The magazine most associated with the 1890s in
On the whole, the contents of
The Yellow Book were, Beardsley apart, innocuous enough. Poems,
short stories, articles, illustrations. I doubt that anyone, then or
now, would be likely to take offence at what was on show, unless it
was because the general impression given did not fit into the
framework of hearty writing which promoted healthy living, sporting
prowess, patriotic sentiments, and a mistrust of foreign influences.
According to some commentators, too many of the contributors to
The Yellow Book displayed
a disturbing interest in what was published and painted in
It may not have seemed a propitious time for someone to launch a new magazine which would feature Beardsley and certain writers, such as Arthur Symons, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, and John Gray, who were often linked to writing looked on as having the flavour of decadence. However, behind The Savoy, the title of the projected publication, stood Leonard Smithers, a man who had trained as a solicitor, worked as a dealer in rare and second-hand books, and was known to publish and sell work that others viewed as pornography. It wasn’t all he published, and it has been said of him that, with the “dramatic backlash which followed the tragic fall of Wilde”, had it not been for Smithers, “the young avant-garde and artists of the fin de sičcle” would have lacked any sort of financial and other support for their work. The Savoy was one way of helping them, though I’m sure Smithers wasn’t against making money while he was at it.
Smithers invited Arthur Symons to edit
The first issue came out in January, 1896. If it was designed to attract attention it may have done so by the inclusion of three chapters from Aubrey Beardsley’s novel, Under the Hill, with illustrations by the author. There have been various editions of this uncompleted work, and the sections published in The Savoy were expurgated. Arthur Symons did not have a favourable view of Beardsley’s literary work, and his opinion of the artist’s attempt at a novel was that it was “hardly more than a piece of nonsense”. But he was over-ruled by Smithers.
It’s perhaps worth noting that an unexpurgated version of Under the Hill was published by Leonard Smithers in a limited edition in 1907. Smithers rarely missed an opportunity to capitalise on Beardsley’s reputation, and was quite happy selling forgeries of his drawings. He had met an “impecunious barrister” in a pub one night, and discovered that the man had a talent for producing Beardsley-like illustrations, and between the two of them they built up a steady business for supposed Beardsley originals which collectors soon snapped up.
Beardsley apart, the issue opened with a long essay by George Bernard Shaw on the subject of “Going to Church”, which it seems The Times said was the best contribution, and which Stanley Weintraub, commenting much later, considered Shaw’s “most personal statement of his feelings about religion, and his best-shaped essay, foreshadowing ideas he would later put into his plays”. Was the inclusion of Shaw writing about religion designed to give the magazine an air of respectability? It’s impossible to know for sure, but in any case Shaw’s views were not usually aired to please the public.
Arthur Symons was never reluctant to print his own work in
The Savoy, and in the
initial issue he had a translation of a poem by Verlaine, one of his
own poems, and a long article about
Names that are still remembered stand out from the contents page: Yeats, Ernest Dowson, Max Beerbohm, Havelock Ellis writing about Zola. But who were Rudolf Dircks, Frederick Wedmore, Selwyn Image and Humphrey James? A quick reference to the Internet turns up information on Dircks (translator of Schopenhauer and author of a book on Rodin, among other things) and Image, who was an artist, designer, and poet, and was associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement. Wedmore, “art critic and man of letters”, published a lot in his lifetime, and his books can be tracked down through reprint services and second-hand book dealers. James is more elusive, though I admittedly only carried out a brief search. The point is, I think, that none of those I referred are the sort of people likely to earn a nod of recognition now, apart from possibly a few academics and specialists. I’m somehow put in mind of George Gissing’s New Grub Street, and its cast of literary characters toiling away in the “valley of the shadow of books”, i.e. the British Library Reading Room. And mostly fated to be forgotten.
Beardsley wasn’t the only artist in the first issue, and Charles
Conder and Will Rothenstein both made appearances, though neither
got along well with Smithers. Rothenstein took him to court in a
dispute over some work he had been commissioned to produce, and
which he claimed he’d never been paid for. He also disliked the
publisher as a person, and was later to assert that it was Smithers
who had led Beardsley into bad ways and persuaded him to turn to
pornography. As for Conder, it was said that he didn’t want to be
seen with Smithers because of the latter’s reputation, but he must
have known and caroused with him in
The first two issues of The Savoy were successful from a financial point of view. The magazine was still a quarterly, and the second issue had more Beardsley, Dowson, Yeats, Havelock Ellis on Nietzsche, and Symons with a translation of Verlaine, and a short story, “Pages from the Life of Lucy Newcome”. The inspiration for it came from an encounter with a prostitute, Muriel Broadbent, who Selwyn Image first met at the Alhambra Theatre. Symons then took up with her, and it’s said that they were “friends and occasional lovers for several years.” Symons not only celebrated her in short stories, but also wrote a poem about her, “To Muriel: At the Opera”.
Once again, some of the minor contributors arouse interest. Vincent
O’Sullivan was an American who chose to live mostly in
Leila MacDonald was a young Scottish poet and if she has any reason
to be recalled it may be because of her marriage to the ill-fated
writer, Hubert Crackanthorpe, who had a story in the third issue.
They eventually separated, took up with different partners, and the
four lived together for a time in
There was a poem by John Gray in the second issue of
The success of the first two issues persuaded Smithers and Symons that The Savoy should go monthly starting with the July, 1896 issue. It may have been a mistake. Was there likely to be enough good material available to fill the pages of a monthly publication? George Moore had promised his new novel, Evelyn Innes, for serial publication in The Savoy, but failed to come through with the requisite material. Stanley Weintraub suggests that it was probably a hasty commitment and Moore, who had achieved some success with Esther Waters, later had doubts about publishing his new book in a journal linked to a notorious character like Leonard Smithers. Other writers may have had similar concerns. And would sales continue to grow sufficiently to cover production costs and payments to contributors? Smithers’ finances were never secure.
Another problem cropped up when the bookseller, W.H. Smith, refused to stock the third issue, citing the use of a William Blake illustration as likely to cause offence. On top of this problem, which obviously badly affected distribution of The Savoy, there was a less than enthusiastic response from reviewers of the new issue. It was particularly noticed that Beardsley was largely absent, as he was from the fourth. Symons continued to contribute his own work, and regulars like Dowson and Yeats were featured in both issues. One or two newcomers were present, in, in particular Ford Madox Hueffer (later to become Ford Madox Ford when the onset of the First World War brought suspicion on anyone with a German sounding name) and Lionel Johnson, a poet who died young. He had a stroke, probably as a result of his heavy drinking. His “Three Sonnets” revolved around visions of religion as found in the life of Mother Ann, founder of the Shakers, the leaders of the Anabaptists in Munster in 1534, and Hawker of Morwenstow, a Cornish Anglican priest and noted eccentric – he excommunicated his cat for mousing on Sundays.
It was probably inevitable that
The Savoy would start to
show signs of its imminent demise, and it may be that a lack of
variety in the contributors had something to do with it. Symons had
three items in both issues five and six, and there were
contributions by his old standbys, Ernest Dowson and W.B. Yeats. It
wasn’t that their work was bad, but it could be argued that one of
the purposes of a magazine ought to be to publish fresh writing by
new writers. True, there were appearances by one or two newcomers.
Bliss Carman, a Canadian poet, resident in
By November, 1896, the writing was on the wall for The Savoy, and it was announced that the December issue would be the final one. The seventh issue once more featured Dowson, Symons (an essay about Verlaine), Yeats and Havelock Ellis. Again, it wasn’t that their contributions lacked quality, but rather that the reader looking for something different may have been disappointed at the scarcity of new names. A story by Fiona Macleod (actually a pseudonym used by William Sharp), and an essay by Osman Edwards on Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Symbolist poet, were hardly sufficient to convince anyone that the magazine offered exciting new work. Symons’ own interest in Symbolism was well known, and a few years later he published a book called The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
When the final issue appeared in December it was completely devoted to work by Arthur Symons. A poem, a short story, two essays, a translation of a Mallarme poem, and an epilogue entitled “A Literary Causerie” which suggested that there was to be a twice-yearly publication, “larger in size, better produced, and they will cost more. In this way we shall be able to appeal to that limited public which cares for the things we care for; which cares for art, really for art’s sake”. Did the use of Symons’ own work, and that of Aubrey Beardsley, who was the sole contributor of illustrations in the final issue, indicate that there were no funds to pay other writers and artists? Or perhaps they had just stopped submitting work when it was known that the magazine was closing down? Beardsley’s work was not new. He was desperately ill with tuberculosis in 1896 and died the following year.
The plan for a bi-annual publication never came to anything. Money,
or the lack of it, no doubt played a large part in the failure to
get it off the ground. And it was a fact that the audience Symons
envisaged, one with an interest in art for art’s sake, was limited.
That had been demonstrated by the limited sales of
So many of the writers and artists who appeared in
The Savoy met early
deaths. Beardsley, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, Hubert
Crackanthorpe. They were what Yeats referred to as “The Tragic
Symons did survive, and lived until 1945, though there were periods
when he suffered from mental problems, and his literary career had
begun to peter out from the mid-1920s. As for Leonard Smithers, he
There have been various accounts of Smithers death, but it does seem
accurate to say that his son’s description has been accepted as
true. Smithers’ body lay on a bed in a downstairs room, in which
there were two empty hampers. Other than that, the house was
completely empty of any kind of furniture. The death certificate
stated that death was due to “Cirrhosis of liver. 3 months -
Gastritis and Haematemesis & Exhaustion 2 days”. It would
seem that Lord Alfred Douglas, notorious for his role in Oscar
Wilde’s downfall, paid for Smithers to be buried in an unmarked
Eight issues of a periodical perhaps don’t amount to a major statement, and yet The Savoy has a place in literary history because of when it was published, and the status of many of its contributors. It throws light on a period when there was something of a struggle to establish new ways of writing. It also highlights Aubrey Beardsley’s place in British art, and draws attention to Arthur Symons, who did a lot to sponsor and promote new writing. As for Leonard Smithers, he deserves to be remembered as someone who liked good art and literature along with his interest in pornography.
This just lists the books consulted when writing about
Publisher to the Decadents: Leonard Smithers in the Careers of
Beardsley, Wilde, Dowson.
By James G. Nelson.
Arthur Symons: A Life.
By Karl Beckson.
Arthur Symons: Spiritual Adventures.
Edited by Nicholas Freeman. Modern Humanities Research Association,
Arthur Symons: Selected Early Poems.
Edited by Jane Desmarais and Chris Baldick. Modern Humanities
The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
By Arthur Symons.
Arthur Symons: Selected Writings. Edited by Roger Houldsworth. Carcanet Press, Cheadle Hulme, 1974.
Under the Hill.
By Aubrey Beardsley (completed by John Glassco). New English
Poetry of the Nineties. Edited with an introduction by R.K.R. Thornton. Penguin Books, Harmandsworth, 1970.
Writing of the Nineties.
Edited by Derek Stanford. Dent,
A Study in Yellow: The Yellow Book and its Contributors.
By Katherine Lyon Mix. Constable,
The Eighteen-Nineties: A Period Anthology in Prose and Verse.
Edited by Martin Secker. The Richards Press,