OSCAR WILDE AND MYSELF
LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS
MY LETTERS TO LABOUCHERE
THAT the late Henry Labouchere was a good deal of a blackguard is well known, but he was one of those blackguards who managed to get into the House of Commons and, as impudence was a gift with him, he made some reputation there. When Gladstone proposed to give him a Cabinet appointment, however, Queen Victoria calmly drew her pen through his name. Gladstone gasped, but Labouchere did not become a Minister of the Crown.
Labby's strength lay in his money. A poorer rogue would not have been tolerated, even in the House of Commons. And Labby's weakness was Truth—the paper, not the abstraction. Labouchere always made a great point of running Truth in the interests of public morality. For quack doctors, begging-letter writers, and certain classes of bookmakers and money-lenders he had, invariably, abundant stripes; but for the very big fish Henry Labouchere had a confirmed respect and was most careful to say nothing about them and do nothing to them—unless they happened to fall, when he would rush in and deliver a few kicks.
It is not astonishing that as soon as Oscar Wilde came to grief Henry Labouchere should have hastened to put in his bit of kicking. While Wilde was flaunting himself about town and ''going strong," Labby found it convenient to let him alone, even though ''there were rumours"—and Truth was nothing if not an investigator of rumours. In his hey-dey, therefore, Labby would say no word that was evil of Wilde, though he poked fun at him. But the moment Mr. Justice Wills hands out two years' hard labour and Wilde is down and past mortal chance of getting up again, forth comes Labby, with his silly little patent-leather boots and his dirty little dagger, and Wilde is kicked and stabbed without mercy.
Incidentally, too, Labby took the opportunity to refer to me as a "young scoundrel" and to accuse me of deserting my friend in his trouble. I wrote and pointed out that, so far from deserting Wilde, I was the one and only friend of his who remained faithful to him after his arrest, and visited him daily in prison, and when he was up at Bow Street Police Station; and I went on to express my opinion of the mean and unnecessary venom of Labby's attacks on a man who was down and unable to defend himself. It is characteristic of Labouchere that, while he was too much of a coward to print my letters in full, and was content to publish only that part of one of them in which I defended myself against his charge of deserting my friend, he was careful to preserve them.
Eighteen years after they were written Truth turned up in court with them to be used against me in a matter with which Truth was not in any way concerned. I presume that they were produced under subpoena, though how their existence became known to Mr. Ransome remains a mystery. With that fine sense of what is fitting which distinguishes him, Mr. Justice Darling explained that the people who have kept and produced my letters are not to be blamed, ''inasmuch,'' said his lordship, ''as they are only doing what they are paid to do," which is somewhat cryptic, but is possibly meant to be funny. However, I really do not care "tuppence" who treasures these letters of mine. The only point is that somehow it seems un-English and unsportsmanlike. As for the letters themselves, they failed entirely in the object to which they were put by Ransome's lawyers. I cannot find that it was thought wise to print extracts from them in the newspapers at the time of the trial. And, as I have not got possession of them and am apparently not entitled to possession of them, I cannot print them here, even if I were disposed to do so.
I know what is in them, however, and there is no reason why I should not summarise them. The letters contain the stock arguments of those apologists for the perversion to which Wilde was addicted which were current at the time. They point out that vice of this character was rampant in the West End of London and at certain public schools and universities, and that Labby had not said a word about it in his wonderful paper — Truth. The letters also quote or epitomise sundry medical and scientific views on the subject. That is all.
What I had to say I said plainly and without beating about the bush, and, while I should not write such letters to-day, there is nothing about them which is greatly to my discredit. During the whole time of the trial there sat in court the author of the following statement : "It is a matter of common observation among physiologists that where a child is born to a couple in which the woman has the much stronger nature and a great mental superiority over the father, the chances are that the child will develop at certain critical periods in his career an extraordinary attraction towards persons of its own sex. This fact is one of Nature's mysteries. Those who believe in a Divine Creation of the world should reverently bow their heads before what they cannot understand and ought to take to be a divine dispensation. At any rate, the wisdom of Nature may be presumed greater than that of the Ecclesiastical Courts”.
There is nothing in my letters to Labouchere which can in the least compare with the foregoing passage, which I take from ''The Life of Oscar Wilde," by Robert Harborough Sherard. Sherard's ''Life," like Ransome's "Critical Study," is published broadcast and under everybody's nose, and both of them, as we have seen, contain their individual views of Wilde's vices.
0. Book profile
10. Naples and Paris
17. Wilde's Poetry
19. For Posterity
28. The Smaller Fry