restricted access An Overview of the Critical Receptionof Arthur Symons’s Work, 1887–2007
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Arthur Symons, Critic Among Critics x An Overview of the Critical Reception of Arthur Symons’s Work, 1887–2007 Arthur Symons’s (1865–1945) prominence at the end of the nineteenth century and subsequent influence on early twentieth-century literature is well established. His biographer Karl Beckson aptly calls him “a major figure who helped stimulate the Modernist initiative.”1The breadth of his artistic interests and critical commentary remains extraordinary. In addition to writing short stories, poems, plays, travel sketches, and translations, Symons was a prolific editor and critic of literature and of what he termed “the seven arts.” In a letter to Rhoda Symons in 1908,W. B.Yeats famously offered Symons the laurel of “best critic of his generation.”2 A champion of freedom of subject matter and literary style, he influenced the work of Yeats,T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield,VirginiaWoolf and many others, particularly in introducing them to the ideas and techniques of French Symbolist writers. Symons continues to receive scholarly attention not only for his critical influence, but also for his own creative work. That attention began in earnest following the publication of Symons’s An Introduction to the Study of Browning in 1886 and Days and Nights, his first book of poetry, in 1889. From about three dozen items that critiqued his work in the 1880s and 1890s, the number more than doubled in the first decade of the twentieth century. A dip in items occurred in the decade 1910–1919; interest rallied in 1920–1929, dipped again in 1930–1939, and reached its lowest ebb in the decade 1940–1949. The 1950s marked the beginning of a revival of interest which has continued to the present day, with the greatest concentration of publications in the 1980s. Based on the number of items in this bibliography, and assuming it is a representative sample, the number of writings about Symons over the entire century can be graphed like this: An Overview of the Critical Reception xi Scholarly interest in Symons has continued strong in the first seven years of the twenty-first century as well. If it continues at the same rate throughout the rest of the decade, then it will at least equal what it was at the end of the twentieth century. 1880s Symons’s first book, An Introduction to the Study of Browning, published in 1886, received mixed reviews.Although an anonymous reviewer in Saturday Review in 1887 criticized Symons for not knowing “his nineteenth century , or his sixteenth either” in trying to place Browning in those contexts, he wrote that the book “is not badly done.”3 Walter Pater, writing in the same year in the Guardian, was more positive, saying that Symons’s study was “well worth reading” and that he found in Symons “the thoughtful and practised yet enthusiastic student in literature—in intellectual problems; always quiet and sane, praising Mr. Browning with tact, with a real refinement and grace.”4 Two years later in an unsigned review in Pall Mall Gazette, later identified as Pater’s, Pater praised Symons’s first poetry volume, Days and Nights, published in 1889, (mistakenly calling it Nights and Days) as having “abundant poetic substance, developing, as by its own organic force, the poetic forms proper to it, with natural vigour.” He then concluded, “In this new poet the rich poetic vintage of our time has run clear at last.”5 1890s During the 1890s as Symons published poetry that was viewed as candid and erotic by some late-Victorian readers, most of the critical responses damned his work as too risqué, parodied his style and ideas, or praised it effusively. An anonymous critic in reviewing London Nights in 1895 wrote, “Mr. Arthur Symons is a very dirty-minded man, and his mind is reflected in the puddle of his bad verses.”6 Part of the objection was to Symons’s linking seemingly incompatible elements, as he did in his poem “Stella Maris,” which Philip Hamerton said he regretted Symons had published because the title came from a hymn to the Virgin Mary, yet the poem was about a London prostitute.7 In 1896, in typical fashion, Punch satirized Symons and his involvement with the Savoy by saying it had “neither fear nor shame in printing a breezy article by the editor … Simple Symons” with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley whom the magazine dubbed “Mr.Weirdsley.”8 In contrast ,Yeats, in attempting to defend Symons and his fellow writers against...


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