TO VOLUME 7 OF THE SAVOY (November 1896)
The seventh and penultimate volume of The Savoy was published on 30 October 1896. Its publication was preceded by the publisher’s mid-month announcement that the magazine was “to be discontinued” after the release of the December volume, a euphemism that The Sketch glibly referred to as “touching” (Sketch 537). Arthur Symons, the magazine’s editor, confirmed the decision in his first “Editorial Note” since the third volume. In an about-face from his attitude toward the press in earlier volumes, he extends “the most cordial thanks to those newspaper critics who have had the honesty and the courtesy to allow their prejudices to be conquered” (7). He explains that, though The Savoy has “conquered the prejudices of the press … it has not conquered the general public” (7). He attributes the magazine’s premature demise to its low cover price and its refusal to carry advertisements. Symons, however, appears unbowed. He announces that the complete run of The Savoy will soon be available as a three-volume set, priced at one guinea, with an original cover design by Aubrey Beardsley. The note concludes with the optimistic assertion that The Savoy will one day return, but “in a more luxurious form, for which you shall pay more, but less often” (7).
The reactions of the press to Volume 7 were largely centered around Symons’s Editorial Note, once again exemplifying his ability to ruffle the reviewers’ feathers. The critic for The Bristol Mercury took issue with Symons’s “swooping … charge of prejudice” against the press, and fired back with the assertion: “We frankly say what we like and what we do not like in [The Savoy] … but it seems all that is not to their liking is put down as prejudice” (6). The Queen, by contrast, went to bat for the public, chiding Symons for laying the blame for the failure of the magazine at their feet. In response to Symons’s declaration that, upon the return of The Savoy, the public “shall pay more, but less often,” the critic remarks, “[T]hough he, perhaps, forgets it, our willingness [to pay more] (regarding ourselves as part of the public) depends more on him than on us” (982). Despite these criticisms, both articles offer largely positive reviews of the contents of the volume. These positive sentiments were sharply countered by other critics, however. Upon learning of the discontinuation of The Savoy, the Westminster Gazette reported, “There will probably be no wide-spread regret at its disappearance” (3), while the critic for The Sketch declared, “I am not surprised that the Savoy is ‘to be discontinued’” (537). Evidently, The Savoy had not conquered the press as entirely as Symons may have hoped.
Beardsley’s cover for Volume 7 features an elderly man and child in what is likely the Dutch countryside, as indicated by the windmill in the distance. According to Brian Reade, the man “wears a smock and cravat like an artist of the old guard. The youth who suffers from his pedantry has the bald head and the cap of Watteau’s pierrots; characteristically the pattern on his jacket has a life of its own, even though a few lines representing folds break the continuity” (357, fn. 440). As Reade notes, the design, like much of Beardsley’s work from this period, draws on the iconography of the commedia dell’arte: the older man resembles “Ill Dottore (the Doctor)” in his scholarly robes, and the boy, his sad clown / servant, Pierrot. Though the latter is visibly cringing away from the former, he seems reluctant to turn back: his gaze and open stance imply that he is being forcibly turned away from the flowering path that leads off the left side of the frame and to which he appears to point. The image might be read, then, as a representation of the older, moralizing generation of British artists and their allies in the critical establishment trying to draw the younger generation away from the boundary-pushing pleasures that The Savoy offers.
One of the most notable features of Volume 7 is the number and variety of contributions that relate to the Celtic Revival and the late-Victorian fascination with the esoteric and pagan. These interests are also evident in the Scottish Renascence magazine, The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal (1895-96) and the Irish Revival magazine, The Green Sheaf (1903-4), the latter of which featured William Butler Yeats and his network; the poet also contributed “Costello the Proud, Oona Macdermott, and the Bitter Tongue” to the first volume of The Pageant in 1896. Drawing on his involvement with The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Yeats dreamt of creating another, specifically Celtic organization: the Celtic Order of Mysteries (Brown 92). Yeats’s work with The Celtic Order of Mysteries allowed him to synthesize his occult practices with his interests in Irish nationalism (Graf 23). As Terence Brown explains, Yeats’s “pan-Celtic universalism” sought to “infuse Irish reality, through symbolic rites and ritual enactments, with an ancient spirituality in which paganism and heterodox Christianity combined would help Ireland achieve a transcendent liberation from the crassly materialist world of England’s commercial empire” (92).
These concerns, introduced in Yeats’s “Rosa Alchemica” in the second number of The Savoy, are amply in evidence in his contributions to this volume. “The Tables of the Law” traces the fate of Owen Aherne, a theologian whose faith in orthodox Christianity is shaken by the discovery of a secret book, the Liber Inducens in Evangelium Æternum. Ostensibly the work of the noted medieval ecclesiast Joachim of Fiore (here referred to as “Joachim of Flora”), this occult text reveals “that hidden substance of God which is colour and music and softness and a sweet odour; and that these have no father but the Holy Spirit” (79). Under the influence of this mystical teaching, Aherne removes his copies of the Ten Commandments from the marble pedestals in his library (the “tables” to which the title refers) and travels the world in pursuit of a higher, but notably more heterodox truth. When the narrator encounters Aherne ten years later in a back alley of Dublin, he is a broken man, one who can no longer sin and, as a result, is now forever alienated from Christ’s redemptive love. According to Phillip L. Marcus, Warwick Gould, and Michael J. Sidnell, “The Tables of the Law” was originally intended to appear in The Secret Rose (1897), Yeats’s first collection of short stories. The book’s publisher, J.H. Bullen, however, “took a distaste” to the story and another, entitled “The Adoration of the Magi,” and asked Yeats “to leave them out” (xvi). The two omitted stories were subsequently published as a small volume of their own in 1897, and Yeats reunited them with the other stories that comprised the first edition of The Secret Rose for volume 7 of the Collected Works of Verse and Prose (1908). The character of Aherne returns in A Vision (1925 / 1937), Yeats’s major statement of his esoteric system.
Yeats’s two poems for this volume, gathered under the joint title “Windle-Straws,” demonstrate how the pursuit of hermetic knowledge was often bound to his political commitments. A “windle-straw” is a thin, dried or withered blade of grass. Figuratively it refers to “something (material or immaterial) light, trifling, or flimsy; occasionally contemptuously to a spear or lance” (OED). These poems are “windle-straws,” then, in the sense that they are slight and seemingly ephemeral, but seek nonetheless to make a point. The speaker of the first is O’Sullivan Rua (or “Red Owen”), an Irish poet whose “Aisling” poems, set to music and sung by travelling bards, used the figure of a beautiful woman as a symbol for the historical oppression of the Celtic peoples. Yeats had previously used this figure from the history of Irish literature for his poem “O’Sullivan Rua to the Secret Rose,” which appeared in Volume 5 of The Savoy. Here, the bard addresses a curlew, a bird with a distinctive song, commonly found among the wetlands and mud plains of the Irish coast. The speaker begs the bird to cry no more, for its song reminds him of the “Passion-dimmed eyes and long heavy hair / That was shaken out over my breast”—a reference to his lost love / nation. The second of Yeats’s two “windle-straws,” “Out of the Old Ways,” offers a stern rejoinder to all those who may despair the fate of the Irish homeland, suggesting that those who tremble “before the flame and the flood” have no place among “the lonely, proud, wingèd multitude” (62).
Yeats’s warning in these short poems, that one must “Remember the wisdom out of the old days” (62), might well serve as the epigraph to Fiona MacLeod’s “Morag of the Glen,” the volume’s leading piece. Macleod was the female pseudonym for William Sharp. More than simply a nom de plume, Macleod was a fully-developed identity in her own right, with her own temperament, literary interests, and professional network; for example, while Sharp edited The Evergreen and the Celtic Library associated with it (both published by Patrick Geddes), Macleod wrote the poems and stories that advanced the Celtic revival in Scotland. Macleod played a large part in Yeats’s plan for a Celtic Order of Mysteries, stimulating “his gendered view of Celtic possibility” and becoming “a hint of the revolution to come” (Brown 93). The Sharp/Macleod identity did not only represent a duality of gender, but also a duality of national identities: while both were nominally Scottish, Sharp was a Lowland-born English speaker and Macleod a Gaelic Highlander (Richardson 200). Through the creation of Macleod, Sharp was thus able to avoid the sense of cultural appropriation that might otherwise have followed from the use of his own name when advocating on behalf of the Celtic cause. In the persona of Macleod, Sharp could “speak convincingly from, rather than to, the periphery” (202).
The title of Macleod’s contribution to The Savoy, “Morag of the Glen,” refers to an old Gaelic ballad about twin sisters: Silis is betrayed by an English soldier and dies with her unborn child while trying to return home; Morag avenges her sister’s death. The story tells how these events from popular Scottish folklore are uncannily repeated when an English lord seeks to displace a Scottish family from the land it has farmed for generations and turn the pastures into a deer-run for his private pleasure. When the English lord’s son impregnates and abandons one of the farmer’s daughters, her sister, also named Morag, determines to punish the man just as her namesake avenged her sibling. As the narrator remarks, “who can say that the secret old wisdom is mere foam o’ thought” (Macleod 25). The story is not, then, simply a supernatural tale of how the events of an ancient ballad came to be repeated in the contemporary era. It presents ancient folk wisdom as a distinctly anti-imperialist force; the English are depicted here as despoilers of both Scottish women and Scottish land, who will pay the price for their actions.
Apart from these notable examples of the fin-de-siècle fascination with Western esotericism and folklore, Volume 7 provides much that would be familiar to readers of The Savoy. The prose non-fiction includes Havelock Ellis’s appreciation of the literary merits of the autobiography of Giacomo Girolamo Casanova (1725-98). A man known as well for his sexual prowess as for his detailed observations of the daily life and customs of eighteenth–century Venice, Casanova was widely abjured by the self-appointed guardians of the public good that Beardsley depicts in the cover of this issue. Just as he had defended Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895) in the previous volume against the charges of immorality, Ellis finds much to commend in the notorious lover’s memoir, not least its “unrivalled picture of the eighteenth century in its most characteristic aspects throughout Europe” (49). Osman Edwards also returns in this volume, offering a career-spanning overview of the work of the Belgian symbolist poet, Émile Verhaeren (1855- 1916), after translating the poet’s “In Pious Mood” in Volume 4. Verhaeren’s work was relatively little-known to the English reading public at the time, although little magazines such as The Dial (volume 5) and The Yellow Book (volumes 8, 9, and 11) did much to draw attention to the work of the continental Symbolist. Here, Edwards makes a strong case for its importance, taking particular note of the influence of visual art in Verhaeren’s distinctive rendering of the universal in the particular. “Like certain Spanish and Flemish painters,” Edwards writes, Verhaeren “invests monstrous or mean subjects with tragic grandeur, and appalls or allures the eye with sombre magnificence” (65-66). The issue’s prose non-fiction also includes another of Symons’s contributions to psychogeography (an essay reflecting on the time he spent visiting with Yeats in Sligo, Ireland), and a further entry in his campaign to promote the poetry of Paul Verlaine (a review of a volume of the French Symbolist’s last poems).
The artwork of Volume 7 features several familiar contributors. As noted in the introduction to Volume 5, Mabel Dearmer was a successful children’s book author and illustrator; in April 1896, she became the first woman artist to design the cover and title-page of The Yellow Book, which featured her illustrations in a number of its final volumes. Dearmer’s second appearance in The Savoy, “Pan-Pipes,” demonstrates her characteristic usage of Art Nouveau’s curvilinear pen-and-ink style. The design depicts the faun- or satyr-like god Pan playing music while seated at the roots of a tree. In addition to Dearmer, Andrew Kay Womrath returns to the Savoy with a pen and ink drawing of “A Lady Reading.” An ex-patriate American artist who was working in Paris and in London in the 1890s, Womrath’s Art Nouveau-influenced work had been previously published in Volume 5 of The Savoy, and in other little magazines of the period, including The Evergreen (Volumes 3 and 4). One of The Savoy’s most consistent contributors, William T. Horton also makes an appearance in this volume with a pen-and-ink sketch inspired by lines from John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.” His mystical representation of the desire for death expressed in Keats’s poem may be an indication of his interest in the occult; sponsored by Yeats, Horton had joined the Order of the Golden Dawn in the spring of 1896.
These returning artists are joined by two new contributors to The Savoy’s art contents. Fred Hyland’s “A Pleasaunce” (i.e. a pleasure garden, one grown for decorative purposes rather than sustenance) evokes something of the mysterious entwinement of humans and the environment seen in MacLeod’s “Morag of the Glen” (which it immediately follows in the volume’s running order). Hyland is a largely undocumented artist, whose pen-and-ink drawings and book-plates previously appeared in The Yellow Book, Volume 6. Contributing his first piece t The Savoy since Volume 1 is the respected French painter Jacques Émile Blanche (1861-1942), who provides a portrait of The Savoy’s editor. Symons sat for this portrait in August 1895 while he was in Dieppe making plans with Beardsley and Smithers for their as yet-unnamed magazine. Blanche made a gift of the painting to Symons. The decision to include the reproduction was likely a cost-saving’s measure (Symons was short on content for this volume and lacked the funds to solicit new work), but it may also have served a riposte to the self-portrait that Beardsley included in Volume 2 (“A Footnote”). The original painting from which the reproduction was made is now housed in the Tate Britain museum.
The fresh energy that these new contributors bring does not, however, dispel the sombre, even elegiac tone that looms over this issue. Ernest Dowson steeps his poem “Epilogue” in this sentiment of decline. Outwardly and inwardly bankrupt, the poem’s speaker wishes to enter the “cold” and “hollow lands” of death, “where’s … / Freedom to all from fear and love and lust.” The similarity between the descriptions of the lands of the living and the dead suggests that the speaker envisions himself as a sort of living-dead: dead save for the physical and emotional “labour” thrust upon him by life (87). The poem thus captures the spirit of the fin-de-siècle “Tragic Generation.” As Beckson notes, Yeats “identified those associated with the [Rhymer’s Club] as the ‘Tragic Generation,’” purporting that “in the quest for inviolable truth and artistic fulfillment, their destiny was self-destructiveness” (71). These writers and artists, Beckson claims, “transformed the remnants of history into an aesthetic design” (72). There is, indeed, some truth to such a characterization: many of the figures associated with the Aesthetic and Decadent movements not only died young but seemed to pursue their own ends with a strange intensity. Dowson himself died at the age of 32, his demise hastened by years of hard drinking. As Oscar Wilde wrote to Smithers after hearing of Dowson’s death, “Poor wounded wonderful fellow that he was, a tragic reproduction of all tragic poetry, like a symbol, or a scene. I hope bay leaves will be laid on his tomb and rue and myrtle too for he knew what love was” (qtd. in Dowson, Letters 421).
Beardsley strikes a similarly elegiac note in his contributions to this volume. Originally used as an illustration titled “Tristan and Isolde” for Malory’s Morte D’Arthur (Dent 1893-4), “Tristan und Isolde” (with its more clearly Germanic title) also takes inspiration from the theatrical works of Richard Wagner. The image depicts the most celebrated scene in the opera of the same name, the moment in which Tristan, seeking atonement for his betrayal of Isolde, drinks what he takes to be a lethal poison. Though Tristan later discovers that the vial contains a love potion, the starkly minimalist manner in which Beardsley renders the scene, with its thin figures seemingly drained of any vitality, seems to blur the distinction between eros and thanatos. It is unclear whether this is a moment to celebrate or lament.
Similar ambiguities mark Beardsley’s translation of the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus’s “Carmen CI” and its accompanying illustration, “Ave Atque Vale.” “Carmen CI” is one of Catullus’s (84- c.54 BCE) most well-known and frequently anthologized poems (“Gaius Valerius Catullus”). A mournful elegy for the speaker’s brother, the poem’s final lines, “ave atque vale”—translated to “hail and farewell”—are particularly memorable, acting as an often-cited and poignant epitaph for nineteenth-century writers. Alfred, Lord Tennyson adopted the line for his well-known poem, “Frater Ave Atque Vale,” and Algernon Charles Swinburne for his poem in memory of Charles Baudelaire. Beardsley’s own translation is significant in its use of the word “parley” when the speaker mourns he can only “vainly parley with thine ashes dumb” (52). While other translations typically use variations on the word “speak,” Beardsley chooses a word with more complexity. “Parley” carries double significance. It means both “[t]o talk, speak, utter” and “[t]o treat, discuss terms; esp. to hold parley (with an enemy or opponent)” (“parley, v.”). The militaristic connotations of Beardsley’s word choice suggest an antagonistic relationship between the narrator and his late brother. Beardsley’s translation might refer both to his mournful reluctance to give up The Savoy, despite its struggles with the public and the press, and his submission to his own, personal battle with illness.
Beardsley’s accompanying design for the poem echoes this sense of uncertainty. “Ave Atque Vale” shows a man waving from the edge of a forest, hand held suspended salute in the brief moment before departure. This figure might be the poem’s narrator, with the illustration then functioning as a representation of Catullus’s words. More compelling, and more fitting in relation to Beardsley’s translation, the figure might be the narrator’s dead brother, rendered silent not only through his “ashes dumb,” but also through the wordless medium of visual art (52). The narrator’s “gifts” (52), in this instance, may not be the lines of the poem, as they are traditionally imagined, but rather the image that stands alongside the poem. Taken together, Beardsley’s translation of “Carmen CI” and his design for “Ave Atque Vale” present the written word and visual art as independent though complementary forms, capable not only of adding to but unsettling each other. This striking pairing of the visual and linguistic, pagan and modern—perhaps even, as Yeats would put it, “old wisdom” and new—is a striking example of Beardsley’s transmedia artistic practice. Moreover, the contrapuntal dialogue in which these texts engage, one so rich in allusion and polysemic meaning, may provide the most eloquent answer to those who questioned the value of The Savoy itself.
©2021 Erica McKeen and Briawna Taylor, Western University.
- Beardsley, Aubrey. “Ave Atque Vale [Hail and Farewell].” The Savoy, vol. 7, November 1896, p. 53. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018–2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv7_beardsley_atque/
- —. “Front Cover.” The Savoy, vol. 7, November 1896, p. 1. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra 2018–2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv7_beardsley_cover/
- —. “Front Cover.” The Savoy, vol. 6, October 1896, p. 1. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra 2018–2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv6_beardsley_cover/
- —. “Tristan und Isolde.” The Savoy, vol. 7, November 1896, p. 91. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018–2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv7_beardsley_tristan/
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- —. “The Tables of the Law.” The Savoy, vol. 7, November 1896, pp. 79–87. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018–2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv7-yeats-tables/
- —. “Windle-straws.” The Savoy, vol. 7, November 1896, p. 62. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018–2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv7-yeats-windlestraws/
McKeen, Erica, and Briana Taylor. “Critical Introduction to Volume 7 of The Savoy (November 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/savoyv7-critical-introduction/