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Title: Oscar Wilde, His Life and Confessions — Volume 1
Author: Harris, Frank
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Oscar Wilde, His Life and Confessions, Volume 1

by Frank Harris



CONTENTS


VOLUME I

Introduction

Chapter I--Oscar's Father and Mother on Trial

Chapter II--Oscar Wilde as a Schoolboy

Chapter III--Trinity, Dublin: Magdalen, Oxford

Chapter IV--Formative Influences: Oscar's Poems

Chapter V--Oscar's Quarrel with Whistler and Marriage

Chapter VI--Oscar Wilde's Faith and Practice

Chapter VII--Oscar's Reputation and Supporters

Chapter VIII--Oscar's Growth to Originality About 1890

Chapter IX--The Summer of Success: Oscar's First Play

Chapter X--The First Meeting with Lord Alfred Douglas

Chapter XI--The Threatening Cloud Draws Nearer

Chapter XII--Danger Signals: the Challenge

Chapter XIII--Oscar Attacks Queensberry and is Worsted

Chapter XIV--How Genius is Persecuted in England

Chapter XV--The Queen vs. Wilde: The First Trial

Chapter XVI--Escape Rejected: The Second Trial and Sentence


VOLUME II

Chapter XVII--Prison and the Effects of Punishment

Chapter XVIII--Mitigation of Punishment; but not Release

Chapter XIX--His St. Martin's Summer: His Best Work

Chapter XX--The Results of His Second Fall: His Genius

Chapter XXI--His Sense of Rivalry; His Love of Life and Laziness

Chapter XXII--"A Great Romantic Passion!"

Chapter XXIII--His Judgments of Writers and of Women

Chapter XXIV--We Argue About His "Pet Vice" and Punishment

Chapter XXV--The Last Hope Lost

Chapter XXVI--The End

Chapter XXVII--A Last Word

Shaw's "Memories"

The Appendix



The crucifixion of the guilty is still more awe-inspiring than the crucifixion
of the innocent; what do we men know of innocence?



INTRODUCTION



I was advised on all hands not to write this book, and some English friends
who have read it urge me not to publish it.

"You will be accused of selecting the subject," they say, "because sexual
viciousness appeals to you, and your method of treatment lays you open
to attack.

"You criticise and condemn the English conception of justice, and English
legal methods: you even question the impartiality of English judges, and throw
an unpleasant light on English juries and the English public--all of which is
not only unpopular but will convince the unthinking that you are a presumptuous,
or at least an outlandish, person with too good a conceit of himself and
altogether too free a tongue."

I should be more than human or less if these arguments did not give me pause.
I would do nothing willingly to alienate the few who are still friendly to me.
But the motives driving me are too strong for such personal considerations.
I might say with the Latin:

"Non me tua fervida terrent,
Dicta, ferox: Di me terrent, et Jupiter hostis."

Even this would be only a part of the truth.  Youth it seems to me should always
be prudent, for youth has much to lose: but I am come to that time of life when
a man can afford to be bold, may even dare to be himself and write the best
in him, heedless of knaves and fools or of anything this world may do.  The
voyage for me is almost over: I am in sight of port: like a good shipman, I have
already sent down the lofty spars and housed the captious canvas in preparation
for the long anchorage: I have little now to fear.

And the immortals are with me in my design.  Greek tragedy treated of far more
horrible and revolting themes, such as the banquet of Thyestes: and Dante did
not shrink from describing the unnatural meal of Ugolino.  The best modern
critics approve my choice.  "All depends on the subject," says Matthew Arnold,
talking of great literature: "choose a fitting action--a great and significant
action--penetrate yourself with the feeling of the situation: this done,
everything else will follow; for expression is subordinate and secondary."

Socrates was found guilty of corrupting the young and was put to death for
the offence.  His accusation and punishment constitute surely a great and
significant action such as Matthew Arnold declared was alone of the highest
and most permanent literary value.

The action involved in the rise and ruin of Oscar Wilde is of the same kind
and of enduring interest to humanity.  Critics may say that Wilde is a smaller
person than Socrates, less significant in many ways: but even if this were true,
it would not alter the artist's position; the great portraits of the world are
not of Napoleon or Dante.  The differences between men are not important in
comparison with their inherent likeness.  To depict the mortal so that he takes
on immortality--that is the task of the artist.

There are special reasons, too, why I should handle this story.  Oscar Wilde
was a friend of mine for many years: I could not help prizing him to the very
end: he was always to me a charming, soul-animating influence.  He was
dreadfully punished by men utterly his inferiors: ruined, outlawed, persecuted
till Death itself came as a deliverance.  His sentence impeaches his judges.
The whole story is charged with tragic pathos and unforgettable lessons.  I have
waited for more than ten years hoping that some one would write about him in
this spirit and leave me free to do other things, but nothing such as I propose
has yet appeared.

Oscar Wilde was greater as a talker, in my opinion, than as a writer, and no
fame is more quickly evanescent.  If I do not tell his story and paint his
portrait, it seems unlikely that anyone else will do it.

English "strachery" may accuse me of attacking morality: the accusation
is worse than absurd.  The very foundations of this old world are moral: the
charred ember itself floats about in space, moves and has its being in obedience
to inexorable law.  The thinker may define morality: the reformer may try to
bring our notions of it into nearer accord with the fact: human love and pity
may seek to soften its occasional injustices and mitigate its intolerable
harshness: but that is all the freedom we mortals enjoy, all the breathing-space
allotted to us.

In this book the reader will find the figure of the Prometheus-artist clamped,
so to speak, with bands of steel to the huge granitic cliff of English
puritanism.  No account was taken of his manifold virtues and graces: no credit
given him for his extraordinary achievements: he was hounded out of life because
his sins were not the sins of the English middle-class.  The culprit was in much
nobler and better than his judges.

Here are all the elements of pity and sorrow and fear that are required in
great tragedy.

The artist who finds in Oscar Wilde a great and provocative subject for his
art needs no argument to justify his choice.  If the picture is a great and
living portrait, the moralist will be satisfied: the dark shadows must all be
there, as well as the high lights, and the effect must be to increase our
tolerance and intensify our pity.

If on the other hand the portrait is ill-drawn or ill-painted, all the reasoning
in the world and the praise of all the sycophants will not save the picture
from contempt and the artist from censure.

There is one measure by which intention as apart from accomplishment can be
judged, and one only: "If you think the book well done," says Pascal,
"and on re-reading find it strong; be assured that the man who wrote it,
wrote it on his knees."  No book could have been written more reverently
than this book of mine.

Nice, 1910.

Frank Harris.



CHAPTER I--OSCAR'S FATHER AND MOTHER ON TRIAL



On the 12th of December, 1864, Dublin society was abuzz with excitement.  A
tidbit of scandal which had long been rolled on the tongue in semi-privacy was
to be discussed in open court, and all women and a good many men were agog with
curiosity and expectation.

The story itself was highly spiced and all the actors in it well known.

A famous doctor and oculist, recently knighted for his achievements, was the
real defendant.  He was married to a woman with a great literary reputation as
a poet and writer who was idolized by the populace for her passionate advocacy
of Ireland's claim to self-government; "Speranza" was regarded by the Irish
people as a sort of Irish Muse.

The young lady bringing the action was the daughter of the professor of medical
jurisprudence at Trinity College, who was also the chief at Marsh's library.

It was said that this Miss Travers, a pretty girl just out of her teens, had
been seduced by Dr. Sir William Wilde while under his care as a patient.
Some went so far as to say that chloroform had been used, and that the girl
had been violated.

The doctor was represented as a sort of Minotaur: lustful stories were invented
and repeated with breathless delight; on all faces, the joy of malicious
curiosity and envious denigration.

The interest taken in the case was extraordinary: the excitement beyond
comparison; the first talents of the Bar were engaged on both sides; Serjeant
Armstrong led for the plaintiff, helped by the famous Mr. Butt, Q.C., and
Mr. Heron, Q.C., who were in turn backed by Mr. Hamill and Mr. Quinn; while
Serjeant Sullivan was for the defendant, supported by Mr. Sidney, Q.C., and
Mr. Morris, Q.C., and aided by Mr. John Curran and Mr. Purcell.

The Court of Common Pleas was the stage; Chief Justice Monahan presiding with
a special jury.  The trial was expected to last a week, and not only the Court
but the approaches to it were crowded.

To judge by the scandalous reports, the case should have been a criminal case,
should have been conducted by the Attorney-General against Sir William Wilde;
but that was not the way it presented itself.  The action was not even brought
directly by Miss Travers or by her father, Dr. Travers, against Sir William
Wilde for rape or criminal assault, or seduction.  It was a civil action brought
by Miss Travers, who claimed L2,000 damages for a libel written by Lady
Wilde to her father, Dr. Travers.  The letter complained of ran as follows:--

Tower, Bray, May 6th.

Sir, you may not be aware of the disreputable conduct of your daughter at Bray
where she consorts with all the low newspaper boys in the place, employing them
to disseminate offensive placards in which my name is given, and also tracts
in which she makes it appear that she has had an intrigue with Sir William
Wilde.  If she chooses to disgrace herself, it is not my affair, but as her
object in insulting me is in the hope of extorting money for which she has
several times applied to Sir William Wilde with threats of more annoyance if
not given, I think it right to inform you, as no threat of additional insult
shall ever extort money from our hands.  The wages of disgrace she has so basely
treated for and demanded shall never be given her.

Jane F. Wilde.

To Dr. Travers.

The summons and plaint charged that this letter written to the father of the
plaintiff by Lady Wilde was a libel reflecting on the character and chastity
of Miss Travers, and as Lady Wilde was a married woman, her husband Sir William
Wilde was joined in the action as a co-defendant for conformity.

The defences set up were:--

First, a plea of "No libel": secondly, that the letter did not bear the
defamatory sense imputed by the plaint: thirdly, a denial of the publication,
and, fourthly, a plea of privilege.  This last was evidently the real defence
and was grounded upon facts which afforded some justification of Lady Wilde's
bitter letter.

It was admitted that for a year or more Miss Travers had done her uttermost
to annoy both Sir William Wilde and his wife in every possible way.  The trouble
began, the defence stated, by Miss Travers fancying that she was slighted by
Lady Wilde.  She thereupon published a scandalous pamphlet under the title of
"Florence Boyle Price, a Warning; by Speranza," with the evident intention
of causing the public to believe that the booklet was the composition of
Lady Wilde under the assumed name of Florence Boyle Price.  In this pamphlet
Miss Travers asserted that a person she called Dr. Quilp had made an attempt
on her virtue.  She put the charge mildly.  "It is sad," she wrote, "to think
that in the nineteenth century a lady must not venture into a physician's
study without being accompanied by a bodyguard to protect her."

Miss Travers admitted that Dr. Quilp was intended for Sir William Wilde; indeed
she identified Dr. Quilp with the newly made knight in a dozen different ways.
She went so far as to describe his appearance.  She declared that he had "an
animal, sinister expression about his mouth which was coarse and vulgar in the
extreme: the large protruding under lip was most unpleasant.  Nor did the upper
part of his face redeem the lower part.  His eyes were small and round, mean
and prying in expression.  There was no candour in the doctor's countenance,
where one looked for candour."  Dr. Quilp's quarrel with his victim, it
appeared, was that she was "unnaturally passionless."

The publication of such a pamphlet was calculated to injure both Sir William
and Lady Wilde in public esteem, and Miss Travers was not content to let the
matter rest there.  She drew attention to the pamphlet by letters to the papers,
and on one occasion, when Sir William Wilde was giving a lecture to the Young
Men's Christian Association at the Metropolitan Hall, she caused large placards
to be exhibited in the neighbourhood having upon them in large letters the words
"Sir William Wilde and Speranza."  She employed one of the persons bearing a
placard to go about ringing a large hand bell which she, herself, had given to
him for the purpose.  She even published doggerel verses in the "Dublin Weekly
Advertiser", and signed them "Speranza," which annoyed Lady Wilde intensely.
One read thus:--

Your progeny is quite a pest
To those who hate such "critters";
Some sport I'll have, or I'm blest
I'll fry the Wilde breed in the West
Then you can call them Fritters.

She wrote letters to "Saunders Newsletter", and even reviewed a book of
Lady Wilde's entitled "The First Temptation," and called it a "blasphemous
production."  Moreover, when Lady Wilde was staying at Bray, Miss Travers sent
boys to offer the pamphlet for sale to the servants in her house.  In fine
Miss Travers showed a keen feminine ingenuity and pertinacity in persecution
worthy of a nobler motive.

But the defence did not rely on such annoyance as sufficient provocation for
Lady Wilde's libellous letter.  The plea went on to state that Miss Travers
had applied to Sir William Wilde for money again and again, and accompanied
these applications with threats of worse pen-pricks if the requests were not
acceded to.  It was under these circumstances, according to Lady Wilde, that
she wrote the letter complained of to Dr. Travers and enclosed it in a sealed
envelope.  She wished to get Dr. Travers to use his parental influence to
stop Miss Travers from further disgracing herself and insulting and annoying
Sir William and Lady Wilde.

The defence carried the war into the enemy's camp by thus suggesting that Miss
Travers was blackmailing Sir William and Lady Wilde.

The attack in the hands of Serjeant Armstrong was still more deadly and
convincing.  He rose early on the Monday afternoon and declared at the beginning
that the case was so painful at the beginning that he would have preferred not
to have been engaged in it--a hypocritical statement which deceived no one, and
was just as conventional-false as his wig.  But with this exception the story he
told was extraordinarily clear and gripping.

Some ten years before, Miss Travers, then a young girl of nineteen, was
suffering from partial deafness, and was recommended by her own doctor to go to
Dr. Wilde, who was the chief oculist and aurist in Dublin.  Miss Travers went
to Dr. Wilde, who treated her successfully.  Dr. Wilde would accept no fees from
her, stating at the outset that as she was the daughter of a brother-physician,
he thought it an honour to be of use to her.  Serjeant Armstrong assured his
hearers that in spite of Miss Travers' beauty he believed that at first Dr.
Wilde took nothing but a benevolent interest in the girl.  Even when his
professional services ceased to be necessary, Dr. Wilde continued his
friendship.  He wrote Miss Travers innumerable letters: he advised her as to
her reading and sent her books and tickets for places of amusement: he even
insisted that she should be better dressed, and pressed money upon her to buy
bonnets and clothes and frequently invited her to his house for dinners and
parties.  The friendship went on in this sentimental kindly way for some five
or six years till 1860.

The wily Serjeant knew enough about human nature to feel that it was necessary
to discover some dramatic incident to change benevolent sympathy into passion,
and he certainly found what he wanted.

Miss Travers, it appeared, had been burnt low down on her neck when a child:
the cicatrice could still be seen, though it was gradually disappearing.  When
her ears were being examined by Dr. Wilde, it was customary for her to kneel
on a hassock before him, and he thus discovered this burn on her neck.  After
her hearing improved he still continued to examine the cicatrice from time to
time, pretending to note the speed with which it was disappearing.  Some time
in '60 or '61 Miss Travers had a corn on the sole of her foot which gave her
some pain.  Dr. Wilde did her the honour of paring the corn with his own hands
and painting it with iodine.  The cunning Serjeant could not help saying with
some confusion, natural or assumed, "that it would have been just as well--at
least there are men of such temperament that it would be dangerous to have such
a manipulation going on."  The spectators in the court smiled, feeling that
in "manipulation" the Serjeant had found the most neatly suggestive word.

Naturally at this point Serjeant Sullivan interfered in order to stem the rising
tide of interest and to blunt the point of the accusation.  Sir William Wilde,
he said, was not the man to shrink from any investigation: but he was only in
the case formally and he could not meet the allegations, which therefore were
"one-sided and unfair" and so forth and so on.

After the necessary pause, Serjeant Armstrong plucked his wig straight and
proceeded to read letters of Dr. Wilde to Miss Travers at this time, in which
he tells her not to put too much iodine on her foot, but to rest it for a few
days in a slipper and keep it in a horizontal position while reading a pleasant
book.  If she would send in, he would try and send her one.

"I have now," concluded the Serjeant, like an actor carefully preparing
his effect, "traced this friendly intimacy down to a point where it begins
to be dangerous: I do not wish to aggravate the gravity of the charge in the
slightest by any rhetoric or by an unconscious overstatement; you shall
therefore, gentlemen of the jury, hear from Miss Travers herself what took
place between her and Dr. Wilde and what she complains of."

Miss Travers then went into the witness-box.  Though thin and past her first
youth, she was still pretty in a conventional way, with regular features and
dark eyes.  She was examined by Mr. Butt, Q.C.  After confirming point by point
what Serjeant Armstrong had said, she went on to tell the jury that in the
summer of '62 she had thought of going to Australia, where her two brothers
lived, who wanted her to come out to them.  Dr. Wilde lent her L40 to go,
but told her she must say it was L20 or her father might think the sum too
large.  She missed the ship in London and came back.  She was anxious to impress
on the jury the fact that she had repaid Dr. Wilde, that she had always repaid
whatever he had lent her.

She went on to relate how one day Dr. Wilde had got her in a kneeling position
at his feet, when he took her in his arms, declaring that he would not let her
go until she called him William.  Miss Travers refused to do this, and took
umbrage at the embracing and ceased to visit at his house: but Dr. Wilde
protested extravagantly that he had meant nothing wrong, and begged her to
forgive him and gradually brought about a reconciliation which was consummated
by pressing invitations to parties and by a loan of two or three pounds for a
dress, which loan, like the others, had been carefully repaid.

The excitement in the court was becoming breathless.  It was felt that the
details were cumulative; the doctor was besieging the fortress in proper form.
The story of embracings, reconciliations and loans all prepared the public for
the great scene.

The girl went on, now answering questions, now telling bits of the story in
her own way, Mr. Butt, the great advocate, taking care that it should all be
consecutive and clear with a due crescendo of interest.  In October, 1862, it
appeared Lady Wilde was not in the house at Merrion Square, but was away at
Bray, as one of the children had not been well, and she thought the sea air
would benefit him.  Dr. Wilde was alone in the house.  Miss Travers called and
was admitted into Dr. Wilde's study.  He put her on her knees before him and
bared her neck, pretending to examine the burn; he fondled her too much and
pressed her to him: she took offence and tried to draw away.  Somehow or other
his hand got entangled in a chain at her neck.  She called out to him, "You are
suffocating me," and tried to rise: but he cried out like a madman: "I will,
I want to," and pressed what seemed to be a handkerchief over her face.
She declared that she lost consciousness.

When she came to herself she found Dr. Wilde frantically imploring her to come
to her senses, while dabbing water on her face, and offering her wine to drink.

"If you don't drink," he cried, "I'll pour it over you."

For some time, she said, she scarcely realized where she was or what had
occurred, though she heard him talking.  But gradually consciousness came back
to her, and though she would not open her eyes she understood what he was
saying.  He talked frantically:

"Do be reasonable, and all will be right. . . I am in your power . . . . spare
me, oh, spare me . . . . strike me if you like.  I wish to God I could hate you,
but I can't.  I swore I would never touch your hand again.  Attend to me and do
what I tell you.  Have faith and confidence in me and you may remedy the past
and go to Australia.  Think of the talk this may give rise to.  Keep up
appearances for your own sake. . . . ."

He then took her up-stairs to a bedroom and made her drink some wine and lie
down for some time.  She afterwards left the house; she hardly knew how; he
accompanied her to the door, she thought; but could not be certain; she was
half dazed.

The judge here interposed with the crucial question:

"Did you know that you had been violated?"

The audience waited breathlessly; after a short pause Miss Travers replied:

"Yes."

Then it was true, the worst was true.  The audience, excited to the highest
pitch, caught breath with malevolent delight.  But the thrills were not
exhausted.  Miss Travers next told how in Dr. Wilde's study one evening she had
been vexed at some slight, and at once took four pennyworth of laudanum which
she had bought.  Dr. Wilde hurried her round to the house of Dr. Walsh, a
physician in the neighbourhood, who gave her an antidote.  Dr. Wilde was
dreadfully frightened lest something should get out. . . .

She admitted at once that she had sometimes asked Dr. Wilde for money: she
thought nothing of it as she had again and again repaid him the monies which
he had lent her.

Miss Travers' examination in chief had been intensely interesting.  The
fashionable ladies had heard all they had hoped to hear, and it was noticed that
they were not so eager to get seats in the court from this time on, though the
room was still crowded.

The cross-examination of Miss Travers was at least as interesting to the student
of human nature as the examination in chief had been, for in her story of what
took place on that 14th of October, weaknesses and discrepancies of memory were
discovered and at length improbabilities and contradictions in the narrative
itself.

First of all it was elicited that she could not be certain of the day; it might
have been the 15th or the 16th: it was Friday the 14th, she thought. . . . It
was a great event to her; the most awful event in her whole life; yet she could
not remember the day for certain.

"Did you tell anyone of what had taken place?"

"No."

"Not even your father?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I did not wish to give him pain."

"But you went back to Dr. Wilde's study after the awful assault?"

"Yes."

"You went again and again, did you not?"

"Yes."

"Did he ever attempt to repeat the offence?"

"Yes."

The audience was thunderstruck; the plot was deepening.  Miss Travers went on
to say that the Doctor was rude to her again; she did not know his intention;
he took hold of her and tried to fondle her; but she would not have it.

"After the second offence you went back?"

"Yes."

"Did he ever repeat it again?"

"Yes."

Miss Travers said that once again Dr. Wilde had been rude to her.

"Yet you returned again?"

"Yes."

"And you took money from this man who had violated you against your will?"

"Yes."

"You asked him for money?"

"Yes."

"This is the first time you have told about this second and third assault,
is it not?"

"Yes," the witness admitted.

So far all that Miss Travers had said hung together and seemed eminently
credible; but when she was questioned about the chloroform and the handkerchief
she became confused.  At the outset she admitted that the handkerchief might
have been a rag.  She was not certain it was a rag.  It was something she saw
the doctor throw into the fire when she came to her senses.

"Had he kept it in his hands, then, all the time you were unconscious?"

"I don't know."

"Just to show it to you?"

The witness was silent.

When she was examined as to her knowledge of chloroform, she broke down
hopelessly. She did not know the smell of it; could not describe it; did not
know whether it burnt or not; could not in fact swear that it was chloroform
Dr. Wilde had used; would not swear that it was anything; believed that it was
chloroform or something like it because she lost consciousness.  That was her
only reason for saying that chloroform had been given to her.

Again the judge interposed with the probing question:

"Did you say anything about chloroform in your pamphlet?"

"No," the witness murmured.

It was manifest that the strong current of feeling in favour of Miss Travers
had begun to ebb.  The story was a toothsome morsel still: but it was
regretfully admitted that the charge of rape had not been pushed home.  It was
felt to be disappointing, too, that the chief prosecuting witness should have
damaged her own case.

It was now the turn of the defence, and some thought the pendulum might swing
back again.

Lady Wilde gave her evidence emphatically, but was too bitter to be a persuasive
witness.  It was tried to prove from her letter that she believed that Miss
Travers had had an intrigue with Sir William Wilde, but she would not have it.
She did not for a moment believe in her husband's guilt.  Miss Travers wished to
make it appear, she said, that she had an intrigue with Sir William Wilde, but
in her opinion it was utterly untrue.  Sir William Wilde was above suspicion.
There was not a particle of truth in the accusation; "her" husband would never
so demean himself.

Lady Wilde's disdainful speeches seemed to persuade the populace, but had small
effect on the jury, and still less on the judge.

When she was asked if she hated Miss Travers, she replied that she did not
hate anyone, but she had to admit that she disliked Miss Travers' methods of
action.

"Why did you not answer Miss Travers when she wrote telling you of your
husband's attempt on her virtue?"

"I took no interest in the matter," was the astounding reply.

The defence made an even worse mistake than this.  When the time came,
Sir William Wilde was not called.

In his speech for Miss Travers, Mr. Butt made the most of this omission.  He
declared that the refusal of Sir William Wilde to go into the witness box was
an admission of guilt; an admission that Miss Travers' story of her betrayal
was true and could not be contradicted.  But the refusal of Sir William Wilde
to go into the box was not, he insisted, the worst point in the defence.  He
reminded the jury that he had asked Lady Wilde why she had not answered Miss
Travers when she wrote to her.  He recalled Lady Wilde's reply:

"I took no interest in the matter."

Every woman would be interested in such a thing, he declared, even a stranger;
but Lady Wilde hated her husband's victim and took no interest in her seduction
beyond writing a bitter, vindictive and libellous letter to the girl's father.
. . . .

The speech was regarded as a masterpiece and enhanced the already great
reputation of the man who was afterwards to become the Home Rule Leader.

It only remained for the judge to sum up, for everyone was getting impatient
to hear the verdict.  Chief Justice Monahan made a short, impartial speech,
throwing the dry, white light of truth upon the conflicting and passionate
statements.  First of all, he said, it was difficult to believe in the story
of rape whether with or without chloroform.  If the girl had been violated she
would be expected to cry out at the time, or at least to complain to her father
as soon as she reached home.  Had it been a criminal trial, he pointed out,
no one would have believed this part of Miss Travers' story.  When you find
a girl does not cry out at the time and does not complain afterwards, and
returns to the house to meet further rudeness, it must be presumed that she
consented to the seduction.

But was there a seduction?  The girl asserted that there was guilty intimacy,
and Sir William Wilde had not contradicted her.  It was said that he was only
formally a defendant; but he was the real defendant and he could have gone
into the box if he had liked and given his version of what took place and
contradicted Miss Travers in whole or in part.

"It is for you, gentlemen of the jury, to draw your own conclusions from
his omission to do what one would have thought would be an honourable man's
first impulse and duty."

Finally it was for the jury to consider whether the letter was a libel and
if so what the amount of damages should be.

His Lordship recalled the jury at Mr. Butt's request to say that in assessing
damages they might also take into consideration the fact that the defence was
practically a justification of the libel.  The fair-mindedness of the judge was
conspicuous from first to last, and was worthy of the high traditions of the
Irish Bench.

After deliberating for a couple of hours the jury brought in a verdict which
had a certain humour in it.  They awarded to Miss Travers a farthing damages
and intimated that the farthing should carry costs.  In other words they rated
Miss Travers' virtue at the very lowest coin of the realm, while insisting that
Sir William Wilde should pay a couple of thousands of pounds in costs for having
seduced her.

It was generally felt that the verdict did substantial justice; though the
jury, led away by patriotic sympathy with Lady Wilde, the true "Speranza,"
had been a little hard on Miss Travers.  No one doubted that Sir William Wilde
had seduced his patient.  He had, it appeared, an unholy reputation, and the
girl's admission that he had accused her of being "unnaturally passionless"
was accepted as the true key of the enigma.  This was why he had drawn away from
the girl, after seducing her.  And it was not unnatural under the circumstances
that she should become vindictive and revengeful.

Such inferences as these, I drew from the comments of the Irish papers at the
time; but naturally I wished if possible to hear some trustworthy contemporary
on the matter.  Fortunately such testimony was forthcoming.

A Fellow of Trinity, who was then a young man, embodied the best opinion of
the time in an excellent pithy letter.  He wrote to me that the trial simply
established, what every one believed, that "Sir William Wilde was a pithecoid
person of extraordinary sensuality and cowardice (funking the witness-box left
him without a defender!) and that his wife was a highfalutin' pretentious
creature whose pride was as extravagant as her reputation founded on second-rate
verse-making. . . . . Even when a young woman she used to keep her rooms in
Merrion Square in semi-darkness; she laid the paint on too thick for any
ordinary light, and she gave herself besides all manner of airs."

This incisive judgment of an able and fairly impartial contemporary (As he has
died since this was written, there is no longer any reason for concealing his
name: R. Y. Tyrrell, for many years before his death Regius Professor of Greek
in Trinity College, Dublin.) corroborates, I think, the inferences which one
would naturally draw from the newspaper accounts of the trial.  It seems to me
that both combine to give a realistic photograph, so to speak, of Sir William
and Lady Wilde.  An artist, however, would lean to a more kindly picture.
Trying to see the personages as they saw themselves he would balance the
doctor's excessive sensuality and lack of self-control by dwelling on the fact
that his energy and perseverance and intimate adaptation to his surroundings
had brought him in middle age to the chief place in his profession, and if
Lady Wilde was abnormally vain, a verse-maker and not a poet, she was still
a talented woman of considerable reading and manifold artistic sympathies.

Such were the father and mother of Oscar Wilde.



CHAPTER II--OSCAR WILDE AS A SCHOOLBOY



The Wildes had three children, two sons and a daughter.  The first son was born
in 1852, a year after the marriage, and was christened after his father William
Charles Kingsbury Wills.  The second son was born two years later, in 1854 and
the names given to him seem to reveal the Nationalist sympathies and pride of
his mother.  He was christened Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde; but he
appears to have suffered from the pompous string only in extreme youth.  At
school he concealed the "Fingal," as a young man he found it advisable to omit
the "O'Flahertie."

In childhood and early boyhood Oscar was not considered as quick or engaging
or handsome as his brother, Willie.  Both boys had the benefit of the best
schooling of the time.  They were sent as boarders to the Portora School at
Enniskillen, one of the four Royal schools of Ireland.  Oscar went to Portora in
1864 at the age of nine, a couple of years after his brother.  He remained at
the school for seven years and left it on winning an Exhibition for Trinity
College, Dublin, when he was just seventeen.

The facts hitherto collected and published about Oscar as a schoolboy are sadly
meagre and insignificant.  Fortunately for my readers I have received from Sir
Edward Sullivan, who was a contemporary of Oscar both at school and college,
an exceedingly vivid and interesting pen-picture of the lad, one of those
astounding masterpieces of portraiture only to be produced by the plastic
sympathies of boyhood and the intimate intercourse of years lived in common.
It is love alone which in later life can achieve such a miracle of
representment.  I am very glad to be allowed to publish this realistic
miniature, in the very words of the author.

"I first met Oscar Wilde in the early part of 1868 at Portora Royal School.
He was thirteen or fourteen years of age.  His long straight fair hair was a
striking feature of his appearance.  He was then, as he remained for some years
after, extremely boyish in nature, very mobile, almost restless when out of
the schoolroom.  Yet he took no part in the school games at any time.  Now and
then he would be seen in one of the school boats on Loch Erne: yet he was a
poor hand at an oar.

"Even as a schoolboy he was an excellent talker: his descriptive power
being far above the average, and his humorous exaggerations of school
occurrences always highly amusing.

"A favourite place for the boys to sit and gossip in the late afternoon
in winter time was round a stove which stood in 'The Stone Hall.' Here Oscar
was at his best; although his brother Willie was perhaps in those days even
better than he was at telling a story.

"Oscar would frequently vary the entertainment by giving us extremely quaint
illustrations of holy people in stained-glass attitudes: his power of twisting
his limbs into weird contortions being very great.  (I am told that Sir William
Wilde, his father, possessed the same power.) It must not be thought, however,
that there was any suggestion of irreverence in the exhibition.

"At one of these gatherings, about the year 1870, I remember a discussion
taking place about an ecclesiastical prosecution that made a considerable stir
at the time.  Oscar was present, and full of the mysterious nature of the Court
of Arches; he told us there was nothing he would like better in after life than
to be the hero of such a "cause celebre" and to go down to posterity as the
defendant in such a case as 'Regina versus Wilde!'

"At school he was almost always called 'Oscar'--but he had a nick-name,
'Grey-crow,' which the boys would call him when they wished to annoy him, and
which he resented greatly.  It was derived in some mysterious way from the name
of an island in the Upper Loch Erne, within easy reach of the school by boat.

"It was some little time before he left Portora that the boys got to know of his
full name, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde.  Just at the close of his
school career he won the 'Carpenter' Greek Testament Prize,--and on presentation
day was called up to the dais by Dr. Steele, by all his names--much to Oscar's
annoyance; for a great deal of schoolboy chaff followed.

"He was always generous, kindly, good-tempered.  I remember he and myself were
on one occasion mounted as opposing jockeys on the backs of two bigger boys in
what we called a 'tournament,' held in one of the class-rooms.  Oscar and his
horse were thrown, and the result was a broken arm for Wilde.  Knowing that it
was an accident, he did not let it make any difference in our friendship.

"He had, I think, no very special chums while at school.  I was perhaps as
friendly with him all through as anybody, though his junior in class by a
year. . . . .

"Willie Wilde was never very familiar with him, treating him always, in those
days, as a younger brother. . . . .

"When in the head class together, we with two other boys were in the town of
Enniskillen one afternoon, and formed part of an audience who were listening
to a street orator.  One of us, for the fun of the thing, got near the speaker
and with a stick knocked his hat off and then ran for home followed by the other
three.  Several of the listeners, resenting the impertinence, gave chase, and
Oscar in his hurry collided with an aged cripple and threw him down--a fact
which was duly reported to the boys when we got safely back.  Oscar was
afterwards heard telling how he found his way barred by an angry giant with whom
he fought through many rounds and whom he eventually left for dead in the road
after accomplishing prodigies of valour on his redoubtable opponent.  Romantic
imagination was strong in him even in those schoolboy days; but there was always
something in his telling of such a tale to suggest that he felt his hearers were
not really being taken in; it was merely the romancing indulged in so humorously
by the two principal male characters in 'The Importance of Being Earnest.' . . .

"He never took any interest in mathematics either at school or college.
He laughed at science and never had a good word for a mathematical or science
master, but there was nothing spiteful or malignant in anything he said against
them; or indeed against anybody.

"The romances that impressed him most when at school were Disraeli's novels.
He spoke slightingly of Dickens as a novelist. . . . .

"The classics absorbed almost his whole attention in his later school days, and
the flowing beauty of his oral translations in class, whether of Thucydides,
Plato or Virgil, was a thing not easily to be forgotten."

This photograph, so to speak, of Oscar as a schoolboy is astonishingly clear
and lifelike; but I have another portrait of him from another contemporary,
who has since made for himself a high name as a scholar at Trinity, which, while
confirming the general traits sketched by Sir Edward Sullivan, takes somewhat
more notice of certain mental qualities which came later to the fruiting.

This observer who does not wish his name given, writes:

"Oscar had a pungent wit, and nearly all the nicknames in the school were
given by him.  He was very good on the literary side of scholarship, with a
special leaning to poetry. . . . .

"We noticed that he always liked to have editions of the classics that were of
stately size with large print. . . . .  He was more careful in his dress than
any other boy.

"He was a wide reader and read very fast indeed; how much he assimilated I never
could make out.  He was poor at music.

"We thought him a fair scholar but nothing extraordinary.  However, he startled
everyone the last year at school in the classical medal examination, by walking
easily away from us all in the "viva voce" of the Greek play ('The Agamemnon')."

I may now try and accentuate a trait or two of these photographs, so to speak,
and then realise the whole portrait by adding an account given to me by Oscar
himself.  The joy in humorous romancing and the sweetness of temper recorded
by Sir Edward Sullivan were marked traits in Oscar's character all through his
life.  His care in dressing too, and his delight in stately editions; his love
of literature "with a special leaning to poetry" were all qualities which
distinguished him to the end.

"Until the last year of my school life at Portora," he said to me once, "I had
nothing like the reputation of my brother Willie.  I read too many English
novels, too much poetry, dreamed away too much time to master the school tasks.

"Knowledge came to me through pleasure, as it always comes, I imagine. . . . .

"I was nearly sixteen when the wonder and beauty of the old Greek life began
to dawn upon me.  Suddenly I seemed to see the white figures throwing purple
shadows on the sun-baked palaestra; 'bands of nude youths and maidens'--you
remember Gautier's words--'moving across a background of deep blue as on the
frieze of the Parthenon.' I began to read Greek eagerly for love of it all,
and the more I read the more I was enthralled:

Oh what golden hours were for us
As we sat together there,
While the white vests of the chorus
Seemed to wave up a light air;
While the cothurns trod majestic
Down the deep iambic lines
And the rolling anapaestics
Curled like vapour over shrines.

"The head master was always holding my brother Willie up to me as an example;
but even he admitted that in my last year at Portora I had made astounding
progress.  I laid the foundation there of whatever classical scholarship
I possess."

It occurred to me once to ask Oscar in later years whether the boarding school
life of a great, public school was not responsible for a good deal of sensual
viciousness.

"Englishmen all say so," he replied, "but it did not enter into my experience.
I was very childish, Frank; a mere boy till I was over sixteen.  Of course I was
sensual and curious, as boys are, and had the usual boy imaginings; but I did
not indulge in them excessively.

"At Portora nine out of ten boys only thought of football or cricket or rowing.
Nearly every one went in for athletics--running and jumping and so forth; no one
appeared to care for sex.  We were healthy young barbarians and that was all."

"Did you go in for games?" I asked.

"No," Oscar replied smiling, "I never liked to kick or be kicked."

"Surely you went about with some younger boy, did you not, to whom you told your
dreams and hopes, and whom you grew to care for?"

The question led to an intimate personal confession, which may take its place
here.

"It is strange you should have mentioned it," he said.  "There was one boy,
and," he added slowly, "one peculiar incident.  It occurred in my last year at
Portora.  The boy was a couple of years younger than I--we were great friends;
we used to take long walks together and I talked to him interminably.  I told
him what I should have done had I been Alexander, or how I'd have played king in
Athens, had I been Alcibiades.  As early as I can remember I used to identify
myself with every distinguished character I read about, but when I was fifteen
or sixteen I noticed with some wonder that I could think of myself as Alcibiades
or Sophocles more easily than as Alexander or Caesar.  The life of books had
begun to interest me more than real life. . . . .

"My friend had a wonderful gift for listening.  I was so occupied with talking
and telling about myself that I knew very little about him, curiously little
when I come to think of it.  But the last incident of my school life makes me
think he was a sort of mute poet, and had much more in him than I imagined.
It was just before I first heard that I had won an Exhibition and was to go to
Trinity.  Dr. Steele had called me into his study to tell me the great news;
he was very glad, he said, and insisted that it was all due to my last year's
hard work.  The 'hard' work had been very interesting to me, or I would not have
done much of it.  The doctor wound up, I remember, by assuring me that if I went
on studying as I had been studying during the last year I might yet do as well
as my brother Willie, and be as great an honour to the school and everybody
connected with it as he had been.

"This made me smile, for though I liked Willie, and knew he was a fairly good
scholar, I never for a moment regarded him as my equal in any intellectual
field.  He knew all about football and cricket and studied the schoolbooks
assiduously, whereas I read everything that pleased me, and in my own opinion
always went about 'crowned.'" Here he laughed charmingly with amused deprecation
of the conceit.

"It was only about the quality of the crown, Frank, that I was in any doubt.
If I had been offered the Triple Tiara, it would have appeared to me only the
meet reward of my extraordinary merit. . . . .

"When I came out from the doctor's I hurried to my friend to tell him all
the wonderful news.  To my surprise he was cold and said, a little bitterly,
I thought:

"'You seem glad to go?'

"'Glad to go,' I cried; 'I should think I was; fancy going to Trinity College,
Dublin, from this place; why, I shall meet men and not boys.  Of course I am
glad, wild with delight; the first step to Oxford and fame.'

"'I mean,' my chum went on, still in the same cold way, 'you seem glad to
leave me.'

"His tone startled me.

"'You silly fellow,' I exclaimed, 'of course not; I'm always glad to be with
you: but perhaps you will be coming up to Trinity too; won't you?'

"'I'm afraid not,' he said, 'but I shall come to Dublin frequently.'

"'Then we shall meet,' I remarked; 'you must come and see me in my rooms.  My
father will give me a room to myself in our house, and you know Merrion Square
is the best part of Dublin.  You must come and see me.'

"He looked up at me with yearning, sad, regretful eyes.  But the future was
beckoning to me, and I could not help talking about it, for the golden key of
wonderland was in my hand, and I was wild with desires and hopes.

"My friend was very silent, I remember, and only interrupted me to ask:

"'When do you go, Oscar?'

"'Early,' I replied thoughtlessly, or rather full of my own thoughts, 'early
to-morrow morning, I believe; the usual train.'

"In the morning just as I was starting for the station, having said 'goodbye'
to everyone, he came up to me very pale and strangely quiet.

"'I'm coming with you to the station, Oscar,' he said; 'the Doctor gave me
permission, when I told him what friends we had been.'

"'I'm glad,' I cried, my conscience pricking me that I had not thought of
asking for his company.  'I'm very glad.  My last hours at school will always
be associated with you.'

"He just glanced up at me, and the glance surprised me; it was like a dog looks
at one.  But my own hopes soon took possession of me again, and I can only
remember being vaguely surprised by the appeal in his regard.

"When I was settled in my seat in the train, he did not say 'goodbye' and go,
and leave me to my dreams; but brought me papers and things and hung about.

"The guard came and said:

"'Now, sir, if you are going.'

"I liked the 'Sir.' To my surprise my friend jumped into the carriage and said:

"'All right, guard, I'm not going, but I shall slip out as soon as you whistle.'

"The guard touched his cap and went.  I said something, I don't know what; I was
a little embarrassed.

"'You will write to me, Oscar, won't you, and tell me about everything?'

"'Oh, yes,' I replied, 'as soon as I get settled down, you know.  There will
be such a lot to do at first, and I am wild to see everything.  I wonder how
the professors will treat me.  I do hope they will not be fools or prigs;
what a pity it is that all professors are not poets. . . . .' And so I went
on merrily, when suddenly the whistle sounded and a moment afterwards the train
began to move.

"'You must go now,' I said to him.

"'Yes,' he replied, in a queer muffled voice, while standing with his hand on
the door of the carriage.  Suddenly he turned to me and cried:

"'Oh, Oscar,' and before I knew what he was doing he had caught my face in his
hot hands, and kissed me on the lips.  The next moment he had slipped out of the
door and was gone. . . . .

"I sat there all shaken.  Suddenly I became aware of cold, sticky drops
trickling down my face--his tears.  They affected me strangely.  As I wiped them
off I said to myself in amaze:

"'This is love: this is what he meant--love.' . . . .

"I was trembling all over.  For a long while I sat, unable to think, all shaken
with wonder and remorse."



CHAPTER III--TRINITY, DUBLIN: MAGDALEN, OXFORD



Oscar Wilde did well at school, but he did still better at college, where the
competition was more severe.  He entered Trinity on October 19th, 1871, just
three days after his seventeenth birthday.  Sir Edward Sullivan writes me that
when Oscar matriculated at Trinity he was already "a thoroughly good classical
scholar of a brilliant type," and he goes on to give an invaluable snap-shot
of him at this time; a likeness, in fact, the chief features of which grew more
and more characteristic as the years went on.

"He had rooms in College at the north side of one of the older squares, known
as Botany Bay.  These rooms were exceedingly grimy and ill-kept.  He never
entertained there.  On the rare occasions when visitors were admitted, an
unfinished landscape in oils was always on the easel, in a prominent place in
his sitting room.  He would invariably refer to it, telling one in his
humorously unconvincing way that 'he had just put in the butterfly.' Those of us
who had seen his work in the drawing class presided over by 'Bully' Wakeman at
Portora were not likely to be deceived in the matter. . . . .

"His college life was mainly one of study; in addition to working for his
classical examinations, he devoured with voracity all the best English
writers.

"He was an intense admirer of Swinburne and constantly reading his poems;
John Addington Symond's works too, on the Greek authors, were perpetually in
his hands.  He never entertained any pronounced views on social, religious or
political questions while in College; he seemed to be altogether devoted to
literary matters.

"He mixed freely at the same time in Dublin society functions of all kinds, and
was always a very vivacious and welcome guest at any house he cared to visit.
All through his Dublin University days he was one of the purest minded men that
could be met with.

"He was not a card player, but would on occasions join in a game of limited loo
at some man's rooms.  He was also an extremely moderate drinker.  He became a
member of the junior debating society, the Philosophical, but hardly ever took
any part in their discussions.

"He read for the Berkeley medal (which he afterwards gained) with an excellent,
but at the same time broken-down, classical scholar, John Townsend Mills, and,
besides instruction, he contrived to get a good deal of amusement out of his
readings with his quaint teacher.  He told me for instance that on one occasion
he expressed his sympathy for Mills on seeing him come into his rooms wearing
a tall hat completely covered in crape.  Mills, however, replied, with a smile,
that no one was dead--it was only the evil condition of his hat that had made
him assume so mournful a disguise.  I have often thought that the incident was
still fresh in Oscar Wilde's mind when he introduced John Worthing in 'The
Importance of Being Earnest,' in mourning for his fictitious brother. . . . .

"Shortly before he started on his first trip to Italy, he came into my rooms in
a very striking pair of trousers.  I made some chaffing remark on them, but he
begged me in the most serious style of which he was so excellent a master not to
jest about them.

"'They are my Trasimene trousers, and I mean to wear them there.'"

Already his humour was beginning to strike all his acquaintances, and what
Sir Edward Sullivan here calls his "puremindedness," or what I should rather
call his peculiar refinement of nature.  No one ever heard Oscar Wilde tell a
suggestive story; indeed he always shrank from any gross or crude expression;
even his mouth was vowed always to pure beauty.

The Trinity Don whom I have already quoted about Oscar's school-days sends me a
rather severe critical judgment of him as a student.  There is some truth in it,
however, for in part at least it was borne out and corroborated by Oscar's later
achievement.  It must be borne in mind that the Don was one of his competitors
at Trinity, and a successful one; Oscar's mind could not limit itself to college
tasks and prescribed books.

"When Oscar came to college he did excellently during the first year; he was top
of his class in classics; but he did not do so well in the long examinations
for a classical scholarship in his second year.  He was placed fifth, which was
considered very good, but he was plainly not the man for the dolichos (or long
struggle), though first-rate for a short examination."

Oscar himself only completed these spirit-photographs by what he told me of
his life at Trinity.

"It was the fascination of Greek letters, and the delight I took in Greek life
and thought," he said to me once, "which made me a scholar.  I got my love of
the Greek ideal and my intimate knowledge of the language at Trinity from
Mahaffy and Tyrrell; they were Trinity to me; Mahaffy was especially valuable
to me at that time.  Though not so good a scholar as Tyrrell, he had been in
Greece, had lived there and saturated himself with Greek thought and Greek
feeling.  Besides he took deliberately the artistic standpoint towards
everything, which was coming more and more to be my standpoint.  He was a
delightful talker, too, a really great talker in a certain way--an artist in
vivid words and eloquent pauses.  Tyrrell, too, was very kind to me--intensely
sympathetic and crammed with knowledge.  If he had known less he would have
been a poet.  Learning is a sad handicap, Frank, an appalling handicap," and
he laughed irresistibly.

"What were the students like in Dublin?" I asked.  "Did you make friends with
any of them?"

"They were worse even than the boys at Portora," he replied; "they thought of
nothing but cricket and football, running and jumping; and they varied these
intellectual exercises with bouts of fighting and drinking.  If they had any
souls they diverted them with coarse "amours" among barmaids and the women
of the streets; they were simply awful.  Sexual vice is even coarser and more
loathsome in Ireland than it is in England:--

"'Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.'

"When I tried to talk they broke into my thought with stupid gibes and jokes.
Their highest idea of humour was an obscene story.  No, no, Tyrrell and Mahaffy
represent to me whatever was good in Trinity."

In 1874 Oscar Wilde won the gold medal for Greek.  The subject of the year was
"The Fragments of the Greek Comic Poets, as edited by Meineke."  In this year,
too, he won a classical scholarship--a demyship of the annual value of L95,
which was tenable for five years, which enabled him to go to Oxford without
throwing an undue strain on his father's means.

He noticed with delight that his success was announced in the "Oxford University
Gazette" of July 11th, 1874.  He entered Magdalen College, Oxford, on October
17th, a day after his twentieth birthday.

Just as he had been more successful at Trinity than at school, so he was
destined to be far more successful and win a far greater reputation at Oxford
than in Dublin.

He had the advantage of going to Oxford a little later than most men, at twenty
instead of eighteen, and thus was enabled to win high honours with comparative
ease, while leading a life of cultured enjoyment.

He was placed in the first class in "Moderations" in 1876 and had even then
managed to make himself talked about in the life of the place.  The Trinity Don
whom I have already quoted, after admitting that there was not a breath against
his character either at school or Trinity, goes on to write that "at Trinity he
did not strike us as a very exceptional person," and yet there must have been
some sharp eyes at Trinity, for our Don adds with surprising divination:

"I fancy his rapid development took place after he went to Oxford, where he
was able to specialize more; in fact where he could study what he most affected.
It is, I feel sure, from his Oxford life more than from his life in Ireland that
one would be able to trace the good and bad features by which he afterwards
attracted the attention of the world."

In 1878 Oscar won a First Class in "Greats."  In this same Trinity term, 1878,
he further distinguished himself by gaining the Newdigate prize for English
verse with his poem "Ravenna," which he recited at the annual Commemoration in
the Sheldonian Theatre on June 26th.  His reciting of the poem was the literary
event of the year in Oxford.

There had been great curiosity about him; he was said to be the best talker
of the day, and one of the ripest scholars.  There were those in the University
who predicted an astonishing future for him, and indeed all possibilities seemed
within his reach.  "His verses were listened to," said "The Oxford and Cambridge
Undergraduates' Journal", "with rapt attention."  It was just the sort of thing,
half poetry, half rhythmic rhetoric, which was sure to reach the hearts and
minds of youth.  His voice, too, was of beautiful tenor quality, and exquisitely
used.  When he sat down people crowded to praise him and even men of great
distinction in life flattered him with extravagant compliments.  Strange to say
he used always to declare that his appearance about the same time as Prince
Rupert, at a fancy dress ball, given by Mrs. George Morrell, at Headington Hill
Hall, afforded him a far more gratifying proof of the exceptional position he
had won.

"Everyone came round me, Frank, and made me talk.  I hardly danced at all.
I went as Prince Rupert, and I talked as he charged but with more success, for
I turned all my foes into friends.  I had the divinest evening; Oxford meant
so much to me. . . . .

"I wish I could tell you all Oxford did for me.

"I was the happiest man in the world when I entered Magdalen for the
first time.  Oxford--the mere word to me is full of an inexpressible, an
incommunicable charm.  Oxford--the home of lost causes and impossible ideals;
Matthew Arnold's Oxford--with its dreaming spires and grey colleges, set in
velvet lawns and hidden away among the trees, and about it the beautiful fields,
all starred with cowslips and fritillaries where the quiet river winds its way
to London and the sea. . . . .  The change, Frank, to me was astounding; Trinity
was as barbarian as school, with coarseness superadded.  If it had not been for
two or three people, I should have been worse off at Trinity than at Portora;
but Oxford--Oxford was paradise to me.  My very soul seemed to expand within me
to peace and joy.  Oxford--the enchanted valley, holding in its flowerlet cup
all the idealism of the middle ages. (Oscar was always fond of loosely quoting
or paraphrasing in conversation the purple passages from contemporary writers.
He said them exquisitely and sometimes his own embroidery was as good as
the original.  This discipleship, however, always suggested to me a lack of
originality.  In especial Matthew Arnold had an extraordinary influence upon
him, almost as great indeed as Pater.)  Oxford is the capital of romance, Frank;
in its own way as memorable as Athens, and to me it was even more entrancing.
In Oxford, as in Athens, the realities of sordid life were kept at a distance.
No one seemed to know anything about money or care anything for it.  Everywhere
the aristocratic feeling; one must have money, but must not bother about it.
And all the appurtenances of life were perfect: the food, the wine, the
cigarettes; the common needs of life became artistic symbols, our clothes even
won meaning and significance.  It was at Oxford I first dressed in knee breeches
and silk stockings.  I almost reformed fashion and made modern dress
aesthetically beautiful; a second and greater reformation, Frank.  What a pity
it is that Luther knew nothing of dress, had no sense of the becoming.  He had
courage but no fineness of perception.  I'm afraid his neckties would always
have been quite shocking!" and he laughed charmingly.

"What about the inside of the platter, Oscar?"

"Ah, Frank, don't ask me, I don't know; there was no grossness, no coarseness;
but all delicate delights!

"'Fair passions and bountiful pities and loves without
pain,'" ("Stain," not "pain," in the original.)

and he laughed mischievously at the misquotation.

"Loves?" I questioned, and he nodded his head smiling; but would not be drawn.

"All romantic and ideal affections.  Every successive wave of youths from the
public schools brought some chosen spirits, perfectly wonderful persons, the
most graceful and fascinating disciples that a poet could desire, and I preached
the old-ever-new gospel of individual revolt and individual perfection.
I showed them that sin with its curiosities widened the horizons of life.
Prejudices and prohibitions are mere walls to imprison the soul.  Indulgence
may hurt the body, Frank, but nothing except suffering hurts the spirit; it is
self-denial and abstinence that maim and deform the soul."

"Then they knew you as a great talker even at Oxford?" I asked in some surprise.

"Frank," he cried reprovingly, laughing at the same time delightfully, "I was a
great talker at school.  I did nothing at Trinity but talk, my reading was done
at odd hours.  I was the best talker ever seen in Oxford."

"And did you find any teacher there like Mahaffy?" I asked, "any professor with
a touch of the poet?"

He came to seriousness at once.

"There were two or three teachers, Frank," he replied, "greater than Mahaffy;
teachers of the world as well as of Oxford.  There was Ruskin for instance, who
appealed to me intensely--a wonderful man and a most wonderful writer.  A sort
of exquisite romantic flower; like a violet filling the whole air with the
ineffable perfume of belief.  Ruskin has always seemed to me the Plato of
England--a Prophet of the Good and True and Beautiful, who saw as Plato saw that
the three are one perfect flower.  But it was his prose I loved, and not his
piety.  His sympathy with the poor bored me: the road he wanted us to build was
tiresome.  I could see nothing in poverty that appealed to me, nothing; I shrank
away from it as from a degradation of the spirit; but his prose was lyrical and
rose on broad wings into the blue.  He was a great poet and teacher, Frank, and
therefore of course a most preposterous professor; he bored you to death when he
taught, but was an inspiration when he sang.

"Then there was Pater, Pater the classic, Pater the scholar, who had already
written the greatest English prose: I think a page or two of the greatest prose
in all literature.  Pater meant everything to me.  He taught me the highest form
of art: the austerity of beauty.  I came to my full growth with Pater.  He was a
sort of silent, sympathetic elder brother.  Fortunately for me he could not talk
at all; but he was an admirable listener, and I talked to him by the hour.  I
learned the instrument of speech with him, for I could see by his face when I
had said anything extraordinary.  He did not praise me but quickened me
astonishingly, forced me always to do better than my best--an intense vivifying
influence, the influence of Greek art at its supremest."

"He was the Gamaliel then?" I questioned, "at whose feet you sat?"

"Oh, no, Frank," he chided, "everyone sat at my feet even then.  But Pater was a
very great man.  Dear Pater! I remember once talking to him when we were seated
together on a bench under some trees in Oxford.  I had been watching the
students bathing in the river: the beautiful white figures all grace and ease
and virile strength.  I had been pointing out how Christianity had flowered into
romance, and how the crude Hebraic materialism and all the later formalities of
an established creed had fallen away from the tree of life and left us the
exquisite ideals of the new paganism. . . .

"The pale Christ had been outlived: his renunciations and his sympathies were
mere weaknesses: we were moving to a synthesis of art where the enchanting
perfume of romance should be wedded to the severe beauty of classic form.
I really talked as if inspired, and when I paused, Pater--the stiff, quiet,
silent Pater--suddenly slipped from his seat and knelt down by me and kissed
my hand.  I cried:

"'You must not, you really must not.  What would people think if they saw you?'

"He got up with a white strained face.

"'I had to,' he muttered, glancing about him fearfully, 'I had to--once. . . .'"

I must warn my readers that this whole incident is ripened and set in a higher
key of thought by the fact that Oscar told it more than ten years after it
happened.



CHAPTER IV--FORMATIVE INFLUENCES: OSCAR'S POEMS



The most important event in Oscar's early life happened while he was still
an undergraduate at Oxford: his father, Sir William Wilde, died in 1876, leaving
to his wife, Lady Wilde, nearly all he possessed, some L7,000, the interest
of which was barely enough to keep her in genteel poverty.  The sum is so small
that one is constrained to believe the report that Sir William Wilde in his
later years kept practically open house--"lashins of whisky and a good larder,"
and was besides notorious for his gallantries.  Oscar's small portion, a little
money and a small house with some land, came to him in the nick of time: he used
the cash partly to pay some debts at Oxford, partly to defray the expenses of a
trip to Greece.  It was natural that Oscar Wilde, with his eager sponge-like
receptivity, should receive the best academic education of his time, and should
better that by travel.  We all get something like the education we desire, and
Oscar Wilde, it always seemed to me, was over-educated, had learned, that is,
too much from books and not enough from life and had thought too little for
himself; but my readers will be able to judge of this for themselves.

In 1877 he accompanied Professor Mahaffy on a long tour through Greece.  The
pleasure and profit Oscar got from the trip were so great that he failed to
return to Oxford on the date fixed.  The Dons fined him forty-five pounds for
the breach of discipline; but they returned the money to him in the following
year when he won First Honours in "Greats" and the Newdigate prize.

This visit to Greece when he was twenty-three confirmed the view of life which
he had already formed and I have indicated sufficiently perhaps in that talk
with Pater already recorded.  But no one will understand Oscar Wilde who for
a moment loses sight of the fact that he was a pagan born: as Gautier says,
"One for whom the visible world alone exists," endowed with all the Greek
sensuousness and love of plastic beauty; a pagan, like Nietzsche and Gautier,
wholly out of sympathy with Christianity, one of "the Confraternity of
the faithless who "cannot" believe," (His own words in "De Profundis.")
to whom a sense of sin and repentance are symptoms of weakness and disease.

Oscar used often to say that the chief pleasure he had in visiting Rome was
to find the Greek gods and the heroes and heroines of Greek story throned in
the Vatican.  He preferred Niobe to the Mater Dolorosa and Helen to both; the
worship of sorrow must give place, he declared, to the worship of the beautiful.

Another dominant characteristic of the young man may here find its place.

While still at Oxford his tastes--the bent of his mind, and his temperament--
were beginning to outline his future.  He spent his vacations in Dublin and
always called upon his old school friend Edward Sullivan in his rooms at
Trinity.  Sullivan relates that when they met Oscar used to be full of his
occasional visits to London and could talk of nothing but the impression made
upon him by plays and players.  From youth on the theatre drew him irresistibly;
he had not only all the vanity of the actor; but what might be called the born
dramatist's love for the varied life of the stage--its paintings, costumings,
rhetoric--and above all the touch of emphasis natural to it which gives such
opportunity for humorous exaggeration.

"I remember him telling me," Sullivan writes, "about Irving's 'Macbeth,' which
made a great impression on him; he was fascinated by it.  He feared, however,
that the public might be similarly affected--a thing which, he declared, would
destroy his enjoyment of an extraordinary performance."  He admired Miss Ellen
Terry, too, extravagantly, as he admired Marion Terry, Mrs. Langtry, and Mary
Anderson later.

The death of Sir William Wilde put an end to the family life in Dublin, and
set the survivors free.  Lady Wilde had lost her husband and her only daughter
in Merrion Square: the house was full of sad memories to her, she was eager to
leave it all and settle in London.

The "Requiescat" in Oscar's first book of poems was written in memory of this
sister who died in her teens, whom he likened to "a ray of sunshine dancing
about the house."  He took his vocation seriously even in youth: he felt that he
should sing his sorrow, give record of whatever happened to him in life.  But he
found no new word for his bereavement.

Willie Wilde came over to London and got employment as a journalist and was
soon given almost a free hand by the editor of the society paper "The World".
With rare unselfishness, or, if you will, with Celtic clannishness, he did a
good deal to make Oscar's name known.  Every clever thing that Oscar said or
that could be attributed to him, Willie reported in "The World".  This puffing
and Oscar's own uncommon power as a talker; but chiefly perhaps a whispered
reputation for strange sins, had thus early begun to form a sort of myth around
him.  He was already on the way to becoming a personage; there was a certain
curiosity about him, a flutter of interest in whatever he did.  He had published
poems in the Trinity College magazine, "Kottabos", and elsewhere.  People were
beginning to take him at his own valuation as a poet and a wit; and the more
readily as that ambition did not clash in any way with their more material
strivings.

The time had now come for Oscar to conquer London as he had conquered Oxford.
He had finished the first class in the great World-School and was eager to try
the next, where his mistakes would be his only tutors and his desires his
taskmasters. His University successes flattered him with the belief that he
would go from triumph to triumph and be the exception proving the rule that
the victor in the academic lists seldom repeats his victories on the battlefield
of life.

It is not sufficiently understood that the learning of Latin and Greek and
the forming of expensive habits at others' cost are a positive disability and
handicap in the rough-and-tumble tussle of the great city, where greed and
unscrupulous resolution rule, and where there are few prizes for feats of memory
or taste in words.  When the graduate wins in life he wins as a rule in spite of
his so-called education and not because of it.

It is true that the majority of English 'Varsity men give themselves an
infinitely better education than that provided by the authorities.  They devote
themselves to athletic sports with whole-hearted enthusiasm.  Fortunately for
them it is impossible to develop the body without at the same time steeling the
will.  The would-be athlete has to live laborious days; he may not eat to his
liking, nor drink to his thirst.  He learns deep lessons almost unconsciously;
to conquer his desires and make light of pain and discomfort.  He needs no
Aristotle to teach him the value of habits; he is soon forced to use them as
defences against his pet weaknesses; above all he finds that self-denial has its
reward in perfect health; that the thistle pain, too, has its flower.  It is a
truism that 'Varsity athletes generally succeed in life, Spartan discipline
proving itself incomparably superior to Greek accidence.

Oscar Wilde knew nothing of this discipline.  He had never trained his body
to endure or his will to steadfastness.  He was the perfect flower of academic
study and leisure.  At Magdalen he had been taught luxurious living, the delight
of gratifying expensive tastes; he had been brought up and enervated so to speak
in Capua.  His vanity had been full-fed with cloistered triumphs; he was at
once pleasure-loving, vainly self-confident and weak; he had been encouraged
for years to give way to his emotions and to pamper his sensations, and as the
Cap-and-Bells of Folly to cherish a fantastic code of honour even in mortal
combat, while despising the religion which might have given him some hold on
the respect of his compatriots.  What chance had this cultured honour-loving
Sybarite in the deadly grapple of modern life where the first quality is will
power, the only knowledge needed a knowledge of the value of money.  I must not
be understood here as in any degree disparaging Oscar.  I can surely state that
a flower is weaker than a weed without exalting the weed or depreciating the
flower.

The first part of life's voyage was over for Oscar Wilde; let us try to see him
as he saw himself at this time and let us also determine his true relations to
the world.  Fortunately he has given us his own view of himself with some care.

In Foster's "Alumni Oxonienses", Oscar Wilde described himself on leaving Oxford
as a "Professor of aesthetics, and a Critic of Art"--an announcement to me at
once infinitely ludicrous and pathetic.  "Ludicrous" because it betrays such
complete ignorance of life all given over to men industrious with muck-rakes:
"Gadarene swine," as Carlyle called them, "busily grubbing and grunting in
search of pignuts."  "Pathetic" for it is boldly ingenuous as youth itself with
a touch of youthful conceit and exaggeration.  Another eager human soul on the
threshold longing to find some suitable high work in the world, all unwitting
of the fact that ideal strivings are everywhere despised and discouraged--
jerry-built cottages for the million being the day's demand and not oratories
or palaces of art or temples for the spirit.

Not the time for a "professor of aesthetics," one would say, and assuredly
not the place.  One wonders whether Zululand would not be more favourable for
such a man than England.  Germany, France, and Italy have many positions in
universities, picture-galleries, museums, opera houses for lovers of the
beautiful, and above all an educated respect for artists and writers just
as they have places too for servants of Truth in chemical laboratories and
polytechnics endowed by the State with excellent results even from the
utilitarian point of view.  But rich England has only a few dozen such places
in all at command and these are usually allotted with a cynical contempt for
merit; miserable anarchic England, soul-starved amid its creature comforts,
proving now by way of example to helots that man cannot live by bread alone:--
England and Oscar Wilde! the "Black Country" and "the professor of aesthetics"--
a mad world, my masters!

It is necessary for us now to face this mournful truth that in the quarrel
between these two the faults were not all on one side, mayhap England was even
further removed from the ideal than the would-be professor of aesthetics,
which fact may well give us pause and food for thought.  Organic progress we
have been told; indeed, might have seen if we had eyes, evolution so-called
is from the simple to the complex; our rulers therefore should have provided
for the ever-growing complexity of modern life and modern men.  The good
gardener will even make it his ambition to produce new species; our politicians,
however, will not take the trouble to give even the new species that appear a
chance of living; they are too busy, it appears, in keeping their jobs.

No new profession has been organized in England since the Middle Ages.  In the
meantime we have invented new arts, new sciences and new letters; when will
these be organized and regimented in new and living professions, so that young
ingenuous souls may find suitable fields for their powers and may not be forced
willy-nilly to grub for pignuts when it would be more profitable for them and
for us to use their nobler faculties?  Not only are the poor poorer and more
numerous in England than elsewhere; but there is less provision made for the
"intellectuals" too, consequently the organism is suffering at both extremities.
It is high time that both maladies were taken in hand, for by universal consent
England is now about the worst organized of all modern States, the furthest
from the ideal.

Something too should be done with the existing professions to make them worthy
of honourable ambition.  One of them, the Church, is a noble body without a
soul; the soul, our nostrils tell us, died some time ago, while the medical
profession has got a noble spirit with a wretched half-organized body.  It says
much for the inherent integrity and piety of human nature that our doctors
persist in trying to cure diseases when it is clearly to their self-interest to
keep their patients ailing--an anarchic world, this English one, and stupefied
with self-praise.  What will this professor of aesthetics make of it?

Here he is, the flower of English University training, a winner of some of the
chief academic prizes without any worthy means of earning a livelihood, save
perchance by journalism.  And journalism in England suffers from the prevailing
anarchy.  In France, Italy, and Germany journalism is a career in which an
eloquent and cultured youth may honourably win his spurs.  In many countries
this way of earning one's bread can still be turned into an art by the gifted
and high-minded; but in England thanks in the main to the anonymity of the press
cunningly contrived by the capitalist, the journalist or modern preacher is
turned into a venal voice, a soulless Cheapjack paid to puff his master's wares.
Clearly our "Professor of aesthetics and Critic of Art" is likely to have a
doleful time of it in nineteenth century London.

Oscar had already dipped into his little patrimony, as we have seen, and he
could not conceal from himself that he would soon have to live on what he could
earn--a few pounds a week.  But then he was a poet and had boundless confidence
in his own ability.  To the artist nature the present is everything; just for
to-day he resolved that he would live as he had always lived; so he travelled
first class to London and bought all the books and papers that could distract
him on the way: "Give me the luxuries," he used to say, "and anyone can have
the necessaries."

In the background of his mind there were serious misgivings.  Long afterwards
he told me that his father's death and the smallness of his patrimony had been
a heavy blow to him.  He encouraged himself, however, at the moment by dwelling
on his brother's comparative success and waved aside fears and doubts as
unworthy.

It is to his credit that at first he tried to cut down expenses and live
laborious days.  He took a couple of furnished rooms in Salisbury Street off the
Strand, a very Grub Street for a man of fashion, and began to work at journalism
while getting together a book of poems for publication.  His journalism at first
was anything but successful.  It was his misfortune to appeal only to the best
heads and good heads are not numerous anywhere.  His appeal, too, was still
academic and laboured.  His brother Willie with his commoner sympathies appeared
to be better equipped for this work.  But Oscar had from the first a certain
social success.

As soon as he reached London he stepped boldly into the limelight, going to
all "first nights" and taking the floor on all occasions.  He was not only an
admirable talker but he was invariably smiling, eager, full of life and the joy
of living, and above all given to unmeasured praise of whatever and whoever
pleased him.  This gift of enthusiastic admiration was not only his most
engaging characteristic, but also, perhaps, the chief proof of his extraordinary
ability.  It was certainly, too, the quality which served him best all through
his life.  He went about declaring that Mrs. Langtry was more beautiful than
the 'Venus of Milo,' and Lady Archie Campbell more charming than Rosalind and
Mr. Whistler an incomparable artist.  Such enthusiasm in a young and brilliant
man was unexpected and delightful and doors were thrown open to him in all sets.
Those who praise passionately are generally welcome guests and if Oscar could
not praise he shrugged his shoulders and kept silent; scarcely a bitter word
ever fell from those smiling lips.  No tactics could have been more successful
in England than his native gift of radiant good-humour and enthusiasm.  He got
to know not only all the actors and actresses, but the chief patrons and
frequenters of the theatre: Lord Lytton, Lady Shrewsbury, Lady Dorothy Nevill,
Lady de Grey and Mrs. Jeune; and, on the other hand, Hardy, Meredith, Browning,
Swinburne, and Matthew Arnold--all Bohemia, in fact, and all that part of
Mayfair which cares for the things of the intellect.

But though he went out a great deal and met a great many distinguished people,
and won a certain popularity, his social success put no money in his purse.
It even forced him to spend money; for the constant applause of his hearers
gave him self-confidence.  He began to talk more and write less, and cabs and
gloves and flowers cost money.  He was soon compelled to mortgage his little
property in Ireland.

At the same time it must be admitted he was still indefatigably intent on
bettering his mind, and in London he found more original teachers than in
Oxford, notably Morris and Whistler.  Morris, though greatly overpraised during
his life, had hardly any message for the men of his time.  He went for his
ideals to an imaginary past and what he taught and praised was often totally
unsuited to modern conditions.  Whistler on the other hand was a modern of the
moderns, and a great artist to boot: he had not only assimilated all the newest
thought of the day, but with the alchemy of genius had transmuted it and made it
his own.  Before even the de Goncourts he had admired Chinese porcelain and
Japanese prints and his own exquisite intuition strengthened by Japanese example
had shown him that his impression of life was more valuable than any mere
transcript of it.  Modern art he felt should be an interpretation and not a
representment of reality, and he taught the golden rule of the artist that the
half is usually more expressive than the whole.  He went about London preaching
new schemes of decoration and another Renaissance of art.  Had he only been a
painter he would never have exercised an extraordinary influence; but he was a
singularly interesting appearance as well and an admirable talker gifted with
picturesque phrases and a most caustic wit.

Oscar sat at his feet and imbibed as much as he could of the new aesthetic
gospel.  He even ventured to annex some of the master's most telling stories
and thus came into conflict with his teacher.

One incident may find a place here.

The art critic of "The Times", Mr. Humphry Ward, had come to see an exhibition
of Whistler's pictures.  Filled with an undue sense of his own importance, he
buttonholed the master and pointing to one picture said:

"That's good, first-rate, a lovely bit of colour; but that, you know," he went
on, jerking his finger over his shoulder at another picture, "that's bad,
drawing all wrong . . . bad!"

"My dear fellow," cried Whistler, "you must never say that this painting's good
or that bad, never! Good and bad are not terms to be used by you; but say, I
like this, and I dislike that, and you'll be within your right.  And now come
and have a whiskey for you're sure to like that."

Carried away by the witty fling, Oscar cried:

"I wish I had said that."

"You will, Oscar, you will," came Whistler's lightning thrust.

Of all the personal influences which went to the moulding of Oscar Wilde's
talent, that of Whistler, in my opinion, was the most important; Whistler taught
him that men of genius stand apart and are laws unto themselves; showed him,
too, that all qualities--singularity of appearance, wit, rudeness even, count
doubly in a democracy.  But neither his own talent nor the bold self-assertion
learned from Whistler helped him to earn money; the conquest of London seemed
further off and more improbable than ever.  Where Whistler had missed the laurel
how could he or indeed anyone be sure of winning?

A weaker professor of aesthetics would have been discouraged by the monetary
and other difficulties of his position and would have lost heart at the outset
in front of the impenetrable blank wall of English philistinism and contempt.
But Oscar Wilde was conscious of great ability and was driven by an inordinate
vanity.  Instead of diminishing his pretensions in the face of opposition he
increased them.  He began to go abroad in the evening in knee breeches and silk
stockings wearing strange flowers in his coat--green cornflowers and gilded
lilies--while talking about Baudelaire, whose name even was unfamiliar, as a
world poet, and proclaiming the strange creed that "nothing succeeds like
excess."  Very soon his name came into everyone's mouth; London talked of
him and discussed him at a thousand tea-tables.  For one invitation he had
received before, a dozen now poured in; he became a celebrity.

Of course he was still sneered at by many as a mere "poseur"; it still seemed
to be all Lombard Street to a china orange that he would be beaten down
under the myriad trampling feet of middle-class indifference and disdain.

Some circumstances were in his favour.  Though the artistic movement inaugurated
years before by the Pre-Raphaelites was still laughed at and scorned by the
many as a craze, a few had stood firm, and slowly the steadfast minority had
begun to sway the majority as is often the case in democracies.  Oscar Wilde
profited by the victory of these art-loving forerunners.  Here and there among
the indifferent public, men were attracted by the artistic view of life and
women by the emotional intensity of the new creed.  Oscar Wilde became the
prophet of an esoteric cult.  But notoriety even did not solve the monetary
question, which grew more and more insistent.  A dozen times he waved it aside
and went into debt rather than restrain himself.  Somehow or other he would fall
on his feet, he thought.  Men who console themselves in this way usually fall
on someone else's feet and so did Oscar Wilde.  At twenty-six years of age and
curiously enough at the very moment of his insolent-bold challenge of the world
with fantastic dress, he stooped to ask his mother for money, money which she
could ill spare, though to do her justice she never wasted a second thought on
money where her affections were concerned, and she not only loved Oscar but was
proud of him.  Still she could not give him much; the difficulty was only
postponed; what was to be done?

His vanity had grown with his growth; the dread of defeat was only a spur
to the society favourite; he cast about for some means of conquering the
Philistines, and could think of nothing but his book of poems.  He had been
trying off and on for nearly a year to get it published.  The publishers told
him roundly that there was no money in poetry and refused the risk.  But the
notoriety of his knee-breeches and silken hose, and above all the continual
attacks in the society papers, came to his aid and his book appeared in the
early summer of 1881 with all the importance that imposing form, good paper,
broad margins, and high price (10/6) could give it.  The truth was, he paid for
the printing and production of the book himself, and David Bogue, the publisher,
put his name on for a commission.

Oscar had built high fantastic hopes on this book.  To the very end of his
life he believed himself a poet and in the creative sense of the word he was
assuredly justified, but he meant it in the singing sense as well, and there his
claim can only be admitted with serious qualifications.  But whether he was a
singer or not the hopes founded on this book were extravagant; he expected to
make not only reputation by it, but a large amount of money, and money is not
often made in England by poetry.

The book had an extraordinary success, greater, it may safely be said, than any
first book of real poetry has ever had in England or indeed is ever likely to
have: four editions were sold in a few weeks.  Two of the Sonnets in the book
were addressed to Ellen Terry, one as "Portia," the other as "Henrietta Maria";
and these partly account for the book's popularity, for Miss Terry was delighted
with them and praised the book and its author to the skies.  (In her
"Recollections" Miss Terry says that she was more impressed by the genius of
Oscar Wilde and of Whistler than by that of any other men.)  I reproduce the
"Henrietta Maria" sonnet here as a fair specimen of the work:

QUEEN HENRIETTA MARIA

In the lone tent, waiting for victory,
  She stands with eyes marred by the mists of pain,
  Like some wan lily overdrenched with rain:
The clamorous clang of arms, the ensanguined sky,
War's ruin, and the wreck of chivalry,
  To her proud soul no common fear can bring:
  Bravely she tarrieth for her Lord the King,
Her soul aflame with passionate ecstasy.
O Hair of Gold! O Crimson Lips! O Face!
  Made for the luring and the love of man!
  With thee I do forget the toil and stress,
The loveless road that knows no resting-place,
  Time's straitened pulse, the soul's dread weariness,
My freedom and my life republican.

Lyric poetry is by its excellence the chief art of England, as music is the
art of Germany.  A book of poetry is almost sure of fair appreciation in the
English press which does not trouble to notice a "Sartor Resartus" or the first
essays of an Emerson.  The excessive consideration given to Oscar's book by the
critics showed that already his personality and social success had affected the
reporters.

"The Athenaeum" gave the book the place of honour in its number for the 23rd of
July.  The review was severe; but not unjust.  "Mr. Wilde's volume of poems," it
says, "may be regarded as the evangel of a new creed.  From other gospels it
differs in coming after, instead of before, the cult it seeks to establish.
. . . . We fail to see, however, that the apostle of the new worship has any
distinct message."

The critic then took pains to prove that "nearly all the book is imitative"
. . . . and concluded: "Work of this nature has no element of endurance."

"The Saturday Review "dismissed the book at the end of an article on "Recent
Poetry" as "neither good nor bad."  The reviewer objected in the English fashion
to the sensual tone of the poems; but summed up fairly enough: "This book is not
without traces of cleverness, but it is marred everywhere by imitation,
insincerity, and bad taste."

At the same time the notices in "Punch" were extravagantly bitter, while of
course the notices in "The World", mainly written by Oscar's brother, were
extravagantly eulogistic.  "Punch" declared that "Mr. Wilde may be aesthetic,
but he is not original . . . . a volume of echoes. . . . . Swinburne and water."

Now what did "The Athenaeum" mean by taking a new book of imitative verse so
seriously and talking of it as the "evangel of a new creed," besides suggesting
that "it comes after the cult," and so forth?

It seems probable that "The Athenaeum" mistook Oscar Wilde for a continuator
of the Pre-Raphaelite movement with the sub-conscious and peculiarly English
suggestion that whatever is "aesthetic" or "artistic" is necessarily weak and
worthless, if not worse.

Soon after Oscar left Oxford "Punch" began to caricature him and ridicule the
cult of what it christened "The Too Utterly Utter."  Nine Englishmen out of ten
took delight in the savage contempt poured upon what was known euphemistically
as "the aesthetic craze" by the pet organ of the English middle class.

This was the sort of thing "Punch" published under the title of "A Poet's Day":

"Oscar at Breakfast! Oscar at Luncheon!!
Oscar at Dinner!!! Oscar at Supper!!!!"

"'You see I am, after all, mortal,' remarked the poet, with an ineffable affable
smile, as he looked up from an elegant but substantial dish of ham and eggs.
Passing a long willowy hand through his waving hair, he swept away a stray
curl-paper, with the nonchalance of a D'Orsay.

"After this effort Mr. Wilde expressed himself as feeling somewhat faint; and
with a half apologetic smile ordered another portion of Ham and Eggs."

"Punch"'s verses on the subject were of the same sort, showing spite rather
than humour.  Under the heading of "Sage Green" (by a fading-out aesthete) it
published such stuff as this:

My love is as fair as a lily flower.
  ("The Peacock blue has a sacred sheen!")
Oh, bright are the blooms in her maiden bower.
  ("Sing Hey! Sing Ho! for the sweet Sage Green!")
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
And woe is me that I never may win;
  ("The Peacock blue has a sacred sheen!")
For the Bard's hard up, and she's got no tin.
  ("Sing Hey! Sing Ho! for the sweet Sage Green!")

Taking the criticism as a whole it would be useless to deny that there is an
underlying assumption of vicious sensuality in the poet which is believed to
be reflected in the poetry.  This is the only way to explain the condemnation
which is much more bitter than the verse deserves.

The poems gave Oscar pocket money for a season; increased too his notoriety;
but did him little or no good with the judicious: there was not a memorable
word or a new cadence, or a sincere cry in the book.  Still, first volumes of
poetry are as a rule imitative and the attempt, if inferior to "Venus and
Adonis," was not without interest.

Oscar was naturally disappointed with the criticism, but the sales encouraged
him and the stir the book made and he was as determined as ever to succeed.
What was to be done next?



CHAPTER V--OSCAR'S QUARREL WITH WHISTLER AND MARRIAGE



The first round in the battle with Fate was inconclusive.  Oscar Wilde had
managed to get known and talked about and had kept his head above water for
a couple of years while learning something about life and more about himself.
On the other hand he had spent almost all his patrimony, had run into some debt
besides; yet seemed as far as ever from earning a decent living.  The outlook
was disquieting.

Even as a young man Oscar had a very considerable understanding of life.  He
could not make his way as a journalist, the English did not care for his poetry;
but there was still the lecture-platform.  In his heart he knew that he could
talk better than he wrote.

He got his brother to announce boldly in "The World" that owing to the
"astonishing success of his 'Poems' Mr. Oscar Wilde had been invited to
lecture in America."

The invitation was imaginary; but Oscar had resolved to break into this new
field; there was money in it, he felt sure.

Besides he had another string to his bow.  When the first rumblings of the
social storm in Russia reached England, our aristocratic republican seized
occasion by the forelock and wrote a play on the Nihilist Conspiracy called
"Vera".  This drama was impregnated with popular English liberal sentiment.
With the interest of actuality about it "Vera" was published in September, 1880;
but fell flat.

The assassination of the Tsar Alexander, however, in March, 1881; the way
Oscar's poems published in June of that year were taken up by Miss Terry and
puffed in the press, induced Mrs. Bernard Beere, an actress of some merit, to
accept "Vera" for the stage.  It was suddenly announced that "Vera" would be put
on by Mrs. Bernard Beere at The Adelphi in December, '81; but the author had to
be content with this advertisement.  December came and went and "Vera" was not
staged.  It seemed probable to Oscar that it might be accepted in America; at
any rate, there could be no harm in trying: he sailed for New York.

It was on the cards that he might succeed in his new adventure.  The taste of
America in letters and art is still strongly influenced, if not formed, by
English taste, and, if Oscar Wilde had been properly accredited, it is probable
that his extraordinary gift of speech would have won him success in America as
a lecturer.

His phrase to the Revenue officers on landing: "I have nothing to declare
except my genius," turned the limelight full upon him and excited comment and
discussion all over the country.  But the fuglemen of his caste whose praise had
brought him to the front in England were almost unrepresented in the States, and
never bold enough to be partisans.  Oscar faced the American Philistine public
without his accustomed "claque", and under these circumstances a half-success
was evidence of considerable power.  His subjects were "The English Renaissance"
and "House Decoration."

His first lecture at Chickering Hall on January 9, 1882, was so much talked
about that the famous impresario, Major Pond, engaged him for a tour which,
however, had to be cut short in the middle as a monetary failure.  "The Nation"
gave a very fair account of his first lecture: "Mr. Wilde is essentially a
foreign product and can hardly succeed in this country.  What he has to say is
not new, and his extravagance is not extravagant enough to amuse the average
American audience.  His knee-breeches and long hair are good as far as they go;
but Bunthorne has really spoiled the public for Wilde."

"The Nation" underrated American curiosity.  Oscar lectured some ninety times
from January till July, when he returned to New York.  The gross receipts
amounted to some L4,000: he received about L1,200, which left him with a few
hundreds above his expenses.  His optimism regarded this as a triumph.

One is fain to confess today that these lectures make very poor reading.  There
is not a new thought in them; not even a memorable expression; they are nothing
but student work, the best passages in them being mere paraphrases of Pater and
Arnold, though the titles were borrowed from Whistler.  Dr. Ernest Bendz in his
monograph on "The Influence of Pater and Matthew Arnold in the Prose-Writings of
Oscar Wilde" has established this fact with curious erudition and completeness.

Still, the lecturer was a fine figure of a man: his knee-breeches and silk
stockings set all the women talking, and he spoke with suave authority.  Even
the dullest had to admit that his elocution was excellent, and the manner of
speech is keenly appreciated in America.  In some of the Eastern towns, in
New York especially, he had a certain success, the success of sensation and of
novelty, such success as every large capital gives to the strange and eccentric.

In Boston he scored a triumph of character.  Fifty or sixty Harvard students
came to his lecture dressed to caricature him in "swallow tail coats, knee
breeches, flowing wigs and green ties.  They all wore large lilies in their
buttonholes and each man carried a huge sunflower as he limped along."  That
evening Oscar appeared in ordinary dress and went on with his lecture as if he
had not noticed the rudeness.  The chief Boston paper gave him due credit:

"Everyone who witnessed the scene on Tuesday evening must feel about it very
much as we do, and those who came to scoff, if they did not exactly remain to
pray, at least left the Music Hall with feelings of cordial liking, and, perhaps
to their own surprise, of respect for Oscar Wilde." (By way of heaping coals of
fire on the students' heads Oscar presented a cast of the Hermes (then recently
unearthed) to the University of Harvard.)

As he travelled west to Louisville and Omaha his popularity dwined and dwindled.
Still he persevered and after leaving the States visited Canada, reaching
Halifax in the autumn.

One incident must find a place here.  On September 6 he sent L80 to Lady Wilde.
I have been told that this was merely a return of money she had advanced; but
there can be no doubt that Oscar, unlike his brother Willie, helped his mother
again and again most generously, though Willie was always her favourite.

Oscar returned to England in April, 1883, and lectured to the Art Students at
their club in Golden Square.  This at once brought about a break with Whistler
who accused him of plagiarism:--"Picking from our platters the plums for the
puddings he peddles in the provinces."

If one compares this lecture with Oscar's on "The English Renaissance of Art,"
delivered in New York only a year before, and with Whistler's well-known
opinions, it is impossible not to admit that the charge was justified.  Such
phrases as "artists are not to copy beauty but to create it . . . . a picture
is a purely decorative thing," proclaim their author.

The long newspaper wrangle between the two was brought to a head in 1885, when
Whistler gave his famous "Ten o'clock" discourse on Art.  This lecture was
infinitely better than any of Oscar Wilde's.  Twenty odd years older than Wilde,
Whistler was a master of all his resources: he was not only witty, but he had
new views on art and original ideas.  As a great artist he knew that "there
never was an artistic period.  There never was an Art-loving nation."  Again
and again he reached pure beauty of expression.  The masterly persiflage, too,
filled me with admiration and I declared that the lecture ranked with the best
ever heard in London with Coleridge's on Shakespeare and Carlyle's on Heroes.
To my astonishment Oscar would not admit the superlative quality of Whistler's
talk; he thought the message paradoxical and the ridicule of the professors
too bitter.  "Whistler's like a wasp," he cried, "and carries about with him a
poisoned sting."  Oscar's kindly sweet nature revolted against the disdainful
aggressiveness of Whistler's attitude.  Besides, in essence, Whistler's lecture
was an attack on the academic theory taught in the universities, and defended
naturally by a young scholar like Oscar Wilde.  Whistler's view that the artist
was sporadic, a happy chance, a "sport," in fact, was a new view, and Oscar had
not yet reached this level; he reviewed the master in the "Pall Mall Gazette",
a review remarkable for one of the earliest gleams of that genial humour which
later became his most characteristic gift: "Whistler," he said, "is indeed one
of the very greatest masters of painting in my opinion.  And I may add that in
this opinion Mr. Whistler himself entirely concurs."

Whistler retorted in "The World" and Oscar replied, but Whistler had the best of
the argument. . . . . "Oscar--the amiable, irresponsible, esurient Oscar--with
no more sense of a picture than of the fit of a coat, has the courage of the
opinions . . . . of others!"

It should be noted here that one of the bitterest of tongues could not help
doing homage to Oscar Wilde's "amiability": Whistler even preferred to call him
"amiable and irresponsible" rather than give his plagiarism a harsher attribute.

Oscar Wilde learned almost all he knew of art (confer Appendix: "Criticisms by
Robert Ross.") and of controversy from Whistler, but he was never more than a
pupil in either field; for controversy in especial he was poorly equipped: he
had neither the courage, nor the contempt, nor the joy in conflict of his great
exemplar.

Unperturbed by Whistler's attacks, Oscar went on lecturing about the country on
"Personal Impressions of America," and in August crossed again to New York to
see his play "Vera" produced by Marie Prescott at the Union Square Theatre.  It
was a complete failure, as might have been expected; the serious part of it was
such as any talented young man might have written.  Nevertheless I find in this
play for the first time, a characteristic gleam of humour, an unexpected flirt
of wing, so to speak, which, in view of the future, is full of promise.  At the
time it passed unappreciated.

September, 1883, saw Oscar again in England.  The platform gave him better
results than the theatre, but not enough for freedom or ease.  It is the more to
his credit that as soon as he got a couple of hundred pounds ahead, he resolved
to spend it in bettering his mind.

His longing for wider culture, and perhaps in part, the example of Whistler,
drove him to Paris.  He put up at the little provincial Hotel Voltaire on the
Quai Voltaire and quickly made acquaintance with everyone of note in the world
of letters, from Victor Hugo to Paul Bourget.  He admired Verlaine's genius to
the full but the grotesque physical ugliness of the man himself (Verlaine was
like a masque of Socrates) and his sordid and unclean way of living prevented
Oscar from really getting to know him.  During this stay in Paris Oscar read
enormously and his French, which had been schoolboyish, became quite good.  He
always said that Balzac, and especially his poet, Lucien de Rubempre, had been
his teachers.

While in Paris he completed his blank-verse play, "The Duchess of Padua," and
sent it to Miss Mary Anderson in America, who refused it, although she had
commissioned him, he always said, to write it.  It seems to me inferior even
to "Vera" in interest, more academic and further from life, and when produced
in New York in 1891 it was a complete frost.

In a few months Oscar Wilde had spent his money and had skimmed the cream from
Paris, as he thought; accordingly he returned to London and took rooms again,
this time in Charles Street, Mayfair.  He had learned some rude lessons in the
years since leaving Oxford, and the first and most impressive lesson was the
fear of poverty.  Yet his taking rooms in the fashionable part of town showed
that he was more determined than ever to rise and not to sink.

It was Lady Wilde who urged him to take rooms near her; she never doubted
his ultimate triumph.  She knew all his poems by heart, took the strass for
diamonds and welcomed the chance of introducing her brilliant son to the Irish
Nationalist Members and other pinchbeck celebrities who flocked about her.

It was about this time that I first saw Lady Wilde.  I was introduced to her
by Willie, Oscar's elder brother, whom I had met in Fleet Street.  Willie was
then a tall, well-made fellow of thirty or thereabouts with an expressive
taking face, lit up with a pair of deep blue laughing eyes.  He had any amount
of physical vivacity, and told a good story with immense verve, without for a
moment getting above the commonplace: to him the Corinthian journalism of "The
Daily Telegraph" was literature.  Still he had the surface good nature and good
humour of healthy youth and was generally liked.  He took me to his mother's
house one afternoon; but first he had a drink here and a chat there so that we
did not reach the West End till after six o'clock.

The room and its occupants made an indelible grotesque impression on me.  It
seemed smaller than it was because overcrowded with a score of women and half
a dozen men.  It was very dark and there were empty tea-cups and cigarette ends
everywhere.  Lady Wilde sat enthroned behind the tea-table looking like a sort
of female Buddha swathed in wraps--a large woman with a heavy face and prominent
nose; very like Oscar indeed, with the same sallow skin which always looked
dirty; her eyes too were her redeeming feature--vivacious and quick-glancing
as a girl's.  She "made up" like an actress and naturally preferred shadowed
gloom to sunlight.  Her idealism came to show as soon as she spoke.  It was a
necessity of her nature to be enthusiastic; unfriendly critics said hysterical,
but I should prefer to say high-falutin' about everything she enjoyed or
admired.  She was at her best in misfortune; her great vanity gave her a certain
proud stoicism which was admirable.

The Land League was under discussion as we entered, and Parnell's attitude
to it.  Lady Wilde regarded him as the predestined saviour of her country.
"Parnell," she said with a strong accent on the first syllable, "is the man
of destiny; he will strike off the fetters and free Ireland, and throne her
as Queen among the nations."

A murmur of applause came from a thin birdlike woman standing opposite, who
floated towards us clad in a sage-green gown, which sheathed her like an
umbrella case; had she had any figure the dress would have been indecent.

"How like 'Speranza'!" she cooed, "dear Lady Wilde!" I noticed that her glance
went towards Willie, who was standing on the other side of his mother, talking
to a tall, handsome girl.  Willie's friend seemed amused at the lyrical outburst
of the green spinster, for smiling a little she questioned him:

"'Speranza' is Lady Wilde?" she asked with a slight American accent.

Lady Wilde informed the company with all the impressiveness she had at command
that she did not expect Oscar that afternoon; "he is so busy with his new poems,
 you know; they say there has been no such sensation since Byron," she added;
"already everyone is talking of them."

"Indeed, yes," sighed the green lily, "do you remember, dear Speranza, what he
said about 'The Sphinx,' that he read to us.  He told us the written verse was
quite different from what the printed poem would be just as the sculptor's clay
model differs from the marble.  Subtle, wasn't it?"

"Perfectly true, too!" cried a man, with a falsetto voice, moving into the
circle; "Leonardo himself might have said that."

The whole scene seemed to me affected and middle-class, untidy, too, with an un-
English note about it of shiftlessness; the aesthetic dresses were extravagant,
the enthusiasms pumped up and exaggerated.  I was glad to leave quietly.

It was on this visit to Lady Wilde, or a later one, that I first heard of that
other poem of Oscar, "The Harlot's House," which was also said to have been
written in Paris.  Though published in an obscure sheet and in itself
commonplace enough it made an astonishing stir.  Time and advertisement had been
working for him.  Academic lectures and imitative poetry alike had made him
widely known; and, thanks to the small body of enthusiastic admirers whom I have
already spoken of, his reputation instead of waning out had grown like the Jinn
when released from the bottle.

The fuglemen were determined to find something wonderful in everything he did,
and the title of "The Harlot's House," shocking Philistinism, gave them a
certain opportunity which they used to the uttermost.  On all sides one
was asked: "Have you seen Oscar's latest?" And then the last verse would be
quoted:--"Divine, don't ye think?"

"And down the long and silent street,
  The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl."

In spite of all this extravagant eulogy Oscar Wilde's early plays and poems,
like his lectures, were unimportant.  The small remnant of people in England who
really love the things of the spirit were disappointed in them, failed to find
in them the genius so loudly and so arrogantly vaunted.

But, if Oscar Wilde's early writings were failures, his talk was more successful
than ever.  He still tried to show off on all occasions and sometimes fell flat
in consequence; but his failures in this field were few and merely comparative;
constant practice was ripening his extraordinary natural gift.  About this time,
too, he began to develop that humorous vein in conversation, which later lent a
singular distinction to his casual utterances.

His talk brought him numerous invitations to dinner and lunch and introduced him
to some of the best houses in London, but it produced no money.  He was earning
very little and he needed money, comparatively large sums of money, from week
to week.

Oscar Wilde was extravagant in almost every possible way.  He wished to be well-
fed, well-dressed, well-wined, and prodigal of "tips."  He wanted first editions
of the poets; had a liking for old furniture and old silver, for fine pictures,
Eastern carpets and Renascence bronzes; in fine, he had all the artist's desires
as well as those of the poet and "viveur".  He was constantly in dire need of
cash and did not hesitate to borrow fifty pounds from anyone who would lend it
to him.  He was beginning to experience the truth of the old verse:

'Tis a very good world to live in,
  To lend or to spend or to give in,
But to beg or to borrow or get a man's own,
  'Tis the very worst world that ever was known.

The difficulties of life were constantly increasing upon him.  He despised bread
and butter and talked only of champagne and caviare; but without bread, hunger
is imminent.  Victory no longer seemed indubitable.  It was possible, it began
even to be probable that the fair ship of his fame might come to wreck on the
shoals of poverty.

It was painfully clear that he must do something without further delay, must
either conquer want or overleap it.  Would he bridle his desires, live savingly,
and write assiduously till such repute came as would enable him to launch out
and indulge his tastes?  He was wise enough to see the advantages of such a
course.  Every day his reputation as a talker was growing.  Had he had a little
more self-control, had he waited a little longer till his position in society
was secured, he could easily have married someone with money and position who
would have placed him above sordid care and fear for ever.  But he could not
wait; he was colossally vain; he would wear the peacock's feathers at all times
and all costs: he was intensely pleasure-loving, too; his mouth watered for
every fruit.  Besides, he couldn't write with creditors at the door.  Like
Bossuet he was unable to work when bothered about small economies:--"s'il etait
a l'etroit dans son domestique".

What was to be done?  Suddenly he cut the knot and married the daughter of a
Q.C., a Miss Constance Lloyd, a young lady without any particular qualities
or beauty, whom he had met in Dublin on a lecture tour.  Miss Lloyd had a few
hundreds a year of her own, just enough to keep the wolf from the door.  The
couple went to live in Tite Street, Chelsea, in a modest little house.  The
drawing-room, however, was decorated by Godwin and quickly gained a certain
notoriety.  It was indeed a charming room with an artistic distinction and
appeal of its own.

As soon as the dreadful load of poverty was removed, Oscar began to go about a
great deal, and his wife would certainly have been invited with him if he had
refused invitations addressed to himself alone; but from the beginning he
accepted them and consequently after the first few months of marriage his wife
went out but little, and later children came and kept her at home.  Having
earned a respite from care by his marriage, Oscar did little for the next three
years but talk.  Critical observers began to make up their minds that he was a
talker and not a writer.  "He was a power in the art," as de Quincey said of
Coleridge; "and he carried a new art into the power."  Every year this gift grew
with him: every year he talked more and more brilliantly, and he was allowed
now, and indeed expected, to hold the table.

In London there is no such thing as conversation.  Now and then one hears a
caustic or witty phrase, but nothing more.  The tone of good society everywhere
is to be pleasant without being prominent.  In every other European country,
however, able men are encouraged to talk; in England alone they are discouraged.
People in society use a debased jargon or slang, snobbish shibboleths for the
most part, and the majority resent any one man monopolising attention.  But
Oscar Wilde was allowed this privileged position, was encouraged to hold forth
to amuse people, as singers are brought in to sing after dinner.

Though his fame as a witty and delightful talker grew from week to week, even
his marriage did not stifle the undertone of dislike and disgust.  Now
indignantly, now with contempt, men spoke of him as abandoned, a creature of
unnatural viciousness.  There were certain houses in the best set of London
society the doors of which were closed to him.



CHAPTER VI--OSCAR WILDE'S FAITH AND PRACTICE



From 1884 on I met Oscar Wilde continually, now at the theatre, now in some
society drawing room; most often, I think, at Mrs. Jeune's (afterwards Lady St.
Helier).  His appearance was not in his favour; there was something oily and fat
about him that repelled me.  Naturally being British-born and young I tried to
give my repugnance a moral foundation; fleshly indulgence and laziness, I said
to myself, were written all over him.  The snatches of his monologues which I
caught from time to time seemed to me to consist chiefly of epigrams almost
mechanically constructed of proverbs and familiar sayings turned upside down.
Two of Balzac's characters, it will be remembered, practised this form of
humour.  The desire to astonish and dazzle, the love of the uncommon for its own
sake, was so evident that I shrugged my shoulders and avoided him.  One evening,
however, at Mrs. Jeune's, I got to know him better.  At the very door Mrs. Jeune
came up to me:

"Have you ever met Mr. Oscar Wilde?  You ought to know him: he is so
delightfully clever, so brilliant!"

I went with her and was formally introduced to him.  He shook hands in a limp
way I disliked; his hands were flabby, greasy; his skin looked bilious and
dirty.  He wore a great green scarab ring on one finger.  He was over-dressed
rather than well-dressed; his clothes fitted him too tightly; he was too stout.
He had a trick which I noticed even then, which grew on him later, of pulling
his jowl with his right hand as he spoke, and his jowl was already fat and
pouchy.  His appearance filled me with distaste.  I lay stress on this physical
repulsion, because I think most people felt it, and in itself, it is a tribute
to the fascination of the man that he should have overcome the first impression
so completely and so quickly.  I don't remember what we talked about, but I
noticed almost immediately that his grey eyes were finely expressive; in turn
vivacious, laughing, sympathetic; always beautiful.  The carven mouth, too, with
its heavy, chiselled, purple-tinged lips, had a certain attraction and
significance in spite of a black front tooth which shocked one when he laughed.
He was over six feet in height and both broad and thick-set; he looked like a
Roman Emperor of the decadence.

We had a certain interest in each other, an interest of curiosity, for I
remember that he led the way almost at once into the inner drawing room in order
to be free to talk in some seclusion.  After half an hour or so I asked him to
lunch next day at "The Cafe Royal", then the best restaurant in London.

At this time he was a superb talker, more brilliant than any I have ever heard
in England, but nothing like what he became later.  His talk soon made me forget
his repellant physical peculiarities; indeed I soon lost sight of them so
completely that I have wondered since how I could have been so disagreeably
affected by them at first sight.  There was an extraordinary physical vivacity
and geniality in the man, an extraordinary charm in his gaiety, and lightning-
quick intelligence.  His enthusiasms, too, were infectious.  Every mental
question interested him, especially if it had anything to do with art or
literature.  His whole face lit up as he spoke and one saw nothing but his
soulful eyes, heard nothing but his musical tenor voice; he was indeed what the
French call a "charmeur".

In ten minutes I confessed to myself that I liked him, and his talk was
intensely quickening.  He had something unexpected to say on almost every
subject.  His mind was agile and powerful and he took a delight in using it.
He was well-read too, in several languages, especially in French, and his
excellent memory stood him in good stead.  Even when he merely reproduced
what the great writers had said perfectly, he added a new colouring.  And
already his characteristic humour was beginning to illumine every topic with
lambent flashes.

It was at our first lunch, I think, that he told me he had been asked by
Harper's to write a book of one hundred thousand words and offered a large sum
for it--I think some five thousand dollars--in advance.  He wrote to them
gravely that there were not one hundred thousand words in English, so he could
not undertake the work, and laughed merrily like a child at the cheeky reproof.

"I have sent their letters and my reply to the press," he added, and laughed
again, while probing me with inquisitive eyes: how far did I understand the need
of self-advertisement?

About this time an impromptu of his moved the town to laughter.  At some
dinner party it appeared the ladies sat a little too long; Oscar wanted to
smoke.  Suddenly the hostess drew his attention to a lamp the shade of which
was smouldering.

"Please put it out, Mr. Wilde," she said, "it's smoking."

Oscar turned to do as he was told with the remark:

"Happy lamp!"

The delightful impertinence had an extraordinary success.

Early in our friendship I was fain to see that the love of the uncommon, his
paradoxes and epigrams were natural to him, sprang immediately from his taste
and temperament.  Perhaps it would be well to define once for all his attitude
towards life with more scope and particularity than I have hitherto done.

It is often assumed that he had no clear and coherent view of life, no belief,
no faith to guide his vagrant footsteps; but such an opinion does him injustice.
He had his own philosophy, and held to it for long years with astonishing
tenacity.  His attitude towards life can best be seen if he is held up against
Goethe.  He took the artist's view of life which Goethe was the first to state
and indeed in youth had overstated with an astonishing persuasiveness: "the
beautiful is more than the good," said Goethe; "for it includes the good."

It seemed to Oscar, as it had seemed to young Goethe, that "the extraordinary
alone survives"; the extraordinary whether good or bad; he therefore sought
after the extraordinary, and naturally enough often fell into the extravagant.
But how stimulating it was in London, where sordid platitudes drip and drizzle
all day long, to hear someone talking brilliant paradoxes.

Goethe did not linger long in the halfway house of unbelief; the murderer may
win notoriety as easily as the martyr, but his memory will not remain.  "The
fashion of this world passeth away," said Goethe, "I would fain occupy myself
with that which endures."  Midway in life Goethe accepted Kant's moral
imperative and restated his creed: "A man must resolve to live," he said,
"for the Good, and Beautiful, and for the Common Weal."

Oscar did not push his thought so far: the transcendental was not his field.

It was a pity, I sometimes felt, that he had not studied German as thoroughly
as French; Goethe might have done more for him than Baudelaire or Balzac, for
in spite of all his stodgy German faults, Goethe is the best guide through the
mysteries of life whom the modern world has yet produced.  Oscar Wilde stopped
where the religion of Goethe began; he was far more of a pagan and individualist
than the great German; he lived for the beautiful and extraordinary, but not for
the Good and still less for the Whole; he acknowledged no moral obligation; "in
commune bonis" was an ideal which never said anything to him; he cared nothing
for the common weal; he held himself above the mass of the people with an
Englishman's extravagant insularity and aggressive pride.  Politics, social
problems, religion--everything interested him simply as a subject of art; life
itself was merely material for art.  He held the position Goethe had abandoned
in youth.

The view was astounding in England and new everywhere in its onesidedness.
Its passionate exaggeration, however, was quickening, and there is, of course,
something to be said for it.  The artistic view of life is often higher than
the ordinary religious view; at least it does not deal in condemnations and
exclusions; it is more reasonable, more catholic, more finely perceptive.

"The artist's view of life is the only possible one," Oscar used to say,
"and should be applied to everything, most of all to religion and morality.
Cavaliers and Puritans are interesting for their costumes and not for their
convictions. . . .

"There is no general rule of health; it is all personal, individual. . . . .
I only demand that freedom which I willingly concede to others.  No one
condemns another for preferring green to gold.  Why should any taste be
ostracized?  Liking and disliking are not under our control.  I want to
choose the nourishment which suits "my" body and "my" soul."

I can almost hear him say the words with his charming humorous smile and
exquisite flash of deprecation, as if he were half inclined to make fun of
his own statement.

It was not his views on art, however, which recommended him to the aristocratic
set in London; but his contempt for social reform, or rather his utter
indifference to it, and his English love of inequality.  The republicanism he
flaunted in his early verses was not even skin deep; his political beliefs and
prejudices were the prejudices of the English governing class and were all in
favour of individual freedom, or anarchy under the protection of the policeman.

"The poor are poor creatures," was his real belief, "and must always be hewers
of wood and drawers of water.  They are merely the virgin soil out of which men
of genius and artists grow like flowers.  Their function is to give birth to
genius and nourish it.  They have no other "raison d'etre".  Were men as
intelligent as bees, all gifted individuals would be supported by the community,
as the bees support their queen.  We should be the first charge on the state
just as Socrates declared that he should be kept in the Prytaneum at the
public expense.

"Don't talk to me, Frank, about the hardships of the poor.  The hardships of
the poor are necessities, but talk to me of the hardships of men of genius, and
I could weep tears of blood.  I was never so affected by any book in my life as
I was by the misery of Balzac's poet, Lucien de Rubempre."

Naturally this creed of an exaggerated individualism appealed peculiarly to the
best set in London.  It was eminently aristocratic and might almost be defended
as scientific, for to a certain extent it found corroboration in Darwinism.  All
progress according to Darwin comes from peculiar individuals; "sports" as men of
science call them, or the "heaven-sent" as rhetoricians prefer to style them.
The many are only there to produce more "sports" and ultimately to benefit
by them.  All this is valid enough; but it leaves the crux of the question
untouched.  The poor in aristocratic England are too degraded to produce
"sports" of genius, or indeed any "sports" of much value to humanity.  Such
an extravagant inequality of condition obtains there that the noble soul is
miserable, the strongest insecure.  But Wilde's creed was intensely popular
with the "Smart Set" because of its very one-sidedness, and he was hailed as
a prophet partly because he defended the cherished prejudices of the "landed"
oligarchy.

It will be seen from this that Oscar Wilde was in some danger of suffering from
excessive popularity and unmerited renown.  Indeed if he had loved athletic
sports, hunting and shooting instead of art and letters, he might have been the
selected representative of aristocratic England.

In addition to his own popular qualities a strong current was sweeping him to
success.  He was detested by the whole of the middle or shop-keeping class which
in England, according to Matthew Arnold, has "the sense of conduct--and has but
little else."  This class hated and feared him; feared him for his intellectual
freedom and his contempt of conventionality, and hated him because of his light-
hearted self-indulgence, and also because it saw in him none of its own sordid
virtues.  "Punch" is peculiarly the representative of this class and of all
English prejudices, and "Punch" jeered at him now in prose, now in verse,
week after week.  Under the heading, "More Impressions" (by Oscuro Wildgoose)
I find this:

"My little fancy's clogged with gush,
  My little lyre is false in tone,
  And when I lyrically moan,
I hear the impatient critic's 'Tush!'

"But I've 'Impressions.' These are grand!
  Mere dabs of words, mere blobs of tint,
  Displayed on canvas or in print,
Men laud, and think they understand.

"A smudge of brown, a smear of yellow,
  No tale, no subject,--there you are!
  Impressions!--and the strangest far
Is--that the bard's a clever fellow."

A little later these lines appeared:

"My languid lily, my lank limp lily,
  My long, lithe lily-love, men may grin--
Say that I'm soft and supremely silly--
What care I, while you whisper still;
  What care I, while you smile?  Not a pin!
  While you smile, while you whisper--
    'Tis sweet to decay!
  I have watered with chlorodine, tears of chagrin,
  The churchyard mould I have planted thee in,
    Upside down, in an intense way,
  In a rough red flower-pot, "sweeter than sin",
    That I bought for a halfpenny, yesterday!"

The italics are mine; but the suggestion was always implicit; yet this
constant wind of puritanic hatred blowing against him helped instead of
hindering his progress: strong men are made by opposition; like kites they
go up against the wind.



CHAPTER VII--OSCAR'S REPUTATION AND SUPPORTERS



"Believe me, child, all the gentleman's misfortunes arose from his being
educated at a public school. . . . ."--Fielding.

In England success is a plant of slow growth.  The tone of good society, though
responsive to political talent, and openly, eagerly sensitive to money-making
talent, is contemptuous of genius and rates the utmost brilliancy of the talker
hardly higher than the feats of an acrobat.  Men are obstinate, slow, trusting
a bank-balance rather than brains; and giving way reluctantly to sharp-witted
superiority.  The road up to power or influence in England is full of pitfalls
and far too arduous for those who have neither high birth nor wealth to help
them.  The natural inequality of men instead of being mitigated by law or
custom is everywhere strengthened and increased by a thousand effete social
distinctions. Even in the best class where a certain easy familiarity reigns
there is circle above circle, and the summits are isolated by heredity.

The conditions of English society being what they are, it is all but impossible
at first to account for the rapidity of Oscar Wilde's social success; yet if
we tell over his advantages and bring one or two into the account which have
not yet been reckoned, we shall find almost every element that conduces to
popularity. By talent and conviction he was the natural pet of the aristocracy
whose selfish prejudices he defended and whose leisure he amused.  The middle
class, as has been noted, disliked and despised him: but its social influence is
small and its papers, and especially "Punch", made him notorious by attacking
him in and out of season.  The comic weekly, indeed, helped to build up his
reputation by the almost inexplicable bitterness of its invective.

Another potent force was in his favour.  From the beginning he set himself to
play the game of the popular actor, and neglected no opportunity of turning the
limelight on his own doings.  As he said, his admiration of himself was "a
lifelong devotion," and he proclaimed his passion on the housetops.

Our names happened to be mentioned together once in some paper, I think it was
"The Pall Mall Gazette".  He asked me what I was going to reply.

"Nothing," I answered, "why should I bother?  I've done nothing yet that
deserves trumpeting."

"You're making a mistake," he said seriously.  "If you wish for reputation and
fame in this world, and success during your lifetime, you ought to seize every
opportunity of advertising yourself.  You remember the Latin word, 'Fame springs
from one's own house.' Like other wise sayings, it's not quite true; fame comes
from oneself," and he laughed delightedly; "you must go about repeating how
great you are till the dull crowd comes to believe it."

"The prophet must proclaim himself, eh?  and declare his own mission?"

"That's it," he replied with a smile; "that's it.

"Every time my name is mentioned in a paper, I write at once to admit that I am
the Messiah.  Why is Pears' soap successful?  Not because it is better or
cheaper than any other soap, but because it is more strenuously puffed.  The
journalist is my 'John the Baptist.' What would you give, when a book of yours
comes out, to be able to write a long article drawing attention to it in "The
Pall Mall Gazette"?  Here you have the opportunity of making your name known
just as widely; why not avail yourself of it?  I miss no chance," and to do him
justice he used occasion to the utmost.

Curiously enough Bacon had the same insight, and I have often wondered since
whether Oscar's worldly wisdom was original or was borrowed from the great
Elizabethan climber.  Bacon says:

"'Boldly sound your own praises and some of them will stick.' . . . . It will
stick with the more ignorant and the populace, though men of wisdom may smile at
it; and the reputation won with many will amply countervail the disdain of a
few. . . . .  And surely no small number of those who are of solid nature, and
who, from the want of this ventosity, cannot spread all sail in pursuit of their
own honour, suffer some prejudice and lose dignity by their moderation."

Many of Oscar's letters to the papers in these years were amusing, some of them
full of humour.  For example, when he was asked to give a list of the hundred
best books, as Lord Avebury and other mediocrities had done, he wrote saying
that "he could not give a list of the hundred best books, as he had only written
five."

Winged words of his were always passing from mouth to mouth in town.
Some theatre was opened which was found horribly ugly: one spoke of it as
"Early Victorian."

"No, no," replied Oscar, "nothing so distinctive.  'Early Maple,' rather."

Even his impertinences made echoes.  At a great reception, a friend asked him
in passing, how the hostess, Lady S----, could be recognized.  Lady S---- being
short and stout, Oscar replied, smiling:

"Go through this room, my dear fellow, and the next and so on till you come to
someone looking like a public monument, say the effigy of Britannia or Victoria
--that's Lady S----."

Though he used to pretend that all this self-advertisement was premeditated
and planned, I could hardly believe him.  He was eager to write about himself
because of his exaggerated vanity and reflection afterwards found grounds to
justify his inclination.  But whatever the motive may have been the effect
was palpable: his name was continually in men's mouths, and his fame grew by
repetition. As Tiberius said of Mucianus:

""Omnium quae dixerat feceratque, arte quadam ostentator"" (He had a knack of
showing off and advertising whatever he said or did).

But no personal qualities, however eminent, no gifts, no graces of heart or
head or soul could have brought a young man to Oscar Wilde's social position
and popularity in a few years.

Another cause was at work lifting him steadily.  From the time he left Oxford he
was acclaimed and backed by a small minority of passionate admirers whom I have
called his fuglemen.  These admirers formed the constant factor in his progress
from social height to height.  For the most part they were persons usually
called "sexual inverts," who looked to the brilliancy of his intellect to gild
their esoteric indulgence.  This class in England is almost wholly recruited
from the aristocracy and the upper middle-class that apes the "smart set."  It
is an inevitable product of the English boarding school and University system;
indeed one of the most characteristic products.  I shall probably bring upon
myself a host of enemies by this assertion, but it has been weighed and must
stand.  Fielding has already put the same view on record: he says:

"A public school, Joseph, was the cause of all the calamities which he
afterwards suffered.  Public schools are the nurseries of all vice and
immorality. All the wicked fellows whom I remember at the University were
bred at them....."

If boarding-school life with its close intimacies between boys from twelve to
eighteen years of age were understood by English mothers, it is safe to say that
every boarding-house in every school would disappear in a single night, and
Eton, Harrow, Winchester and the rest would be turned into day-schools.

Those who have learned bad habits at school or in the 'Varsity are inclined to
continue the practices in later life.  Naturally enough these men are usually
distinguished by a certain artistic sympathy, and often by most attractive,
intellectual qualities.  As a rule the epicene have soft voices and ingratiating
manners, and are bold enough to make a direct appeal to the heart and emotions;
they are considered the very cream of London society.

These admirers and supporters praised and defended Oscar Wilde from the
beginning with the persistence and courage of men who if they don't hang
together are likely to hang separately.  After his trial and condemnation
"The Daily Telegraph" spoke with contempt of these "decadents" and "aesthetes"
who, it asserted, "could be numbered in London society on the fingers of one
hand"; but even "The Daily Telegraph" must have known that in the "smart set"
alone there are hundreds of these acolytes whose intellectual and artistic
culture gives them an importance out of all proportion to their number.  It was
the passionate support of these men in the first place which made Oscar Wilde
notorious and successful.

This fact may well give pause to the thoughtful reader.  In the middle ages,
when birth and position had a disproportionate power in life, the Catholic
Church supplied a certain democratic corrective to the inequality of social
conditions. It was a sort of "Jacob's Ladder" leading from the lowest strata of
society to the very heavens and offering to ingenuous, youthful talent a career
of infinite hope and unlimited ambition.  This great power of the Roman Church
in the middle-ages may well be compared to the influence exerted by those whom I
have designated as Oscar Wilde's fuglemen in the England of today.  The easiest
way to success in London society is to be notorious in this sense.  Whatever
career one may have chosen, however humble one's birth, one is then certain of
finding distinguished friends and impassioned advocates.  If you happen to be in
the army and unmarried, you are declared to be a strategist like Caesar, or an
organizer like Moltke; if you are an artist, instead of having your faults
proclaimed and your failings scourged, your qualifications are eulogised and
you find yourself compared to Michel Angelo or Titian! I would not willingly
exaggerate here; but I could easily give dozens of instances to prove that
sexual perversion is a "Jacob's Ladder" to most forms of success in our time
in London.

It seems a curious effect of the great compensatory balance of things that a
masculine rude people like the English, who love nothing so much as adventures
and warlike achievements, should allow themselves to be steered in ordinary
times by epicene aesthetes.  But no one who knows the facts will deny that these
men are prodigiously influential in London in all artistic and literary matters,
and it was their constant passionate support which lifted Oscar Wilde so quickly
to eminence.

From the beginning they fought for him.  He was regarded as a leader among
them when still at Oxford.  Yet his early writings show no trace of such a
prepossession; they are wholly void of offence, without even a suggestion of
coarseness, as pure indeed as his talk.  Nevertheless, as soon as his name came
up among men in town, the accusation of abnormal viciousness was either made or
hinted.  Everyone spoke as if there were no doubt about his tastes, and this in
spite of the habitual reticence of Englishmen.  I could not understand how the
imputation came to be so bold and universal; how so shameful a calumny, as I
regarded it, was so firmly established in men's minds.  Again and again I
protested against the injustice, demanded proofs; but was met only by shrugs
and pitying glances as if my prejudice must indeed be invincible if I needed
evidence of the obvious.

I have since been assured, on what should be excellent authority, that the evil
reputation which attached to Oscar Wilde in those early years in London was
completely undeserved.  I, too, must say that in the first period of our
friendship, I never noticed anything that could give colour even to suspicion
of him; but the belief in his abnormal tastes was widespread and dated from his
life in Oxford.

From about 1886-7 on, however, there was a notable change in Oscar Wilde's
manners and mode of life.  He had been married a couple of years, two children
had been born to him; yet instead of settling down he appeared suddenly to have
become wilder.  In 1887 he accepted the editorship of a lady's paper, "The
Woman's World", and was always mocking at the selection of himself as the
"fittest" for such a post: he had grown noticeably bolder.  I told myself that
an assured income and position give confidence; but at bottom a doubt began to
form in me.  It can't be denied that from 1887-8 on, incidents occurred from
time to time which kept the suspicion of him alive, and indeed pointed and
strengthened it.  I shall have to deal now with some of the more important of
these occurrences.



CHAPTER VIII--OSCAR'S GROWTH TO ORIGINALITY ABOUT 1890



The period of growth of any organism is the most interesting and most
instructive.  And there is no moment of growth in the individual life which
can be compared in importance with the moment when a man begins to outtop his
age, and to suggest the future evolution of humanity by his own genius.  Usually
this final stage is passed in solitude:

"Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille,
  Sich ein Charakter in dem Strome der Welt."

After writing a life of Schiller which almost anyone might have written, Carlyle
retired for some years to Craigenputtoch, and then brought forth "Sartor
Resartus", which was personal and soul-revealing to the verge of eccentricity.
In the same way Wagner was a mere continuator of Weber in "Lohengrin" and
"Tannhaeuser", and first came to his own in the "Meistersinger" and "Tristan",
after years of meditation in Switzerland.

This period for Oscar Wilde began with his marriage; the freedom from sordid
anxieties allowed him to lift up his head and be himself.  Kepler, I think, it
is who praises poverty as the foster-mother of genius; but Bernard Palissy was
nearer the truth when he said:--"Pauvrete empeche bons esprits de parvenir"
(poverty hinders fine minds from succeeding).  There is no such mortal enemy of
genius as poverty except riches: a touch of the spur from time to time does
good; but a constant rowelling disables.  As editor of "The Woman's World "Oscar
had some money of his own to spend.  Though his salary was only some six pounds
a week, it made him independent, and his editorial work gave him an excuse for
not exhausting himself by writing.  For some years after marriage; in fact, till
he lost his editorship, he wrote little and talked a great deal.

During this period we were often together.  He lunched with me once or twice a
week and I began to know his method of work.  Everything came to him in the
excitement of talk, epigrams, paradoxes and stories; and when people of great
position or title were about him he generally managed to surpass himself: all
social distinctions appealed to him intensely.  I chaffed him about this one day
and he admitted the snobbishness gaily.

"I love even historic names, Frank, as Shakespeare did.  Surely everyone prefers
Norfolk, Hamilton and Buckingham to Jones or Smith or Robinson."

As soon as he lost his editorship he took to writing for the reviews; his
articles were merely the "resume" of his monologues.  After talking for months
at this and that lunch and dinner he had amassed a store of epigrams and
humorous paradoxes which he could embody in a paper for "The Fortnightly Review"
or "The Nineteenth Century".

These papers made it manifest that Wilde had at length, as Heine phrased it,
reached the topmost height of the culture of his time and was now able to say
new and interesting things.  His "Lehrjahre" or student-time may be said to have
ended with his editorship.  The articles which he wrote on "The Decay of Lying,"
"The Critic as Artist," and "Pen, Pencil and Poison"; in fact, all the papers
which in 1891 were gathered together and published in book form under the title
of "Intentions," had about them the stamp of originality.  They achieved a
noteworthy success with the best minds, and laid the foundation of his fame.
Every paper contained, here and there, a happy phrase, or epigram, or flirt of
humour, which made it memorable to the lover of letters.

They were all, however, conceived and written from the standpoint of the artist,
and the artist alone, who never takes account of ethics, but uses right and
wrong indifferently as colours of his palette.  "The Decay of Lying" seemed to
the ordinary, matter-of-fact Englishman a cynical plea in defence of mendacity.
To the majority of readers, "Pen, Pencil and Poison" was hardly more than a
shameful attempt to condone cold-blooded murder.  The very articles which
grounded his fame as a writer, helped to injure his standing and repute.

In 1889 he published a paper which did him even more damage by appearing to
justify the peculiar rumours about his private life.  He held the opinion,
which was universal at that time, that Shakespeare had been abnormally vicious.
He believed with the majority of critics that Lord William Herbert was addressed
in the first series of Sonnets; but his fine sensibility or, if you will, his
peculiar temperament, led him to question whether Thorpe's dedication to
"Mr. W. H." could have been addressed to Lord William Herbert.  He preferred
the old hypothesis that the dedication was addressed to a young actor named
Mr. William Hughes, a supposition which is supported by a well-known sonnet.
He set forth this idea with much circumstance and considerable ingenuity in an
article which he sent to me for publication in "The Fortnightly Review".  The
theme was scabrous; but his treatment of it was scrupulously reserved and adroit
and I saw no offence in the paper, and to tell the truth, no great ability in
his handling of the subject. (confer Appendix: "Criticisms by Robert Ross.")

He had talked over the article with me while he was writing it, and I told him
that I thought the whole theory completely mistaken.  Shakespeare was as sensual
as one could well be; but there was no evidence of abnormal vice; indeed, all
the evidence seemed to me to be against this universal belief.  The assumption
that the dedication was addressed to Lord William Herbert I had found it
difficult to accept, at first; the wording of it is not only ambiguous but
familiar.  If I assumed that "Mr. W. H." was meant for Lord William Herbert,
it was only because that seemed the easiest way out of the maze.  In fine, I
pointed out to Oscar that his theory had very little that was new in it, and
more that was untrue, and advised him not to publish the paper.  My conviction
that Shakespeare was not abnormally vicious, and that the first series of
Sonnets proved snobbishness and toadying and not corrupt passion, seemed to
Oscar the very madness of partisanship.

He smiled away my arguments, and sent his paper to the "Fortnightly" office when
I happened to be abroad.  Much to my chagrin, my assistant rejected it rudely,
whereupon Oscar sent it to Blackwoods, who published it in their magazine.  It
set everyone talking and arguing.  To judge by the discussion it created, the
wind of hatred and of praise it caused, one would have thought that the paper
was a masterpiece, though in truth it was nothing out of the common.  Had it
been written by anybody else it would have passed unnoticed.  But already Oscar
Wilde had a prodigious notoriety, and all his sayings and doings were eagerly
canvassed from one end of society to the other.

"The Portrait of Mr. W. H." did Oscar incalculable injury.  It gave his enemies
for the first time the very weapon they wanted, and they used it unscrupulously
and untiringly with the fierce delight of hatred.  Oscar seemed to revel in
the storm of conflicting opinions which the paper called forth.  He understood
better than most men that notoriety is often the forerunner of fame and is
always commercially more valuable.  He rubbed his hands with delight as the
discussion grew bitter, and enjoyed even the sneering of the envious.  A wind
that blows out a little fire, he knew, plays bellows to a big one.  So long as
people talked about him, he didn't much care what they said, and they certainly
talked interminably about everything he wrote.

The inordinate popular success increased his self-confidence, and with time his
assurance took on a touch of defiance.  The first startling sign of this
gradual change was the publication in "Lippincott's Magazine" of "The Picture
of Dorian Gray."  It was attacked immediately in "The Daily Chronicle", a
liberal paper usually distinguished for a certain leaning in favour of artists
and men of letters, as a "tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French
"decadents"--a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the
mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction."

Oscar as a matter of course replied and the tone of his reply is characteristic
of his growth in self-assurance: he no longer dreads the imputation of
viciousness; he challenges it: "It is poisonous, if you like; but you cannot
deny that it is also perfect, and perfection is what we artists aim at."

When Oscar republished "The Picture of Dorian Gray" in book form in April, 1891,
he sent me a large paper copy and with the copy he wrote a little note, asking
me to tell him what I thought of the book.  I got the volume and note early one
morning and read the book until noon.  I then sent him a note by hand: "Other
men," I wrote, "have given us wine; some claret, some burgundy, some Moselle;
you are the first to give us pure champagne.  Much of this book is wittier even
than Congreve and on an equal intellectual level: at length, it seems to me, you
have justified yourself."

Half an hour later I was told that Oscar Wilde had called.  I went down
immediately to see him.  He was bubbling over with content.

"How charming of you, Frank," he cried, "to have written me such a divine
letter."

"I have only read a hundred pages of the book," I said; "but they are
delightful: no one now can deny you a place among the wittiest and most
humorous writers in English."

"How wonderful of you, Frank; what do you like so much?"

Like all artists, he loved praise and I was enthusiastic, happy to have the
opportunity of making up for some earlier doubting that now seemed unworthy:

"Whatever the envious may say, you're with Burke and Sheridan, among the very
ablest Irishmen . . . .

"Of course I have heard most of the epigrams from you before, but you have put
them even better in this book."

"Do you think so, really?" he asked, smiling with pleasure.

It is worth notice that some of the epigrams in "Dorian Gray" were bettered
again before they appeared in his first play.  For example, in "Dorian Gray"
Lord Henry Wotton, who is peculiarly Oscar's mouthpiece, while telling how he
had to bargain for a piece of old brocade in Wardour Street, adds, "nowadays
people know the price of everything and the value of nothing."  In "Lady
Windermere's Fan" the same epigram is perfected, "The cynic is one who knows
the price of everything and the value of nothing."

Nearly all the literary productions of our time suffer from haste: one must
produce a good deal, especially while one's reputation is in the making, in
order to live by one's pen.  Yet great works take time to form, and fine
creations are often disfigured by the stains of hurried parturition.  Oscar
Wilde contrived to minimise this disability by talking his works before writing
them.

The conversation of Lord Henry Wotton with his uncle, and again at lunch when
he wishes to fascinate Dorian Gray, is an excellent reproduction of Oscar's
ordinary talk.  The uncle wonders why Lord Dartmoor wants to marry an American
and grumbles about her people: "Has she got any?"

Lord Henry shook his head.  "American girls are as clever at concealing their
parents as English women are at concealing their past," he said, rising to go.

"They are pork-packers, I suppose?"

"I hope so, Uncle George, for Dartmoor's sake.  I am told that pork-packing is
the most lucrative profession in America, after politics."

All this seems to me delightful humour.

The latter part of the book, however, tails off into insignificance.  The first
hundred pages held the result of months and months of Oscar's talk, the latter
half was written offhand to complete the story.  "Dorian Gray" was the first
piece of work which proved that Oscar Wilde had at length found his true vein.

A little study of it discovers both his strength and his weakness as a writer.
The initial idea of the book is excellent, finer because deeper than the
commonplace idea that is the foundation of Balzac's "Peau de Chagrin," though
it would probably never have been written if Balzac had not written his
book first; but Balzac's sincerity and earnestness grapple with the theme and
wring a blessing out of it, whereas the subtler idea in Oscar's hands dwindles
gradually away till one wonders if the book would not have been more effective
as a short story.  Oscar did not know life well enough or care enough for
character to write a profound psychological study: he was at his best in a
short story or play.

One day about this time Oscar first showed me the aphorisms he had written as an
introduction to "Dorian Gray."  Several of them I thought excellent; but I found
that Oscar had often repeated himself.  I cut these repetitions out and tried to
show him how much better the dozen best were than eighteen of which six were
inferior.  I added that I should like to publish the best in "The Fortnightly."
He thanked me and said it was very kind of me.

Next morning I got a letter from him telling me that he had read over my
corrections and thought that the aphorisms I had rejected were the best, but
he hoped I'd publish them as he had written them.

Naturally I replied that the final judgment must rest with him and I published
them at once.

The delight I felt in his undoubted genius and success was not shared by others.
Friends took occasion to tell me that I should not go about with Oscar Wilde.

"Why not?" I asked.

"He has a bad name," was the reply.  "Strange things are said about him.  He
came down from Oxford with a vile reputation.  You have only got to look at
the man."

"Whatever the disease may be," I replied, "it's not catching--unfortunately."

The pleasure men take in denigration of the gifted is one of the puzzles of life
to those who are not envious.

Men of letters, even people who ought to have known better, were slow to admit
his extraordinary talent; he had risen so quickly, had been puffed into such
prominence that they felt inclined to deny him even the gifts which he
undoubtedly possessed.  I was surprised once to find a friend of mine taking
this attitude: Francis Adams, the poet and writer, chaffed me one day about my
liking for Oscar.

"What on earth can you see in him to admire?" he asked.  "He is not a great
writer, he is not even a good writer; his books have no genius in them; his
poetry is tenth rate, and his prose is not much better.  His talk even is
fictitious and extravagant."

I could only laugh at him and advise him to read "The Picture of Dorian Gray."

This book, however, gave Oscar's puritanic enemies a better weapon against him
than even "The Portrait of Mr. W. H."  The subject, they declared, was the same
as that of "Mr. W. H.," and the treatment was simply loathsome.  More than one
middle-class paper, such as "To-Day" in the hands of Mr. Jerome K. Jerome,
condemned the book as "corrupt," and advised its suppression.  Freedom of speech
in England is more feared than licence of action: a speck on the outside of the
platter disgusts your puritan, and the inside is never peeped at, much less
discussed.

Walter Pater praised "Dorian Gray" in the "Bookman"; but thereby only did
himself damage without helping his friend.  Oscar meanwhile went about boldly,
meeting criticism now with smiling contempt.

One incident from this time will show how unfairly he was being judged and how
imprudent he was to front defamation with defiance.

One day I met a handsome youth in his company named John Gray, and I could not
wonder that Oscar found him interesting, for Gray had not only great personal
distinction, but charming manners and a marked poetic gift, a much greater gift
than Oscar possessed.  He had besides an eager, curious mind, and of course
found extraordinary stimulus in Oscar's talk.  It seemed to me that intellectual
sympathy and the natural admiration which a younger man feels for a brilliant
senior formed the obvious bond between them.  But no sooner did Oscar republish
"Dorian Gray" than ill-informed and worse-minded persons went about saying that
the eponymous hero of the book was John Gray, though "Dorian Gray" was written
before Oscar had met or heard of John Gray.  One cannot help admitting that this
was partly Oscar's own fault.  In talk he often alluded laughingly to John Gray
as his hero, "Dorian."  It is just an instance of the challenging contempt which
he began to use about this time in answer to the inventions of hatred.

Late in this year, 1891, he published four stories completely void of offence,
calling the collection "A House of Pomegranates."  He dedicated each of the
tales to a lady of distinction and the book made many friends; but it was
handled contemptuously in the press and had no sale.

By this time people expected a certain sort of book from Oscar Wilde and wanted
nothing else.  They hadn't to wait long.  Early in 1892 we heard that Oscar had
written a drama in French called "Salome", and at once it was put about that
Sarah Bernhardt was going to produce it in London.  Then came dramatic surprise
on surprise: while it was being rehearsed, the Lord Chamberlain refused to
license it on the ground that it introduced Biblical characters.  Oscar
protested in a brilliant interview against the action of the Censor as "odious
and ridiculous."  He pointed out that all the greatest artists--painters and
sculptors, musicians and writers--had taken many of their best subjects from the
Bible, and wanted to know why the dramatist should be prevented from treating
the great soul-tragedies most proper to his art.  When informed that the
interdict was to stand, he declared in a pet that he would settle in France and
take out letters of naturalisation:

"I am not English.  I am Irish--which is quite another thing."  Of course the
press made all the fun it could of his show of temper.

Mr. Robert Ross considers "Salome" "the most powerful and perfect of all Oscar's
dramas."  I find it almost impossible to explain, much less justify, its
astonishing popularity.  When it appeared, the press, both in France and in
England, was critical and contemptuous; but by this time Oscar had so captured
the public that he could afford to disdain critics and calumny.  The play was
praised by his admirers as if it had been a masterpiece, and London discussed it
the more because it was in French and not clapper-clawed by the vulgar.

The indescribable cold lewdness and cruelty of "Salome" quickened the prejudice
and strengthened the dislike of the ordinary English reader for its author.  And
when the drama was translated into English and published with the drawings of
Aubrey Beardsley, it was disparaged and condemned by all the leaders of literary
opinion.  The colossal popularity of the play, which Mr. Robert Ross proves so
triumphantly, came from Germany and Russia and is to be attributed in part to
the contempt educated Germans and Russians feel for the hypocritical vagaries of
English prudery.  The illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, too, it must be
admitted, were an additional offence to the ordinary English reader, for they
intensified the peculiar atmosphere of the drama.

Oscar used to say that he invented Aubrey Beardsley; but the truth is, it was
Mr. Robert Ross who first introduced Aubrey to Oscar and persuaded him to
commission the "Salome" drawings which gave the English edition its singular
value.  Strange to say, Oscar always hated the illustrations and would not have
the book in his house.  His dislike even extended to the artist, and as Aubrey
Beardsley was of easy and agreeable intercourse, the mutual repulsion deserves a
word of explanation.

Aubrey Beardsley's genius had taken London by storm.  At seventeen or eighteen
this auburn-haired, blue-eyed, fragile looking youth had reached maturity with
his astounding talent, a talent which would have given him position and wealth
in any other country.  In perfection of line his drawings were superior to
anything we possess.  But the curious thing about the boy was that he expressed
the passions of pride and lust and cruelty more intensely even than Rops, [sic]
more spontaneously than anyone who ever held pencil.  Beardsley's precocity was
simply marvellous.  He seemed to have an intuitive understanding not only of his
own art but of every art and craft, and it was some time before one realised
that he attained this miraculous virtuosity by an absolute disdain for every
other  form of human endeavour.  He knew nothing of the great general or
millionaire or man of science, and he cared as little for them as for fishermen
or 'bus-drivers.  The current of his talent ran narrow between stone banks, so
to speak; it was the bold assertion of it that interested Oscar.

One phase of Beardsley's extraordinary development may be recorded here.  When I
first met him his letters, and even his talk sometimes, were curiously youthful
and immature, lacking altogether the personal note of his drawings.  As soon as
this was noticed he took the bull by the horns and pretended that his style in
writing was out of date; he wished us to believe that he hesitated to shock
us with his "archaic sympathies."  Of course we laughed and challenged him to
reveal himself.  Shortly afterwards I got an article from him written with
curious felicity of phrase, in modish polite eighteenth-century English.  He had
reached personal expression in a new medium in a month or so, and apparently
without effort.  It was Beardsley's writing that first won Oscar to recognition
of his talent, and for a while he seemed vaguely interested in what he called
his "orchid-like personality."

They were both at lunch one day when Oscar declared that he could drink nothing
but absinthe when Beardsley was present.

"Absinthe," he said, "is to all other drinks what Aubrey's drawings are to
other pictures: it stands alone: it is like nothing else: it shimmers like
southern twilight in opalescent colouring: it has about it the seduction of
strange sins.  It is stronger than any other spirit, and brings out the sub-
conscious self in man.  It is just like your drawings, Aubrey; it gets on one's
nerves and is cruel.

"Baudelaire called his poems "Fleurs du Mal," I shall call your drawings "Fleurs
du Peche"--flowers of sin.

"When I have before me one of your drawings I want to drink absinthe, which
changes colour like jade in sunlight and takes the senses thrall, and then I can
live myself back in imperial Rome, in the Rome of the later Caesars."

"Don't forget the simple pleasures of that life, Oscar," said Aubrey; "Nero set
Christians on fire, like large tallow candles; the only light Christians have
ever been known to give," he added in a languid, gentle voice.

This talk gave me the key.  In personal intercourse Oscar Wilde was more English
than the English: he seldom expressed his opinion of person or prejudice boldly;
he preferred to hint dislike and disapproval.  His insistence on the naked
expression of lust and cruelty in Beardsley's drawings showed me that direct
frankness displeased him; for he could hardly object to the qualities which were
making his own "Salome" world-famous.

The complete history of the relations between Oscar Wilde and Beardsley, and
their mutual dislike, merely proves how difficult it is for original artists to
appreciate one another: like mountain peaks they stand alone.  Oscar showed a
touch of patronage, the superiority of the senior, in his intercourse with
Beardsley, and often praised him ineptly, whereas Beardsley to the last spoke
of Oscar as a showman, and hoped drily that he knew more about literature than
he did about art.  For a moment, they worked in concert, and it is important
to remember that it was Beardsley who influenced Oscar, and not Oscar who
influenced Beardsley.  Beardsley's contempt of critics and the public, his
artistic boldness and self-assertion, had a certain hardening influence on
Oscar: as things turned out a most unfortunate influence.

In spite of Mr. Robert Ross's opinion I regard "Salome," as a student work, an
outcome of Oscar's admiration for Flaubert and his "Herodias," on the one hand,
and "Les Sept Princesses," of Maeterlinck on the other.  He has borrowed the
colour and Oriental cruelty with the banquet-scene from the Frenchman, and from
the Fleming the simplicity of language and the haunting effect produced by
the repetition of significant phrases.  Yet "Salome" is original through the
mingling of lust and hatred in the heroine, and by making this extraordinary
virgin the chief and centre of the drama Oscar has heightened the interest of
the story and bettered Flaubert's design.  I feel sure he copied Maeterlinck's
simplicity of style because it served to disguise his imperfect knowledge of
French and yet this very artlessness adds to the weird effect of the drama.

The lust that inspires the tragedy was characteristic, but the cruelty was
foreign to Oscar; both qualities would have injured him in England, had it
not been for two things.  First of all only a few of the best class of English
people know French at all well, and for the most part they disdain the sex-
morality of their race; while the vast mass of the English public regard French
as in itself an immoral medium and is inclined to treat anything in that tongue
with contemptuous indifference.  One can only say that "Salome" confirmed
Oscar's growing reputation for abnormal viciousness.

It was in 1892 that some of Oscar's friends struck me for the first time as
questionable, to say the best of them.  I remember giving a little dinner to
some men in rooms I had in Jermyn Street.  I invited Oscar, and he brought a
young friend with him.  After dinner I noticed that the youth was angry with
Oscar and would scarcely speak to him, and that Oscar was making up to him.
I heard snatches of pleading from Oscar--"I beg of you . . . . It is not true
. . . . You have no cause" . . . . All the while Oscar was standing apart from
the rest of us with an arm on the young man's shoulder; but his coaxing was in
vain, the youth turned away with petulant, sullen ill-temper.  This is a mere
snap-shot which remained in my memory, and made me ask myself afterwards how I
could have been so slow of understanding.

Looking back and taking everything into consideration--his social success, the
glare of publicity in which he lived, the buzz of talk and discussion that arose
about everything he did and said, the increasing interest and value of his work
and, above all, the ever-growing boldness of his writing and the challenge of
his conduct--it is not surprising that the black cloud of hate and slander which
attended him persistently became more and more threatening.



CHAPTER IX--THE SUMMER OF SUCCESS: OSCAR'S FIRST PLAY



No season, it is said, is so beautiful as the brief northern summer.  Three-
fourths of the year is cold and dark, and the ice-bound landscape is swept by
snowstorm and blizzard.  Summer comes like a goddess; in a twinkling the snow
vanishes and Nature puts on her robes of tenderest green; the birds arrive in
flocks; flowers spring to life on all sides, and the sun shines by night as by
day.  Such a summertide, so beautiful and so brief, was accorded to Oscar Wilde
before the final desolation.

I want to give a picture of him at the topmost height of happy hours, which will
afford some proof of his magical talent of speech besides my own appreciation of
it, and, fortunately, the incident has been given to me.  Mr. Ernest Beckett,
now Lord Grimthorpe, a lover of all superiorities, who has known the ablest
men of the time, takes pleasure in telling a story which shows Oscar Wilde's
influence over men who were anything but literary in their tastes.  Mr. Beckett
had a party of Yorkshire squires, chiefly fox-hunters and lovers of an outdoor
life, at Kirkstall Grange when he heard that Oscar Wilde was in the neighbouring
town of Leeds.  Immediately he asked him to lunch at the Grange, chuckling to
himself beforehand at the sensational novelty of the experiment.  Next day
"Mr. Oscar Wilde" was announced and as he came into the room the sportsmen
forthwith began hiding themselves behind newspapers or moving together in groups
in order to avoid seeing or being introduced to the notorious writer.  Oscar
shook hands with his host as if he had noticed nothing, and began to talk.

"In five minutes," Grimthorpe declares, "all the papers were put down and
everyone had gathered round him to listen and laugh."

At the end of the meal one Yorkshireman after the other begged the host to
follow the lunch with a dinner and invite them to meet the wonder again.  When
the party broke up in the small hours they all went away delighted with Oscar,
vowing that no man ever talked more brilliantly.  Grimthorpe cannot remember a
single word Oscar said: "It was all delightful," he declares, "a play of genial
humour over every topic that came up, like sunshine dancing on waves."

The extraordinary thing about Oscar's talent was that he did not monopolise the
conversation: he took the ball of talk wherever it happened to be at the moment
and played with it so humorously that everyone was soon smiling delightedly.
The famous talkers of the past, Coleridge, Macaulay, Carlyle and the others,
were all lecturers: talk to them was a discourse on a favourite theme, and in
ordinary life they were generally regarded as bores.  But at his best Oscar
Wilde never dropped the tone of good society: he could afford to give place to
others; he was equipped at all points: no subject came amiss to him: he saw
everything from a humorous angle, and dazzled one now with word-wit, now with
the very stuff of merriment.

Though he was the life and soul of every social gathering, and in constant
demand, he still read omnivorously, and his mind naturally occupied itself
with high themes.

For some years, the story of Jesus fascinated him and tinged all his thought.
We were talking about Renan's "Life" one day: a wonderful book he called it, one
of the three great biographies of the world, Plato's dialogues with Socrates as
hero and Boswell's "Life of Johnson" being the other two.  It was strange, he
thought, that the greatest man had written the worst biography; Plato made of
Socrates a mere phonograph, into which he talked his own theories: Renan did
better work, and Boswell, the humble loving friend, the least talented of the
three, did better still, though being English, he had to keep to the surface of
things and leave the depths to be divined.  Oscar evidently expected Plato and
Renan to have surpassed comparison.

It seemed to me, however, that the illiterate Galilean fishermen had proved
themselves still more consummate painters than Boswell, though they, too, left a
great deal too much to the imagination.  Love is the best of artists; the puddle
of rain in the road can reflect a piece of sky marvellously.

The Gospel story had a personal interest for Oscar; he was always weaving little
fables about himself as the Master.

In spite of my ignorance of Hebrew the story of Jesus had always had the
strongest attraction for me, and so we often talked about Him, though from
opposite poles.

Renan I felt had missed Jesus at his highest.  He was far below the sincerity,
the tenderness and sweet-thoughted wisdom of that divine spirit.  Frenchman-
like, he stumbled over the miracles and came to grief.  Claus Sluter's head of
Jesus in the museum of Dijon is a finer portrait, and so is the imaginative
picture of Fra Angelico.  It seemed to me possible to do a sketch from the
Gospels themselves which should show the growth of the soul of Jesus and so
impose itself as a true portrait.

Oscar's interest in the theme was different; he put himself frankly in the
place of his model, and appeared to enjoy the jarring antinomy which resulted.
One or two of his stories were surprising in ironical suggestion; surprising
too because they showed his convinced paganism.  Here is one which reveals his
exact position:

"When Joseph of Arimathea came down in the evening from Mount Calvary where
Jesus had died he saw on a white stone a young man seated weeping.  And Joseph
went near him and said, 'I understand how great thy grief must be, for certainly
that Man was a just Man.' But the young man made answer, 'Oh, it is not for that
I am weeping.  I am weeping because I too have wrought miracles.  I also have
given sight to the blind, I have healed the palsied and I have raised the dead;
I too have caused the barren fig tree to wither away and I have turned water
into wine . . . and yet they have not crucified me.'"

At the time this apologue amused me; in the light of later events it assumed a
tragic significance.  Oscar Wilde ought to have known that in this world every
real superiority is pursued with hatred, and every worker of miracles is sure
to be persecuted.  But he had no inkling that the Gospel story is symbolic--the
life-story of genius for all time, eternally true.  He never looked outside
himself, and as the fruits of success were now sweet in his mouth, a pursuing
Fate seemed to him the most mythical of myths.  His child-like self-confidence
was pathetic.  The laws that govern human affairs had little interest for the
man who was always a law unto himself.  Yet by some extraordinary prescience,
some inexplicable presentiment, the approaching catastrophe cast its shadow
over his mind and he felt vaguely that the life-journey of genius would be
incomplete and farcical without the final tragedy: whoever lives for the highest
must be crucified.

It seems memorable to me that in this brief summer of his life, Oscar Wilde
should have concerned himself especially with the life-story of the Man of
Sorrows who had sounded all the depths of suffering.  Just when he himself was
about to enter the Dark Valley, Jesus was often in his thoughts and he always
spoke of Him with admiration.  But after all how could he help it?  Even Dekker
saw as far as that:

  "The best of men
That e'er wore earth about Him."

This was the deeper strain in Oscar Wilde's nature though he was always
disinclined to show it.  Habitually he lived in humorous talk, in the epithets
and epigrams he struck out in the desire to please and astonish his hearers.

One evening I learned almost by chance that he was about to try a new experiment
and break into a new field.

He took up the word "lose" at the table, I remember.

"We lose our chances," he said, laughing, "we lose our figures, we even lose
our characters; but we must never lose our temper.  That is our duty to our
neighbour, Frank; but sometimes we mislay it, don't we?"

"Is that going in a book, Oscar?" I asked, smiling, "or in an article?  You have
written nothing lately."

"I have a play in my mind," he replied gravely.  "To-morrow I am going to
shut myself up in my room, and stay there until it is written.  George Alexander
has been bothering me to write a play for some time and I've got an idea
I rather like.  I wonder can I do it in a week, or will it take three?  It
ought not to take long to beat the Pineros and the Joneses."  It always annoyed
Oscar when any other name but his came into men's mouths: his vanity was
extraordinarily alert.

Naturally enough he minimised Mr. Alexander's initiative.  The well-known actor
had "bothered" Oscar by advancing him L100 before the scenario was even
outlined.  A couple of months later he told me that Alexander had accepted
his comedy, and was going to produce "Lady Windermere's Fan."  I thought the
title excellent.

"Territorial names," Oscar explained, gravely, "have always a "cachet" of
distinction: they fall on the ear full toned with secular dignity.  That's how
I get all the names of my personages, Frank.  I take up a map of the English
counties, and there they are.  Our English villages have often exquisitely
beautiful names.  Windermere, for instance, or Hunstanton," and he rolled the
syllables over his tongue with a soft sensual pleasure.

I had a box the first night and, thinking it might do Oscar some good, I took
with me Arthur Walter of "The Times".  The first scene of the first act was as
old as the hills, but the treatment gave charm to it if not freshness.  The
delightful, unexpected humour set off the commonplace incident; but it was only
the convention that Arthur Walter would see.  The play was poor, he thought,
which brought me to wonder.

After the first act I went downstairs to the "foyer" and found the critics in
much the same mind.  There was an enormous gentleman called Joseph Knight, who
cried out:

"The humour is mechanical, unreal."  Seeing that I did not respond he challenged
me:

"What do you think of it?"

"That is for you critics to answer," I replied.

"I might say," he laughed, "in Oscar's own peculiar way, 'Little promise and
less performance.' Ha! ha! ha!"

"That's the exact opposite to Oscar's way," I retorted.  "It is the listeners
who laugh at his humour."

"Come now, really," cried Knight, "you cannot think much of the play?"

For the first time in my life I began to realise that nine critics out of ten
are incapable of judging original work.  They seem to live in a sort of fog,
waiting for someone to give them the lead, and accordingly they love to discuss
every new play right and left.

"I have not seen the whole play," I answered.  "I was not at any of the
rehearsals; but so far it is surely the best comedy in English, the most
brilliant: isn't it?"

The big man started back and stared at me; then burst out laughing.

"That's good," he cried with a loud unmirthful guffaw.  "'Lady Windermere's Fan'
better than any comedy of Shakespeare! Ha! ha! ha! 'more brilliant!' ho! ho!"

"Yes," I persisted, angered by his disdain, "wittier, and more humorous than 'As
You Like It,' or 'Much Ado.' Strange to say, too, it is on a higher intellectual
level.  I can only compare it to the best of Congreve, and I think it's better."
With a grunt of disapproval or rage the great man of the daily press turned away
to exchange bleatings with one of his "confreres".

The audience was a picked audience of the best heads in London, far superior in
brains therefore to the average journalist, and their judgment was that it was a
most brilliant and interesting play.  Though the humour was often prepared, the
construction showed a rare mastery of stage-effect.  Oscar Wilde had at length
come into his kingdom.

At the end the author was called for, and Oscar appeared before the curtain.
The house rose at him and cheered and cheered again.  He was smiling, with a
cigarette between his fingers, wholly master of himself and his audience.

"I am so glad, ladies and gentlemen, that you like my play. (confer Appendix:
"Criticisms by Robert Ross.")  I feel sure you estimate the merits of it almost
as highly as I do myself."

The house rocked with laughter.  The play and its humour were a seven days'
wonder in London.  People talked of nothing but "Lady Windermere's Fan."
The witty words in it ran from lip to lip like a tidbit of scandal.  Some
clever Jewesses and, strange to say, one Scotchman were the loudest in applause.
Mr. Archer, the well-known critic of "The World", was the first and only
journalist to perceive that the play was a classic by virtue of "genuine
dramatic qualities."  Mrs. Leverson turned the humorous sayings into current
social coin in "Punch", of all places in the world, and from a favourite Oscar
Wilde rapidly became the idol of smart London.

The play was an intellectual triumph.  This time Oscar had not only won success
but had won also the suffrages of the best.  Nearly all the journalist-critics
were against him and made themselves ridiculous by their brainless strictures;
"Truth" and "The Times", for example, were poisonously puritanic, but thinking
people came over to his side in a body.  The halo of fame was about him, and the
incense of it in his nostrils made him more charming, more irresponsibly gay,
more genial-witty than ever.  He was as one set upon a pinnacle with the
sunshine playing about him, lighting up his radiant eyes.  All the while,
however, the foul mists from the underworld were wreathing about him, climbing
higher and higher.



CHAPTER X--THE FIRST MEETING WITH LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS



Thou hast led me like an heathen sacrifice, With music and with fatal pomp of
flowers, To my eternal ruin.--Webster's "The White Devil".

"Lady Windermere's Fan" was a success in every sense of the word, and during
its run London was at Oscar's feet.  There were always a few doors closed to
him; but he could afford now to treat his critics with laughter, call them
fogies and old-fashioned and explain that they had not a decalogue but a
millelogue of sins forbidden and persons tabooed because it was easier to
condemn than to understand.

I remember a lunch once when he talked most brilliantly and finished up by
telling the story now published in his works as "A Florentine Tragedy."  He
told it superbly, making it appear far more effective than in its written form.
A well-known actor, piqued at being compelled to play listener, made himself
ridiculous by half turning his back on the narrator.  But after lunch Willie
Grenfell (now Lord Desborough), a model English athlete gifted with peculiar
intellectual fairness, came round to me:

"Oscar Wilde is most surprising, most charming, a wonderful talker."

At the same moment Mr. K. H---- came over to us.  He was a man who went
everywhere and knew everyone.  He had quiet, ingratiating manners, always spoke
in a gentle smiling way and had a good word to say for everyone, especially for
women; he was a bachelor, too, and wholly unattached.  He surprised me by taking
up Grenfell's praise and breaking into a lyric:

"The best talker who ever lived," he said; "most extraordinary.  I am so
infinitely obliged to you for asking me to meet him--a new delight.  He brings a
supernal air into life.  I am in truth indebted to you"--all this in an affected
purring tone.  I noticed for the first time that there was a touch of rouge on
his face; Grenfell turned away from us rather abruptly I thought.

At this first roseate dawn of complete success and universal applause, new
qualities came to view in Oscar.  Praise gave him the fillip needed in order
to make him surpass himself.  His talk took on a sort of autumnal richness
of colour, and assumed a new width of range; he now used pathos as well as
humour and generally brought in a story or apologue to lend variety to the
entertainment.  His little weaknesses, too, began to show themselves and they
grew rankly in the sunshine.  He always wanted to do himself well, as the phrase
goes, but now he began to eat and drink more freely than before.  His vanity
became defiant.  I noticed one day that he had signed himself, Oscar O'Flahertie
Wilde, I think under some verses which he had contributed years before to his
College magazine.  I asked him jokingly what the O'Flahertie stood for.  To my
astonishment he answered me gravely:

"The O'Flaherties were kings in Ireland, and I have a right to the name; I am
descended from them."

I could not help it; I burst out laughing.

"What are you laughing at, Frank?" he asked with a touch of annoyance.

"It seems humorous to me," I explained, "that Oscar Wilde should want to be
an O'Flahertie," and as I spoke a picture of the greatest of the O'Flaherties,
with bushy head and dirty rags, warming enormous hairy legs before a smoking
peat-fire, flashed before me.  I think something of the sort must have
occurred to Oscar, too, for, in spite of his attempt to be grave, he could not
help laughing.

"It's unkind of you, Frank," he said.  "The Irish were civilised and Christians
when the English kept themselves warm with tattooings."

He could not help telling one in familiar talk of Clumber or some other great
house where he had been visiting; he was intoxicated with his own popularity,
a little surprised, perhaps, to find that he had won fame so easily and on the
primrose path, but one could forgive him everything, for he talked more
delightfully than ever.

It is almost inexplicable, but nevertheless true that life tries all of us,
tests every weak point to breaking, and sets off and exaggerates our powers.
Burns saw this when he wrote:

"Wha does the utmost that he can Will whyles do mair."

And the obverse is true: whoever yields to a weakness habitually, some day
goes further than he ever intended, and comes to worse grief than he deserved.
The old prayer: "Lead us not into temptation", is perhaps a half-conscious
recognition of this fact.  But we moderns are inclined to walk heedlessly, no
longer believing in pitfalls or in the danger of gratified desires.  And Oscar
Wilde was not only an unbeliever; but he had all the heedless confidence of the
artist who has won world-wide popularity and has the halo of fame on his brow.
With high heart and smiling eyes he went to his fate unsuspecting.

It was in the autumn of 1891 that he first met Lord Alfred Douglas.  He was
thirty-six and Lord Alfred Douglas a handsome, slim youth of twenty-one, with
large blue eyes and golden-fair hair.  His mother, the Dowager Lady Queensberry,
preserves a photograph of him taken a few years before, when he was still at
Winchester, a boy of sixteen with an expression which might well be called
angelic.

When I met him, he was still girlishly pretty, with the beauty of youth,
coloring and fair skin; though his features were merely ordinary.  It was
Lionel Johnson, the writer, a friend and intimate of Douglas at Winchester, who
brought him to tea at Oscar's house in Tite Street.  Their mutual attraction had
countless hooks.  Oscar was drawn by the lad's personal beauty, and enormously
affected besides by Lord Alfred Douglas' name and position: he was a snob as
only an English artist can be a snob; he loved titular distinctions, and Douglas
is one of the few great names in British history with the gilding of romance
about it.  No doubt Oscar talked better than his best because he was talking to
Lord Alfred Douglas.  To the last the mere name rolled on his tongue gave him
extraordinary pleasure.  Besides, the boy admired him, hung upon his lips with
his soul in his eyes; showed, too, rare intelligence in his appreciation,
confessed that he himself wrote verses and loved letters passionately.  Could
more be desired than perfection perfected?

And Alfred Douglas on his side was almost as powerfully attracted; he had
inherited from his mother all her literary tastes--and more: he was already a
master-poet with a singing faculty worthy to be compared with the greatest.
What wonder if he took this magical talker, with the luminous eyes and charming
voice, and a range and play of thought beyond his imagining, for a world's
miracle, one of the Immortals.  Before he had listened long, I have been told,
the youth declared his admiration passionately.  They were an extraordinary pair
and were complementary in a hundred ways, not only in mind, but in character.
Oscar had reached originality of thought and possessed the culture of
scholarship, while Alfred Douglas had youth and rank and beauty, besides
being as articulate as a woman with an unsurpassable gift of expression.
Curiously enough, Oscar was as yielding and amiable in character as the boy
was self-willed, reckless, obstinate and imperious.

Years later Oscar told me that from the first he dreaded Alfred Douglas'
aristocratic, insolent boldness:

"He frightened me, Frank, as much as he attracted me, and I held away from him.
But he wouldn't have it; he sought me out again and again and I couldn't resist
him.  That is my only fault.  That's what ruined me.  He increased my expenses
so that I could not meet them; over and over again I tried to free myself from
him; but he came back and I yielded--alas!"

Though this is Oscar's later gloss on what actually happened, it is fairly
accurate.  He was never able to realise how his meeting with Lord Alfred Douglas
had changed the world to him and him to the world.  The effect on the harder
fibre of the boy was chiefly mental: to Alfred Douglas, Oscar was merely a
quickening, inspiring, intellectual influence; but the boy's effect on Oscar was
of character and induced imitation.  Lord Alfred Douglas' boldness gave Oscar
"outre-cuidance", an insolent arrogance: artist-like he tried to outdo his
model in aristocratic disdain.  Without knowing the cause the change in Oscar
astonished me again and again, and in the course of this narrative I shall have
to notice many instances of it.

One other effect the friendship had of far-reaching influence.  Oscar always
enjoyed good living; but for years he had had to earn his bread: he knew the
value of money; he didn't like to throw it away; he was accustomed to lunch or
dine at a cheap Italian restaurant for a few shillings.  But to Lord Alfred
Douglas money was only a counter and the most luxurious living a necessity.  As
soon as Oscar Wilde began to entertain him, he was led to the dearest hotels and
restaurants; his expenses became formidable and soon outran his large earnings.
For the first time since I had known him he borrowed heedlessly right and left,
and had, therefore, to bring forth play after play with scant time for thought.

Lord Alfred Douglas has declared recently:

"I spent much more in entertaining Oscar Wilde than he did in entertaining me";
but this is preposterous self-deception.  An earlier confession of his was much
nearer the truth: "It was a sweet humiliation to me to let Oscar Wilde pay for
everything and to ask him for money."

There can be no doubt that Lord Alfred Douglas' habitual extravagance kept Oscar
Wilde hard up, and drove him to write without intermission.

There were other and worse results of the intimacy which need not be exposed
here in so many words, though they must be indicated; for they derived of
necessity from that increased self-assurance which has already been recorded.
As Oscar devoted himself to Lord Alfred Douglas and went about with him
continually, he came to know his friends and his familiars, and went less into
society so-called.  Again and again Lord Alfred Douglas flaunted acquaintance
with youths of the lowest class; but no one knew him or paid much attention to
him; Oscar Wilde, on the other hand, was already a famous personage whose every
movement provoked comment.  From this time on the rumours about Oscar took
definite form and shaped themselves in specific accusations: his enemies began
triumphantly to predict his ruin and disgrace.

Everything is known in London society; like water on sand the truth spreads
wider and wider as it gradually filters lower.  The "smart set" in London has
almost as keen a love of scandal as a cathedral town.  About this time one heard
of a dinner which Oscar Wilde had given at a restaurant in Soho, which was said
to have degenerated into a sort of Roman orgy.  I was told of a man who tried to
get money by blackmailing him in his own house.  I shrugged my shoulders at all
these scandals, and asked the talebearers what had been said about Shakespeare
to make him rave as he raved again and again against "back-wounding calumny";
and when they persisted in their malicious stories I could do nothing but show
disbelief.  Though I saw but little of Oscar during the first year or so of his
intimacy with Lord Alfred Douglas, one scene from this time filled me with
suspicion and an undefined dread.

I was in a corner of the Cafe Royal one night downstairs, playing chess, and,
while waiting for my opponent to move, I went out just to stretch my legs.  When
I returned I found Oscar throned in the very corner, between two youths.  Even
to my short-sighted eyes they appeared quite common: in fact they looked like
grooms.  In spite of their vulgar appearance, however, one was nice looking in a
fresh boyish way; the other seemed merely depraved.  Oscar greeted me as usual,
though he seemed slightly embarrassed.  I resumed my seat, which was almost
opposite him, and pretended to be absorbed in the game.  To my astonishment he
was talking as well as if he had had a picked audience; talking, if you please,
about the Olympic games, telling how the youths wrestled and were scraped with
strigulae and threw the discus and ran races and won the myrtle-wreath.  His
impassioned eloquence brought the sun-bathed palaestra before one with a magic
of representment.  Suddenly the younger of the boys asked:

"Did you sy they was niked?"

"Of course," Oscar replied, "nude, clothed only in sunshine and beauty."

"Oh, my," giggled the lad in his unspeakable Cockney way.  I could not stand it.

"I am in an impossible position," I said to my opponent, who was the amateur
chess player, Montagu Gattie.  "Come along and let us have some dinner."  With a
nod to Oscar I left the place.  On the way out Gattie said to me:

"So that's the famous Oscar Wilde."

"Yes," I replied, "that's Oscar, but I never saw him in such company before."

"Didn't you?" remarked Gattie quietly; "he was well known at Oxford.  I was at
the 'Varsity with him.  His reputation was always rather--"'high,'" shall we
call it?"

I wanted to forget the scene and blot it out of my memory, and remember my
friend as I knew him at his best.  But that Cockney boy would not be banned;
he leered there with rosy cheeks, hair plastered down in a love-lock on his
forehead, and low cunning eyes.  I felt uncomfortable.  I would not think of
it.  I recalled the fact that in all our talks I had never heard Oscar use a
gross word.  His mind, I said to myself, is like Spenser's, vowed away from
coarseness and vulgarity: he's the most perfect intellectual companion in the
world.  He may have wanted to talk to the boys just to see what effect his talk
would have on them.  His vanity is greedy enough to desire even such applause as
theirs. . . . .  Of course, that was the explanation--vanity.  My affection for
him, tormented by doubt, had found at length a satisfactory solution.  It was
the artist in him, I said to myself, that wanted a model.

But why not boys of his own class?  The answer suggested itself; boys of his own
class could teach him nothing; his own boyhood would supply him with all the
necessary information about well-bred youth.  But if he wanted a gutter-snipe in
one of his plays, he would have to find a gutter-lad and paint him from life.
That was probably the truth, I concluded.  So satisfied was I with my discovery
that I developed it to Gattie; but he would not hear of it.

"Gattie has nothing of the artist in him," I decided, "and therefore cannot
understand."  And I went on arguing, if Gattie were right, why "two" boys?
It seemed evident to me that my reading of the riddle was the only plausible
one.  Besides it left my affection unaffected and free.  Still, the giggle, the
plastered oily hair and the venal leering eyes came back to me again and again
in spite of myself.



CHAPTER XI--THE THREATENING CLOUD DRAWS NEARER



There is a secret apprehension in man counselling sobriety and moderation,
a fear born of expediency distinct from conscience, which is ethical; though
it seems to be closely connected with conscience acting, as it does, by
warnings and prohibitions.  The story of Polycrates and his ring is a symbol
of the instinctive feeling that extraordinary good fortune is perilous and
can not endure.

A year or so after the first meeting between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas
I heard that they were being pestered on account of some amorous letters which
had been stolen from them.  There was talk of blackmail and hints of an
interesting exposure.

Towards the end of the year it was announced that Lord Alfred Douglas had gone
to Egypt; but this "flight into Egypt," as it was wittily called, was gilded
by the fact that a little later he was appointed an honorary attache to Lord
Cromer.  I regarded his absence as a piece of good fortune, for when he was in
London, Oscar had no time to himself, and was seen in public with associates
he would have done better to avoid.  Time and again he had praised Lord Alfred
Douglas to me as a charming person, a poet, and had grown lyrical about his
violet eyes and honey-coloured hair.  I knew nothing of Lord Alfred Douglas,
and had no inkling of his poetic talent.  I did not like several of Oscar's
particular friends, and I had a special dislike for the father of Lord Alfred
Douglas.  I knew Queensberry rather well.  I was a member of the old Pelican
Club, and I used to go there frequently for a talk with Tom, Dick or Harry,
about athletics, or for a game of chess with George Edwards.  Queensberry was
there almost every night, and someone introduced me to him.  I was eager to
know him because he had surprised me.  At some play ("The Promise of May" was
produced in November, 1882.), I think it was "The Promise of May," by Tennyson,
produced at the Globe, in which atheists were condemned, he had got up in his
box and denounced the play, proclaiming himself an atheist.  I wanted to know
the Englishman who could be so contemptuous of convention.  Had he acted out of
aristocratic insolence, or was he by any possibility high-minded?  To one who
knew the man the mere question must seem ridiculous.

Queensberry was perhaps five feet nine or ten in height, with a plain, heavy,
rather sullen face, and quick, hot eyes.  He was a mass of self-conceit, all
bristling with suspicion, and in regard to money, prudent to meanness.  He
cared nothing for books, but liked outdoor sports and under a rather abrupt,
but not discourteous, manner hid an irritable, violent temper.  He was combative
and courageous as very nervous people sometimes are, when they happen to be
strong-willed--the sort of man who, just because he was afraid of a bull and
had pictured the dreadful wound it could give, would therefore seize it by the
horns.

The insane temper of the man got him into rows at the Pelican more than once.
I remember one evening he insulted a man whom I liked immensely.  Haseltine was
a stockbroker, I think, a big, fair, handsome fellow who took Queensberry's
insults for some time with cheerful contempt.  Again and again he turned
Queensberry's wrath aside with a fair word, but Queensberry went on working
himself into a passion, and at last made a rush at him.  Haseltine watched him
coming and hit out in the nick of time; he caught Queensberry full in the face
and literally knocked him heels over head.  Queensberry got up in a sad mess: he
had a swollen nose and black eye and his shirt was all stained with blood spread
about by hasty wiping.  Any other man would have continued the fight or else
have left the club on the spot; Queensberry took a seat at a table, and there
sat for hours silent.  I could only explain it to myself by saying that his
impulse to fly at once from the scene of his disgrace was very acute, and
therefore he resisted it, made up his mind not to budge, and so he sat there the
butt of the derisive glances and whispered talk of everyone who came into the
club in the next two or three hours.  He was just the sort of person a wise man
would avoid and a clever one would use--a dangerous, sharp, ill-handled tool.

Disliking his father, I did not care to meet Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar's newest
friend.

I saw Oscar less frequently after the success of his first play; he no longer
needed my editorial services, and was, besides, busily engaged; but I have one
good trait to record of him.  Some time before I had lent him L50; so long as he
was hard up I said nothing about it; but after the success of his second play,
I wrote to him saying that the L50 would be useful to me if he could spare it.
He sent me a cheque at once with a charming letter.

He was now continually about again with Lord Alfred Douglas who, it appeared,
had had a disagreement with Lord Cromer and returned to London.  Almost
immediately scandalous stories came into circulation concerning them:

"Have you heard the latest about Lord Alfred and Oscar?  I'm told they're being
watched by the police," and so forth and so on interminably.  One day a story
came to me with such wealth of weird detail that it was manifestly at least
founded on fact.  Oscar was said to have written extraordinary letters to
Lord Alfred Douglas: a youth called Alfred Wood had stolen the letters from
Lord Alfred Douglas' rooms in Oxford and had tried to blackmail Oscar with them.
The facts were so peculiar and so precise that I asked Oscar about it.  He met
the accusation at once and very fairly, I thought, and told me the whole story.
It puts the triumphant power and address of the man in a strong light, and so I
will tell it as he told it to me.

"When I was rehearsing 'A Woman of No Importance' at the Haymarket," he began,
"Beerbohm Tree showed me a letter I had written a year or so before to Alfred
Douglas.  He seemed to think it dangerous, but I laughed at him and read the
letter with him, and of course he came to understand it properly.  A little
later a man called Wood told me he had found some letters which I had written
to Lord Alfred Douglas in a suit of clothes which Lord Alfred had given to him.
He gave me back some of the letters and I gave him a little money.  But the
letter, a copy of which had been sent to Beerbohm Tree, was not amongst them.

"Some time afterwards a man named Allen called upon me one night in Tite Street,
and said he had got a letter of mine which I ought to have.

"The man's manner told me that he was the real enemy.  'I suppose you mean that
beautiful letter of mine to Lord Alfred Douglas,' I said.  'If you had not been
so foolish as to send a copy of it to Mr. Beerbohm Tree, I should have been glad
to have paid you a large sum for it, as I think it is one of the best I ever
wrote.'  Allen looked at me with sulky, cunning eyes and said:

"'A curious construction could be put upon that letter.'

"'No doubt, no doubt,' I replied lightly; 'art is not intelligible to the
criminal classes.'  He looked me in the face defiantly and said:

"'A man has offered me L60 for it.'

"'You should take the offer,' I said gravely; 'L60 is a great price.  I myself
have never received such a large sum for any prose work of that length.  But I
am glad to find that there is someone in England who will pay such a large sum
for a letter of mine.  I don't know why you come to me,' I added, rising, 'you
should sell the letter at once.'

"Of course, Frank, as I spoke my body seemed empty with fear.  The letter could
be misunderstood, and I have so many envious enemies; but I felt that there was
nothing else for it but bluff.  As I went to the door Allen rose too, and said
that the man who had offered him the money was out of town.  I turned to him
and said:

"'He will no doubt return, and I don't care for the letter at all.'

"At this Allen changed his manner, said he was very poor, he hadn't a penny in
the world, and had spent a lot trying to find me and tell me about the letter.
I told him I did not mind relieving his distress, and gave him half a sovereign,
assuring him at the same time that the letter would shortly be published as a
sonnet in a delightful magazine.  I went to the door with him, and he walked
away.  I closed the door; but didn't shut it at once, for suddenly I heard a
policeman's step coming softly towards my house--pad, pad! A dreadful moment,
then he passed by.  I went into the room again all shaken, wondering whether
I had done right, whether Allen would hawk the letter about--a thousand vague
apprehensions.

"Suddenly a knock at the street door.  My heart was in my mouth, still I went
and opened it: a man named Cliburn was there.

"'I have come to you with a letter of Allen's.'

"'I cannot be bothered any more,' I cried, 'about that letter; I don't care
twopence about it.  Let him do what he likes with it.'

"To my astonishment Cliburn said:

"'Allen has asked me to give it back to you,' and he produced it.

"'Why does he give it back to me?' I asked carelessly.

"'He says you were kind to him and that it is no use trying to "rent" you;
you only laugh at us.'

"I looked at the letter; it was very dirty, and I said:

"'I think it is unpardonable that better care should not have been taken of
a manuscript of mine.'

"He said he was sorry; but it had been in many hands.  I took the letter up
casually:

"'Well, I will accept the letter back.  You can thank Mr. Allen for me.'

"I gave Cliburn half a sovereign for his trouble, and said to him:

"'I am afraid you are leading a desperately wicked life.'

"'There's good and bad in every one of us,' he replied.  I said something about
his being a philosopher, and he went away.  That's the whole story, Frank."

"But the letter?" I questioned.

"The letter is nothing," Oscar replied; "a prose poem.  I will give you a copy
of it."

Here is the letter:

"My own boy,--Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red
rose-leaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song
than for the madness of kissing.  Your slim-gilt soul walks between passion and
poetry.  No Hyacinthus followed Love so madly as you in Greek days.  Why are you
alone in London, and when do you go to Salisbury?  Do go there and cool your
hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things.  Come here whenever you like.  It
is a lovely place and only lacks you.  Do go to Salisbury first.  Always with
undying love,

Yours,

Oscar."

This letter startled me; "slim-gilt" and the "madness of kissing" were
calculated to give one pause; but after all, I thought, it may be merely
an artist's letter, half pose, half passionate admiration.  Another thought
struck me.

"But how did such a letter," I cried, "ever get into the hands of a
blackmailer?"

"I don't know," he replied, shrugging his shoulders.  "Lord Alfred Douglas
is very careless and inconceivably bold.  You should know him, Frank; he's
a delightful poet."

"But how did he come to know a creature like Wood?" I persisted.

"How can I tell, Frank," he answered a little shortly; and I let the matter
drop, though it left in me a certain doubt, an uncomfortable suspicion.

The scandal grew from hour to hour, and the tide of hatred rose in surges.

One day I was lunching at the Savoy, and while talking to the head waiter,
Cesari, who afterwards managed the Elysee Palace Hotel in Paris, I thought I saw
Oscar and Douglas go out together.  Being a little short-sighted, I asked:

"Isn't that Mr. Oscar Wilde?"

"Yes," said Cesari, "and Lord Alfred Douglas.  We wish they would not come here;
it does us a lot of harm."

"How do you mean?" I asked sharply.

"Some people don't like them," the quick Italian answered immediately.

"Oscar Wilde," I remarked casually, "is a great friend of mine," but the super-
subtle Italian was already warned.

"A clever writer, I believe," he said, smiling in bland acquiescence.

This incident gave me warning, strengthened again in me the exact apprehension
and suspicion which the Douglas letter had bred.  Oscar I knew was too self-
centred, went about too continually with admirers to have any understanding of
popular feeling.  He would be the last man to realize how fiercely hate, malice
and envy were raging against him.  I wanted to warn him; but hardly knew how to
do it effectively and without offence: I made up my mind to keep my eyes open
and watch an opportunity.

A little later I gave a dinner at the Savoy and asked him to come.  He was
delightful, his vivacious gaiety as exhilarating as wine.  But he was more like
a Roman Emperor than ever: he had grown fat: he ate and drank too much; not that
he was intoxicated, but he became flushed, and in spite of his gay and genial
talk he affected me a little unpleasantly; he was gross and puffed up.  But he
gave one or two splendid snapshots of actors and their egregious vanity.  It
seemed to him a great pity that actors should be taught to read and write: they
should learn their pieces from the lips of the poet.

"Just as work is the curse of the drinking classes of this country," he said
laughing, "so education is the curse of the acting classes."

Yet even when making fun of the mummers there was a new tone in him of arrogance
and disdain.  He used always to be genial and kindly even to those he laughed
at; now he was openly contemptuous.  The truth is that his extraordinarily
receptive mind went with an even more abnormal receptivity of character: unlike
most men of marked ability, he took colour from his associates.  In this as in
love of courtesies and dislike of coarse words he was curiously feminine.
Intercourse with Beardsley, for example, had backed his humorous gentleness with
a sort of challenging courage; his new intimacy with Lord Alfred Douglas, coming
on the top of his triumph as a playwright, was lending him aggressive self-
confidence.  There was in him that "hubris" (insolent self-assurance) which the
Greek feared, the pride which goeth before destruction.  I regretted the change
in him and was nervously apprehensive.

After dinner we all went out by the door which gives on the Embankment, for it
was after 12.30.  One of the party proposed that we should walk for a minute or
two--at least as far as the Strand, before driving home.  Oscar objected.  He
hated walking; it was a form of penal servitude to the animal in man, he
declared; but he consented, nevertheless, under protest, laughing.  When we
were going up the steps to the Strand he again objected, and quoted Dante's
famous lines:

  "Tu proverai si come sa di sale
Lo pane altrui; e com' e duro calle
Lo scendere e 'l salir per l'altrui scale."

The impression made by Oscar that evening was not only of self-indulgence but
of over-confidence.  I could not imagine what had given him this insolent self-
complacence.  I wanted to get by myself and think.  Prosperity was certainly
doing him no good.

All the while the opposition to him, I felt, was growing in force.  How could I
verify this impression, I asked myself, so as to warn him effectually?

I decided to give a lunch to him, and on purpose I put on the invitations: "To
meet Mr. Oscar Wilde and hear a new story."  Out of a dozen invitations sent out
to men, seven or eight were refused, three or four telling me in all kindness
that they would rather not meet Oscar Wilde.  This confirmed my worst fears:
when Englishmen speak out in this way the dislike must be near revolt.

I gave the lunch and saw plainly enough that my forebodings were justified.
Oscar was more self-confident than ever, but his talk did not suffer; indeed,
it seemed to improve.  At this lunch he told the charming fable of "Narcissus,"
which is certainly one of his most characteristic short stories.

"When Narcissus died the Flowers of the Field were plunged in grief, and asked
the River for drops of water that they might mourn for him.

"'Oh,' replied the River, 'if only my drops of water were tears, I should not
have enough to weep for Narcissus myself--I loved him.'

"'How could you help loving Narcissus?' said the flowers, 'so beautiful was he.'

"'Was he beautiful?' asked the River.

"'Who should know that better than you?' said the flowers, 'for every day, lying
on your bank, he would mirror his beauty in your waters.'"

Oscar paused here, and then went on:

"'If I loved him,' replied the River, 'it is because, when he hung over me,
I saw the reflection of my own loveliness in his eyes.'"

After lunch I took him aside and tried to warn him, told him that unpleasant
stories were being put about against him; but he paid no heed to me.

"All envy, Frank, and malice.  What do I care?  I go to Clumber this summer;
besides I am doing another play which I rather like.  I always knew that play-
writing was my province.  As a youth I tried to write plays in verse; that was
my mistake.  Now I know better; I'm sure of myself and of success."

Somehow or other in spite of his apparent assurance I felt he was in danger
and I doubted his quality as a fighter.  But after all it was not my business:
wilful man must have his way.

It seems to me now that my mistrust dated from the second paper war with
Whistler, wherein to the astonishment of everyone Oscar did not come off
victorious.  As soon as he met with opposition his power of repartee seemed to
desert him and Whistler, using mere rudeness and man-of-the-world sharpness,
held the field.  Oscar was evidently not a born fighter.

I asked him once how it was he let Whistler off so lightly.  He shrugged his
shoulders and showed some irritation.

"What could I say, Frank?  Why should I belabour the beaten?  The man is a wasp
and delights in using his sting.  I have done more perhaps than anyone to make
him famous.  I had no wish to hurt him."

Was it magnanimity or weakness or, as I think, a constitutional, a feminine
shrinking from struggle and strife.  Whatever the cause, it was clear that
Oscar was what Shakespeare called himself, "an unhurtful opposite."

It is quite possible that if he had been attacked face to face, Oscar would have
given a better account of himself.  At Mrs. Grenfell's (now Lady Desborough)
he crossed swords once with the Prime Minister and came off victorious.  Mr.
Asquith began by bantering him, in appearance lightly, in reality, seriously,
for putting many of his sentences in italics.

"The man who uses italics," said the politician, "is like the man who raises his
voice in conversation and talks loudly in order to make himself heard."

It was the well-known objection which Emerson had taken to Carlyle's overwrought
style, pointed probably by dislike of the way Oscar monopolised conversation.

Oscar met the stereotyped attack with smiling good-humour.

"How delightful of you, Mr. Asquith, to have noticed that! The brilliant phrase,
like good wine, needs no bush.  But just as the orator marks his good things by
a dramatic pause, or by raising or lowering his voice, or by gesture, so the
writer marks his epigrams with italics, setting the little gem, so to speak,
like a jeweller--an excusable love of one's art, not all mere vanity, I like to
think"--all this with the most pleasant smile and manner.

In measure as I distrusted Oscar's fighting power and admired his sweetness of
nature I took sides with him and wanted to help him.  One day I heard some talk
at the Pelican Club which filled me with fear for him and quickened my resolve
to put him on his guard.  I was going in just as Queensberry was coming out with
two or three of his special cronies.

"I'll do it," I heard him cry, "I'll teach the fellow to leave my son alone.
I'll not have their names coupled together."

I caught a glimpse of the thrust-out combative face and the hot grey eyes.

"What's it all about?" I asked.

"Only Queensberry," said someone, "swearing he'll stop Oscar Wilde going about
with that son of his, Alfred Douglas."

Suddenly my fears took form: as in a flash I saw Oscar, heedless and smiling,
walking along with his head in the air, and that violent combative insane
creature pouncing on him.  I sat down at once and wrote begging Oscar to lunch
with me the next day alone, as I had something important to say to him.  He
turned up in Park Lane, manifestly anxious, a little frightened, I think.

"What is it, Frank?"

I told him very seriously what I had heard and gave besides my impression of
Queensberry's character, and his insane pugnacity.

"What can I do, Frank?" said Oscar, showing distress and apprehension.  "It's
all Bosie."

"Who is Bosie?" I asked.

"That is Lord Alfred Douglas' pet name.  It's all Bosie's fault.  He has
quarrelled with his father, or rather his father has quarrelled with him.
He quarrels with everyone; with Lady Queensberry, with Percy Douglas, with
Bosie, everyone.  He's impossible.  What can I do?"

"Avoid him," I said.  "Don't go about with Lord Alfred Douglas.  Give
Queensberry his triumph.  You could make a friend of him as easily as possible,
if you wished.  Write him a conciliatory letter."

"But he'll want me to drop Bosie, and stop seeing Lady Queensberry, and I like
them all; they are charming to me.  Why should I cringe to this madman?"

"Because he is a madman."

"Oh, Frank, I can't," he cried.  "Bosie wouldn't let me."

"'Wouldn't let you'?  I repeated angrily.  "How absurd! That Queensberry man
will go to violence, to any extremity.  Don't you fight other people's quarrels:
you may have enough of your own some day."

"You're not sympathetic, Frank," he chided weakly.  "I know you mean it kindly,
but it's impossible for me to do as you advise.  I cannot give up my friend.  I
really cannot let Lord Queensberry choose my friends for me.  It's too absurd."

"But it's wise," I replied.  "There's a very bad verse in one of Hugo's plays.
It always amused me--he likens poverty to a low door and declares that when we
have to pass through it the man who stoops lowest is the wisest.  So when you
meet a madman, the wisest thing to do is to avoid him and not quarrel with him."

"It's very hard, Frank; of course I'll think over what you say.  But really
Queensberry ought to be in a madhouse.  He's too absurd," and in that spirit he
left me, outwardly self-confident.  He might have remembered Chaucer's words:

Beware also to spurne again a nall;
Strive not as doeth a crocke with a wall;
Deme thy selfe that demest others dede,
And trouth thee shall deliver, it is no drede.



CHAPTER XII--DANGER SIGNALS: THE CHALLENGE



These two years 1893-4 saw Oscar Wilde at the very zenith of success.
Thackeray, who always felt himself a monetary failure in comparison with
Dickens, calls success "one of the greatest of a great man's qualities," and
Oscar was not successful merely, he was triumphant.  Not Sheridan the day after
his marriage, not Byron when he awoke to find himself famous, ever reached such
a pinnacle.  His plays were bringing in so much that he could spend money like
water; he had won every sort of popularity; the gross applause of the many, and
the finer incense of the few who constitute the jury of Fame; his personal
popularity too was extraordinary; thousands admired him, many liked him; he
seemed to have everything that heart could desire and perfect health to boot.
Even his home life was without a cloud.  Two stories which he told at this time
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
you."

"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
shadow-shapes.

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
laudation.

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
in fables..."

His brother Willie made a similar complaint to Sir Edward Sullivan.  Sir Edward
writes:

"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
offending him.'"

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
Queensberry?"

"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:

Alfred,--

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,

Queensberry.

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
on him.

"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,'
he replied.

"'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
thrash me.

"'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
my house."

"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
see it.

"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
to wear.

"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
classified.

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
well-matched."

"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
we parted.

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
matter simply.

"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
these circumstances."

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
friendly."

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
Douglas?"

"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,"
Shaw writes:

"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
Queensberry's.



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
say weakly:

"I can't help it, Frank, I can't do anything; you only distress me by
predicting disaster."

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
for brilliance.

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. Wilde.

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"?"

"Yes."

"Had he written there a story called 'The Priest and the Acolyte'?"

"No."

"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
undergraduate."

"Did Mr. Wilde ever consider the effect in his writings of inciting to
immorality?"

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:

Savoy Hotel,

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
Douglas.

"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?"

"I do."

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
judge him?

. . . . . . .

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?"

"Yes."

"Have you been to Taylor's rooms to afternoon tea parties?"

"Yes."

"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?"

"No."

"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?"

"Nothing."

"Among the five men Taylor introduced you to, was one named Parker?"

"Yes."

"Did you get on friendly terms with him?"

"Yes."

"Did you call him 'Charlie' and allow him to call you 'Oscar'?"

"Yes."

"How old was Parker?"

"I don't keep a census of people's ages.  It would be vulgar to ask people
their age."

"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
a groom?"

"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?"

"I did."

"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
elderly Q.C."

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?"

"Yes."

"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?"

"Nothing."

"Did you give Charlie Parker a silver cigarette case at Christmas?"

"I did."

"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?"

"No."

"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?"

"I did."

"Did you call him 'Fred' and let him call you 'Oscar'?"

"Yes."

"Did you go to Paris with him?"

"Yes."

"Did you give him money?"

"Yes."

"Was there ever any impropriety between you?"

"No."

"When did you first meet Ernest Scarfe?"

"In December, 1893."

"Who introduced him to you?"

"Taylor."

"Scarfe was out of work, was he not?"

"He may have been."

"Did Taylor bring Scarfe to you at St. James's Place?"

"Yes."

"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?"

"In '93."

"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
appalling slip.

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
any circumstances."

"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
witness answered:

"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
prosecution.

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?"

Foreman: "Yes."

"You say that the defendant is 'not guilty,' and that is the verdict of
you all?"

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
or wrong.

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
incidents fairly.

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
knowledge?

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
into inaction.

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
of action.

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
him.

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
Douglas.

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
into prison.

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
various consequences.

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
practically persecution.

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
Shakespeare!

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
further.

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
constituted state.

"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
me."

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
the police:

"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
in Russia.  The consequences of this tyranny of an uneducated middle class and
a barbarian aristocracy are shown in detail in the trial of Oscar Wilde and in
the savagery with which he was treated by the English officers of justice.



CHAPTER XV--THE QUEEN VS. WILDE: THE FIRST TRIAL



As soon as I heard that Oscar Wilde was arrested and bail refused, I tried to
get permission to visit him in Holloway.  I was told I should have to see him
in a kind of barred cage; and talk to him from the distance of at least a yard.
It seemed to me too painful for both of us, so I went to the higher authorities
and got permission to see him in a private room.  The Governor met me at the
entrance of the prison: to my surprise he was more than courteous; charmingly
kind and sympathetic.

"We all hope," he said, "that he will soon be free; this is no place for him.
Everyone likes him, everyone.  It is a great pity."

He evidently felt much more than he said, and my heart went out to him.  He left
me in a bare room furnished with a small square deal table and two kitchen
chairs.  In a moment or two Oscar came in accompanied by a warder.  In silence
we clasped hands.  He looked miserably anxious and pulled down and I felt that
I had nothing to do but cheer him up.

"I am glad to see you," I cried.  "I hope the warders are kind to you?"

"Yes, Frank," he replied in a hopeless way, "but everyone else is against me:
it is hard."

"Don't harbour that thought," I answered; "many whom you don't know, and whom
you will never know, are on your side.  Stand for them and for the myriads who
are coming afterwards and make a fight of it."

"I'm afraid I'm not a fighter, Frank, as you once said," he replied sadly,
 "and they won't give me bail.  How can I get evidence or think in this place
of torture? Fancy refusing me bail," he went on, "though I stayed in London
when I might have gone abroad."

"You should have gone," I cried in French, hot with indignation; "why didn't you
go, the moment you came out of the court?"

"I couldn't think at first," he answered in the same tongue; "I couldn't think
at all: I was numbed."

"Your friends should have thought of it," I insisted, not knowing then that
they had done their best.

At this moment the warder, who had turned away towards the door, came back.

"You are not allowed, sir, to talk in a foreign language," he said quietly.
"You will understand we have to obey the rules.  Besides, the prisoner must not
speak of this prison as a place of torture.  I ought to report that; I'm sorry."

The misery of it all brought tears to my eyes: his gaolers even felt sorry for
him.  I thanked the warder and turned again to Oscar.

"Don't let yourself fear at all," I exclaimed.  "You will have your chance again
and must take it; only don't lose heart and don't be witty next time in court.
The jury hate it.  They regard it as intellectual superiority and impudence.
Treat all things seriously and with grave dignity.  Defend yourself as David
would have defended his love for Jonathan.  Make them all listen to you.  I
would undertake to get free with half your talent even if I were guilty; a
resolution not to be beaten is always half the battle. . . . . Make your trial
memorable from your entrance into the court to the decision of the jury.  Use
every opportunity and give your real character a chance to fight for you."

I spoke with tears in my eyes and rage in my heart.

"I will do my best, Frank," he said despondingly, "I will do my best.  If I were
out of this place, I might think of something, but it is dreadful to be here.
One has to go to bed by daylight and the nights are interminable."

"Haven't you a watch?" I cried.

They don't allow you to have a watch in prison," he replied.

"But why not?" I asked in amazement.  I did not know that every rule in an
English prison is cunningly devised to annoy and degrade the unfortunate
prisoner.

Oscar lifted his hands hopelessly:

"One may not smoke; not even a cigarette; and so I cannot sleep.  All the past
comes back; the golden hours; the June days in London with the sunshine dappling
the grass and the silken rustling of the wind in the trees.  Do you remember
Wordsworth speaks 'of the wind in the trees'? How I wish I could hear it now,
breathe it once again.  I might get strength then to fight."

"Is the food good?" I asked.

"It's all right; I get it from outside.  The food doesn't matter.  It is the
smoking I miss, the freedom, the companionship.  My mind will not act when I'm
alone.  I can only think of what has been and torment myself.  Already I've been
punished enough for the sins of a lifetime."

"Is there nothing I can do for you, nothing you want?" I asked.

"No, Frank," he answered, "it was kind of you to come to see me, I wish I could
tell you how kind."

"Don't think of it," I said; "if I'm any good send for me at any moment: a word
will bring me.  They allow you books, don't they?"

"Yes, Frank."

"I wish you would get the 'Apologia of Plato'," I said, "and take a big draught
of that deathless smiling courage of Socrates."

"Ah, Frank, how much more humane were the Greeks.  They let his friends see him
and talk to him by the hour, though he was condemned to death.  There were no
warders there to listen, no degrading conditions."

"Quite true," I cried, suddenly realising how much better Oscar Wilde would have
been treated in Athens two thousand years ago.  "Our progress is mainly change;
we don't shed our cruelty; even Christ has not been able to humanise us."

He nodded his head.  At first he seemed greatly distressed; but I managed to
encourage him a little, for at the close of the talk he questioned me:

"Do you really think I may win, Frank?"

"Of course you'll win," I replied.  "You must win: you must not think of being
beaten.  Take it that they will not want to convict you.  Say it to yourself
in the court; don't let yourself fear for a moment.  Your enemies are merely
stupid, unhappy creatures crawling about for a few miserable years between earth
and sun; fated to die and leave no trace, no memory.  Remember you are fighting
for all of us, for every artist and thinker who is to be born into the English
world. . . . . It is better to win like Galileo than to be burnt like Giordano
Bruno.  Don't let them make another martyr.  Use all your brains and eloquence
and charm.  Don't be afraid.  They will not condemn you if they know you."

"I have been trying to think," he said, "trying to make up my mind to bear
one whole year of this life.  It's dreadful, Frank, I had no idea that prison
was so dreadful."

The warder again drew down his brows.  I hastened to change the subject.

"That's why you must resolve not to have any more of it," I said; "I wish I had
seen you when you came out of court, but I really thought you didn't want me;
you turned away from me."

"Oh, Frank, how could I?" he cried.  "I should have been so grateful to you."

"I'm very shortsighted," I rejoined, "and I thought you did.  It is our foolish
little vanities which prevent us acting as we should.  But let me know if I can
do anything for you.  If you want me, I'll come at any moment."

I said this because the warder had already given me a sign; he now said:

"Time is up."

Once again we clasped hands.

"You must win," I said; "don't think of defeat.  Even your enemies are human.
Convert them.  You can do it, believe me," and I went with dread in my heart,
and pity and indignation.

Be still, be still, my soul; it is but for a season:
Let us endure an hour and see injustice done.

The Governor met me almost at the door.

"It is terrible," I exclaimed.

"This is no place for him," he answered.  "He has nothing to do with us here.
Everyone likes him and pities him: the warders, everyone.  Anything I can do
to make his stay tolerable shall be done."

We shook hands.  I think there were tears in both our eyes as we parted.
This humane Governor had taught me that Oscar's gentleness and kindness--his
sweetness of nature--would win all hearts if it had time to make itself known.
Yet there he was in prison.  His face and figure came before me again and again:
the unshaven face; the frightened, sad air; the hopeless, toneless voice.  The
cleanliness even of the bare hard room was ugly; the English are foolish enough
to degrade those they punish.  Revolt was blazing in me.

As I went away I looked up at the mediaeval castellated gateway of the place,
and thought how perfectly the architecture suited the spirit of the institution.
The whole thing belongs to the middle ages, and not to our modern life.  Fancy
having both prison and hospital side by side; indeed a hospital even in the
prison; torture and lovingkindness; punishment and pity under the same roof.
What a blank contradiction and stupidity.  Will civilisation never reach humane
ideals? Will men always punish most severely the sins they do not understand and
which hold for them no temptation? Did Jesus suffer in vain?

. . . . . . .

Oscar Wilde was committed on the 19th of April; a "true bill" was found against
him by the grand jury on the 24th; and, as the case was put down for trial at
the Old Bailey almost immediately, a postponement was asked for till the May
sessions, on the ground first that the defence had not had time to prepare their
case and further, that in the state of popular feeling at the moment, Mr. Wilde
would not get a fair and impartial trial.  Mr. Justice Charles, who was to try
the case, heard the application and refused it peremptorily: "Any suggestion
that the defendant would not have a fair trial was groundless," he declared; yet
he knew better.  In his summing up of the case on May 1st he stated that "for
weeks it had been impossible to open a newspaper without reading some reference
to the case," and when he asked the jury not to allow "preconceived opinions to
weigh with them" he was admitting the truth that every newspaper reference was
charged with dislike and contempt of Oscar Wilde.  A fair trial indeed!

The trial took place at the Old Bailey, three days later, April 27th, 1895,
before Mr. Justice Charles.  Mr. C. F. Gill and A. Gill with Mr. Horace Avory
appeared for the Public Prosecutor.  Mr. Wilde was again defended by Sir Edward
Clarke, Mr. Charles Mathews and Mr. Travers Humphreys, while Mr. J. P. Grain
and Mr. Paul Taylor were counsel for the other prisoner.  The trial began on a
Saturday and the whole of the day was taken up with a legal argument.  I am not
going to give the details of the case.  I shall only note the chief features of
it and the unfairness which characterised it.

Sir Edward Clarke pointed out that there was one set of charges under the
Criminal Law Amendment Act and another set of charges of conspiracy.  He urged
that the charges of conspiracy should be dropped.  Under the counts alleging
conspiracy, the defendants could not be called on as witnesses, which put
the defence at a disadvantage.  In the end the Judge decided that there were
inconveniences; but he would not accede to Sir Edward Clarke's request.  Later
in the trial, however, Mr. Gill himself withdrew the charges of conspiracy,
and the Judge admitted explicitly in his summing up that, if he had known the
evidence which was to be offered, he would not have allowed these charges of
conspiracy to be made.  By this confession he apparently cleared his conscience
just as Pilate washed his hands.  But the wrong had already been done.  Not only
did this charge of conspiracy embarrass the defence, but if it had never been
made, as it should never have been made, then Sir Edward Clarke would have
insisted and could have insisted properly that the two men should be tried
separately, and Wilde would not have been discredited by being coupled with
Taylor, whose character was notorious and who had already been in the hands of
the police on a similar charge.

This was not the only instance of unfairness in the conduct of the prosecution.
The Treasury put a youth called Atkins in the box, thus declaring him to be at
least a credible witness; but Atkins was proved by Sir Edward Clarke to have
perjured himself in the court in the most barefaced way.  In fact the Treasury
witnesses against Wilde were all blackmailers and people of the lowest
character, with two exceptions.  The exceptions were a boy named Mavor and a
youth named Shelley.  With regard to Mavor the judge admitted that no evidence
had been offered that he could place before the jury; but in his summing up he
was greatly affected by the evidence of Shelley.  Shelley was a young man who
seemed to be afflicted with a species of religious mania.  Mr. Justice Charles
gave great weight to his testimony.  He invited the jury to say that "although
there was, in his correspondence which had been read, evidence of excitability,
to talk of him as a young man who did not know what he was saying was to
exaggerate the effect of his letters."  He went on to ask with much solemnity:
"Why should this young man have invented a tale, which must have been unpleasant
to him to present from the witness box?"

In the later trial before Mr. Justice Wills the Judge had to rule out the
evidence of Shelley "in toto", because it was wholly without corroboration.
If the case before Mr. Justice Charles had not been confused with the charges
of conspiracy, there is no doubt that he too would have ruled out the evidence
of Shelley, and then his summing up must have been entirely in favour of Wilde.

The singular malevolence of the prosecution also can be estimated by their use
of the so-called "literary argument."  Wilde had written in a magazine called
"The Chameleon.  The Chameleon" contained an immoral story, with which Wilde had
nothing to do, and which he had repudiated as offensive.  Yet the prosecution
tried to make him responsible in some way for the immorality of a writing which
he knew nothing about.

Wilde had said two poems of Lord Alfred Douglas were "beautiful."  The
prosecution declared that these poems were in essence a defence of the vilest
immorality, but is it not possible for the most passionate poem, even the most
vicious, to be "beautiful"? Nothing was ever written more passionate than one
of the poems of Sappho.  Yet a fragment has been selected out and preserved by
the admiration of a hundred generations of men.  The prosecution was in the
position all the time of one who declared that a man who praised a nude picture
must necessarily be immoral.  Such a contention would be inconceivable in any
other civilised country.  Even the Judge was on much the same intellectual
level.  It would not be fair, he admitted, to condemn a poet or dramatic writer
by his works and he went on:

"It is unfortunately true that while some of our greatest writers have passed
long years in writing nothing but the most wholesome literature--literature of
the highest genius, and which anybody can read, such as the literature of Sir
Walter Scott and Charles Dickens; it is also true that there were other great
writers, more especially in the eighteenth century, perfectly noble-minded men
themselves, who somehow or other have permitted themselves to pen volumes which
it is painful for persons of ordinary modesty and decency to read."

It would have been more honest and more liberal to have brushed away the
nonsensical indictment in a sentence.  Would the Treasury have put Shakespeare
on trial for "Hamlet" or "Lear," or would they have condemned the writer of
"The Song of Solomon" for immorality, or sent St. Paul to prison for his
"Epistle to the Corinthians"?

Middle-class prejudice and hypocritic canting twaddle from Judge and advocate
dragged their weary length along for days and days.  On Wednesday Sir Edward
Clarke made his speech for the defence.  He pointed out the unfairness of the
charges of conspiracy which had tardily been withdrawn.  He went on to say that
the most remarkable characteristic of the case was the fact that it had been the
occasion for conduct on the part of certain sections of the press which was
disgraceful, and which imperilled the administration of justice, and was in the
highest degree injurious to the client for whom he was pleading.  Nothing, he
concluded, could be more unfair than the way Mr. Wilde had been criticised in
the press for weeks and weeks.  But no judge interfered on his behalf.

Sir Edward Clarke evidently thought that to prove unfairness would not even
influence the minds of the London jury.  He was content to repudiate the attempt
to judge Mr. Wilde by his books or by an article which he had condemned, or by
poems which he had not written.  He laid stress on the fact that Mr. Wilde had
himself brought the charge against Lord Queensberry which had provoked the whole
investigation: "on March 30th, Mr. Wilde," he said, "knew the catalogue of
accusations"; and he asked: did the jury believe that, if he had been guilty,
he would have stayed in England and brought about the first trial? Insane would
hardly be the word for such conduct, if Mr. Wilde really had been guilty.
Moreover, before even hearing the specific accusations, Mr. Wilde had gone
into the witness box to deny them.

Clarke's speech was a good one, but nothing out of the common: no new arguments
were used in it; not one striking illustration.  Needless to say the higher
advocacy of sympathy was conspicuous by its absence.

Again, the interesting part of the trial was the cross-examination of Oscar
Wilde.

Mr. Gill examined him at length on the two poems which Lord Alfred Douglas had
contributed to "The Chameleon", which Mr. Wilde had called "beautiful."  The
first was in "Praise of Shame," the second was one called "Two Loves."  Sir
Edward Clarke, interposing, said:

"That's not Mr. Wilde's, Mr. Gill."

Mr. Gill: "I am not aware that I said it was."

Sir Edward Clarke: "I thought you would be glad to say it was not."

Mr. Gill insisted that Mr. Wilde should explain the poem in "Praise of Shame."

Mr. Wilde said that the first poem seemed obscure, but, when pressed as to the
"love" described in the second poem, he let himself go for the first time and
perhaps the only time during the trial; he said:

"The 'love' that dare not speak its name in this century is such a great
affection of an older for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan,
such as Plato made the very base of his philosophy and such as you find in the
sonnets of Michaelangelo and Shakespeare--a deep spiritual affection that is as
pure as it is perfect, and dictates great works of art like those of Shakespeare
and Michaelangelo and those two letters of mine, such as they are, and which is
in this century misunderstood--so misunderstood that on account of it, I am
placed where I am now.  It is beautiful; it is fine; it is the noblest form of
affection.  It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and
younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the
joy, hope and glamour of life.  That it should be so the world does not
understand.  It mocks at it and sometimes puts one into the pillory for it."

At this stage there was loud applause in the gallery of the court, and the
learned Judge at once said: "I shall have the Court cleared if there is the
slightest manifestation of feeling.  There must be complete silence preserved."

Mr. Justice Charles repressed the cheering in favour of Mr. Oscar Wilde with
great severity, though Mr. Justice Collins did not attempt to restrain the
cheering which filled his court and accompanied the dispersing crowd into the
street on the acquittal of Lord Queensberry.

In spite, however, of the unfair criticisms of the press; in spite of the unfair
conduct of the prosecution, and in spite of the manifest prejudice and
Philistine ignorance of the Judge, the jury disagreed.

Then followed the most dramatic incident of the whole trial.  Once more Sir
Edward Clarke applied for bail on behalf of Oscar Wilde.  "After what has
happened," he said, "I do not think the Crown will make any objection to this
application."  The Crown left the matter to the Judge, no doubt in all security;
for the Judge immediately refused the application.  Sir Edward Clarke then
went on to say that, in the case of a re-trial, it ought not to take place
immediately.  He continued:

"The burden of those engaged in the case is very heavy, and I think it only
right that the Treasury should have an opportunity between this and another
session of considering the mode in which the case should be presented, if indeed
it is presented at all."

Mr. Gill immediately rose to the challenge.

"The case will certainly be tried again," he declared, "whether it is to be
tried again at once or in the next sessions will be a matter of convenience.
Probably the most desirable course will be for the case to go to the next
sessions.  That is the usual course."

Mr. Justice Charles: "If that is the usual course, let it be so."

The next session of the Central Criminal Court opened on the 20th of the same
month.

Not three weeks' respite, still it might be enough: it was inconceivable that
a Judge in Chambers would refuse to accept bail: fortunately the law allows him
no option.

. . . . .

The application for bail was made in due course to a Judge in Chambers, and in
spite of the bad example of the magistrate, and of Mr. Justice Charles, it was
granted and Wilde was set free in his own recognizance of L2,500 with two other
sureties for L1,250 each.  It spoke volumes for the charm and fascination of the
man that people were found to undertake this onerous responsibility.  Their
names deserve to be recorded; one was Lord Douglas of Hawick, the other a
clergyman, the Rev. Stewart Headlam.  I offered to be one bail: but I was not a
householder at the time and my name was, therefore, not acceptable.  I suppose
the Treasury objected, which shows, I am inclined to think, some glimmering of
sense on its part.

As soon as the bail was accepted I began to think of preparations for Oscar's
escape.  It was high time something was done to save him from the wolves.  The
day after his release a London morning journal was not ashamed to publish what
it declared was a correct analysis of the voting of the jury on the various
counts.  According to this authority, ten jurors were generally for conviction
and two against, in the case of Wilde; the statement was widely accepted because
it added that the voting was more favourable to Taylor than to Wilde, which was
so unexpected and so senseless that it carried with it a certain plausibility:
"Credo quia incredible".

I had seen enough of English justice and English judges and English journals to
convince me that Oscar Wilde had no more chance of a fair trial than if he had
been an Irish "Invincible."  Everyone had made up his mind and would not even
listen to reason: he was practically certain to be convicted, and if convicted
perfectly certain to be punished with savage ferocity.  The judge would probably
think he was showing impartiality by punishing him for his qualities of charm
and high intelligence.  For the first time in my life I understood the full
significance of Montaigne's confession that if he were accused of stealing the
towers of Notre Dame, he would fly the kingdom rather than risk a trial, and
Montaigne was a lawyer.  I set to work at once to complete my preparations.

I did not think I ran any risk in helping Oscar to get away.  The newspapers had
seized the opportunity of the trials before the magistrate and before Mr.
Justice Charles and had overwhelmed the public with such a sea of nauseous filth
and impurity as could only be exposed to the public nostrils in pudibond
England.  Everyone, I thought, must be sick of the testimony and eager to have
done with the whole thing.  In this I may have been mistaken.  The hatred of
Wilde seemed universal and extraordinarily malignant.

I wanted a steam yacht.  Curiously enough on the very day when I was thinking of
running down to Cowes to hire one, a gentleman at lunch mentioned that he had
one in the Thames.  I asked him could I charter it?

"Certainly," he replied, "and I will let you have it for the bare cost for the
next month or two."

"One month will do for me," I said.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

I don't know why, but a thought came into my head: I would tell him the truth,
and see what he would say.  I took him aside and told him the bare facts.  At
once he declared that the yacht was at my service for such work as that without
money: he would be too glad to lend it to me: it was horrible that such a man as
Wilde should be treated as a common criminal.

He felt as Henry VIII felt in Shakespeare's play of that name:

". . . . there's some of ye, I see,
More out of malice than integrity,
Would try him to the utmost, . . . ."

It was not the generosity in my friend's offer that astonished me, but the
consideration for Wilde; I thought the lenity so singular in England that I feel
compelled to explain it.  Though an Englishman born and bred my friend was by
race a Jew--a man of the widest culture, who had no sympathy whatever with the
vice attributed to Oscar.  Feeling consoled because there was at least one
generous, kind heart in the world, I went next day to Willie Wilde's house in
Oakley Street to see Oscar.  I had written to him on the previous evening that
I was coming to take Oscar out to lunch.

Willie Wilde met me at the door; he was much excited apparently by the notoriety
attaching to Oscar; he was volubly eager to tell me that, though we had not been
friends, yet my support of Oscar was most friendly and he would therefore bury
the hatchet.  He had never interested me, and I was unconscious of any hatchet
and careless whether he buried it or blessed it.  I repeated drily that I had
come to take Oscar to lunch.

"I know you have," he said, "and it's most kind of you; but he can't go."

"Why not?" I asked as I went in.

Oscar was gloomy, depressed, and evidently suffering.  Willie's theatrical
insincerity had annoyed me a little, and I was eager to get away.  Suddenly
I saw Sherard, who has since done his best for Oscar's memory.  In his book
there is a record of this visit of mine.  He was standing silently by the wall.

"I've come to take you to lunch," I said to Oscar.

"But he cannot go out," cried Willie.

"Of course he can," I insisted, "I've come to take him."

"But where to?" asked Willie.

"Yes, Frank, where to?" repeated Oscar meekly.

"Anywhere you like," I said, "the Savoy if you like, the Cafe Royal for choice."

"Oh, Frank, I dare not," cried Oscar.

"No, no," cried Willie, "there would be a scandal; someone'll insult him and
it would do harm; set people's backs up."

"Oh, Frank, I dare not," echoed Oscar.

"No one will insult him.  There will be no scandal," I replied, "and it will
do good."

"But what will people say?" cried Willie.

"No one ever knows what people will say," I retorted, "and people always speak
best of those who don't care a damn what they do say."

"Oh, Frank, I could not go to a place like the Savoy where I am well known,"
objected Oscar.

"All right," I agreed, "you shall go where you like.  All London is before us.
I must have a talk with you, and it will do you good to get out into the air,
and sun yourself and feel the wind in your face.  Come, there's a hansom at
the door."

It was not long before I had conquered his objections and Willie's absurdities
and taken him with me.  Scarcely had we left the house when his spirits began
to lift, and he rippled into laughter.

"Really, Frank, it is strange, but I do not feel frightened and depressed any
more, and the people don't boo and hiss at me.  Is it not dreadful the way they
insult the fallen?"

"We are not going to talk about it," I said; "we are going to talk of victories
and not of defeats."

"Ah, Frank, there will be no more victories for me."

"Nonsense," I cried; "now where are we going?"

"Some quiet place where I shall not be known."

"You really would not like the Cafe Royal?" I asked.  "Nothing will happen to
you, and I think you would probably find that one or two people would wish
you luck.  You have had a rare bad time, and there must be some people who
understand what you have gone through and know that it is sufficient punishment
for any sin."

"No, Frank," he persisted, "I cannot, I really cannot."

At length we decided on a restaurant in Great Portland Street.  We drove there
and had a private room.

I had two purposes in me, springing from the one root, the intense desire to
help him.  I felt sure that if the case came up again for trial he would only be
convicted through what I may call good, honest testimony.  The jury with their
English prejudice; or rather I should say with their healthy English instincts
would not take the evidence of vile blackmailers against him; he could only be
convicted through untainted evidence such as the evidence of the chambermaids
at the Savoy Hotel, and their evidence was over two years old and was weak,
inasmuch as the facts, if facts, were not acted upon by the management.  Still
their testimony was very clear and very positive, and, taken together with that
of the blackmailers, sufficient to ensure conviction.  After our lunch I laid
this view before Oscar.  He agreed with me that it was probably the
chambermaids' testimony which had weighed most heavily against him.  Their
statement and Shelley's had brought about the injurious tone in the Judge's
summing up.  The Judge himself had admitted as much.

"The chambermaids' evidence is wrong," Oscar declared.  "They are mistaken,
Frank.  It was not me they spoke about at the Savoy Hotel.  It was ----.  I was
never bold enough.  I went to see ---- in the morning in his room."

"Thank God," I said, "but why didn't Sir Edward Clarke bring that out?"

"He wanted to; but I would not let him.  I told him he must not.  I must be true
to my friend.  I could not let him."

"But he must," I said, "at any rate if he does not I will.  I have three weeks
and in that three weeks I am going to find the chambermaid.  I am going to get a
plan of your room and your friend's room, and I'm going to make her understand
that she was mistaken.  She probably remembered you because of your size: she
mistook you for the guilty person; everybody has always taken you for the
ringleader and not the follower."

"But what good is it, Frank, what good is it?" he cried.  "Even if you convinced
the chambermaid and she retracted; there would still be Shelley, and the Judge
laid stress on Shelley's evidence as untainted."

"Shelley is an accomplice," I cried, "his testimony needs corroboration.
You don't understand these legal quibbles; but there was not a particle of
corroboration.  Sir Edward Clarke should have had his testimony ruled out.
'Twas that conspiracy charge," I cried, "which complicated the matter.
Shelley's evidence, too, will be ruled out at the next trial, you'll see."

"Oh, Frank," he said, "you talk with passion and conviction, as if I were
innocent."

"But you are innocent," I cried in amaze, "aren't you?"

"No, Frank," he said, "I thought you knew that all along."

I stared at him stupidly.  "No," I said dully, "I did not know.  I did not
believe the accusation.  I did not believe it for a moment."

I suppose the difference in my tone and manner struck him, for he said, timidly
putting out his hand:

"This will make a great difference to you, Frank?"

"No," I said, pulling myself together and taking his hand; and after a pause I
went on: "No: curiously enough it has made no difference to me at all.  I do not
know why; I suppose I have got more sympathy than morality in me.  It has
surprised me, dumbfounded me.  The thing has always seemed fantastic and
incredible to me and now you make it exist for me; but it has no effect on my
friendship; none upon my resolve to help you.  But I see that the battle is
going to be infinitely harder than I imagined.  In fact, now I don't think we
have a chance of winning a verdict.  I came here hoping against fear that it
could be won, though I always felt that it would be better in the present state
of English feeling to go abroad and avoid the risk of a trial.  Now there is
no question: you would be insane, as Clarke said, to stay in England.  But
why on earth did Alfred Douglas, knowing the truth, ever wish you to attack
Queensberry?"

"He's very bold and obstinate, Frank," said Oscar weakly.

"Well, now I must play Crito," I resumed, smiling, "and take you away before
the ship comes from Delos."

"Oh, Frank, that would be wonderful; but it's impossible, quite impossible.  I
should be arrested before I left London, and shamed again in public: they would
boo at me and shout insults. . . . . Oh, it is impossible; I could not risk it."

"Nonsense," I replied, "I believe the authorities would be only too glad if you
went.  I think Clarke's challenge to Gill was curiously ill-advised.  He should
have let sleeping dogs lie.  Combative Gill was certain to take up the gauntlet.
If Clarke had lain low there might have been no second trial.  But that can't be
helped now.  Don't believe that it's even difficult to get away; it's easy.  I
don't propose to go by Folkestone or Dover."

"But, Frank, what about the people who have stood bail for me? I couldn't leave
them to suffer; they would lose their thousands."

"I shan't let them lose," I replied, "I am quite willing to take half on my own
shoulders at once and you can pay the other thousand or so within a very short
time by writing a couple of plays.  American papers would be only too glad to
pay you for an interview.  The story of your escape would be worth a thousand
pounds; they would give you almost any price for it.

"Leave everything to me, but in the meantime I want you to get out in the air
as much as possible.  You are not looking well; you are not yourself."

"That house is depressing, Frank.  Willie makes such a merit of giving me
shelter; he means well, I suppose; but it is all dreadful."

My notes of this talk finish in this way, but the conversation left on me a deep
impression of Oscar's extraordinary weakness or rather extraordinary softness of
nature backed up and redeemed by a certain magnanimity: he would not leave the
friends in the lurch who had gone bail for him; he would not give his friend
away even to save himself; but neither would he exert himself greatly to win
free.  He was like a woman, I said to myself in wonder, and my pity for him grew
keener.  He seemed mentally stunned by the sudden fall, by the discovery of how
violently men can hate.  He had never seen the wolf in man before; the vile
brute instinct that preys upon the fallen.  He had not believed that such
exultant savagery existed; it had never come within his ken; now it appalled
him.  And so he stood there waiting for what might happen without courage to do
anything but suffer.  My heart ached with pity for him, and yet I felt a little
impatient with him as well.  Why give up like that? The eternal quarrel of the
combative nature with those who can't or won't fight.

Before getting into the carriage to drive back to his brother's, I ascertained
that he did not need any money.  He told me that he had sufficient even for the
expenses of a second trial: this surprised me greatly, for he was very careless
about money; but I found out from him later that a very noble and cultured
woman, a friend of both of us, Miss S----, a Jewess by race tho' not by
religion, had written to him asking if she could help him financially, as she
had been distressed by hearing of his bankruptcy, and feared that he might be in
need.  If that were the case she begged him to let her be his banker, in order
that he might be properly defended.  He wrote in reply, saying that he was
indeed in uttermost distress, that he wanted money, too, to help his mother as
he had always helped her, and that he supposed the expenses of the second trial
would be from L500 to L1,000.  Thereupon Miss S---- sent him a cheque for
L1,000, assuring him that it cost her little even in self-sacrifice, and
declaring that it was only inadequate recognition of the pleasure she had had
through his delightful talks.  Such actions are beyond praise; it is the perfume
of such sweet and noble human sympathy that makes this wild beasts' cage of a
world habitable for men.

Before parting we had agreed to meet a few nights afterwards at Mrs. Leverson's,
where he had been invited to dinner, and where I also had been invited.  By that
time, I thought to myself, all my preparations would be perfected.

Looking back now I see clearly that my affection for Oscar Wilde dates from his
confession to me that afternoon.  I had been a friend of his for years; but what
had bound us together had been purely intellectual, a community of literary
tastes and ambitions.  Now his trust in me and frankness had thrown down the
barrier between us; and made me conscious of the extraordinary femininity and
gentle weakness of his nature, and, instead of condemning him as I have always
condemned that form of sexual indulgence, I felt only pity for him and a desire
to protect and help him.  From that day on our friendship became intimate: I
began to divine him; I knew now that his words would always be more generous
and noble than his actions; knew too that I must take his charm of manner and
vivacity of intercourse for real virtues, and indeed they were as real as the
beauty of flowers; and I was aware as by some sixth sense that, where his vanity
was concerned, I might expect any injustice from him.  I was sure beforehand,
however, that I should always forgive him, or rather that I should always accept
whatever he did and love him for the charm and sweetness and intellect in him
and hold myself more than recompensed for anything I might be able to do, by his
delightful companionship.



CHAPTER XVI--ESCAPE REJECTED: THE SECOND TRIAL AND SENTENCE



In spite of the wit of the hostess and her exquisite cordiality, our dinner at
Mrs. Leverson's was hardly a success.  Oscar was not himself; contrary to his
custom he sat silent and downcast.  From time to time he sighed heavily, and his
leaden dejection gradually infected all of us.  I was not sorry, for I wanted
to get him away early; by ten o'clock we had left the house and were in the
Cromwell Road.  He preferred to walk: without his noticing it I turned up
Queen's Gate towards the park.  After walking for ten minutes I said to him:

"I want to speak to you seriously.  Do you happen to know where Erith is?"

"No, Frank."

"It is a little landing place on the Thames," I went on, "not many miles away:
it can be reached by a fast pair of horses and a brougham in a very short time.
There at Erith is a steam yacht ready to start at a moment's notice; she has
steam up now, one hundred pounds pressure to the square inch in her boilers;
her captain's waiting, her crew ready--a greyhound in leash; she can do fifteen
knots an hour without being pressed.  In one hour she would be free of the
Thames and on the high seas--(delightful phrase, eh?)--high seas indeed where
there is freedom uncontrolled.

"If one started now one could breakfast in France, at Boulogne, let us say, or
Dieppe; one could lunch at St. Malo or St. Enogat or any place you like on the
coast of Normandy, and one could dine comfortably at the Sables d'Olonne, where
there is not an Englishman to be found, and where sunshine reigns even in May
from morning till night.

"What do you say, Oscar, will you come and try a homely French bourgeois dinner
tomorrow evening at an inn I know almost at the water's edge?  We could sit out
on the little terrace and take our coffee in peace under the broad vine leaves
while watching the silver pathway of the moon widen on the waters.  We could
smile at the miseries of London and its wolfish courts shivering in cold grey
mist hundreds of miles away.  Does not the prospect tempt you?"

I spoke at leisure, tasting each delight, looking for his gladness.

"Oh, Frank," he cried, "how wonderful; but how impossible!"

"Impossible! don't be absurd," I retorted.  "Do you see those lights yonder?"
and I showed him some lights at the Park gate on the top of the hill in front
of us.

"Yes, Frank."

"That's a brougham," I said, "with a pair of fast horses.  It will take us for
a midnight visit to the steam yacht in double-quick time.  There's a little
library on board of French books and English; I've ordered supper in the cabin--
lobster a l'Americaine and a bottle of Pommery.  You've never seen the mouth of
the Thames at night, have you?  It's a scene from wonderland; houses like blobs
of indigo fencing you in; ships drifting past like black ghosts in the misty
air, and the purple sky above never so dark as the river, the river with its
shifting lights of ruby and emerald and topaz, like an oily, opaque serpent
gliding with a weird life of its own. . . . . Come; you must visit the yacht."

I turned to him, but he was no longer by my side.  I gasped; what had happened?
The mist must have hidden him; I ran back ten yards, and there he was leaning
against the railing, hung up with his head on his arm shaking.

"What's the matter, Oscar?" I cried.  "What on earth's the matter?"

"Oh, Frank, I can't go," he cried, "I can't.  It would be too wonderful; but
it's impossible.  I should be seized by the police.  You don't know the police."

"Nonsense," I cried, "the police can't stop you and not a man of them will see
you from start to finish.  Besides, I have loose money for any I do meet, and
none of them can resist a 'tip.'  You will simply get out of the brougham and
walk fifty yards and you will be on the yacht and free.  In fact, if you like
you shall not come out of the brougham until the sailors surround you as a guard
of honour.  On board the yacht no one will touch you.  No warrant runs there.
Come on, man!"

"Oh, Frank," he groaned, "it's impossible!"

"What's impossible?" I insisted.  "Let's consider everything anew at breakfast
to-morrow morning in France.  If you want to come back, there's nothing to
prevent you.  The yacht will take you back in twenty-four hours.  You will not
have broken your bail; you'll have done nothing wrong.  You can go to France,
Germany or Siberia so long as you come back by the twentieth of May.  Take it
that I offer you a holiday in France for ten days.  Surely it is better to spend
a week with me than in that dismal house in Oakley Street, where the very door
gives one the creeps."

"Oh, Frank, I'd love to," he groaned.  "I see everything you say, but I can't.
I dare not.  I'm caught, Frank, in a trap, I can only wait for the end."

I began to get impatient; he was weaker than I had imagined, weaker a hundred
times.

"Come for a trip, then, man," I cried, and I brought him within twenty yards of
the carriage; but there he stopped as if he had made up his mind.

"No, no, I can't come.  I could not go about in France feeling that the
policeman's hand might fall on my shoulder at any moment.  I could not live
a life of fear and doubt: it would kill me in a month."  His tone was decided.

"Why let your imagination run away with you?" I pleaded.  "Do be reasonable for
once.  Fear and doubt would soon be over.  If the police don't get you in France
within a week after the date fixed for the trial, you need have no further fear,
for they won't get you at all: they don't want you.  You're making mountains out
of molehills with nervous fancies."

"I should be arrested."

"Nonsense," I replied, "who would arrest you?  No one has the right.  You are
out on bail: your bail answers for you till the 20th.  Money talks, man;
Englishmen always listen to money.  It'll do you good with the public and the
jury to come back from France to stand your trial.  Do come," and I took him
by the arm; but he would not move.  To my astonishment he faced me and said:

"And my sureties?"

"We'll pay 'em," I replied, "both of 'em, if you break your bail.  Come,"
but he would not.

"Frank, if I were not in Oakley Street to-night Willie would tell the police."

"Your brother?" I cried.

"Yes," he said, "Willie."

"Good God!" I exclaimed; "but let him tell.  I have not mentioned Erith or the
steam yacht to a soul.  It's the last place in the world the police would
suspect and before he talks we shall be out of reach.  Besides they cannot do
anything; you are doing nothing wrong.  Please trust me, you do nothing
questionable even till you omit to enter the Old Bailey on the 20th of May."

"You don't know Willie," he continued, "he has made my solicitors buy letters
of mine; he has blackmailed me."

"Whew!" I whistled.  "But in that case you'll have no compunction in leaving him
without saying 'goodbye.'  Let's go and get into the brougham."

"No, no," he repeated, "you don't understand; I can't go, I cannot go."

"Do you mean it really?" I asked.  "Do you mean you will not come and spend
a week yachting with me?"

"I cannot."

I drew him a few paces nearer the carriage: something of desolation and despair
in his voice touched me: I looked at him.  Tears were pouring down his face;
he was the picture of misery, yet I could not move him.

"Come into the carriage," I said, hoping that the swift wind in his face would
freshen him up, give him a moment's taste of the joy of living and sharpen the
desire of freedom.

"Yes, Frank," he said, "if you will take me to Oakley Street."

"I would as soon take you to prison," I replied; "but as you wish."

The next moment we had got in and were swinging down Queen's Gate.  The mist
seemed to lend keenness to the air.  At the bottom of Queen's Gate the coachman
swept of himself to the left into the Cromwell Road; Oscar seemed to wake out of
his stupor.

"No, Frank," he cried, "no, no," and he fumbled at the handle of the door, "I
must get out; I will not go.  I will not go."

"Sit still," I said in despair, "I'll tell the coachman," and I put my head out
of the window and cried: "Oakley Street, Oakley Street, Chelsea, Robert."

I do not think I spoke again till we got to Oakley Street.  I was consumed with
rage and contemptuous impatience.  I had done the best I knew and had failed.
Why?  I had no idea.  I have never known why he refused to come.  I don't think
he knew himself.  Such resignation I had never dreamt of.  It was utterly new
to me.  I used to think of resignation in a vague way as of something rather
beautiful; ever since, I have thought of it with impatience: resignation is the
courage of the irresolute.  Oscar's obstinacy was the obverse of his weakness.
It is astonishing how inertia rules some natures.  The attraction of waiting and
doing nothing is intense for those who live in thought and detest action.  As we
turned into Oakley Street, Oscar said to me:

"You are not angry with me, Frank?" and he put out his hand.

"No, no," I said, "why should I be angry?  You are the master of your fate.
I can only offer advice."

"Do come and see me soon," he pleaded.

"My bolt is shot," I replied; "but I'll come in two or three days' time, as
soon as I have anything of importance to say. . . . . Don't forget, Oscar, the
yacht is there and will be there waiting until the 20th; the yacht will always
be ready and the brougham."

"Good night, Frank," he said, "good night, and thank you."

He got out and went into the house, the gloomy sordid house where the brother
lived who would sell his blood for a price!

. . . . . . .

Three or four days later we met again, but to my amaze Oscar had not changed
his mind.  To talk of him as cast down is the precise truth; he seemed to me as
one who had fallen from a great height and lay half conscious, stunned on the
ground.  The moment you moved him, even to raise his head, it gave him pain and
he cried out to be left alone.  There he lay prone, and no one could help him.
It was painful to witness his dumb misery: his mind even, his sunny bright
intelligence, seemed to have deserted him.

Once again he came out with me to lunch.  Afterwards we drove through Regent's
Park as the quietest way to Hampstead and had a talk.  The air and swift motion
did him good.  The beauty of the view from the heath seemed to revive him.
I tried to cheer him up.

"You must know," I said, "that you can win if you want to.  You can not only
bring the jury to doubt, but you can make the judge doubt as well.  I was
convinced of your innocence in spite of all the witnesses, and I knew more
about you than they did.  In the trial before Mr. Justice Charles, the thing
that saved you was that you spoke of the love of David and Jonathan and the
sweet affection which the common world is determined not to understand.  There
is another point against you which you have not touched on yet: Gill asked you
what you had in common with those serving-men and stable boys.  You have not
explained that.  You have explained that you love youth, the brightness and the
gaiety of it, but you have not explained what seems inexplicable to most men,
that you should go about with servants and strappers."

"Difficult to explain, Frank, isn't it, without the truth?" Evidently his mind
was not working.

"No," I replied, "easy, simple.  Think of Shakespeare.  How did he know Dogberry
and Pistol, Bardolph and Doll Tearsheet?  He must have gone about with them.
You don't go about with public school boys of your own class, for you know them;
you have nothing to learn from them: they can teach you nothing.  But the stable
boy and servant you cannot sketch in your plays without knowing him, and you
can't know him without getting on his level, and letting him call you 'Oscar'
and calling him 'Charlie.'  If you rub this in, the judge will see that he is
face to face with the artist in you and will admit at least that your
explanation is plausible.  He will hesitate to condemn you, and once he
hesitates you'll win.

"You fought badly because you did not show your own nature sufficiently; you did
not use your brains in the witness box and alas--" I did not continue; the truth
was I was filled with fear; for I suddenly realised that he had shown more
courage and self-possession in the Queensberry trial than in the trial before
Mr. Justice Charles when so much more was at stake; and I felt that in the next
trial he would be more depressed still, and less inclined to take the initiative
than ever.  I had already learned too that I could not help him; that he would
not be lifted out of that "sweet way of despair," which so attracts the artist
spirit.  But still I would do my best.

"Do you understand?" I asked.

"Of course, Frank, of course, but you have no conception how weary I am of the
whole thing, of the shame and the struggling and the hatred.  To see those
people coming into the box one after the other to witness against me makes me
sick.  The self-satisfied grin of the barristers, the pompous foolish judge
with his thin lips and cunning eyes and hard jaw.  Oh, it's terrible.  I feel
inclined to stretch out my hands and cry to them, 'Do what you will with me, in
God's name, only do it quickly; cannot you see that I am worn out?  If hatred
gives you pleasure, indulge it.'  They worry one, Frank, with ravening jaws,
as dogs worry a rabbit.  Yet they call themselves men.  It is appalling."

The day was dying, the western sky all draped with crimson, saffron and rosy
curtains: a slight mist over London, purple on the horizon, closer, a mere wash
of blue; here and there steeples pierced the thin veil like fingers pointing
upward.  On the left the dome of St. Paul's hung like a grey bubble over the
city; on the right the twin towers of Westminster with the river and bridge
which Wordsworth sang.  Peace and beauty brooding everywhere, and down there
lost in the mist the "rat pit" that men call the Courts of Justice.  There they
judge their fellows, mistaking indifference for impartiality, as if anyone could
judge his fellowman without love, and even with love how far short we all come
of that perfect sympathy which is above forgiveness and takes delight in
succouring the weak, comforting the broken-hearted.

. . . . . . .

The days went swiftly by and my powerlessness to influence him filled me with
self-contempt.  Of course, I said to myself, if I knew him better I should be
able to help him.  Would vanity do anything?  It was his mainspring; I could but
try.  He might be led by the hope of making Englishmen talk of him again, talk
of him as one who had dared to escape; wonder what he would do next.  I would
try, and I did try.  But his dejection foiled me: his dislike of the struggle
seemed to grow from day to day.

He would scarcely listen to me.  He was counting the days to the trial: willing
to accept an adverse decision; even punishment and misery and shame seemed
better than doubt and waiting.  He surprised me by saying:

"A year, Frank, they may give me a year? half the possible sentence: the middle
course, that English Judges always take: the sort of compromise they think
safe?" and his eyes searched my face for agreement.

I felt no such confidence in English Judges; their compromises are usually
bargainings; when they get hold of an artist they give rein to their intuitive
fear and hate.

But I would not discourage him.  I repeated:

"You can win, Oscar, if you like:--" my litany to him.  His wan dejected smile
brought tears to my eyes.

. . . . . . .

"Don't you want to make them all speak of you and wonder at you again?  If you
were in France, everyone would be asking: will he come back or disappear
altogether?  or will he manifest himself henceforth in some new comedies, more
joyous and pagan than ever?"

I might as well have talked to the dead: he seemed numbed, hypnotised with
despair.  The punishment had already been greater than he could bear.  I began
to fear that prison, if he were condemned to it, would rob him of his reason;
I sometimes feared that his mind was already giving way, so profound was his
depression, so hopeless his despair.

. . . . . . .

The trial opened before Mr. Justice Wills on the 21st of May, 1895.  The
Treasury had sent Sir Frank Lockwood, Q.C., M.P., to lead Mr. C. F. Gill,
Mr. Horace Avory, and Mr. Sutton.  Oscar was represented by the same counsel
as on the previous occasion.

The whole trial to me was a nightmare, and it was characterised from the very
beginning by atrocious prejudice and injustice.  The High Priests of Law were
weary of being balked; eager to make an end.  As soon as the Judge took his
seat, Sir Edward Clarke applied that the defendants should be tried separately.
As they had already been acquitted on the charge of conspiracy, there was no
reason why they should be tried together.

The Judge called on the Solicitor-General to answer the application.

The Solicitor-General had nothing to say, but thought it was in the interests
of the defendants to be tried together; for, in case they were tried separately,
it would be necessary to take the defendant Taylor first.

Sir Edward Clarke tore this pretext to pieces, and Mr. Justice Wills brought the
matter to a conclusion by saying that he was in possession of all the evidence
that had been taken at the previous trials, and his opinion was that the two
defendants should be tried separately.

Sir Edward Clarke then applied that the case of Mr. Wilde should be taken first
as his name stood first on the indictment, and as the first count was directed
against him and had nothing to do with Taylor. . . . . "There are reasons
present, I am sure, too, in your Lordship's mind, why Wilde should not be tried
immediately after the other defendant."

Mr. Justice Wills remarked, with seeming indifference, "It ought not to make the
least difference, Sir Edward.  I am sure I and the jury will do our best to take
care that the last trial has no influence at all on the present."

Sir Edward Clarke stuck to his point.  He urged respectfully that as Mr. Wilde's
name stood first on the indictment his case should be taken first.

Mr. Justice Wills said he could not interfere with the discretion of the
prosecution, nor vary the ordinary procedure.  Justice and fair play on the one
side and precedent on the other: justice was waved out of court with serene
indifference.  Thereupon Sir Edward Clarke pressed that the trial of Mr. Oscar
Wilde should stand over till the next sessions.  But again Mr. Justice Wills
refused.  Precedent was silent now but prejudice was strong as ever.

The case against Taylor went on the whole day and was resumed next morning.
Taylor went into the box and denied all the charges.  The Judge summed up dead
against him, and at 3.30 the jury retired to consider their verdict: in forty-
five minutes they came into court again with a question which was significant.
In answer to the judge the foreman stated that "they had agreed that Taylor
had introduced Parker to Wilde, but they were not satisfied with Wilde's guilt
in the matter."

Mr. Justice Wills: "Were you agreed as to the charge on the other counts?"

Foreman: "Yes, my Lord."

Mr. Justice Wills: "Well, possibly it would be as well to take your verdict
upon the other counts."

Through the foreman the jury accordingly intimated that they found Taylor guilty
with regard to Charles and William Parker.

In answer to his Lordship, Sir F. Lockwood said he would take the verdict given
by the jury of "guilty" upon the two counts.

A formal verdict having been entered, the judge ordered the prisoner to stand
down, postponing sentence.  Did he postpone the sentence in order not to
frighten the next jury by the severity of it?  Other reason I could find none.

Sir Edward Clarke then got up and said that as it was getting rather late,
perhaps after the second jury had disagreed as to Mr. Wilde's guilt--

Sir F. Lockwood here interposed hotly: "I object to Sir Edward Clarke making
these little speeches."

Mr. Justice Wills took the matter up as well.

"You can hardly call it a disagreement, Sir Edward," though what else he could
call it, I was at a loss to imagine.

He then adjourned the case against Oscar Wilde till the next day, when a
different jury would be impanelled.  But whatever jury might be called they
would certainly hear that their forerunners had found Taylor guilty and they
would know that every London paper without exception had approved the finding.
What a fair chance to give Wilde! It was like trying an Irish Secretary before
a jury of Fenians.

The next morning, May 23d, Oscar Wilde appeared in the dock.  The Solicitor-
General opened the case, and then called his witnesses.  One of the first was
Edward Shelley, who in cross-examination admitted that he had been mentally ill
when he wrote Mr. Wilde those letters which had been put in evidence.  He was
"made nervous from over-study," he said.

Alfred Wood admitted that he had had money given him quite recently, practically
blackmailing money.  He was as venomous as possible.  "When he went to America,"
he said, "he told Wilde that he wanted to get away from mixing with him (Wilde)
and Douglas."

Charlie Parker next repeated his disgusting testimony with ineffable impudence
and a certain exultation.  Bestial ignominy could go no lower; he admitted
that since the former trial he had been kept at the expense of the prosecution.
After this confession the case was adjourned and we came out of court.

When I reached Fleet Street I was astonished to hear that there had been a row
that same afternoon in Piccadilly between Lord Douglas of Hawick and his father,
the Marquis of Queensberry.  Lord Queensberry, it appears, had been writing
disgusting letters about the Wilde case to Lord Douglas's wife.  Meeting him
in Piccadilly Percy Douglas stopped him and asked him to cease writing obscene
letters to his wife.  The Marquis said he would not and the father and son came
to blows.  Queensberry it seems was exasperated by the fact that Douglas of
Hawick was one of those who had gone bail for Oscar Wilde.  One of the telegrams
which the Marquis of Queensberry had sent to Lady Douglas I must put in just to
show the insane nature of the man who could exult in a trial which was damning
the reputation of his own son.  The letter was manifestly written after the
result of the Taylor trial:

Must congratulate on verdict, cannot on Percy's appearance.  Looks like a
dug up corpse.  Fear too much madness of kissing.  Taylor guilty.  Wilde's
turn tomorrow.

Queensberry.

In examination before the magistrate, Mr. Hannay, it was stated that Lord
Queensberry had been sending similar letters to Lady Douglas "full of the
most disgusting charges against Lord Douglas, his wife, and Lord Queensberry's
divorced wife and her family."  But Mr. Hannay thought all this provocation was
of no importance and bound over both father and son to keep the peace--an
indefensible decision, a decision only to be explained by the sympathy
everywhere shown to Queensberry because of his victory over Wilde, otherwise
surely any honest magistrate would have condemned the father who sent obscene
letters to his son's wife--a lady above reproach.  These vile letters and the
magistrate's bias, seemed to me to add the final touch of the grotesque to the
horrible vileness of the trial.  It was all worthy of the seventh circle of
Dante, but Dante had never imagined such a father and such judges!

. . . . . . .

Next morning Oscar Wilde was again put in the dock.  The evidence of the
Queensberry trial was read and therewith the case was closed for the Crown.

Sir Edward Clarke rose and submitted that there was no case to go to the jury on
the general counts.  After a long legal argument for and against, Mr. Justice
Wills said that he would reserve the question for the Court of Appeal.  The view
he took was that "the evidence was of the slenderest kind"; but he thought the
responsibility must be left with the jury.  To this judge "the slenderest kind"
of evidence was worthful so long as it told against the accused.

Sir Edward Clarke then argued that the cases of Shelley, Parker, and Wood failed
on the ground of the absence of corroboration.  Mr. Justice Wills admitted that
Shelley showed "a peculiar exaltation" of mind; there was, too, mental
derangement in his family, and worst of all there was no corroboration of his
statements.  Accordingly, in spite of the arguments of the Solicitor-General,
Shelley's evidence was cut out.  But Shelley's evidence had already been taken,
had already prejudiced the jury.  Indeed, it had been the evidence which had
influenced Mr. Justice Charles in the previous trial to sum up dead against the
defendant: Mr. Justice Charles called Shelley "the only serious witness."

Now it appeared that Shelley's evidence should never have been taken at all,
that the jury ought never to have heard Shelley's testimony or the Judge's
acceptance of it!

. . . . . . .

When the court opened next morning I knew that the whole case depended on Oscar
Wilde, and the showing he would make in the box, but alas! he was broken and
numbed.  He was not a fighter, and the length of this contest might have wearied
a combative nature.  The Solicitor-General began by examining him on his letters
to Lord Alfred Douglas and we had the "prose poem" again and the rest of the
ineffable nonsensical prejudice of the middle-class mind against passionate
sentiment.  It came out in evidence that Lord Alfred Douglas was now in Calais.
His hatred of his father was the "causa causans" of the whole case; he had
pushed Oscar into the fight and Oscar, still intent on shielding him, declared
that he had asked him to go abroad.

Sir Edward Clarke again did his poor best.  He pointed out that the trial rested
on the evidence of mere blackmailers.  He would not quarrel with that and
discuss it, but it was impossible not to see that if blackmailers were to be
listened to and believed, their profession might speedily become a more deadly
mischief and danger to society than it had ever been.

The speech was a weak one; but the people in court cheered Sir Edward Clarke;
the cheers were immediately suppressed by the Judge.

The Solicitor-General took up the rest of the day with a rancorous reply.  Sir
Edward Clarke even had to remind him that law officers of the Crown should try
to be impartial.  One instance of his prejudice may be given.  Examining Oscar
as to his letters to Lord Alfred Douglas, Sir Frank Lockwood wanted to know
whether he thought them "decent"?

The witness replied, "Yes."

"Do you know the meaning of the word, sir?" was this gentleman's retort.

I went out of the court feeling certain that the case was lost.  Oscar had not
shown himself at all; he had not even spoken with the vigour he had used at the
Queensberry trial.  He seemed too despairing to strike a blow.

The summing up of the Judge on May 25th was perversely stupid and malevolent.
He began by declaring that he was "absolutely impartial," though his view of the
facts had to be corrected again and again by Sir Edward Clarke: he went on to
regret that the charge of conspiracy should have been introduced, as it had to
be abandoned.  He then pointed out that he could not give a colourless summing
up, which was "of no use to anybody."  His intelligence can be judged from one
crucial point: he fastened on the fact that Oscar had burnt the letters which
he bought from Wood, which he said were of no importance, except that they
concerned third parties.  The Judge had persuaded himself that the letters were
indescribably bad, forgetting apparently that Wood or his associates had
selected and retained the very worst of them for purposes of blackmail and that
this Judge himself, after reading it, couldn't attribute any weight to it; still
he insisted that burning the letters was an act of madness; whereas it seemed to
everyone of the slightest imagination the most natural thing in the world for an
innocent man to do.  At the time Oscar burnt the letters he had no idea that he
would ever be on trial.  His letters had been misunderstood and the worst of
them was being used against him, and when he got the others he naturally threw
them into the fire.  The Judge held that it was madness, and built upon this
inference a pyramid of guilt.  "Nothing said by Wood should be believed, as he
belongs to the vilest class of criminals; the strength of the accusation depends
solely upon the character of the original introduction of Wood to Wilde as
illustrated and fortified by the story with regard to the letters and their
burning."

A pyramid of guilt carefully balanced on its apex! If the foolish Judge had only
read his Shakespeare! What does Henry VI say:

Proceed no straiter 'gainst our uncle Gloucester
Than from true evidence of good esteem
He be approved in practice culpable.

There was no "true evidence of good esteem" against Wilde, but the Judge turned
a harmless action into a confession of guilt.

Then came an interruption which threw light on the English conception of
justice.  The foreman of the jury wanted to know, in view of the intimate
relations between Lord Alfred Douglas and the defendant, whether a warrant
against Lord Alfred Douglas was ever issued.

Mr. Justice Wills: "I should say not; we have never heard of it."

Foreman: "Or ever contemplated?"

Mr. Justice Wills: "That I cannot say, nor can we discuss it.  The issue of such
a warrant would not depend upon the testimony of the parties, but whether there
was evidence of such act.  Letters pointing to such relations would not be
sufficient.  Lord Alfred Douglas was not called, and you can give what weight
you like to that."

Foreman: "If we are to deduce any guilt from these letters, it would apply
equally to Lord Alfred Douglas."

Mr. Justice Wills concurred in that view, but after all he thought it had
nothing to do with the present trial, which was the guilt of the accused.

The jury retired to consider their verdict at half past three.  After being
absent two hours they returned to know whether there was any evidence of
Charles Parker having slept at St. James's Place.

His Lordship replied, "No."

The jury shortly afterwards returned again with the verdict of "Guilty" on all
the counts.

It may be worth while to note again that the Judge himself admitted that the
evidence on some of the counts was of "the slenderest kind"; but, when backed
by his prejudiced summing up, it was more than sufficient for the jury.

Sir Edward Clarke pleaded that sentence should be postponed till the next
sessions, when the legal argument would be heard.

Mr. Justice Wills would not be balked: sentence, he thought, should be given
immediately.  Then, addressing the prisoners, he said, and again I give his
exact words, lest I should do him wrong:


"Oscar Wilde and Alfred Taylor, the crime of which you have been convicted is so
bad that one has to put stern restraint upon one's self to prevent one's self
from describing in language which I would rather not use the sentiments which
must rise to the breast of every man of honour who has heard the details of
these two terrible trials.

"That the jury have arrived at a correct verdict in this case I cannot persuade
myself to entertain the shadow of a doubt; and I hope, at all events, that those
who sometimes imagine that a Judge is half-hearted in the cause of decency and
morality because he takes care no prejudice shall enter into the case may see
that that is consistent at least with the utmost sense of indignation at the
horrible charges brought home to both of you.

"It is no use for me to address you.  People who can do these things must be
dead to all sense of shame, and one cannot hope to produce any effect upon them.
It is the worst case I have ever tried. . . . . That you, Wilde, have been the
centre of a circle of extensive corruption of the most hideous kind among young
men it is impossible to doubt.

"I shall under such circumstances be expected to pass the severest sentence
that the law allows.  In my judgment it is totally inadequate for such a case
as this.

"The sentence of the court is that each of you be imprisoned and kept to hard
labour for two years."

The sentence hushed the court in shocked surprise.

Wilde rose and cried, "Can I say anything, my lord?"

Mr. Justice Wills waved his hand deprecatingly amid cries of "Shame" and hisses
from the public gallery; some of the cries and hisses were certainly addressed
to the Judge and well deserved.  What did he mean by saying that Oscar was a
"centre of extensive corruption of the most hideous kind"?  No evidence of this
had been brought forward by the prosecution.  It was not even alleged that a
single innocent person had been corrupted.  The accusation was invented by this
"absolutely impartial" Judge to justify his atrocious cruelty.  The unmerited
insults and appalling sentence would have disgraced the worst Judge of the
Inquisition.

Mr. Justice Wills evidently suffered from the peculiar "exaltation" of mind
which he had recognised in Shelley.  This peculiarity is shared in a lesser
degree by several other Judges on the English bench in all matters of sexual
morality.  What distinguished Mr. Justice Wills was that he was proud of his
prejudice and eager to act on it.  He evidently did not know, or did not care,
that the sentence which he had given, declaring it was "totally inadequate,"
had been condemned by a Royal Commission as "inhuman."  He would willingly
have pushed "inhumanity" to savagery, out of sheer bewigged stupidity, and
that he was probably well-meaning only intensified the revolt one felt at such
brainless malevolence.

The bitterest words in Dante are not bitter enough to render my feeling:

"Non ragioniam di lor ma guarda e passa."

The whole scene had sickened me.  Hatred masquerading as justice, striking
vindictively and adding insult to injury.  The vile picture had its fit setting
outside.  We had not left the court when the cheering broke out in the streets,
and when we came outside there were troops of the lowest women of the town
dancing together and kicking up their legs in hideous abandonment, while the
surrounding crowd of policemen and spectators guffawed with delight.  As I
turned away from the exhibition, as obscene and soul-defiling as anything
witnessed in the madness of the French revolution, I caught a glimpse of Wood
and the Parkers getting into a cab, laughing and leering.


These were the venal creatures Oscar Wilde was punished for having corrupted!





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