Aubrey Beardsley

Enoch Soames:
The Critical Heritage


The Calumny of Beerbohm
The Anxiety of Influence
New Light on Soames
Enoch’s Castle
In Praise of Christian Diabolism
Iconographia Fungosiana
Strange Growths
A Letter to the Editor
List of Illustrations
Le Diaboliste Catholique
Portrait Study of Enoch Soames
En Attendant
Crème de Menthe and Nicotine
A Man of Letters
Enoch Soames, Esq.
The Bad Homburg

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The Arms of a PoetEnoch Soames - The Critical Heritage

From unpublished papers in the Hugh Walpole archives

Amongst the Hugh Walpole papers in the Bodleian Library at Oxford there is a small cache of material relating to Enoch Soames that, as far as I know, has never been published before. It deserves to be better known, not only for the light (dim enough) that it sheds on Soames himself but also for its telling allusions to several other figures of the period.
     A pencil note by Walpole accompanying the documents—a manuscript poem and three letters—indicates that he bought them as a single lot from a Preston bookseller in 1923. The attached receipt reveals that he paid 4/– for his discovery. Even at today’s prices we may consider it was twenty pence well spent.
         The poem is by Soames, written in his hand, signed, and dated February 1894. The three letters are from diverse authors, but once assembled into their chronological order they tell their own tale readily enough, and it is perhaps best to let the documents speak for themselves.

1.Manuscript poem in Soames’s hand.

Mood: Gardenia and Black.

          The scent of my buttonhole
          Flowed and ebbed in the gloom;
          It was close in the supper-room.

          Close, and then, in the throng,
          Sudden, a crash, a blow.
          And a hand on my arm I know.

          And then, through the dark, a rush,
          Heady and vague; the flair
          (A rose?) of the cold night air.2
                         Enoch Soames.
                         Paris/London Feb. ’94.

    [1] The poem does not appear in any of Soames’s three published collections, and in many respects is something of a departure from his usual themes. In tone it is a slightly strained attempt to assume the dandified pose of Theodore Wratislaw or Herbert Horne, while the style, though touched with Soames’s usual felicities of expression—“Flowed and ebbed”, the “?” after “rose”—owes perhaps too great a debt to Arthur Symons’s poem “Pastel—Masks and Faces” to stand in the front rank of his achievement.
    [2] Although, true to the precepts of literary Impressionism, it is not entirely clear what the poem is about, it seems to me to record the summary ejection of the poet from some private party. The suggestive phrase “Heady and vague”—used to describe his precipitous path from “supper-room” to “cold night air” suggests—I think—both the poet’s condition and the reason for his ejection.

2. Letter from Henry Harland.

144 Cromwell Road.
     February 7, 1894.

Many thanks for your exemplary poem (herewith returned). It is in many ways—too many to enumerate—admirable.
     But for various reasons—too many to enumerate also, but none of them connected with Art—I feel that it would not be suitable for The Yellow Book—which, by-the-by, we hope will establish itself as a leading family-periodical.
     You are quite right that A[line] and I do sometimes keep open house on Sat. evenings. And it would be a great pleasure for us to see you at Cromwell Road. But we are currently planning a trip over to Paris to visit Verlaine, and are rather unsure of our dates.
         A bientôt,
             Yours &c.
                               Henry Harland.

p.s. Aubrey was flattered by your notion of his illustrating your dialogue between Pan and St. Wilgeforte, but fears he must decline on health grounds.

    [1] The address of Henry Harland (1861–1918) and his wife Aline. The Harlands were a sociable and literary American couple who had settled in London at the beginning of the ’Nineties.
    [2] The Yellow Book—the characteristic periodical of the decade—was launched in April 1894; John Lane (together with Elkin Mathews for its first two quarterly numbers) was the publisher, Harland the literary editor and Aubrey Beardsley (see below) the art editor.
    [3] Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898), the brilliant young draughtsman, was, at the beginning of 1894, still only on the verge of fame. The publication of his illustrations to Oscar Wilde’s Salome at the end of February, and the arrival of The Yellow Book in April, secured his reputation.
    [4] This seems to be an error on Harland’s part. Soames’s first book Negations contains a dialogue between Pan and St. Ursula, and it is to this I suppose that Harland is referring. There is, of course, the possibility that Soames was working on a series of dialogues (now lost) between Pan and a whole range of mediæval female saints.
    [5] The reference is surprising, as Beardsley’s health, although never strong, was generally good in the first months of 1894.

Letter from W. E. Henley.

[Postmark 26 March ’94]
     Offices of the National Observer.
     The Editor.1

No! I do not recall meeting you at Gosse’s. And No!! I do not want your poem. It seems to me a distillation of all that is weakest and most morbid in current literature. Whibley too tells me it is quite without merit.
             Yours faithfully,

     [1] W. E. Henley (1844–1903) was editor of the National Observer. He was also a poet of considerable achievement—ironically in a mode that was often cited as “impressionist”.
     [2] Edmund Gosse (1849–1928), civil servant, critic and author; he held literary receptions at his house in Delamere Terrace.
     [3] Charles Whibley (1860–1930) was one of the brightest of Henley’s young journalists.

Letter from The Editor of Tit-Bits.

From the Offices of Tit-Bits.
     2 May 1894.

Thank you for your poem—Mood: Geranium [sic] and Black. You are to be congratulated on such a clever parody of the fin-de-siècle strain in contemporary verse. Alas, the current editorial policy is to ignore this “Oscar Wilde tendency” in all its forms. There is a feeling, which I am sure you will recognise, that even to mock it is to draw undue attention to it.
     Should the editor alter his policy, however, we would certainly be happy to reconsider your ingenious skit. But until such time I am returning it to you, with my thanks.
             Yours faithfully,
                               R. Nebley.
                               Assistant to the Asst. Editor.

Enoch Soames