Saturday, December 16, 2017

George Onsy writes


Part III

“Haha! I know it’s so hard to convince you. Now, would you like to tell me how this first trial ended? Did the religious authorities ignite the prosecution against you? They are always against homosexuality.”

“No, as the jury was unable to reach a verdict, my counsel, Sir Edward Clarke, was finally able to get a magistrate to allow me and my friends to post bail. The Reverend Stewart Headlam put up most of the £5,000 surety required by the court…”


“Yes, he even disagreed with my treatment by the press and the courts.”

“Then what happened?”

“At the end, I burst into tears of shame in the courtroom.”

“I’m so sorry! Remember what you once said: The things people say of a man do not alter a man. He is what he is. Public opinion is of no value whatsoever.”

“Heh, yes, a scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.”

“Again, your humor!”

“Don’t forget: we are specially designed to appeal to the sense of humor. A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

With a sad smile, I pause for a few minutes before asking him, “May I visit you in your imprisonment? It’s just there, about one month later from where we are now.”

A month passed and we’re now standing before a huge complex building. “Here we are, dear Oscar, where the toughest part of your journey starts, first at Pentonville Prison then at Wandsworth Prison in London.”

Oscar utters his words with difficulty, “As you can see, the prisoners follow a regimen of hard labor, hard fare and a hard bed. Or let me say in other words:

The vilest deeds like poison weeds
Bloom well in prison air;
It is only what is good in man
That wastes and withers there;
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate
And the Warder is Despair.”

“Oh, poor Oscar, that must have been too harsh on you as you had been accustomed to comfort and luxury.”

“Of course! My health declined here sharply, and in November I collapsed during chapel from illness and hunger. I spent two months in the infirmary.”

“But did they move you to any other prison where you got better treatment?”

“Yes, in November, to Reading Prison, 30 miles west of London.”


“Good?! Not at all!! The transfer itself was the hardest thing of my whole incarceration, as a crowd jeered and spat at me on the railway platform.”

Here I cannot tell any details as I’ve turned away my head. I can hardly hear myself trying to say, “Sorry, Oscar, I…”

“Excuse me Sir, I’m now known as prisoner C. 3.3, who’s not even allowed paper and pen.”

“Oscar, in spite of the dimness of your damp gloomy cell of this prison, I can still see the books you requested to read.” Yes, Italian and German grammars, the Bible in French, some Ancient Greek texts. 

“Oh, I can see also my favorite work of literature, Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY, and Joris-Karl Huysmans’s new French novel about Christian redemption; EN ROUTE…”

“Yes, yes, all that beside essays by St. Augustine, Cardinal Newman and Walter Pater… May I say that these readings draw to me the line of thought you adopt at this bitter period of your life?”

“Heh, you’re trying to get too deep. Anyway, my second half of the letter to Alfred…”

“Lord Douglas?”

“Yes. A letter that might trace my spiritual journey of redemption and fulfillment through this prison reading. To say the truth, I realize at this moment that my ordeal has filled my soul with the fruit of experience, however bitter it tastes at the time. It’s true, as I once said: experience, the name we give to our mistakes!”

 Image result for oscar wilde paintings
 Oscar Wilde -- Fabrizio Cassetta


  1. At 40, the father of John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, ruined himself with an extravagant bet on a horse and shot himself. John, who had been 14 at the time, distinguished himself in athletics at Magdalene College, Cambridge, in the 1860s and publicly endorsed the modern boxing rules devised by John Graham Chambers in 1867. In 1879 he disavowed Christianity, leading to his
    deselection as a representative Scottish peer in the House of Lords. Elected president of the British Secular Union in 1881, he disrupted the performance Tennyson's play "Harold" because it caricatured "free-thinkers. He suffered a scandalous divorce in 1887 and 6 years later, at 49, he married again a few days after his new bride's 21st birthday. He proved unable to consummate the marriage, divorce papers were served within months, and he underwent humiliating examinations to discover if he could manage an erection. His eldest son was reputed to have had a homosexual relationship with prime minister Archibald Primrose, and his 3rd son Alfred was Wilde's lover. Alfred and Oscar began their relationship in 1891, when the lord was developing a reputation as a Uranian poet. (In the mid-1860s Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, writing as Numa Numantius, collected a series of essays as "Forschungen über das Rätsel der mannmännlichen Liebe" [Studies on the Riddle of Male-Male Love] in which he coined the terms "Urning" for a man who desires men and "Dioning" for one who desires women, from Platon's "Symposium" in which two kinds of love were symbolized by an Aphrodite born from Uranos, a male, and and one born from Dione, a female; he called their female counterparts Urningin and Dioningin. In 1869 Kertbeny Károly Mária coined the German equivalents of "homosexual" and "heterosexual;" in 1886 Richard von Krafft-Ebing popularized the terms in his influential "Psychopathia Sexualis." The word "lesbian" is derived from Lesbos, the home of the 6th-century BCE poet Sappho and was applied to a type of wine and other artifacts related to the island; it continued to be used in that sense as late as Swinburne's 1866 poem "Sapphics," but by 1870 was being used to describe erotic relationships between women; in 1875 George Saintsbury wrote about the "Lesbian studies" of Charles Baudelaire in two of his poems.)

  2. Alfred Douglas edited an Oxford magazine, "The Spirit Lamp," which he used to promote homosexuality, and founded a 1-issue journal, "The Chameleon," to which Wilde submitted "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young," as well as a poem of his own, "Two Loves," both of which were used as evidence in Wilde's trial. His father John threatened to disown him "and stop all money supplies," and Alfred responded with a telegram, "What a funny little man you are." John's next letter threatened his son with a "thrashing," accused him of being "crazy," and promised to "make a public scandal in a way you little dream of" if he continued his relationship with Wilde. Alfred sent him a postcard to tell him "I detest you" and making it clear that he would take Wilde's side "with a loaded revolver" in a fight between the two men. John responded with a letter to "You miserable creature," claiming he had divorced Alfred's mother in order not to "run the risk of bringing more creatures into the world like yourself" and that, when Alfred was a baby, "I cried over you the bitterest tears a man ever shed, that I had brought such a creature into the world, and unwittingly committed such a crime... You must be demented." When Alfred's oldest brother died in a suspicious hunting accident in October 1894, on the day before his engagement was to be published, rumors circulated that he had committed suicide as a result of his liaison with the prime minister, whom John referred to an "underbred disgusting Jew pimp," and John began a public campaign against on Wilde. In June 1894 he visited Wilde at his home and proclaimed, "I do not say that you are it, but you look it, and pose at it, which is just as bad. And if I catch you and my son again in any public restaurant I will thrash you," to which Wilde responded, "I don't know what the Queensberry rules are, but the Oscar Wilde rule is to shoot on sight." John planned to throw rotten vegetables at Wilde during the 14 February premiere of his final play, "The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People" but was denied access to the St James's Theatre. Four days later John barged into the Albermarle club and demanded to see Wilde, but the porter stopped him; John left his calling card "For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite." At Alfred's urging Wilde had him arrested for criminal libel, forcing John, in order to avoid conviction, to both demonstrate that his accusation was both true and that there was a "public benefit" to making the accusation public. John's lawyer announced in court that he had located a number of male prostitutes who would testify against Wilde, causing the writer to drop the libel charge; without a conviction, Wilde was responsible for John's legal costs, leaving him bankrupt. Wilde was himself arrested the next day for criminal sodomy and gross indecency. Among the evidence was a suggestive letter to Alfred, which Wilde maintained was an innocent "prose sonnet" and that he had refused to pay blackmailers the £60 (£6,400 today) they demanded for it because the amount was "unusual for a prose piece of that length." The trial resulted in Wilde's imprisonment and the end of his career. After Wilde's conviction John boasted that he received a telegram that read, "Every man in the City is with you. Kill the bugger!" Nearly a year before Wilde's death John died, 2 months after a stroke, following a period of mental decline believed to be caused by syphilis.

  3. In the early 20th century Alfred had an affair with the bisexual artist Romaine Brooks, whose chief lover, American heiress Natalie Clifford Barney, had also had an affair with Wilde's niece Dorothy and, in 1901, with Alfred's own future wife Olive Eleanor Custance, the year before the couple married). Custance had become a member of the Wilde literary circle when she was 16 before becoming a noted poet in her own right; for years after her marriage she continued to exchange love poems with Barney, including "The White Witch." (Her body is a dancing joy, a delicate delight, / Her hair a silver glamour in a net of golden light. / Her face is like the faces that a dreamer sometimes meets, / A face that Leonardo would have followed through the streets. / Her eyelids are like clouds that spread white wings across blue skies, / Like shadows in still water are the sorrows in her eyes. / How flower-like are the smiling lips so many have desired, / Curled lips that love's long kisses have left a little tired.) At the same time she was involved with Barney in Paris, she was also involved with Renée Vivien (Pauline Mary Tarn), another of Barney's lovers. In June 1901, 6 months after Wilde's death, Olive began corresponding with Alfred, suggesting a threesome with her and Barney, but she became engaged to one of his schoolmates instead; Alfred hurried back to England from the US, where he admitted he was looking for a rich wife, and the two eloped in March 1902. Her wealthy father gained custody over their only child, and the couple separated in 1913; that year Douglas was charged with libeling his father-in-law. From the 1920s Alfred and Olive repeatedly reconciled and separated, but in 1932 they became neighbors and saw each other nearly every day. She died in 1944, holding Alfred's hand, and he followed her in death just over a year later.

  4. In his later decades, Alfred became increasingly conservative and homophobic. One of his rivals, Robbie Ross (the grandson of the Canadian reformer Robert Baldwin who had achieved autonomy from the UK) was allegedly Wilde's 1st male lover in 1886 and was also romantically involved with Alfred in 1893; after Wilde's death he became his literary executor, arranged in 1905 for the 1st English performance of his play "Salome" (which could not be performed in the UK because Biblical characters were not allowed to be portrayed on stage; Wilde had written it in French, and Alfred had attempted to translate it, though he later pronounced it "a most pernicious and abominable piece of work"), and had commissioned Epstein to sculpt Wilde's tomb (along with instructions to include a small compartment to house Ross' own ashes). In 1905 Ross published a 50,00-word letter that Wilde had written to Alfred in prison but had not been permitted to send him, in which he recounted their faults before examining his own spiritual development in prison; Ross published it as "De Profundis" (From the Depths), a phrase he borrowed from Psalm 130. Arthur Ransome, who had detailed "Bohemia in London" in 1907, published a volume on Wilde in 1912, on which Ross had been a consultant, provoking Alfred to sue Ransome for libel, hoping to use the trial as a weapon against Ross without realizing that his enemy would not be a witness; Ransome won the suit but suppressed the contentious text from subsequent editions; Alfred was bankrupted by the proceedings. The Douglas-Ross feud continued, however. In 1918 Noel Pemberton Billing, a right-wing member of Parliament, published "The Cult of the Clitoris" in his antisemitic weekly "The Imperialist,"
    in which, at the instigation of one of his contributors, Harold Sherwood Spencer, he accused Ross' circle of homosexual artists and poets (which included Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen) and thousands of others of being blackmailed to "propagate evils which all decent men thought had perished in Sodom and Lesbia" in order to undermine the war effort. Specifically, he identified Maud Allan, an actress who had played Wilde's Salome in a performance authorized by Ross, as a member of the group, causing her to sue him. (Ross had received money from the prime minister Herbert Asquith, provoking Alfred to contribute a poem to Billing's renamed journal "Vigilante"
    in which he referred to Asquith's wife as "bound with Lesbian fillets.") Billing conducted his own successful defense, Spencer claimed to have obtained evidence of German and Austrian plans to blackmail British citizens while working for an Austrian aristocrat in Albania before the war, and Billing's mistress even insisted that the presiding judge was listed in the "Berlin Black Book." Alfred was also a witness for Billings and called Wilde "the greatest force for evil that has appeared in Europe during the last three hundred and fifty years." In 1920 Alfred and Spencer founded another right-wing, antisemitic weekly, "Plain English," which advocated in 1921 the establishment of an English Ku Klux Klan. In 1923 the government took Alfred to court for claiming that Winston Churchill had falsely announced a British defeat at the naval battle of Jutland in order to let Jewish financiers profit from the resultant stock market crash. Alfred was sentenced to 6 months in prison and spent his time there writing a 17-canto entitled "In Excelsis" (In the Highest).

  5. Two Loves

    I dreamed I stood upon a little hill,
    And at my feet there lay a ground, that seemed
    Like a waste garden, flowering at its will
    With buds and blossoms. There were pools that dreamed
    Black and unruffled; there were white lilies
    A few, and crocuses, and violets
    Purple or pale, snake-like fritillaries
    Scarce seen for the rank grass, and through green nets
    Blue eyes of shy peryenche winked in the sun.
    And there were curious flowers, before unknown,
    Flowers that were stained with moonlight, or with shades
    Of Nature's wilful moods; and here a one
    That had drunk in the transitory tone
    Of one brief moment in a sunset; blades
    Of grass that in an hundred springs had been
    Slowly but exquisitely nurtured by the stars,
    And watered with the scented dew long cupped
    In lilies, that for rays of sun had seen
    Only God's glory, for never a sunrise mars
    The luminous air of Heaven. Beyond, abrupt,
    A grey stone wall, o'ergrown with velvet moss
    Uprose; and gazing I stood long, all mazed
    To see a place so strange, so sweet, so fair.
    And as I stood and marvelled, lo! across
    The garden came a youth; one hand he raised
    To shield him from the sun, his wind-tossed hair
    Was twined with flowers, and in his hand he bore
    A purple bunch of bursting grapes, his eyes
    Were clear as crystal, naked all was he,
    White as the snow on pathless mountains frore,
    Red were his lips as red wine-spilith that dyes
    A marble floor, his brow chalcedony.
    And he came near me, with his lips uncurled
    And kind, and caught my hand and kissed my mouth,
    And gave me grapes to eat, and said, 'Sweet friend,
    Come I will show thee shadows of the world
    And images of life. See from the South
    Comes the pale pageant that hath never an end.'
    And lo! within the garden of my dream
    I saw two walking on a shining plain
    Of golden light. The one did joyous seem
    And fair and blooming, and a sweet refrain
    Came from his lips; he sang of pretty maids
    And joyous love of comely girl and boy,
    His eyes were bright, and 'mid the dancing blades
    Of golden grass his feet did trip for joy;
    And in his hand he held an ivory lute
    With strings of gold that were as maidens' hair,
    And sang with voice as tuneful as a flute,
    And round his neck three chains of roses were.
    But he that was his comrade walked aside;
    He was full sad and sweet, and his large eyes
    Were strange with wondrous brightness, staring wide
    With gazing; and he sighed with many sighs
    That moved me, and his cheeks were wan and white
    Like pallid lilies, and his lips were red
    Like poppies, and his hands he clenched tight,
    And yet again unclenched, and his head
    Was wreathed with moon-flowers pale as lips of death.
    A purple robe he wore, o'erwrought in gold
    With the device of a great snake, whose breath
    Was fiery flame: which when I did behold
    I fell a-weeping, and I cried, 'Sweet youth,
    Tell me why, sad and sighing, thou dost rove
    These pleasant realms? I pray thee speak me sooth
    What is thy name?' He said, 'My name is Love.'
    Then straight the first did turn himself to me
    And cried, 'He lieth, for his name is Shame,
    But I am Love, and I was wont to be
    Alone in this fair garden, till he came
    Unasked by night; I am true Love, I fill
    The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.'
    Then sighing, said the other, 'Have thy will,
    I am the Love that dare not speak its name.'


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