Because the Stars Incline Us

Mark Olmsted
10 min readFeb 14, 2019
Michael Sheen as Robbie Ross in “Wilde”

Michael,

You won’t believe the story I have to tell you.

Seriously, you won’t.

But I have to tell somebody, and of all my close friends, you’re definitely the one who loves Oscar Wilde the most. (And judges me the least, as a rule.) So whether you believe what follows or not, you’ll want to believe it, and that’s something. And even if these pages spend the rest of their days languishing in the dark recesses of your filing cabinet, at least I will have put it all down on paper somewhere. If I just keep it all in my head I’ll be doubting that it happened within a week, and two weeks from now I’ll swear an oath that it didn’t.

Never have I used a cliché so aptly when I say that it started quite innocently. Three days ago I was researching my thesis comparing the prison experiences of Wilde and a 5th century Roman emperor named Boethius. Of course I reread De Profundis, from the book of his collected correspondence that you gave me on my 40th birthday. I came across a passage that stopped me in my tracks just as it had when I first fell in love with his writing so long ago.

On November 13th, 1895, I was brought down here from London. From two o’clock till half-past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction in convict dress, and handcuffed, for the world to look at. Of all possible objects I was the most grotesque. When people saw me they laughed. Each train as it came up swelled the audience. Nothing could exceed their amusement. That was, of course, before they knew who I was. As soon as they had been informed they laughed still more. For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob. For a year after that was done to me I wept every day at the same hour and for the same space of time.

I pulled a passage from Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy that was thematically similar – both men write about how the accouterments of conviction often matter more to the onlooker than actual guilt or innocence. In comparing the experience of these two philosopher-poets who lived 1200 years apart, I had a passing thought that I was committing a kind a temporal sleight of hand; I’d plucked them from completely different eras and placed them side my side in my own present awareness. Not a very…

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Mark Olmsted

Author, "Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir" about my time behind bars. See GQ dot com “Curious Cons of the Man Who Wouldn’t Die” for story of how I got there.