JF Ptak Science Books Post 1744 [Part of the History of Goodbye series.]
There's just so much in Punch magazine to pull out and have a think over. This cartoon was poking fun at Oscar Wilde, sending him up in a French soldier's uniform suggesting that he might have to serve if he exiled himself to France. What had happened was that he had just written his play Salome, and in French, for production in Paris--unfortunately, there was a law in France prohibiting the portrayal of Biblical characters onstage, and so he ran into a large spot of bother..
Wilde would wind up in France soon enough, but under tremendously changed circumstances, as the next eight years of his life would be mostly decline-and-fall, and then exploded in an exploding-hole, with nothing but Wilde-smoke remaining, and precious little of that.
Wilde's publishing career had started just four years earlier, really, with the appearance of The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888). He would enjoy major success over a period of five years, beginning in 1891 with The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, and Intentions, followed by Lady Windermere's Fan, and Salome in 1892, A Woman of No Importancee in 1893, the Importance of Being Earnest in 1894, and then, well, then came the beginning of the end. After much success with his plays, everything would blow up in 1895 after Wilde decided to sue his lover's father (the Marquis of Queensberry) for defamation received on February 18, 1895. The suit went very badly, with Queensberry acquitted on all counts in the course of a trial which dragged Wilde's sexuality all the way through it. Wilde was immediately arrested for gross indecency, was brought to trial within a month of the end of the Queensberry debacle (on April 26, 1895); he was crushed completely and found guilty on May 25, 1895, and sentenced to two years hard labor, which began immediately.
That was pretty much the end for Wilde., though he would write De Profundis in 1897 and The Ballad of Reading Goal in 1898. He would never see his two sons again, his mother would die while he was in prison, and his wife, too, would be dead in 1898. Wilde was released from Reading Goal on May 19, 1897, and he would leave almost immediately for France, where he would spend the rest of his life. A not-long life, as he would die a rather miserable death three years later, in France, on November 30, 1900. (He outlasted Queensberry, who died in January. His former lover, the Marquis' son, Alfred Douglas, lived until 1945; he came to loathe and repudiate Wilde, rejecting their history.)
So this cartoon was a little prescient, in a way--the near-future would find Wilde in France, though not in a France and not in a situation that Wilde could have possibly seen in 1892.
What lead to all of this bad business? The Marquis was disgusted that his son was having a relationship with Wilde, and sought to put an end to it. The end of it all came when the Marquis left his calling card addressed to an absent Wilde, "For Oscar Wilde, posing Somdomite [sic]". And then everything for Wilde came apart, costing him his reputation and financial failure.