LE MORTE DARTHUR
Le Morte D'Arthur
Le Morte D'Arthur
At the time when the late Mr. Joseph Malaby Dent commissioned Aubrey Beardsley, and the latter undertook, to furnish drawings for a new illustrated edition of the “Morte Darthur,” publisher and artist were alike strangers to the public. The firm of Messrs Dent & Co. had but recently started on its career of publishing, while as to Aubrey Beardsley, his name, which was destined shortly to became a household word, was then quite unknown to fame. It happens that Mr Dent had told Mr Fredrick H. Evans (then a bookseller in Queen Street, E.C., with whom Beardsley, in the days when he was short of cash, used to barter drawings for books) that he was contemplating an illustrated edition of the “Morte,” if only he could meet with a suitable artist. Mr. Evans then remembered Beardsley and kindly recommended him to Mr Dent, who asked Beardsley to submit a specimen drawing for the purpose. He produced the drawing which forms the frontispiece to this volume, the wonderful “Achieving of the Sangreal,” and it was on the strength of it that Mr Dent decided to give him the order for the whole book. It was Beardsley’s first serious commission, for hitherto he had made practically nothing of his art. On the part of the publisher it was an exceedingly courageous venture to entrust so important a task to an obscure young man—he was not yet twenty-one years old—and Mr Dent deserved all the credit which this his early association with Beardsley subsequently brought him.
Meanwhile Beardsley had been introduced, at the house of Mr Wilfred Meyenell in Palace Court, to the late Mr Charles Lewis Hind, who (at that time sub-editor of the “Art Journal”) was full of the project of a new artistic magazine, which eventually materialized in “The Studio.” Having found Mr Charles Holme to finance his scheme, Mr Hind, who promptly recognized Beardsley’s extraordinary genius, secured a number of Beardsley’s compositions for the new publication. Before, however, the first number of the “Studio” (which bore date April 1893) saw the light, Mr Hind had been offered the editorship of the “Pall Mall Budget.” Being released by Mr Holme from his obligation, Mr Hind had already severed his connection with the “Studio” by the time that it made its appearance, and it fell to his successor, the late Mr Gleeson White, to make the necessary arrangements with Messrs Dent. Nevertheless, since Mr Hind was actual editor at the outset, it was his task to prepare the first number for publication, and it was he who was thus responsible for the immense distinction which the “Studio” obtained from the inclusion of the young artist’s work in its pages. At the same time it must be allowed that Beardsley himself received a splendid advertisement from the appearance of his designs in this popular form and through the widespread circulation which the “Studio” instantly won both for itself and for his art.
Among the examples of Beardsley’s work comprised in the first number of the “Studio” there were published four specimens from the “Morte Darthur,” viz., an initial letter I, an ornamental border, a frieze of six men fighting, and a full-page plate depicting “Merlin taketh the child Arthur into his keeping.” These four samples from the “Morte” anticipated by two months the issue of the first instalment of the book itself. ..................................................
.................Beardsley started illustrating the “Mort” with the utmost enthusiasm, but he quickly tired of it, and declared he would not go on with it. He used to put off doing it as long as he could. Toward the close of each period when the date for the delivery of the covenanted installment of drawings approached, he would be behindhand, and it was only by dint of pressure on the part of his publisher, seconded by the persuasions and entreaties of Beardsley’s mother, that he could be induced to apply himself to the irksome task. The publisher was driven to despair. He tried first one plan and then another to save the “Morte” from being abandoned. One such expedient was the offer of other work to the artist, as a diversion to enliven the monotony. Accordingly, while the “Morte” lagged, Mr Dent gave Beardsley a further order, that of illustrating “Bon Mots,” published in 3 volumes in 1893. He also suggested that Beardsley should try his hand at some illustrations for “Evelina,” of which, however, only the title page by Beardsley appeared in the book.
The fact is Beardsley was constitutionally incapable of sustained effort. His moods and interests, instead of marching and developing with the leisurely passage of years, changed and leaped from one phase to another, weekly or even daily, in rapid transition. His life, as he himself was fully aware, was bound to be short, and into that brief span had to be crowded all the manifold episodes which the average person might reasonably expect to have plenty of time to experience. What wonder, then, if, in Aubrey Beardsley’s case, mood followed mood in lightening succession? He would take up some idea or project with absorbing interest. He would discuss it and formulate it with minute precision and elaboration, and yet, long before he had had the opportunity to carry it out, he zeal would evaporate and turn to utter weariness, and he would have become absorbed in some fresh scheme.
This accounts for the extraordinary inequality of the “Morte Darthur” illustrations. The circumstance is one which can scarcely fail to strike even a casual observer, but it would have been still more evident if all the drawings had been published in the exact order in which they were produced. Some, however, were held back from a time; others were repeated in later pages of the book. The decline is thus not so noticeable as it must otherwise have been ..............................
...............It had already been mentioned that the “Morte” designs were not all placed in the book in the same order in which they were drawn. Some indeed were begun in the flood-tide of enthusiasm, and laid aside, but half done, to be finished later. These, though naturally the find a place toward the end of the book, yet, so far as they go, exhibit a higher standard of endeavour and efficiency than many of those whose inception and uninterrupted execution belong to the later period. Among the drawings thus projected for the “Morte”, but only half sketched in at the outset, are some which were destined never to be completed in accord with their original scheme. Thus in one instance a horseman is depicted, but only the near hindquarter of his mount is shown! Obviously Beardsley found it quicker and easier, when he took up this unfinished drawing, to fill in the unoccupied space with a wash of black, instead of supplying the full details yet needed to perfect the picture. That part of the composition, however, which is actually complete is of such a high order as to excite profound regret for what should have been and yet is lost beyond recall. ...............................
The interesting part: Beardsley never read the book.
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