Wilde at the Cadogan

April 6: Oscar Wilde was arrested on this day in 1895 and Sir John Betjeman was born on this day in 1906. The two cross paths at the Cadogan Hotel, where Wilde, having delayed too long any attempt to flee the country, was taken into custody. The first excerpt below is from biographer Richard Ellmann's account of the famous moment; the second excerpt is from one of Betjeman's most anthologized poems, "The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel":

A half-packed suitcase lay on the bed, emblem of contradictory impulses. He was tired of action. Like Hamlet, as he understood that hero, he wished to distance himself from his plight, to be the spectator of his own tragedy. His stubbornness, his courage, and his gallantry also kept him there. He had always met adversity head on, to face hostile journalists, moralistic reviewers, and canting, ranting fathers. A man so concerned with his image disdained to think of himself as a fugitive, skulking in dark corners instead of lording it in the limelight. He preferred to be a great figure, doomed by fate and the unjust laws of a foreign country. …If he was to be immolated, so must be his age. Reveal him as a pederast, reveal his society as hypocrite. So he waited, defiant. At ten past six came the expected knock at the door….

…"More hock, Robbie – where is the seltzer?

Dear boy, pull again at the bell!

They are all little better than cretins,

Though this is the Cadogan Hotel.

 

"One astrakhan coat is at Willis's –

Another one's at the Savoy:

Do fetch my morocco portmanteau,

And bring them on later, dear boy."

 

A thump, and a murmur of voices –

("Oh why must they make such a din?")

As the door of the bedroom swung open

And TWO PLAIN CLOTHES POLICEMEN came in:

 

"Mr. Woilde, we 'ave come for tew take yew

Where felons and criminals dwell:

We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly

For this is the Cadogan Hotel"....


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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