Editor's Published Articles

The Importance of Being Wilde

Part II: Wilde and Queensberry

published in Queensland Bar News, May 2003

Links to other parts of this Article

Part I: Wilde and "Bosie" Douglas
Part III: The “booby trap”
Part IV: The perils of litigating a defamation
Part V: Carson’s cross-examination
Part VI: Why was Wilde persecuted?
Part VII: Wilde as a Gay Icon

     Oscar Wilde

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,
The Picture 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:

    Your intimacy 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.

    Your disgusted so-called Father,

The 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:

    He called 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.

- Oscar Wilde,
A Woman of No Importance
(1893), Act II

Football is all very well a good game for rough girls,
but not for delicate boys.

- Oscar Wilde,


Click on the following icon to view or download this article in PDF format

601 kB
(with illustrations)

102 kB
(without illustrations)

Links to other parts of this article

Part I: Wilde and "Bosie" Douglas
Part III: The “booby trap”
Part IV: The perils of litigating a defamation
Part V: Carson’s cross-examination
Part VI: Why was Wilde persecuted?
Part VII: Wilde as a Gay Icon

copyright © 1998-2005
all rights reserved
Anthony John Hunter Morris QC
Level 13, 239 George Street

Brisbane, Queensland
elephone: +61 7 3229 0267
acsimile: +61 7 3221 6715

this page last updated 27 January 2004