Monday, 4 May 2015

To Oscar Wilde, posing as a somdomite.

(Sic). Those were the words Queensberry wrote on the card he left — unenveloped, so read by the receptionist, though he later claimed not to have understood them — for Wilde at his club. Queensberry was, let us say, not noted for his skill with words, but admittedly he wrote the card hastily and in indignant rage, and may genuinely have believed he was ‘only’ trying to protect his son Lord Alfred Douglas from the corrupting influence of Wilde. (The idea is grotesque of course — any corruption was in the opposite direction, but an idea’s grotesqueness never stopped Queensberry from entertaining it.)

Goaded on by Douglas, who hated his father, Wilde took out a prosecution for criminal libel against Queensberry, which he abandoned when it became clear that Queensberry’s defence counsel planned to call various rent boys who would tell damaging stories about Wilde. Thus there was a verdict of not guilty, because there was ‘No libel’. That is to say, the words on the card were true.

A crown prosecution of Wilde for sodomy then followed with a rapidity unusual in English law, and Wilde was found guilty and sentenced to hard labour.

But hold on — sodomy was illegal in England in those days. It may even have been illegal simply to be a (non-practicing) sodomite; I’m not sure of that, but English law contained and still contains greater absurdities. But surely, even then, it could not have been illegal simply to pose as a sodomite, still less a ‘somdomite’? And if the finding of the libel case was that there was ‘no libel’, then all Wilde could be said to be ‘guilty’ of was ‘posing as a sodomite’. There was, then, no legal justification, no, or only a very flimsy, prima facie case for the criminal charges against Wilde.

Most comment on the whole sorry business has concentrated on the moral aspects; as far as I know no-one (except me, now,) has drawn attention to this legal flaw. 
Sorry about the dreadful quality of the picture.

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