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From The Cambridge Review: “The Yellow Book”

“The Yellow Book as the representative of English Literature
and Art.”

The Yellow Book has now been before the public for
some time, but echoes of the laughter with which it
was pretty generally greeted are still lingering on, and
will in all probability continue to linger for some time
to come. But after all, although the book has been
laughed at, satirized and caricatured, it has been met
with very little sober criticism or serious consideration.
Many will say that it has met with its deserts, that
it is unworthy of serious consideration, and that the
best thing to be done in the case of such a production
is to kill it by laughter. This may be true, but after
all it must be remembered that this book pretends to
be representative of the highest literary and artistic
genius of the day; that it has come out more or less
under the patronage of the president of the Royal Academy,
and that another of its contributors was at one time
pretty generally named as the probable successor to
Tennyson in the Laureateship. This being the case, it
might be argued with some justice that if the book is
to be regarded as a mere matter for laughter, English
literature and art must be in a very sorry case.

The truth is, that though the book contains much that
is simply ridiculous, and certain things that are worse
than ridiculous, yet after all, when all that is ridiculous
and worthless is cut out, there still remains a consider-
able amount of matter well worthy of serious consideration.
Though some of the pictures of Aubrey Beardsley are
foolish and inartistic, others are certainly clever, though
the contribution of Sickert are merely unpleasing
scrawls with nothing artistic about them, on the other
hand those of Will Rothenstein are both clever and
artistic, whilst the President’s studies are far too good
for the company in which they are placed. Again,
whilst the verse of Le Gallienne is forced, unmusical
and generally unsatisfying, and the sensuous jingle
contributed by Symons is absolutely without merit, and
would be enough in itself to damn any book that
contained it, on the other hand the sonnets by the
author of “Lacrymae Musarum” may be placed amongst
his best work, whilst some other of the short poems
included in the book (e.g. those of John Davidson) are
of quite considerable merit.

The same thing may be said of the prose contents
of the book. So much of it is worthless that we are
liable to miss what is worth reading, merely because it
so difficult to find. Though it is a mere waste of
time to read the respective efforts of Ella D’Arcy and
Hubert Crackanthorpe, on the other hand “The Love
Story of Luigi Tansillo” is quite worth reading, and is
most interesting, whilst the article on “Reticence in
Literature” though verbose in style, contains many
thoughts that are worthy of study. We commend it to
the notice of the author of Stella Maris.

From this criticism, necessarily somewhat superficial
owing to the limitations of space, it will be seen that
in our opinion, if about three-quarters of the book had
never been published, we should have had in the
remainder a fairly high class literary and artistic
Magazine, which would have in all probability been
successful. As it is, the book is a failure for the
reasons which we have indicated. Finally we are told
that it is “so old-fashioned” “so essentially English,”
to object on the ground of morality to such a poem as
Stella Maris. If it is old-fashioned and English to
condemn an effort, the whole point of which seems to
lie in the glorification of lust, then we thank Heaven
that we are still old-fashioned and still Englishmen.

Lastly we have heard it said that, to be consistent,
we must condemn utterly Juvenal, Horace, Byron and
a host more whom the world has hitherto accounted
great. To this we reply that Juvenal, at least, never
shows any of the attractive side of Vice, and that
these men were all great in spite of, not because of,
their immorality; whereas Mr. Arthur Symons is merely
immoral without showing the faintest signs of greatness.

C. H. S. M.

MLA citation:

C.H.S.M. “The Yellow Book.” Review of The Yellow Book, vol. 1, The Cambridge Review, 7 June 1894, pp. 390-91. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.