The Yellow Book ~~
Arthur Symons was a poet, critic and later the literary editor of The Savoy. His essay, ‘The Decadent Movement in Literature’ essentially introduced the French Fin de siècle emerging literary style to England.
“It is the poetry of sensation, of evocation; poetry which paints as well as sings.”
Symons poem ‘Stella Maris’ is published in The Yellow Book’s first edition:
Philip Wilson Steer, A Girl at her Toilet, Tate Musuem
Stella Maris ~ 1894
Why is it I remember yet
You, of all women one has met
In random wayfare, as one meets
The chance romances of the streets,
The Juliet of a night? I know
Your heart holds many a Romeo.
And I, who call to mind your face
In so serene a pausing-place,
Where the bright pure expanse of sea,
The shadowy shore’s austerity,
Seems a reproach to you and me,
I too have sought on many a breast
The ecstasy of love’s unrest,
I too have had my dreams, and met
(Ah me!) how many a Juliet. …
Why is it, then, that I recall …
Not surprisingly, the poem is the cause of much of the moralizing disapproval of critics for The Yellow Book’s literary content. After the trial of Oscar Wilde (whom Symons will later visit in prison), he as literary editor, Aubrey Beardsley as art director and Leonard Smithers as publisher form a rival publication – The Savoy. The publication is popular, yet closes in a year’s time because of distribution problems.
“But thanks to Arthur Symons, some of the richest and strangest fin de siecle art and writing was published, and is preserved. … The Savoy preserves and presents perfectly representative samples of the variety of literary forms–aesthetic, symbolist, decadent, realistic, and naturalistic–experimented with in English literature during the 1890s.”
The Savoy, January - December 1896
“His book, The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1900), has become known as Symons’s most valuable work. A collection of essays on French writers from Balzac to Verlaine, Rimbaud and Huysmans, with Symons’s translations of selected poems appended, the book would be accorded great influence in the 1920s by many of the “high Modern” writers in English, like T.S. Eliot and Symons’s old friend W.B. Yeats. However, Symons’s far greater, but far less noted, contribution to literature was as an editor, not as an author”
Update: I’ve added the link to Anne Margaret Daniel’s extensive piece on Symons and The Savoy.
And then tragedy.
Symons suffers a mental breakdown and in 1908 is committed to a lunatic asylum with delirious hallucinations. His condition improves over the next few years and he continues to write into the 1930s – but is never again the vibrant work of his early years. He died in 1945 of pneumonia.
Arthur Symon. 1865 - 1945
Born under the influence of passionate and perverse stars, my life has been utterly unlike that of any man I have ever known. — Arthur Symons
On a lighter note, before I put The Yellow Book to bed, so to speak, I may want to add a post on essayist, parodist and caricaturist Max Beerbohm.