“BOSIE” DOUGLAS ON HIS SEXUAL SELF
Lord Alfred Bruce ”Bosie” Douglas (1870-1945) was a British writer who published poetry, including Greek love poems, and biographies. However, he is far more famous for being what he was not, gay, and more particularly, what he was only briefly and reluctantly, the lover of Oscar Wilde. This has come about through relentless and flagrantly dishonest depiction in popular media, especially film.
Bosie’s sexual affairs with early-teenage boys throughout the time of his friendship with Wilde are well-attested. See, for example, Bosie’s Adventures in Algeria, which brings together the letters of Wilde and himself and the journal of André Gide during their travels together, and Bosie’s Misadventure in Paris, which is contemporary newspaper reports. But, as he told André Gide, “I only like boys.”
None of these sources suggest he ever had sex with a man other than Wilde. The article which follows is Bosie’s own account of the sexual side of his relationship with Wilde and shows that it was brief and a failure precisely because he had no sexual interest in “a man older than myself”, he then being 21.
The account was given in a letter of 1925 to the writer Frank Harris. The latter published it in “The Full and Final Confession by Lord Alfred Douglas”, the preface to the second edition of his biography, Oscar Wilde, His Life & Confessions (New York, 1930), and as a correction to serious and acknowledged misrepresentation of Bosie in the first (1916) edition.
Besides the letter itself, remarks by Harris elsewhere in the preface that shed light on the circumstances in which the letter was written, its importance and trustworthiness are also presented. It should be noted in particular that Harris, who was also an old and close friend of Wilde, says he believed what Bosie said in the letter despite expressing an extremely low opinion of his general truthfulness.
Three words in the letter which Harris evidently thought too controversial for publication are added from the full version of it published by H. Montgomery Hyde in his Lord Alfred Douglas: A Biography (New York, 1984), p.28.
The Full and Final Confession by Lord Alfred Douglas
Before beginning to tell of the intimate sex-relations of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, I wish to rectify certain trivial errors in the first two-volume version of Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions.
I shall make my corrections in the same order as they came to me and thus, I hope, carry my readers with me to belief in this amended story.
In February 1925, Reggie Turner, who had been Wilde’s constant companion in the last months of his life, and all through his last illness, had been with him day and night, came to Nice and we met as friends do after a long separation. He congratulated me on having written the best life of Wilde and, as he was kind enough to say, one of the best biographies in the language. […]
A little later. Lord Alfred Douglas came to Nice. We had quarrelled fifteen years before when he was editing “The Academy” in London and I was editing “Vanity Fair.” He had attacked me in his paper without rhyme or reason, but I thought he had been misled by Crosland, a malicious and disappointed journalist, and so I did not take the matter very seriously.
Now in Nice, I asked a mutual friend, Mr. Wade Chance, to bring about a meeting. At once Lord Alfred admitted that he had been misled into attacking me: "but you showed intense dislike to me” he went on, "in your book on Oscar Wilde.”
I asked for instances, and at first he half convinced me that I had misrepresented him more than once through believing Wilde and Ross.
The end of it was that he came to stay with me and threw a new light on many occurrences that I had not presented fairly.
Little can be laid to the charge of Douglas in his relations with Wilde but intense admiration for an older and very brilliant man and for having permitted familiarities such as are common among boy friends in English public schools. The graver accusation was simply invented from beginning to end; it was Oscar who was the tempter always, and not Douglas. After all, Douglas was only a little over twenty while Oscar was nearly forty.
Many years later [than an incident just described from Wilde’s lifetime] when Lord Alfred Douglas was staying with me in Nice, I made some reference to the ordinary view of Oscar and he exclaimed indignantly that nothing of that sort had gone on between them. The end of it was that a couple of days later he came to me with a letter telling the whole story of his relations with Oscar Wilde. I believed him, and so I publish his letter, which settles the whole matter in my opinion. I don’t think it improves the position very much for either of the actors, but it certainly throws a new light on Oscar Wilde’s feelings and on his nature. I give the letter exactly as I received it, except that I may perhaps translate one word of it into Latin or leave it out entirely.
Fate, or Providence, has brought us together after all these years. You asked me to see you, and after much hesitation I did so, I have now convinced you that nearly all that is said about my relations with Wilde in the American edition of your book “Oscar Wilde, His Life and Confessions” in the financial way is entirely untrue. I leave you to put right, as but you can, the frightful injury you have done me by accepting the deliberate lies of Robert Ross and of Oscar Wilde himself as gospel, without giving me an opportunity of meeting their accusations.
Now to come to the moral (or immoral) part of the story. I think it is a hard thing and an unfair thing that I should be forced, as I am now being forced by your widely disseminated accusations, to tell the real truth which, I freely admit, I have not told so far. I have always denied that I ever had any immoral relations with Oscar Wilde, I owed it to myself, to my mother, to my wife, to my son, and to all my family and friends to deny it to the last.
But as you represent it to me (and as you have put it in your book) what is said and perhaps generally believed about me is so much worse than what really happened, that I think the time has come for me to tell the whole truth.
Briefly then, when I first met Wilde he started laying siege to me and I resisted him; not because at that time I had any moral objections to that sort of thing, but simply because with a man older than myself it did not appeal to me. At school and Oxford I had been neither better nor worse than my contemporaries. What is euphemistically called “the schoolboy nonsense” that goes on among boys at school and at college was perfectly familiar to me and I had participated in it freely. In my book “Oscar Wilde and Myself” I have suppressed this fact, because convention demands that what is perfectly well known to all men who have been at a public school and a university should be kept quiet as far as the public acknowledgment of it goes.
I admit that when I met Wilde first I was not any more innocent than other boys of my age (21). From the second time he saw me (when he gave me a copy of “Dorian Gray” which I took with me to Oxford) he made “overtures” to me. It was not till I had known him for at least six months, and after I had seen him over and over again and he had twice stayed with me in the rooms in High Street, Oxford, that I shared with my friend the late Lord Seccombe, that I gave in to him. I did with him and allowed him to do just what was done among boys at Winchester and Oxford. It is hateful to me now to speak or write of such things, but I must be explicit: Sodomy never took place between us, nor was it attempted or dreamt of. Wilde treated me as an older boy treats a younger one at school, and he added what was new to me and was not (as far as I know) known or practised among my contemporaries: he “sucked” me. This happened the first time in his house at Tite Street after he had taken, me out to dinner at the Savoy, a play (or music hall) and supper at the Lyric Club. I was staying in my mother’s home in Cadogan Place, but my mother was away and there was no one in the house but the servants. Wilde was alone in Tite Street I was filled up with drinks by the time I got back to his house at about two o’clock in the morning. After about two hours discussion he induced me to stay the night in a spare bedroom and in the end he succeeded in doing what he had wanted to do ever since the first moment he saw me. Much as I was fascinated by Wilde and much as I really in the long run adored him and was “crazy” about him, I never liked this part of the business. It was dead against my sexual instincts which were all for youth and beauty and softness. After a time he stumbled to the fact that I didn’t like it at all and only consented to it to oblige him, and he very soon “cut it out” altogether. For at least six months before he went to prison no such thing happened between us, nor was it as much as hinted at after he came out two years later when I met him again. Except in the case of Wilde, I have never in my life had any immoral relations with a man older than myself. A little more than a year after Wilde’s death I married. Such perverted instincts as I had disappeared completely as soon as I lost contact with Wilde and his immediate entourage. If I had never met Wilde they might or might not have disappeared sooner. As I said in answer to a question asked me in cross examination by Sir Douglass Hogg in my libel action against the Northcliffe paper the Evening News in 1922 (when I got a verdict and a thousand pounds damages) I did not “grow up” till I was over thirty, and my “perverted” period was really simply a prolongation of my boyhood. I always liked women and I went with a woman before I met Wilde and often afterwards, even when I was at the height of my friendship with him. I say this with no feeling but one of regret. To me (as a Catholic since 1911) all forms of immorality are now anathema.
My wife (with whom I am now on the best of terms though we do not live together) left me in 1913. Dating from three months after she left me down to the present day, I have lived a life of absolute chastity, simply because my religion, which I have accepted entirely and completely, tells me that any other state for me would be wrong. I think this fact (being chaste against my inclinations for 12 years) ought to be in fairness set against the fact that I was occasionally immoral between the ages of 20 and 32. Not that I care a damn one way or another what the world thinks about me. I have always despised this world and its opinions and judgments and I hope I shall go on doing so to the end. You are at liberty to make any use you like of this letter and I have no objection to its being published.
Lord Alfred Douglas recently published his ‘‘Autobiography.’ I don’t think he says one word in it about his mental and spiritual growth; indeed he pretends that he likes games and outdoor sports more even than poetry.
He attacks nearly every one he has ever known or met. His father and his father-in-law are alike the objects of his venomous petty spite. Wilde and Ross, of course, are scourged as homosexualists dozens of times. He lies about me on nearly every page and is not ashamed to contradict himself a few pages later. For instance, on page 63 when he quotes me saying that “the graver accusation” — in regard to Wilde and Douglas — “was simply invented from beginning to end,” he does not scruple to add: “Quite so; invented by Frank Harris. No one else has ever made the accusation.” But surely he must know that almost every one in London regarded his connection with Wilde as an instance of homo-sexuality. He does not attempt to prove that I ever made the accusation because the truth is, for years I doubted and denied it, even in regard to Wilde, Wilde’s marriage made me doubt it in regard to him. Lord Alfred Douglas repeats it about his friend Wilde on almost every page.
On page 101 he tells how he defied his father and questions “whether Harris himself, for all his Ancient Pistol truculence, would have had the pluck to do as much.” I don’t think he knows much of my truculence. He insulted me once in the Café Royal; I knocked him down and brought forth a belated apology. He ascribes this fact to my extra weight, but says nothing of his advantage of 25 years of youth.
On page 139 he tells the shameful story of how he got me to retract certain statements I had made about him, notably the fact that after living on Wilde for years he gave Wilde only a few hundred pounds when he came into his fortune of £ 20,000 on his father’s death. I retracted the statement because he assured me that he had paid all Wilde’s expenses in regard to Wilde’s case against his father Queensberry and had given him besides thousands of pounds; He promised to send me his bank book to prove this fact. He sent me nothing at all and Oscar’s son proved to me that he was merely lying and that the chief item in Oscar’s bankruptcy was the cost of his suit against Queensberry. This statement of mine Douglas published against my express refusal to have it printed, for he never explains the fact that it was due to his lies that I wrote it.
Now he says: “Frank Harris is my great traducer, the man who has done more than anyone else to blacken me and calumniate me in the eyes of the whole world.” He is mistaken: it is Lord Alfred Douglas who is his own chief accuser and calumniator. Had he not been a remarkable poet, I would not have troubled to mention his name, so little did I think of his character. So I leave him to posterity, though I admit when he speaks of his charming mother and his wife he shows that there is another side to him.
 “Lover” is being used here in a sexually active sense. There is no intention of suggesting that Wilde did not love Bosie, that that love may not continue to have had an erotic underpinning after it had become chaste, or that Bosie did not necessarily love Wilde in a non-sexual way.
 André Gide, If it Die, translated by D. Bussy (New York, 1935), p. 297.
 The words 'he “sucked” me' are the three already alluded to as having been omitted by Harris, but included in Montgomery Hyde’s biography of Bosie.
Comments of general interest will be collected at Letters To The Editor (some editing may be involved)
Cristina 29 April 2020
This is an excellent article. Congrats.
I actually also had been looking for this letter everywhere on the internet and found it here by chance.
I do think it's not really accurate to say Bosie was not gay or to take necessarily at face value what he says about the nature and extent of the sexual element of his relationship with Wilde, as he seemed very unwilling to admit to it. Understandably so, but still.
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ANON 31 23 August 2020
Frank Harris definitely had the true measure of the abominable Douglas.
Regarding his letter with clear eyes, it is obvious that Douglas is the worst type of liar: One who lies most to himself. I had begun to expand on this when I realised that the best thing to do would be to recommend a few biographies. Bosie by Douglas Murray. The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde by Neil McKenna. Oscar: A Life by Matthew Sturgis. Even if you feel unable to read through either of the Wilde books, do read what they have to offer on Douglas. The Harris and Hyde biographies are of course worth looking up in the same vein.
Frank Harris is very much deserving of the last word, with his succinct summary of Douglas's character:
'He attacks nearly every one he has ever known or met. His father and his father-in-law are alike the objects of his venomous petty spite.'