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The Fortnightly Review under Courtney, 1894-1928.

Mrs Courtney’s history continues.
Part Five.

W. L. Courtney.

MALATO’S GLORIFICATION OF ANARCHISTS was not the first severe shock administered to the Fortnightly’s publishers. Their Minute-book indicates that previous remonstrances with their daring Editor had met with acrimonious replies. But the “box-office” test had hitherto been uniformly favourable. The circulation of the Review, stimulated by this and that sensational article, had gone up by leaps and bounds. It became a question between financial gain and freedom from anxiety. In the autumn of 1894 Frederic Chapman chose the second.

Courtney, therefore, in taking over the Review in November, took it over at a moment of some difficulty. It was in no need of stimulation but it was in considerable need of steadying. Quite apart from Mr. Harris’s alarums, the literary world was, as they say on the Stock Exchange, “extraordinarily sensitive.” Scandal was already rife in the Clubs, and within a very few months the Wilde-Douglas revelations, culminating in the trail and sentence of Oscar Wilde in May 1895, caused a tremendous public revulsion against the literary coterie, whose favourite organ had been the Yellow Book and many of whom were numbered amongst Mr. Harris’s regular contributors. Courtney, who had known Wilde well both at Oxford and in London, was perhaps peculiarly fitted to hold the balance even. He had no animus against Wilde and his friends, he had himself been on intimate terms with their greater precursors, John Addington Symonds and Pater; but he recognised that for a time, at any rate, that page in literature must be resolutely turned. I remember very well that in a short article which I wrote for his April number on Nordau’s Literary Degenerates, I quoted some saying of Wilde’s—one could hardly avoid it in the early ‘nineties when Wilde’s epigrams were household words. Courtney’s pencil hovered over the page for a moment and then he said: “I think we’ll have that name out just now,” and deleted it. The public outcry was, of course, too strident and its indignation excessive; but for the moment it would have none of Wilde and his works and his followers. George Alexander, in spite of warnings from Courtney, tried to continue the run of The Importance of being Earnest, an innocuous comedy if ever there was one; but his audience melted away from his theatre and he had to bow before the storm. It was years before that, or any other Wilde play, could be revived in London.

Apart from this public difficulty, we had at first our special one in that the outgoing Editor had ordered the immediate return of all that came in, and some of the articles arranged for by Courtney fell back into the hands of their astonished authors by return of post. But we had great fun with those early numbers. Courtney was radiantly happy and interested. He had got his heart’s desire, and he enjoyed to the full the social opportunities and the enlargement of his literary acquaintance which the Editorship brought to him. He dined out and lunched out and went about as freely arduous night work in Fleet Street permitted, and I used to look in at Henrietta Street for a cup of tea and a discussion of articles as often as my bank ledgers were balanced in time to set me free at four o’clock…

Note: Our published text ends here. The longest-serving editor, W. L. Courtney, ran the magazine for 34 years until his death at the end of 1928. An obituary from the pages of the Fortnightly by his friend, Sir John Marriott, appears here.

At a later date, the editors may seek to complete the transcription of this account by Janet Courtney to include those years. By the late-1930s The Fortnightly had assumed a pacifistic position, applauding Chamberlain and criticizing Churchill, according to historian David Lilly, especially under the editorship of John Armitage.

A brief introduction.
Part I: Under Lewes, 1865-1866
Part II: Under Morley, 1867-1882
Part III: Under Escott, 1882-1886
Part IV: Under Harris, 1886-1894
Part V: Under Courtney, 1894-1928