I have done a number of book signing and speaking events for Oscar’s Ghost, and invariably someone will tell me “I went to Oscar Wilde’s tomb in France.”
There was a little skirmish surrounding the sculpture that took place in Lord Alfred Douglas’s most litigious period. I had to leave it out of the book for space. It is tangential to the book I’m working on now as well, so having no book in which it quite fits, I will share it with you here.
Lord Alfred Douglas had been trying to get a picture of Wilde’s controversial tomb, the work of sculptor Jacob Epstein, for his book Oscar Wilde and Myself.
His innocent protestations to the contrary, as Robert Ross was behind it, Douglas undoubtedly meant to to show how inappropriate and immoral the monument was. Douglas had been successfully getting books banned and pulped, and Epstein did not want a noisy campaign against his work.
Douglas had the sculptor arrested for sending him a threatening letter which said, “If you attack my monument to ‘O.W.’ in any way derogatory to me in England I shall have you in the Courts. Should you disregard this warning I shall spoil the remains of your beauty double quick.”
Given the tone of the letter, and the fact that Douglas seems to have been stalking Ross at that very moment, the court appearance was surprisingly amicable. Epstein represented himself.
“Are you willing to be bound over?” asked the judge.
“What is that?” Epstein asked.
“That you undertake to pay the King any amount I may think fit that you conduct yourself and keep the peace. Will you undertake to pay £100 and to do that?”
“I will be satisfied with that.”
“What about costs?”
Douglas’s counsel said he believed they were entitled to costs.
“I wish to say that I only received the summons last night and I should like an adjourment until Monday,” Epstein said.
“Because of the question of costs?” asked the judge.
The judge turned to Douglas, “You will be satisfied if he is bound over?”
“Yes,” Douglas said. “There need be no trouble about costs.”
And so Epstein paid his fine and they went their separate ways.