20 September 1900
Now that, like Dante, I have walked into the twilight world, the ghosts of the past come hurrying to greet me. There were other boys, whose names did not emerge at the time of my trials; and, although I was convicted of many sins I did not commit, there were others which were not placed in the indictment against me. When young men wrote to me about my work, I would arrange interviews with them and plan schemes of seduction. I needed continually the excitement of the chase, and did not care about the nature of the quarry. So it was that I ended in the hands of the lowest renters, like Wood and Taylor. I liked them because they were dangerous – simply that.
But, although I longed for the pleasures which they and their kind provided, I did not enjoy them when they had been found. My physical excitation waned and, although I used to fondle the boys, it was no more than helpless affection – not the sordid and mechanical delirium which has been trumpeted to the world. My real joy was to watch two boys together in the various acts of love, and to pleasure myself as they did so. I think I have been primarily a spectator always – I had become a spectator even of my own life, so that everything seemed to come to me from an infinite distance. And I enjoyed the spectacle of love, I admit it – it is a strange illusion that only in one’s member is lust to be found. That is a modern heresy. The pleasures of watching seemed greater to me, for there is also a lust of the mind.
But you can understand, can you not, why I experienced a sense of damnation in the midst of this life, and why I was drinking so excessively that even my friends began to whisper about me? When intelligence peeped through these pleasures, I became horrified at my delirium and, in my despair, threw myself back into it again. I trembled when I read Anatole France’s scarlet tragedy, Thaïs, of the despair that succeeds excess, the torment that follows the swift feet of riot.
But indeed I think in the midst of my lust I longed for an end to it – that might be the secret of my fall. I was weary of all that I knew, and I grew terribly tired. I could not now look upon Constance or my young sons without shame. I had allowed my real work to fall away from me. In the last years I wrote only for money, the money which I spent on company unworthy of me, and the applause, the applause which turned too quickly to the hoots and catcalls of derision. I had lost myself in my sins; with my own hands I had blinded myself and I stumbled into the pit. I can write no more: I must lie down and rest my head.
6 October 1900
I was so pleased with my account of life in prison, with the pearl I had created out of two years’ suffering, that I took this journal with me when I went to lunch with Bosie at the Richaux. I saw Frank Harris there and asked him to join us – on the principle that if Frank is not with you he is against you. At first I kept the book mysteriously by my side, but the suspense grew too much for me and I placed it upon the table.
‘What is that, Oscar, a ledger of debts?’
‘Yes, Bosie, it is. But they are not debts which money could repay.’
‘Your debts never are.’ This, of course, was Frank.
‘I will read you a passage, Frank, if you will allow an artistic note to be introduced into our conversation.’
I think I recited to them the pages concerning my triumphant days in London society. They were astonished, naturally, and took the book from me. They read it, practically arm in arm, while I gazed out of the window. Eventually, Frank looked up at me.
‘You cannot publish this, Oscar. It is nonsense – and most of it is quite untrue.’
‘What on earth do you mean?’
‘It is invented.’
‘It is my life.’
‘But you have quite obviously changed the facts to suit your own purpose.’
‘I have no purpose, and the facts came quite naturally to me.’
‘There was a time when you distrusted nature, and rightly so. For example, “in the little theatre in King Street, the young men wore green carnations”. Oscar, you were the only person who wore a green carnation. And this, “I was vain and the world loved my vanity”. Nobody loved your vanity, Oscar. Surely you know that by now.’
‘Don’t be so ridiculous, Frank. You are behaving like a weekly reviewer.’
‘And you have stolen lines from other writers. Listen to this one –’
‘I did not steal them. I rescued them.’
Bosie remained silent: he was biting his fingernails, which is always a sign that he has nothing to say. And so I challenged him.
‘And what do you think?’
‘It’s full of lies, but of course you are. It is absurd and mean and foolish. But then you are. Of course you must publish it.’
Frank then continued in the most boring detail about what he called my errors of fact and judgment. I cannot remember them now. I rescued the book from him after some minutes, and asked him to order me a cab.
‘Lose the book,’ he said, ‘for your sake.’ Of course I ignored him.