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From The Spectator: “The Yellow Book”

THE new Yellow Book is a ponderous affair. There is more
“Literature” than in the first volume, and double the amount
of “Art.” Mr. William Watson contributes a short four-line
epigram. Mr. John Davidson‘s “Thirty Bob a Week” is
clever; it reminds us a little of Mr. Bret Harte’s colloquial
monologues, especially the one called “Seventy-Nine,” though
in the present instance the slang is rather artificially dragged
in, and there is a little want of a genuine ring about the poem
though no want of real earnestness. The lines,—
    “It’s just the power of some to be a boss,
    And the bally power of others to be bossed,”—
express a truth that is older than Socialism. The last four
verses are set in a higher key, and “The Gospel of Content”
is preached as forcibly, if not as diffusely, as Mr. Frederick
Greenwood’s reformed Russian preaches it. Mr. Alfred
Hayes has realised to the full the restfulness of Nature; his
poem is redolent of sunshine and fresh air, the third and
fourth stanzas descriptive of his open-air “Study” bear
some resemblance to Shelley’s “lawny islet,” where he
describes it—
    “By anemone and violet
        Like mosaic paven :
    And its roof was flowers and leaves.
    Which the summer’s breath enweaves.”
Mr. Hayes’s powers are unequal; it is a pity that one
who can write such a good verse as the following,—
    “As on my grassy couch I lie,
            From hedge and tree
    Musicians pipe;or if the heat
    Subdue the birds, one crooneth sweet,
    Whose labour is a lullaby,—
            The slumbrous bee,”
should end his poem in such a remarkably commonplace
manner, the last line of the last stanza, “And go to bed,”
absolutely unpoetical.

The distinctive feature of the new Yellow Book is the intro-
duction of criticism. Mr. Philip Hamerton criticises the former
volume with a seriousness that almost amounts to dullness
Mr. Max Beerbohm protests against the want of a sense of
humour among his critics. It does seem incredible that his
essay in the first number of The Yellow Book, called “The
Defence of Cosmetics,” should have been taken seriously
but in the defence of the critics, we feel bound to say that,
some cases, what is known as the “New Humour” requires a
new sense of humour for its full appreciation, the old sense
that serves to discern the humour of past generations being
wholly inadequate to modem demands. Mr. Beerbohm is as
little serious in his letter as he was in the essay which he
defends; he describes the “average pressman” occupied by
reviewing the work of an unknown author, and accuses him of
“plucking out and gloating over” defects and ignoring
obvious beauties; but he ignores the average conscientious
pressman who spends much time in searching for those latent
beauties and fails after all to find them. He would exclaim,
with Cowper:—
                            “Happy Work!
             which not e’en critics criticize.”
And to the present race of critics he addresses the following
exordium:—”Many and irreparable are the wrongs that our
critics have done. At length let them repent with ashes upon
their heads. Where they see not beauty, let them be silent,
reverently feeling that it may yet be there, and train their
dull senses in quest of it.” Mr. Herbert Crackanthorpe
borrows Mr. Waugh’s title of “Reticence in Literature;”
and pours out the vials of his wrath on the Philistines, on every
one who ventures to protest against his code of morals in
fiction, particularly the “moral objector,” and the “artistic
objector;” but critics are a callous race, and we shall be
surprised if any of the respectable Philistines at whom Mr.
Crackanthorpe points the finger of scorn, will sleep any the
worse for it. Of other articles there is an account of the
charming French actress who has fascinated all London
this summer, and among the fiction Miss Ella D’Arcy‘s
darkly coloured sketch of “Poor Cousin Louis” is the most
impressive. A short story called “My Heart’s Desire” is
made up of hackneyed themes with a “Persian wheel” as a
kind of stage-property round which the characters are
grouped, in much the same way as Mr. Vincent Crummles
advised Nicholas Nickleby to introduce a “Real pump!”—
and “Splendid tubs!”—into his new play. “Passed” is the
“impression” of a nightmare, doubtless meant to illustrate
the old responsibility of man towards his fellow-creatures,
against which Cain flung his rebellious question, “Am I my
‘brother’s keeper?” but the style is gasping and hysterical,
and the effect tawdry and theatrical. Mr. Harland‘s con-
tribution has the same keynote, the story being also narrated
the first person; but the “Responsibility” shirked, is more
properly a case of selfish ill-breeding, the narrator deliberately
ignores a shy fellow-countryman, his own equal in all re-
spects, in a foreign hotel and finally helps to goad him into
committing suicide by a system of uncourteous rebuffs that
wound an abnormally sensitive nature in an unlooked-for
manner. If there was any enjoyment to be got out of such
behaviour to an inoffensive stranger, it was emphatically, as
Mr. Harland calls it, “heathenish”; but the slight sketch is
cleverly written, a little in Mr. Henry James‘s style. Mr.
Henry James’s own contribution of “The Coxon Trust” adds
to the weight of the Yellow Book, and is a little dull. We are
not surprised that his characters tangle themselves into a
hopeless muddle, and are left in vague ambiguity, but we are.
disappointed that so much apparent brilliancy should produce
so little sense of illumination. His hero, Frank Saltram, is
a literary Pecksniff, with a dash of Mr. Micawber thrown
in, but we fail to take any interest in the disreputable
old humbug, whose sole literary capital is his brilliant conver-
sation; and the toleration shown towards him and his tiresome
wife by his long-suffering friends becomes a little tedious. Not
having the advantage of hearing any of Mr. Saltram’s golden
utterances, it is difficult to echo Miss Anvoy’s remark that
“one forgets so wonderfully how one dislikes him!” and the
only picture that impresses itself on the imagination is that
of a fat, frowsy, old man driving with his lenient hostess “in
a one-horse greenish thing, an early Victorian landau, hired,
near at hand, imaginatively, from a broken-down job-master,
whose wife was in consumption—a vehicle that made people
turn round all the more when her pensioner sat beside her in
a soft white hat and a shawl, one of her own.”

In pursuance of Mr. Beerbohm’s suggestion of keeping
silent (which can be applied to “art” as well as to “litera-
ture”) until some latent beauty can be discerned, we forbear
discuss Mr. Aubrey Beardsley‘s pictures, merely premising
that his portrait labelled “Madame Réjane” is more lifelike
and human than anything we remember seeing by this artist,
and so far as the costume goes, it is an excellent likeness of
the French actress. Mr. Walter Sickert’s portrait of his
fellow-artist apparently sketched in a cemetery, recalls the
days of impossible daguerreotypes; it is a positive relief
to turn to Mr. John Sargent’s excellent pencil-study of
Mr. Henry James, and to note the clear outline and
the intelligible effects of light and shade. Perhaps this
effect of unintelligibility is one of the features of latter-
day art, and needs a special vision to discern its latent
beauties; on the other hand, a bald and naked realism that
insists on ugliness, and holds up the hidden sores of life for
inspection, is the tendency of some modern literature, and at
the risk of being confronted with a hideous spectre of Mrs.
Grundy, and of being accused of shaking hands with her, we
venture to borrow an analogy from Nature (who is older than
the oldest of us), and who asserts that those things which are
sound and healthy are likely to endure the longest, while
that which is evanescent and rotten at the core will perish
and be forgotten.

MLA citation:

“The Yellow Book.” Review of The Yellow Book, vol. 2, July 1894, The Spectator 11 August 1894, pp. 181-82. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.