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From The National Observer: “Dulness in Yellow”

     The Yellow Book. Volume II. London: Matthews .

If The Yellow Book holds to its present path it will soon be
amongst the most respectable and the most insignificant of our
magazines. The second number bids almost impudently for
the suffrage of the suburbs. Mr. Philip Gilbert Hamerton,
L.L.D. , has been engaged to explain away the alarums and
excursions of the first, and right morally he has fulfilled his task.
He has been employed, we understand, because, living chiefly
in France, he is not likely to be influenced by the warfare
between conflicting insular theories, and also because he is
something of a man of letters and something of an art-critic as
well. His remarks upon the ‘literature’ of the first number might
very well have been written by an art critic: indeed, sentence
after sentence of his recalls the treasured names of William
Sharp and Frederick Wedmore. His judgment of the ‘art’
would do very little discredit to Archdeacon Farrar at his
flightiest, or to the estimable Nonconformist divine who once
published a volume of sermons on famous pictures. And at
times his grammar is difficult to follow. What are we to
think of a man who can blandly say of a book-plate that it
‘seems to tell a tale of hopeless love’ ? We shall next hear of
a teapot that tells a tale of satisfied ambition or of a water-
bottle which was made all along of a widow weeping for her
children and refusing to be comforted because they were not.
However, as the editor thinks it well that his production
should be brought within the popular comprehension in this
fashion, we have asked a critic of novels to give our readers
the benefit of his opinion on the pictures and a writer on art
to say what he thinks of the letterpress.

The critic of novels says: The trail of Mr. Aubrey Beardsley
still lies heavily upon The Yellow Book . The design for the cover
of the second number is rather pretty for him. It represents a
yellow creole lady with a very large bun on the nape of her
neck gazing at a revolving bookcase which has revolved itself
a little out of drawing. The Comedy Ballet of Marionettes is
a series of three pictures representing ungainly and repulsive
dolls in impossible poses, usually in an impossible perspective.
The Garçons du Café are three hideous waiters—probably
German. One of them will spill his liqueur glasses if he does
not take care. The Cinderella is about sixteen feet high and
proportionately ugly. The portrait of Madame Réjane is not
unlike that gifted lady. Mr. Walter Sickert contributes a por-
trait of Mr. Beardsley apparently meeting somebody by moon-
light alone in a churchyard. His Beford Music Hall makes
one feel what it is to be there, as Dr. Harnerton remarks of
the same gentleman’s music-hall sketch in the first number,
and the portrait of Miss Ada Lundberg: would seem to have
been taken from the flies. Mr. Walter Crane ‘s splotchy
Renaissance of Venus is by no means our ideal of the goddess
who came as ‘a silver splendour, a flame.’ The process of
reproduction makes her seem a little bony at the ribs, and at
least three of her doves look as if they were flying under the
water. Mr. Hartrick ‘s Lamplighter is a very clever represen-
tation of an ill-favoured man, whose eyes, however, are full of
earnest purpose. Mr. Thornton ‘s Landscape is one of the most
pleasing things in the number. Mr. Wilson Steer ‘s portrait of
himself shows a very neat-limbed young lady who is tying her
shoe with a headless painter in the background. His other
sketches are admirable. A Girl Resting by Mr. Sidney
Adamson is cleverly posed and rather graceful. But perhaps
the smartest draughtsmanship is in Mr. E. J. Sullivan ‘s two
pictures. The Quick and the Dead , which shows a lady in a
crinoline doing her chore at graveyard-trotting, is pretty as well
as skilful: but we cannot take any pleasure in The Old Man’s
which tells how a gaping dotard walked out with a
basket, a brush and a potato-fork, and found that the thorns, or
rather the Scotch thistles, had sprung up and choked every
thing but the poppies and tares. He is about to remark, ‘An
enemy hath done this!’ The workmanship is audacious and
effective. Mr. Bernhard Sickert ‘s study of a head is well and
simply done. It would make a good model for country-house
school-rooms. Mr. John Sargent ‘s portrait of Mr. Henry James
is capital—a pencil drawing in which one could almost count
the strokes and yet the effect is excellent both as a picture and
a likeness. We notice that Mr. James’s jacket does not quite
fit below the neck: probably because he does not hang it by
the tag generally provided by the tailor.

The writer on art says: You have already discussed the
work of my talented confrère , Dr. Philip Gilbert Hamerton,
which strikes me as the model of what criticism should be—
kindly to a fault, attentive to moral tendencies, and gently
severe when there is need. I shall now speak of the verses in
The Yellow Book . Mr. John Davidson ‘s ‘Thirty Bob a Week’
is a powerful poem, written in a swinging metre, which cannot
be easy to sustain. He has tamed several very uncouth words
to the trammels of verse, and a tone of fine manly philosophy
pervades the whole. Miss Dollie Radford ‘s song is light and
tuneful, Mr. William Watson ‘s epigram consists of four lines,
and Mr. Austin Dobson ‘s poetical pat on the back to Mr. Gosse
is not quite worthy of his dainty muse. Mr. Macfie ‘s ‘Dreams’
strikes the truest and richest note in the number. In style it
follows the Elizabethan models. In this very charming canticle
Mr. Macfie—so delicate a lover!—asks his lady’s pardon for
having been bold enough to dream that he had kissed the
hair that lay upon her temple. A very refined and dainty fancy.
The subjects of the stories are not very happy. Mr. Henry James,
at his most prolix and cryptic, writes of a drunken and
generally unsatisfactory man of genius who sponged on his
friends. The three stories by V. , O. , and C. S. are about a bar-
maid, a daughter who revolted and became a governess, and a
poor woman who could not afford to ‘wake’ her dead husband
properly. If good writing and observation could save a story,
the second of these might deserve praise. But it is not very
interesting. Mr. Harland tells how he once refused to speak
to a baronet he had not been introduced to and how the
baronet committed suicide in consequence. Comment is needless.
Miss Netta Syrett ‘s Indian tale is long and dull and
full of strained emotion: Miss Mew ‘s is more strained in
emotion and not at all bettered by a forced and ‘precious’
style. Miss Ella D’Arcy contributes a powerful study of
peasant greed and cruelty, an improvement on her last tale,
which was quite worthy of the praise it received. But she
might learn to prune her words and shape her sentences more
carefully. Of the general articles, Mr. Kenneth Grahame ‘s
sketch ‘The Roman Road’ is a very subtle study of the thoughts
of a boy, phrased in prose of an exceeding delicate texture.
Mr. Greenwood ‘s ‘Gospel of Content’ is strong in reasoning and
strong in expression. Mr. Max Beerbohm is at some pains to
explain that the article in the last number which met with such
unanimous censure was meant as a joke. All we can say is that
the joke did not go far enough. That his ‘Defence of Cos-
metics’ was taken as an expression of sincere decadence only
shows that nobody has any idea where these decadents will
stop. The rest of the number is mildly tiresome.

MLA citation:

“Dulness in Yellow.” Review of The Yellow Book, vol. 2, The National Observer 18 August 1894, p. 359. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.