OSCAR WILDE AND MYSELF
LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS
TO BE DONE WITH IT ALL
WHEN Wilde had completed the "De Profundis'' manuscript, he is understood to have written to Ross to say that he had rid his bosom of much perilous stuff. I will do him the justice to agree that he got into the "De Profundis'' manuscript as a whole, more real Wilde than ever he put into any other piece of work. Before, he had given us, as far as in him lay, Wilde the artist with frequent glimpses of Wilde the shameful liver and vicious thinker. But in the complete ''De Profundis" he gives us Wilde the man.
The bottom of his vicious and halting soul is laid bare for us in this extraordinary work. That he had it in him to give himself utterly and entirely away as he did is incomprehensible, and can only be set down to the fact that the reticence which had previously been his safeguard and saviour was entirely destroyed by his rage on perceiving that the life he had succeeded in living would never again be possible to him.
My own task is finished here and now. I have taken what is practically Wilde's own picture of himself and unveiled it. Before he went to prison he had exposed to the public gaze a picture of himself which was all lights and rose and purple. To this picture his friends have been most faithful. Of their own initiative they decked it out with supererogatory daubs of pretty and bewitching colour; and they set it round with a beautiful gold frame, surmounted with a crown of gilded bays and something which is intended for a halo.
Of the shadows and dubious blacks and browns which Wilde himself prepared by his life and by his lucubrations in gaol they have been anxious to take no notice. They were only brought out of their seclusion as weapons wherewith I might be defeated. The pot of blackness was brought into a Court of Justice and there emptied before the gaze of all beholders, as was supposed, for my upsetting. Then the mess was all scraped up, as best it could be, and hurried back to the British Museum; and, honour being now satisfied and all being over, everybody, it was hoped, would speedily forget the little black pot. But not so: it will never be forgotten and must always be remembered by anybody who wishes to look honestly at the features of Wilde.
So far as I am concerned, I have drawn my own picture from the man as I knew him, and from his writings, which are readily accessible and can be pursued by all who care to take the trouble. If I had been disposed to write the present book in the vein of ''De Profundis," published or unpublished, it would not have been difficult, from a literary point of view, for me to do so.
I could have embellished my pages with tears and regrets and moral reflections, not to say with quotations from the classics and Holy Scripture, just as readily and at just as great length as Wilde has done. Surely if any man has had cause for tears and bitter regrets, I have had cause. All my life, from twenty years of age up, has been overshadowed and filled with scandal and grief through my association with this man, Oscar Wilde. I am not going to shed public or private tears about it, and I am not going to waste my breath in vain regrets. I have absolutely an easy conscience as regards my treatment of Wilde, both before and since his death. If I have hurt anybody at all it has been myself and my family, and I have done this only through misplaced loyalty to my friend and a too high regard for chivalry. I now say all that I have had to say about Wilde, whether with respect to my personal relationship to him or my mature view of his complete writings.
It will be noted that, just as I have refrained from weeping and moralising, I have equally refrained from details of petty quarrels and misunderstandings. I have not accused him of gobbling my food and spilling my wine and devouring my substance; I have not charged him, as I easily might, with corrupting my intellect and assisting me in the careless waste of some of the best years of my life. I have never said, as he says of me, that I became a child in his hands and that we never met ''except in the gutter,'' and never conversed except about ''loathsome things.''
I hold that a man's acts are his own affairs, even if they lead to his ruin and disgrace. The shifting of responsibility is no work for me or any other person of sense. I accept full responsibility for everything I have done or said in regard to this affair. For my own indiscretions and carelessness I could not honestly blame anybody. I have been punished for them and shall doubtless go on being punished for them ; but there they are, and all the water in the sea will not wash them out. This book is not an apology for me, neither is it a work undertaken on the tu quoque or tit-for-tat principle against Wilde. I am of opinion that, in the circumstances, there is no man living who can put Oscar Wilde into his true relation to the life and literature of his time more accurately than myself.
I have always known this—though, at the same time, I have hitherto refrained from putting my pen to paper. My enemies have compelled me to defend myself, and if, in the course of that defence, I have had to tear away some of the undeserved laurels which have been heaped upon his brow and dissipated some of the undeserved incense which has been offered up at his shrine, I have done him no wrong, and I feel that I may conceivably have made a slight contribution to the literary and general good. It seems to me a great deal more than probable that the present volume will rouse a considerable deal of what is called controversy.
The right of criticism is everybody's right, and I shall not hope to be spared criticism or, for that matter, even contradiction. I shall only beg that those reviewers whose duty and business it will be to deal with this book may remember that I am entitled to exactly as much justice in this world as Wilde and Wilde's friends. The forces against me are undoubtedly numerous and powerful. On the other hand, it is very certain that I shall not run away from them.
0. Book profile
10. Naples and Paris
17. Wilde's Poetry
19. For Posterity
28. The Smaller Fry