Culture / History

The arrest of Oscar Wilde

Today being the birthday of Oscar Wilde, we take this opportunity to post an account of his arrest. It’s a contemporary, if particularly colourful, version, with Wilde discovered in an attitude of languid, plaintive nonchalance, and was originally published in the Portsmouth Evening News on 6 April 1895. 

At Scotland Yard Inspector Brockwell handed the warrant to Detective Inspector Richards and Detective Sergeant Allen. They took a cab to the Cadogan Hotel, Sloane Street, arriving at 6.20. To the hall porter they said, ‘Is Oscar Wilde staying here?’ They were answered in the affirmative. ‘Will you show us to his room?’ they asked, notifying that they were police officers. The porter, somewhat flurried, summoned the waiter, who conducted the two detectives to Wilde’s sitting room, No. 53, where they found their man.

In the room were two young men. Wilde was seated by the fireplace in a saddlebag chair, calmly smoking a cigarette. He raised his inquiring eyes to the intruders. Inspector Richards said, ‘Mr Wilde, I believe?’ Wilde languidly responded, ‘Yes, yes!’ The floor of the room was strewn with some eight or nine copies of evening papers which had evidently been hastily scanned and then thrown aside.

Inspector Richards said, ‘We are police officers, and hold a warrant for your arrest.’ Wilde replied, ‘Oh, really.’ Inspector Richards added, ‘I must ask you to accompany me to the police station.’ ‘Whither shall I be taken?’ inquired Wilde ‘To Scotland Yard,’ replied the Inspector, ‘and thence to Bow Street.’ ‘Shall I be able to obtain bail?’ plaintively said Wilde. The officer sternly replied, ‘That is a matter for the magistrate.’

With a deep sigh, Wilde dropped an evening paper and, raising himself by the aid of the arms of the chair, he remarked with characteristic nonchalance to the officers, ‘Well if I must go, I will give you the least possible trouble.’

Wilde then passed over to a couch, picked up his overcoat and was assisted in putting it on by one of the young men present. Carefully he lifted and adjusted his hat. He grasped his suede gloves in one hand and seized his stick with the other. Then he picked up from the table a copy of The Yellow Book, which he placed in security under his left arm. Before departing with the police officers, he asked one of the young men present to go to his house and obtain some clean linen and forward it to the police station whither he was to be conveyed. Then said he to the detectives, ‘I am now, gentlemen, ready to accompany you…’




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