19 September 1900
I have become a problem in modern ethics, as Symonds would say, although it seemed to me at the time that I was the solution. Everyone is talking about my particular disposition now for, as usual, I chose the proper dramatic moment to reveal my sexual infamy to the world. Even the Germans have become interested in the subject and, of all the extraordinary things that have happened to me, the most extraordinary may be that I shall be remembered not as an artist but as a case history, a psychological study to be placed beside Onan and Herodias. I might even be mentioned by Edward Carpenter in one of his more suggestive passages. I perfectly understand Carpenter, although he does not seem to understand himself – the consciousness of sin, he has written somewhere, displays a weakness in man. But our real weakness is far more interesting than that: we call activities sinful in order that we may enjoy them all the more fiercely.
The problem, as always in modern thought, is one of nomenclature. I am not inverted: I was diverted. If I am a Uranian, I spring from that part of the sky where Uranus is touched with the glory of the stars. For I hold male love to be of the highest kind, honoured by the philosophers who have considered it to be the type of ideal love, and by artists who have seen in the male figure the lineaments of spiritual beauty. Modern medicine, like an owl at noon which hoots blindly, so dazzled is it by the light, has invented new terms – but ‘healthy’ and ‘diseased’ are quite unsatisfactory as mental categories. Who would not rather be diseased as Leonardo and Winckelmann were, than healthy with Hall Caine and Mrs Cashel Hoey?
Every great creation involves a rupture of equilibrium, and the finest things in art have come from that fever of the passions which I and others like me have experienced. It was male love which inspired Michaelangelo in his perfect sonnets; it inspired Shakespeare to immortalise a young man in words of fire just as it guided the hands of Plato and of Marlowe.
When I became a servant of this love, I saw in it both the perfection and the fatality of the complete life. It held for me the innocence of all aspirations towards the beautiful, as well as the bitterness and weariness of self-knowledge. Caravaggio was moved by that love when he painted John the Baptist, with his delightfully child-like smile, and his eyes which have already seen the horror of things to come. In that image are both seduction and despair, innocent need and troubled satiety.
Bobbie is interested in Socratic works of a rather different kind, however. He would take me to a small bookshop in St James’s Street which had, I believe, a French name – it was a sort of circulating library, although the circulation was of a limited and select kind. There was one work, Teleny, which passed from hand to hand and to which I added small touches of my own. It was a story of corrupt and dangerous passions, although much of it read like Gray’s Anatomy. Rabelaisian literature has never been of particular interest to me – it is always deficient in form, and stumbles under the weight of too much content – and Teleny provided only the crudest materials for an artistic fiction. But I did not mock the book: I was pleased to read deeply in all aspects of homoerotic literature, in the records of dead love as much as in the celebration of living ones. For, even when I was caught in my sins, I was convinced of the essential virtue of Greek love: men can live in perfect equality, each finding in the other the image of his own soul. Men and women can never live in peace – they either destroy each other, or bore each other, which is worse. When in the Symposium Socrates quite refutes the arguments of Aristophanes – that man and woman are but two torn natures striving to be reunited – he proclaimed a great truth which modern civilisation, with the possible exception of Ibsen, seems to have forgotten: men and women are not complementary, they are antagonistic. The great romances have always been between men.
But such love depends upon true equality and, in my madness, I used the spirit of Socrates to bless unholy unions. Instead of seeking a companion, I went into the gutter and saw my own image outlined in the dust only. I went to the young because the young have no conscience – that was why I loved them.
There is a story in Celtic literature of Tirnan-Og, the country of the young. Neither age nor death is to be found there; neither tears nor hollow laughter hold dominion. The bard Oisen, desiring to learn the secrets of that place, travelled there under cover of darkness. He found the enchanted country and dwelt there for three hundred years. But he grew heart-sick for his previous life, and for the country of his birth, and returned by the way he had come. The moment his feet touched his native earth, his three hundred years fell upon him. His figure was bent double, and all the cares which troubled the world during those long years fell upon him also. Simple stories have simple morals. One should never pursue the young: in doing so, one loses one’s own youth.
I, too, had grown weary of my wanderings through London: I did not wish to abandon my pleasures, only to find them closer to home. And so where my sins had once been solitary, now I found a companion who could guide me. Alfred Taylor, whom I met at the Crown, had like me a weakness for boys – and men of our kind seek each other out for our weaknesses and not for our strengths. He promised me adventures: he pandered to my instincts and brought me those companions whom I sought. Taylor was to be tried with me at the Old Bailey; he was offered immunity from prosecution if he would testify against me, but he refused. From such moments in life are saints born. One noble act, like that of Mary Magdalene, can obliterate with perfumes all the sins of the world: although I believe Alfred’s hair was rather longer than the Magdalene’s.
I liked Taylor because he was improbable. He had invented for himself, in his rooms near Westminster, a world of gaiety and of pleasure, of strange scents and cloths. He understood that although reality cannot be imagined – it is too awful for that- it can be made imaginary. And so I would take a cab to his lodgings, to meet his ‘pullets’ as he charmingly described them; sometimes he would bring them to me in the private rooms of restaurants. There the champagne flowed freely and, after the champagne, the love.
They were not bad boys. I know that some of them testified against me when I stood in the dock, but I understand that. Some had been frightened by threats, and others had been lured by the prospect of gold. I never judge those who amuse me and, in truth, the curious lives of these boys interested me. It seemed that they were walking along the same perilous wire as myself- although my fall was to be greater. Many of them came from a family, or a background, where a commonplace life would have made it easy for them to be virtuous; but they had the courage to experience more dangerous sensations. I listened to their stories for hours, and in recompense I gave them presents, small gifts only, although at my trials they were handed around to the jury as if they were relics from some barbaric faith. When Alfred Taylor and I found ourselves alone, we too would talk continually of our own adventures: they were fascinating, terribly fascinating, to me.