From The Westminster Gazette: “The Yellow Book”
The new quarterly, which calls itself the Yellow Book,
half-a-dozen of the silliest articles that have appeared anywhere for many
months, and another half-dozen that are quite admirable. Among the
latter are Mr. Henry James‘s short story “The Death of the Lion,” Mr.
William Watson’s two sonnets, the “Fool’s Hour, a Fragment of a
Comedy,” which is the joint work of Mr. George Moore and
John Oliver Hobbes, and Mr. George Sainsbury’s “Sentimental
Cellar,” which is a pleasant conceit. The “Death of the
Lion” is very near Mr. Henry James’s best; there is satire,
humour, and epigram enough in its fifty pages for half-a-dozen ordinary
stories. We could wish that Mr. Watson would not use “viewless” for
invisible.—(Mr. Gosse, by the way, has a worse word in a poem to be
found here, none other than “quenchless”)—but there is stateliness and
sanity in both these sonnets, and we could advise a certain Mr. Beerbohm,
of whom more presently, to read the first rather carefully. There seems
to be more of John Oliver Hobbes than of Mr. Moore in the fragment of
the comedy, but whosever it is, it is good reading. We must say a
word for Dr. Richard Garnett’s “Translations of Tansillo,” which are
excellent in themselves, and accompanied by a learned and discerning
But these are not the things for which the Yellow Book has
awaited, and they seem oddly out of place in the throng that surrounds them.
For the decadents are here with pen and pencil, as “exquisitely morbid”
and as unconsciously comic as usual. Mr. Aubrey Beardsley achieves
excesses hitherto undreamt of. He seems to have conceived the disagreeable
idea of taking certain arrangements of lines invented by the Japanese, and
specially suited to blithe and pleasant freaks of decoration, and applying
them to the most morbid of grotesques. His offence is the less to be
condoned because he has undoubted skill as a line draftsman and has
shown himself capable of refined and delicate work. But as regards certain
of his inventions in this number, especially the thing called “The Senti-
mental Education,” and that other thing to which the name of Mrs. Patrick
Campbell has somehow become attached, we do not know that anything
would meet the case except a short Act of Parliament to make this kind
of thing illegal. After these it is balm to sore eyes to turn to Sir Frederic
Leighton‘s studies, to Mr. Furse’s charming “Portrait of a Lady,” and to
Mr. Rothenstein‘s drawing which bears the same title. The only writer
who is entirely worthy to be ranked with Mr. Beardsley is, we think, Mr.
Max Beerbohm, who contributes a “Defence of Cosmetics.” It is Mr.
Beerbohm’s opinion that we are “ripe for a new era of artifice.” The
“old prejudice is a-dying,” and this is a time of jolliness and glad
For the era of rouge is upon us, and as only in an elaborate era can man by
the tangled accrescency of his own pleasures and emotions reach that refine-
ment which is his highest excellence, and by making himself, so to say,
independent of Nature, comes nearest to God, so only in an elaborate era is
woman perfect. Artifice is the strength of the world, and in that same mask of
paint and powder shadowed with vermeil tinct and most thinly pencilled is
Is not this triumphantly silly? Think of this “elaborate era”—the men
with their “accrescencies” of pleasures and emotions, the women with
their “accrescencies” of powder and vermeil tinct: what an ecstatic
picture! The mere thought of it sends Mr. Beerbohm into transports
of nonsense. Cosmetics are the cause of causes, their revival “so
splendid an influence, conjuring boons innumerible.” “The season of
the unsophisticated is gone by, and the young girl’s final extinction
beneath the rising tide of cosmetics will leave no gap in life, and will rob
art of nothing.” If anyone objects, Mr. Beerbohm has a short way with him:—
“Tush,” I can hear some damned flutterpate exclaim, “girlishness and
innocence are as strong and as permanent as innocence itself.”
Genial, is it not? One “damned flutterpate” found himself
wondering how any editor came to print such pernicious nonsense. It is
almost a relief, after this, to fall back upon the mild futility of “George
Egerton‘s” contribution. She was in an omnibus, and a “precious little pearl
of thought,” a “rare little-mind-being,” was “evolving slowly out of her
inner chaos,” when a fellow-passenger with a white-handled umbrella
came in, and “trampled it unto death.” That is all, and nothing more.
But having lost the idea, it was at least rather thrifty of “George Egerton”
to persevere with her story, nevertheless. That is, or ought to be,
against the rules of the game. Other contributors, however, do their best to
atone by piling up the agony. Who can fail to be harrowed by the story
of Mr. Dane, the elderly failure, whose midnight agonies and death Mr.
Henry Harland tells without sparing? He is so utterly demoralised and
worn out that his heart stopped altogether when he dropped a little keep-
sake mirror and broke it on the hearthstone. There was a whole world of
melancholy in his hand :—
How white it was, how thin, how withered; the nails were parched into
minute corrugations; the veins stood out like clark wires; the skin hung loosely
upon it, and had a dry lustre.
This helps to brace us up for Mr. Hubert Crackanthorpe‘s even
merciless narrative of the wretched girl who is seized with a galloping con-
sumption. Then, to suit a different mood, there are the minor poets who
vie with each other in showing how immsensely emancipated they are.
We thought for a moment, when we saw Mr. Le Gallienne had chosen to
write about a tree, that he at least had got a thoroughly healthy and
simple subject. But we didn’t know our decadent. This is how it comes
Some Rizzio nightingale that plained adulterous love
Beneath the boudoir-bough of some fast-married bird,
Some dove that cooed to someone else’s lawful dove,
And felt the dagger-beak pierce while his lady heard.
Then, maybe, dangling from thy gloomy gallows boughs
A human corpse swings, mournful, rattling bones and chains—
His eighteenth-century flesh hath fattened nineteenth-century cow—
Ghastly Æolian harp fingered of winds and rains.
It is like a delirious dream, but the first verse would be hard to beat for
bad taste, and the second for sheer ugliness. We even prefer Mr. Arthur
Symons‘s “Stella Maris,” though the figure of the Romeo of the poem
gains nothing in poetic distinction when he boasts a plurality of Juliets.
* “The Yellow Book.” No. 1. (Elkin Mathews and John Lane.) April, 1894.
“The Yellow Book.” Review of The Yellow Book, vol. 1, April 1894, The Westminster Gazette, 18 April 1894, p. 3. Yellow Nineties 2.0. Edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/yb1-review-westminster-gazette-april-1894/