Books: A Letter to the Editor and an Offer of a Prize

Books: A Letter to the Editor and an Offer of a Prize

From

"The Yellow Dwarf"

SIR : In London, if one is placed sufficiently low in the social
hierarchy—or if, high placed, one is sufficiently fond of low
life—to frequent houses in which Literature as a subject of conver-
sation is not inhibited, one may occasionally hear it said of this or
that recently published book that it has just been " reviewed" in
the Athenaeum or "noticed" in the Academy, "praised" by the
Spectator or " slated " by the Saturday Review. I don't know
whether you will agree with me in deeming it significant that one
almost never hears of a book nowadays that it has been criticised.
People who run as they talk are not commonly precisians in their
choice of words, but the fact that the verb to criticise, as governing
the accusative case of the substantive book, has virtually dropped
out of use, seems to me a happy example of right instinct. Books
(books in belles lettres, at any rate, novels, poems, essays, what you
will, not to include scientific, historical, or technical works), books
in belles lettres are almost never criticised in the professedly critical
journals of our period in England. They are reviewed, noticed,
praised, slated, but almost never criticised.

The Yellow Book—Vol. VII. H

I hasten

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I hasten to exempt from my indictment those journals that are
not professedly critical ; to exempt trade journals, for instance,
medical journals, journals of sport and fashion, and the daily news-
papers. The most one can fairly require of one's daily newspaper
is that it should give one the news of the day. I'm not denying
that a craving for the news of the day is a morbid craving, but it
is to gratify it that the daily newspapers are daily born, daily to
die. We can't with any sort of justice ask our penny daily for a
considered criticism of books. That were to ask for more than
our pennyworth ; and besides, the editor might reasonably retort
upon us, "You have come to the wrong shop." We don't go to
the ironmonger's for a leg of mutton, nor to the stationer's to get
our hair cut. Wherefore I in no wise reproach the penny dailies
(nor even the formidabler threepenny daily) for sedulously
eschewing anything remotely in the nature of considered literary
criticism.* Let me add, at once, that I don't reproach them, on
the other hand, for their habits of printing long columns of idio-
matic Journalese, and heading the same NEW BOOKS. They
thereby give employment to the necessitous ; they encourage
publishers (poor dears!) to publish—and to advertise; they deceive
nobody within the four-mile radius ; they furnish the suburbs with
an article the suburbs could probably not distinguish from the real
thing if they saw the two together ; and (to crown all) it is the
inalienable privilege of the British reader to skip. I buy my
Morning Post, that I may follow, from my humble home in
Mayfair, the doings of the Great in Bayswater ; my Daily
News, that I may be informed of the fluctuations of Mr. Glad-
stone's health ; my Telegraph, that I may learn what is happening

* But surely, in the Daily Chronicle, we have at least one notable exception.—ED. Y. B.

in

From "The Yellow Dwarf" 127

in Balham, watch the progress of the shilling testimonial to Dr.
Grace, savour the English of Mr. Clement Scott, and keep up my
Italian by studying the leaders of Mr. Sala ; my Pall Mall
Gazette . . . I really can't think why, unless it be to enjoy the
prankful cubsomeness (not to mention the classical attainments)
of Mr. W. E. Henley's truculent fifth form ; but it is certain
that I buy not one of these inexpensive sheets to the end of
getting a considered criticism of books.

The case of the professedly critical periodicals, however, is a differ-
ent and a graver case. They are professedly critical, and they do not
criticise. They review, they notice, they extol, they scold ; but
criticise, but weigh, discriminate, analyse, perceive, appreciate—
who will pretend that they do that ? They wield the bludgeon
and the butter-knife, they employ the copying-press and the
garbling-press ; but those fine instruments of precision which are
the indispensable tools of the true critic's craft, they would appear
never to have heard of. For the sake of a modern instance, examine
for a moment the methods of the Saturday Review. There was
a time, and that not so long ago, when the Saturday Review,
though never critical, was at least diverting ; it was supercilious,
it was impertinent, it was crabbed and cross-grained, but it was
witty, it was diverting. I am speaking, however, of the present
Saturday Review, which is another matter. From week to week I
take it in, and read (or make some sort of an endeavour to read) its
" literary " columns. And what do I find ? I find articles with
such felicitous headings as "Mr. So-and-So—Minor Poet ;" I find
perennial allusions to the length of another poet's hair ; but—
criticism ? I find that where once the Saturday Review was
supercilious and diverting, it is now violent and provincial ; but
—criticism ? I find that where once it spoke to me with the
voice of a soured but well-bred and rather witty academic don, it

now

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now bellows at me in the tones of a bull of Bashan ; but—
criticism ? I find—I find anything you like but criticism. Yet,
surely, the Saturday Review is amongst the most notorious of
the professedly critical journals of Great Britain. The Spectator,
the Academy, the Athenaeum, are different, very different—with a
likeness. The likeness, I would submit, consists in the rigorous
exclusion of considered literary criticism from their columns.*

I am more concerned for the moment to mention and to deplore
this state of things than to inquire into its causes. But certain of
its causes invite no inquiry ; they are obvious, they "spring at our
eyes." Foreigners, to be sure, pretend that our trouble is radical
and ineradicable ; that the British mind is essentially and hopelessly
uncritical ; that directly we attempt to criticise we begin to com-
pare. ("They can only communicate their opinion of Oranges
by translating it in terms of Onions," says Varjine ; and he adds,
" The most critical Englishman I ever met was a clown in a circus
at Marseilles.") That is a question I won't go into here. What
is obvious and indisputable is this : that with the dissemination of
ignorance through the length and breadth of our island, by means
of the Board School, a mighty and terrible change has been
wrought in the characters both of the majority of readers and of
the majority of writers. The "gentleman and scholar" who still
flourished when I was young, has sunken into unimportance both
as a reader and as a writer. The bagman and the stockbroker's clerk
(and their lady wives and daughters) 'ave usurped his plyce and his
influence as readers ; and the pressman has picked up his fallen pen,
—the pressman, sir, or the presswoman ! Well, what, by the
operation of the law of cause and effect, what should we naturally

* THE YELLOW BOOK must note its dissent from the Yellow Dwarf's observations, in so far, at least, as they affect the Spectator.—ED.

expect ?

From "The Yellow Dwarf" 129

expect ? With an illiterate reading mob howling at our doors, and
a tribe of pressmen scribbling at our tables, what, in the name of
the universe, should we expect ? What we get ; not so ? And the
poor " gentleman and scholar," where he survives, is exposed to full
many risks and full many sorrows. If he reads his penny daily in
the morning, he is in danger of seeing his own critical vision
obscured or distorted for the rest of the day, as his palate would be
blunted should he breakfast off raw red herring. If he wants to
write a book, he knows that there is no public to buy or read or
understand it : and what's the use of casting pearls before animals
that prefer acorns ? If he wants to read a book, he knows that the
entire output of decent literature in England during a year he
might easily learn by heart in a fortnight. So he must read a
foreign book or an old book, or else fall back, for fiction, upon our
Stanley Weymans and our J. M. Barries ; for poetry, upon our Sir
Lewis Morrises or our Sir Edwin Arnolds ; and for criticism . . .
shall I say upon our Mr. Harry Quilters ?

The critical periodicals of Great Britain make it a practice to
review, notice, praise, or slate almost everything in the guise of a
book or booklet which, by hook or crooklet, contrives to get itself
put forth in print. They manage these affairs better in furrin'
parts. In furrin' parts, your critical periodical silently ignores
ninety-and-nine in every hundred of the books that are printed,
and then—criticises the hundredth.

The fact is, Mr. Editor, that in order to criticise you must
have certain endowments—you must have a certain equipment.
You must have eyes and ears, you must have taste ; you must
have the analytic faculty and the knack of nice expression ; you
must have the habit of getting at close quarters with your thought
and your emotion—you must be able to explain why, for what
qualities, for what defects, you cherish Mr. Henry James (for

instance),

130 Books

instance), regard Mr. Marriott Watson with expectant pleasure,
dread Mr. Anthony Hope, and flee from Miss Marie Corelli
as from the German measles. You must have knowledge—a
University education, indeed, would do you no harm, nor an ac-
quaintance with the literatures of France and Russia. You must
have a tradition of culture. And, above all, you must have leisure,
—for any sort of considered writing you must have leisure.

Well, how many of these endowments, how much of this
equipment is your Pressman, your Saturday Reviewer, likely to
have ? Taste ? The analytic faculty ? The instinct for the
just word ? Knowledge ? A University education ? An ac-
quaintance with the writings of de la Clos and Frontin, of Poush-
kine and Karamanzine ? A tradition of culture ? And leisure ?
Leisure. He is paid at the rate of so many shillings a column.
And he has his bread to earn ; and bread, my dear, is costly. One
does what one can. One glances hurriedly through the book that
has been sent one " for review," and then (provided one is honest,
and has no private spite to wreak upon the author, no private envy
to assuage, no private log to roll) one dashes off one's " thousand
words," more or less, of unconsidered praise or unconsidered abuse,
as the case may be. One says the book is "good," the book is
"bad." Good—bad : with the variations upon them to be found
in his Dictionary of Synonyms : there are your Pressman-Critic's,
alternative criticisms. Good—with greater or smaller emphasis :
bad—with greater or smaller virulence, and more or less frequent
references to the length of the author's hair. There is your
Pressman-Critic's " terminology." A novel by Mr. George
Meredith is—good ; a novel by Mr. Conan Doyle is—good. You
would hardly call that manner of criticism searching, enlighten-
ing, exhaustive ; you would hardly call it nuancé, I fancy, sir.
But you are wondering why I should take the matter so griev-

ously

From "The Yellow Dwarf" 131

ously to heart. I will tell you. It is not, I confess, for patriotic
reasons ; not that I weep to see England the least among nations
in this particular. It is for reasons purely personal and selfish. I
love to read criticism. And to deprive me of the chance to do so
is to deprive me of a pleasure. I love to discover my own thoughts
and feelings about a book accurately expressed in elegant and
original sentences by another fellow. When I happen upon such
criticism I experience a glow of delight and a glow of pride,
almost as great as if I had written it myself ; and yet I have had
no trouble. Monsieur Anatole France has kindly taken the
trouble for me. Well, sir, we have no Monsieur Anatole France
in these islands ; or, if we have one, he doesn't write for our pr-
fessedly critical journals. I ransack the serried columns of the
Saturday Review, and its contemporaries and rivals, in vain, from
week to week, to discover my own thoughts and feelings about
books accurately expressed in elegant and original sentences. I
discover pretty nearly everything except the thing I pine for. I
discover plenty of pedantry and plenty of ignorance, plenty of
feebleness and plenty of good stodgy "ability," plenty of glitter
and plenty of dullness, plenty of fulsomeness and more than a
plenty of envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness ; but the
thing I seek is the one thing I never find.

When I went abroad for my holiday, in August, I took with
me a bagful of comparatively recent books, all of which I read, or
tried to read, while I was drinking the waters and being douched
and swindled at Aix-les-Bains. I yearn, sir, to see my thoughts
and feelings about these books set forth in elegant and original
phrases by another fellow. And herewith I offer a prize. I will
indicate very cursorily in a few rough paragraphs what my thoughts
and feelings about the books in question are ; and then I will offer
a prize of—well, of fifty shillings—say, £2 10s. od.—to any one,

man

132 Books

man or woman, who will, on or before the 31st day of December
in the present year, put into my hands a typewritten manuscript
containing what I shall admit to be a polished, a considered—in
one word, a satisfactory expression of my views. I make no
reservation as to the length of the manuscript. It may run to as
many thousand words as its writer wishes.

The first book I opened was not, after all, exactly a recent
book. It was Mr. Hall Caine's Manxman. I confess I didn't
open it with much hope of being able to read it, for past expe-
rience had taught me that to read a book by Mr. Hall Caine to
the far-glimmering end was apt to be an enterprise beyond my
powers of endurance. In early life I had begun his Shadow of a
Crime, and had broken down at the eightieth page ; when I was
older, I had begun The Deemster, and had broken down at the
eighth—the fearless energy of youth was mine no longer. How-
ever, I had been the owner of an uncut copy of the Manxman for
well-nigh a twelvemonth ; and I was in a Spartan temper ; and I
said—with some outward show of resolution, but with a secret
presentiment of failure—I said, "We'll have a try."

Alas, at page 41, where the curtain falls—I beg Mr. Hall
Caine's pardon—where the curtain descends upon the seventh
scene, I saw myself beaten. " The moon had come up in her
whiteness behind, and all was quiet and solemn around. Philip fell
back and turned away his face." All was quiet and solemn araound!
It was the final, the crushing, blow. I too fell back and turned
away my face. I closed the Manxman, and gave it to my valet,
who, it may please Mr. Hall Caine to learn, said, " Thenk you,
sir ; " and, a week afterwards, the honest fellow told me he had
enjoyed it.

A talent for reading the works of Mr. Hall Caine is a talent

that

From "The Yellow Dwarf" 133

that Heaven has denied me : one can't expect everything here
below. Their artificial simplicity, their clumsiness, their heavi-
ness, their dreary counterfeit of a kind of common humour, their
laborious strivings for a kind of shoddy pathos, their ignorance,
their vulgarity, their pretentiousness, and withal their unmitigated
insipidity—these are the qualities, no doubt, that make them
popular with the middle classes, that endear them to the Great
Heart of the People, but they are too much for the likes o' me. I
don't mind vulgarity when I can get it with a dash of spice,
as in the writings of Mr. Ally Sloper, or with a swagger, as
in the writings of Mr. Frank Harris. I don't mind insipidity
when I can get it with a touch of cosmopolitan culture, as in the
writings of Mr. Karl Baedeker. But vulgarity and insipidity
mingled, as in the writings of Mr. Hall Caine, are more than my
weak flesh can bear. On the title-page of The Manxman Mr. Caine
prints this modest motto : "What shall it profit a man if he gain
the whole world and lose his own soul ? " On page 6 he observes :
"In spite of everything he loved her. That was where the
bitterness of the evil lay." On page 7, " A man cannot fight
against himself for long. That deadly enemy is certain to slay."
On page 11, "His first memory of Philip was of sleeping with
him, snuggled up by his side in the dark, hushed and still in a
narrow bed with iron ends to it, and of leaping up in the morning
and laughing." And then, on page 41, "The moon had come
up in her whiteness behind, and all was quiet and solemn around."
Note the subtle perceptions, the profound insight, the dainty
verbiage, the fresh images, the musical rhythm of these excerpts.
" That was where the bitterness of the evil lay ! " "A man
cannot fight against himself!" "The moon had come up in
her whiteness beyind !" . . . . Faugh, sir, the gentleman writes
with his mouth full. Let us haste to an apothecary's, and buy an

ounce

134 Books

ounce of civet, to sweeten our imagination. And all was quiet
and solemn araound ! *

At the forty-first page I closed the Manxman, and gave it to
my valet. It was as if for forty-one leaden minutes I had been
listening to the speech of Emptiness incarnate ; but a pompous
Emptiness, a rhetorical Emptiness, an Emptiness with the manner
of an Oracle and the accent of an Auctioneer : an Emptiness that
would have lulled me to slumber if it hadn't sickened me. I
wonder how Mr. Hall Caine keeps awake as he writes.

Nature abhors a vacuum, but the British Public, it would
appear, loves an Emptiness. The Public, however, doesn't matter.
The Great Heart of the People has warmed to bad literature in
all ages and in all countries. The disgraceful thing is that in
England bad literature is taken seriously by persons who profess to
be Critics. The critics of France don't take Monsieur Georges
Ohnet seriously ; the critics of Russia don't take Alexis Gorloff
seriously ; but the critics of England do take Mr. Hall Caine
seriously. Well, it only shows what a little pretentiousness in
this ingenuous land will accomplish.

The value of pretentiousness can scarcely be too highly com-
mended to young authors. If you are more desirous of impressing
the ignorant than of doing good work, if you would rather make
the multitude stare than make the remnant gaze—Be pretentious,
and let who will be clever. A young author who appears to have

* A friend assures me that if I had pursued my wanderings a little
further in Mr. Hall Caine's garden of prose, I might have culled still
fairer blossoms ; and gives as a specimen this, from page 141 : "She
met him on the hill slope with a cry of joy, and kissed him. It came
into his mind to draw away, but he could not, and he kissed her back."
How quaint Manx customs are. In London he would almost certainly
have kissed her lips.

taken

From "The Yellow Dwarf" 135

taken this excellent maxim to heart is Mr. John Oliver Hobbes.
His was the next book I directed an attack upon, after I had
beaten my retreat from the impenetrable Manxman. But I
found myself confronted with Pretentiousness at the very draw-
bridge. There fluttered a flag—I daresay, on my unsupported
testimony, you could scarce believe it ; but I can refer you to the
book itself, or (it has been advertised like a patent medicine) to its
publishers advertisements, for corroboration—there fluttered a
flag bearing this device—

            THE GODS

            SOME MORTALS

            AND

            LORD WICKENHAM

            BY

            JOHN OLIVER

            HOBBES

This, in Christian England ! And above it and below it were
wonderful drawings, drawings of gods and goddesses and mortals ;
and, at one side of it, another wonderful drawing, a drawing of an
Owl.

When I recovered my breath I turned to Chapter I., An
Aristocratic Household, and before I had reached the bottom of
that short first page, here is the sort of sentence I had to face and
vanquish : " The young girl who came forward seemed to have
been whipped up into a fragile existence from the very cream of
tenderness, love, and folly." It is doubtless very pretty, but do
you know what it means ? Anyhow, it has the great merit of
being Pretentious. I can see the Pressman-Critic, as his eye
lights upon it. I can see him " sit up." I can hear him gasp,

and

136 Books

and murmur to himself, " Ah ! This is a book to be treated with
respect. This is written." Thus, by a discreet appreciation of
the value of Pretentiousness, Mr. Hobbes breaks his Pressman-
Critic's spirit with his title-page, and has him entirely subjugated
about half-way down page I.

But do you imagine that the author's pretentiousness begins
and ends here, at the threshold ? Far from it. His book is pre-
tentious in every line ; I might almost say in every dash and
comma. It is linked pretentiousness long drawn out. It is
packed with aphorisms, with reflections : it is diversified with
little essays, little shrieks, and philosophic sighs : all pretentious.
On page 135, for instance : "The weak mind is never weary of
recounting its failures." On dirait the late Mr. Martin Tupper—
not ? On page 23 : " O Science ! art thou not also sometimes
in error ? " On dirait the late Mr. Thomas Carlyle. On
page 13:" Men should be careful how they wish." On dirait
Monsieur de la Palisse. . . . . And then, what shall we say of
this ? In Chapter IV. Dr. Simon Warre writes a letter ; and
the author heads the chapter : In which Warre displays a for-
gotten talent! Oddsfish, the letter one is justified in expecting,
after that ! What one gets is a quite ordinary, gossipy, rather
vulgar, rather snobbish, very pretentious letter ; and the only
talent Warre displays is the talent of the Reporter,
the Reporter for a Society paper ; and that talent is unfortunately not for-
gotten.

Intending competitors for my prize will observe, furthermore,
that the story, the plot, of The Gods, Some Mortals, and Lord
Wickenham, is exactly the same dear old story that used to delight
our nursery governesses when we were children. A good husband
—oh, so good !—married to a horrid, wicked wife ; a lord ; a
villain ; an elopement. The same dear old conventional story,

the

From "The Yellow Dwarf" 137

the same dear old conventional personages. I can't say characters,
for there isn't a character, there isn't an individual, there isn't the
ghost of a human creature, in the book. Simon Warre, his wife,
his friend, his wife's lover, Allegra—not one is a man or a woman
of flesh and blood, whom we can recognize, whom we can think
of as of people we have known : each is a formula, a shadow, a
conventional type. And then—Allegra ! Allegra carried me
back an appalling number of years into the past, to the time when
I was young and foolish. Everybody, when he was young and
foolish (and generally in the flush of enthusiasm that follows his
first visit to Italy for a fortnight, at Easter, say), everybody has
written a novel whereof the heroine was a pale mysterious Italian
girl, the daughter of a nobleman ; and wasn't she almost always
named Allegra ? And then everybody who was prudent has
burned his manuscript. I burned mine, thank mercy ; but
Mr. John Oliver Hobbes has published his. Ah, weel, bairn, ye
maun just live and lurrun.

" Ah, but the style ! The style's the thing ! " cries the Press-
man. Quite so ; the style. Mr. Hobbes seems to be perpetually
straining in his style for the quality vaguely called distinction
(which, I lately read, in the Saturday Review, of all places, is as
easy as minor poetry), but, easy as it is, he never succeeds in
achieving it. What he does achieve is—sometimes a feeble echo
of Mr. George Meredith ; sometimes a flimsy imitation of Miss
Austen ; sometimes a bit that is Carlylean or Tupperesque ; and,
more often, gems of pure Journalese, so that one might wonder,
"Is Mr. Hobbes, too, a Pressman ? " But style is personal, style
is the man. Here there is no style ; there is only a mechanical
mixture of the washings of many styles.

From the leaden pretentiousness of Mr. Hall Caine and
the glassy pretentiousness of Mr. John Oliver Hobbes, it was re-

storative

138 Books

storative to turn to the naturalness, the honesty, and the simplicity
of Miss Menie Muriel Dowie's Gallia, Miss Ella D'Arcy's
Monochromes, and Mr. Kenneth Grahame's Golden Age.

Of Miss D'Arcy's book I will leave the would-be winners of
my prize full liberty to say what they like ; only, they must say
this : that the book gives its author at once a place among the
three masters (indulge the gender), the three masters of the short-
story form at present working in the English tongue ; and they
must add that Miss D'Arcy is by no means the smallest of the
three, and that she does not in the least resemble either of the
other two.

Again, of Mr. Grahame's book, say what you will ; but be
careful also to say that a more melodious or mellow book you have
seldom read. Dwell upon the sweetness of the book's voice, the
tenderness of its humour ; dwell upon its pathos, its sympathy, its
imagination ; upon the rich golden glow it has, which is like a
second justification of its title.

In Gallia, I own, I suffered one disappointment—nay, I suf-
fered two. First, I was all along haunted by a suspicion that the
book had a moral, that it had a purpose, that it was intended, in
some measure, as a tract for the times, and not as a mere frank
effort in the art of fiction. And secondly, I missed that brilliant
personal note, that vibration of the author's living voice, which had
delighted me in the Girl in the Karpathians, and (still more) in
the marvellously clever and vivid little drama, Wladislaw's Advent,
which you, sir, published some time back in the YELLOW BOOK.
But, all the same, though I could have wished Miss Dowie to
come nearer to the front in proper person, I enjoyed reading
Gallia as I have rarely enjoyed reading a latter-day English novel.
The style, if severely impersonal, is sincere, direct, effective ; the
story is new and interesting, the central idea, the motive, being

very

From "The Yellow Dwarf" 139

very daring and original indeed ; and the characters are distinctly
individualised. They are characters, they are human people, they
are persons, they aren't mere personages, mere types. Had Gallia
been a roman-à-clef, I think I could have named Dark Essex ; I
think I could have named Gurdon, too ; I'm sure I could have
named Miss Essex. As for Bobbie Leighton, little as we see of
him, he is a creature of the warmest flesh and the reddest blood ;
and I, for my part, shall always remember him as a charming
fellow whom I met once or twice, but all too infrequently, in
Paris, in London, and whose present address I am very sorry not
to possess. But Gallia herself I could not have named, though
she is as real to me now as she could have been if I had actually
known her half my life. If Miss Dowie had, in this book, accom-
plished nothing more than her full-length portrait of Gallia, she
would have accomplished much, for a more difficult model than
Gallia a portraitist could hardly have selected. Gallia—so terribly
modern, so excessively unusual—a prophecy, rather than a present
fact—a girl, an English girl, who declares her love to a man, and
yet never ceases to be a fresh, innocent, modest, attractive girl,
never for an instant becomes masculine, and never loses her hold
upon the reader's sympathy !

A writer of fiction could scarcely propose to himself a riskier
adventure than that which awaited Miss Dowie when she set out
to write the chapter in which Gallia roundly informs Dark
Essex that she loves him. Failure was almost a certainty ;
yet, so far from failing, Miss Dowie has succeeded with apparent
ease. The chapter begins with a very fine and delicate observa-
tion in psychology. The blankness, the vague pain, rhythmically
recurring, but for the specific cause of which Gallia has to pause
a little and seek—that is very finely and delicately observed. "'I
remember ; there was something that has made me unhappy :

what

140 Books

what was it ?' Thus her mind would go to work ; then suddenly
the sharpness of remembrance would lay hold of her nerves, and a
little inarticulate cry would escape her ; her hands would go up to
hide her face, and a shiver, not in her limbs, but in her body,
would shake and sicken her." Presently Dark Essex is shown
into the room, and presently Gallia tells him that she loves him.
The chapter is restrained, the chapter is dignified, the chapter is
convincing, the chapter is moving ;—or, rather, the chapters (for
the scene is broken into two chapters, and so to break it was a
prudent measure; little conventional breaks like this doing wonders
to relieve the tension of the reader's emotion). It must have been
difficult enough, in this crisis of the story, to make Gallia herself
move and speak convincingly ; it must have been a hundred times
more difficult to contrive the action and the speeches of the
man,—the man who found himself in so unprecedented a situa-
tion !

Gallia is a remarkable book, and Gallia is a remarkable young
lady. I have no prejudices in favour of the New Woman ; I
proclaim myself quite brazenly an Old Male. But I respect
Gallia, I admire her, I like her, and I am heartily sorry she made
the mistake of marrying Gurdon. It was a mistake, I am per-
suaded, though an inevitable mistake. But I shall owe a grudge
to Miss Menie Muriel Dowie if she doesn't by-and-by write
another volume about Gallia, and let me know exactly, in detail,
how her mistaken, inevitable marriage turned out. I shall look
for a volume entitled Lady Gurdon—for Mark will of course by
this time have been created a baronet, at the lowest. And, mean-
while, I will ask competitors for my prize to be extremely careful
and exhaustive in their criticisms of Gallia.

Two more books I will ask the same young gentlemen and
ladies to consider, and then I will let them off. One is Mr.

Hubert

From "The Yellow Dwarf" 141

Hubert Crackanthorpe's Sentimental Studies, the other Mr. George
Moore's Celibates.

In dealing with Mr. Crackanthorpe's book, my prize-critics
will kindly give attention to the actuality of his subjects, the clear-
ness of his psychological insight, the intensity of his realisation,
the convincingness of his presentation, and the sincerity and
dignity of his manner. At the same time, they will point out
that Mr. Crackanthorpe often says too much, that he is reluctant
to leave anything to his reader's imagination, his reader's experi-
ence. He doesn't make enough allowance for his reader's native
intelligence. He forgets that the golden rule in writing is simply
a paraphrase of the other Golden Rule : Write as you would be
written to. Mr. Crackanthorpe strains a little too hard, a little
too visibly, for the mot juste. But the mot juste is sometimes not
the best word to use. One must know what the mot juste is, but
sometimes one should erase it and substitute the demi-mot. And
then isn't Mr. Crackanthorpe handicapped as an artist by a trifle
too much moral earnestness ? Moral earnestness in life, I daresay,
does more good than harm ; but in Art, if present at all, it should
be concealed like a vice. Mr. Crackanthorpe hardly takes pains
enough to conceal his. If he won't abandon it—if he won't leave
it to such writers as the author of Trilby and Miss Annie S.
Swann—he should at least hide it under mountains of artistry.

And now for Celibates. Celibates is an important book ; I'm
not quite sure that Celibates isn't a great book, but Celibates is
assuredly a most perplexing, a most exasperating book. How one
and the same man can write as ill and as well, as execrably and as
effectively, as Mr. George Moore writes, passes my comprehen-
sion. His style, for instance. His style is atrocious, and his style
is almost classical. His style is like chopped straw, and his style
is like architecture. In its material, in its words, phrases, sen-

The Yellow Book—Vol. VII. I

tences,

142 Books

tences, his style is as bad as a Christian's style can be. It is
harsh, it is slovenly, it is uncouth ; fluency, melody, distinction,
charm it lacks utterly; it is sometimes downright ungrammatical ;
it is very often common, banale, pressmanish ; and yet . . . .
Structurally, in its masses, it could scarcely be better. It has (as
Mr. Moore would say) line ; its drawing, its perspective, its values
are the drawing, the perspective, the values of a master. It is a
symmetrical temple built of soiled and broken bricks.

How could a writer who knows his Flaubert as Mr. Moore
knows his Flaubert, speak of "sleep pressing upon Mildred's eye-
lids," as Mr. Moore does on page 8 ? What of la phrase toute
faite? How could any one but a pressman say of his heroine that
there was "a little pathetic won't-you-care-for-me expression" in
her face ? On page 33, Mildred Lawson looked at Ralph Hoskin
"in glad surprise." On page 49 we have an epigram, a paradox :
something or other "is as insignificant as life." On page 51
Ralph says, " I had to make my living ever since I was sixteen."
On page 56 Mr. Moore says, " In the park they could talk
without fear of being overheard, and they took interest in the
changes that spring was effecting in this beautiful friendly nature."
Shade of Stevenson, shade of Maupassant, what prose ! On page
75 : " The roadway was full of fiacres plying for hire, or were
drawn up in lines three deep." Shade of Lindley Murray, what
grammar ! And on the same page : " Elsie wished that Walter
would present her with a fan." It is almost enough to make one
agree with the old fogey who remarked, anent Esther Waters,
"Mr. Moore writes about servants, and should be read by them."

But no, the old fogey was wrong. Bad as Mr. Moore's style
is in its materials, it is very nearly perfect in its structure ; and,
what's more, it's personal. You feel that it is a living voice, an
individual's voice, that it is Mr. George Moore's voice, which is

addressing

From "The Yellow Dwarf" 143

addressing you. And surely a style ought to be personal, or else
style's not the man.

The question of style apart, however, what makes Celibates an
impressive book, very nearly a great book, is its insight, its sin-
cerity, its vividness, its sympathy. If Mildred Lawson were only
decently written—if only some kind soul would do us a decent
rendering of it into English—Mildred Lawson would be a story
that one could speak of in the same breath with Madame Bovary.
Yes. The assertion is startling, but the assertion is an assertion
my prize-critic must boldly hazard and proceed to justify. Mildred
Lawson is one of the most interesting and one of the most com-
plex women I have ever met in fiction. Her selfishness, her
weakness, her strength, her vanity, her coldness, her hundred and
one qualities, traits, moods, are analysed with a minuteness that is
scientific, but synthesised with a vividness that is entirely artistic,
and therefore convincing, moving, memorable. John Norton,
structurally, is not quite so faultless as Mildred Lawson, but it is
still a very notable achievement, a very important contribution to
the English fiction of our day; and I don't know whether, on the
whole, Agnes Lahens isn't the best piece of work in the volume.

However, these are questions for my prize-critics to discuss at
length—Mr. Moore's execrable, excellent style ; how, as it were,
one would imagine he wrote with his boot, not with his pen ; his
subtle lack of grace, of humour ; his deep, true, sympathetic
insight ; his sincerity, his impressiveness ; and what his place is
among the four or five considerable writers of fiction now living
in England.—I, sir, have already too far trespassed upon your
valuable space.

    I have the honour to be,

        Your obedient servant,

            THE YELLOW DWARF.





MLA citation: The Yellow Dwarf. "Books: A Letter to the Editor and an Offer of a Prize." The Yellow Book 7 (Oct. 1895): 125-43. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2012. Web. [Date of access]. http://www.1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YBV7_yellowdwarf_letter.html