Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


A Knockdown

Carson had drawn blood. He had succeeded in showing that his old college rival was an egotistical artist who believed his works were beyond comprehension by the average mortal. Wilde came across as flippant and contemptuous, as if the courtroom were merely a stage for his performance. Now that his rival had been cut, Carson showed no sign of letting up. If anything, the barrister began to rain blows upon Wilde even harder. He dispensed with the literary debate and demonstrated how the Marquess of Queensberry had spent his month before the trial.

First Carson asked Wilde if he had ever dined with Alfred Wood, his blackmailer. Wilde admitted that he had. Next, Carson wanted to know, what was the nature of Wilde's relationship with the clerk at his publisher's office?

Wilde bristled at the insinuation.

"I first met him in October when arranging for the publication of my books," Wilde replied. "I asked him to dine with me at the Albemarle Hotel."

Carson wanted to know why a man of letters like Wilde would be interested in dinner with a mere clerk. Was it for an intellectual treat, he wondered?

"Well, for him, yes," Wilde said hesitating. "We dined in my own sitting-room, and there was one other gentleman there."

"On that occasion did you have a room leading into a bedroom?" Carson asked


"Did you give him whiskies and sodas?"

"I suppose that he had whatever he wanted. I do not remember."

Wilde denied having any physical relationship with the young man, and Carson was content to let the matter drop. He had plenty more ammunition. How did Oscar Wilde meet the young man who sold newspapers at the kiosk in Worthing?

"One day when the fishermen were launching a boat on the high beach, Conway, with another lad, assisted in getting the craft down to the water. I said to Lord Alfred Douglas, 'Shall we ask them to come out for a sail?' He assented, and we took them. After that Alphonse and I became great friends, and it is true that I asked him to lunch with me. He also dined at my house, and lunched with me at the Marine Hotel."

CARSON: Was his conversation literary?

WILDE: On the contrary, quite simple and easily understood. He had been to school where naturally he had not learned much.

A very rattled Wilde then committed the second sin of a witness in court (the first being lying on the stand): He gave more in his answer than the question required.

"It is not true that I met him by appointment one evening and took him on the road to Lancing, kissing him and indulging in familiarities on the way," he asserted.

Carson produced a series of gifts Wilde had purchased for the newsboy, including a cigarette case, a photograph of Wilde, a signed edition of one of his books, and a silver-topped walking stick.

His opponent figuratively on the ropes, Carson jabbed again, landing a stinging blow. Regarding a boy named Walter Grainger, Carson asked, "Did you kiss him?"

Without thinking of the consequences, Wilde replied.

"Oh, dear no," he said. "He was, unfortunately, extremely ugly. I pitied him for it."

Carson took on an exaggerated look of confusion. "Was that the reason why you did not kiss him?"

Wilde refused to answer directly.

CARSON: Why sir, did you admit this boy was extremely ugly?

WILDE: For this reason. If I were asked why I did not kiss a doormat, I should say because I do not like to kiss doormats. I do not know why I mentioned that he was ugly, except that I was stung by the insolent question you put to me and the way you have insulted me through this hearing.

But Carson was relentless. Three more times Carson asked the same question, each time Wilde was unable to answer. Carson then began sharply repeating, "Why? Why?" Carson's repeated sharply: "Why? Why? Why did you add that?"

Finally Wilde was forced to admit he had been acting in a cavalier manner during the questioning. At the edge of exasperation he said, "You sting me and insult me and try to unnerve me; and at times one says things flippantly when one ought to speak more seriously. I admit it.

CARSON: Then you said it flippantly?

WILDE: Oh, yes, it was a flippant answer.

Much has been made of Edward Carson's cross-examination of Oscar Wilde. He matched Wilde in intelligence and he clearly conducted a skillful interrogation. But was it one for the ages? Richard Ellman, a Wilde apologist, thinks not.

"Carson had so much evidence, and of such a kind, that he only needed to be persistent, not clever."

Regardless, Edward Carson's inquisition flattened Oscar Wilde.

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