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Leonard Smithers (1861 - 1907)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

London publisher associated with the Decadent movement. Born in Sheffield, Smithers worked as a solicitor, qualifying in 1884. He became friendly with the explorer and orientalist Sir Richard Francis Burton and published Burton’s translation of the Book of One Thousand and One Nights in 1885. He collaborated with Burton in a translation from the Latin of the Carmina of Caius Valerius Catullus and Priapeia, a collection of erotic poems by various writers.

Smithers published works by Aubrey Beardsley, Max Beerbohm, Aleister Crowley, Ernest Dowson, Arthur Symons and Oscar Wilde, Vincent O‘Sullivan and Nigel Tourneur. With Symons and Beardsley, he founded The Savoy, a periodical which ran to eight issues in 1896 and included some of Beardsley’s best designs.

When Beardsley converted to Catholicism he asked Smithers to “destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad drawings…by all that is holy all obscene drawings.“ Smithers ignored Beardsley’s wishes, and continued to sell reproductions as well as forgeries of Beardsley’s work.

After the trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895, Smithers was one of the few publishers prepared to handle "decadent” literature, such as Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol in 1898, and The Savoy.

He went bankrupt in 1900, and died in 1907 from drink and drugs.


Born: 19 December 1861 in Sheffield

Died: 19 December 1907

Gender: Male

Associated books

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