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Douglas Anchor


ALL the world knows that the proceedings against my father broke down, as it was only natural that they should. Wilde had a guilty mind, which he was careful to hide from me, and he attributed his defeat to ''a foul and hideous conspiracy'' and not to the fact that my father had merely spoken the truth. One of his biographers has given a highly melodramatic account of what happened after the collapse of the prosecution.

Says the writer in question: "At that moment, my friend, with some companions, was sitting in a private room in the Cadogan Arms (sic), smoking cigarettes, drinking whisky-and-soda, and waiting. What for waiting (sic), not one of them could have said. They had set fire to a mine and were trying to stupefy themselves into the belief and hope that it would not explode beneath them. It was reported to me that when, after an intentional delay of many hours, unable to wait any longer, the police at last moved and a knock came at the door of that sitting room in the Cadogan Arms, they all blanched as if under the shock of a sudden surprise. Not one of his friends had the sense to explain to Wilde what was the true meaning of the warning his counsel had given at the close of his cross-examination, or to force him to realise that, if only as a matter of public policy, he should leave the country at once. As a matter of fact, the warrant for his arrest was not signed until after the last day train for Dover, carefully watched, had been seen to leave without him, and it was impossible to delay action any longer."

The inexactitudes herein set forward are as beautiful as they are numerous. In the first place, this wonderful biographer's friend never sat with some companions in a private room in the Cadogan Arms smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskies and soda. Wilde's companions, for reasons best known to themselves, disappeared like snowflakes on a river the moment it was known that Sir Edward Clarke had withdrawn from the proceedings against my father. The only person left with him at this precise juncture happens to have been myself. We were both well aware that Wilde's arrest might follow on what had happened; and Wilde was not only sure that he was about to be arrested, but he told me that in all likelihood they would arrest me also.

I did my best to cheer him up, and I pointed out to him that they were welcome to indulge in any amount of arresting, since he said himself that he had done nothing and I knew that I had done nothing. I had a suite of rooms at the Cadogan Hotel — not ''Arms,'' Mr. Sherard, if you please !—in Sloane Street, and I drove Wilde there from the Old Bailey after we had lunched at the Holborn Hotel. I never saw a man more broken up or more nervously anxious about himself. He kept on tearfully protesting that it was a vile and hideous conspiracy against him, and that the suspense would kill him. I managed to bring him to reason, somewhat, by talking to him pretty plainly; and, in order to help him with the suspense difficulty, I went down to the House of Commons to see my cousin, George Wyndham, and asked him if he could find out what the authorities intended to do.

Wyndham saw me in the lobby and, after making enquiries in the House, came out and told me that Sir Robert Reid had told him that there was to be a prosecution. I went back to the Cadogan Hotel and found there, not Oscar Wilde, but a letter in which he told me he had been arrested and would have to pass the night at Bow Street, and asking me to see various people on the question of bail, and also to come to Bow Street and try to see him.

This letter I had intended to produce in facsimile, but the amiable Mr. Ross has obtained an injunction which prevents me from doing so. There was never any question of his leaving the country until the time when he was out on bail. According to his own showing, he had no reason for leaving the country other than to avoid the inconvenience of a criminal trial. In any case, he could not have left, because he was shadowed by detectives from the moment he had left the Old Bailey that morning.

So far from sitting in private rooms and endeavouring to stupefy ourselves with cigarettes and whisky, we had spent the hour after lunch in going round to George Lewis, the solicitor, to see if he could do anything. He said it was too late for anything to be done, and that if the matter had been taken to him in the first instance, he would simply have destroyed my father's card and told Wilde not to be a fool. In view of Mr. Ross's attempt to attribute Wilde's downfall to my bad advice, it is singular that I had recommended him to go to Mr. Lewis. If he had done so, there would have been no prosecution. As it was, he went to Mr. Ross's own solicitor, Mr. Humphreys, who advised the prosecution which proved so disastrous.

I do not think that the grounds upon which Sir Edward Clarke withdrew from the proceedings against my father have ever been stated, and consequently I set them out herewith. Sir Edward Clarke, like myself, believed in Wilde's innocence. He looked upon him as more or less of a madman, who did everything that was foolish and unwise for the mere sake of appearing eccentric or superior; but he nevertheless believed that he was innocent of any actual viciousness.

After Sir Edward Carson's cross-examination of Wilde, there was a conference, and Sir Edward Clarke pointed out that it would be impossible to get over the prejudice created in the minds of the jury by Wilde's admissions in the witness-box. Sir Edward Carson had made great use of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray" in the course of the cross-examination, and passages had been read which obviously pointed to a most objectionable attitude of mind on the part of the author towards certain vices.

Sir Edward Clarke advised that when the proceedings opened next day, no further evidence should be offered against the Marquis of Queensberry, and that the case against him should be abandoned on the ground that what Wilde had written and published in "Dorian Gray" would be sufficient to justify a reasonable person in supposing that Wilde sympathised with the vices in question. It should be pointed out that my father had not accused Wilde of the actual practice of these vices; on the card which he left at Wilde's club he had written an accusation against Wilde as ''posing'' as a vicious person.

Sir Edward Clarke was of opinion that, if the course indicated were taken, the defence would be more or less appeased and that Wilde would, to some extent, save his face and lessen the risks of a subsequent prosecution. ''If you withdraw from the case now," said Sir Edward, "it will be a nine days' talk, but you will probably hear no more about it so far as the authorities are concerned. If you continue, and Lord Queensberry is found 'not guilty,' they will, in all probability, arrest you in court."

Mr.—now Sir Charles—Matthews, who was also counsel for Wilde, agreed with Sir Edward, and it was decided to withdraw. Everybody who writes about this part of the proceedings contrives to suggest that Sir Edward Clarke threw up the sponge in disgust and without Wilde's consent or knowledge. In point of fact, Wilde consented to the withdrawal and, so far from throwing him over as a client, both Sir Edward Clarke and Sir Charles Matthews defended him in the two subsequent trials, and, what is more, defended him for nothing.

On returning to the Cadogan Hotel and finding that Wilde had been arrested, I went straight to Bow Street and offered bail for his temporary release. I was told that bail could not be accepted that night and that, if bail were accepted at all, other securities besides myself would be required. I went off at once to see Mr.—now Sir George — Alexander and Mr. Lewis Waller, at whose theatres Wilde's plays were running, and asked them to offer bail.

In the letter Wilde left for me at the Cadogan he requested me to see these gentlemen for that purpose. They both refused. Between the time of his arrest and of his trial at the Old Bailey, Wilde was kept at Holloway Prison, and either there or at Bow Street I visited him daily for a period of three or four weeks. There was nobody else to come near him. His companions had left the country, his wife would have nothing to do with him, and his general acquaintance was going about London protesting that it had never known him. It is the fashion to say that I deserted him. At the Ransome trial Mr. Campbell, K.C, had the face to put it to me that I fled the country. If a daily pilgrimage to Holloway and daily interviews with a prisoner are desertion and fleeing the country, then my gentle detractors are right. Without the slightest intention of benefit to me, a certain person has made public a letter which states that my daily visits were the only things which quickened Wilde into life.

And here is a portion of a letter which I myself had occasion to write to this same person: "I saw Oscar yesterday in a private room at the police court, and he gave me your three letters and asked me to write and tell you how deeply touched he was by your kindness and sympathy and loyalty to him in his terrible and undeserved trouble. He himself is so ill and unhappy that he has not sufficient strength and energy to write, and all his time has to be devoted to preparing his defence against a diabolical conspiracy, which seems almost unlimited in its size and strength. I will not add to your sorrow by telling you of the privations and sufferings he has to endure. I have seen him three times since his arrest: once through a horrible kind of barred cage, separated from him by a space of one yard and in almost complete darkness, with twenty other people talking at the same time.

“This is the ordinary way, and one visit a day of a quarter of an hour is all he is allowed. After that, I managed to get an order from the Home Secretary to see him in a private room for three-quarters of an hour. And yesterday I contrived to have a fairly long interview with him at the police court. In spite of all the brutal and cowardly clamour of our disgusting newspapers, I think the sympathy of all decent men is with him, and that he will ultimately triumph; but he has much to go through first. I have determined to remain here and do what I possibly can, though I am warned on all hands that my own risk is not inconsiderable and my family implore me to go away."

It is plain, on the whole, therefore, that desertion and fleeing the country are rather out of the picture. During the time that Wilde lay in Holloway Prison I began to have a certain amount of doubt as to his innocence. In our repeated conversations he clung to the conspiracy fiction with considerable persistence. As the time for the trial drew near, however, he began to weaken, and eventually he admitted that there were ''things in his life which could be made to look pretty awkward;'' but this was as far as he would go. His one anxiety seemed to be that I should not give him up, and I always told him that I never would.

One day he said to me: "Even if these horrible tales were true, you would stick to me, wouldn't you?"

And I said, ''Of course I would."

It was not until the day before the trial that he made anything like a proper attempt to unburden himself. It had been arranged that I should see him in a private room on this day and that we should have a longer interview than was permitted by the regulations. We talked on general matters for some time, but ultimately Wilde became very serious and said that he did not see how it was possible for him to hope for a verdict of ''not guilty” He then went on to tell me that, "in a way”' the charges set forward in the indictment were true and that he must have been mad to live as he had been living and that his only hope was that the skill of Clarke and Matthews might save him from the severest punishment. He reminded me of my promise not to forsake him and, though I was shocked at what he told me, I am free to confess that it never entered into my head that it was my duty forthwith to give up his acquaintance. I told him that what he had said should not make any difference and that I would stick to him through thick and thin.

In the meanwhile great pressure was being brought to bear on me by my family to leave the country. My father's advisers put up the very worst reason they could have chosen to get me to do this. They pretended that, as my name had been so continually linked with Wilde's, and as a silly letter he had addressed to me had been read in court, I was under some danger of being arrested and charged with him. Such threats did not move me in the least—rather, they confirmed me in my determination to stop where I was. During those unpleasant days I seemed almost to live at Bow Street or Holloway, so that if the police had wanted me they knew where to find me.

Then Sir Edward Clarke took a hand, quite independently, I believe, of any suggestion from my family. He pointed out that my continued association with Wilde after the collapse of the case against my father was creating all sorts of comment and prejudice, and that it would be much better for Wilde if I went abroad. When I put it to Wilde he said that he quite agreed with Sir Edward Clarke and that I should be obliging him and putting him in a better position in the eyes of the world if I remained away during the trial.

Even with this assurance I was not satisfied, and I asked Wilde to think it over and put it into writing, which he did. I thereupon left England for Paris. The result of the trial was that the jury disagreed. There had been six counts in the indictment, and the prosecution had brought up all sorts of extraordinary evidence, but the jury could not come to a unanimous verdict. It had been said, and, I believe, with truth, that only one juror stood out in Wilde's favour. In any case, there was the fact of no verdict, and the authorities had to consider their position. They decided to have a new trial, and Wilde was taken back to Holloway. It was arranged that he should be admitted to bail until the new trial took place if sureties to the amount of two thousand five hundred pounds were forthcoming.

My brother Percy, then Lord Douglas of Hawick and now Marquis of Queensberry, and the Rev. Stuart Headlam became bail for the amount. I have often thought that the supremely tragical period of Wilde's life was not the moment of his taking action against my father, as he suggested, but the period during which he was out on bail with the second trial looming ahead of him. I have reason for knowing that Wilde looked upon the disagreement of the jury as a sort of verdict in his favour, and was under the impression that he stood a very good sporting chance of being found not guilty at the second trial.

It is notorious that persons afflicted with Wilde's particular type of viciousness are for ever believing that the world will one day condone and even approve of them. Wilde looked upon the one juryman who refused to find him guilty not as an honest Englishman who was determined to satisfy himself on the evidence, but as a friend or approver of unnameable wickedness. He argued: ''If there was one man of this jury who was with me there is sure to be one on the' next,'' and, as it was evident that people were becoming tired of the scandal, and the press, which in the beginning had pursued him with relentless and bloodthirsty fierceness, had calmed down a good deal, he began to think that he would get off.

For my own part, I do not profess to have had great wisdom, but it happens that I did not think that he would get off and, rightly or wrongly, I advised him to leave the country. I wrote to my brother Percy and asked him if he would mind if Wilde made a bolt of it. The matter was put to Wilde and he refused to budge.

His brother is reputed to have said : ''Oscar is an Irish gentleman and will face the music.'' It has been held up to him for nobility that he did remain, and I have frequently seen it stated that he remained because he did not wish to be dishonourable with respect to his bail. His bail, however, would not have complained if he had gone.

Yet he stopped. Here again the tragedy was entirely of his own making. Even if we are to believe that Wilde abandoned his will-power entirely to me when he went to Bow Street for his warrant, how comes it to pass that when he was at Oakley Street without a shilling or a friend and a public exposure behind him of the like no man ever had in all history, his will-power suddenly reasserts itself? I have been blamed for suggesting that he should go away. On the other hand, the very people who blamed me for advising his retreat when I knew that he was guilty, have blamed me for not advising him to get away when I supposed him to be innocent. I take no shame whatever for having advised him as I did. His withdrawal to France would have cost my brother two thousand five hundred pounds, and heaven alone knows what it would have cost me in hard money; but it would have saved Wilde two years of imprisonment and it would have saved literature from the ultimate degradation at his hands. For it is obvious that, if he had remained a free man, he would not have degraded himself and the English language by writing ''De Profundis."

I have already produced the statement of one of Wilde's biographers as to the manner in which Wilde and his companions are alleged to have spent the hours between the collapse of the case against Lord Queensberry and Wilde's arrest; but I should like once more to call attention to the sentence about the police knocking at the door of the sitting-room at the Cadogan Arms and the ''blanched faces" and ''sudden surprise" of Wilde and his companions.

Here is another account of what happened: "Oscar Wilde had spent that afternoon in a private sitting-room at a hotel, smoking cigarettes, drinking whisky and soda and reading now the Yellow Book and now evening papers. He evinced neither dismay nor trepidation when the officers entered the room and, on alighting from the cab at Scotland Yard, he had a courteous discussion with one of the detectives about the payment of the cab.''

It will interest the reader to know that both these accounts, though they are diametrically opposed one to the other, are the work of the same person — namely, Robert Harborough Sherard. It is the same Mr. Sherard who tells the following fearful and wonderful anecdote:

''Late in the afternoon of the following day, Saturday, 25th May, 1895, Oscar Wilde was found guilty and sentenced to two years' hard labour. There had been six counts against him. He was asked after his release by a very old friend as to the justice of the finding, and he said: 'Five of the counts referred to matters with which I had absolutely nothing to do. There was some foundation for one of the counts.' 'But then, why,' asked his friend, 'did you not instruct your defenders?' 'That would have meant betraying a friend,' said Oscar. Circumstances which have since transpired have established—what for the rest was never in doubt in the minds of those who heard it made—the absolute truth of this statement."

Presuming that Wilde said this, he must have taken for granted that "those who heard him" had suddenly become idiots. The six counts of the indictment bore reference to his improper relations with different persons, all of whom were produced in the witness-box and gave their evidence in Wilde's presence. If a friend had been involved in the slightest way, that friend's name would most assuredly have leaked out in the course of the proceedings, and if twenty friends had been involved and their names had been kept secret, Wilde's position would not have been bettered in the slightest degree or his guilt any the less plainly established. Wilde was not of the stuff that goes to hard labour with the name of a friend in his bosom when, by mentioning that name, he could have cleared himself. His whole principle of life was subversive to any such high altruism ; he would not have gone without his dinner to save a friend—much less have faced ruin and imprisonment.

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