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Savoy History
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“Comparatively few people care for art at all and most of them care for it
because they mistake it for something else.”  A r t h u r   S y m o n s ,   T h e   S a v o y   N o . 8

Savoyards

  The original Savoy magazine—from which the Savoy company name is derived—ran for eight issues from January to December 1896. The publisher was Leonard Smithers, libertine, bookdealer and pornographer; his catalogues contained rare erotic works and unique items such as books bound in human skin. Oscar Wilde described him to a friend:

The Savoy"His face, clean shaven as befits a priest who serves at the altar whose God is Literature, is wasted and pale—not with poetry, but with poets, who, he says, have wrecked his life by insisting on publishing with him. He loves first editions, especially of women: little girls are his passion. He is the most learned erotomaniac in Europe. He is also a delightful companion and a dear fellow..."

Smithers, together with writer Arthur Symons (The Symbolist Movement In Literature) and artist Aubrey Beardsley, were looking to create a progressive successor to The Yellow Book, the earlier periodical that had dropped Beardsley's contributions when the Wilde scandal broke. Symons was to be editor and Beardsley art editor; Beardsley chose the name Savoy, borrowed from the new London hotel and suggestive of modernity and opulence. Popular magazines of the time had names like Strand and Pall Mall, this new title would give the impression of a grand and select location away from the main thoroughfare. Notable contributors included W B Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Max Beerbohm. Beardsley provided all the covers and numerous interior illustrations, some of which accompanied extracts from his unfinished erotic novel Under The Hill.

Ironically, for a much-bowdlerised artist, even when surrounded by friends Beardsley could not avoid censorship: the putto on the cover of the first issue (above) is shown about to urinate on a copy of The Yellow Book. This detail proved too strong for contributor George Moore who complained to Symons. The cover was suitably doctored by Beardsley who removed the book and the creature's genitals. Not that this made much difference to W H Smith's: the reputations of The Savoy's creators and their links with Oscar Wilde ensured that a respectable family firm would have no dealings with such a reprehensible volume. Some things never change.


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