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From Chap-Book: “The Yellow Book”

“TALKING of an acquaintance of ours,” writes the most
quotable of biographers, “whose narratives . . .
were unhappily found to be very fabulous; I mentioned
Lord Mansfield’s having said to me, ‘Suppose we believe one
half of what he tells.’ JOHNSON— ‘Ay; but we don’t know
which half to believe.’ ”

When, some months ago, a certain group of young London
amateurs announced—or, rather, screamed to a world al-
ready slightly wearied but still willing to be amused, their in-
tention of starting a new and intensely modern magazine, it
was thought, from what was already known of the founders,
that their choice of colour for the binding of the quarterly
was singularly apt, as it would save us the usual quarantine
questions that we are sometimes tempted to put to their pro-
ductions. However, two harmless numbers of The Yellow
have now appeared, edited by Mr. Harland and buck-
ram’d by Mr. Beardsley, our expectation of amusement has
been fulfilled, and the quarantine removed; but—and here
we are in the Doctor’s quandary—while we are willing to
take at least one half of The Yellow Book seriously, we don’t
quite know which half. For the magazine is devoted to two
objects, “Literature,” in the first number called” Letterpress,”
and “Art”; and the publishers, to make good their promise
of modernity, have expressly declared that the text will have
no relation to the pictures and the pictures no relation to the
text. Now that the first two numbers have been published,
it would, perhaps, be unfair to such contributors as Mr. Henry
James, Mr. William Watson, Sir Frederic Leighton and Mr.
Sargent to say that the text has no relation to Literature and
the pictures no relation to Art. As for the others, after giv-
ing them the most careful and pained scrutiny, I am inclined
to think that, in intention at least, the text is the more con-
scientious part of the quarterly, and, therefore, more deserv-
ing of serious consideration.

Most of the verse of this second number of The Yellow
is various and indifferent. Mr. John Davidson leads
off with sixteen stanzas in Bab-ballad metre, entitled “Thirty
Bob a Week.” A few lines will suffice to show its lyric char-

    I couldn’t touch a stop and turn a screw,
    And set the blooming world a-work for me,
    Like such as cut their teeth—I hope, like you—
    On the handle of a skeleton gold key.
    I cut mine on leek, which I eat it every week:
    I’m a clerk at thirty bob as you can see.”

After finishing the poem it is difficult to decide whether or
not Mr. Davidson is overpaid. Miss, or possibly, Mrs. Dollie
Radford next unwinds a pleasant little “Song,” although on
a very slender pipe. It has the Haynes-Bayleyan merit of
being singable, and all the charm of modest unimportance.
Mr. Austin Dobson contributes one of his well-groomed little
fancies—”to E. G. with a Volume of Essays “—called “Sat
est Scripsisse.” Dobson is one of the most faithful beaux
of the Muse, and she generally rewards him with a happy
little trill. Katharine de Mattos’ lines to the Portrait of a
Lady (Unknown) have a certain pathological strength that is
wanting in Mr. Norman Gale’s “Betrothed.” Mr. Gale has
written some verse that was very charming in his first book,
“A Country Muse,” just a bit cloying in his last book,
“Orchard Songs,” and, I don’t know what, in The Yellow
. In this last he has omitted the blackbirds and the
cherries, but it amounts to the same thing in the long run, for
at the last he tells us: And whatever my grief There is heal-
ing, and rest, On the pear-blossomed slope Of her beautiful
breast. Which is perfectly satisfactory to all good lovers
of Herrick, amongst whom Mr. Gale is conspicuous. After a
longish poem by a Mr. Alfred Hayes, the verse of The Yellow
ends with an Epigram of Mr. William Watson’s. It is
too pretty to miss quoting:

    “Life plucks thee back as by the golden hair—
    Life, who had feigned to let thee go but now,
    Wealthy is Death already, and can spare
        Ev’n such a prey as thou.”

Like the verse, the prose of The Yellow Book is also various
and indifferent, with one or two luminous exceptions. The
opening article is “The Gospel of Content.” For eight
pages Mr. Frederick Greenwood leads us to believe that he is
either writing or about to write a story; but this is a hollow
cheat, and simply the ultra-modern way of introducing the next
fifteen pages, which consist of the slightly philosophical pat-
terings of an elderly and reformed Russian enthusiast.
“Poor Cousin Louis,” by Ella D’Arcy, is rather better;
after hesitating some time on the pons asinorum of her intro-
duction, she succeeds in telling a strongly-conceived story
definitely and well.

The reader is almost led to agree with Mr. Charles Willeby
when, in his article on “The Composer of ‘Carmen,'” he
says: “What little has been written about poor Bizet is
not the sort to satisfy.” However, in spite of his uncon-
scious modesty, Mr. Willeby has succeeded in compiling a
very appreciative article on the composer. “Poor Bizet,”
says Mr. Willeby constantly, “poor Bizet.” The expression
is happy; we do not say” Poor Mozart,” “Poor Chopin,”—
why then do we say “Poor Bizet,” with that queer little
touch of affection? But, after all, I do not think that The
Yellow Book
gives us in twenty pages the picture of Bizet
that Daudet gives in the half-dozen words of his dedication
of “L’Arlesienne”—”A mon cher et grand Bizet.”

“Passed,” by Charlotte Mew, may as well be skipped,
as may the second and third of the three stories by “V., 0.,
and C. S.” Mr. Dauphin Meunier’s appreciation of Madame
Réjane is distinctly worth reading as is the very charming
little tale of “The Roman Road,” by Kenneth Grahame.
Then, after denying yourself “Thy Heart’s Desire” of Miss
Netta Syrett, Mr. Crackenthorpe‘s roundabout remarks
on “Reticence in Literature,” and Mr. Beerbohm‘s letter, you
will be ready to appreciate the superiority of Mr. Henry Har-
land’s creative powers to his ability as an editor. “A Re-
sponsibility” is an exceedingly clever study, in spite of the
fact that one of the gentlemen in it “wore shamelessly the
multicoloured rosette of a foreign order in his buttonhole,
and talked with a good deal of physiognomy.”

At the end, like the good wine in the parable, comes Mr.
James’ story. It is impossible to analyse Mr. James’ charm;
he is so aggressively clever, so complexly simple. You won-
der why he twirls around so much, and yet the twirls are
what delight you. An old Cambridge friend of his said the
other day, “Harry James has got to that point now that he
doesn’t care so much what he says as how he says it.” The
real Jamesite doesn’t care at all—he would be amusing if
he wrote on the binomial theorem. “The Coxon Fund,”
however, would float any number of Yellow Books, and is
among the best of Mr. James’ short stories; and that is say-
ing much.

The “Art” of The Yellow Book consists of twenty-three
plates, the list headed by “The Renaissance of Venus,” in Mr.
Walter Crane‘s best manner, and ending with four designs
for the backs of playing cards, in Mr. Aymer Vallance’s worst
manner. In between comes a dreary waste of artlessly messy
sketches, with a grotesque oasis of Mr. Aubrey Beardsley,
and a capital sketch of Mr. Henry James by Mr. Sargent.
Mr. Alfred Thornton contributes a landscape that would have
made Doré wriggle; Mr. P. Wilson Steer gives a “Portrait
of Himself” with the unimportant omission of the head, a
“Lady,” and a “Gentleman” with the antepenult highly ac-
centuated; Mr. Sydney Adamson pictures a “Girl Resting”
on what seems to be a bed of wet snow; and Mr. Walter
Sickert adds to the gaiety of the book with his three draw-
ings,—”The Old Bedford Music Hall,” a portrait of Aubrey
Beardsley, and Ada Lundberg. These last two are very pre-
cious; the portrait of Mr. Beardsley is a pretty little com-
mentary on the modest, quiet, well-bred taste of that gentle-
man in his selection of the plates to publish. Then follow
some inanities by a Mr. MacDougal, a Mr. Sullivan, and a
Mr. Foster, a rather decent “Study” by another Mr. Sickert,
and we have finished the list of artists, with the exception of
Mr. Beardsley.

Of Mr. Beardsley what can I say? On looking at his cover
design and his first three plates of “Marionettes” the convic-
tion grows that his much-praised technique is degenerating
into a mere pyrotechnique. His “Garcons de Cafe” is clever
and very French, his “Cinderella” is tiresome, and his por-
trait of Madame Réjane is perhaps the most charming out-
line he has ever done. Mr. Beardsley is young, at times very
morbid (which is a polite little modern way of saying “nasty” ),
and always brilliant. Of late, he has been imitated and
parodied; one or two artists in Life and Punch, thinking that
they could do something in his manner if they would only
abandon their minds to it, have tried and failed. For which
we should be grateful.

After all, the quiet, pervading charm of The Yellow Book
is its brazen inessentiality. Furthermore, it is most attrac-
tively printed; and bound so that at a distance it looks pleas-
ingly like Chatterbox. In the long run, the ancient love
of simple dignity and self-respect in literature and in art will
probably prevail again; meanwhile, The Yellow Book is win-
ning a well-deserved popularity. So let us sigh “finis.”

MLA citation:

La Rose, Pierre. “The Yellow Book.” Review of The Yellow Book, vol. 2, July 1894, Chap-Book August 1894, pp. 161-65. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.