The Symbolist Movement in Literature
Ellis on the Mermaid Series of Elizabethan plays and a slow but steady succession of commissions to write reviews for literary periodicals in London then followed. Although Symons’ fi rst book of published criticism was a study of Browning, a crucial and formative infl uence upon him at this time was the Oxford aesthete, Walter Pater, whose style was a conscious ‘model’ for Symons’ own.17 As he found increasing amounts of work writing for publications such as the National Review, so he obtained increasing access to literary circles. In June 1887 Symons reviewed Pater’s Imaginary Portraits for the Athenaeum; the next year they began corresponding and met in person. Having read his review of Pater, Oscar Wilde contacted Symons, suggesting he contribute to Woman’s World; Symons sent in poems and published his fi rst essay on French literature there in 1889, an enthusiastic profi le of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (although Wilde was no longer editor by that point). Pater played an important role here too, as an exponent of European literature. Having written about eighteenth-century French art in Imaginary Portraits, Pater took an increasing interest in more recent French writers, encouraging Symons’ own interests, and telling him that ‘the present age’ was ‘an unfavourable one to poets, at least in England’.18
The year after he met Pater, in September 1889, Symons made his fi rst journey to Paris in the company of Havelock Ellis. This short trip was followed by a longer visit the next year from March to June 1890, during which the two men met with major French writers including Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine and J.-K. Huysmans, who were all to feature prominently in Symons’ critical writings. At about this time, Symons was encouraged to join the Rhymers’ Club, a group of contemporary poets including W.B. Yeats, Ernest Dowson, and Lionel Johnson that met at the Cheshire
17 Symons to Churchill Osborne, 7 May 1885, in Selected Letters, ed. Karl
Beckson and John M. Munro (London: Macmillan, 1989), p. 16. 18 Arthur Symons, ‘Walter Pater’, in Figures from Several Centuries (London:
Constable, 1916), p. 327. This essay was originally published in the Monthly Review in 1906 and subsequently reprinted as an introduction to Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance in 1919. See also John J. Conlon, Walter Pater and the French Tradition (East Brunswick: Associated University Press, 1982), which describes how Pater’s objectives as ‘a public critic’ included ‘the propagation of knowledge about French thought and culture’ (p. 10).
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