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Arthur Edward Cruttenden and Oscar Wilde


Historical


 


 


 


 


 


 


 

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

Arthur Edward Cruttenden was born on 22 May 1870 at Bexhill, Sussex the youngest child of Frederick Cruttenden and Mary his wife.

Arthur spent his childhood in Bexhill and went to school there. By April 1891 he was living with his brother Frederick and his wife Amelia at the Stream where like his brother he was a saddler and harness maker.

Sometime in 1892 he went to Philadelphia in the United States, but by 1893 he had returned to England to enlist in the Royal Artillery on 18 February. From his Attestation, taken at St George’s Barracks, London, he was aged 18 years and eight months, stood 5 feet 7 7/8 inches tall, weighed 126 lbs and had a chest measurement of between 34 and 36 inches. He was of dark complexion with hazel eyes and black hair. Although he gave his trade as saddler and harness maker he enlisted as a Gunner.

During 1893 and 1894 he travelled with his unit to: Woolwich, Dorchester, Okehampton, Aldershot and finally Woolwich. During these years he was admitted into hospital on several occasions complaining of rheumatism in the neck. However, Army life did not seem to suit Arthur and he deserted on 28 August 1894. Desertion also seemed to weigh heavily on his shoulders so he gave himself up and rejoined 261 days later on 16 May 1895. He was tried and sentenced to 42 days imprisonment on 12 June. On 16 July, presumably whilst still in detention at Aldershot, he was admitted to hospital in a typical hysterical fit, which speedily passed off.

Arthur returned to his unit but on 24 November he ‘Committed Cumt’. For this he was tried by a District Court Martial and sentenced to be imprisoned for two years and discharged with ignominy on 17 Dec 1895. His one achievement whilst in the Army was to pass the 2nd Class Certificate of Education.

 

It would seem that Arthur served his prison sentence at Reading Gaol. A fellow prisoner at this time was the playwright Oscar Wilde. In June 1897 Arthur was released from Reading Gaol and shortly after this spent a week with Wilde at the Hotel de la Plage, Berneval-sur-Mer in France.

England now had little to offer Arthur so he went again to the United States. Nothing is known about his life in the US but he obviously returned to Britain again. On 15 February 1903 he arrived at Ellis Island per the SS Luciania. According to the passenger list a friend paid for his ticket. As to where he was going he said to stay with his friend Benjamin Lee at 1110 Race Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Hotel de la Plage, Berneval-sur-Mer in France

Hotel de la Plage, Berneval-sur-Mer in France

SS Luciania

SS Luciania

Whether he was in the US when the First War broke out is not known. He was back in England in 1917 and on 6 December he enlisted in the Royal Engineers as a Pioneer. Now aged 47 the soldier’s life was again not for him. He went before a Medical Board and was invalided due to Osteo Arthritis on 13 March 1918. Even this short service seems to have been worthwhile as he was awarded a Gratuity of £7 10s.

This is the last time he is found in the records in England. It is assumed he went back to the United States and died there.

 

What then was the relationship between Arthur and Oscar? The following extracts from Wilde’s letters might help.

SELECTED LETTERS OF OSCAR WILDE
Edited by Rupert Hart-Davis
Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-19-281218-1

To Robert Ross

[28 May 1897]
…..
I enclose a lot of letters. Please put money orders in them and send them off. Put those addressed to the prison in a larger envelope, each of them, addressed by yourself, if possible legibly. They are my debts of honour, and I must pay them. Of course you must read the letters. Explain to Miss Meredith5 that the letters addressed C.3.3.6, 24 Hornton Street are for you. The money is as follows. Of course it is a great deal but I thought I would have lots:

   Jackson £1.
   Fleet £1. 10.
   Ford £2. 10.
   Stone £3.
X  Eaton £2.                            The letters must go at once.
Cruttenden £2.                   At least those marked X
   Bushell £2. 10.

5 More Adey’s housekeeper at 24 Hornton Street.
6 Wilde’s number in Reading Gaol, indicating the third cell on the third floor of Block C.

To Robert Ross

Monday Night, 31 May [ 1897] [Hôtel de la Plage, Berneval-sur-Mer]

…..
Please send a Chronicle to my wife, Mrs C. M. Holland, Maison Benguerel, Bevaix, près de Neuchâtel, just marking it, and if my second letter appears, mark that. Also one to Mrs Arthur Stannard, 28 Rue de la Halle-au-Blé, Dieppe. Also, cut out the letter and enclose it in an envelope to Mr Arthur Cruttenden, Poste Restante, G.P.O. Reading, with just these lines:

Dear Friend, The enclosed will interest you. There is also another
letter waiting in the Post Office for you from me, with a little money.
Ask for it, if you have not got it. Yours sincerely C.3.3

I have no one but you, dear Robbie, to do anything. Of course the letter to Reading must go at once, as my friends come out on Wednesday morning early.

To Reginald Turner

[ ? 7 June 1897] Hôtel de la Plage, Berneval-sur-Mer

My dear Reggie, It is all very well giving me a lovely silver dressing﷓case, and meeting me at Dieppe, and behaving like an angel: but what is the result? Simply that I come to you to ask you to do something more. I can't help it. Why do you insist on behaving like an angel, if you object to my treating you as one?
Read first enclosed letter, before you go any further. It is necessary that you should do so. This is vital. Also it is Act I.

Have you read it?
(Interval of five minutes. No band: only a cigarette.)

If so, what do you say to such a nice simple sweet letter from Jim Cuthbert's pal who came out on June the 2nd, and found a little £2, no more, waiting for him at the Post Office from me? You see what a good chap he is: he was one of my great friends in Reading; he and Jim Cuthbert and Harry Elvin were my pals: hearts of gold.

Now I have asked him to come and stay a week here with me, so that he may have a holiday after eighteen months' hard labour.

His offence, I told you. He was a soldier, dined too well, or perhaps too badly, and "made hay" in the harness room of the regimental stables: the sort of thing one was "gated" for at Oxford, or fined £5 for by the Proctor. He has never taken anything by fraud or by violence. He is a good chap, and has a nice sweet nature.

I had better say candidly that he is not "a beautiful boy." He is twenty-nine years of age, but looks a little older, as he inherits hair that catches silver lines early: he has also a slight, but still real, moustache. I am thankful and happy to be able to say that I have no feeling for him, nor could have, other than affection and friendship. He is simply a manly simple fellow, with the nicest smile and the pleasantest eyes, and I have no doubt a confirmed "mulierast," to use Robbie's immortal phrase.

So you see my feelings towards him. It is sad to have to explain them, but it is only fair to you.

Now Robbie has whatever little money I possess, but he is very severe on me for having sent some money to four chaps released last week. He says I can't afford it. But, dear Reggie, I must look after my prison friends, if my good friends, like you, look after me.

I have a cheque for £40, but it will take a week to cash it, as I cannot go to Dieppe till Wednesday, and of course, as the bank does not know me, the cheque will have to be cleared in London before I touch the money here. So Monday is the earliest I can realise.

I want you then to lend me £6.10. till next week, if you possibly can.
Arthur Cruttenden requires clothes—a blue﷓serge suit, a pair of brown leather boots, some shirts, and a hat. This will cost money, and his ticket here will cost something.

So I have written to him to tell him that a good friend of mine—a Jim Cuthbert of the name of R. Turner—will send him from me £6. 10., so that he can get clothes, and be here on Saturday afternoon next, for a week. I hope in the meantime to get him a place, when his holidays with me end.1

Of course if you would not mind being good to a friend of mine, it would be very sweet of you if you would let him come to see you on Friday morning. He will show you, by my orders, my letter to him, and you can tell him some good place in the Strand to go to, for clothes etc., and also clear up any mysteries about any details of dress and apparel. If you can do this, just send him £1 to come up with, and let him have the £5.10 when he arrives. Tell him that it, the £5. 10, is waiting for him, and that he must bring up whatever he has already in the way of clothes.

He is not English: he is American: but has no accent at all. He always wrapped up well at night in his native land.

You don't know, Reggie, what a pleasure it is to me to think I shall have the chance of being kind to a chap who has been in trouble with me. I look forward to it with tears of joy and gratitude.

Of course if you can't see him, simply send him the money: but I would like you to see him, and to say some kind words to him. We all come out of prison as sensitive as children.

Next week you shall have the £6.10. I simply dare not tell Robbie to give it, because he scolds me, and I hate giving him pain. I know he is right, but still I have £200 left, and £3 a week, and in a few months I shall be making money, I hope.

Send me a line at once to say if you can do all this: and if Cruttenden can go on Saturday, see that he learns about trains, and send me a wire to inform me, so that I may meet him all right at Dieppe.

If you will do this, I will give you back the dressing case: at least I will keep it for you always: it is the same thing.
I anxiously await a letter from you. I know that, if you can, you will let A. C. call on you on Friday morning. It would so please him, and so fascinate me. Ever yours OSCAR

P.S. Of course send me back Arthur Cruttenden's letter. I wouldn't part with it for many £6.10.: nor indeed show it to anyone but you, and Robbie if he wouldn't lecture me about giving away among four fellow prisoners and four warders (including £5 to Martin) the sum of £20! Huge I know for me, but still it is little for kindness shown. I may not have the chance again. I only know five chaps now in Reading Gaol. By the end of the year—on December 2 in fact—all my friends, thank God, will be free men, as I am. So unless I do a little now, I shall lose my chance.

Dear Reggie, if you will manage all this for me and A.C. you will, in some other way than the mere repayment of the £6.10 next week, reap a harvest of deep gold in the heart of the great world. I know it. I have been taught it in cell C3.3.

1Turner provided the money and Cruttenden duly spent a week at Berneval. In a letter dated 21 June Wilde wrote: Of course all you said to me, dear Reggie, was quite true: but you must understand that I have the deepest desire to try and be of a little help to other fellows who were in trouble with me. I used to be utterly reckless of young lives: I used to take up a boy, love him "passionately," and then grow bored with him, and often take no notice of him. That is what I regret in my past life. Now I feel that if I can really help others it will be a little attempt, however small, at expiation To be of real assistance to even one of them would give me joy beyond what I can express to you.

© Ian Cruttenden 2005

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