Monday, January 18, 2016

A Place I’d Like to Window-Shop

This photograph of a window display from the September 1898 issue of The Bookman makes me want to time travel.  I can see The Lark advertised at the top left corner, and an illustration of William Sharp (Fiona Macleod) below it. I wish the other items were more clearly visible. The accompanying notices are a bit sneering with regard to decadent literature, and I really don’t believe that Mr. Doxey viewed decadent literature as a huge joke, though the Bookman writer clearly does.  And I wish the decadent magazines from nearly every state were more accessible, though there is a very good account of many of them in Kirsten MacLeod’s American Little Magazines of the 1890s: A Revolution in Print (2013), based on an exhibition at the Grolier Club in New York.

Mr. William Doxey of San Francisco has in preparation for publication in the autumn a series of folk-lore stories of the South of France, entitled Tales of Languedoc, by Professor Samuel J. Brün, of Stanford University, and a book of short stories by Emma Frances Dawson, the title of which will probably be An Itinerant House. Both books will be illustrated by Mr. Ernest Peixotto, whose work in the Lark we have already have occasion to commend. Miss Dawson’s stories have a strong local colour, and Mr. Ambrose Bierce says of her, that “in all the essential attributes of literary competence she is head and shoulders above any writer on the coast;” which certainly piques our curiosity and assures prompt attention for the book when it appears.

Our readers will remember that in our July number we described a Stevenson window in Mr. Doxey’s book-shop in Market Street, San Francisco. Mr. Doxey, who is a man of enterprise and ideas, has succeeded this with an exhibition in his window of decadent literature, a picture of which appears herewith. As an admirer of Stevenson Mr. Doxey is, of course, no disciple of decadence, and we treat the whole matter as the nature as a huge joke. Still it is no joke, but a serious sign of the times, for Mr. Doxey has brought home to the man in the street, as nobody else has done, the existence of decay, or what passes for decay in literature or art. He has arrayed in that weird window of his all sorts and conditions of modern writers and artists. He has recruited his ‘cohorts of the damned.’ as Kipling has it, from nearly every country of Europe. By far the most interesting aspect of the question is the number of fin de siècle journals that have a sprung up during recent years. They began with The Yellow Book, which sprang into life April 12th, 1894, the first imitation of which in American was the Chap-Book, published by Messrs. Stone and Kimball, and which appeared just one month later than the Bodley Head quarterly. Since then nearly every State has had its decadent periodical. Far and away the most amusing, the most curious of the whole series, is the Lark. It was brought into existence in May of last year. It is the reductio ad absurdum of decadence, and is a good-humored burlesque of the whole movement. It is a sixteen-page, ten-cent monthly, printed on a kind of paper more useful for holding tea than type. It ridicules the eccentricities of typography by printing prose as if it were verse. Its illustrations are exactly like the primitive woodcuts of three hundred years ago, and it cultivates the gentle art of nonsense-verse to perfection. Mr. John Lane, we believe, is to publish an English edition of the Chap-Book. Why no, we would suggest to Mr. Doxey, find an English publisher for the Lark?

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