Many people have asked for the history of The Flaneur to be written down before it is forgotten. The clamour has become unbearable and so the basic facts have been set before the public below. They are based on hearsay, assumption, presumption, guesswork, estimations, memory and sheer invention. The word facts should probably not be used, but then, in the history of all great endeavours is it not hard to discern fact from fiction? Read on, but caveat lector…
The ancient history of the Flaneur
The Flaneur’s roots lie in the writings of the ancient Greeks. Its first editor was the brother of the poet Aeschylus, called Horatius who ‘imbibed of the vine unto death’ before he was twenty-five – which is a lesson for us all. In his too few years in charge, Horatius brought a charm to the papyrus that The Flaneur still tries to emulate. He relegated reports of murders to the back pages and directed the focus towards arts, culture and travel.
Further details of The Flaneur’s ancient origins are misty, although Herodotus mentions it as having ‘restrained the popular clamour for blood’ when a senator appeared in public in an unusually fruity-coloured toga. Through the years The Flaneur has been a voice of independence, pro-culture, anti-blowing people up. Julius Caesar was an early benefactor, bringing denarii from around the empire to the doors of The Flaneur – then in a small mansion by the banks of the Tiber. An anecdote from an observer has been preserved – Caesar when approaching the door of the editor’s office said ‘Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem’ and smiled whilst balancing a dagger on his forefinger. The editor, named Brutus, calmly replied ‘Veni, Vedi, Vici’. At which Caesar took out a notebook and wrote the editor’s words down, saying ‘I’ll use that if you don’t mind, and if you do mind I’ll have you killed’. From these inauspicious beginnings Brutus and Caesar became the best of friends, the dictator asking the editor to become his chief speech writer. So The Flaneur flourished – it was from its pages that Caesar gleaned some of his best phrases. Alea iacta est came from the The Flaneur, as did Ignavi coram morte quidem animam trahunt, audaces autem illam non saltem advertunt. The Flaneur was even the source for the famous Et tu, Brute? All went swimmingly until Brutus murdered Caesar, which no matter what the provocation is always frowned upon in polite society and The Flaneur ended in exile after the offices were torched and all the back issues were burned.
The Flaneur and Pompeii
The Flaneur was one of the few papers to survive the Volcanic eruptions that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Historians believe that the latest issue had just been written and was being distributed, which accounts for the few very well preserved copies which are still extant. With one in the Neapolitan archeological museum, one in the Royal collection and one currently suspected to be in a Russian Billionaire’s collection the Flaneur’s most famous Roman issue is not easily studied, but a facsimile is being made and will hopefully be available to scholars soon.
Having increased subscribers until it was the largest circulating culture and travel papyrus in Rome, The Flaneur was seized by the Eastern empire, reaching dizzy heights when Theodosius the Great proclaimed ‘Eheu fugaces, Flaneur, Flaneur, labuntur anni, nec pietas moram, rugis et instanti senaectae, adferet indomitaeque morti.’ This of course had the effect of driving The Flaneur both underground and into the palaces of the earthily mighty, a dichotomy from which The Flaneur still derives much of its current personality 1500 years later.
The Flaneur disappears from the Roman historical record for several hundred years, though it is mentioned by several Italicised tribes in Germania and was clearly an important journal. It is next mentioned in the same breath as Martin Luther, who may have been inspired to his reform of the Church by an article in The Flaneur entitled 95 things wrong with the Church. This was never proven, though contemporary commentators were quick to note the similarities. Luther himself never mentions The Flaneur directly by name, which in itself speaks volumes.
Repression of The Flaneur by Savonarola
Repressed by the Counter-reformation several editors of The Flaneur submitted to the cruelties of the Inquisition. It was one of the main journals burned by Savonarola in his Falò delle vanità in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. Indeed Botticelli is said to have willingly thrown his paintings into the flames with a smile, but cried and collapsed when Savonarola insisted he burn his back issues of The Flaneur.
Leonardo da Vinci smuggled the printing presses used for The Flaneur out of Florence and for a few centuries The Flaneur was a peripatetic journal, printed wherever believers gathered. Eventually it made its way to Paris, where in the 1870s it was rediscovered by the local Parisian Dandies and its writings used to inspire a new way of travelling and looking at the world. Men and women started calling themselves Flaneurs, taking their name from the journal that had now become a newspaper. Edouard Manet edited the journal from 1878-1880, a period during which The Flaneur increased the radical nature of its obsession with painting and sponsored several of the salon des refuses. It was also the first publication to print a serious monograph on the works of Van Gogh, championing him during his Arles period and trying to present him to the Parisian public as a serious artist. The Flaneur had almost achieved this aim when Vincent cut off his ear and tried to murder Gauguin, thus rendering all the hard work irrelevant.
The Flaneur: The Oscar Wilde Years
Between 1880 and 1890 The Flaneur was edited by Oscar Wilde under the pseudonym Bill Bosie. These were years of great growth and achievement, when Wilde’s friends and lovers were invited to fill the pages of the journal which had now grown to such a size that not only did it have hundreds of pages, but it was published twice a week – in London, Paris and Sebastopol. Following his trial and imprisonment this fact was shamefully wiped from the annals, so there is no mention of Wilde’s editorship anywhere in the mainstream biographies of the playwright. Without a doubt the platform The Flaneur provided played a huge part in helping Wilde to develop his unique style and without it the English language would be much the poorer.
Later The Flaneur played a key role in Zurich and the Dadaist extravagances of Hugo Ball et al. Through its publication of absurdist poetry it helped to bring about the end of World War One, but it was kept out of the limelight for political reasons that are still unclear.
In the Twenties The Flaneur was briefly published in New York as it debated and promoted the art deco aesthetic. Indeed without The Flaneur it is hard to see how art deco would have been disseminated to the extent it has been. With The Flaneur backing the new style it quickly grew into the worldwide phenomenon that is seen today.
World War Two led to The Flaneur being published in military bases around the world as a means of keeping up the spirits of the officers miles from home. Indeed it is well known that The Flaneur was the favourite bedtime read of Churchill, as it had been years before that of the Duke of Wellington and his nemesis, Monsieur Bonaparte. With clever codewords placed in the classified columns The Flaneur helped defeat the Nazi war machine by incorporating resistance messages and spreading hope and encouragement.
The Flaneur – history becomes the present!
Since the Second World War The Flaneur has changed format and is now available online. The original ancient editors would never have predicted this – although Leonardo is thought to have designed a rudimentary internet in red chalk on the back of the Mona Lisa. Unfortunately owing to the delicate nature of the painting the Louvre will not allow this to be investigated. It is further rumoured that he stuck a page from The Flaneur onto the back of the Mona Lisa in order to help bind the wooden ground together. If this is true it would be another exciting moment in the history of The Flaneur. We wait for the Louvre to agree to examine the Mona Lisa, but in truth the likelihood of them ever agreeing is small. Until then we have to imagine that there is a page of the greatest arts and travel journal ever sharing the frame of the greatest art-tourist-attraction in the world.
Current editor of The Flaneur
The current editor of The Flaneur is the esteemed cricket scholar Jonathan Powell. Whilst raising funding for his magnum opus – an opera in Swahili for a cast of seven hundred set in a small butcher’s shop in Harare – he stumbled into the offices of The Flaneur on Frith Street, London. Thinking he was in a venture capitalist’s office he pitched his opera, concentrating on the profitable sausages that the opera singers would produce during the show. These would be sold to the audience – a sure-fire financial winner and the first self-financing opera. The Flaneur staff let him finish his diatribe before pointing out that the venture capitalists were next door. They however could spot the mind of a genius and immediately offered him the job of tea-boy. As this paid better than Butcher opera writing Jonathan took the job on the spot. After several unexplained deaths – all oddly having occurred after drinking a cup of tea – Jonathan was left alone in the Flaneur office. He took on the mantle of editor, aiming to return to The Flaneur the glory days it had enjoyed in the past.