Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Embodying the City in A London Garland

Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Embodying the City in A London Garland

Article excerpt

For virtually the first century of its existence, A London Garland--an anthology of seventy-one poems interspersed with ninety pictures, edited by W. E. Henley, and published with considerable fanfare by Macmillan in late 1895 --elicited little or no comment from scholars, except for a brief mention in William B. Thesing's 1982 study The London Muse: Victorian Poetic Responses To The City. Thesing devoted a short paragraph to Macmillan's anthology as part of a broad reconsideration of how Henley "rendered the picturesqueness of London" and "became a painter of pictures in words." (1) However, in 1992 Simon Houfe wrote that A London Garland "says a great deal" about the decade in which it was published, (2) and more recently, while challenging the prevailing view of Henley as a poetic traditionalist, imperialist, or "counterdecadent," Linda Hughes has called attention to Macmillan's anthology as the textual embodiment of its editor's "violent contradictions." (3) Like much of Henley's own work, Hughes writes, A London Garland contains elements at once aesthetic and counterdecadent, urban and pastoral, to be witnessed in the facility with which Henley situates poems by himself, Davidson, Blunt, Symons, Watson, Marriott-Watson, and Levy (among other 1890s poets) alongside Chaucer, Dunbar, Swift, Rochester, Milton, Keats, and Wordsworth. As importantly, the anthology exhibits a "paradoxical relation" to Henley's well-known misogyny (p. 79). For although Henley (who had edited the Scots Observer and the National Observer from 1889-1894, and who was in 1895 editor of the New Review) had by this date lent his journals' pages to some of the most vitriolic attacks on New Women writers, he went out of his way when editing A London Garland, says Hughes, to include Amy Levy and Rosamund Marriott Watson among the fifteen contemporary poets represented. (4)

In his earlier and briefer discussion of the anthology, Simon Houfe had taken a somewhat different tack. For Houfe, A London Garland is interesting chiefly as an exemplar of the Nineties' craving for illustrated or decorated books: in fact Houfe concludes the introductory chapter of his book Fin de Siecle: The Illustrators of the Nineties by giving more space to Henley's anthology than he gives to such icons of fin-de-siecle illustration as Wilde's Salome ("pictured" by Aubrey Beardsley, as its title-page declares) or Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market (illustrated and decorated by Laurence Housman for Macmillan in 1893). For Houfe A London Garland is notable for its genesis not with a writer, editor, or publisher, but with an illustrator (Joseph Pennell) or group of illustrators (the Society of Illustrators):

[By the mid 1890s] there was such an explosion of illustrative work, such a concentration of it in the journals and such a renaissance of it in the art schools, that some artists felt that this movement should be given a coherent form. Joseph Pennell, who had campaigned for the status of the illustrator since his arrival in London, nowwished to form a body which would look after their interests....

The culmination of [his] efforts was the founding in 1894-95 of the Society of Illustrators. The Society was based on the group of aspiring draughtsmen who met from time to time in Pennell's Buckingham Street flat and was intended to be like The Society of Authors, protecting interests, defending rights and above all overseeing the vexed question of copyrights....

As the Society began to lose what little impetus it had, Pennell rather desperately proposed that they should combine together on a book. This became a London anthology known as A London Garland, and it remains the most tangible proof of the Society's efforts to give itself an identity.... A handsome quarto with a vellum cover designed by Alfred Parsons, the volume says a great deal about the decade it was supposed to represent. (Houfe, pp. 10-11)

When we turn to the volume itself, evidence of its historical importance as a monument of Victorian illustration is easy to find. …

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