Lionel Johnson (see here) was the cousin and tutor of 20-year-old Lord Alfred Douglas, ‘Bosie’ for short. He lent him his copy of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” and the young man claimed he had been so ‘passionately absorbed’ in the book, that he had devoured it, reading it ‘ fourteen times running’.
The two of them went to visit Oscar Wilde at his house in Chelsea, probably in June 1891, and Wilde was fascinated by Bosie’s beauty. He gave him his own copy of a newer edition of the book, and offered to tutor him for his final university exams. Douglas was an undergraduate at Oxford at Wilde’s old college Magdalen College, and he was spoilt and handsome , with a mop of blond hair flopping over his eyes.
A love affair was about to start and Johnson, maybe jealous, soon turned his adoration for the Irishman (do you remember? “In heaven and hell/ May there be glory to you,/ Who perceive so much!”) into hatred.
In 1892 he wrote a vituperative sonnet titled “The Destroyer of a Soul” attacking Wilde’s relationship with his cousin.
“The Destroyer of a Soul”
I hate you with a necessary hate.
First, I sought patience: passionate was she:
My patience turned in very scorn of me,
That I should dare forgive a sin so great,
As this, through which I sit disconsolate;
Mourning for that live soul, I used to see;
Soul of a saint, whose friend I used to be:
Till you came by! a cold, corrupting, fate.
Why come you now? You, whom I cannot cease
With pure and perfect hate to hate? Go, ring
The death-bell with a deep, triumphant toll!
Say you, my friend sits by me still? Ah, peace!
Call you this thing my friend? this nameless thing?
This living body, hiding its dead soul?
The soul is the soul of Lord Alfred Douglas, whom Johnson introduced to Wilde the previous June. He regrets initiating that highly scandalous love affair between the two men and attributes the social ruin of Bosie’s reputation to Wilde.
The nameless thing may be a reference to the phrase of the poem “Two Loves” by Lord Alfred Douglas, whose last line, ‘I am the love that dare not speak its name’, is an allusion to homosexuality.
Il distruttore di un’anima
Ti odio con un odio indispensabile.
Dapprima ho cercato la pazienza: era appassionata:
la mia pazienza si è trasformata in disprezzo per me,
un peccato grande che dovrei avere la forza di perdonare,
un peccato che mi ha reso sconsolato,
a piangere per quell’anima ardente che un tempo vedevo;
anima di un santo, di cui ero amico:
finché non sei arrivato tu! fato freddo e corruttore.
Perché vieni adesso? Tu, che non posso smettere
di odiare con odio puro e perfetto? Vai, suona
la campana della morte con un rintocco profondo e trionfante!
Di’, il mio amico si siede ancora vicino a me? Ah, pace!
chiami questa cosa amico mio? questa cosa senza nome?
Questo corpo vivente, che nasconde un’anima morta?