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182 T Beardsley and The Savoy W ithout Aubrey Beardsley The Savoy would not have happened. Yet The Savoy itself was an unexpected piece of good fortune for the doomed young artist, provided through the offices of such improbable genies as a dedicated young literary jack-of-all-genres and a pasty-faced pornographer.The writer was Arthur Symons, who was then (it was the spring of 1895) sharing a flat in Fountain Court, London, with a young Irish poet,W. B.Yeats. Unexpected visitors had turned up at the flat one morning at an unexpected hour—just after breakfast. One was Beardsley and the other,Yeats recalled, “a young woman who belongs to our publisher ’s circle and certainly not to ours, and is called ‘twopence coloured,’ or ‘penny plain.’” Beardsley was a little drunk, his mind obsessed by his recent dismissal from The Yellow Book. Steadying himself by propping one hand against the nearest wall, he stared into a mirror and muttered: “Yes, yes. I look like a Sodomite. But no, I am not that.” And he began ruing his birth, and railing against his ancestors, back to and including the great Pitt, from whom he claimed to be descended. He might better have railed against Oscar Wilde, then on trial at the Old Bailey. Wilde, accused by the half-mad Marquess of Queensberry of “posing as a somdomite” (Queensberry was also a bad speller), had unwisely sued for libel, whereupon the Marquess’s solicitors had hired private detectives and offered rewards to informers, coming up with the incontrovertible proof that Wilde had not been posing at all.The fall of Oscar toppled some innocent victims as well, notably Beardsley, whose only connection withWilde—­other than mutual hostility—had been that Beardsley had been commissioned to provide the illustrations for Oscar’s decadent drama Salomé. But in the public mind the two were connected, and when Wilde was arrested on morals charges the connection seemed more appalling; for Oscar carried a yellowcovered book as he was taken into custody, and although it was a French novel, the mob assumption was that it was a copy of TheYellow Book, the notorious year-old quarterly for which Beardsley was then art editor.When theVigo Street offices of TheYellow Book’s publisher, John Lane, were stoned by a rabble enjoying its righteous indignation,Lane’s associates (he was away Beardsley and The Savoy 183 in the United States on business) decided to jettison Beardsley. In more ways than one it was a cheap way to improve the moral tone of the journal and perhaps save it from extinction. But firing Beardsley only insured TheYellow Book’s demise, for it had compromised itself into inevitable dullness. And Beardsley, on top of his world at twenty-two, had hit bottom at twenty-three. Inevitably, Wilde and Beardsley had been lumped together by critics of modernity in art and literature, Wilde’s conviction and Beardsley’s firing convenient grounds on which to attack tendencies they did not like.1 One helpful critic, Haldane MacFall, who wrote art criticism in St. Paul’s under the name of Hal Dane, declared thatWilde and Beardsley were really unrepresentative of modern tendencies in the arts, for their work was “effeminate, sexless and unclean.”Wilde—in Pentonville Prison—may have never heard of the accusation, and severe letter-writing restrictions placed on convicts would have prevented him from answering MacFall, but Beardsley was furious . Tossing aside dejection for the moment, he dashed off a letter to the magazine’s editor: 114 Cambridge Street, S.W.        June 28th [1895] Sir, No one more than myself welcomes frank, nay hostile criticism, or enjoys more thoroughly a personal remark. But your art critic surely goes a little too far in last week’s issue of St. Paul’s, & I may be forgiven if I take up the pen of resentment. He says that I am “sexless and unclean.” As to my uncleanliness I do the best for it in my morning bath, & if he has really any doubts as to my sex, he may come and see me take it. Yours &c. Aubrey Beardsley St. Paul’s never published the letter, but Beardsley was satisfied when he was shown MacFall’s answer to it—that the morning bath about which the irate young artist boasted was “a pretty habit that will soon lose its startling thrill of novelty if he persists in it.” MacFall and Beardsley became friends, and the critic from St. Paul’s was later...

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