OSCAR WILDE AND MYSELF
LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS
LORD QUEENSBERRY INTERVENES
IN 1895 my friendship with Oscar Wilde had ripened into an intimacy which was an affair for the gossips. We were inseparable : wherever Wilde went I went, and wherever I went Wilde went. I was living at my mother's house in Cadogan Place, and Wilde at his house in Tite Street. We lunched and dined usually at the Cafe Royal or at the Savoy ; we visited the theatres and music-halls of an evening, and we often wound up the day with supper at Willis's rooms.
I had left Oxford and my time was my own. Money did not trouble me much in those days. My father allowed me three hundred and fifty pounds a year for pocket money; the necessaries and luxuries of life were always at my disposal at home and in the houses of my numerous friends and relatives; and whenever I wanted money I had merely to ask my mother or my indulgent Grandfather Montgomery for it. One way or another, I dare say I was living at the rate of at least fifteen hundred a year. Wilde was an expensive sort of friend, particularly after he began to consider himself a gourmet and a man of the great world. He gave fairly expensive entertainments, and although a chop and a pint of bitter beer at some respectable inn would always have done for me, I never professed to be insensible to the charms of good cooking, and when it came to ordering and paying for a dinner for my friends I was certainly not to be outdone by Wilde.
At the Ransome trial, among the charges brought against me on the strength of the precious document which Mr. Ross has handed to the British Museum, was that of extravagance, in respect of which I had to meet Wilde's stories of the long-departed menus of some of our Lucullian feasts. It was suggested that we lived on nothing but ''delicious ortolans''—by the way, are there any ortolans that are not delicious ?—and foie gras from Strasbourg, which we made a point of washing down with Perrier Jouet and topped off with fifty-year-old brandy. Of course, I do not profess to remember what I had for dinner twenty years ago ; but any man about town knows that one can dine very comfortably for a sovereign, and I happen to remember that Wilde always considered a sovereign quite a good deal of money.
It was further suggested that between the autumn of 1892 and the date of his imprisonment—that is to say, in less than three years—Wilde spent with me and on me more than five thousand pounds in actual money, irrespective of the bills he incurred. But in plain terms this means that he spent at least forty pounds a week in entertaining me. So that for three years I must have been eating three meals a day and twenty-one meals a week, at a cost and charge of two pounds a meal, with Oscar Wilde. I cannot have disbursed a penny on myself or on him and, at the end of the three years, I ought to have had a thousand or two in the bank and a stone or two of flesh to spare.
In point of fact, even in those early days I spent a great deal more money on Wilde than he spent on me, and my weight has stood at less than ten stone five ever since I can remember, which, for a man of my height, does not point to much gourmandising. It is a pretty thing that any gentleman should be compelled to go into such matters, but as the world has already been told and is to be told again in 1960 that I got through five thousand pounds' worth of Wilde's ortolans and Perrier Jouet in three years, I here and now venture to tell the world that I did nothing of the kind. In the three years in question, it is exceedingly doubtful whether Wilde ever had five thousand pounds at his disposal.
He had developed expensive tastes in many other directions besides food and drink: he dressed expensively, he wore expensive jewellery, he made presents of jewellery and money to all sorts of ridiculous people; the upkeep of his house in Tite Street must have run him into at least a thousand a year; he travelled a good deal and made expensive stays in Paris, at Homburg and in Italy; and, not to put too fine a point on it, he was continually short of money.
On several occasions I borrowed money from moneylenders at his suggestion and instigation, and he invariably helped himself liberally, not only to these sums but to sums of money which I obtained from my mother and from my other relatives. Indeed, so far as my money was concerned, we had a common purse. It never occurred to me to refuse him anything.
Nothing was too good for him, and I always regarded him as a man who, although he might have spurts of money, was without proper income and resources, and was consequently to be helped out whenever occasion demanded.
To take an instance in point: just before 'The Woman of no Importance" was put on at the Haymarket I went to a moneylender and borrowed two hundred and fifty pounds. At lunch I showed Wilde the money in ten-pound notes, and he took them into his hand and said : ''How beautiful they are and how wonderful it is of you to be able to get them”.
Then, with a laugh, he put five or six of them into his own pocket and handed me the balance. I thought no more about it at the moment than I should have thought of sharing a bottle of wine with him. Indeed, I got the money with the intention of giving him some of it because he had been groaning for over a week about his hard-upness. This is only one instance of many. All my life I have been free-handed and careless about money. I was well over thirty years of age before it dawned upon me that money did not grow on the trees on the family estate.
There are plenty of people who are now living who know me well, and I should like to hear one of them who would tell me that I am ''thrifty" or that I permit my friends to pay out of their turn. It is true that Wilde and I were for a long period on terms of friendship which were quite outside and beyond the ''you-ask-me-to-dinner-and - 1 - ask-you-back - again" principle; but it is grotesquely untrue to suggest that he wasted any appreciable part of his substance upon me. Wilde had a great way of making everything appear important. He was very fond of sending for the managers of restaurants to consult them over the merits of wine or to bid them summon the chef to receive instruction or compliment, as the case might be.
These were not practices of mine, and never have been. Up to the time of my meeting Oscar Wilde, I had been accustomed to live at great houses, and the best food and the best drink were the only sort I knew about. It never occurred to me that Wilde's ''exquisite'' spreads were anything out of the ordinary. I suppose the cooking at the Cafe Royal or at the Savoy Hotel is good, but it is certainly, to say the least, no better than what one gets in a good house or at a good club. Wilde made fusses and went through elaborate rituals over the ordering of his meals. I, for my part, ordered, ate and paid for them, and thought nothing further about it.
As I have said, our constant appearances together at cafes, restaurants, theatres and public places set the gossips wagging their tongues. I heard all sorts of rumours which were silly on the face of them and which were a good deal sillier when one thought about them. Naturally, I ignored them utterly. I am convinced that some of the whispers and hints that went around were set going by persons who deemed that I had supplanted them in Wilde's good graces and who were annoyed because, while he still continued to know them, he ceased, in a great measure, to frequent their company. In any case, I was made to feel that certain people were very sore about my ''monopolising Wilde”.
Egged on doubtless by what she heard, even Mrs. Wilde—with whom I always had been on the most friendly terms — began to say that I took up a great deal too much of Oscar's time, and Wilde once told me that she had made difficulties about our being so much together. I told him that we certainly did seem to be always together, and I offered to go away and leave him to his own devices; but he said that this would be unbearable to him and that he had made Mrs. Wilde understand and that he had mentioned the matter to me in the idlest way and without any notion that I should be so foolish as to take him seriously.
So our lives drifted along as usual. I may here mention that for the first three years of my close intimacy with Oscar Wilde I never heard a coarse or indelicate allusion come out of his mouth. I knew him for a somewhat cynical and insincere kind of humourist; I was not blind to his faults of vanity and his occasional lapses into vulgar manners ; I knew he was no saint, even as men of the world go; but I considered that he was a man of decent life, and I never heard from him a word or a sign which made me think otherwise. He treated me always with the greatest and, I may even say, the most elaborate courtesy, and I noticed particularly that when we were in the society of men who were apt to kick somewhat over the traces and indulge in Rabelaisian conversation Wilde was eagerly careful to turn or suppress the talk.
He therefore seemed to be all that a man should be; and when I heard on one or two occasions certain other hints of tendencies of his, I repudiated them with indignation, believing that, as I was his close friend, I knew him through and through, and feeling that there could not possibly be any truth in what was suggested. Some years before I met Wilde my mother had found it desirable to divorce my father, and at the time to which I am now referring the family relationships were not exactly running smooth.
To be quite frank, I had conceived feelings of resentment against my father on account of his treatment of my mother which I am afraid were far from filial. You may judge, then, of my anger when Wilde one day told me that Lord Queensberry had sent him a letter in which he requested Wilde to terminate his friendship with me at once, inasmuch as he did not think it would be beneficial to me. Wilde asked me what he should do, and I told him to take no notice of the letter. Later, my father sent me a letter in which he told me what he had said to Wilde, and threatened to cut off my allowance if I did not at once terminate the acquaintance.
I was not aware of any grounds upon which Lord Queensberry could make such a request, and concluded that he had written to me for the mere purpose of annoyance and because he knew that I had taken sides with my mother since the divorce proceedings. Consequently, I sent him a fairly stinging reply, and a heated correspondence followed. Portions of that correspondence have been preserved in glass cases by careful lawyers, and these relics of an unpleasant feud have been brought up against me in various cross-examinations with a view to proving that I was an unfilial brute and that I treated my own father very badly.
In the light of what has happened since, I know that I was hasty and mistaken, but one cannot be the son of the eighth Marquis of Queensberry nor a member of the family of Douglas without having the defects of one's qualities. I did not sit down to the abuse of my father in the manner of a person without spirit for the very simple reason that I am not devoid of spirit and never shall be. However, before he died my father sent for me and there was a complete reconciliation between us, and he left me every shilling that could possibly be arranged for me out of his very considerable estate.
Failing to make disruption between myself and Wilde, Lord Queensberry adopted a different line of tactics; and, I believe, with the sincere view of saving me from what he knew was an undesirable entanglement, he went ahead to disgrace Wilde publicly.
At a theatre where one of Wilde's plays was running he caused a bouquet of carrots to be handed up to Wilde over the footlights, and he left his card on him at his club with certain odious remarks written on the back of it. I need scarcely say that Wilde was very much distressed. He came to me in a
great state about it and said that it was most wicked and cruel of my father to treat him in this way and that, unless an immediate apology was forthcoming, he would have no alternative but to prosecute Lord Queensberry for criminal libel.
I was a little bit nettled at the tone he took, as he seemed to imply by his air that I was in some way to blame for what had happened; and I said at once: ''You are not in the least likely to get apologies from my father and, so far as I am concerned, you can prosecute and be blowed!”
It has been widely asserted that I went out of my way to instigate these proceedings against my father. It is quite certain that I did not go on my bended knees to ask Wilde not to take proceedings. He assured me that the suggestions and accusation against him were quite false and without foundation. I had not the smallest reason to suppose that he was lying to me, and I undoubtedly allowed matters to take their course. I will go further, and say that in a sense I was not sorry that Lord Queensberry should be brought to book for what I considered to be his very bad treatment of both myself and Wilde.
I went with Wilde, at his request, to see a lawyer on the subject. This lawyer had been recommended to him by Robert Ross, who also accompanied us on this occasion. He advised proceedings, and we went to Bow Street and procured a warrant for my father's arrest. On the morning the warrant was executed Wilde came to me in a condition bordering on hysteria, told me that he had no money and that at least three hundred pounds were required in order that the case might go on. At his urgent solicitation, I gave him three hundred and sixty pounds to give to his solicitor. (The figures appear in my bankbook and were proved at the Ransome trial.)
This, I am told, was most unnatural conduct. Wilde, for his part, pointed out that it was entirely through his friendship for me that he had to suffer Lord Queensberry's insults, and that unless he went on with the prosecution he would be branded throughout Europe for a person of vicious and abominable life; and that, as I had been the means of getting him into the trouble, it would be a poor thing if I would not find a few hundreds to get him out again.
What was I to do—and what would any man so placed have done? I should have liked to have quoted verbatim Wilde's version of this episode as it was put to me at the Ransome trial; but since the manuscript of this book was completed Mr. Robert Ross has obtained an injunction against me, by which I am precluded from quoting any part of the unpublished ''De Profundis" manuscript. This unpublished part has been used against me in the most frightful manner. Venomous passages have been read in open court and reproduced in hundreds of newspapers, and yet I understand I am debarred from quoting from it for the purpose of replying to it and pointing out its obvious falsity. It is unnecessary for me to enlarge on the absolute negation of every principle of justice and common sense which is involved in such a decision: it is too obvious for that. I do not say that such decision may not be a correct interpretation of the law as it exists, though it is hard to believe it. What I do say is that the existence of such a law is a disgrace and a danger to the community, for it is obvious that under its provisions any man can foully slander another and so arrange his slander that reply to it becomes impossible during the lifetime of the slandered.
For example, there is nothing to prevent me from writing a long letter, say, to Mr. Justice Astbury—the judge who granted Mr. Ross the interim injunction restraining me from quoting passages from the unpublished ''De Profundis.'' I can, if I please, accuse him in this letter of every sort of crime and impute to him every kind of baseness ; I can attack his parents and his relations and I can ascribe to him imaginary words alleged to have been spoken by him, and I can invent imaginary scenes in which I allege that he has taken part. All I have to do is to hand this letter to a friend and give him instructions that after my death it is to be placed in the British Museum and kept there till such time as the friend may think fitting to bring it out and publish it.
If Mr. Justice Astbury should happen to outlive me, and if he should thereupon by some chance get knowledge of the fact that a long epistle addressed to him and containing a violent attack on his character is lying in the British Museum and is to be published in fifty years' time, he will be powerless to take the smallest step to prevent the publication of this posthumous libel, and he will not even be able to defend himself against the accusations it contains. The copyright in the manuscript will be the property of my heirs and executors, and should Mr. Justice Astbury propose to quote any part of it with a view to showing its scandalous and ridiculous falsity he will immediately be pulled up by the law of copyright.
My slanderous and shameful letter will be a valuable literary property; for Mr. Justice Astbury to quote passages from it would be injurious to its market value. In vain he would protest that he was surely entitled to defend himself against an attack made on him by a dead man and designed to be made public to the world after his own death. He would simply be told that ''the law is quite clear," and he would have to grin and bear it as well as he could, just as I have to do under precisely similar circumstances. What I can, at any rate, legitimately do—even within the narrow compass which Mr. Justice Astbury's interpretation of the law allows me—is to set out the true facts connected with this period of Wilde's career and my own connection with it.
I desire firstly to state emphatically that I did not force Wilde into taking proceedings against my father. The matter can be summed up in a few sentences. My father had accused Wilde of certain abominations. These accusations it seems were true. Wilde denied the truth of them to me and proceeded to take up what, in view of the facts known to himself and not to me, was a ridiculous prosecution against my father. He was, of course, beaten, and the authorities turned upon him and convicted him of crimes which he had denied. Then I became a convenient scapegoat.
I did not drag Wilde down to Bow Street to procure a warrant. I went with him, but at his own request. The suggestion of coercion—either moral or physical—is ridiculous. Here was the "King of Life''—a great big, fat, strong fellow, full of brains and forty-one years of age—''in the prime of his splendid manhood,'' as one of his admirers puts it; and I was sixteen years his junior —that is to say, twenty-four years of age. The real fact is that he had something inside him that I knew nothing about—namely and to wit, a guilty conscience.
He was too much of a coward to tell me that he was guilty of the charges the Marquis of Queensberry had levelled at him, and he was too much of a coward, even, to go to Bow Street for a warrant alone : so he came whimpering to me to go with him. I did not coerce or cajole Wilde into going to Monte Carlo at this time, nor did Wilde pay my expenses or my gambling losses. Wilde said his nerves were all broken up. He had never been to Monte Carlo, and we went there in order that he might be distracted from the question of the trial, upon which he seemed to brood a great deal.
Believing him to be an innocent man, I told him that he was a fool to worry and that it was the other side who ought to do the worrying, and we went to Monte Carlo. I have frequently been to Monte Carlo, and I have never in my life spent more than two hours at a stretch in the rooms. On this particular occasion I was less frequently in the rooms and for less periods of time than I have ever been before or since, largely because Wilde was with me. More often than not he was with me in the rooms,, and I gave him more than one handful of louis out of my winnings. He never had the pluck to put a louis on the table because, as I have said, he always felt that a gold piece was a good deal of money.
In any case, does it stand to reason that a man who had no money wherewith to pay his solicitor's fees was the kind of man one would take to Monte Carlo to pay one's hotel expenses and Casino losses ?
No one but a fool would pretend to believe such a farrago of rubbish. Wilde's friends, including the never-to-be-forgotten Robert Sherard, with the ''face like a Roman Emperor," whom Wilde thought "perfectly wonderful," have echoed the cry that I was the author of his disaster and downfall. Even Mrs. Wilde writes to tell Sherard that I had ''marred a fine life." Mr. Ransome, who tells his readers that he derives his biographical facts from Ross, says it in print.
All these people should surely have been aware that the person who ruined Oscar Wilde and brought about his disaster and marred his life was Oscar Wilde himself. He was not charged at the Old Bailey for having taken proceedings against the Marquis of Queensberry, but for having made a low, squalid and abominable brute of himself. They prefer to assume that he was convicted on false evidence and to speak always of me as the author of his debacle. Their great point seems to be that if he had not known me he would probably never have been found out and might have passed down to posterity for one of those highly respectable persons of whom he professes to be so contemptuous; and if this be their point, I will cheerfully concede it to them.
It was also a charge against me—again on Wilde's word only—that I was, at the time of his trouble, attacking him with loathsome letters. Now, what does this mean, and what is the suggestion? Where are those letters, and how could I be accusing him in letters on the one hand, and putting up money to defend him from these very accusations on the other ? I had written him no loathsome letters : all I had written after our conversation on the subject was a letter in which I confirmed my opinion that, as he was innocent of these charges, he had no alternative but to proceed against my father. Yet this was brought against me as being as ''loathsome'' as the cards on which my father had been charging him with a terrible offence. The truth was that Wilde, having once decided to take proceedings against my father, made up his mind that, if they failed, I was to be responsible for everything.
0. Book profile
10. Naples and Paris
17. Wilde's Poetry
19. For Posterity
28. The Smaller Fry