13 December

A 'song of the soul at having arrived at the height of perfection' was how Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde's 'Bosie', described the poetry he wrote while serving six months hard labour after losing his own brush with the libel laws, against Winston Churchill.

December 13, 2009
2 min read

Sentenced on 13 December 1923, Douglas used his forced incarceration to write his epic poem ‘In Excelsis’, which was published to wide acclaim the following year. He had been found guilty of criminal libel by an unsympathetic judge for publishing a pamphlet, entitled Plain English, in which he accused Churchill of taking part in a Jewish-financed conspiracy to defraud the stock market by withholding crucial information about the outcome of the Battle of Jutland.

Douglas’s imprisonment was, perhaps, poetic justice for a man who had repeatedly used the libel laws for his own advantage. He remains, for example, the only man ever to have sued successfully over the contents of his own obituary.

This occurred after the London Evening News published an erroneous account of his death on 4 February 1921, headed ‘Sudden Death of Lord Alfred Douglas – Found Dead in Bed by a Maid’. ‘A brilliant and most unhappy career is ended,’ the paper reported. ‘The charity which is fitting at all times, but most fitting when we are speaking of the newly dead, urges that much should be forgiven to this poor, bewildered man, who, with all his gifts, will perhaps only be remembered by the scandals and the quarrels in which he will be involved himself,’ it declared.

Douglas sued for libel – and won his case – on the grounds that there was far more for which he should be remembered than ‘scandals and quarrels’.

. . . Sweet youth,

Tell me why, sad and sighing, thou dost rove

These pleasant realms? I pray thee speak me sooth

What is thy name?’ He said, ‘My name is Love.’

Then straight the first did turn himself to me

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, Alfred Douglas


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