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Transcript of the "Libel Trial" Prosecuted by Oscar Wilde
(April 3-5,1895)

Opening Speech of Sir Edward Clarke, attorney for Wilde
(April 3,1895)

John Sholto Douglas, Marquess of Queensberry, pleaded not guilty, and also that the libel was true and that it was for the public benefit that it should be published.

Sir Edward Clarke - May it please you, my lord, gentlemen of the jury.

You have heard the charge against the defendant, which is that he published a false and malicious libel in regard to Mr. Oscar Wilde. That libel was published in the form of a card left by Lord Queensberry at a club to which Mr. Oscar Wilde belonged. It was a visiting card of Lord Queensberry's, with his name printed upon it, and it had written upon it certain words which formed the libel complained of. On that card his lordship wrote: "Oscar Wilde posing as a sodomite."


Of course it is a matter, of serious moment that such a libel as that which Lord Queensberry wrote upon that card should in any way be connected with a gentleman who has borne a high reputation in this country. The words of the libel are not directly an accusation of the gravest of all offences the suggestion is that there was no guilt of the actual offence, but that in some way or other the person of whom those words were written did appear - nay, desired to appear - and pose to be a person guilty of or inclined to the commission of the gravest of all offences.

You will appreciate that the leaving of such a card openly with the porter of a dub is a most serious matter and one likely gravely to affect the position of the person as to whom that injurious suggestion was made....

The defendant has said that the statement is true and that it is for the public benefit that the statement was made, and he has given particulars in the plea of matters which he has alleged show that the statement is true in regard to Mr. Oscar Wilde. The plea has not been read to you, gentlemen. There is no allegation in the plea that Mr. Oscar Wilde has been guilty of the offence of which I have spoken, but there is a series of accusations in it mentioning the names of persons, and it is said with regard to those persons that Mr. Wilde solicited them to commit with him the grave offence, and that he has been guilty with each and all of them of indecent practices.

One would gather from the terms of the plea that Mr. Wilde has been unsuccessfully soliciting these persons to commit the offence with him, and that, although that offence is not alleged to have been committed, he has been guilty of indecent practices. It is for those who have taken the responsibility of putting into the plea those serious allegations to satisfy you, gentlemen, if they can, by credible witnesses, or evidence which they think worthy of consideration and entitled to belief, that these allegations are true.

I can understand how it is that these statements have been put in the form in which they are found, for these people, who may be called upon to sustain these charges, are people who will necessarily have to admit in cross-examination that they themselves have been guilty of the gravest of offences.

Mr. Oscar Wilde is a gentleman, thirty-eight years of age, the son of Sir William Wilde, a very distinguished Irish surgeon and oculist, who did great public service as chairman of the Census Committee in Ireland. Mr. Oscar Wilde went in the first instance to Trinity College, Dublin, where he greatly distinguished himself for classical knowledge, earning some of the conspicuous rewards which are given to its students by that distinguished University. His father wished him to go to Oxford, and he went to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he had a brilliant career, obtaining the Newdigate Prize for English poetry. After leaving the University he devoted himself to literature in its artistic side. In 1881 he published a volume of poems and wrote essays on artistic and aesthetic subjects.

Many years ago he became a very prominent personality, laughed at by some but appreciated by many, representing a form of artistic literature which recommended itself to many of the foremost minds and most cultivated people. In 1884 he had the good fortune to marry a daughter of the late Mr. Horace Lloyd, Q.C., and from that day to the present he has lived with his wife, who has borne him two children, at Tite Street, Chelsea. He is a member of the Albemarle Club.

Oscar and BosieAmong the friends who went to his house in Tite Street was Lord Alfred Douglas, a younger son of Lord Queensberry. In 1891 Lord Alfred Douglas went to Tite Street, being introduced by a friend of Mr. Wilde's. From that time Mr. Wilde has been a friend of Lord Alfred Douglas and also of his mother, Lady Queensberry, from whom, on her petition, the Marquess has been divorced. He has again and again been a guest at Lady Queensberry's houses at Wokingham and Salisbury, being invited to family parties there. Lord Alfred Douglas has been a welcome guest at Mr. Wilde's house, and at Cromer, Goring, Torquay, and Worthing, when Mr. and Mrs. Wilde were staying there, Lord Alfred Douglas was a frequent and invited visitor.

Until 1893 Mr. Wilde did not know the defendant with the exception that he met him once about 1881. In November, 1892, Mr. Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas were lunching together at the Cafe Royal in Regent Street. Lord Queensberry came into the room. Mr. Wilde was aware that, owing to circumstances with which he had nothing to do - owing to unhappy family troubles which I only mention because it is absolutely necessary - there had been some strained feelings between Lord Alfred Douglas and his father. Mr. Wilde suggested to Lord Alfred Douglas that it was a good opportunity for him to speak to his father and for a friendly interview. Lord Alfred Douglas acted on the suggestion and went across to Lord Queensberry and spoke to him and had a friendly conversation.

Lord Alfred Douglas brought Lord Queensberry to the table where he and Mr. Wilde sat at lunch, and Lord Queensberry was introduced to Mr. Wilde and shook hands with him. Lord Queensberry reminded Mr. Wilde of the fact that twelve years before they had met at the house of a friend of both of them. Lord Queensberry sat down and had lunch with the two men. Lord Alfred Douglas was obliged to leave about half-past two o'clock and Lord Queensberry remained chatting with Mr. Wilde. Mr. Wilde said that he and his family were going to Torquay. Lord Queensberry said that he was going to Torquay too, to give a lecture, and asked Mr. Wilde to come and hear it. Lord Queensberry did not go to Torquay, and he sent a note to Mr. Wilde telling him he was not going there. Mr. Wilde never met Lord Queensberry from that time until the early part of 1894.

Between that time and 1894, Mr. Wilde became aware that certain statements were being made against his character--I do not mean by Lord Queensberry. He became aware of it in this way. There was a man named Alfred Wood whom Mr. Wilde had seen once or twice, but knew very little indeed about. Wood had been given some clothes by Lord Alfred Douglas, and he stated that in the pocket of a coat so given to him he had found four letters which had been written by Mr. Wilde to Lord Alfred. Whether he did find them in the pocket, or whether he stole them, is a matter on which we can only speculate.

But, at all events, Wood went to Mr. Wilde early in 1893 and wanted Mr. Wilde to give him something for the letters, representing that he was in great distress and trouble and wanted to get off to America. Mr. Wilde gave him 15 or 2o wherewith to pay his passage. Wood then handed over three very ordinary letters which Mr. Wilde had written to Lord Alfred Douglas. But, as generally happens when people think they have got hold of letters of some importance, the letters of no importance were given up, and that which was supposed to be of some importance was retained. That was the case in this instance. The people taking part in these transactions were men named Wood, Allen and Cliburn, and something has been found out about this set of people.

Now, in 1893, Mr. Wilde wrote a play, which afterwards proved a great success at the Haymarket Theatre, A Woman of No Importance, and while this play was being prepared for production, there came into the hands of Mr. Beerbohm Tree, the manager of that theatre, a piece of paper which purported to be, and to some extent was, a copy of a letter which had been retained by the persons I have named when the other letters were handed over. On this paper was written: "Kindly give this to Mr. Oscar Wilde and oblige yours," and then there followed some initials.

Shortly afterwards Allen called on Mr. Wilde, and said he had the original letter. He asked Mr. Wilde to give him something for it. Mr. Wilde absolutely and peremptorily refused, saying: "I have a copy of that letter and the original is no use to me. I look upon it as a work of art. I should have desired to possess it; but, now that you have been good enough to send me a copy, I do not want the original." He then sent Allen away, giving him ten shillings for himself. Almost immediately afterwards Cliburn came to Mr. Wilde and said that Allen had appreciated Mr. Wilde's kindness so much that he sent back the letter. The man then handed over the letter, and Mr. Wilde gave him half-a-sovereign for his trouble.

Having once got the original letter into his possession, Mr. Wilde kept it. Now, here is the letter itself:

My Own Boy, Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should have been made no less for music of song than for madness of kisses. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days.

Why are you alone in London, and when do you go to Salisbury? Do go there to cool your hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things, and come here whenever you like. It is a lovely place--it only lacks you; but go to-Salisbury first.

Always, with undying love,

Oscar and BosieThe words of that letter, gentlemen, may appear extravagant to those in the habit of writing commercial correspondence (Laughter), or those ordinary letters which the necessities of life force upon one every day; but Mr. Wilde is a poet, and the letter is considered by him as a prose sonnet, and one of which he is in no way ashamed and is prepared to produce anywhere as the expression of true poetic feeling, and with no relation whatever to the hateful and repulsive suggestions put to it in the plea in this case.

In the early part of 1894 Lord Queensberry met Mr. Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas again at the Cafe Royal. Shortly after that Mr. Wilde became aware that the defendant was writing letters that affected his character and contained suggestions injurious to him. Though he might reasonably--and would probably if his own interests alone were concerned--have brought this to some public notice, he abstained from doing so for reasons which I am not entitled to state, but which I am sure will -be obvious before this case has gone very far. And so the latter part of 1894 passed. At an interview in that year, Mr. Wilde gave instructions, in Lord Queensberry's hearing, that the defendant should not be admitted into his house.

Last February another play by Mr. Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, was about to be produced at the St. James's Theatre. In the course of the day - 14th February - information reached the management of the theatre, and other persons, with regard to certain intentions on the part of Lord Queensberry. It is a matter of public dramatic history that at a play written by the late Poet Laureate, Lord Tennyson, The Promise of May, Lord Queensberry made some observations in the public theatre.

Mr. Carson - I do not see how this is evidence.

Mr. Justice Collins - It might be pertinent as explaining the extravagant actions of Mr. Wilde towards Lord Queensberry.

Sir Edward Clarke - On that occasion Lord Queensberry got up in the threatre and in his character as an agnostic, objected to the representation being put upon the stage of an agnostic in the person of Mr. Hermann Vezin. He denounced this character from his seat in the stalls. Of course, a disturbance on the night of the production of a new play is a very serious matter to author and actors, and it would have been especially serious if--as it probably would--it had developed into a personal attack on the private character of Mr. Wilde. Lord Queensberry booked a seat at the St. James's Theatre, but his money was returned to him and the police were warned about him.

Lord Queensberry made his appearance in the course of the evening and brought with him a large bouquet made of vegetables. (Laughter.) Whether Lord Queensberry was responsible for his actions is a matter on which you, gentlemen of the jury, may have some doubts before this case -has ended. Instead of writing to the committee of one of the clubs of which Mr. Wilde was a member, and asking for an inquiry, he got a bunch of vegetables and came down to the theatre on the first night of Mr. Wilde's new play. Being refused admission at the box office, he made his way to the gallery stairs; but here, too, the police had received notice, and being unable to get admission, Lord Queensberry went away.

On 28th February Mr. Wilde went to the Albemarle Club, and. there received from the porter the card left by Lord Queensberry on the 18th of that month. . . . On 1st March a warrant was applied for, and on the following day Lord Queensberry was arrested. Hence these criminal proceedings.

There are two counts at the end of the plea which are extremely curious. It is said that in the month of July, 1890, Mr. Wilde published, or caused to be published, with his name on the titlepage, a certain immoral and indecent work with the title of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which book was intended to be understood by the readers to describe the relations, intimacies, and passions of certain persons guilty of unnatural practices.

And, secondly, that in December, 1894, was published a certain immoral work in the form of The Chameleon, relating to the practices of persons of unnatural habits; and that Mr. Wilde had joined in procuring the publication of The Chameleon, with his name on it, as the principal contributor, under the title of "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young." Those are two very gross allegations. I defy my learned friend to suggest from these contributions anything hostile to the character of Mr. Wilde. The Chameleon was numbered Volume I, Number I; it was published by Messrs. Gay & Bird, of 5 Chandos Street; and only one hundred copies were to be printed. Mr. Wilde did contribute "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young," and on the first three pages there is a certain number of epigrammatical statements such as those which many of us have enjoyed when being entertained by such a play as A Woman of No Importance.

They give brilliancy and effect to dialogue and they even supply wisdom in a witty form. Mr. Wilde is not responsible for the rest of the magazine. It was edited by an Oxford man, who asked Mr. Wilde to contribute. Directly Mr. Wilde saw the magazine he noticed there was a story in it called "The Priest and the Acolyte," which is a disgrace to literature, which it is amazing that anybody wrote and still more amazing that anybody allowed to be published under his name. Directly Mr. Wilde saw that disgraceful and abominable story he communicated with the editor, he indignantly insisted on the copies being suppressed and the magazine was withdrawn. It is strange indeed, then, to find that publication put upon the particulars as justifying the charge against Mr. Wilde.

The volume called The Picture of Dorian Gray is one which can be bought at any bookstall in London. It has Mr. Wilde's name on the title page and has been published five years. The story of the book is that of a -young man of good birth, great wealth and great personal beauty, whose friend paints a picture of him. Dorian Gray expresses the wish that he could remain as in the picture, while the picture aged with the years. His wish is granted, and he soon knows that upon the picture, and not upon his own face, the scars of trouble and bad conduct are falling. In the end he stabs the picture and falls dead, and the picture is restored to its pristine beauty, while his friends find on the floor the body of a hideous old man. I shall be surprised if my learned friend can pitch upon any passage in that book which does more than describe as novelists and dramatists may---nay, must--describe the passions and fashions of life.

Witnesses will be called who will prove the publication of the libel, and my learned friend has the task of satisfying you that the excuses made are true.

© Matt & Andrej Koymasky - 1997 / 2008 1


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