TO VOLUME 3 OF THE SAVOY (July 1896)
The first of the monthly numbers, the July 1896 issue of The Savoy abandons the book format of its earlier volumes in favour of one more akin to that of other popular magazines of the period. This decision was prompted, Karl Beckson argues, by Leonard Smithers’s desire to capitalize on “the generally favourable public response” that had greeted the earlier volumes (Arthur Symons 141). Indicative of Smither’s optimism for the magazine’s future, the print run was unchanged from the previous volume (3,000 copies), but it contained only one hundred pages; as a result the production costs dropped to £59. 6s. 7d. (Nelson 301). Furthermore, the hard-back cloth-covered boards of the quarterly magazine gave way to the more common paper covers of a monthly (Brake 149), and the retail price was reduced by six pence to just two shillings (Bishop 291). The price made The Savoy more competitive among little magazines (its chief rival, the Yellow Book, sold for 5 shillings, while The Dial sold for as much as 12 shillings 6 pence), but the publication remained expensive relative to popular monthlies, like The Strand, which it now more closely physically resembled. Despite these changes, Arthur Symons’s“Editorial Note” reaffirms the magazine’s commitment to be “a periodical of an exclusively literary and artistic kind” (“Editorial Note”, vol. 1, 5), and assures readers that “[t]he policy of ‘THE SAVOY’ will remain precisely what it has hitherto been,” aiming solely at “letterpress which is literature, and illustrations which are art” (“Editorial Note”, vol. 3, 7).
Symons’s announcement nonetheless indicates a desire to move the magazine toward the forms of publication more closely associated with the mass market for illustrated literature than with the values of “art for art’s sake.” Symons notes that “the opportunities of monthly publication will permit serialization,” and promotes the upcoming serial publication of George Moore’s novel Evelyn Innes (“Editorial Note,” vol. 3, 7). Publications that traditionally featured serial works, including newspapers and periodicals, were allied with the sense of the present and immediate, and were therefore considered ephemeral; where one tended to preserve the book, one might dispose of a monthly magazine. As James Mussell writes, monthly publication was “an attempt to appeal to a specific configuration of readers at specific moments in time” (24). For reasons that remain unclear, Moore’s novel never appears in any later volume of The Savoy, but Symons’s willingness to include serial fiction and nonfiction marks, nonetheless, an important shift in the magazine’s self-conception: beginning with this issue, The Savoy will strive to be both a conventional monthly magazine, appealing to a mass readership, and a bastion of “high” art and literature, conceived for those with “superior” taste (e.g. Edgar Prestage’s translation of the classical Portuguese poet, Antonio Ferreira in this issue). The tension between these two competing demands, the one seeking to accommodate the demands of the marketplace, and the other suspicious of anything that might undercut the magazine’s commitment to the ideals of “art for art’s sake,” would become, in many ways, the defining feature of the periodical.
One example of The Savoy’ s new willingness to explore serial modes of publication W.B. Yeats’s three-part series of critical essay on William Blake, the first of which appears in volume 3. Yeats had a longstanding interest in the works of the Romantic poet, and had co-edited, together with Edwin Ellis, The Works of William Blake, Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical (1893). In the essay that appears in the Volume 3, Yeats claims that Blake was “certainly the first great symboliste of modern times, and the first of any time to preach the indissoluble marriage of all great art with symbol” (“William Blake” 41). For Yeats, the symbol is “indeed the only possible expression of some invisible essence, a transparent lamp about a spiritual flame, while allegory is one of many possible representations of an embodied thing, or familiar principle, and belongs to fancy and not to imagination; the one is a revelation, the other an amusement” (“William Blake” 41). According to Beckson, Yeats’s essays unite “the French Symbolists with Blake and the Pre-Raphaelites in their ‘recoil from scientific naturalism’ and their expression of ‘a new and subtle inspiration’” (London in the 1890s 251). Thus, while The Savoy is often regarded as a Francophile journal, one that regularly featured translations of poets such as Stéphane Mallarmé (whose “The Future Phenomenon” appears in this volume, translated by George Moore), Yeats’s essays on Blake show that the magazine was no less interested in the British roots of modern poetry.
For The Savoy, however, Yeats’s essays would prove nearly fatal. The inclusion of a halftone reproduction of Blake’s “Antaeus Setting Virgil and Dante Upon the Verge of the Cocytus,” a previously unpublished work, led to a disagreement with one of the magazine’s main distributors. Citing the nude male figure of Antaeus as too controversial for their bookstalls, W.H. Smith & Sons pulled The Savoy from its shelves. This decision was a decided blow, cutting off The Savoy from a significant portion of the Victorian market for mass-market magazines; by 1894, W.H. Smith had over 15,000 lending library subscribers and more than 1,000 railway bookstalls across England (Taunton; Mullan). The distribution and promotion provided by the bookseller was enormously beneficial to both periodicals and publishers of “yellowback” novels (Rooney); however, the company’s conservative moral standards meant that publications needed to exercise caution in regards to provocative material (Brake 159). According to Edward Bishop, “distributors [were] the hand on the throat” of many publishers (252).
Despite efforts by both Symons and Smithers, W.H. Smith would not reverse its decision: “When Symons argued that Blake was ‘a very spiritual artist,’ the manager responded with Victorian certitude: ‘O Mr. Symons, you must remember that we have an audience of young ladies as well as an audience of agnostics’” (Beckson, London in the 1890s 252). The pulling of The Savoy from circulation did not go unchallenged, however. In a letter to the Daily Chronicle, Dr. Richard Garnett of the British Museum wrote:
[W.H. Smith] must surely be aware that the drawing to which they take exception was recently exhibited for weeks together at the Royal Academy, and they cannot imagine that what was proper to be shown by the President and Council of such a body to distinguished visitors should become improper when transferred to a periodical circulating among the general public. […] and if they are deferring to an anticipated clamour on the part of ignorant and tasteless persons I must say that the line they are adopting is not worthy of them, and is calculated to bring English taste and English morals into contempt wherever it becomes known. (“Smith’s Bookstalls and Blake”)While the manager cites the Blake drawing as his justification for pulling The Savoy, the distributor may well have grown wary of the magazine’s association with scandalous figures such as Aubrey Beardsley, and used the “indecent” nature of the Blake’s drawings as a convenient excuse to part company with Smithers, Symons, et al.
After the conflict between Symons and Beardsley over the publication of “The Ballad of a Barber” in the previous issue of The Savoy (see the Critical Introduction to Volume 2), the self-illustrated poem appears in Volume 3. The poem has three possible sources of inspiration: Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, the fictional character of Sweeney Todd, and John Gray’s “The Barber.” Beardsley illustrations for an edition of The Rape of the Lock (an advertisement for which appears at the rear of this volume) had marked a shift from the Japanese austerity of his designs for Oscar Wilde’sSalome to a more Rococo-influenced style, with an emphasis on the ornate dresses and elaborate hairstyles of the eighteenth-century French court. This new style can be seen in the accompanying illustration for “The Ballad of a Barber,” “The Coiffing,” particularly in the hair and dress of the Barber and his client. “The Ballad of a Barber” also treats a similar subject matter to Pope’s mock epic: the cutting of a woman’s hair as a symbol for sexual transgression. However, where The Rape of the Lock satirically questions whether or not hair is worth waging a war over, Beardsley’s “The Ballad of a Barber” suggests, in high decadent fashion, that hair, as a fleeting form of beauty, is a suitable cause for murder.
The character of Sweeney Todd may have been another influence, having appeared in multiple plays and penny dreadfuls before Beardsley wrote his poem. While the obvious connection lies in the common figure of the murderous barber, the inspiration is particularly fitting for this issue of The Savoy. Symons’s decision to publish Beardsley’s poem despite his own misgivings over its literary merit may reflect his desire to appeal to a mass readership, one that might have seen a stage production of Sweeny Todd, even if they were unfamiliar with Pope’s mock epic.
Another possible source for Beardsley’s poem is John Gray’s “The Barber” (1893). Gray’s poetry would have been familiar to many readers of The Savoy: his work also frequently appeared another prominent little magazine of the period, The Dial, and his poem “The Forge” had appeared in the previous issue. The key difference between Gray’s and Beardsley’s texts lies in their treatment of dreaming as a narrative device: while Gray’s poem describes the protagonist’s dream, Beardsley’s poem seems to shift to the idea of a collective dream by invoking the pronoun “you” in the last line. This was a late revision (Beardsley, “To Leonard Smithers”), but one that introduces a new degree of ambiguity to the text: the poem may now be read as describing either rape or murder. Further complicating the possibility of murder is Beardsley’s cul-de-lamp. The cherubic hangman could potentially privilege the reading of murder. As Jennifer Higgins argues, “This latent alternative scenario once again shifts the responsibility for deciding the narrative content to some extent to the reader, as the reader’s own ingenuity in seeking erotic double meanings, or knowledge of slang, alters the poem’s level of transgression” (78).
Beardsley’s “Ballad of the Barber,” however, was not the only contribution to 3 that might have tested the proprieties of the middle-class readers that The Savoy’s transition to a monthly format sought to attract. Symons’s “Bertha at The Fair,” which appears without attribution, draws on the author’s memory of a trip to Brussels in the company of Smithers, during which they visited the sideshow attractions of a local travelling circus. For the price of a “penny at the door,” the narrator and his companions enjoy the morbid pleasures of looking on a horribly disfigured woman:
She was scarred on the cheek: a wicked Baron, she told us, had done that, with vitriol; one of her breasts was singularly mutilated; she had been shot in the back by an Englishman, when she was keeping a shooting-gallery at Antwerp. And she had the air of a dangerous martyr, who might bewitch one, with some of those sorceries that had turned, somehow, to her own hurt. (88)The scene speaks to Symons’s fascination with the grotesque, an attribute that he had earlier identified as a signature feature of the “maladie fin de siècle” (“The Decadent Movement in Literature” 858). But it recalls, too, the way in which this cultural “sickness” was so often troped in the figure of monstrous women. As Anne Margaret Daniels notes, “The narrator is entirely obsessed with this defaced, ‘snake-like creature, with long cool hands’” (183). As discussed in the Critical Introduction to Volume 1, “Bertha at the Fair” is part of a series of autobiographical essays Symons contributed to issues of The Savoy, each one exploring a different place and the sensations and emotions evoked by it.
Hubert Crackanthorpe’s short story “Anthony Garstin’s Courtship” eschews Symons’s and Beardsley’s taste for the grotesque, but is no less troubling. It provides a frank portrayal of a “reticent, solitary” Cumbrian farmer (34), who decides to marry a younger, educated woman who is pregnant with the child of one of his rivals for her affections. The decision saves the young woman’s reputation, but ironically costs the farmer the respect of his God-fearing mother. Crackanthorpe had previously published two volumes of short stories influenced by Edmond de Goncourt and Emile Zola, several of which had first appeared in The Savoy’s main competitor, The Yellow Book. In “Anthony Garston’s Courtship” he demonstrates a tragic sensibility and a keen ear for provincial dialects that calls to mind the naturalism of Thomas Hardy.
Perhaps by way of tonal contrast, this volume also includes lighter fare, including Edward Carpenter’s essay on the delights of a minimalist approach to home decoration, one that strikingly anticipates the current fascination with tidying and organizing one’s possessions, Carpenter, a Utopian socialist and philosopher, urges a “back to nature” approach in his philosophy of “Simplification.” Notably, he references the “atavism” (95) propounded by contemporary scientists as the historical origin of human acquisitiveness, a concept that much pre-occupied the noted anthropologist and criminologist Cesare Lombroso, whose essay on “The Mad Saint” heads the previous issue’s literary contents.
The first monthly issue of The Savoy had fewer artworks than the previous quarterly issues. Notably, it also featured significantly less art by living artists. Of the eight pictures (not counting Beardsley’s cover and title page designs), half were reproductions of Blake’s works. The remaining artwork was by Beardsley, Max Beerbohm, and Charles Shannon, each of whom had contributed to the magazine’s first two volumes. These three artists represent three different directions in fin-de-siècle art. While Beardsley’s pen-and-ink drawings are recognized to be quintessentially decadent, Shannon’s lithographs offer realistic studies of the human form, and Beerbohm’s caricatures encapsulate contemporary personalities in a comic, journalistic style. Shannon was a recognized leader in the revival of lithography as an original artform, which allowed artists to draw on a prepared stone with almost as much ease as on paper, and take prints from the surface (Kooistra, Intro to Dial, vol. 1). His lithographs appeared in the magazines he co-edited, The Dial and The Pageant, and were featured as the leading image in The Savoy’s first three issues. “The Stone Bath” depicts the graceful forms of two nude women preparing to enter a pool with a cherubic infant. This quiet domestic scene stands in stark contrast to Beerbohm’s humorous “Caricature of Arthur Roberts,” which represents the popular music-hall actor in his role as “Gentleman Joe,” then playing at the Prince of Wales Theatre. The inclusion of this topical caricature may be a bit of an in-joke for The Savoy’s readers. Roberts’ comic portrayal of “Gentleman Joe” was touted as a spoof of theatre manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Since Max had caricatured his half-brother in the magazine’s first volume, readers could now compare the parodied actor to his parodied model.
The reviews for Volume 3 were generally favourable, and many made particular note of the new format. Remarking that “English people are always supposed to be averse to showing their patriotism by purchasing home-made articles if the foreigner can please them better,” the Saturday Review, proclaimed, “there is now an English monthly that can ask for your support with good grace, because it offers better black-and-white work than any periodical, English, American, or French, that we have seen” (“Extracts”). The Glasgow Herald similarly observed that The Savoy “makes its appearance as a new competitor in the race of the monthlies” and claims Beardsley’s cover and title-page are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (“The July Magazines”). By contrast, the Morning Post singled out “the work of that extraordinary artist, William Blake, whose writings and drawings are dealt with in the first of a series of three articles to be contributed by Mr. W.B. Yeats” (“The Magazines for July”). And The Scotsman, which points out the change to “paper instead of pasteboard covers,” concludes its review by stating, “For the rest, the magazine returns to the former character of the publication, as an organ of the aspirations and affectations of the youngest band of decadent writers and draughtsmen who have appeared in England” (“Magazines for July”).
If Volume 3 marks The Savoy’s transition from a quarterly book to a monthly magazine, its title page strongly implies that this change was not to be mistaken for the periodical’s capitulation to market forces. Beardsley’s illustration of “Puck on Pegasus” shows one of the artist’s many alter egos, the “master of mischief and confusion,” astride a winged horse, brandishing a writing quill rather than a riding crop (Sturgis 285). The Latin motto beneath reads: “Ne Iuppiter quidem omnibus placet” (“Even Jupiter cannot please everyone”). While the phrase seems a likely reference to the “unfavourable” reviews that Symons ironically celebrates in his editor’s note for Volume 2 (“Editorial Note”), in the context of this issue, the image might be read, too, as an unapologetic assertion of artistic autonomy: as there is no pleasing everybody, we’ll carry on pleasing ourselves, the co-editors seem to imply. Smithers was so taken with Beardsley’s drawing that he not only featured it on the title page and back cover of every future issue of The Savoy, but adopted it as the logo for his publishing house (Savoy Back Cover Icon, Database of Ornament). He would, as he once proudly boasted, publish “anything others are afraid of” (qtd. in Garbáty 610). As the loss of W.H. Smith & Sons as a distributor demonstrates, however, it was a sentiment that would prove costly, both for the publisher and the magazine.
©2021 Carling DeKay and Hilary Doyle, Western University.
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DeKay, Carling, and Hilary Doyle. “Critical Introduction to Volume 3 of The Savoy (July 1896)” The Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021, https://1890s.ca/savoyv3-critical-introduction/