Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890s: An Anthology of British Poetry and Prose
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The Aesthetic and Decadent Movement of the late 19th century spawned the idea of "Art for Art's Sake," challenged aesthetic standards and shocked the bourgeosie. From Walter Pater's study, "The Renaissance to Salome, the truly decadent collaboration between Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, Karl Beckson has chosen a full spectrum of works that chronicle the British artistic achievement of the 1890s. In this revised edition of a classic anthology, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" has been included in its entirety; the bibliography has been completely updated; Professor Beckson's notes and commentary have been expanded from the first edition published in 1966. The so-called Decadent or Aesthetic period remains one of the most interesting in the history of the arts. The poetry and prose of such writers as Yeats, Wilde, Symons, Johnson, Dowson, Barlas, Pater and others are included in this collection, along with sixteen of Aubrey Beardsley's drawings.
illustration; the Renaissance thus putting forth in France an aftermath, a wonderful later growth, the products of which have to the full the subtle and delicate sweetness which belongs to a refined and comely decadence; just as its earliest phases have the freshness which belongs to all periods of growth in art, the charm of ascesis,8 of the austere and serious girding of the loins in youth. But it is in Italy, in the fifteenth century, that the interest of the Renaissance mainly lies, in that
compromise or affectation of a belief in ‘a sort of a something somewhere,’ simply as an exquisite sensation, and for the sensation’s sake.” (Quoted by permission of the Morgan Library.) 2 Dowson, who regarded Johnson’s conversion to Roman Catholicism as “an act of great courage,” himself converted in the same year—1891—as the result of Johnson’s persuasion, though close friends said later that Dowson did not practice his faith seriously. 3 Holy Communion, given to someone in danger of death.
nous a donné Pceuvre la plus géniale de ce temps, et la plus extraordinaire et la plus naïve aussi, comparable et—oserai-je le dire?—supérieure en beauté á ce qui il y a de plus beau dans Shakespeare…. plus tragique que Macbeth, plus extraordinaire en pensée que Hamlet.”7 That is how the enthusiast announced his discovery. In truth, M. Maeterlinck is not a Shakespeare, and the Elizabethan violence of his first play is of the school of Webster and Tourneur rather than of Shakespeare. As a
all with the moral indignation of our time against M. Zola. It is simply the indignation of Tartuffe [the religious hypocrite in Moliere’s play, 1664] on being exposed. But from the standpoint of art, what can be said in favour of the author of L’Assommoir, Nana and Pot-Bouille? Nothing. Mr. Ruskin once described the characters in George Eliot’s novels as being like the sweepings of a Pentonville omnibus, but M. Zola’s characters are much worse. They have their dreary vices, and their drearier
philosophy”; elsewhere, Yeats, paraphrasing Pater, says that the Rhymers “wished to express life at its intense moments and at these moments alone.”19 Among the Rhymers, Lionel Johnson was perhaps the only poet who grasped Pater’s intent, for, in temperament, he had many affinities with the “Sage” at Oxford. As an undergraduate, Johnson had met Pater and had spent much time in his company. Writing to a friend in 1889, he reported that he “lunched with Pater, dined with Pater, smoked with Pater,