Ian McKellen on:
In April 1895, Oscar Wilde was arrested and taken to the police station
and charged by the State with committing "indecent acts." You
and I might call them acts of love. The same night, his name was removed
from the bills outside the London theatres where his hit shows "The
Importance of Being Earnest" and "An Ideal Husband" were
playing. It was the same at the Broadway theatres, where the same plays
were playing. A month later, again in both cities, Wilde's plays were taken
off, lest they were an embarrassment to the theatrical profession on both
sides of the Atlantic. There was no popular movement in either country
in support of the victim.
Oscar Wilde: the crime of which you have been convicted is so bad,
that it is of no use for me to address you. People who can do these things
must be dead to all sense of shame. It is the worst case I have ever tried.
I shall be expected to pass the severest sentence that the law allows.
In my judgement it is totally inadequate. The sentence of the Court is
that you be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for two years.
To which the gay poet A.E.Housman replied, on behalf of us all, against
whom the State discriminates:
The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves say I, and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Rest their neighbour to their will
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of Man's bedevilment and God's?
I a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn or to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and Man.
Housman sent these and other verses to Reading Gaol as Wilde started
his two year's sentence on 25 May 1895.