That’s called ‘click bait’,
Getting a bit distracted with the trial of Oscar Wilde or is it procrastination but the deeper I dig into Wilde’s trial the more I find it has relevance today. In the context of the MeToo thingy in which a man’s life can be destroyed with a single and unsubstantiated allegation of having placed his hand in the wrong place, what would Wilde be charged with today? Reading the transcripts I would say multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault.
The other thing, and as I said before, that gets up my nose is the contempt Oscar, and his social peers had for his rent boys if indeed it was they he was referring to when he wrote,
I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on.
Most people believe Oscar was tried on account of his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, ‘Bosie’ and placing the blame of Alfred’s father the Marquis of Queensberry. What many don’t know is that Alfred had an older brother – I could look up the details but don’t have time right now – who was the boyfriend of a government minister and was killed in a ‘hunting accident’ when that minister became prime minister. Queensberry was terrified a second son of his would suffer the same fate and understandably must have hated these gentlemen who believed they could get away with anything. He was not the insane homophobe many today like to believe he was, but rather a father prepared to go to any length to protect his son. Today nothing much has changed with regard to protecting the rich and powerful from allegations of underage sex, a year-long Met police inquiry into male prostitution in London in the eighties was mysteriously called off with one phone call from somewhere above.
I can understand Oscar’s feelings and insatiable desire for beauty and how those feelings were intertwined with his art and to the point where you cannot have one without the other. Proof of that is he was unable to complete any work during the three years he lived in Paris. He had projects, but they all stalled a long way from completion. As Thomas Mann wrote in “Death in Venice” on the subject of what inspires great art,
“Never had he felt the joy of the word more sweetly, never had he known so clearly that Eros dwells in language, as during those perilously precious hours in which, seated at his rough table under the awning, in full view of his idol and with the music of his voice in his ears, he shaped upon Tadzio’s beauty his brief essay – that page and a half of exquisite prose which with its limpid nobility and vibrant controlled passion was soon to win the admiration of many”.
Mann continues – for those who still don’t ‘get it’ I imagine,
“It is well that the world knows only a fine piece of work and not also its origins, the conditions under which it came into being; for knowledge of the sources of an artist’s inspiration would often confuse readers and shock them, and the excellence of the writing would be of no avail”.
The ‘sources of an artist’s inspiration referred to by Mann is of course and again the ‘beautiful boy’ combined with the artist’s desire for closeness with what he sees as an uncompromising expression of beauty. Aschenbach, Mann’s hero, dies on the beach in sight of the beautiful Tadzio, Michael Angelo depicts himself as the giant Goliath defeated by the boy David, as did later Caravaggio, and so on through the ages and it is ‘well the public knows only a fine piece of work’ because when that source of inspiration is revealed, indeed the public is likely to be ‘confused’.
Oscar tried to get around the public’s confusion with explanations such as the one below,
“Human life is the one thing worth investigating. Compared to it there is nothing else of any value. It is true that as one watches life in its curious crucible of pain and pleasure, one cannot wear over one’s face a mask of glass nor keep the sulphurous fumes from troubling the brain and making the imagination turbid with monstrous fancies and misshappen dreams. There are poisons so subtle that to know their properties one has to sicken of them. There are maladies so strange that one has to pass through them if one seeks to understand their nature. And yet what a great reward one receives! How wonderful the whole world becomes to one! To note the curious, hard logic of passion and the emotional, coloured life of the intellect—to observe where they meet, and where they separate, at what point they are in unison and at what point they are in discord—there is a delight in that! What matter what the cost is? One can never pay too high a price for any sensation.”
Off the mark today is today’s LGBTQI attempts to ‘rehabilitate’ people such as Wilde, Caravaggio, Michael Angelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Mann – and the list goes on and on and on – as ‘gay’ and as understood today. These people were not and in today’s hysteria whipped up by persons unable to accept they are not the object of all male desire, these greatest of artists and to whom we owe the highest achievements of western culture would be jailed for life as dangerous pedophiles.
Joining in the debate at the time of Oscar’s trial were people such as French writer and dramatist, Octave Mirbeau. He wrote,
“A great deal has been heard about the paradoxes of Oscar Wilde upon Art, Beauty, Conscience and Life! Paradoxes they were, it is true, and we know that some laid themselves open to the charge of exaggeration, and vaulted over the threshold of the Forbidden. But after all, what is a paradox if not, for the most part of the time, the exaltation of an idea in a striking and superior form? As soon as an idea overleaps the low-level of ordinary popular understanding, having ceased to drag behind it the ignoble stumps gathered in the swamps of middle-class morality, and seeks with strong, steadfast wing, to attain the lofty heights of Philosophy, Literature or Art, we at once stigmatize it as a paradox, because, unable ourselves to follow it into those regions which are inaccessible to us, through the weakness of our organs, and we make to scotch it and put it under ban by flinging after it curse-laden cries of blame and contempt.
And yet, strange as it may seem, progress cannot be made save by way of paradox, whilst much vaunted common sense—the prized virtue of the imbecile—perpetuates the humdrum routine of daily life. The truth is, we refuse to allow anyone to come and outrage our intellectual sluggishness, or our morality, ready-made like second-hand clothes in a dealer’s shop, or the stupid security of our sheepish preconceptions.
Looked at squarely, that was the veritable crime in the minds of those who sat in judgment on Oscar Wilde.
They could not forgive him for being a thinker, and a man of superior intellect—and for that self-same reason eminently dangerous to other men. Wilde is young and has a future before him, and he has proved by the strong and charming works which he has already given us that he can still do much more in the cause of Beauty and Art. Must we not then admit that it is an abominable thing to risk the killing of something far above all laws, and all morality: the spirit of beauty, for the sake of repressing acts which are not really punishable per se.
For laws change and morality becomes transformed with the transformations of time, with the changeing of latitude and longitude, but beauty remains immaculate, and sheds her light far over the centuries that she alone can rescue from obscurity.”