight, and my solicitors tell me I shall win."
"Solicitors live on quarrels. Of course they want a case that will bring
hundreds if not thousands of pounds into their pockets. Besides they like
the fight. They will have all the kudos of it and the fun, and you will pay
the piper. For God's sake don't be led into it: that way madness lies."
"But, Frank," he objected weakly, "how can I sit down under such an insult.
I must do something."
"That's another story," I replied. "Let us by all means weigh what is to be
done. But let us begin by putting the law-courts out of the question. Don't
forget that you are challenged to mortal combat. Let us consider how the
challenge should be met, but we won't fight under Queensberry rules because
Queensberry happens to be the aggressor. Don't forget that if you lose and
Queensberry goes free, everyone will hold that you have been guilty of nameless
vice. Put the law courts out of your head. Whatever else you do, you must not
bring an action for criminal libel against Queensberry. You are sure to lose
it; you haven't a dog's chance, and the English despise the beaten--"vae
victis!" Don't commit suicide."
Nothing was determined when the time came to part.
This conversation took place, I believe, on the Friday or Saturday. I spent
the whole of Sunday trying to find out what was known about Oscar Wilde and what
would be brought up against him. I wanted to know too how he was regarded in an
ordinary middle-class English home.
My investigations had appalling results. Everyone assumed that Oscar Wilde was
guilty of the worst that had ever been alleged against him; the very people who
received him in their houses condemned him pitilessly and, as I approached the
fountain-head of information, the charges became more and more definite; to my
horror, in the Public Prosecutor's office, his guilt was said to be known and
All "people of importance" agreed that he would lose his case against
Queensberry; "no English jury would give Oscar Wilde a verdict against anyone,"
was the expert opinion.
"How unjust!" I cried.
A careless shrug was the only reply.
I returned home from my enquiries late on Sunday afternoon, and in a few minutes
Oscar called by appointment. I told him I was more convinced than ever that he
must not go on with the prosecution; he would be certain to lose. Without
beating about the bush I declared that he had no earthly chance.
"There are letters," I said, "which are infinitely worse than your published
writings, which will be put in evidence against you."
"What letters do you mean, Frank?" he questioned. "The Wood letters to Lord
Alfred Douglas I told you about? I can explain all of them."
"You paid blackmail to Wood for letters you had written to Douglas," I replied,
"and you will not be able to explain that fact to the satisfaction of a jury.
I am told it is possible that witnesses will be called against you. Take it
from me, Oscar, you have not a ghost of a chance."
"Tell me what you mean, Frank, for God's sake," he cried.
"I can tell you in a word," I replied; "you will lose your case. I have
promised not to say more."
I tried to persuade him by his vanity.
"You must remember," I said, "that you are a sort of standard bearer for future
generations. If you lose you will make it harder for all writers in England;
though God knows it is hard enough already; you will put back the hands of the
clock for fifty years."
I seemed almost to have persuaded him. He questioned me:
"What is the alternative, Frank, the wisest thing to do in your opinion?
Tell me that."
"You ought to go abroad," I replied, "go abroad with your wife, and let
Queensberry and his son fight out their own miserable quarrels; they are
"Oh, Frank," he cried, "how can I do that?"
"Sleep on it," I replied; "I am going to, and we can talk it all over in a
day or two."
"But I must know," he said wistfully, "tomorrow morning, Frank."
"Bernard Shaw is lunching with me tomorrow," I replied, "at the Cafe Royal."
He made an impatient movement of his head.
"He usually goes early," I went on, "and if you like to come after three o'clock
we can have a talk and consider it all."
"May I bring Bosie?" he enquired.
"I would rather you did not," I replied, "but it is for you to do just as
you like. I don't mind saying what I have to say, before anyone," and on that
Somehow or other next day at lunch both Shaw and I got interested in our talk,
and we were both at the table when Oscar came in. I introduced them, but they
had met before. Shaw stood up and proposed to go at once, but Oscar with his
usual courtesy assured him that he would be glad if he stayed.
"Then, Oscar," I said, "perhaps you won't mind Shaw hearing what I advise?"
"No, Frank, I don't mind," he sighed with a pitiful air of depression.
I am not certain and my notes do not tell me whether Bosie Douglas came in with
Oscar or a little later, but he heard the greater part of our talk. I put the
"First of all," I said, "we start with the certainty that you are going to lose
the case against Queensberry. You must give it up, drop it at once; but you
cannot drop it and stay in England. Queensberry would probably attack you again
and again. I know him well; he is half a savage and regards pity as a weakness;
he has absolutely no consideration for others.
"You should go abroad, and, as ace of trumps, you should take your wife with
you. Now for the excuse: I would sit down and write such a letter as you alone
can write to "The Times". You should set forth how you have been insulted by
the Marquis of Queensberry, and how you went naturally to the Courts for a
remedy, but you found out very soon that this was a mistake. No jury would
give a verdict against a father, however mistaken he might be. The only thing
for you to do therefore is to go abroad, and leave the whole ring, with its
gloves and ropes, its sponges and pails, to Lord Queensberry. You are a maker
of beautiful things, you should say, and not a fighter. Whereas the Marquis of
Queensberry takes joy only in fighting. You refuse to fight with a father under
Oscar seemed to be inclined to do as I proposed. I appealed to Shaw, and Shaw
said he thought I was right; the case would very likely go against Oscar, a jury
would hardly give a verdict against a father trying to protect his son. Oscar
seemed much moved. I think it was about this time that Bosie Douglas came in.
At Oscar's request, I repeated my argument and to my astonishment Douglas got up
at once, and cried with his little white, venomous, distorted face:
"Such advice shows you are no friend of Oscar's."
"What do you mean?" I asked in wonderment; but he turned and left the room on
the spot. To my astonishment Oscar also got up.
"It is not friendly of you, Frank," he said weakly. "It really is not
I stared at him: he was parrotting Douglas' idiotic words.
"Don't be absurd," I said; but he repeated:
"No, Frank, it is not friendly," and went to the door and disappeared.
Like a flash I saw part at least of the truth. It was not Oscar who had ever
misled Douglas, but Lord Alfred Douglas who was driving Oscar whither he would.
I turned to Shaw.
"Did I say anything in the heat of argument that could have offended Oscar or
"Nothing," said Shaw, "not a word: you have nothing to reproach yourself with."
(I am very glad that Bernard Shaw has lately put in print his memory of this
conversation. The above account was printed, though not published, in 1911, and
in 1914 Shaw published his recollection of what took place at this consultation.
Readers may judge from the comparison how far my general story is worthy of
credence. In the Introduction to his playlet, "The Dark Lady of the Sonnets,"
"Yet he (Harris) knows the taste and the value of humour. He was one of the
few men of letters who really appreciated Oscar Wilde, though he did not rally
fiercely to Wilde's side until the world deserted Oscar in his ruin. I myself
was present at a curious meeting between the two when Harris on the eve of
the Queensberry trial prophesied to Wilde with miraculous precision exactly
what immediately afterwards happened to him and warned him to leave the country.
It was the first time within my knowledge that such a forecast proved true.
Wilde, though under no illusion as to the folly of the quite unselfish suit-at-
law he had been persuaded to begin, nevertheless so miscalculated the force of
the social vengeance he was unloosing on himself that he fancied it could be
stayed by putting up the editor of "The Saturday Review" (as Mr. Harris then
was) to declare that he considered "Dorian Gray" a highly moral book, which it
certainly is. When Harris foretold him the truth, Wilde denounced him as a
faint-hearted friend who was failing him in his hour of need and left the room
in anger. Harris's idiosyncratic power of pity saved him from feeling or
showing the smallest resentment; and events presently proved to Wilde how
insanely he had been advised in taking the action, and how accurately Harris
had gauged the situation.")
Left to myself I was at a loss to imagine what Lord Alfred Douglas proposed to
himself by hounding Oscar on to attack his father. I was still more surprised
by his white, bitter face. I could not get rid of the impression it left on
me. While groping among these reflections I was suddenly struck by a sort of
likeness, a similarity of expression and of temper between Lord Alfred Douglas
and his unhappy father. I could not get it out of my head--that little face
blanched with rage and the wild, hating eyes; the shrill voice, too, was
CHAPTER XIII--OSCAR ATTACKS QUEENSBERRY AND IS WORSTED
It was weakness in Oscar and not strength that allowed him to be driven to the
conflict by Lord Alfred Douglas; it was his weakness again which prevented him
from abandoning the prosecution, once it was begun. Such a resolution would
have involved a breaking away from his associates and from his friends; a
personal assertion of will of which he was incapable. Again and again he
answered my urging with:
"I can't, Frank, I can't."
When I pointed out to him that the defence was growing bolder--it was announced
one morning in the newspapers that Lord Queensberry, instead of pleading
paternal privilege and minimising his accusation, was determined to justify
the libel and declare that it was true in every particular--Oscar could only
"I can't help it, Frank, I can't do anything; you only distress me by
The fibres of resolution, never strong in him, had been destroyed by years of
self-indulgence, while the influence whipping him was stronger than I guessed.
He was hurried like a sheep to the slaughter.
Although everyone who cared to think knew that Queensberry would win the case,
many persons believed that Oscar would make a brilliant intellectual fight, and
carry off the honours, if not the verdict.
The trial took place at the Central Criminal Court on April 3rd, 1895. Mr.
Justice Collins was the judge and the case was conducted at first with the
outward seemliness and propriety which are so peculiarly English. An hour
before the opening of the case the Court was crowded, not a seat to be had
for love or money: even standing room was at a premium.
The Counsel were the best at the Bar; Sir Edward Clarke, Q.C., Mr. Charles
Mathews, and Mr. Travers Humphreys for the prosecution; Mr. Carson, Q.C.,
Mr. G. C. Gill and Mr. A. Gill for the defence. Mr. Besley, Q.C., and
Mr. Monckton watched the case, it was said, for the brothers, Lord Douglas
of Hawick and Lord Alfred Douglas.
While waiting for the judge, the buzz of talk in the court grew loud;
everybody agreed that the presence of Sir Edward Clarke gave Oscar an advantage.
Mr. Carson was not so well known then as he has since become; he was regarded
as a sharp-witted Irishman who had still his spurs to win. Some knew he had
been at school with Oscar, and at Trinity College was as high in the second
class as Oscar was in the first. It was said he envied Oscar his reputation
Suddenly the loud voice of the clerk called for silence.
As the judge appeared everyone stood up and in complete stillness Sir Edward
Clarke opened for the prosecution. The bleak face, long upper lip and severe
side whiskers made the little man look exactly like a nonconformist parson of
the old days, but his tone and manner were modern--quiet and conversational.
The charge, he said, was that the defendant had published a false and malicious
libel against Mr. Oscar Wilde. The libel was in the form of a card which Lord
Queensberry had left at a club to which Mr. Oscar Wilde belonged: it could not
be justified unless the statements written on the card were true. It would,
however, have been possible to have excused the card by a strong feeling, a
mistaken feeling, on the part of a father, but the plea which the defendant
had brought before the Court raised graver issues. He said that the statement
was true and was made for the public benefit. There were besides a series of
accusations in the plea (everyone held his breath), mentioning names of persons,
and it was said with regard to these persons that Mr. Wilde had solicited them
to commit a grave offence and that he had been guilty with each and all of them
of indecent practices. . . ." My heart seemed to stop. My worst forebodings
were more than justified. Vaguely I heard Clarke's voice, "grave responsibility
. . . . serious allegations . . . . credible witnesses . . . . Mr. Oscar
Wilde was the son of Sir William Wilde . . . ." the voice droned on and I awoke
to feverish clearness of brain. Queensberry had turned the defence into a
prosecution. Why had he taken the risk? Who had given him the new and precise
information? I felt that there was nothing before Oscar but ruin absolute.
Could anything be done? Even now he could go abroad--even now. I resolved
once more to try and induce him to fly.
My interest turned from these passionate imaginings to the actual. Would Sir
Edward Clarke fight the case as it should be fought? He had begun to tell of
the friendship between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas; the friendship too
between Oscar Wilde and Lady Queensberry, who on her own petition had been
divorced from the Marquis; would he go on to paint the terrible ill-feeling that
existed between Lord Alfred Douglas and his father, and show how Oscar had been
dragged into the bitter family squabble? To the legal mind this had but little
to do with the case.
We got, instead, a dry relation of the facts which have already been set forth
in this history. Wright, the porter of the Albemarle Club, was called to say
that Lord Queensberry had handed him the card produced. Witness had looked
at the card; did not understand it; but put it in an envelope and gave it to
Mr. Oscar Wilde was then called and went into the witness box. He looked a
little grave but was composed and serious. Sir Edward Clarke took him briefly
through the incidents of his life: his successes at school and the University;
the attempts made to blackmail him, the insults of Lord Queensberry, and then
directed his attention to the allegations in the plea impugning his conduct with
different persons. Mr. Oscar Wilde declared that there was no truth in any of
these statements. Hereupon Sir Edward Clarke sat down. Mr. Carson rose and the
death duel began.
Mr. Carson brought out that Oscar Wilde was forty years of age and Lord Alfred
Douglas twenty-four. Down to the interview in Tite Street Lord Queensberry had
been friendly with Mr. Wilde.
"Had Mr. Wilde written in a publication called "The Chameleon"?"
"Had he written there a story called 'The Priest and the Acolyte'?"
"Was that story immoral?"
Oscar amused everyone by replying:
"Much worse than immoral, it was badly written," but feeling that this gibe was
too light for the occasion he added:
"It was altogether offensive and perfect twaddle."
He admitted at once that he did not express his disapproval of it; it was
beneath him "to concern himself with the effusions of an illiterate
"Did Mr. Wilde ever consider the effect in his writings of inciting to
Oscar declared that he aimed neither at good nor evil, but tried to make a
beautiful thing. When questioned as to the immorality in thought in the article
in "The Chameleon", he retorted "that there is no such thing as morality or
immorality in thought." A hum of understanding and approval ran through the
court; the intellect is profoundly amoral.
Again and again he scored in this way off Mr. Carson.
"No work of art ever puts forward views; views belong to the Philistines and
not to artists." . . . .
"What do you think of this view?"
"I don't think of any views except my own."
All this while Mr. Carson had been hitting at a man on his own level; but Oscar
Wilde was above him and not one of his blows had taken effect. Every moment,
too, Oscar grew more and more at his ease, and the combat seemed to be turning
completely in his favour. Mr. Carson at length took up "Dorian Gray" and began
cross-examining on passages in it.
"You talk about one man adoring another. Did you ever adore any man?"
"No," replied Oscar quietly, "I have never adored anyone but myself."
The Court roared with laughter. Oscar went on:
"There are people in the world, I regret to say, who cannot understand the deep
affection that an artist can feel for a friend with a beautiful personality."
He was then questioned about his letter (already quoted here) to Lord Alfred
Douglas. It was a prose-poem, he said, written in answer to a sonnet. He had
not written to other people in the same strain, not even to Lord Alfred Douglas
again: he did not repeat himself in style.
Mr. Carson read another letter from Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas, which
paints their relations with extraordinary exactness. Here it is:
Victoria Embankment, London.
Dearest of all boys,--
Your letter was delightful, red and yellow wine to me; but I am sad and out of
sorts. Bosie, you must not make scenes with me. They kill me, they wreck the
loveliness of life. I cannot see you, so Greek and gracious, distorted with
passion. I cannot listen to your curved lips saying hideous things to me. I
would sooner ('here a word is indecipherable,' Mr. Carson went on, 'but I will
ask the witness') (The words which Mr. Carson could not read were: "I would
sooner be rented than, etc." Rent is a slang term for blackmail.)--than have
you bitter, unjust, hating. . . . . I must see you soon. You are the divine
thing I want, the thing of genius and beauty; but I don't know how to do it.
Shall I come to Salisbury? My bill here is L49 for a week. I have also got
a new sitting-room. . . . . Why are you not here, my dear, my wonderful boy?
I fear I must leave--no money, no credit, and a heart of lead.
Your own Oscar.
Oscar said that it was an expression of his tender admiration for Lord Alfred
"You have said," Mr. Carson went on, "that all the statements about persons in
the plea of justification were false. Do you still hold to that assertion?"
Mr. Carson then paused and looked at the Judge. Justice Collins shuffled his
papers together and announced that the cross-examination would be continued on
the morrow. As the Judge went out, all the tongues in the court broke loose.
Oscar was surrounded by friends congratulating him and rejoicing.
I was not so happy and went away to think the matter out. I tried to keep up
my courage by recalling the humorous things Oscar had said during the cross-
examination. I recalled too the dull commonplaces of Mr. Carson. I tried to
persuade myself that it was all going on very well. But in the back of my mind
I realised that Oscar's answers, characteristic and clever as many of them were,
had not impressed the jury, were indeed rather calculated to alienate them. He
had taken the purely artistic standpoint, had not attempted to go higher and
reach a synthesis which would conciliate the Philistine jurymen as well as the
thinking public, and the Judge.
Mr. Carson was in closer touch with the jury, being nearer their intellectual
level, and there was a terrible menace in his last words. Tomorrow, I said to
myself, he will begin to examine about persons and not books. He did not win
on the literary question, but he was right to bring it in. The passages he had
quoted, and especially Oscar's letters to Lord Alfred Douglas, had created a
strong prejudice in the minds of the jury. They ought not to have had this
effect, I thought, but they had. My contempt for Courts of law deepened:
those twelve jurymen were anything but the peers of the accused: how could they
. . . . . . .
The second day of the trial was very different from the first. There seemed to
be a gloom over the Court. Oscar went into the box as if it had been the dock;
he had lost all his spring. Mr. Carson settled down to the cross-examination
with apparent zest. It was evident from his mere manner that he was coming to
what he regarded as the strong part of his case. He began by examining Oscar as
to his intimacy with a person named Taylor.
"Has Taylor been to your house and to your chambers?"
"Have you been to Taylor's rooms to afternoon tea parties?"
"Did Taylor's rooms strike you as peculiar?"
"They were pretty rooms."
"Have you ever seen them lit by anything else but candles even in the day time?"
"I think so. I'm not sure."
"Have you ever met there a young man called Wood?"
"On one occasion."
"Have you ever met Sidney Mavor there at tea?"
"It is possible."
"What was your connection with Taylor?"
"Taylor was a friend, a young man of intelligence and education: he had been to
a good English school."
"Did you know Taylor was being watched by the police?"
"Did you know that Taylor was arrested with a man named Parker in a raid made
last year on a house in Fitzroy Square?"
"I read of it in the newspaper."
"Did that cause you to drop your acquaintance with Taylor?"
"No; Taylor explained to me that he had gone there to a dance, and that the
magistrate had dismissed the case against him."
"Did you get Taylor to arrange dinners for you to meet young men?"
"No; I have dined with Taylor at a restaurant."
"How many young men has Taylor introduced to you?"
"Five in all."
"Did you give money or presents to these five?"
"I may have done."
"Did they give you anything?"
"Among the five men Taylor introduced you to, was one named Parker?"
"Did you get on friendly terms with him?"
"Did you call him 'Charlie' and allow him to call you 'Oscar'?"
"How old was Parker?"
"I don't keep a census of people's ages. It would be vulgar to ask people
"Where did you first meet Parker?"
"I invited Taylor to Kettner's (A famous Italian restaurant in Soho: it had
several "private rooms.") on the occasion of my birthday, and told him to bring
what friends he liked. He brought Parker and his brother."
"Did you know Parker was a gentleman's servant out of work, and his brother
"No; I did not."
"But you did know that Parker was not a literary character or an artist, and
that culture was not his strong point?"
"What was there in common between you and Charlie Parker?"
"I like people who are young, bright, happy, careless and original. I do not
like them sensible, and I do not like them old; I don't like social distinctions
of any kind, and the mere fact of youth is so wonderful to me that I would
sooner talk to a young man for half an hour than be cross examined by an
Everyone smiled at this retort.
"Had you chambers in St. James's Place?"
"Yes, from October, '93, to April, '94."
"Did Charlie Parker go and have tea with you there?"
"Did you give him money?"
"I gave him three or four pounds because he said he was hard up."
"What did he give you in return?"
"Did you give Charlie Parker a silver cigarette case at Christmas?"
"Did you visit him one night at 12:30 at Park Walk, Chelsea?"
"I did not."
"Did you write him any beautiful prose-poems?"
"I don't think so."
"Did you know that Charlie Parker had enlisted in the Army?"
"I have heard so."
"When you heard that Taylor was arrested what did you do?"
"I was greatly distressed and wrote to tell him so."
"When did you first meet Fred Atkins?"
"In October or November, '92."
"Did he tell you that he was employed by a firm of bookmakers?"
"He may have done."
"Not a literary man or an artist, was he?"
"What age was he?"
"Nineteen or twenty."
"Did you ask him to dinner at Kettner's?"
"I think I met him at a dinner at Kettner's."
"Was Taylor at the dinner?"
"He may have been."
"Did you meet him afterwards?"
"Did you call him 'Fred' and let him call you 'Oscar'?"
"Did you go to Paris with him?"
"Did you give him money?"
"Was there ever any impropriety between you?"
"When did you first meet Ernest Scarfe?"
"In December, 1893."
"Who introduced him to you?"
"Scarfe was out of work, was he not?"
"He may have been."
"Did Taylor bring Scarfe to you at St. James's Place?"
"Did you give Scarfe a cigarette case?"
"Yes: it was my custom to give cigarette cases to people I liked."
"When did you first meet Mavor?"
"Did you give him money or a cigarette case?"
"A cigarette case."
"Did you know Walter Grainger?" . . . . and so on till the very air in the court
seemed peopled with spectres.
On the whole Oscar bore the cross-examination very well; but he made one
Mr. Carson was pressing him as to his relations with the boy Grainger, who had
been employed in Lord Alfred Douglas' rooms in Oxford.
"Did you ever kiss him?" he asked.
Oscar answered carelessly, "Oh, dear, no. He was a peculiarly plain boy.
He was, unfortunately, extremely ugly. I pitied him for it."
"Was that the reason why you did not kiss him?"
"Oh, Mr. Carson, you are pertinently insolent."
"Did you say that in support of your statement that you never kissed him?"
"No. It is a childish question."
But Carson was not to be warded off; like a terrier he sprang again and again:
"Why, sir, did you mention that this boy was extremely ugly?"
"For this reason. If I were asked why I did not kiss a door-mat, I should say
because I do not like to kiss door-mats." . . . . . .
"Why did you mention his ugliness?"
"It is ridiculous to imagine that any such thing could have occurred under
"Then why did you mention his ugliness, I ask you?"
"Because you insulted me by an insulting question."
"Was that a reason why you should say the boy was ugly?"
(Here the witness began several answers almost inarticulately and finished
none of them. His efforts to collect his ideas were not aided by Mr. Carson's
sharp staccato repetition: "Why? why? why did you add that?") At last the
"You sting me and insult me and at times one says things flippantly."
Then came the re-examination by Sir Edward Clarke, which brought out very
clearly the hatred of Lord Alfred Douglas for his father. Letters were read
and in one letter Queensberry declared that Oscar had plainly shown the white
feather when he called on him. One felt that this was probably true:
Queensberry's word on such a point could be accepted.
In the reexamination Sir Edward Clarke occupied himself chiefly with two youths,
Shelley and Conway, who had been passed over casually by Mr. Carson. In answer
to his questions Oscar stated that Shelley was a youth in the employ of Mathews
and Lane, the publishers. Shelley had very good taste in literature and a great
desire for culture. Shelley had read all his books and liked them. Shelley
had dined with him and his wife at Tite Street. Shelley was in every way a
gentleman. He had never gone with Charlie Parker to the Savoy Hotel.
A juryman wanted to know at this point whether the witness was aware of the
nature of the article, "The Priest and the Acolyte," in "The Chameleon".
"I knew nothing of it; it came as a terrible shock to me."
This answer contrasted strangely with the light tone of his reply to the same
question on the previous day.
The reexamination did not improve Oscar's position. It left all the facts where
they were, and at least a suspicion in every mind.
Sir Edward Clarke intimated that this concluded the evidence for the
prosecution, whereupon Mr. Carson rose to make the opening speech for the
defence. I was shivering with apprehension.
He began by admitting the grave responsibility resting on Lord Queensberry, who
accepted it to the fullest. Lord Queensberry was justified in doing all he
could do to cut short an acquaintance which must be disastrous to his son. Mr.
Carson wished to draw the attention of the jury to the fact that all these men
with whom Mr. Wilde went about were discharged servants and grooms, and that
they were all about the same age. He asked the jury also to note that Taylor,
who was the pivot of the whole case, had not yet been put in the box. Why not?
He pointed out to the jury that the very same idea that was set forth in "The
Priest and the Acolyte" was contained in Oscar Wilde's letters to Lord Alfred
Douglas, and the same idea was to be found in Lord Alfred Douglas' poem, "The
Two Loves," (This early poem of Lord Alfred Douglas is reproduced in the
Appendix at the end of this book together with another poem by the same author,
which was also mentioned in the course of the trial.) which was published in
"The Chameleon". He went on to say that when, in the story of "The Priest and
the Acolyte," the boy was discovered in the priest's bed, (Mr. Carson here made
a mistake; there is no such incident in the story: the error merely shows how
prejudiced his mind was.) the priest made the same defence as Mr. Wilde had
made, that the world does not understand the beauty of this love. The same idea
was found again in "Dorian Gray," and he read two or three passages from the
book in support of this statement. Mr. Wilde had described his letter to Lord
Alfred Douglas as a prose sonnet. He would read it again to the court, and he
read both the letters. "Mr. Wilde says they are beautiful," he went on, "I call
them an abominable piece of disgusting immorality."
At this the Judge again shuffled his papers together and whispered in a quiet
voice that the court would sit on the morrow, and left the room.
The honours of the day had all been with Mr. Carson. Oscar left the box in a
depressed way. One or two friends came towards him, but the majority held
aloof, and in almost unbroken silence everyone slipped out of the court.
Strange to say in my mind there was just a ray of hope. Mr. Carson was still
laying stress on the article in "The Chameleon" and scattered passages in
"Dorian Gray"; on Oscar's letters to Lord Alfred Douglas and Lord Alfred
Douglas' poems in "The Chameleon". He must see, I thought, that all this was
extremely weak. Sir Edward Clarke could be trusted to tear all such arguments,
founded on literary work, to shreds. There was room for more than reasonable
doubt about all such things.
Why had not Mr. Carson put some of the young men he spoke of in the box? Would
he be able to do that? He talked of Taylor as "the pivot of the case," and
gibed at the prosecution for not putting Taylor in the box. Would he put Taylor
in the box? And why, if he had such witnesses at his beck and call, should he
lay stress on the flimsy, weak evidence to be drawn from passages in books and
poems and letters? One thing was clear: if he was able to put any of the young
men in the box about whom he had examined Oscar, Oscar was ruined. Even if he
rested his defence on the letters and poems he'd win and Oscar would be
discredited, for already it was clear that no jury would give Oscar Wilde a
verdict against a father trying to protect his son. The issue had narrowed down
to terrible straits: would it be utter ruin to Oscar or merely loss of the case
and reputation? We had only sixteen hours to wait; they seemed to me to hold
the last hope.
I drove to Tite Street, hoping to see Oscar. I was convinced that Carson had
important witnesses at his command, and that the outcome of the case would be
disastrous. Why should not Oscar even now, this very evening, cross to Calais,
leaving a letter for his counsel and the court abandoning the idiotic
The house at Tite Street seemed deserted. For some time no one answered my
knocking and ringing, and then a man-servant simply told me that Mr. Wilde was
not in: he did not know whether Mr. Wilde was expected back or not; did not
think he was coming back. I turned and went home. I thought Oscar would
probably say to me again:
"I can do nothing, Frank, nothing."
. . . . . . .
The feeling in the court next morning was good tempered, even jaunty. The
benches were filled with young barristers, all of whom had made up their minds
that the testimony would be what one of them called "nifty." Everyone treated
the case as practically over.
"But will Carson call witnesses?" I asked.
"Of course he will," they said, "but in any case Wilde does not stand a ghost of
a chance of getting a verdict against Queensberry; he was a bally fool to bring
such an action."
"The question is," said someone, "will Wilde face the music?"
My heart leapt. Perhaps he had gone, fled already to France to avoid this
dreadful, useless torture. I could see the hounds with open mouths, dripping
white fangs, and greedy eyes all closing in on the defenceless quarry. Would
the huntsman give the word? We were not left long in doubt.
Mr. Carson continued his statement for the defence. He had sufficiently
demonstrated to the jury, he thought, that, so far as Lord Queensberry was
concerned, he was absolutely justified in bringing to a climax in the way he
had, the connection between Mr. Oscar Wilde and his son. A dramatic pause.
A moment later the clever advocate resumed: unfortunately he had a more painful
part of the case to approach. It would be his painful duty to bring before them
one after the other the young men he had examined Mr. Wilde about and allow them
to tell their tales. In no one of these cases were these young men on an
equality in any way with Mr. Wilde. Mr. Wilde had told them that there was
something beautiful and charming about youth which led him to make these
acquaintances. That was a travesty of the facts. Mr. Wilde preferred to know
nothing of these young men and their antecedents. He knew nothing about Wood;
he knew nothing about Parker; he knew nothing about Scarfe, nothing about
Conway, and not much about Taylor. The truth was Taylor was the procurer for
Mr. Wilde and the jury would hear from this young man Parker, who would have to
tell his unfortunate story to them, that he was poor, out of a place, had no
money, and unfortunately fell a victim to Mr. Wilde. (Sir Edward Clarke here
left the court.)
On the first evening they met, Mr. Wilde called Parker "Charlie" and Parker
called Mr. Wilde "Oscar." It may be a very noble instinct in some people to
wish to break down social barriers, but Mr. Wilde's conduct was not ordered by
generous instincts. Luxurious dinners and champagne were not the way to assist
a poor man. Parker would tell them that, after this first dinner, Mr. Wilde
invited him to drive with him to the Savoy Hotel. Mr. Wilde had not told them
why he had that suite of rooms at the Savoy Hotel. Parker would tell them what
happened on arriving there. This was the scandal Lord Queensberry had referred
to in his letter as far back as June or July last year. The jury would wonder
not at the reports having reached Lord Queensberry's ears, but that Oscar Wilde
had been tolerated in London society as long as he had been. Parker had since
enlisted in the Army, and bore a good character. Mr. Wilde himself had said
that Parker was respectable. Parker would reluctantly present himself to tell
his story to the jury.
All this time the court was hushed with awe and wonder; everyone was asking what
on earth had induced Wilde to begin the prosecution; what madness had driven him
and why had he listened to the insane advice to bring the action when he must
have known the sort of evidence which could be brought against him.
After promising to produce Parker and the others Mr. Carson stopped speaking
and began looking through his papers; when he began again, everyone held his
breath; what was coming now? He proceeded in the same matter-of-fact and
serious way to deal with the case of the youth, Conway. Conway, it appeared,
had known Mr. Wilde and his family at Worthing. Conway was sixteen years of
age. . . . . At this moment Sir Edward Clarke returned with Mr. Charles Mathews,
and asked permission of the judge to have a word or two with Mr. Carson. At the
close of a few minutes' talk between the counsel, Sir Edward Clarke rose and
told the Judge that after communicating with Mr. Oscar Wilde he thought it
better to withdraw the prosecution and submit to a verdict of "not guilty."
He minimised the defeat. He declared that, in respect to matters connected
with literature and the letters, he could not resist the verdict of "not
guilty," having regard to the fact that Lord Queensberry had not used a direct
accusation, but the words "posing as," etc. Besides, he wished to spare the
jury the necessity of investigating in detail matter of the most appalling
character. He wished to make an end of the case--and he sat down.
Why on earth did Sir Edward Clarke not advise Oscar in this way weeks before?
Why did he not tell him his case could not possibly be won?
I have heard since on excellent authority that before taking up the case Sir
Edward Clarke asked Oscar Wilde whether he was guilty or not, and accepted in
good faith his assurance that he was innocent. As soon as he realised, in
court, the strength of the case against Oscar he advised him to abandon the
prosecution. To his astonishment Oscar was eager to abandon it. Sir Edward
Clarke afterwards defended his unfortunate client out of loyalty and pity, Oscar
again assuring him of his innocence.
Mr. Carson rose at once and insisted, as was his right, that this verdict of
"not guilty" must be understood to mean that Lord Queensberry had succeeded in
his plea of justification.
Mr. Justice Collins thought that it was not part of the function of the Judge
and jury to insist on wading through prurient details, which had no bearing on
the matter at issue, which had already been decided by the consent of the
prosecutors to a verdict of "not guilty." Such a verdict meant of course that
the plea of justification was proved. The jury having consulted for a few
moments, the Clerk of Arraigns asked:
"Do you find the plea of justification has been proved or not?"
"You say that the defendant is 'not guilty,' and that is the verdict of
Foreman: "Yes, and we also find that it is for the public benefit."
The last kick to the dead lion. As the verdict was read out the spectators
in the court burst into cheers.
Mr. Carson: "Of course the costs of the defence will follow?"
Mr. Justice Collins: "Yes."
Mr. C. F. Gill: "And Lord Queensberry may be discharged?"
Mr. Justice Collins: "Certainly."
The Marquis of Queensberry left the dock amid renewed cheering, which was taken
up again and again in the street.
CHAPTER XIV--HOW GENIUS IS PERSECUTED IN ENGLAND
The English are very proud of their sense of justice, proud too of their Roman
law and the practice of the Courts in which they have incorporated it. They
boast of their fair play in all things as the French boast of their lightness,
and if you question it, you lose caste with them, as one prejudiced or ignorant
or both. English justice cannot be bought, they say, and if it is dear,
excessively dear even, they rather like to feel they have paid a long price for
a good article. Yet it may be that here, as in other things, they take outward
propriety and decorum for the inward and ineffable grace. That a judge should
be incorruptible is not so important as that he should be wise and humane.
English journalists and barristers were very much amused at the conduct of
the Dreyfus case; yet, when Dreyfus was being tried for the second time in
France, two or three instances of similar injustice in England were set forth
with circumstance in one of the London newspapers, but no one paid any effective
attention to them. If Dreyfus had been convicted in England, it is probable
that no voice would ever have been raised in his favour; it is absolutely
certain that there would never have been a second trial. A keen sense of
abstract justice is only to be found in conjunction with a rich fount of
imaginative sympathy. The English are too self-absorbed to take much interest
in their neighbours' affairs, too busy to care for abstract questions of right
Before the trial of Oscar Wilde I still believed that in a criminal case rough
justice would be done in England. The bias of an English judge, I said to
myself, is always in favour of the accused. It is an honourable tradition of
English procedure that even the Treasury barristers should state rather less
than they can prove against the unfortunate person who is being attacked by all
the power and authority of the State. I was soon forced to see that these
honourable and praiseworthy conventions were as withes of straw in the fire of
English prejudice. The first thing to set me doubting was that the judge did
not try to check the cheering in Court after the verdict in favour of Lord
Queensberry. English judges always resent and resist such popular outbursts:
why not in this case? After all, no judge could think Queensberry a hero: he
was too well known for that, and yet the cheering swelled again and again, and
the judge gathered up his papers without a word and went his way as if he were
deaf. A dreadful apprehension crept over me: in spite of myself I began to
realise that my belief in English justice might be altogether mistaken. It was
to me as if the solid earth had become a quaking bog, or indeed as if a child
had suddenly discovered its parent to be shameless. The subsequent trials are
among the most painful experiences of my life. I shall try to set down all the
One peculiarity had first struck me in the conduct of the case between Oscar
Wilde and Lord Queensberry that did not seem to occur to any of the numberless
journalists and writers who commented on the trial. It was apparent from his
letter to his son (which I published in a previous chapter), and from the fact
that he called at Oscar Wilde's house that Lord Queensberry at the beginning
did not believe in the truth of his accusations; he set them forth as a violent
man sets forth hearsay and suspicion, knowing that as a father he could do this
with impunity, and accordingly at first he pleaded privilege. Some time between
the beginning of the prosecution and the trial, he obtained an immense amount
of unexpected evidence. He then justified his libel and gave the names of the
persons whom he intended to call to prove his case. Where did he get this new
I have spoken again and again in the course of this narrative of Oscar's
enemies, asserting that the English middle-class as puritans detested his
attitude and way of life, and if some fanatic or representative of the
nonconformist conscience had hunted up evidence against Wilde and brought him
to ruin there would have been nothing extraordinary in a vengeance which might
have been regarded as a duty. Strange to say the effective hatred of Oscar
Wilde was shown by a man of the upper class who was anything but a puritan.
It was Mr. Charles Brookfield, I believe, who constituted himself private
prosecutor in this case and raked Piccadilly to find witnesses against Oscar
Wilde. Mr. Brookfield was afterwards appointed Censor of Plays on the strength
apparently of having himself written one of the "riskiest" plays of the period.
As I do not know Mr. Brookfield, I will not judge him. But his appointment
always seemed to me, even before I knew that he had acted against Wilde,
curiously characteristic of English life and of the casual, contemptuous way
Englishmen of the governing class regard letters. In the same spirit Lord
Salisbury as Prime Minister made a journalist Poet Laureate simply because he
had puffed him for years in the columns of "The Standard." Lord Salisbury
probably neither knew nor cared that Alfred Austin had never written a line that
could live. One thing Mr. Brookfield's witnesses established: every offence
alleged against Oscar Wilde dated from 1892 or later--after his first meeting
with Lord Alfred Douglas.
But at the time all such matters were lost for me in the questions: would the
authorities arrest Oscar? or would they allow him to escape? Had the police
asked for a warrant? Knowing English custom and the desire of Englishmen to
pass in silence over all unpleasant sexual matters, I thought he would be given
the hint to go abroad and allowed to escape. That is the ordinary, the usual
English procedure. Everyone knows the case of a certain lord, notorious for
similar practices, who was warned by the police that a warrant had been issued
against him: taking the hint he has lived for many years past in leisured ease
as an honoured guest in Florence. Nor is it only aristocrats who are so
favoured by English justice: everyone can remember the case of a Canon of
Westminster who was similarly warned and also escaped. We can come down the
social scale to the very bottom and find the same practice. A certain
journalist unwittingly offended a great personage. Immediately he was warned by
the police that a warrant issued against him in India seventeen years before
would at once be acted upon if he did not make himself scarce. For some time
he lived in peaceful retirement in Belgium. Moreover, in all these cases the
warrants had been issued on the sworn complaints of the parties damnified or of
their parents and guardians: no one had complained of Oscar Wilde. Naturally
I thought the dislike of publicity which dictated such lenience to the lord and
the canon and the journalist would be even more operative in the case of a man
of genius like Oscar Wilde. In certain ways he had a greater position than even
the son of a duke: the shocking details of his trial would have an appalling,
a world-wide publicity.
Besides, I said to myself, the governing class in England is steeped in
aristocratic prejudice, and particularly when threatened by democratic
innovations, all superiorities, whether of birth or wealth, or talent, are
conscious of the same "raison d'etre" and have the same self-interest. The
lord, the millionaire and the genius have all the same reason for standing up
for each other, and this reason is usually effective. Everyone knows that in
England the law is emphatically a respecter of persons. It is not there to
promote equality, much less is it the defender of the helpless, the weak and the
poor; it is a rampart for the aristocracy and the rich, a whip in the hands of
the strong. It is always used to increase the effect of natural and inherited
inequality, and it is not directed by a high feeling of justice; but perverted
by aristocratic prejudice and snobbishness; it is not higher than democratic
equality, but lower and more sordid.
The case was just a case where an aristocratic society could and should have
shown its superiority over a democratic society with its rough rule of equality.
For equality is only half-way on the road to justice. More than once the House
of Commons has recognised this fundamental truth; it condemned Clive but added
that he had rendered "great and distinguished services to his country"; and no
one thought of punishing him for his crimes.
Our time is even more tolerant and more corrupt. For a worse crime than
extortion Cecil Rhodes was not even brought to trial, but honoured and feted,
while his creatures, who were condemned by the House of Commons Committee, were
rewarded by the Government.
Had not Wilde also rendered distinguished services to his country? The wars
waged against the Mashonas and Matabeles were a doubtful good; but the plays of
Oscar Wilde had already given many hours of innocent pleasure to thousands of
persons, and were evidently destined to benefit tens of thousands in the future.
Such a man is a benefactor of humanity in the best and truest sense, and
deserves peculiar consideration.
To the society favourite the discredit of the trial with Lord Queensberry was in
itself a punishment more than sufficient. Everyone knew when Oscar Wilde left
the court that he left it a ruined and disgraced man. Was it worth while to
stir up all the foul mud again in order to beat the beaten? Alas! the English
are pedants, as Goethe saw; they think little of literary men, or of merely
spiritual achievements. They love to abide by rules and pay no heed to
exceptions, unless indeed the exceptions are men of title or great wealth, or
"persons of importance" to the Government. The majority of the people are too
ignorant to know the value of a book and they regard poetry as the thistledown
of speech. It does not occur to Englishmen that a phrase may be more valuable
and more enduring in its effects than a long campaign and a dozen victories.
Yet, the sentence, "Let him that is without sin among you first cast the stone,"
or Shakespeare's version of the same truth: "if we had our deserts which of us
would escape whipping?" is likely to outlast the British Empire, and prove of
more value to humanity.
The man of genius in Great Britain is feared and hated in exact proportion to
his originality, and if he happens to be a writer or a musician he is despised
to boot. The prejudice against Oscar Wilde showed itself virulently on all
hands. Mr. Justice Collins did not attempt to restrain the cheering of the
court that greeted the success of Lord Queensberry. Not one of the policemen
who stood round the door tried to stop the "booing" of the crowd who pursued
Oscar Wilde with hootings and vile cries when he left the court. He was judged
already and condemned before being tried.
The police, too, acted against him with extraordinary vigour. It has been
stated by Mr. Sherard in his "Life" that the police did not attempt to execute
the warrant against Wilde, "till after the last train had left for Dover," and
that it was only Oscar's obstinacy in remaining in London that necessitated his
arrest. This idea is wholly imaginary.
It is worth while to know exactly what took place at this juncture. From
Oscar's conduct in this crisis the reader will be able to judge whether he has
been depicted faithfully or not in this book. He has been described as amiable,
weak, of a charming disposition--easily led in action, though not in thought:
now we shall see how far we were justified, for he is at one of those moments
which try the soul. Fortunately every incident of that day is known: Oscar
himself told me generally what happened and the minutest details of the picture
were filled in for me a little later by his best friend, Robert Ross.
In the morning Mr. Mathews, one of Oscar's counsel, came to him and said:
"If you wish it, Clarke and I will keep the case going and give you time to
get to Calais."
Oscar refused to stir. "I'll stay," was all he would say. Robert Ross urged
him to accept Mathew's offer; but he would not: why? I am sure he had no
reason, for I put the question to him more than once, and even after reflecting,
he had no explanation to give. He stayed because to stay was easier than to
make an immediate decision and act on it energetically. He had very little will
power to begin with and his mode of life had weakened his original endowment.
After the judgment had been given in favour of Queensberry, Oscar drove off
in a brougham, accompanied by Alfred Douglas, to consult with his solicitor,
Humphreys. At the same time he gave Ross a cheque on his bank in St. James's
Street. At that moment he intended to fly.
Ross noticed that he was followed by a detective. He drew about L200 from the
bank and raced off to meet Oscar at the Cadogan Hotel, in Sloane Street, where
Lord Alfred Douglas had been staying for the past four or five weeks. Ross
reached the Cadogan Hotel about 1.45 and found Oscar there with Reggie Turner.
Both of them advised Oscar to go at once to Dover and try to get to France; but
he would only say, "the train has gone; it is too late." He had again lapsed
He asked Ross to go to see his wife and tell her what had occurred. Ross did
this and had a very painful scene: Mrs. Wilde wept and said, "I hope Oscar is
going away abroad."
Ross returned to the Cadogan Hotel and told Oscar what his wife had said, but
even this didn't move him to action.
He sat as if glued to his chair, and drank hock and seltzer steadily in almost
unbroken silence. About four o'clock George Wyndham came to see his cousin,
Alfred Douglas; not finding him, he wanted to see Oscar, but Oscar, fearing
reproaches, sent Ross instead. Wyndham said it was a pity that Bosie Douglas
should be with Oscar, and Ross immediately told him that Wilde's friends for
years past had been trying to separate them and that if he, Wyndham, would keep
his cousin away, he would be doing Oscar the very greatest kindness. At this
Wyndham grew more civil, though still "frightfully agitated," and begged Ross to
get Oscar to leave the country at once to avoid scandal. Ross replied that he
and Turner had been trying to bring that about for hours. In the middle of the
conversation Bosie, having returned, burst into the room with: "I want to see my
cousin," and Ross rejoined Oscar. In a quarter of an hour Bosie followed him to
say that he was going out with Wyndham to see someone of importance.
About five o'clock a reporter of the "Star" newspaper came to see Oscar, a
Mr. Marlowe, who is now editor of "The Daily Mail", but again Oscar refused to
see him and sent Ross. Mr. Marlowe was sympathetic and quite understood the
position; he informed Ross that a tape message had come through to the paper
saying that a warrant for Oscar Wilde had already been issued. Ross immediately
went into the other room and told Oscar, who said nothing, but "went very grey
in the face."
A moment later Oscar asked Ross to give him the money he had got at the bank,
though he had refused it several times in the course of the day. Ross gave it
to him, naturally taking it for a sign that he had at length made up his mind
to start, but immediately afterwards Oscar settled down in his chair and said,
"I shall stay and do my sentence whatever it is"--a man evidently incapable
For the next hour the trio sat waiting for the blow to fall. Once or twice
Oscar asked querulously where Bosie was, but no one could tell him.
At ten past six the waiter knocked at the door and Ross answered it. There were
two detectives. The elder entered and said, "We have a warrant here, Mr. Wilde,
for your arrest on a charge of committing indecent acts." Wilde wanted to know
whether he would be given bail; the detective replied:
"That is a question for the magistrate."
Oscar then rose and asked, "Where shall I be taken?"
"To Bow Street," was the reply.
As he picked up a copy of the Yellow Book and groped for his overcoat, they
all noticed that he was "very drunk" though still perfectly conscious of what
he was doing.
He asked Ross to go to Tite Street and get him a change of clothes and bring
them to Bow Street. The two detectives took him away in a four-wheeler, leaving
Ross and Turner on the curb.
Ross hurried to Tite Street. He found that Mrs. Oscar Wilde had gone to the
house of a relative and there was only Wilde's man servant, Arthur, in the
house, who afterwards went out of his mind, and is still, it is said, in an
asylum. He had an intense affection for Oscar. Ross found that Mrs. Oscar
Wilde had locked up Oscar's bedroom and study. He burst open the bedroom door
and, with the help of Arthur, packed up a change of things. He then hurried to
Bow Street, where he found a howling mob shouting indecencies. He was informed
by an inspector that it was impossible to see Wilde or to leave any clothes for
Ross returned at once to Tite Street, forced open the library door and removed
a certain number of letters and manuscripts of Wilde's; but unluckily he
couldn't find the two MSS. which he knew had been returned to Tite Street two
days before, namely, "A Florentine Tragedy" and the enlarged version of "The
Portrait of Mr. W. H."
Ross then drove to his mother's and collapsed. Mrs. Ross insisted that he
should go abroad, and in order to induce him to do it gave L500 for Oscar's
defence. Ross went to the Terminus Hotel at Calais, where Bosie Douglas joined
him a little later. They both stayed there while Oscar was being tried before
Mr. Justice Charles and one day George Wyndham crossed the Channel to see Bosie
There is of course some excuse to be made for the chief actor. Oscar was
physically tired and morally broken. He had pulled the fair building of
reputation and success down upon his own head, and, with the "booing" of the
mob still in his ears, he could think of nothing but the lost hours when he
ought to have used his money to take him beyond the reach of his pursuers.
His enemies, on the other hand, had acted with the utmost promptitude. Lord
Queensberry's solicitor, Mr. Charles Russell, had stated that it was not his
client's intention to take the initiative in any criminal prosecution of
Mr. Oscar Wilde, but, on the very same morning when Wilde withdrew from the
prosecution, Mr. Russell sent a letter to the Hon. Hamilton Cuffe, the Director
of Public Prosecutions, with a copy of "all our witnesses' statements, together
with a copy of the shorthand notes of the trial."
The Treasury authorities were at least as eager. As soon as possible after
leaving the court Mr. C. F. Gill, Mr. Angus Lewis, and Mr. Charles Russell
waited on Sir John Bridge at Bow Street in his private room and obtained a
warrant for the arrest of Oscar Wilde, which was executed, as we have seen,
the same evening.
The police showed him less than no favour. About eight o'clock Lord Alfred
Douglas drove to Bow Street and wanted to know if Wilde could be bailed out,
but was informed that his application could not be entertained. He offered
to procure comforts for the prisoner: this offer also was peremptorily refused
by the police inspector just as Ross's offer of night clothes had been refused.
It is a common belief that in England a man is treated as innocent until he has
been proved guilty, but those who believe this pleasant fiction, have never been
in the hands of the English police. As soon as a man is arrested on any charge
he is at once treated as if he were a dangerous criminal; he is searched, for
instance, with every circumstance of indignity. Before his conviction a man is
allowed to wear his own clothes; but a change of linen or clothes is denied him,
or accorded in part and grudgingly, for no earthly reason except to gratify the
ill-will of the gaolers.
The warrant on which Oscar Wilde was arrested charged him with an offence
alleged to have been committed under Section xi. of the Criminal Amendment Act
of 1885; in other words, he was arrested and tried for an offence which was not
punishable by law ten years before. This Act was brought in as a result of the
shameful and sentimental stories (evidently for the most part manufactured)
which Mr. Stead had published in "The Pall Mall Gazette" under the title of
"Modern Babylon." In order to cover and justify their prophet some of the "unco
guid" pressed forward this so-called legislative reform, by which it was made a
criminal offence to take liberties with a girl under thirteen years of age--even
with her own consent. Intimacy with minors under sixteen was punishable if they
consented or even tempted. Mr. Labouchere, the Radical member, inflamed, it is
said, with a desire to make the law ridiculous, gravely proposed that the
section be extended, so as to apply to people of the same sex who indulged in
familiarities or indecencies. The Puritan faction had no logical objection to
the extension, and it became the law of the land. It was by virtue of this
piece of legislative wisdom, which is without a model and without a copy in the
law of any other civilised country, that Oscar Wilde was arrested and thrown
His arrest was the signal for an orgy of Philistine rancour such as even London
had never known before. The puritan middle class, which had always regarded
Wilde with dislike as an artist and intellectual scoffer, a mere parasite of the
aristocracy, now gave free scope to their disgust and contempt, and everyone
tried to outdo his neighbour in expressions of loathing and abhorrence. This
middle class condemnation swept the lower class away in its train. To do them
justice, the common people, too, felt a natural loathing for the peculiar vice
attributed to Wilde; most men condemn the sins they have no mind to; but their
dislike was rather contemptuous than profound, and with customary humour they
soon turned the whole case into a bestial, obscene joke. "Oscar" took the place
of their favourite word as a term of contempt, and they shouted it at each other
on all sides; bus-drivers, cabbies and paper sellers using it in and out of
season with the keenest relish. For the moment the upper classes lay mum-
chance and let the storm blow over. Some of them of course agreed with the
condemnation of the Puritans, and many of them felt that Oscar and his
associates had been too bold, and ought to be pulled up.
The English journals, which are nothing but middle-class shops, took the
side of their patrons. Without a single exception they outdid themselves in
condemnation of the man and all his works. You might have thought to read their
bitter diatribes that they themselves lived saintly lives, and were shocked at
sensual sin. One rubbed one's eyes in amazement. The Strand and Fleet Street,
which practically belong to this class and have been fashioned by them, are the
haunt of as vile a prostitution as can be found in Europe; the public houses
which these men frequent are low drinking dens; yet they all lashed Oscar Wilde
with every variety of insult as if they themselves had been above reproach. The
whole of London seemed to have broken loose in a rage of contempt and loathing
which was whipped up and justified each morning by the hypocritical articles of
the "unco guid" in the daily this and the weekly that. In the streets one heard
everywhere the loud jests of the vulgar, decked out with filthy anecdotes and
punctuated by obscene laughter, as from the mouth of the Pit.
In spite of the hatred of the journalists pandering to the prejudice of their
paymasters, one could hope still that the magistrate would show some regard
for fair play. The expectation, reasonable or unreasonable, was doomed to
disappointment. On Saturday morning, the 6th, Oscar Wilde, "described as a
gentleman," the papers said in derision, was brought before Sir John Bridge.
Mr. C. F. Gill, who had been employed in the Queensberry trial, was instructed
by Mr. Angus Lewis of the Treasury, and conducted the prosecution; Alfred Taylor
was placed in the dock charged with conspiracy with Oscar Wilde. The witnesses
have already been described in connection with the Queensberry case. Charles
Parker, William Parker, Alfred Wood, Sidney Mavor and Shelley all gave evidence.
After lasting all day the case was adjourned till the following Thursday.
Mr. Travers Humphreys applied for bail for Mr. Wilde, on the ground that he knew
the warrant against him was being applied for on Friday afternoon, but he made
no attempt to leave London. Sir John Bridge refused bail.
On Thursday, the 11th, the case was continued before Sir John Bridge, and in the
end both the accused were committed for trial. Again Mr. Humphreys applied for
bail, and again the magistrate refused to accept bail.
Now to refuse bail in cases of serious crime may be defended, but in the case of
indecent conduct it is usually granted. To run away is regarded as a confession
of guilt, and what could one wish for more than the perpetual banishment of the
corrupt liver, consequently there is no reason to refuse bail. But in this
case, though bail was offered to any amount, it was refused peremptorily in
spite of the fact that every consideration should have been shown to an accused
person who had already had a good opportunity to leave the country and had
refused to budge. Moreover, Oscar Wilde had already been criticised and
condemned in a hundred papers. There was widespread prejudice against him,
no risk to the public in accepting bail, and considerable injury done to the
accused in refusing it. His affairs were certain to be thrown into confusion;
he was known not to be rich and yet he was deprived of the power to get money
together and to collect evidence just when the power which freedom confers was
most needed by him.
The magistrate was as prejudiced as the public; he had no more idea of standing
for justice and fair play than Pilate; probably, indeed, he never gave himself
the trouble to think of fairness in the matter. A large salary is paid to
magistrates in London, L1,500 a year, but it is rare indeed that any of them
rises above the vulgarest prejudice. Sir John Bridge not only refused bail but
he was careful to give his reasons for refusing it: he had not the slightest
scruple about prejudicing the case even before he had heard a word of the
defence. After hearing the evidence for the prosecution he said:
"The responsibility of accepting or refusing bail rests upon me. The
considerations that weigh with me are the gravity of the offences and
the strength of the evidence. I must absolutely refuse bail and send the
prisoners for trial."
Now these reasons, which he proffered voluntarily, and especially the use of the
word "absolutely," showed not only prejudice on the part of Sir John Bridge, but
the desire to injure the unfortunate prisoner in the public mind and so continue
the evil work of the journalists.
The effect of this prejudice and rancour on the part of the whole community had
The mere news that Oscar Wilde had been arrested and taken to Holloway startled
London and gave the signal for a strange exodus. Every train to Dover was
crowded; every steamer to Calais thronged with members of the aristocratic and
leisured classes, who seemed to prefer Paris, or even Nice out of the season,
to a city like London, where the police might act with such unexpected vigour.
The truth was that the cultured aesthetes whom I have already described had
been thunderstruck by the facts which the Queensberry trial had laid bare. For
the first time they learned that such houses as Taylor's were under police
supervision, and that creatures like Wood and Parker were classified and
watched. They had imagined that in "the home of liberty" such practices passed
unnoticed. It came as a shock to their preconceived ideas that the police
in London knew a great many things which they were not supposed to concern
themselves with, and this unwelcome glare of light drove the vicious forth
in wild haste.
Never was Paris so crowded with members of the English governing classes; here
was to be seen a famous ex-Minister; there the fine face of the president of a
Royal society; at one table in the Cafe; de la Paix, a millionaire recently
ennobled, and celebrated for his exquisite taste in art; opposite to him a
famous general. It was even said that a celebrated English actor took a return
ticket for three or four days to Paris, just to be in the fashion. The mummer
returned quickly; but the majority of the migrants stayed abroad for some time.
The wind of terror which had swept them across the Channel opposed their return,
and they scattered over the Continent from Naples to Monte Carlo and from
Palermo to Seville under all sorts of pretexts.
The gravest result of the magistrate's refusal to accept bail was purely
personal. Oscar's income dried up at the source. His books were withdrawn from
sale; no one went to see his plays; every shop keeper to whom he owed a penny
took immediate action against him. Judgments were obtained and an execution put
into his house in Tite Street. Within a month, at the very moment when he most
needed money to fee counsel and procure evidence, he was beggared and sold up,
and because of his confinement in prison the sale was conducted under such
conditions that, whereas in ordinary times his effects would have covered the
claims against him three times over, all his belongings went for nothing, and
the man who was making L4,000 or L5,000 a year by his plays was adjudicated a
bankrupt for a little over L1,000. L600 of this sum were for Lord Queensberry's
costs which the Queensberry family--Lord Douglas of Hawick, Lord Alfred Douglas
and their mother--had promised in writing to pay, but when the time came,
absolutely refused to pay. Most unfortunately many of Oscar's MSS. were stolen
or lost in the disorder of the sheriff's legal proceedings. Wilde could have
cried, with Shylock, "You take my life when you do take away the means whereby
I live." But at the time nine Englishmen out of ten applauded what was
A worse thing remains to be told. The right of free speech which Englishmen
pride themselves on had utterly disappeared, as it always does disappear in
England when there is most need of it. It was impossible to say one word in
Wilde's defence or even in extenuation of his sin in any London print. At this
time I owned the greater part of the "Saturday Review" and edited it. Here at
any rate one might have thought I could have set forth in a Christian country a
sane and liberal view. I had no wish to minimise the offence. No one condemned
unnatural vice more than I, but Oscar Wilde was a distinguished man of letters;
he had written beautiful things, and his good works should have been allowed to
speak in his favour. I wrote an article setting forth this view. My printers
immediately informed me that they thought the article ill-advised, and when I
insisted they said they would prefer not to print it. Yet there was nothing in
it beyond a plea to suspend judgment and defer insult till after the trial.
Messrs. Smith and Sons, the great booksellers, who somehow got wind of the
matter (through my publisher, I believe), sent to say that they would not sell
any paper that attempted to defend Oscar Wilde; it would be better even, they
added, not to mention his name. The English tradesman-censors were determined
that this man should have Jedburg justice. I should have ruined the "Saturday
Review" by the mere attempt to treat the matter fairly.
In this extremity I went to the great leader of public opinion in England. Mr.
Arthur Walter, the manager of "The Times", had always been kind to me; he was a
man of balanced mind, who had taken high honours at Oxford in his youth, and for
twenty years had rubbed shoulders with the leading men in every rank of life. I
went down to stay with him in Berkshire, and I urged upon him what I regarded as
the aristocratic view. In England it was manifest that under the circumstances
there was no chance of a fair trial, and it seemed to me the duty of "The Times"
to say plainly that this man should not be condemned beforehand, and that if he
were condemned his merits should be taken into consideration in his punishment,
as well as his demerits.
While willing to listen to me, Mr. Walter did not share my views. A man who had
written a great poem or a great play did not rank in his esteem with a man who
had won a skirmish against a handful of unarmed savages, or one who had stolen a
piece of land from some barbarians and annexed it to the Empire. In his heart
he held the view of the English landed aristocracy, that the ordinary successful
general or admiral or statesman was infinitely more important than a Shakespeare
or a Browning. He could not be persuaded to believe that the names of
Gladstone, Disraeli, Wolseley, Roberts, and Wood, would diminish and fade from
day to day till in a hundred years they would scarcely be known, even to the
educated; whereas the fame of Browning, Swinburne, Meredith, or even Oscar
Wilde, would increase and grow brighter with time, till, in one hundred or five
hundred years, no one would dream of comparing pushful politicians like
Gladstone or Beaconsfield with men of genius like Swinburne or Wilde. He simply
would not see it and when he perceived that the weight of argument was against
him he declared that if it were true, it was so much the worse for humanity. In
his opinion anyone living a clean life was worth more than a writer of love
songs or the maker of clever comedies--Mr. John Smith worth more than
He was as deaf as only Englishmen can be deaf to the plea for abstract justice.
"You don't even say Wilde's innocent," he threw at me more than once.
"I believe him to be innocent," I declared truthfully, "but it is better that a
hundred guilty men go free than that one man should not have a fair trial. And
how can this man have a fair trial now when the papers for weeks past have been
filled with violent diatribes against him and his works?"
One point, peculiarly English, he used again and again.
"So long as substantial justice is done," he said, "it is all we care about."
"Substantial justice will never be done," I cried, "so long as that is your
ideal. Your arrow can never go quite so high as it is aimed." But I got no
If Oscar Wilde had been a general or a so-called empire builder, "The Times"
might have affronted public opinion and called attention to his virtues, and
argued that they should be taken in extenuation of his offences; but as he was
only a writer no one seemed to owe him anything or to care what became of him.
Mr. Walter was fair-minded in comparison with most men of his class. There
was staying with him at this very time an Irish gentleman, who listened to my
pleading for Wilde with ill-concealed indignation. Excited by Arthur Walter's
obstinacy to find fresh arguments, I pointed out that Wilde's offence was
pathological and not criminal and would not be punished in a properly
"You admit," I said, "that we punish crime to prevent it spreading; wipe this
sin off the statute book and you would not increase the sinners by one: then
why punish them?"
"Oi'd whip such sinners to death, so I would," cried the Irishman; "hangin's
too good for them."
"You only punished lepers," I went on, "in the middle ages, because you believed
that leprosy was catching: this malady is not even catching."
"Faith, Oi'd punish it with extermination," cried the Irishman.
Exasperated by the fact that his idiot prejudice was hurting my friend, I said
at length with a smile:
"You are very bitter: I'm not; you see, I have no sexual jealousy to inflame
On this Mr. Walter had to interfere between us to keep the peace, but the
mischief was done: my advocacy remained without effect.
It is very curious how deep-rooted and enduring is the prejudice against writers
in England. Not only is no attempt made to rate them at their true value, at
the value which posterity puts upon their work; but they are continually treated
as outcasts and denied the most ordinary justice. The various trials of Oscar
Wilde are to the thinker an object lesson in the force of this prejudice, but
some may explain the prejudice against Wilde on the score of the peculiar
abhorrence with which the offence ascribed to him is regarded in England.
Let me take an example from the papers of today--I am writing in January, 1910.
I find in my "Daily Mail" that at Bow Street police court a London magistrate,
Sir Albert de Rutzen, ordered the destruction of 272 volumes of the English
translation of Balzac's "Les Contes Drolatiques" on the ground that the book
was obscene. "Les Contes Drolatiques" is an acknowledged masterpiece, and is
not nearly so free spoken as "Lear" or "Hamlet" or "Tom Jones" or "Anthony and
Cleopatra." What would be thought of a French magistrate or a German magistrate
who ordered a fair translation of "Hamlet" or of "Lear" to be burnt, because of
its obscenity? He would be regarded as demented. One can only understand such
a judgment as an isolated fact. But in England this monstrous stupidity is the
rule. Sir A. de Rutzen was not satisfied with ordering the books to be burnt
and fining the bookseller; he went on to justify his condemnation and praise
"It is perfectly clear to my mind that a more foul and filthy black spot has not
been found in London for a long time, and the police have done uncommonly well
in bringing the matter to light. I consider that the books are likely to do a
great deal of harm."
Fancy the state of mind of the man who can talk such poisonous nonsense; who,
with the knowledge of what Piccadilly is at night in his mind, can speak of the
translation of a masterpiece as one of the "most filthy black spots" to be found
in London. To say that such a man is insane is, I suppose, going too far; but
to say that he does not know the value or the meaning of the words he uses, to
say that he is driven by an extraordinary and brainless prejudice, is certainly
the modesty of truth.
It is this sort of perversity on the part of Sir A. de Rutzen and of nine out
of ten Englishmen that makes Frenchmen, Germans and Italians speak of them as
ingrained hypocrites. But they are not nearly so hypocritical as they are
uneducated and unintelligent, rebellious to the humanising influence of art
and literature. The ordinary Englishman would much prefer to be called an
athlete than a poet. The Puritan Commonwealth Parliament ordered the pictures
of Charles I. to be sold, but such of them as were indecent to be burnt;
accordingly half a dozen Titians were solemnly burnt and the nucleus of a great
national gallery destroyed. One can see Sir A. de Rutzen solemnly assisting
at this holocaust and devoutly deciding that all the masterpieces which showed
temptingly a woman's beautiful breasts were "foul and filthy black spots" and
must be burnt as harmful. Or rather one can see that Sir A. de Rutzen has in
two and a half centuries managed to get a little beyond this primitive Puritan
standpoint: he might allow a pictorial masterpiece to-day to pass unburnt, but
a written masterpiece is still to him anathema.
A part of this prejudice comes from the fact that the English have a special
dislike for every form of sexual indulgence. It is not consistent with their
ideal of manhood, and, like the poor foolish magistrate, they have not yet
grasped the truth, which one might have thought the example of the Japanese
would have made plain by now to the dullest, that a nation may be
extraordinarily brave, vigorous and self-sacrificing and at the same time
intensely sensuous, and sensitive to every refinement of passion. If the
great English middle class were as well educated as the German middle class,
such a judgment as this of Sir A. de Rutzen would be scouted as ridiculous
and absurd, or rather would be utterly unthinkable.
In Anglo-Saxon countries both the artist and the sexual passion are under a ban.
The race is more easily moved martially than amorously and it regards its
overpowering combative instincts as virtuous just as it is apt to despise what
it likes to call "languishing love." The poet Middleton couldn't put his dream
city in England--a city of fair skies and fairer streets:
And joy was there; in all the city's length
I saw no fingers trembling for the sword;
Nathless they doted on their bodies' strength,
That they might gentler be. Love was their lord.
Both America and England today offer terrifying examples of the despotism of an
unenlightened and vulgar public opinion in all the highest concerns of man--in
art, in literature and in religion. There is no despotism on earth so soul-
destroying to the artist: it is baser and more degrading than anything known