On this day in 1895, British playwright Oscar Wilde was dining at the Albermarle Club in London when the Marquess of Queensbury left a calling card with the porter. It read, “To Oscar Wilde posing as a sodomoite.” The misspelling may have been the product of Queensbury’s rage over the relationship between Wilde and his son, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas.
In the summer of 1891, Oscar met Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, the third son of the Marquis of Queensberry. Bosie was well acquainted with Oscar’s novel “Dorian Gray” and was an undergraduate at Oxford. They soon became lovers.
Queensbury had ferocious arguments with his son, trying to get him to stop seeing Wilde, but Bosie refused. Queensbury even threatened to go public with what he knew, but Bosie refused to back down. So on February 18, 1895, Queensbury followed through on his threat.
This action led to a long string of events which eventually led to Wilde’s disgrace, imprisonment, exile in France, and early death. Perhaps all that could have been avoided if Wilde had decided not to sue Queensbury for libel. His friends advised him against it, but he may have felt he had little choice. Having been called out publicly like that, declining to sue might be taken as an admission of guilt. Unfortunately, Wilde’s libel case collapsed when Queensbury’s lawyer asked whether he had ever kissed Walter Grainger in greeting. “Oh, dear no,” Wilde replied, “He was a peculiarly plain boy. He was unfortunately extremely ugly. I pitied him for it.”
Queensbury’s lawyer pounced on Wilde’s admission that attraction was the reason he didn’t kiss him. In short order, Wilde lost the case, and was charged with gross indecency. Wilde’s first criminal trial ended in a hung jury but the second one resulted in Wilde’s conviction and sentence to two years at hard labor.
Upon his release, Oscar wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a response to the agony he experienced in prison.
Wilde fled England and spent the last three years of his life wandering Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. Sadly, he was unable to rekindle his creative fires. When a recurrent ear infection became serious several years later, meningitis set in.
Oscar Wilde despite his fame died destitute in Paris at the age of forty-six on November 30, 1900.