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

3
Testimony of Oscar Wilde on Direct Examination
(April 3,1895)

Wilde was questioned on direct examination by his attorney, Sir Edward Clarke

Oscar Wilde - I am the prosecutor in this case. I am thirty-nine years of age. My father was Sir William Wilde, surgeon, of Dublin, and chairman of the Census Commission. He died when I was at Oxford in 1876. I was a student at Trinity College, where I took a classical scholarship and the gold medal for Greek. I then went to Magdalen College, Oxford, where I took a classical scholarship, a first in "Mods," and a first in "Greats," and the Newdigate Prize for English verse. I took my degree in 1878, and came down at once. From that time I have devoted myself to art and literature. In 1881 I published a volume of poems, and afterwards lectured in England and America. In 1884 I married Miss Lloyd, and from that date till now have lived with her in Tite Street, Chelsea. I have two sons, the elder of whom will be ten in June and the second nine in November.

Edward Clarke - In 1891 did you make the acquaintance of Lord Alfred Douglas?

W - Yes; he was brought to my house by a friend. Before then I had been acquainted with Lady Queensberry, but since then I have been a guest in her house many times. I also knew Lord Douglas of Hawick and the late Lord Drumlanrig. Lord Alfred has dined with me from time to time at my house and at the Albemarle Club, of which my wife is a member, and has stayed with us at Cromer, Goring, Worthing, and Torquay.

In November, 1892, I was lunching with him at the Cafe' Royal, where we met Lord Queensberry, and on my suggestion Lord Alfred went up to him and shook hands. I was aware that there had been some estrangement between the two. Lord Queensberry joined us. Lord Alfred had to go away early, and Lord Queensberry remained and chatted with me. Afterwards something was said about Torquay, and it was arranged that Lord Queensberry should call upon me there, but he did not come. From 3rd November, 1892, till March, 1894, I did not see the defendant, but in 1893 I heard that some letters which I had addressed to Lord Alfred Douglas had come into the hands of certain persons.

C - Did anyone say that he had found letters of yours?

W - Yes. A man named Wood saw me at the rooms of Mr. Alfred Taylor and told me that he had found some letters in a suit of clothes which Lord Alfred Douglas had been good enough to give him.

C - Did he ask for anything?

W - I don't think he made a direct demand.

C - What happened?

W - When he entered the room he said: "I suppose you will think very badly of me." I replied, "I hear that you have letters of mine to Lord Alfred Douglas which you certainly ought to have given back." He handed me three or four letters, and said they had been stolen from him "the day before yesterday" by a man named Allen, and that he (Wood) had had to employ a detective to get them back. I read the letters, and said that I did not think them of any importance. He said, "I am very much afraid of staying in London, as this man and other men are threatening me. I want money to go away to America." I asked what better opening as a clerk he could have in America than in England, and he replied that he was anxious to get out of London in order to escape from the man who had taken the letters from him. He made a very strong appeal to me. He said that he could find nothing to do in London. I paid him 15. The letters remained in my hand all the time.

C - Did some man shortly afterwards come with another letter?

W - A man called and told me that the letter, a copy of which had been sent to Mr. Beerbohm Tree, was not in his possession. His name was Allen.

C - What happened at that interview?

W - I felt that this was the man who wanted money from me. I said, "I suppose you have come about my beautiful letter to Lord Alfred Douglas. If you had not been so foolish as to send a copy of it to Mr. Beerbohm Tree, I would gladly have paid you a very large sum of money for the letter, as I consider it to be a work of art." He said, "A very curious construction can be put on that letter." I said in reply, "Art is rarely intelligible to the criminal classes." He said, "A man offered me 6o for it." I said to him, "If you take my advice you will go to that man and sell my letter to him for 6o. I myself have never received so large a sum for any prose work of that length; but I am glad to find that there is some one in England who considers a letter of mine worth 6o."' He was somewhat taken aback by my manner, perhaps, and said, "The man is out of town." I replied, "He is sure to come back," and I advised him to get the 6o. He then changed his manner a little, saying that he had not a single penny, and that he had been on many occasions trying to find me. I said that I could not guarantee his cab expenses, but that I would gladly give him half-a-sovereign. He took the money and went away.

C - Was anything said about a sonnet?

W - Yes. I said, "The letter, which is a prose poem, will shortly be published in sonnet form in a delightful magazine and I will send you a copy of it."

C - Did Allen then go away?

W - Yes, and in about five minutes Cliburn came to the house I went out to him and said, "I cannot bother any more about this matter." He produced the letter out of his pocket, saying, "Allen has asked me to give it back to you." I did not take it immediately, but asked: "Why does Allen give me back this letter?" He said, "Well, he says that you were kind to him, and that there is no use trying to 'rent' you as you only laugh at us." I took the letter and said, "I will accept it back, and you can thank Allen from me for all the anxiety he has shown about it." I looked at the letter, and saw that it was extremely soiled. I said to him, "I think it is quite unpardonable that better care was not taken of this original manuscript of mine" (Laughter). He said he was very sorry, but it had been in so many hands. I gave him half-a-sovereign for his trouble, and then said, "I am afraid you are leading a wonderfully wicked life." He said, "There is good and bad in every one of us." I told him he was a born philosopher, and he then left.

C - Has the letter remained in your possession ever since?

W - Yes. I produce it here to-day.

C - I pass to the end of 1893. Did Lord Alfred Douglas go to Cairo then?

W - Yes; in December, 1893.

C - On his return were you lunching together in the Cafe Royal when Lord Queensberry came in?

W - Yes. He shook hands and joined us, and we chatted on perfectly friendly terms about Egypt and various other subjects.

C - Shortly after that meeting did you become aware that he was making suggestions with regard to your character and behaviour?

W - Yes. Those suggestions were not contained in letters to me. At the end of June, 1894, there was an interview between Lord Queensberry and myself in my house. He called upon me, not by appointment, about four o'clock in the afternoon, accompanied by a gentleman with whom I was not acquainted. The interview took place in my library. Lord Queensberry was standing by the window. I walked over to the fireplace, and he said to me, "Sit down." I said to him, "I do not allow anyone to talk like that to me in my house or anywhere else. I suppose you have come to apologize for the statement you made about my wife and myself in letters you wrote to your son. I should have the right any day I chose to prosecute you for writing such a letter."

He said, "The letter was privilegcd, as it was written to my son." I said, "How dare you say such things to me about your son and me?" He said, "You were both kicked out of the Savoy Hotel at a moment's notice for your disgusting conduct." I said, "That is a lie." He said, "You have taken furnished rooms for him in Piccadilly." I said, "Somebody has been telling you an absurd set of lies about your son and me. I have not done anything of the kind." He said, "I hear you were thoroughly well blackmailed for a disgusting letter you wrote to my son." I said, "The letter was a beautiful letter, and I never write except for publication." Then I asked: "Lord Queensberry, do you seriously accuse your son and me of improper conduct?" He said, "I do not say that you are it, but you look it."

(Laughter.)

Mr. Justice Collins - I shall have the Court cleared if I hear the slightest disturbance again.

W - "But you look it, and you pose as it, which is just as bad. If I catch you and my son together again in any public restaurant I will thrash you." I said, "I do not know what the Queensberry rules are, but the Oscar Wilde rule is to shoot at sight." I then told Lord Queensberry to leave my house. He said he would not do so. I told him that I would have him put out by the police. He said, "It is a disgusting scandal." I said, "If it be so, you are the author of the scandal, and no one else." I then went into the hall and pointed him out to my servant. I said, "This is the Marquess of Queensberry, the most infamous brute in London. You are never to allow him to enter my house again." It is not true that I was expelled from the Savoy Hotel at any time. Neither is it true that I took rooms in Piccadilly for Lord Queensberry's son. I was at the theatre on the opening night of the play, The Importance of Being Earnest, and was called before the curtain. The play was successful. Lord Queensberry did not obtain admission to the theatre. I was acquainted with the fact that Lord Queensberry had brought a bunch of vegetables with him.

C - When was it you heard the first statement affecting your character?

W - I had seen communications from Lord Queensberry, not to his son, but to a third party - members of his own and of his wife's families. I went to the Albemarle Club on the 28th of February and received from the porter the card which has been produced. A warrant was issued on the 1st of March.

C - It is suggested that you are responsible for the publication of the magazine The Chameleon, on the front page of which some aphorisms of yours appear. Beyond sending that contribution, had you anything to do with the preparation or publication of that magazine?

W - No; nothing whatever.

C - Until you saw this number of The Chameleon, did you know anything about the story "The Priest and the Acolyte"?

W - Nothing at all.

C - Upon seeing that story in print, did you communicate with the editor?

W - The editor came to see me at the Cafe Royal to speak to me about it.

C - Did you approve of the story of "The Priest and the Acolyte"?

W - I thought it bad and indecent, and I strongly disapproved of it.

C - Was that disapproval expressed to the editor?

W - Yes.

C - The other question relates to the book Dorian Gray. Was that first published in serial form?

W - It was first published in Lippincott's, and afterwards in book form with some additional chapters. It was much reviewed.

C - Your attention has been called to the statements which are made in the pleadings referring to different persons and impugning your conduct with them?

W - Yes.

C - Is there any truth in any of these accusations?

W - There is no truth whatever in any one of them.

© Matt & Andrej Koymasky - 1997 / 2008 3

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