It wasn't a capital trial, but the 1895 libel proceedings of Oscar Wilde against the Marquess of Queensberry were in their way tragic and terrible. Entering the trial, Wilde was a celebrity and a playwright with the magnificently silly _The Importance of Being Ernest_ in successful performance in London and New York. Afterwards, he was pursued, tried, convicted, and imprisoned at hard labor for the then crime of homosexuality. It is a story that has been told many times and turned into dramas. Those of us who love Wilde's writing and outrageous wit will always wonder what would have happened if he had been able to write and live as he wished, instead of being ruined and sent to an early death. Amazingly, the trial record has until now been unavailable. There were summaries, and publication of extracts, but only with _The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde: The First Uncensored Transcript of the Trial of Oscar Wilde vs. John Douglas (Marquess of Queensberry)_, 1895 (Fourth Estate) do we have a full record. In 2000, an anonymous source donated a transcript of the trial to the British Library. It was authenticated, and has now been edited by Merlin Holland, Wilde's grandson. Anyone interested in Wilde's life and writing will be fascinated by this verbatim record which puts judge, prosecutor, defender, and of course Wilde himself on the stage of the Old Bailey to play out their roles verbatim.
Holland has a useful introduction to recall the details of how Wilde was snared into legal doom, spurred by his young man Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie") to bother Bosie's abominable father Queensberry. When, after several skirmishes, Queensberry left his calling card at Wilde's club, with the words "To Oscar Wilde posing as somdomite" (spelling was one of the Marquess's shortcomings), Wilde should have thrown it into the fire. Instead, egged on by Bosie, he took Queensberry to court for libel. It was the mistake of his life.; as Holland writes, "If I could ask my grandfather a single question, it would have to be, 'Why on earth did you do it?'" Wilde did not take advice that he leave the country, and so sealed his own doom. Most of the pages of this book are the words from the trial, and most of those words come from the bouts with Wilde in the witness box. Initially he seemed to enjoy his role in the events, and gave as good as he got. For much of the repartee reported here, the transcriber notes: "(_laughter_.)" and "(_more laughter_.)" But an eventual flippant answer overthrew Wilde on the stand, although his case could not have been won. When Carson asked about a companion, "Did you ever kiss him?" Wilde replied, "Oh, no, never in my life; he was a peculiarly plain boy." It was not long after that Wilde and his lawyers withdrew the charges, and Queensberry was declared not guilty.
If Queensbury was not guilty of libel, it was reasonable to think that his accusations were truthful, and with the evidence already gathered, Queensberry assisted in a speedy arrest of Wilde, who once again had refused advice that he leave the country. The subsequent trials, one with a hung jury and one finding him guilty of gross indecency, are not covered in this volume. Wilde had two years of hard labor, and three sad years of exile before his death in Paris in 1900. He produced the mordant "Ballad of Reading Gaol" but little else during these years, and while there are plenty of examples that his wit remained in conversation, we were robbed of subsequent examples of the delicious laughter that had come from each of his successively improving plays. This is a useful book as full documentation of the first trial, and Holland has given helpful notes throughout. Those who admire Wilde, however, will find it more than useful. Wilde was brilliant at Greek and admired Greek drama and life, and it is no exaggeration that the transcript of the trial, reading as it does like a piece of period theater, has all the marks of a classic tragedy.