Publisher to the Decadents: Leonard Smithers in the Careers of Beardsley, Wilde, and Dowson (Penn State Series in the History of the Book)
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Publisher to the Decadents chronicles the experiences of Leonard Smithers (1861–1907), a key figure in the literary culture of late Victorian England. In his day he was known primarily for publishing books of upscale pornography. He became the publisher of choice for the Decadents, including most notably Oscar Wilde and Audrey Beardsley.
While a young solicitor in his native Sheffield, Smithers established a correspondence with the famed explorer and translator of exotic texts, Captain Sir Richard Burton. Burton translated The Thousand Nights and a Night (popularly known as The Arabian Nights), which was published by Smithers in 1885. Smithers collaborated with Burton in the publication of two Latin texts, the Priapeia and the Carmina of Catullus, both of erotic cast. After the death of Burton in 1890, Smithers continued a significant involvement with his work, serving as an adviser to Lady Isabel Burton. During this time Smithers formed a partnership with Harry Sidney Nichols, and together they produced a series of pornographic books under the imprint of the Erotika Biblion Society.
The years between 1895 and 1900 were Smithers’s glory years when he managed to publish a number of books illustrated by Beardsley, a magazine known as the Savoy, and books of verse by Ernest Dowson and Arthur Symons that have proved to be the finest expression of the Decadent Movement. Throughout his career Smithers sought to produce attractive, well-made books that were tastefully designed and printed.
This book provides expansive insight into the prizes and pitfalls of an early English publisher of the decadent Nineties.