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From New York Times: “A Disappointing Book”

THE YELLOW BOOK. An Illustrated Quarter-
ly. Boston: Copeland & Day. $1.50.

If to be incomprehensible means literary
perfection, then the major part of the text
of “The Yellow Book” accomplishes its
mission. The most ambitious article is
“The Coxon Fund,” written by Mr. Henry
James. After many hours of serious toil, it
is possible that a clever reader may discov-
er that in Saltram the author wants to de-
velop some passing episode in the life of a
social sponge. All else is twaddle, mean-
ingless, and waste of paper. It is tiresome-
ness embodied, and, even wanting in Mr.
James’s clearness of style.

One article, by Mr. Philip Gilberton Hamerton,
has at least the merit of exciting curi-
osity. The distinguished art critic and man
of letters was asked by the editor and pub-
lisher to furnish something like a review
of the former number, or, in other words,
Mr. Hammerton was requested to boost it.
And he does, but by no means heartily.
How could he fashion an out-and-out
réclame? That is not in his line. He ob-
jects decidely to the yellow cover, but ex-
actly why is not stated. What is the mat-
ter with the color of the yolk of an egg, or
the shade of a dandelion? What he does
inform us, however, is that there is no re-
lationship between the illustrations and the
text. “That gives perfect independence,”
he says. It is not supposable that an Eng-
lish public is any better educated than an
American. Probably the American is by
far the cleverer of the two, and more ac-
customed to books. This independence of
text and pictures must, however, inevitably
lead to many ludicrous mistakes or comic

Here is a coarse photogravure of some
black-and-white brush work. It represents
a bloated woman, with cavernous mouth
and bad teeth, and she sports a tumbled
hat. This frowsy creature is exciting the
astonishment of four hideous-looking cads,
for she must be tipsy. There was a frank
moral in Cruickshank. There was even
some art in the working out of his tem-
perance pictures. There is nothing in this
sketch but heavy brutality. You pass over
the print with dislike, and as you turn
the next page you find a poem entitled “Be-
trothed.” Here “dusk” and “musk,”
“meet” and “sweet,” “dove” and “love,”
“next” and “breast” jingle in common-
place rhyme. Is the hard-faced, flouting
woman of the print the ideal of “The Be-
trothed” ?

Perhaps in one volume there never was,
with one or two exceptions, a succession of
worse pictures. Here is something called
an “Idyl.” A squaw in a blanket is slouch-
ing along in a Perugino garden. But how
can an Indian woman wear such a queer
Norman cap? You are mistaken. It is not
a Norman cap, but two antique vessels,
with lateen sails, floating on the sea be-
yond. One particularly wretched, independ-
ent picture has for title “A Girl Resting.”
It requires careful scrutiny before you are
satisfied that it is not a dead crow lying on
a snow field. There never could have been
imagined a more vulgar caricature than
the print called “The Quick and the Dead.”
A besundied shop girl of a former crinoline
age is simpering at a cross which sur-
mounts a grave in a dreary cemetery.

A contributor of illustrations to “The
Yellow Book” is Mr. Aubrey Beardsley.
He is a manufacturer of the grotesque.
His artistic world is peopled with pierrots,
marionettes, satires, and scarecrows. He
constructs his comic woman with the head
of an animal, puts on her skull the wig of
an old Egyptian, gives her pipestem legs
and almost invisible feet. As often as not,
instead of feet there are cloven hoofs.
Mr. Beardsley may amuse you once, but
you are soon disgusted with what is hideous
and tricky.

It would be doing Mr. Wilson Steer an
injustice not to find exceeding merit in
a pretty illustration entitled “A Portrait of
Himself” but why “Himself”? A jaunty
little woman, very much en dishabille, is put-
ting on her shoes. “Himself,” constructed
with the proportions of a colossus, stands
in the background. It is a most unconven-
tional piece of work.

Perhaps “The Yellow Book” is, after all,
a “cheeky” performance, to be appreciated
only by the dilettante, and not written for
Philistines; a kind of shunting place for
eccentric and tiresome writing and the
dumping ground for sketches by artists
which, with an occasional exception, nobody
would want to pick up.

MLA citation:

“A Disappointing Book.” Review of The Yellow Book, vol. 2, July 1894, New York Times 19 August 1894, p. 23. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.