top of page

OSCAR WILDE AND MYSELF

LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS
VED.jpg
Douglas Anchor
CHAPTER XXIV

CROSLAND AND "THE FIRST STONE"


TO be properly understood in this world is beyond human expectation. That my relations with Wilde have been misunderstood this narrative bears witness. Pretty well everything I have done or said with respect to him has been misconstrued or misrepresented; and, of course, it was not a matter of surprise to me to find that when Crosland published "The First Stone" some devotees took it for granted that I had suborned him to do it. Their rage knew no bounds. On the appearance of the book, half the editors in London were besieged with letters from adherents of Wilde—whose identity was and is entirely unknown to me—abusing Crosland and explaining that it was well known that I had instigated him to write the work, and paid for the publication.


So far as I am aware, none of these letters was printed and, when the writers of them found that they could not get the publicity they required, they took to sending copies of them to Crosland and myself.


Ultimately somebody went to the length of printing a pamphlet in which both of us were accused of all sorts of vileness. This pamphlet appeared without the name of its author and without the name or address of the printer and publisher. Those responsible for it lacked the courage of their opinions, but they had pluck enough to post it out under cover and to say that copies of it could be obtained at some address in Chelsea. I had enquiries made at the address given and found that it consisted of a block of flats, but that there was nobody there who would admit any knowledge of the matter. The pamphlet was called “The Writing on the Floor," but nobody who lived on any of the floors of these flats from the basement upwards, would own to the slightest connection with it. I mention these facts not because I attach any importance to the pamphlet, but because they show to what extraordinary courses my enemies will have resort when their malice gets the better of them. They indicate, too, that there is no limit to the resources of these people. The difficulties of obtaining a printer, whether in London or the provinces, for such statements as were contained in ''The Writing on the Floor" must have been well-nigh insuperable.


No printer who can read could, in ordinary circumstances, have been procured to produce such a pamphlet, even without his imprimatur, on any terms whatever. He would know full well that the risks were too great. More crass and abominable criminal libels were never put into type. The thing could only have been printed either abroad or at a private press; and, from the character of the type and paper, I should say that the chances are that the printing was done at a private press in England. The type was new and the paper such as is readily obtainable in London. All this meant considerable cost, upon which the authors of the pamphlet could not hope to recoup themselves, inasmuch as they gave it away and did not set a price upon it; besides which there was a cost of postage and clerical work. So that we had here not only malice and wicked propaganda, but malice and wicked propaganda which were willing to go to great expense and to run great risks for the expression of themselves. This business, and other similar businesses which have come to my notice, tend to convince me that there are plenty of minor enthusiasts engaged in the canonisation of Wilde, and that they lack neither means nor energy. I use the phrase '''minor enthusiast'' advisedly because I wish to make it clear that I do not suggest that any person named in this book was a party to these letters or anonymous scurrilities.


With regard to 'The First Stone'' itself, I have no wish to apologise for it, and should not have the slightest objection to accepting the responsibility for it—if it were mine to accept. But it is not mine, nor did I suggest or advise it, or have hand or part in its production.


What happened was this :


When I obtained through my solicitors a copy of the unpublished parts of ''De Profundis,'' duly authenticated by Messrs. Lewis & Lewis, I took it, without reading it, to Mr. Crosland. I did this of my own initiative and for my own reasons. Crosland began to read it in my presence. He had not read more than a page or two before he said : '1 am going to read this manuscript to you, word for word, and I am going to put absolutely flat and straight questions to you, even though they hurt or anger you.'' I said: ''You can read away, my dear chap, and ask me any questions you like." I sat there for four solid hours, face to face with the man who probably knows more about me and my life and my manner of living it than anybody else in the world, and I am free to say that he did not spare me. But it is necessary to remember that, up to this time, Crosland had never had any other version of the history and my connection with Wilde than my own.


When he first met me in 1903, over the publication of some of my sonnets, we had not talked together three minutes before he plumped me with some sharp questions in regard to myself and Wilde. I was able at once to give him straightforward and convincing answers and, in good times and bad, from that day to this, he has believed me, as, indeed, he could not help but believe me, and he has always and rightly acted on the assumption that he knew the truth. But I remembered those questions of his, and it was partly for this reason, namely, that I courted all the questions he could devise, that I went round to him with the unpublished ''De Profundis.''


Here was new material of which neither he nor I had ever had the smallest inkling. I knew that it could not be friendly material, otherwise it would not have been put up by Ransome's solicitors, yet I placed it unreservedly in the hands of my closest friend, a critically minded person of whom it may be said, at least, that neither friendship nor any other consideration will hold or restrain him where matters of principle are concerned. After reading the manuscript Crosland went to work of his own accord and, within a very few days, ''The First Stone" was written and printed. Whatever may be its merits or faults as a piece of writing, it is certainly of interest as exhibiting the effect on an honest mind of Wilde's stupid and ludicrous outburst. I am not concerned either to praise or blame the poem, but it will last Wilde probably a good deal longer than the unpublished parts of ''De Profundis" will last me. I had intended to republish the whole poem in this book, but as it contains quotations taken direct from the unpublished portion of ''De Profundis," I have been reluctantly compelled to abandon my intention.