Lord Alfred Douglas
Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas
Lord Alfred Douglas is remembered today for his tumultuous association with Oscar Wilde and as a minor poet.
Douglas, universally known as Bosie, was born October 22, 1870, the third son of John Sholto Douglas, ninth Marquess of Queensberry, and Sibyl, née Montgomery.
After a boyhood during which his parents separated, Douglas went up from Winchester to Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1889. He met Oscar Wilde through a mutual friend in early summer, 1891, and they became lovers the following spring. Douglas's beauty was "like a narcissus--white and gold," as Wilde told Robert Ross.
Most of Douglas's homoerotic poetry was written between 1893 and 1896 and appeared in undergraduate literary journals such as The Spirit Lamp, which he edited, and The Chameleon, or in small-circulation magazines like The Artist. Poems like "Hymn to Physical Beauty" (with a nod to Shelley), the sonnet "In an Aegean Port," and most famously "Two Loves," one of whom concludes the poem by sighing "I am the Love that dare not speak its name" are typical in their wistful tone.
Some of these poems appeared in a French edition of Douglas's verse in 1896, but most were not republished until the Sonnets and Lyrics of 1935, and then, at least in the sonnet mentioned, with the homosexual content revised out.
In 1895, Douglas's father accused Oscar Wilde of "posing as a sodomite," whereupon Wilde (at Bosie's urging) sued him for libel. At the trial, Queensberry was found not guilty and a warrant was promptly issued for Wilde's arrest. His first trial resulted in a hung jury, but at the second Wilde was found guilty and sentenced to two years' hard labor.
Although Douglas and Wilde remained close until the latter's death in 1900, the scandal generated a sheaf of spiteful documents. In prison, Wilde wrote a long and bitter epistle later titled De Profundis, accusing Douglas of betraying their friendship. When the full text of De Profundis was made public in 1913, Douglas responded with Oscar Wilde and Myself, repudiating Wilde and his works.
Soon after Wilde's death, Douglas renounced his homosexuality; he married Olive Custance in 1902, and they had a son, Raymond. Douglas converted to Roman Catholicism in 1911, and he and his wife separated two years later. By his own account, Douglas remained celibate thereafter.
From 1907 to 1910, Douglas edited the journal The Academy, assisted by the obnoxious T. W. H. Crosland, who in fact, ghost-wrote most of Oscar Wilde and Myself. Douglas revived The Academy in 1920 and 1921 as Plain English, and the journal had a mild commercial success. Editorially, however, it was nonliterary and virulently antisemitic, simply a forum for Douglas's considerable collection of bigotries.
Douglas's intemperate expression of his views led to his arrest and conviction for writing and publishing a pamphlet libeling Winston Churchill. He spent six months in Wormwood Scrubs prison. There he turned again to poetry, but his prison writing, a sonnet sequence, was called In Excelsis.
Douglas spent the remaining twenty-one years of his life quietly, living in Hove or Brighton on allowances provided by his mother and wife. He produced his Autobiography during this time, several versions of his collected poems, occasional verse, and in 1940, his most judicious account of his life's central experience, Oscar Wilde: A Summing Up.
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Sonnet on the Sonnet
To see the moment holds a madrigal,
To find some cloistered place, some hermitage
For free devices, some deliberate cage
Wherein to keep wild thoughts like birds in thrall;
To eat sweet honey and to taste black gall,
To fight with form, to wrestle and to rage,
Till at the last upon the conquered page
The shadows of created Beauty fall.