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From Current Literature: “A Yellow Melancholy”

Of the new English quarterly, The Yellow Book, the orig-
inal literary departure from the conventional magazine, and
whose appearance is the literary sensation of the month, the
London Speaker gives this review:

In an advertisement affixed to The Yellow Book we
learn that Messrs. Elkin Mathews and John Lane, of the
Bodley Head, Vigo Street, London, W., “produce books
so delightfully that it must give an added pleasure to the
hoarding of first editions.” At the present moment the
hoarder of first editions is being forced to draw and de-
fend himself. Hitherto the poor man has imagined that
his pursuit was as innocuous to others as it was agree-
able to himself, and now, lo and behold! he is attacked,
his little idols are being shattered by impious hands, and
he himself is asked to give a reason for the faith that
is in him. Let the lover of first editions take comfort.
Foolish he may be—we ask him to admit it for the sake
of argument—and vain he may be; but no collector that
we ever heard of is foolish or vain enough to hoard, even
if he should be mad enough to purchase, the first or any
other edition of The Yellow Book. And on the day
of literary judgment it shall be counted to him for right-
eousness if he can say to those who would sentence him,
“Behold my shelves: no quarterly block of yellow ochre
cumbers them with its farrago of aspiring affectation and
preposterous incompetence.”

Thus might the hoarder of first editions speak. His
words would be strong, but we fancy that most of those
who have dipped into The Yellow Book would hold that
they were not without some justification. For what,
after all, is this boomed and trumpeted quarterly publi-
cation; what cause is it intended to serve, what taste can
it be supposed to gratify? We can picture Messrs.
Mathews and Lane calling round them the band of Bod-
ley Head disciples, and saying to one, “Write us some-
thing that shall have neither beginning, nor end, nor
meaning;” and to another, “Saddle your Pegasus and
cause him to strike rhymes from his clattering hoofs;”
and to yet another, “Draw for us caricatures of night-
mare visions;” and to all of them, ” Be mystic, be weird,
be precious, be advanced, be without value:” and we can
picture, too, the yearning, emotional joy of this curious
company of pilgrims on receiving their various commis-
sions. But what we fail to understand is why Mr. Henry
James, and Dr. Richard Garnett, and Mr. John David-
son, and Sir Frederick Leighton should have joined these
strolling players and donned the yellow suit! Nor is it
at all comprehensible why the bound result of all these
efforts should have been flung in the face of the public.

We open The Yellow Book at random, and find our-
selves brought face to face with Tree Worship, a poem
in eighteen verses by Mr. Richard Le Gallienne. Here
at last, we murmur to ourselves, we have discovered the
religion of a literary man. Not the outworn dogmas of
obsolete systems, not humanity, not work, not pleasure,
but—trees. It appears that somewhere or other Mr. Le
Gallienne has seen a tree “knotted and warted, slabbed
and armored like the hide of tropic elephant.” We have
all met such trees, arboreal elephants, branched and leafy
rhinoceroses, gnarled hippopotami, amidst a forest of
minor zoological specimens. This tree, moreover, had
haughty crest, with which it called the morning friend
—a polite salutation which we hope the morning duly
returned. “Huge as a minster,” says the poet, “half in
heaven men saw thee stand, Thy rugged girth the waists
of fifty Eastern girls.” Now here we hint an omission.
We have never seen an Eastern girl out of a pantomime,
and we have not the slightest conception of what her
waist may measure. This ought to have been clearly
stated. But suppose we take it at twenty inches. An
easy effort of arithmetic brings us to the knowledge that
the tree which Mr. Le Gallienne worships measures 83 ft.
4 in. round! This tree existed before there was yet of
Mr. Le Gallienne “so much as men may poise upon a
needle’s end.” It will be confessed that few poets have
taken more words to say “nothing.”

Next enter Messrs. Aubrey Beardsley and Walter
Sickert, disguised as artists. Mr. Beardsley stabs Mrs.
Patrick Campbell basely in the back with a travesty,
and Mr. Sickert, having hidden The Old Oxford
Music Hall in a fog, cuts off the legs of A Lady
Reading, and seats her like an adult female cherub on
nothing. Still pursuing his career of villainy, the former
produces A Night Piece, the principal character
being a lady who has, naturally enough, mistaken her
hat for an omnibus, and is about to drive in it past the
Chelsea Barracks. The cleverness of Mr. Beardsley is
monstrous—an epithet which also fits his artistic impu-
dence and his affectation. Mr. Rothenstein and Mr.
C. W. Furse have each contributed A Portrait of a
Lady—inoffensive and not unmeritorious little bits of
slap-dash. We would fain speak of the ferocious
Crackanthrope and the more than masculine George
Egerton. Both these masters of modernity are re-
presented by prose pieces which resemble Mr. Sickert’s
Lady Reading in having absolutely no foundation to
rest on. If to signify nothing in a flat-footed and dis-
jointed fashion be a qualification for praise, let the critics
prepare their largest honey-pots for Messrs. Crackan-
thorpe and Egerton. To these two Mr. Henry Harland
must be added. The three of them seem, if the meta-
phor may be permitted, like men who should carve at a
feather-pillow with knives in order to make of it a statue.
We challenge any dispassionate critic to read the stories
they have written and tell us what they are all about,
where the interest comes in—gentle decadents, forgive
the expression—and why in the world anyone of them
should have been written at all.

Nor must we leave out of this Chamber of Horrors
the figure of Mr. Arthur Symons, the “high-toned”
Don Juan of the pavement, who sings his Piccadilly
amours with a zest that would be ludicrous if it were
not loathsome. He has a suitable coadjutor in a Mr.
Max Beerbohm, who writes on cosmetics, like a sent-
imental hairdresser’s assistant, in a language which may
be Dutch but certainly is not English. Worthy are they
all of the artistic aid of Mr. Beardsley and the gentle-
man who contributes an obscene abomination—a pic-
ture-puzzle called The Reflected Faun.

Here we pause, overwhelmed by the feeling that, ere
three months have come and gone, a second and possi-
bly more terrible Yellow Book may be flaunted be-
fore our eyes and jaundice our amiable dispositions.
But no: we cannot believe it. Messrs. Mathews and
Lane have come it strong. Let them now be merciful.

MLA citation:

“‘A Yellow Melancholy’: The New Quarterly.” Review of The Yellow Book, vol. 1, April 1894, Current Literature, June 1894, p. 503. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.