By Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945
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But, in their not quite successful feeling after natural form, they did but represent, as I afterwards found, the moment of transition to what must now remain for us, and may well remain, Beardsley's latest manner. The four initial letters to " Volpone," the last of which was finished not more than three weeks before his death, have a new quality both of hand and of mind. They are done in pencil, and they lose, as such drawings are bound to lose, very greatly in the reduced reproduction. But, in the original, they are certainly, in sheer technical skill, equal to anything he had ever done, and they bring at the last, and with complete success, nature itself into the pattern.
And the man dies inch by inch, like one who slips inch by inch over a precipice, and knows that the grasses at which his fingers tear, clutching their feeble roots, are but delaying him for so many instants, and that he must soon fall. We see a fine, clear-sighted intellect set on one problem: how to get well; then, how to get a little better ; and then, how not to get worse. He records the weather of each day, and each symptom of his disease; with a desperate calmness, which but rarely deserts or betrays him.
Work for the work's sake it always must be, in a profound sense; and, with Beardsley, not less certainly than with Blake or with Rossetti. But that other, that accidental, insidious, significant motive, was, with Beardsley, the desire to fill his few working years with the immediate echo of a great notoriety. Like most artists who have thought much of popularity, he had an immense contempt for the public; and the desire to kick that public into admiration, and then to kick it for admiring the wrong thing or not knowing why it was admiring, led him into many of his most outrageous practical jokes of the pen.