Wilde at the Cadogan

April 6:Oscar Wilde was arrested on this day in 1895 and Sir John Betjeman was born onthis day in 1906. The two cross paths at the Cadogan Hotel, where Wilde, havingdelayed too long any attempt to flee the country, was taken into custody. Thefirst excerpt below is from biographer Richard Ellmann’s account of the famousmoment; the second excerpt is from one of Betjeman’s most anthologized poems, “TheArrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel”:

A half-packed suitcase layon the bed, emblem of contradictory impulses. He was tired of action. LikeHamlet, as he understood that hero, he wished to distance himself from hisplight, 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, toface hostile journalists, moralistic reviewers, and canting, ranting fathers. Aman 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 preferredto 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 camethe expected knock at the door….

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

Dear boy, pull again atthe bell!

They are all little betterthan cretins,

Though this is the CadoganHotel.

“One astrakhan coatis at Willis’s –

Another one’s at theSavoy:

Do fetch my moroccoportmanteau,

And bring them on later,dear boy.”

A thump, and a murmur ofvoices –

(“Oh why must theymake such a din?”)

As the door of the bedroomswung open

And TWO PLAIN CLOTHESPOLICEMEN came in:

“Mr. Woilde, we ‘avecome for tew take yew

Where felons and criminalsdwell:

We must ask yew tew leavewith us quoietly

For this is the CadoganHotel”….


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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