Autobiography of an Androgyne/Appendix 2
THE CASE OF OSCAR WILDE
By the author of this autobiography
Oscar Wilde presents a different phase of homosexuality from the author, that is, active pederasty. Apparently his was the active rôle in pedicatio or inter femora. According to Frank Harris, Wilde's confidant and the author of his best biography, Wilde thus analyzes his penchant: "What is the food of passion but beauty, beauty alone, beauty always, and in beauty of form and vigor of life there is no comparison [ with the female sex]. If you loved beauty as intensely as I do, you would feel as I feel. It is beauty which gives me joy, makes me drunk as with wine, blind with insatiable desire." "There are people in the world who cannot understand the deep affection that an artist can feel for a friend with a beautiful personality."
Like the author, Wilde was born and reared in the best environment and enjoyed unexcelled educational advantages. But as a boy and youth, he betrayed no feminine mental traits. Unlike the author, he was not feminesque physically. Further, while the author during youth and early "manhood" was notably small, Wilde grew to be one of the largest of men, six feet, two inches in height, and of stout build.
Apparently instinct did not become sufficiently powerful to cry for appeasement until he became a student at Oxford. While one of the leaders in scholarship and already a society favorite, it was nevertheless being whispered that he was a pederast. This was due to his openness, he not seeming to care if every one knew of his penchant, and not realizing that he was guilty of anything scandalous.
Having graduated from Oxford with the highest honors, Wilde took up his residence in London. Unlike the author, he was capable cum femina, but did not marry until twenty-nine. Two sons resulted. Marriage and fatherhood are the two strongest arguments against him in any judgment on his pederasty.
Hardly another human being has at the age of thirty achieved such fame. In the family of the author, then a boy of ten, and living in a different country and 3,000 miles away, the name " Oscar Wilde" was a household term. Even every child of the village was as familiar with that name as with that of the man next door. This fame resulted from his being the idol of England's aristocracy, the greatest social light of the nineteenth century in any land, one of the most brilliant conversationalists that ever breathed, a poet of high rank, and the foremost English playwright of his generation.
But notwithstanding that during the late eighties and early nineties of the nineteenth century, Wilde was the most widely known and the most talked about man in London, he was so disdainful of the opinion of mankind as to visit regularly—not incognito, but under his own illustrious name —the leading maison publique of London which catered exclusively to active pederasts. He here made the acquaintance of adolescents—little better than gutter-snipes —- some of whom he subsequently entertained in private rooms of London's foremost hostelry. He also had a habit of leaving his meek, long-suffering wife at home with the children, and taking up his residence in a furnished apartment, where he entertained his adolescent friends. Occasional visits would be paid his wife and children. Some of London's leaders of thought, although at the same time " men-about-town," have been known to exclaim at what they witnessed in the city's drinking palaces: "Is this the great Oscar Wilde who sits, chats, and drinks here with ragamuffins whom he has picked up off the street!"
Blackmail was looked upon as an everyday occurrence. As money both came and went easily, he never gave it a second thought.
Gradually stories of his doings spread throughout all grades of London society. The middle and lower classes soon came to hold his name in abomination, but comparatively few of the " upper crust "'— with whom he exclusively associated apart from his nights with adolescent menials—held anything against him because of his almost unrivaled talents and delightful personality.
In 1895, at the age of forty-one, Wilde had reached the zenith of earthly glory. But the puritan element had naturally come to hold him in the greatest detestation. He was thoroughly pagan in thought and in his published works. Particularly was he thoroughly saturated with the writings and ideas of the ancient Greeks, with whom pederasty was common and open. Unlike the author, he had had no religious training, and when adult seems always to have turned the cold shoulder on the Church. Some of his writings were positively blasphemous. He would boast also that for him morality was non-existent—only the beautiful. While possibly irresponsible to a considerable degree for his pederasty, he was decidedly to be blamed for flaunting it in the face of everybody. On the whole, he was, because of his exalted position and his writings, the most pernicious influence of the 19th century on British, morals. The puritan element were quick to take advantage of his arrest under the charge of being a "corrupter of youth," and jumped into the fray. The slums of London were combed in order to find witnesses.
From Harris's "Oscar Wilde and His Confessions" I quote Wilde's most striking defensive statement at his trial:
"The 'love' that dare not speak its name in this century is such a great affection of an older for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very base of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michael Angelo and Shakespeare—a deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect, and dictates great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michael Angelo and those two letters of mine [evidence against him], such as they are, and which is in this century misunderstood—so misunderstood that, on account of it, I am placed where I am now [in the prisoner's dock]. It is beautiful; it is fine; it is the noblest form of affection. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope, and glamor of life. That it should be so the world does not understand. It mocks at it and sometimes puts one into the pillory for it."
Subsequently his confidant, Harris, asked in private: "There is another point against you which you have not touched on yet: Gill asked you what you had in common with those serving men and stable boys? You have not explained that."
"Difficult to explain, Frank, isn't it, without the truth? . . . . "How weary I am of the whole thing, of the iaiie: da the struggling and the hatred. To see those people coming into the box one after the other to witness against me makes me sick. . . . Oh, it's terrible. I feel inclined to stretch out my hands and cry to them, ' Do what you will with me, in God's name, only do it quickly; cannot you see that I am worn out? If hatred gives you pleasure, indulge it.'"
In other conversations with Harris, Wilde justified his penchant, as narrated in the biography, as follows:
"There is no general rule of health; it is all personal, individual. . . . I only demand that freedom which I willingly concede to others. No one condemns another for preferring green to gold. Why should any taste be ostracised? Liking and disliking are not under our control. I want to choose the nourishment which suits my body and my soul."
"Each man ought to do what he likes, to develop as he will. . . . They punished me because I did not share their tastes. What an absurdity it all was! How dared they punish me for what is good in my eyes? .. . ."
"What you call vice, Frank, is not vice. . . . It has been made a crime in recent times. . . . They all damn the sins they have no mind to, and that's their morality. . . . Why, even Bentham refused to put what you call a vice in his penal code, and you yourself admitted that it should not be punished as a crime; for it carries no temptation with it. It may be a malady; but, if so, it appears only to attack the highest natures. . . . The wit of man can find no argument which justifies its punishment. . . . You admit you don't share the prejudice; you don't feel the horror, the instinctive loathing. Why? Because you are educated, Frank, because you know that the passion Socrates felt was not a low passion, because you know that Caesar's weakness, let us say, or the weakness of Michael Angelo, or of Shakespeare, is not despicable. If the desire is not a characteristic of the highest humanity, at — least it is consistent with it. . . . Suppose I like a food that is poison to other people, and yet quickens me; how dare they punish me for eating of it? . . . . It is all ignorant prejudice, Frank; the world is slowly growing more tolerant and one day men will be ashamed of their barbarous treatment of me, as they are now ashamed of the torturing of the Middle Ages."
Harris constitutes himself an apologist for his friend. He outlines a conversation in which he defended Wilde during the time of the latter's imprisonment. After demolishing the argument of a leading English journalist that "any one living a clean life is worth more than a writer of love songs or the maker of clever comedies—Mr. John Smith worth more than Shakespeare [who was a rake and very likely a psychical hermaphrodite], Harris " pointed out that Wilde's offence was pathological and not criminal and would not be punished in a properly constituted state." Harris is quoted further:
"You admit that we punish crime to prevent it spreading; wipe this sin off the statute book and you would not increase the sinners by one: then why punish them?"
[Another guest of the journalist: "Oi'd whip such sinners to death, so I would. Hangin's too good for them."
"You only punished lepers in the Middle Ages because you believed that leprosy was catching: this malady is not even catching."
"Faith, Oi'd punish it with extermination." . . .
"You are very bitter: I'm not; you see, I have no sexual jealousy to inflame me." Oscar Wilde deserved his fall—possibly not because he was a pederast, but because he flaunted his pederasty before the world, and because he was otherwise anti-ethical and anti-religious in the highest degree. After two years in prison, he never again set foot in the British Empire. His wife would never again even see him. He lost all ambition to put to use his extraordinary literary talents. For the rest of his life he made his home for the most part in Paris. Apparently he indulged his penchant more than ever. He remarked once that life would not be worth living if desire should die, as compared with the author's heartfelt wish that it might die in himself. He was constantly constantly pursuing adolescents of the laboring class. He was known to call in to dine with him at a high-class restaurant a dirty, unkempt, but Adonis-faced gutter-snipe. He now acquired syphilis. The chase appeared to be the chief aim of his life, although he now distinguished himself also as an extreme gourmand, tippler, and sybarite in general, not to mention his habitually swindling his old friends out of money.
According to general belief, death came in 1900 at the age of forty-six, and was due to a general breakdown occasioned by gluttony, alcoholism, absinthism, and syphilis. But strong reasons existed why he and his confidants should palm off his death upon the world. In 1918 it is rumored that he is still alive, at the age of sixty-four.
Wilde has given evidence of a slight approach toward feminine mentality. (1) He was unequalled in vanity. (2) During his twenties, he wore his hair in tufts several inches long and partially concealing his ears and coat-collar. (3) He was the most extreme esthete (extravagant feeder on beauty wherever it is to be found, like the author) the world has ever seen. Estheticism and homosexuality are often linked together. (4) At thirty-three he became editor of England's leading woman's magazine. (5) Harris speaks of his "extraordinary femininity and gentle weakness of his nature, and instead of condemning him as I have always condemned that form of sexual indulgence, I felt only pity for him and a desire to protect and help him." Harris further expresses Wilde's reaction to the prison atmosphere as essentially that of a "woman."
Wilde's case suggests an hypothesis: Homosexuality is due to innate abnormal participation in the mentality of the opposite sex. Whether an active pederast or a passive invert results, depends on the degree of feminization. If slight, the former results, who is also capable of heterosexual love and coitus—a psychical hermaphrodite, as was Wilde, who however had a far stronger leaning toward the homosexual than toward the heterosexual. If the degree is high—for example, almost entirely feminine psychically and even inducing feminesque anatomy—a passive invert results, as in the case of the author.