W. B. Yeats pp 90-107 | Cite as

The End of Aestheticism

  • A. Norman Jeffares


The year 1896 was a full one for Yeats. After he had settled into Woburn Buildings he asked Arthur Symons to come on a visit to Ireland with him while The Savoy was being published. The magazine was edited by Symons and published by Smithers, who had agreed to the condition stipulated by Symons before he took up the editorship that Beardsley should be the art editor of the magazine. This appointment was a gesture of annoyance and resentment at the treatment Beardsley had received at the hands of the Victorian readers of The Yellow Book, some of whom had demanded and obtained his dismissal from the art editorship of that magazine.2 When published, The Savoy appeared as yet another challenge to the conventions of the day. Yeats wrote in Autobiographies3 that if an excuse for the writings had been formulated it would have been that literature demanded the exploration of all that passed before the mind’s eye merely because it passed there. Yeats’s own attitude is revealed in his contention that, if a mythical critic was to point out that some of Yeats’s generation wrote with an unscientific partiality for subjects long forbidden, it could be said that what has long been forbidden should be explored not only out of moral purpose but ‘gaily, out of sheer mischief, or sheer delight in the play of the mind’. This quality of irresponsible mischief was to emerge with great éclat in the later Yeats, and explains many of his obiter dicta which are often taken a little over-seriously. But when making this hypothetical explanation, objection and counter-claim he continued to admit that he later found a slight sentimental sensuality in some of his own early work, as well as in that of his contemporaries. What was daring then seems merely pathetic now.


Burning Dust Depression Europe Amid 
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© A. Norman Jeffares 1996

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  • A. Norman Jeffares

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