Large paper copy, inscribed by Ernest Dowson to Leonard Smithers.
Legend has it that, when asked to explain his front cover design for Verses by Ernest Dowson (1867–1900), which resembled a large letter “Y,” Beardsley replied that he wondered why the book had been published. The answer was that Dowson’s poetry appealed to Leonard Smithers, who began his career by trafficking in pornography and retained an interest—personal, as well as financial—in perverse sexualities, even after becoming known as “Publisher to the Decadents.” A number of Dowson’s lyrics celebrated child-love and grew out of his actual obsession with an eleven-year-old girl. Although Beardsley delighted in offending, he wisely went with a cover image that was abstract, not representing a man pursuing an underage beauty. Similar “Y” shapes can be found throughout Beardsley’s work, suggesting that he may have wished to make them a kind of signature, much as Whistler had done with the outline of a butterfly.
From the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press