Testimony of Oscar Wilde on Cross Examination
(April 3,1895) (Literary Part)
Wilde was questioned on cross-examination by Queensberry's defense attorney, Edward Carson
Edward Carson: You stated that your age was thirty-nine. I think you are over forty. You were born on 16th October, 1854?
Oscar Wilde: I have no wish to pose as being young. I am thirty-nine or forty. You have my certificate and that settles the matter.
C: But being born in 1854 makes you more than forty?
W: Ah! Very well
C: What age is Lord Alfred Douglas?
W: Lord Alfred Douglas is about twenty-four, and was between twenty and twenty-one years of age when I first knew him. Down to the time of the interview in Tite Street, Lord Queensberry was friendly. I did not receive a letter on 3rd April in which Lord Queensberry desired that my acquaintance with his son should cease. After the interview I had no doubt that such was Lord Queensberry's desire. Notwithstanding Lord Queensberry's protest, my intimacy with Lord Alfred Douglas has continued down to the present moment.
C: You have stayed with him at many places?
C: At Oxford? Brighton on several occasions? Worthing?
C: And in various hotels in London?
W: Yes; at one in Albemarle Street, and in Dover Street, and at the Savoy.
C: Did you ever take rooms yourself in addition to your house in Tite Street?
W: Yes; at 10 and 11 St. James's Place. I kept the rooms from the month of October, 1893, to the end of March, 1894. Lord Alfred Douglas has stayed in those chambers, which are not far from Piccadilly. I have been abroad with him several times and even lately to Monte Carlo. With reference to the writings which have been mentioned, it was not at Brighton, in 20 King's Road, that I wrote my article for The Chameleon. I observed that there were also contributions from Lord Alfred Douglas, but these were not written at Brighton. I have seen them. I thought them exceedingly beautiful poems. One was "In Praise of Shame" and the other "Two Loves."
C: These loves. They were two boys?
C: One boy calls his love "true love," and the other boy calls his love "shame"?
C: Did you think that made any improper suggestion?
W: No, none whatever.
C: You read "The Priest and the Acolyte"?
C: You have no doubt whatever that that was an improper story?
W: From the literary point of view it was highly improper. It is impossible for a man of literature to judge it otherwise; by literature, meaning treatment, selection of subject, and the like. I thought the treatment rotten and the subject rotten.
C: You are of opinion, I believe, that there is no such thing as an immoral book?
C: May I take it that you think "The Priest and the Acolyte" was not immoral?
W: It was worse; it was badly written.
C: Was not the story that of a priest who fell in love with a boy who served him at the altar, and was discovered by the rector in the priest's room, and a scandal arose?
W: I have read it only once, in last November, and nothing will induce me to read it again. I don't care for it. It doesn't interest me...
C: Do you think the story blasphemous?
W: I think it violated every artistic canon of beauty.
C: I wish to know whether you thought the story blasphemous?
W: The story filled me with disgust. The end was wrong.
C: Answer the question, sir. Did you or did you not consider the story blasphemous?
W: I thought it disgusting.
C: I am satisfied with that. You know that when the priest in the story administers poison to the boy, he uses the words of the sacrament of the Church of England?
W: That I entirely forgot.
C: Do you consider that blasphemous?
W: I think it is horrible. "Blasphemous" is not a word of mine.
[Carson then read from "The Priest and the Acolyte."]:
Just before the consecration the priest took a tiny phial from the pocket of his cassock, blessed it, and poured the contents into the chalice.
When the time came for him to receive from the chalice, he raised it to his lips, but did not taste of it.
He administered the sacred wafer to the child, and then he took his hand; he turned towards him; but when he saw the light in the beautiful face he turned again to the crucifix with a low moan. For one instant his courage failed him; then he turned to the little fellow again, and held the chalice to his lips:
"The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life."
C: Do you approve of those words?
W: I think them disgusting, perfect twaddle....I strongly objected to the whole story. I took no steps to express disapproval of The Chameleon because I think it would have been beneath my dignity as a man of letters to associate myself with an Oxford undergraduate's productions. I am aware that the magazine may have been circulated among the undergraduates of Oxford. I do not believe that any book or work of art ever had any effect whatever on morality.
C: Am I right in saying that you do not consider the effect in creating morality or immorality?
W: Certainly, I do not.
C: So far as your works are concerned, you pose as not being concerned about morality or immorality?
W: I do not know whether you use the word "pose" in any particular sense.
C: It is a favorite word of your own?
W: Is it? I have no pose in this matter. In writing a play or a book, I am concerned entirely with literature—that is, with art. I aim not at doing good or evil, but in trying to make a thing that will have some quality of beauty.
C: Listen, sir. Here is one of the "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young" which you contributed: "Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others." You think that true?
W: I rarely think that anything I write is true.
C: Did you say "rarely"?
W: I said "rarely." I might have said "never"—not true in the actual sense of the word.
C: "Religions die when they arc proved to be true." Is that true?
W: Yes; I hold that. It is a suggestion towards a philosophy of the absorption of religions by science, but it is too big a question to go into now.
C: Do you think that was a safe axiom to put forward for the philosophy of the young?
W: Most stimulating.
C: "If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out"?
W: That is a pleasing paradox, but I do not set very high store on it as an axiom.
C: Is it good for the young?
W: Anything is good that stimulates thought in whatever age.
C: Whether moral or immoral?
W: There is no such thing as morality or immorality in thought. There is immoral emotion.
C: "Pleasure is thc only thing one should live for"?
W: I think that the realization of oneself is the prime aim of life, and to realize oneself through pleasure is finer than to do so through pain. I am, on that point, entirely on the side of the ancients - the Greeks. It is a pagan idea.
C: "A truth ceases to be true when more than one person believes in it"?
W: Perfectly. That would be my metaphysical definition of truth; something so personal that the same truth could never be appreciated by two minds.
C: "The condition of perfection is idleness: the aim of perfection is youth"?
W: Oh, yes; I think so. Half of it is true. The life of contemplation is the highest life, and so recognized by the philosopher.
C: "There is something tragic about the enormous number of young men there are in England at the present moment who start life with perfect profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession"?
W: I should think that the young have enough sense of humor.
C: You think that is humorous?
W: I think it is an amusing paradox, an amusing play on words....
C: This is in your introduction to Dorian Gray: "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written." That expresses your view?
W: My view on art, yes.
C: Then, I take it, that no matter how immoral a book may be, if it is well written, it is, in your opinion, a good book?
W: Yes, if it were well written so as to produce a sense of beauty, which is the highest sense of which a human being can be capable. If it were badly written, it would produce a sense of disgust.
C: Then a well-written book putting forward perverted moral views may be a good book?
W: No work of art ever puts forward views. Views belong to people who are not artists.
C: A perverted novel might be a good book?
W: I don't know what you mean by a "perverted" novel.
C: Then I will suggest Dorian Gray as open to the interpretation of being such a novel?
W: That could only be to brutes and illiterates. The views of Philistines on art are incalculably stupid.
C: An illiterate person reading Dorian Gray might consider it such a novel?
W: The views of illiterates on art are unaccountable. I am concerned only with my view of art. I don't care twopence what other people think of it.
C: The majority of persons would come under your definition of Philistines and illiterates?
W: I have found wonderful exceptions.
C: Do you think that the majority of people live up to the position you are giving us?
W: I am afraid they are not cultivated enough.
C: Not cultivated enough to draw the distinction between a good book and a bad book?
W: Certainly not.
C: The affection and love of the artist of Dorian Gray might lead an ordinary individual to believe that it might have a certain tendency?
W: I have no knowledge of the views of ordinary individuals.
C: You did not prevent the ordinary individual from buying your book?
W: I have never discouraged him.
[Carson read from The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which the painter Basil Hallward describes to Lord Henry Wooton his first meetings with Dorian Gray.]:
". . . The story is simply this. Two months ago I went to a crush at Lady Brandon's. You know we poor painters have to show ourselves in society from time to time, just to remind the public that we are not Savages. With an evening coat and a white tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stockbroker, can gain a reputation for being civilized. Well, after I had been in the room about ten minutes, talking to huge overdressed dowagers and tedious Academicians, I suddenly became conscious that some one was looking at me. I turned half-way round, and saw Dorian Gray for the first time. When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale. A curious instinct of terror came over me. I knew that I had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself. I did not want any external influence in my life. You know yourself, Harry, how independent I am by nature. My father destined me for the army. I insisted on going to Oxford. Then he made me enter my name at the Middle Temple. Before I had eaten half a dozen dinners I gave up the Bar, and announced my intention of becoming a painter. I have always been my own master; had at least always been so, till I met Dorian Gray. Then - but I don't know how to explain it to you. Something seemed to tell me that I was on the verge of a terrible crisis in my life. I had a strange feeling that Fate had in store for me exquisite joys and exquisite sorrows. I knew that if I spoke to Dorian I would become absolutely devoted to him, and that I ought not to speak to him. I grew afraid, and turned to quit the room. It was not conscience that made me do so: it was cowardice. I take no credit to myself for trying to escape."
"Conscience and cowardice are really the same things, Basil. Conscience is the trade-name of the firm. That is all."
"I don't believe that, Harry. However, whatever was my motive-and it may have been pride, for I used to be very proud-I certainly struggled to the door. There, of course, I stumbled against Lady Brandon. 'You are not going to run away so soon, Mr. Hallward?' she screamed out. You know her shrill horrid voice?"
"Yes, she is a peacock in everything but beauty," said Lord Henry, pulling the daisy to bits with his long, nervous fingers.
"I could not get rid of her. She brought me up to Royalties, and people with Stars and Garters, and elderly ladies with gigantic tiaras and hooked noses. She spoke of me as her dearest friend. I had only met her once before, but she took it into her head to lionize me. I believe some picture of mine had made a great success at the time, at least had been chattered about in the penny newspapers, which is the nineteenth-century standard of immortality. Suddenly I found myself face to face with the young man whose personality had so strangely stirred me. We were quite close, almost touching. Our eyes met again. It was mad of me, but I asked Lady Brandon to introduce me to him. Perhaps it was not so mad, after all. It was simply inevitable. We would have spoken to each other without introduction. I am sure of that. Dorian told me so afterwards. He, too, felt that we were destined to know each other."
". . . Tell me more about Dorian Gray. . How often do you see him?"
"Every day. I couldn't be happy if I didn't see him every day. Of course sometimes it is only for a few minutes. But a few minutes with somebody one worships means a great deal."
"But you don't really worship him?"
"How extraordinary! I thought you would never care for anything but your painting--your art, I should say. Art sounds better, doesn't it?"
"He is all my art to me now. I sometimes think, Harry, that there are only two eras of any importance in the history of the world. The first is the appearance of a new medium for art, and the second is the appearance of a new personality for art also. What the invention of oil-painting was to the Venetians, the face of Antino?s was to late Greek sculpture, and the face of Dorian Gray will some day be to me. It is not merely that I paint from him, draw from him, model from him. Of course I have done all that. He has stood as Paris in dainty armour, and as Adonis with huntsman's cloak and polished boar-spear. Crowned with heavy lotus-blossoms, he has sat on the prow of Adrian's barge, looking into the green, turbid Nile. He has leaned over the still pool of some Greek woodland, and seen in the water's silent silver the wonder of his own beauty. But he is much more to me than that. I won't tell you that I am dissatisfied with what I have done of him, or that his beauty is such that art cannot express it. There is nothing that art cannot express, and I know that the work I have done since I met Dorian Gray is good work, is the best work of my life. But in some curious way - I wonder will you understand me? - his personality has suggested to me an entirely new manner in art, an entirely new mode of style. I see things differently, I think of them differently. I can now recreate life in a way that was hidden from me before. 'A dream of form in days of thought' - who is it who says that? I forget, but it is what Dorian Gray has been to me. The merely visible presence of this lad-for he seems to me little more than a lad, though he is really over twenty - his merely visible presence - ah! I wonder can you realize all that that means? Unconsciously he defines for me the lines of a fresh school, a school that is to have in itself all the passion of the romantic spirit, all the perfection of the spirit that is Greek. The harmony of soul and body - how much that is! We in our madness have separated the two, and have invented a realism that is bestial, an ideality that is void. Harry! Harry! if you only knew what Dorian Gray is to me! You remember that landscape of mine, for which Agnew offered me such a huge price, but which I would not part with? It is one of the best things I have ever done. And why is it so? Because, while I was painting it, Dorian Gray sat beside me."
"Basil, this is quite wonderful! I must see Dorian Gray."
C: Now I ask you, Mr. Wilde, do you consider that that description of the feeling of one man towards a youth just grown up was a proper or an improper feeling?
W: I think it is the most perfect description of what an artist would feel on meeting a beautiful personality that was in some way necessary to his art and life.
C: You think that is a feeling a young man should have towards another?
W: Yes, as an artist.
[Carson continued reading from the book.]
"Let us sit down, Dorian," said Hallward, looking pale and pained. "Let us sit down. I will sit in the shadow, and you shall sit in the sunlight. Our lives are like that. Just answer me one question. Have you noticed in the picture something that you did not like? - something that probably at first did not strike you, but that revealed itself to you suddenly?"
"Basil!" cried the lad, clutching the arms of his chair with trembling hands, and gazing at him with wild, startled eyes.
"I see you did. Don't speak. Wait till you hear what I have to say. It is quite true that I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man usually gives to a friend. Somehow, I have never loved a woman. I suppose I never had time. Perhaps, as Harry says, a really 'grande passion' is the privilege of those who have nothing to do, and that is the use of the idle classes in a country. Well, from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me. I quite admit that I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly. I was jealous of every one to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was with you. When I was away from you, you were still present in my art. It was all wrong and foolish. It is all wrong and foolish still. Of course I never let you know anything about this. It would have been impossible. You would not have understood it; I did not understand it myself. One day I determined to paint a wonderful portrait of you. It was to have been my masterpiece. It is my masterpiece. But, as I worked at it, every flake and film of colour seemed to me to reveal my secret. I grew afraid that the world would know of my idolatry. I felt, Dorian, that I had told too much. Then, it was that I resolved never to allow the picture to be exhibited. You were a little annoyed; but then you did not realize all that it meant to me. Harry, to whom I talked about it, laughed at me. But I did not mind that. When the picture was finished, and I -sat alone with it, I felt that I was right. Well, after a few days the portrait left my studio, and as soon as I had got rid of the intolerable fascination of its presence it seemed to me that I had been foolish in imagining that I had said anything in it, more than that you were extremely goodlooking and that I could paint. Even now I cannot help feeling that it is a mistake to think that the passion one feels in creation is ever really shown in the work one creates. Art is more abstract than we fancy. Form and colour tell us of form and colour - that is all. It often seems to me that art conceals the artist far more completely than it ever reveals him. And so when I got this offer from Paris I determined to make your portrait the principal thing in my exhibition. It never occurred to me that you would refuse. I see now that you were right. The picture must not be shown. You must not be angry with me, Dorian, for what I have told you. As I said to Harry, once, you are made to be worshipped."
C: Do you mean to say that that passage describes the natural feeling of one man towards another?
W: It would be the influence produced by a beautiful personality.
C: A beautiful person?
W: I said a "beautiful personality." You can describe it as you like. Dorian Gray's was a most remarkable personality.
C: May I take it that you, as an artist, have never known the feeling described here?
W: I have never allowed any personality to dominate my art.
C: Then you have never known the feeling you described?
W: No. It is a work of fiction.
C: So far as you are concerned you have no experience as to its being a natural feeling?
W: I think it is perfectly natural for any artist to admire intensely and love a young man. It is an incident in the life of almost every artist.
C: But let us go over it phrase by phrase. "I quite admit that I adored you madly." What do you say to that? Have you ever adored a young man madly?
W: No, not madly; I prefer love-that is a higher form.
C: Never mind about that. Let us keep down to the level we are at now?
W: I have never given adoration to anybody except myself. (Loud laughter.)
C: I suppose you think that a very smart thing?
W: Not at all.
C: Then you have never had that feeling?
W: No. The whole idea was borrowed from Shakespeare, I regret to say - yes, from Shakespeare's sonnets.
C: I believe you have written an article to show that Shakespeare's sonnets were suggestive of unnatural vice?
W: On the contrary I have written an article to show that they are not." I objected to such a perversion being put upon Shakespeare.
C: "I have adored you extravagantly"? - Do you mean financially?
W: Oh, yes, financially!
C: Do you think we are talking about finance?
W: I don't know what you are talking about.
C: Don't you? Well, I hope I shall make myself very plain before I have done. "I was jealous of every one to whom you spoke." Have you ever been jealous of a young man?
W: Never in my life.
C: "I wanted to have you all to myself." Did you ever have that feeling?
W: No; I should consider it an intense nuisance, an intense bore.
C: "I grew afraid that the world would know of my idolatry." Why should he grow afraid that the world should know of it?
W: Because there are people in the world who cannot understand the intense devotion, affection, and admiration that an artist can feel for a wonderful and beautiful personality. These are the conditions under which we live. I regret them.
C: These unfortunate people, that have not the high understanding that you have, might put it down to something wrong?
W: Undoubtedly; to any point they chose. I am not concerned with the ignorance of others....
[Carson continued reading from The Picture of Dorian Gray.]
". . . I think it right that you should know that the most dreadful things are being said about you in London - things that I could hardly repeat to you."
"I don't wish to know anything about them. I love scandals about other people, but scandals about myself don't interest me. They have not got the charm of novelty."
"They must interest you, Dorian. Every gentleman is interested in his good name. You don't want people to talk of you as something vile and degraded. Of course you have your position, and your wealth, and all that kind of thing. But position and wealth are not everything. Mind you, I don't believe these rumours at all. At least, I can't believe them when I see you. Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man's face. It cannot be concealed. People talk of secret vices. There are no such things as secret vices. If a wretched man has a vice, it shows itself in the lines of his mouth, the droop of his eyelids, the moulding of his hands even. Somebody - I won't mention his name, but you know him - came to me last year to have his portrait done. I had never seen him before, and had never heard anything about him at the time, though I have heard a good deal since. He offered an extravagant price. I refused him. There was something in the shape of his fingers that I hated. I know now that I was quite right in what I fancied about him. His life is dreadful. But you, Dorian, with your pure, bright, innocent face, and your marvellous untroubled youth - I can't believe anything against you. And yet I see you very seldom, and you never come down to the studio now, and when I am away from you, and I hear all these hideous things that people are whispering about you, I don't know what to say. Why is it, Dorian, that a man like the Duke of Berwick leaves the room of a club when you enter it? Why is it that so many gentlemen in London will neither go to your house nor invite you to theirs? You used to be a friend of Lord Cawdor. I met him at dinner last week. Your name happened to come up in conversation, in connexion with the miniatures you have lent to the exhibition at the Dudley. Cawdor curled his lip, and said that you might have the most artistic tastes, but that you were a man whom no pure-minded girl should be allowed to know, and whom no chaste woman should sit in the same room with. I reminded him that I was a friend of yours, and asked him what he meant. He told me. He told me right out before everybody. It was horrible! Why is your friendship so fateful to young men? There was that wretched boy in the Guards who committed suicide. You were his great friend. There was Sir Henry Ashton, who had to leave England with a tarnished name. You and he were inseparable. What about Adrian Singleton, and his dreadful end? What about Lord Kent's only son, and his career? I met his father yesterday in St. James Street. He seemed broken with shame and sorrow. What about the young Duke of Perth? What sort of life has he got now? What gentleman would associate with him? Dorian, Dorian, your reputation is infamous. . . ."
C: Does not this passage suggest a charge of unnatural vice?
W: It describes Dorian Gray as a man of very corrupt influence, though there is no statement as to the nature of the influence. But as a matter of fact I do not think that one person influences another, nor do I think there is any bad influence in the world.
C: A man never corrupts a youth?
W: I think not.
C: Nothing could corrupt him?
W: If you are talking of separate ages.
C: No, sir, I am talking common sense.
W: I do not think one person influences another.
C: You don't think that flattering a young man, making love to him, in fact, would be likely to corrupt him?
C: Where was Lord Alfred Douglas staying when you wrote that letter to him?
W: At the Savoy; and I was at Babbacombe, near Torquay.
C: It was a letter in answer to something he had sent you?
W: Yes, a poem.
C: Why should a man of your age address a boy nearly twenty years younger as "My own boy"?
W: I was fond of him. I have always been fond of him.
C: Do you adore him?
W: No, but I have always liked him. I think it is a beautiful letter. It is a poem. I was not writing an ordinary letter. You might as well cross-examine me as to whether King Lear or a sonnet of Shakespeare was proper.
C: Apart from art, Mr. Wilde?
W: I cannot answer apart from art.
C: Suppose a man who was not an artist had written this letter, would you say it was a proper letter?
W: A man who was not. an artist could not have written that letter.
W: Because nobody but an artist could write it. He certainly could not write the language unless he were a man of letters.
C: I can suggest, for the sake of your reputation, that there is nothing very wonderful in this "red rose-leaf lips of yours"?
W: A great deal depends on the way it is read.
C: "Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry." Is that a beautiful phrase?
W: Not as you read it, Mr. Carson. You read it very badly.
C: I do not profess to be an artist; and when I hear you give evidence, I am glad I am not -
Sir Edward Clarke: I don't think my friend should talk like that. (To witness) Pray, do not criticize my friend's reading again.
C: Is that not an exceptional letter?
W: It is unique, I should say.
C: Was that the ordinary way in which you carried on your correspondence?
W: No; but I have often written to Lord Alfred Douglas, though I never wrote to another young man in the same way.
C: Have you often written letters in the same style as this?
W: I don't repeat myself in style.
C: Here is another letter which I believe you also wrote to Lord Alfred Douglas. Will you read it?
W: No; I decline. I don't see why I should.
C: Then I will.
Victoria Embankment, London.
Dearest of all Boys,
Your letter was delightful, red and yellow wine to me; but I am sad and out of sorts. Bosie, you must not make scenes with me. They kill me, they wreck the loveliness of life. I cannot see you, so Greek and gracious, distorted with passion. I cannot listen to your curved lips saying hideous things to me. I would sooner - than have you bitter, unjust, hating. . . . I must see you soon. You are the divine thing I want, the thing of grace and beauty; but I don't know how to do it. Shall I come to Salisbury? My bill here, is £49 for a week. I have also got a new sitting-room. . . . Why are you not here, my dear, my wonderful boy? I fear I must leave-no money, no credit, and a heart of lead.
YOUR OWN OSCAR.
C: Is that an ordinary letter?
W: Everything I write is extraordinary. I do not pose as being ordinary, great heavens! Ask me any question you like about it.
C: Is it the kind of letter a man writes to another?
W: It was a tender expression of my great admiration for Lord Alfred Douglas. It was not, like the other, a prose poem.