October 22 – Lord Alfred Douglas

And cried, ‘He lieth, for his name is Shame,
But I am Love, and I was wont to be
Alone in this fair garden, till he came
Unasked by night; I am true Love, I fill
The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.’
Then sighing, said the other, ‘Have thy will,
I am the love that dare not speak its name.’

“Two Loves” Lord Alfred Douglas

Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas, an English poet and journalist, best known as the lover of Oscar Wilde, was born on October 22nd, 1870, in Powick, Worcestershire, England. His father, John Douglas, was the 9th Marquess of Queensberry. His parents divorced in 1887, when Douglas was a teenager, on the grounds of his father’s adultery. Douglas grew up as his mother’s favorite son, nicknamed ‘Bosie,’ and attended Magdalen College, Oxford, although he left without obtaining a degree. While there, he edited the undergraduate journal The Spirit Lamp. His writing, and his affairs with men, caused a lot of conflict between Douglas and his father (that’s putting it lightly). His father was incredibly hot-headed, wealthy, and powerful, a combination to be feared, yet the youngest Douglas instigated his father at every opportunity.  

Douglas met Oscar Wilde in 1891, just as Wilde’s famous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray was published and he was beginning to show his plays to the London theaters. In September 1892, Douglas wrote his well-known poem “Two Loves,” published in The Chameleon in 1894. The poem was later used in the trials again Wilde, the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name” interpreted as a euphemism for homosexual love.

In 1893 Wilde commissioned Douglas to translate his French play, SalomeDouglas did such a terrible job Wilde was forced by the publisher John Lane and illustrator Aubrey Beardsley to rewrite. Wilde dedicated the translation to Douglas, but the critical reception of his talent hurt Douglas, and he took it out on Wilde. 

In 1894 Douglas’ eldest brother, Francis Viscount Drumlanrig died in a suspicious hunting accident. He was rumoured to be having an affair with the Prime Minister, and his death may have been a possible suicide or murder. After his death, Douglas’ father went on a rampage to ‘save’ his younger son from the clutches of homosexuality. 

He publicly attacked Wilde, but Wilde, and Douglas, fought back. Unfortunately, Douglas made a habit of giving Wilde’s clothes, with incriminating letters in the pockets, to male prostitutes he would visit. Those personal letters served as incriminating evidence against Wilde. After a lengthy and humiliating public trial, Wilde was imprisoned for gross indecency and sodomy for two years. After his release from jail Wilde and Douglas reunited briefly in Naples, but then Douglas returned to England and bitterly attacked Wilde in public and on the page. 

In 1902 Douglas married the poet Olive Custance. They had one son, Raymond, born November 17th, 1902. Their son was later diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and institutionalized. 

In 1911 Douglas converted to Roman Catholicism, which caused a strain in his marriage, and he and Olive separated in 1913. In the 1920s, she converted, and they briefly reunited before she gave up her Catholicism, and they again moved apart, although never divorced. 

Douglas also was outspokenly anti-Jewish, publishing a right-wing anti-Semitic magazine in the 1920s, Plain English. 

He was jailed for six months in 1924 for libeling Winston Churchill over misconduct during World War I (one of many libel cases against him). The experience softened his bitter feelings toward Wilde.  

In addition to publishing several volumes of poetry, Douglas also published two books about his relationship with Wilde: Oscar Wilde and Myself (1914), which was largely ghost-written by T.W.H. Crosland, and Oscar Wilde: A Summing Up (1940). 

He also wrote two memoirs – The Autobiography of Lord Alfred Douglas (1929) and Without Apology (1938).

He died on March 20th, 1945, of congestive heart failure. 

Lesson from Douglas

Love in any form is the most inspiring thing on the planet. As a writer, you can’t shy away from love and from investigating in life and on the page what it means to be human to open yourself up to the experience of truly connecting with another person down to your core – even if it breaks you.

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