The Savoy. An Illustrated Quarterly
[London: Leonard Smithers, April 1896]
Collection of the author
I returned from my sojourn in America to find a lovely surprise waiting for me: a package of books sent by my dear friend Rose who decided to de-accession a few choice treasures from her library in the Brooklyn palais. The enclosed note read, in part: "The Cadmus and the Gordon Merrick speak for themselves. The Savoy may be speaking as well, but I'm not sure I know what it's saying. I leave it to you, Ida, to translate."
About the Cadmus (by Lincoln Kirstein) and the Merrick (The Strumpet Wind, and don't you love the title?) I'll have more to say another time, but as you might imagine (and as Rose suspected) The Savoy does indeed speak to me. It's just the sort of book Sam might find himself explaining to Didier one day, as a wonderful example of decadence and bad timing, of courage and changing tastes, of loyalty to friends and guilt by association.
Leonard Smithers arrived in London in 1891 and proceeded rather quickly to establish himself as a printer and dealer in rare books and works of art, an upscale pornographer and a passionate bibiliophile. He'd published Sir Richard Burton's Book of One Thousand and One Nights and works which, as he liked to boast, 'all the others' were afraid to touch. "Almost single-handedly," writes Stephen Calloway (Aubrey Beardsley, Harry N. Abrams, 1998, p.146), "and at a time when no other London publisher would help them, [Smithers] published the works of Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson and Aubrey Beardsley, and thereby provided each with the means to live and carry on their work."
Robbie Ross called him 'the most delightful and most irresponsible publisher' (Calloway, p.147); Max Beerbohm described him as 'strange and depressing.' Oscar Wilde said of Smithers, '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.' (ibid). As Calloway notes, perhaps no one else of the era was more damned by Wilde's praise. Certainly The Savoy, appearing on the scene after Wilde's trial in 1895, suffered by association, but Smithers continued to publish Wilde's work, including "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" in 1898, and a number of other works, including Beardsley's Under the Hill in 1904.
Leonard Smithers was found dead in a house in Parson's Green in 1907 at the age of 46, surrounded by empty bottles of Dr. J. Collis Browne's Chlorodyne. He'd pawned or given away everything, his furniture and possessions and even most of his clothes in order to fund his projects -and probably also his dependence on drugs and alcohol. Even his silk hat, kid boots and monocle were gone. He was buried in an unmarked grave paid for by Lord Alfred Douglas.