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Douglas Anchor


THE law as to property in letters appears to be in a very confused and amazing condition. Letters, though lightly penned by most people and considered to be of trifling importance, are nearly always far more important than they look. If I had been cautious and worldly-wise I suppose that the letters which I wrote to Oscar Wilde or, at any rate, those which were produced by favour of Ross at the Ransome trial, would never have been written. The fact that they were written, however, cannot be denied, and, for many reasons, I am not sorry that they were brought up against me.

I knew that some such letters existed, and I was told before the trial came on that they would be produced and that they would ruin me. Well, to the great consternation and amazement of the parties immediately concerned I went into the witness-box and ''faced the music," and I was not ruined. By a coincidence, it happened that I had various difficulties of litigation round about the time of the Ransome trial, and rumour had it that those troubles were in some way bound up with the Wilde affair.

As a fact, they had nothing to do with it, and were quite independent of it, and even the endeavour to create a public impression that my wife had left me because of the Ransome trial proved utterly futile. The unfortunate differences between myself and Lady Alfred Douglas arose out of matters of settlements and the education of our child, and, lest my enemies should lay the flattering unction to their souls that they have succeeded in separating us, I may mention here and now that my wife and I are no longer at variance and that our reconciliation was brought about by our two selves after the trial and not before it.

In the witness-box I made no bones about condemning the two letters of mine which were raked up to show that I had a bad influence over Wilde's mind. I shall not attempt to justify them here, and I shall not abate my opinion of them one jot or tittle. They are letters which I am ashamed to have written and which I ought to have a good deal too much sense to write. They have not been printed in the press and I shall not reproduce them here, any more than I would think of reproducing similar letters written by Wilde and his friends. I do not think, however, that any man of the world who perused them could fail to recognise that they were letters written more or less in a jocular spirit, and that they were plainly not the letters of the kind of person some people have been gracious enough to wish to make me out.

At school, the universities, and even in clubs, men who are not considered by any means wicked men make jokes, exchange jokes, and tell stories which, one takes it, would very much shock Mr. Justice Darling if they happened to come to his polite ears. There are persons of the highest positions in all walks of life — not even forgetting the immaculate and stainless profession of the law—who in their day and generation could swap coarse jokes with any stable-boy, and who, over their wine, are not above indulging in a trifle of witty obscenity, even yet.

Everybody knows this, and nobody pretends that it is otherwise, or that it is ever likely to be otherwise. The only place where you get such a pretence is in the law courts, when Counsel wishes to ''eviscerate" somebody. The pretence was well kept up at the Ransome trial by all parties concerned and as I have said before, I do not in the least complain but am rather glad than otherwise. For the improper is obviously the improper wherever you encounter it, and there is no reason why my impropriety should be extenuated while the next man's is punished.

I punished myself for my offences against decency and good taste by standing up and having them read out to me twenty years after they were written. I could have run away from them if I had wished to, but I stood my ground and took my gruel with a short spoon. The result has been exactly what one was entitled to expect that it would be. I have not lost a single friend or come across a single cold shoulder as the result of Mr. Ross's letter-preserving charitableness.

My cousin, the late Right Honourable George Wyndham, M.P., than whom no more honourably-minded man existed, wrote to me immediately after the trial and told me that he had followed it closely, and that nothing had happened which was to make any difference between himself and myself, and he added that, not only in his opinion but in the opinion of many persons with whom he had talked, I had been abominably treated. Of course, it is preposterous to say that my influence over Wilde was a bad influence.

If the letters produced to prove it prove anything at all, they prove, rather, that Wilde's influence over me was a bad one, and a very bad one at that. Any one who knows me must be well aware that, when it came to the question of his ultimate vices, such influence as I had over him was on the side of goodness and decency rather than otherwise.

In all his cunning, overweening and merciless desire to damage and destroy me, Wilde could never find it in his heart to set down the last unthinkable lie. He knew that if he did that he would be blankly sinning against the Holy Ghost, and, hate me as he would, and rage and rage as he would, he could not bring himself to take the terrible risks. Nowhere in all this outpouring of hate does he dare to come out with the accusation which would put me outside the pale of social possibility. That he was quite willing to have shouted that accusation out at the top of his voice if there had been the slightest ground for it is only too evident from the general drift of what he has to say. If by a deft ambiguity he can get in the hint that will hurt me without going the length of the rankest perjury he gets it in.

It is plain on every showing that our friendship was a harmless and proper friendship and that our life together was harmlessly, if, perhaps, somewhat extravagantly, lived; and two things have always to be remembered: first, that during our friendship, whether despite me or otherwise, Wilde did undoubtedly produce the best of his plays and the finest of his poems, indeed, the only poem which is likely to live; while, during the same friendship, I, for my part, produced the bulk of the poetry contained in the ''City of the Soul.''

There is nothing in any of the work produced by Wilde during the time that we were together of which he need be ashamed, and there is nothing in the "City of the Soul" of which I need be ashamed. On the contrary, Wilde's reputation, in so far as it is a pure literary reputation, has been largely built up on the work to which I refer, whereas it is largely by my own work during that period that I shall stand or fall so far as posterity is concerned. How dare people assail and defame an association of this kind ?

I print below two letters which were sent to me by Mr. George Wyndham immediately after the Ransome trial. I leave the parties concerned to make the best they can of an outside opinion, and to meditate with what gratification they may on their “base thing."


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