I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances
for their good characters, and my enemies for their intellect.
A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
- Oscar Wilde,
of Dorian Gray (1890), Ch. 1
On the most charitable view, Queensberry was a decidedly
eccentric character, who had gained some notoriety as an atheist
and as a sportsman; apart from his litigation with Wilde, he
is best remembered for formulating the rules of amateur boxing
which bear his name. He bullied his first wife, Bosie's
mother, and his children. He had a long-running feud with
the Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, who on one occasion only
escaped being attacked by Queensberry with a dog-whip through
the personal intervention of the Prince of Wales. The
epithet "barking mad" could almost have been coined for him.
From the outset, Queensberry objected to Bosie's friendship
with Wilde. Following a chance meeting at the Café Royal
in December 1893, Queensberry was temporarily won over, and
wrote to Bosie retracting everything he had previously said
against Wilde, whom he considered "charming and extremely clever".
But the truce was short-lived. On 1 April 1894,
Queensberry wrote the following extraordinary letter to Bosie:
with this man Wilde must either cease or I will disown you and
stop all money supplies. I am not going to try and analyse
this intimacy, and I make no charge; but to my mind to pose
as a thing is as bad as to be it. With my own eyes I saw
you in the most loathsome and disgusting relationship, as expressed
by your manner and expression. Never in my experience
have I seen such a sight as that in your horrible features.
No wonder people are talking as they are. Also I
now hear on good authority, but this may be false, that his
wife is petitioning to divorce him for sodomy and other crimes.
Is this true, or do you know of it? If I thought
the actual thing was true, and it became public property, I
should be quite justified in shooting him on sight.
Marquess of Queensberry
Lord Alfred did little to defuse the situation, replying
to his father with a one-line telegram: "What a funny little
man you are". There were further unpleasantnesses, both
in correspondence from Queensberry to his son, and in threats
made by Queensberry to the management of various hotels and
restaurants frequented by Wilde and Douglas, that he would thrash
them both if he discovered them together on the premises.
In June of 1894, Queensberry accosted Wilde in his own home.
Again, we have Wilde's version of the encounter from his
testimony at the libel trial:
upon me, not by appointment, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon,
accompanied by a gentleman with whom I was not acquainted [in
fact, a prize-fighter who was a crony of Queensberry's]. The
interview took place in my library. Lord Queensberry was
standing by the window. I walked over to the fireplace,
and he said to me, 'Sit down'. I said to him, 'I do not
allow anyone to talk like that to me in my house or anywhere
else. I suppose you have come to apologise for the statements
you made about my wife and myself in letters you wrote to your
son. I should have the right any day I chose to prosecute
you for writing such a letter'. He said, 'The letter was
privileged, as it was written to my son'. I said, 'How
dare you say such things to me about your son and me?' He
said, 'You were both kicked out of the Savoy Hotel at a moment's
notice for your disgusting conduct'. I said, 'That is
a lie'. He said, 'You have taken furnished rooms for him
in Piccadilly'. I said, 'Somebody has been telling you
an absurd set of lies about your son and me. I have not
done anything of the kind'. He said, 'I hear you were
thoroughly well blackmailed for a disgusting letter you wrote
to my son'. I said, 'The letter was a beautiful letter,
and I never write except for publication'. Then I asked:
'Lord Queensberry, do you seriously accuse your son and me of
improper conduct?' He said, 'I do not say that you are
it, but you look it'. [At this point, there was much laughter
and Mr. Justice Collins threatened to have the Court cleared
if there was the slightest disturbance again.] 'But you look
it, and you pose as it, which is just as bad. If I catch
you and my son together again in any public restaurant I will
thrash you'. I said, 'I do not know what the Queensberry
Rules are, but the Oscar Wilde rule is to shoot at sight'. I
then told Lord Queensberry to leave my house. He said
he would not do so. I told him that I would have him put
out by the police. He said, 'It is a disgusting scandal'.
I said, 'If it be so, you are the author of the scandal,
and no one else'. I then went into the hall and pointed
him out to my servant. I said, 'This is the Marquess of
Queensberry, the most infamous brute in London. You are
never to allow him to enter my house again'.
There was a further incident, when Queensberry attempted
to disrupt the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest,
but the theatre management refused him admission, and had the
premises surrounded by police. According to one (perhaps
romanticised) version, Queensberry lunged forward and presented
Wilde with a grotesque bouquet of vegetables as Wilde left
the theatre - for which, to the great amusement of the crowd,
Wilde thanked Queensberry very courteously, and remarked that
he would think of Queensberry whenever he smelt them.
Duty is what one expects from
others, it is not what one does one’s self.
Woman of No Importance (1893), Act II
Football is all very well a good game for
but not for delicate boys.