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VOLUME 1:  1896

The earliest published announcement of The Pageant of 1896 appears in the October 30, 1895 issue of The Sketch and serves as a preview for potential readers and gift-givers shopping for the upcoming Christmas season. The author claims to have received from art editor Charles Shannon “a private view of the illustrations which will make ‘The Pageant’” (“Heralding,” 42). The use of future tense in reference to the annual suggests that it had not yet appeared in print. The November 6, 1895 issue of the Pall Mall Gazette also refers to what the volume “will” be when it appears (“‘A Pageant,’” 3). The earliest review that refers to the annual in press is the December 14th issue of The Academy, which declares the volume to be “just issued” (“The Pageant,” 529), suggesting that The Pageant was in press between late-November and early December 1895. Bibliographic characteristics further complicate matters. Forward dated “1896” in gilt on the front board, the volume looks toward the year ahead. Volumes published for the Christmas market were often forward dated, so that they could essentially be brought out as “new” two years in a row (in this case, 1895 and 1896). Printed by the firm of T. and A. Constable, The Pageant gives no visual cue that it is “volume one” in a new series. However, reviews indicate that it was read by the literary marketplace as the first in a series of annual publications from the Messrs. Henry. The Henry & Co. letterhead that Ricketts and Shannon used to correspond at the time of its preparation references it as “The Pageant, A Christmas Book” (Ricketts and Shannon MSS ADD 58087, 28). By removing the subtitle, the editors transform The Pageant from a Christmas book into a book for all seasons.

Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944) designed the end-papers, and Selwyn Image (1849-1930) designed the full title page (see fig. 1). Pissarro, a relatively new figure in the publishing world, and Image, an established and celebrated designer who Walter Crane describes as doing “much to keep alive true taste in printing and book decoration when they were little understood” (189), together serve to obfuscate the periodical’s moment in time. The Pageant merges an appreciation for recent technical innovation and new ideas with the nineteenth-century revival of traditional hand-crafted book design. The blending of tradition with innovation is emphasized by the choice of Charles Ricketts (1866-1931) to create the gold-impressed design work for the claret-coloured cloth boards. Ricketts and Shannon, described by Crane as “inventive and original artists of remarkable cultivation, imaginative feeling and taste,” are bound together in reputation (218). Unlike their own Vale Press publication The Dial, an occasional magazine published between 1889 and 1897 for a coterie audience of about 200 subscribers, The Pageant of 1896 sought a broad and commercially viable readership.

Figure 1 – Title page for The Pageant, 1896 by Selwyn Image

The volume is presented to the public in a manner that is self-conscious of the political climate in the United Kingdom surrounding aestheticism and its public association with criminalized homosexuality in the wake of Oscar Wilde’s trials and imprisonment for the crime of “committing acts of ‘gross indecency’ with other men” (Bristow par. 17). The Pall Mall Gazette’s satirical promotional interview with Gleeson White quotes the literary editor as “privately” declaring that the periodical “is under contract not to elevate anybody” and “that it represents the survival of the pre-Raphaelite idea in art and literature, though even that definition would probably offend somebody” (“‘A Pageant,’”3). This interview illustrates the challenge aesthetic authors and artists faced in developing audiences for their cosmopolitan and socially dissident art. The Sketch quotes Shannon as being “very hopeful” when asked if there is “a public ready to acknowledge” his creative “labours” (“Heralding” 42).

White characterizes The Pageant for the Pall Mall Gazette as a publication “intended as a triumph of the romantic, and a protest against the realistic school [that] will be welcomed on the Continent, probably, more warmly than in England, for it represents the work that England is known by abroad” (“‘A Pageant’,”3). By making this claim and connecting The Pageant to cosmopolitan culture, White and Shannon sought a trans-national readership still interested in the literature and art of aestheticism as an appropriate association for The Pageant. However, it is unclear if an aesthetically-inclined reader would purchase an annual, or if a more conventional consumer would appreciate The Pageant as reading material.

The volume features twenty illustrations on calendered paper and, although tissue is not tipped in to shield the images, each illustration is preceded by a recto title page with a blank verso that faces and protects the work. Illustrations often interrupt stories and essays. Such details are at the discretion of T. and A. Constable and subject to the demands of letterpress printing regarding the interleaving of illustrations. There is, however, a randomness that occurs; for instance, the pairing of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Monna Rosa with Paul Verlaine’s honorary poem of the same title makes sense, but the 100-page separation of William Rothenstein’s chalk drawing of Swinburne from the poet’s introductory “A Roundel of Rabelais” suggests a disinterest in connecting the two works with one another. These placement choices draw the reader’s attention to artifice of both contrast and connection that periodicals create through placement.

Rothenstein’s chalk drawing of Swinburne is significant, not just for its placement, but also for its presentation in a sepia-coloured half-tone reproduction prepared by the Swan Electric Engraving Company. The half-tone reproduction of John Everett Millais’s “Love, a brush drawing” is also tinted, this time in blue. “Love” was previously published as a wood-engraved illustration for Coleridge’s poem of that title in the iconic Christmas gift book, Dalziel’s The Poets of the Nineteenth Century, 1857. Edited by the Reverend Robert Aris Willmot (1809-1863), it sold in the thousands and featured illustrations by many pre-Raphaelite artists, including Millais (Kooistra 93). The remaining illustrations are prepared in black ink. Additional artists featured include Renaissance painter, (~1445-1510), Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne Jones, and the contemporary artist James MacNeill Whistler (1834-1903). The editors’ inclusion of a recently discovered Botticelli continues the volume’s theme of merging old and new (“The Pageant,” Morning Post 3). That connection to the Renaissance takes The Pageant beyond a nationalist tradition defined by Victorian medievalism and aligns the aesthetes with the mythological and cosmopolitan experiments of the European continent from the Renaissance to the present.

Contributors Charles Conder, Reginald Savage, and George Frederic Watts are associated with the late-nineteenth-century revival of printing, as are queer artists Laurence Housman, Ricketts, and Shannon. By featuring the dissident imagery of these queer artists, The Pageant connects the pre-Raphaelites and the revival of printing with the specific ideals of decadence that emerge in 1890s. Housman’s pen drawing “Death and the Bather” is an example of how artists continued to use mythology from classical and renaissance-era influences, but with coded expressions of homoerotic desire. Using the ancient story of Narcissus, but multiplied to a community of men who desire their own reflections (i.e. other men), the imagery of platonic desire allows Housman, and The Pageant of 1896, to evoke the dangers, and the beauty, of homoerotic acts in the 1890s.

Figure 2 – Laurence Housman's Death and the Bather
Figure 2 – Laurence Housman’s Death and the Bather

Whistler provided The Pageant of 1896 with a lithograph, “The Doctor—Portrait of My Brother,” printed by lithographer (1837-1915). In addition to this modest sketch, he also approved a reproduction of his well-known painting, Symphony in White No. III (1865-67). Whistler’s letter of 1895 gives Shannon his “fullest consent” to reproduce the painting (Ricketts and Shannon MSS ADD 58090, 989A). Whistler’s inclusion associates The Pageant with the rebellious and subversive Decadence surrounding the American artist; today, his correspondence with Shannon allows scholars to see the commercial realities of aesthetic collaboration. In the same letter, but regarding the original lithograph, he says that Messrs. Henry had the wrong payment in mind and that it is too low – his most recent contribution to The Studio was paid 15 guineas. He wants them to honour the amount promised him by Gleeson White. Whistler’s concerns certainly emphasize that while “art for art’s sake” was an ideal, the realities of living as an artist were slightly more pragmatic. In another letter dated 1896, Whistler thanks Shannon for a five-guinea cheque he received, likely to compensate for unpaid monies promised by White (Ricketts and Shannon, MSS ADD 58090, 989A 1896, 28).

The fiction in The Pageant of 1896 is best described by paraphrasing Oscar Wilde’s Vivian, in “The Decay of Lying”: the stories are children of realism not currently on speaking terms with their father (299). Contributors adapted realism in ways that challenged the form’s conventions through diverse narrative experiments. For example, Yeats draws on mythical Irish history in “Costello the Proud, Oona Macdermott, and the Bitter Tongue”; John Gray offers an allegorical condemnation of Protestantism through a degenerate clergyman in “Niggard Truth”; and Lionel Johnson satirically explores a bad poet’s ennui and death in “Incurable.” These and other contributions self-consciously challenge the Victorian conventions of realism as a source of moral and social improvement. To quote Wilde, a figure whose work clearly influences the tone and style of The Pageant of 1896, “[a]ll bad art comes from returning to Life and Nature, and elevating them into ideals. . . ., but before they are of any real service to art they must be translated into artistic conventions” (319). The Pageant of 1896 presents authors who engage with literary form and celebrate the artificial beauty of art and culture.

Fiction’s artifice is enhanced by The Pageant’s use of decorative initial letters at the beginning of these stories (see figs. 3 and 4). Little attempt is made in these letters to accurately mimic real vines. Instead they highlight the artificial beauty of curvilinear design, referencing natural vines with minimal leaf-work to suggest cultivated plant life. The initial letters are in a simple serif that appears to reference the Caslon typeface used for the body text.

Figure – 3 Decorative initial for Yeats's “Costello the Proud”                        (2)
Figure – 3 Decorative initial for Yeats’s “Costello the Proud” (2)

Figure 4 – Decorative initial for Gray's "Niggard Truth" (20)
Figure 4 – Decorative initial for Gray’s “Niggard Truth” (20)

Figure 5 – Title with fleuron
Figure 5 – Title with fleuron

Also notable is the lack of ornamentation for the two plays published in The Pageant of 1896, Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Death of Tintagiles (translated by Alfred Sutro), and Michael Field’s Equal Love. Bibliographic design is limited to the plays’ titles, presented in all capital letters with smaller capitals employed for subsequent character names and acts. The type is the same size for the character list. Acts are in all caps accompanied by roman numerals. Dialogue is presented in a hanging indent after capitalized character names. The plays themselves, unlike their bibliographic presentation, are the most experimental works of literature in the volume. The Belgian Maeterlinck’s play is a fantastical example of Symbolism, and Michael Field’s is a decadent tale of maternal filicide based on the historical figures of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora. Both take a significant amount of space in the volume: twenty-five and thirty-five pages respectively. Equal Love was a literary challenge taken on by Shannon, who secured Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper ( Michael Field) a place in the volume. The couples were close friends and lived nearby in Richmond (Evangelista par. 7). Both White and the Messrs. Henry were concerned about length. Shannon writes Michael Field on August 9, 1895, “as I anticipated they thought it a little long for ‘one interest’.” Shannon won the battle, though, despite having at that point “not yet been allowed even to glance through the play beyond opening it in the train as we arrived home,” trusting Cooper and Bradley to produce quality work that did not require his screening (Ricketts and Shannon, MSS ADD 58087, 28).

Figure 6 – from White’s essay "The Work of Charles Ricketts -                        Pre-Raphaelite!"
Figure 6 – from White’s essay “The Work of Charles Ricketts – Pre-Raphaelite!”

Essays in The Pageant are given significantly more decorative support, drawing the reader to their contents with beautiful imagery. The images are printed directly on the page, allowing readers to easily access them within the essay. Gleeson White’s essay, “The Work of Charles Ricketts,” includes four woodcuts from Ricketts’s other publications presented in text (fig. 6 is one example). The decorated initial letter of Ricketts’s own design is quite modern in comparison to the other decorative ornaments (see fig. 7).

Figure 6 – from White’s essay "The Work of Charles Ricketts -                        Pre-Raphaelite!"
Figure 6 – from White’s essay “The Work of Charles Ricketts – Pre-Raphaelite!”

Alfred W. Pollard’s essay “Florentine Rappresentazioni and their Pictures,” is decorated with twelve wood-cuts from Italian works published in Florence from the 12th to the 16th centuries (see fig. 8). The images are less refined than the work of Ricketts himself but, where White celebrates Ricketts’s modernity, Pollard’s essay brings a historical balance with early-modern religious imagery. It also offers a counter measure to Ricketts’s many classical mythic images. Christian asceticism and Classical aestheticism co-exist in The Pageant’s cosmopolitan vision of modern art as grounded in the craft of bookmaking. No essay better reflects this pairing of history and myth than R.B. Cunninghame Graham’s (1852-1936) “Soheil,” which explores the history of Muslim Spain in relation to the star Canopus (called Soheil in Arabic) and the mythological history of the name. What results is a history that blurs the line between fact and fiction to create a prose fancy worth careful reading.

Figure 8 – Example of Florentine Rappresentazioni
Figure 8 – Example of Florentine Rappresentazioni

Poetry plays a very subdued role in the first volume of The Pageant. None of the poetry features decorative ornament; it depends on page display and lexical merit alone to capture the reader’s notice. Most poems in The Pageant consist of only a few stanzas on a single page and are squeezed between much larger works that have the effect of dwarfing the poems, almost as if their inclusion is little more than an afterthought. Maeterlinck’s poem “Et sil revenant” is notable because it is published in the original French instead of in translation. One sequential presentation of poems is distanced from the longer works and captures the reader’s visual attention as a result. Margaret L. Woods’s “By the Sea” begins the sequence and stands out in part because it fills two facing pages and in part because its eight stanzas are highlighted by an alliterative use of the sibilant “s”: sea, shore, storm, sky, sea, sand, surf, and sea. Woods’s lyric is immediately followed by a series of paragraph-length prose fancies composed by Frederick Wedmore that span two-and-a-half pages, and then a three-stanza work by Robert Bridges, “The South Wind.” Bridges’s poem fills another two pages before returning to illustrations and the lengthy prose that dominates the 1896 volume.

The advertisements at the end of the volume begin with biographical and aesthetically critical works published by Henry & Co. This includes their later cancelled series, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche. These works are followed by a translation by Richard Burton of The Pentamerone; or The Tale of Tales, six new novels by various authors, most notably John Oliver Hobbes’s (aka Pearl Craiggie, 1867-1906) aesthetic novel, The Gods, Some Mortals and Lord Wickenham. The section concludes with an advertisement for the Swan Electric Engraving Company, which prepared most of the images throughout The Pageant for print and publication.

© 2019 Frederick King, Dalhousie University

A Note on the Volume’s Copy-Text

In terms of the copy-text used for The Pageant of 1896, it is important to point out the wear that the volume shows. The spine has been carefully restored but shows damage from what looked like clear packing tape when originally purchased. The cloth was significantly faded, particularly on the spine, and marked with a white-painted call number at the tail. Inside, the volume shows light foxing throughout. While such foxing can be cleaned by book restorers today, I wanted to capture it in the presentation of this volume in order for the digital archive to reflect the damage done to this book by the library archive. If this volume was not prepared for digitization, it would likely never have been opened. It shows signs of sitting in the stacks, its pages uncut and left unread. By discarding this copy, the library provided the editor with an opportunity to archive the volume as it was originally produced as well as the effects of time on its condition. Readers can only access this copy of The Pageant of 1896 because it was prepared for digital publication. Damage and change are part of what all archives, both traditional and digital, impose on their contents. To conserve aestheticism’s bibliographic history, digital intervention must also capture the consequences of those changes to give the reader a sense of the archive as an intervening mediation.

Works Cited

  • “A ‘Pageant,’ and How It Is Made.” Review of The Pageant , 1896. Pall Mall Gazette, 6 Nov. 1895. Yellow Nineties 2.0, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019,
  • Crane, Walter. Of the Decorative Illustration of Books Old and New. George Bell and Sons, 1896.
  • Evangelista, Stefano. “Michael Feild (Katharine Bradley, 1846-1914; and Edith Cooper, 1862-1913),” Y90s Biographies, edited by Denis Denisoff, 2015. Yellow Nineties 2.0 , General Editor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019,
  • “Heralding ‘The Pageant’.” Review of The Pageant , 1896, The Sketch, October 30, 1895, p. 42. Yellow Nineties 2.0, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019,
  • Kooistra, Lorraine Janzen. Poetry, Pictures, and Popular Publishing: The Illustrated Gift Book and Victorian Visual Culture, 1855-1875. Ohio UP, 2011.
  • Ricketts, Charles, and Charles Shannon. MSS ADD 58087 letters 28, 989A, unnumbered 1895 MSS ADD, letter 28. The Ricketts and Shannon Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, MSS ADD 58085-58118. The British Library, London, England.
  • “The ‘Pageant’.” Review of The Pageant, 1896. The Morning Post, December 26, 1895, p. 3. Yellow Nineties 2.0, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019, https:://
  • Wilde, Oscar. “the Decay of Lying.” The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde. U of Chicago P, 1982, pp. 290-320.

MLA citation:

King, Frederick. “Critical Introduction to The Pageant Volume 1, 1896,” Pageant Digital Edition, Yellow Nineties 2.0 , edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.