three pairs of lovers with space

THE CHAMELEON

 

The Chameleon: a Bazaar of Dangerous and Smiling Chances, was a Greek love periodical of which John Francis Bloxam (1873-1928), an undergraduate at Exeter College, Oxford, was the editor. The first, and, as it turned out, the only issue, was published in December 1894, and limited to one hundred numbered copies, for which there was a subscription of fifteen shillings a year to cover three numbers[1].

A number of leading Uranians, as the English pederastic writers of the day became known, contributed to it. What they wrote together with the public reaction to it offer succinct insight into the cultural clash the Uranians posed.

Oscar Wilde’s ‘Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young’ “were given pride of place in the magazine and, although almost the only contribution not openly paederastic, were used against him at his trial as evidence of his corruption of youth.”[2] A taste of their flavour is given by the last: “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” These were followed by a long prose-poem by John Gambril Nicholson, which he had written to a schoolboy called William Alexander Melling, aged sixteen at the time of publication, and two poems of Lord Alfred Douglas. Bloxam himself contributed a short story, The Priest and the Acolyte, which was the most overtly pederastic piece and presumably therefore most responsible for the hostile reaction to the magazine, and also another poem:[3]                            

                             At Dawn

He came in the glow of the noon-tide sun,
He came in the dusk when the day was done,
He came with the stars; but I saw him not,
     I saw him not.

But ah, when the sun with his earliest ray
Was kissing the tears of the night away,
I dreamed of the moisture of warm wet lips
     Upon my lips.

Then sudden the shades of the night took wing,
And I saw that love was a beauteous thing,
For I clasped to my breast my curl-crowned king,
     My sweet boy-king.  

 

The Chameleon was favourably reviewed in the Realm of 14 December 1894 (p. 171), but it is the inevitable attack on it that is interesting for what it says about Victorian attitudes to pederastic literature. On 29 December 1894, Jerome K. Jerome, wrote as follows in the editorial to his paper, To-Day: a Weekly Journal, V, 60, 29 December 1894, p. 241:

                  Jerome Klapka Jerome

I do not think I shall be mistaken for a prude on the prowl, but I am anxious for further information concerning a publication that has just come under my notice, called the Chameleon. It is issued from Oxford, and published by a West-end firm. As far as I can judge, it can be purchased by anyone who likes to pay the subscription. If I am wrong - if it is a private publication, intended only to circulate among a limited and known clientéle — there is an end of the matter. A hundred gentlemen or so have as much right to circulate indecency among themselves, by means of the printing press, as they have to tell each other dirty stories in the club smoking-room. Each to his taste. But if the Chameleon is issued broadcast, and any immature youth, or foolish New Young Woman, can obtain it, then it is certainly a case for the police. The publication appears to be nothing more nor less than an advocacy for indulgence in the cravings of an unnatural disease. . . . That young men are here and there cursed with these unnatural cravings, no one acquainted with our public school life can deny. It is for such to wrestle with the devil within them; and many a long and agonized struggle is fought, unseen and unknown, within the heart of a young man. A publication of this kind, falling into his hands before the victory is complete, would, unless the poor fellow were of an exceptionally strong nature, utterly ruin him for all eternity. This magazine, which is to be issued three times a year, is an insult to the animal creation. It is an outrage on literature. How any body of men, having the fear of God before their eyes, could dare to issue it passes my comprehension. It can serve no purpose but that of evil. It can please no man or woman with a single grain of self-respect left in their souls. Let us have liberty; but this is unbridled licence. Let all things grow in literature which spring from the seeds of human nature. This is garbage and offal.

“In April 1895, Wilde’s prosecution of Lord Queensberry for libel began, and at once the Chameleon was in the headlines. Wilde was accused of corrupting the nation’s youth with his ‘Phrases and Philosophies…' and of daring to publish the piece in such dissolute company. On Saturday 6 April, the day after the frightful failure of the law-suit, the Daily Telegraph printed a letter concerning the Chameleon:

Sir - On behalf of Messrs Gay and Bird, the publishers of the first and only number of this publication, we ask you to be good enough to allow us to say, through your columns, that our clients of their own act stopped the sale directly they were aware of the contents of the magazine. Such sale was not stopped at the request of a contributor or any one else. They were requested to renew the sale, and refused.

Had the trial proceeded we should, at the proper time, have tendered our clients to give the above facts in evidence. - We are, Sir, your obedient servants,

WARD, PERKS, AND McKAY, 85 Gracechurch Street, E.C.

Gay and Bird defaulted. Douglas likewise. Wilde was sentenced; and Oxford was stunned to silence. ”[4]

The historian Michael Kaylor implies that “the Oxford University authorities” were ultimately responsible for The Chameleon’s demise, but, if this is more than a guess, he does not give his source.[5]

 

[1] Timothy d’Arch Smith, Love in Earnest: Some Notes on the Lives and Writings (London, 1970), p. 100

[2] ibid., p. 54

[3] “The Poem is signed ‘Bertram Lawrence’. The evidence that this is a pseudonym for Bloxarn is found in a letter he wrote to Kains Jackson from Oxford in 1894 concerning some poems he wished to be published in the Artist: ‘If you accept them’, he wrote to ]ackson, ‘kindly print them under the name of Bertram Lawrence.’ The full letter, now in the Donald Weeks collection, has not been published, but extracts were printed in 177 Rare Books, Manuscripts and Original Drawings, catalogue No. 4.1 of G. F. Sims (Hurst, 1959), p. 4.” ibid., p. 100

[4] ibid., p. 59

[5] Michael Matthew Kaylor, Secreted Desires. The Major Uranians: Hopkins, Pater and Wilde, (Brno, 2006), p. 358.