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From Poet-lore: “Some Literary Tendencies ‘Philip and His Wifeʼ and ‘The Yellow Bookʼ”

Maeterlinck’s influence would seem to be felt in art, also, to a
certain extent. I am sure anyone would be justified in taking the
face which adorns the cover of the Yellow Book for a portrait of Méli-
sande, or rather of Mélisande’s hair. In fact, the superabundance
of hair which Maeterlinck’s heroines are apt to have, seems to have
been seized upon by Mr. Aubrey Beardsley as a distinguishing fea-
ture of the young women who figure in his designs, though Maeter-
linck weights his heroines’ hair with some mysterious symbolism
better felt than explained, and Mr. Beardsley’s hair suggests only
conventionalized tangle. This same Yellow Book, by the way, is a
wholly characteristic sign of the times. Athirst for originality, it
comes very near making itself absurd. Still, I confess I am suffi-
ciently bitten with the spirit of the days to find myself showing
Mr. Beardsley’s designs to everybody. Some of them look like
glorified child’s-pictures-on-a-slate; and if they do not exactly rouse
our admiration, they set us to curiously wondering what capers art
will be at next. There is a plentiful supply of pictures in the book,
more or less unique, among them, a landscape which looks as if it
were made up of water-spouts. Perhaps the most attractive is
Walter Crane‘s “Renaissance of Venus,”—a bit of simple art, un-
usually devoid of mannerism of any kind. One might imagine that
Venus re-born would be a sedate senior wrangler in cap and gown;
but, no, she is even less prudish than the famous Botticelli Venus,
which may represent an advance or a backward step according as
one looks at things.

For the rest, I was obliged to begin the perusal of this generous
quarterly with stern resolve, because there seemed almost as much
miscellaneous matter to read through as one has to listen to at a
benefit concert, when all the stars sing separately their show pieces.
The letter-press has scarcely any of the peculiarly original flavor of
the art, unless Mr. Greenwood’s ‘Gospel of Content,’ which begins
like a story and ends like a philosophical essay, could be called
original. This masquerade of fiction was adopted, likely enough, in
order that the article might pass muster as “creative work,”—a
concession made to present-day critics who seem to have clean
forgot that criticism can ever be creative, though criticism claims
in its train such original minds as Carlyle, Emerson, Matthew
Arnold, Sainte-Beuve, and hosts of others. When one sees how
short stories grow on every bush, while true critical insight is a
rare plant, the wonder grows why there should be this persistent
worship of fiction as the highest literary god. But if you have
not already clone so, pray read Kenneth Graham‘s ‘Roman Road,’
a very gem of a tale, and, like all the best art, suggestive of so
much more than it says.

‘The Coxon Fund,’ I found I was not enjoying a bit, when a
sudden light burst in upon me, which sent me back to the begin-
ning to read it over again with an entirely changed heart. This
great discovery that as far as I know has escaped all the critics—
it makes me feel as important as a Shakespearian commentator—
that the hero of the story, Saltram, is a study of Coleridge’s per-
sonality. Like Coleridge, he is almost perfectly irresponsible
morally, but with so scintillating an intellect, and magnetic a
presence, that everyone who comes in contact with him falls under
his spell. Like Coleridge, Saltram lives upon his friends, treats
them badly, breaks his engagements to lecture, is separated from
his wife, and has the same wonderful look out of his eyes. Isn’t
this a really new idea on the part of Henry James?—to pluck a
man out from the deadening platitudes of his own biography and
give him the benefit of the dramatic insight of the novelist. By
calling his hero by another name, he is absolved from all responsi-
bility as to the exact truth in the external shows of things, and so,
free to use to the utmost his power of keen analysis, is able to pre-
sent a truer picture of the real man and his influence on those
around him than could be gained in any other way. Oh, it was
cleverly conceived, and has been brilliantly consummated.
I have written myself into quite a different mood. After all,
suppose a whole stable full of Pegasuses ridden into the past,
is there not enough mighty literature to keep us reading for

MLA citation:

“Some Literary Tendencies: ‘Philip and His Wife’ and ‘The Yellow Book.'” Review of The Yellow Book, vol. 2, July 1894, Poet-lore, vol. 6, 1894, pp. 559-63. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.