Opening Speech for the
Defense by Edward Carson,
attorney for Queensberry
Edward Carson--May it Please you, my lord, gentleman of the jury. In appearing in this case for Lord Queensberry I cannot but feel that a very grave responsibility rests upon me. So far as Lord Queensberry is concerned, in any act he has done, in any letter he has written, or in the matter of the card which has put him in the present position, he withdraws nothing. He has done all those things with a premeditation and a deter-mination, at all risks, and at all hazards to try to save his son. Whether Lord Queensberry was right or whether he was wrong, you have probably to some extent information on which you can found a judgment. I must say for Lord Queensberry, notwith-standing & many elements of prejudice which my learned friend, Sir Edward Clarke, thought fit to introduce into the case in his opening speech, that Lord Queensberry's conduct in this respect has been absolutely consistent all through, and if the facts which he stated in his letters as to Mr. Wilde's reputation and acts are correct, then not only was he justified in doing what he could to cut short what would probably prove a most disastrous acquaintance for his son, but in taking every step which suggested itself to him to bring about an inquiry into the acts and doings of Mr. Wilde.
Gentlemen, from beginning to end Lord Queensberry, in deal-ing with Mr. Oscar Wilde, has been influenced by one hope alone--that of saving his son. What is Mr. Wilde's own case? The prosecutor has said that up to a certain date he was on terms of friendship with Lord Queensberry, and therefore there were no circumstances rendering his lordship liable to the accusation that what he had done in the present case was done from malice arising out of disagreement. Lord Queensberry came to know of Mr. Wilde's character, of the scandals in connexion with the Savoy Hotel, that the prosecutor had been going about with young men who were not co-equal with him in position or in age, and that he had been associating with men who, it will be proved beyond doubt, are some of the most immoral characters in London. I refer above all to the man Taylor, a most notorious character--as the police will tell the Court--who occupied rooms which were nothing more or less than a shameful den. Whether Taylor was or was not a pro-curer in this sense, the fact remains that on Tuesday last--2nd April--he was in company with Mr. Wilde at the latter's house in Tite Street and that he has not been produced by the prosecution. Taylor has fact been the right-hand man of Mr. Wilde in all the orgies in which artists and valets have taken part; and, if oppor-tunity had only been given of cross-examining him, it might have been possible to get from him at least something as to what was going on at Fitzroy Square on the night of the raid there last year. Taylor is really the pivot of the case for the simple reason that when the various witnesses for the defence are called and examined--as unfortunately will be necessary--as to the practices of Mr. Oscar Wilde, it will be found that it was Taylor who introduced the young men to the prosecutor. Mr. Oscar Wilde has undertaken to prove enough to send Lord Queensberry to gaol and to brand him as a criminal, but it is remarkable that the only witness who could have supported Mr. Wilde's asseverance of innocence has not been called. Yet Taylor is still a friend of Mr. Wilde, and nothing, said the prosecutor, has happened to interrupt their friendship.
It will be painful to be compelled to
ask the various witnesses that will be called to describe the manner in
which Mr. Wilde has acted towards them; but, before the case is ended,
you will be obliged to hear a good deal more of the extraordinary den which
Taylor kept in Little College Street. Therefore, it is above all
things necessary, when we have so much proved by his own admissions, that
Mr. Wilde should bring any witness he can to bear out his own explanations.
We have heard a great deal of the gentleman whose name was written down.
On each occasion when it was convenient to introduce somebody, this was
the name which Mr. Wilde gave because he was out of the country.
But Taylor is still in the country. Why has he not been called?
Let us contrast the position which Mr. Wilde took up in crow examination as to his books, which are for the select and not for the ordinary individual, with the position he assumed as to the young men to whom he was introduced and those he picked up for himself. His books were written by an artist for artists; his words were not for Philistines or illiterates. Contrast that with the way in which Mr. Wilde chose his companions! He took up with Charles Parker, a gentleman's servant, whose brother was a gentle-man's servant; with young Alphonse Conway, who sold papers on the pier at Worthing; and with Scarfe, also a gentleman's servant. Then his excuse was no longer that he was dwelling in regions of art but that he had such a noble, such a democratic soul (Laughter.), that he drew no social distinctions, and that it was quite as much pleasure to have the sweeping boy from the streets to lunch or dine with him as the greatest littérateur or artist.
In my judgment, if the case had rested on Mr. Wilde's litera-ture alone, Lord Queensberry would have been absolutely justified in the course he has taken. Lord Queensberry has undertaken to prove that Mr. Wilde has been "posing" as guilty of certain vices. Mr. Wilde never complained of the immorality of the story "The Priest and the Acolyte" which appeared in The Chameleon. He knows no distinction, in fact, between a moral and an immoral book. Nor does he care whether the article is in its very terms blasphemous. All that Mr. Wilde says is that he did not approve of the story from a literary point of view. What is that story? It is a story of the love of a priest for the acolyte who attended him at Mass. Exactly the same idea that runs through the two letters to Lord Alfred Douglas runs through that story, and also through The Picture of Dorian Gray. When the boy was discovered in the priest's bed, the priest made exactly the same defence as Mr. Wilde has made--that the world does not understand the beauty of this love. The same idea runs through these two letters which Mr. Wilde has called beautiful, but which I call an abominable piece of disgusting immorality.
Moreover, there is in this same Chameleon a poem which shows some justification for the frightful anticipations which Lord Queensberry entertained for his son. The poem was written by Lord Alfred Douglas and was seen by Mr. Wilde before its publication is it not a terrible thing that a young man on the threshold of life, who has for several years been dominated by Oscar Wilde and has been "'adored and loved" by Oscar Wilde, as the two letters prove, should thus show the tendency of his mind upon this frightful subject? What would be the horror of any man whose son wrote such a poem?
Passing now to The Picture of Dorian
Gray, it is the tale of a beautiful young man who, by the conversation
of one who has great literary power and ability to speak in epigrams--just
as Mr. Wilde has--and who, by reading of exactly the same kind as that
in "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young," has his eyes opened
to what they are pleased to call the "delights of the world." If
Dorian Gray is a book which it can be conclusively proved advocates the
vice imputed to Mr. Wilde, what answer, then, is there to Lord Queensberry's
plea of justification?. . . .
The turning of one of Wilde's letters to Lord Alfred Douglas into a sonnet was a very thinly veiled attempt to get rid of the character of that letter. A more thinly veiled attempt to cover its real nature has never been made in a Court of Justice. I have some difficulty in understanding why my learned friend, Sir Edward Clarke, has referred to that letter at all. Perhaps he thought the defence had the letter, and that it would be better to give an explanation of it; but if that is so, it is futile because, for the letter which the defence did produce, my learned friend has no explanation.
My learned friend has referred to "a man named Wood" as being supposed to have taken out of the pocket of Lord Alfred Douglas correspondence which had passed between him and Wilde. But who is Wood? Why, he too is "Fred," one of Wilde's bosom Companions, a friend of Taylor, one of the Little College Street lot! What, then, was the case of the strained relations between Wilde and Wood? Why did Wilde give Wood £16. When I state that, previous to the possession of those letters, Wood had been carrying on certain practices with Wilde, you will have the key to the whole situation. That is one reason why Wilde would be anxious to get the letters at any cost, and when Wood came to levy blackmail, then Mr. Wilde became very anxious that the man should leave the country. So he paid his passage and, after a fare-well luncheon, he shipped him off to New York and, I suppose, hoped that he would never see him again. (Counsel paused a moment.) But, gentlemen, as a matter of fact, Wood is here and will be examined before you. (Noise and excitement in the courtroom.)
I am not here to say anything has ever happened between Lord Alfred Douglas and Mr. Oscar Wilde. God forbid! But everything shows that the young man was in a dangerous position in that he acquiesced in the domination of Mr. Wilde, a man of great ability and attainments. Against that letter written by Mr. Wilde to Lord Queensberry's son, Lord Queensberry pro-tested; and I wish to know, gentlemen, are you, for that protest, going to send Lord Queensberry to gaol? Lord Queensberry was determined to bring the matter to an issue, and what other way was open to him than that which he had chosen?
Before you condemn Lord Queensberry I ask you to read Wilde's letter and to say whether the gorge of any father ought not to rise. I ask you to bear in mind that Lord Queensberry's son was so dominated by Wilde that he threatened to shoot his own father. Gentlemen, Lord Queensberry did what he has done most deliberately, and he is not afraid to abide by the issue which he has raised in this Court. When you have heard Wood's evidence, the whole story of the payment of those sums of money by Wilde, and the mystery of those letters, will be explained; and the suggestion that they were valuable manuscripts, which Wilde desired to obtain, will be dissipated. As a matter of fact, Wilde knew that we had all the evidence, and he preferred to discount it as far as possible in advance.
Friday April 5, 1895:Opening Speech for the Defence (continued)
Mr. Carson--May it please your lordship, gentlemen of the jury. Yesterday, when it came to the usual time for the adjourn-ment of the Court, I had dealt as fully as I intended to deal with the question of Mr. Wilde's connexion with the literature and the two letters which have been produced in this case and I had almost hoped that I had sufficiently demonstrated to you upon that matter that so far as Lord Queensberry was concerned, he was absolutely justified in bringing to a climax in the way he did this question of the connexion between Mr. Oscar Wilde and his son. I have unfortunately a more painful part of the case now to approach. It will be my painful duty to bring before you young men, one after another, who have been in the hands of Mr. Wilde, to tell their unhappy tales. It is, even for an advocate, a very distasteful task. But let those who are inclined to condemn these young men for being dominated, misled and corrupted by Mr. Wilde, remember the relative position of the two parties. Let them say whether those young men were not more sinned against than sinning. I am not going in any great detail now to criticize the evidence of Mr. Oscar Wilde in relation to the several transactions on which he was cross-examined. But there are some general observations applic-able to all the cases that have been raised against Mr. Wilde. There is in point of fact a startling similarity between each of them on his own admission which must lead you, gentlemen, to draw the most painful conclusions. There is the fact that in no one of these cases were these parties on an equality in any way with Mr. Wilde; they are none of them educated parties with whom he would naturally associate, and they are not his equal in years. But on the other hand, gentlemen, you will have observed a curious similarity in the ages of each of them.
Mr. Wilde has said that there is something beautiful, something charming about youth which led him to adopt the course he did. But was Mr. Wilde unable to find more suitable companions, at the same time young and charming, in the ranks of his own class? Why, the thing is absurd. His excuse in the witness-box is only a travesty of the facts. Who are all these young men--these lads? There is Wood. Of his history Mr. Wilde has told us that he knows nothing. So far as Mr. Wilde knew, Wood was a clerk out of employment. Who is Parker? Mr. Wilde professed the same ignorance as to that youth. Who is Scarfe? Exactly in the same way Mr. Wilde knew nothing of him. He only knew that he was out of employment. Alphonse Conway he picked up by chance on the beach at Worthing. All the young men introduced to Mr. Wilde were of something like eighteen or twenty years of age. The manner of their introduction, and the way in which they were sub-sequently treated with money and presents, all lead up to the con-clusion that there was something unnatural in the relations between Mr. Wilde and these young men. Take the case of Parker. How did Mr. Wilde get to know that young man? Parker was a gentleman's servant out of employment; and what idea could Taylor have had of Mr. Wilde's tastes when, on being invited by Wilde to ask his friends to a birthday dinner, he introduced as his guests a groom and a valet? If it were true, as undoubtedly it was, that Taylor first met the two young men in a restaurant in Picca-dilly, why did he--if he knew that Mr. Wilde was an artistic and literary man, and, what was more, an upright man--bring the couple to dine with Mr. Wilde? There can be no explanation of the facts but this: that Taylor was a procurer for Wilde, as he undoubtedly was.
Parker will be called to tell his unfortunate story-his story that he was poor, out of place, and that he fell a victim to Mr. Wilde. Upon the first occasion that Mr. Wilde met Parker, the valet, he addressed him as "Charlie," and Charlie addressed Mr. Wilde, the distinguished dramatist, whose name at the time, was being men-tioned in the highest circles in London for his plays and his literary work, as "Oscar."
I do not wish to say anything about Mr. Wilde's theories as to putting an end to social distinctions. A man of noble and generous instincts might be able to break down all social barriers; but there is one thing plain in this case, and that is that Mr. Wilde's conduct to the young men introduced to him was not instigated by any generous instincts. If Mr. Wilde wanted to assist Parker, if he were interested in him, if he wanted to find him employment, was it doing the lad a good turn to take him to a restaurant and prime him with champagne and a good dinner? Was that the work of charity and sympathy one would expect a man in Mr. Wilde's position to extend to another man like Parker? All the ridiculous explanation of Mr. Wilde will not bear one moment's explana-tion as to what he was doing in his suite of rooms at the Savoy. The Savoy is a large place, with plenty of room to move about in, and there is no doubt that, without leading people to suspect any-thing, Mr. Wilde could have brought young men into his rooms.
Parker will tell you that when he went to the Savoy with Mr. Wilde he had whiskies and sodas and iced champagne--that iced champagne in which Mr. Wilde indulged contrary to his doctor's orders. Parker will furthermore tell you of the shocking acts he was led by Mr. Wilde to perpetrate on that occasion. Mr. Wilde was asked in cross-examination, "Is it not true that there has been a scandal at the Savoy Hotel?" "None whatsoever," said Mr. Wilde. But about that very extraordinary thing Lord Queensberry has referred in his letter dated 6th July, 1894. It might have been that no one had seen Mr. Wilde turned out into the Street, but such kind of gossip could not have arisen without going abroad and being reported in the circles in which Lord Queensberry mixed. The wonder is not that the gossip reached Lord Queensberry, but that, after it was known, this man Wilde should have been tolerated in society in London for the length of time he has. Well, I shall prove that Mr. Wilde brought boys into the Savoy Hotel. The masseur of that establishment--a most respectable man--and other servants will be called to prove the character of Mr. Wilde's relations with his visitors. Is there any wonder that reports of a scandal at the Savoy should have reached Lord Queensberry, whose son was living a portion of the time at the hotel?
Mr. Wilde has not ventured to deny that Parker has dined with him, has been in his company, and has lunched with him at his rooms and at the Savoy. Mr. Wilde, seeing the importance of these facts, has made a clean breast of it. "Oh, yes," he said, "they were perfectly innocent, nay, more, they were generous actions on my part." It is remarkable that Mr. Wilde has given no account as to what he was doing in those rooms at the Savoy. Parker will tell you what happened on arriving there. He has since enlisted in the army and bears a good character. Mr. Wilde himself said that Parker is a respectable man. Parker will reluctantly present himself to tell you his story.
As to the boy Conway, Conway was not procured by Taylor---he was procured by Mr. Wilde himself. Has there ever been con-fessed in a Court of justice a more audacious story than that confessed to by Mr. Wilde, in relation to Conway? He met the boy, he said, on the beach at Worthing. He knew nothing whatsoever about him, excepting that he assisted in launching the boats. Conway's real history is that he sold newspapers at Worthing at the kiosk on the pier. What a flippant answer it was that Mr. Wilde gave to the question, "Did you know that Conway sold newspapers?" when he replied, "I did not know that he had previous connexion with literatures Perhaps, in that, Mr. Wilde thought he was clever at repartee, and was scoring off counsel whose duty it was to cross-examine him. But here are the facts. After helping Mr. Wilde to get out his boat, an intimacy sprang up between them, and within a day or two Conway was taken by Mr. Wilde to the house he was occupying. If the evidence of Mr. Wilde was true--and I sincerely hope it is not--Conway was introduced to Mrs. Wilde and her two sons, aged nine and ten. Now, it is clear that Mr. Wilde could not take about the boy Conway in the condition he found him in. So what did he do? And it is here that the disgraceful audacity of the man comes in. Mr. Wilde procured the boy a suit of clothes to dress him up like a gentleman's son, put some public school colours upon his hat, and generally made him look like a lad fit and proper to associate with Mr. Oscar Wilde. The whole thing in its audacity is almost past belief. Why, if the defence had proved the fact, instead of getting it from the mouth of the prosecutor, you would have said it was almost incredible. But why did Mr. Wilde dress up Conway? If Mr. Wilde were really anxious to assist Conway, the very worst thing he could have done was to take the lad out of his proper sphere, to begin by giving him champagne luncheons, taking him to his hotel, and treating him in a manner in which the boy could never in the future expect to live.