From “The LitMod Visual Review”


To: Mr. Arthur Symons
The Savoy
London
February 22, 1896

Mr. Symons, I am writing in response to your Editorial Note. The first volume of The Savoy is an absolute catastrophe. Déclassé! I consider myself a man of the times that can appreciate art in everyday life. I was thus hopeful that your work would improve upon the nausea of that popular yellow book. I regret to inform you that I am ineffably disappointed! Reproducing beautiful oil artwork alongside miscellaneous, grandiloquent narratives and poor, lowly sketches is positively ghastly. What base commercial enterprise is this that reprints art and offers it at random? What is the classical reader to make of this? Art has its traditions and laws that are not to be thus violated. I cannot tell if your periodical is for the trade market or for the elite, and I must say, it cannot be both. Alas, obtuse work has been offered your reader.

“Editorial Note.” The Savoy, vol. 1, 1896.
Painting of a standing woman, holding a flower. Elements of the painting (flowers, alcohol, skull) seem to be flowing out of the frame of the painting.
“La Parisienne.” By Louis Oury, 1896.

The Savoy wants to seem united and original, but its opposition to traditional methods of publication only antagonizes the Press and the Art world at large. I suspect there is a sneaky commercial lust attached to your so-called aesthetic ideal. As committed to readership and good work as you claim to be, your print run cannot last longer than a year. This is evident when I inspect upon my nephews’ reading and find that they have only read selective works. Not one of those young lads has read your magazine cover to cover! If they had, they would have seen the rendition of a horrid gaze in crayon. A sanguine crayon drawing, no less! If this medium is considered elite and revolutionary, then modern times are truly changing.

“Editorial Note.” The Savoy, vol. 1, 1896.

Mr. Symons, I write to you now to implore for a total editorial revision if you intend to release a second volume. I have read the scathing review in The Globe and Mail and hear around town that The Savoy is doomed to repeat the indiscretions of its predecessors. I beseech you for a refund, that is 2 shillings 6 pence, to the address attached, and warn you to stop this

Large man holding pens with an arm extended
“Contents Graphic.” By Aubrey Beardsley, 1896.

I was immediately vexed with your table of contents. Why does it require such a graphic at all? The Contents page offered an insufferable caricature of a grotesque man holding pens and offering an extended arm. Am I to now enter the magazine as he suggests? In an effort to be avant-garde and ambitious, The Savoy reads as insufferably modern and commercial. As I continued through the magazine, its contradictory nature became insurmountable and I found myself reading some sort of jigsaw puzzle. I dare say that little attention has been given to your readership. Who would read such a miscellany? I would accuse you and that impious Arts Editor Mr. Beardsley of some dandyism excess, but even dandies seek beauty, and traditionally beautiful The Savoy is not.

Curiously, my young nephews are enthralled with this issue. They tell me that there is a new readership for The Savoy that is eager for a second volume. They talk about some German concept, a so-called Total Work of Art, that they claim this magazine attempts. All I see is a mixed and disparate amalgamation of uninspired text and overt images. Unduly ambitious! How can there be such a readership when the very images that you offer, like that ignoble “La Parisenne,” take tradition and undermine it? Do you think you’re clever to feature artwork that literally overflows out of its frame? Oury’s image doesn’t even connect to the Yeats poem that immediately follows it. What a dreadful oversight!

A red sketch of a head with lots of hair
“A Head.” By J. Lemmen, 1896.

rebellious, doomed endeavour to unify and synthesize your many unfortunate – nay untalented – contributors. Your content matter is falsely unified and absurdly blends art and commerce: two things that cannot coexist! I pray you consider my request.

Yours faithfully,
Mr. Howard Weston Johnson

 


** NOTE TO THE READER: This letter has been republished by “The LitMod Visual Review” to include referenced images, quotations, and hyperlinked sources for further context. The second volume of The Savoy was published in April 1896, a few months after this letter was written. In its Editorial Note, Mr. Arthur Symons responds to his negative critics by thanking them for the flattering reception.

 
– Courtesy of Rosabel Smegal, “The LitMod Visual Review”