Mrs Courtney’s history continues.
FRANK HARRIS, THEN A young man just thirty, born in Ireland but by upbringing American, had had a roving education in various American and Continental universities. Who’s Who in America credits him with belonging to eight and adds the perhaps significant parenthesis “(no degrees).” He can hardly had stayed long enough in any one of them to allow of graduation. After being admitted to the Kansas Bar he came to London and joined the staff of the Evening News. Thence he moved on to the Fortnightly. He was at once a daring and, from the literary side, a discriminating editor, but one prepared to take serious risks and unable to resist a “scoop.”
His very first number, that of September 1886, affords an instance in point. He had apparently promised to publish as his first article a strong attack on the Ordinance Department of the War Office by an officer who for years had alleged wholesale corruption in that quarter. An editor of longer experience would certainly have hesitated to give such prominence to a thirty-year old grievance, however apparently well-documented. Fortunately for Mr. Harris, a timely promise by W. H. Smith on 23rd August, in reply to a question in the House, that the matter should be sifted, led the author to withdraw his article, and Mr. Harris got off with two pages explanation and apology, and his first number at the last minute thrown out of gear.
It may have been his own Irish instincts that led him to tackle the Home Rule problem himself. He does so in an early number; and in his first few months deals also, through Stepniak, the revolutionary, with the Russian democracy. Coventry Patmore, from whom he seems to have had a special cult, contributes an article on William Barnes, and J. A. Symonds, who throughout Harris’ editorship was a constant contributor, begins with Some Notes on Fletcher’s “Valentinian.”
In the following year, 1887, he collects the opinions of “Living Men of Letters” on Fine Passages in Prose and Verse, and betrays his own tendency to confuse passing prominence with lasting authority by inviting the young Senior Classic of that year, Miss Agneta Ramsay, to contribute her views. It was hardly fair to bring her thus into comparison with Meredith, Hardy, Matthew Arnold, Andrew Lang, or even G. A. Sala—in odd juxtaposition here with Swinburne. But on the literary side Harris was strong, with a predilection perhaps for writers in the Pater tradition, with the flavour which in the next decade we learnt to call fin-de-siècle, but with a strong admixture of sound literary criticism, able to meet any test that might be applied to it. Of the older men of letters, he secures articles from Andrew Lang, W. S. Lilly, George Saintsbury, Edward Dowden, Paul Bourget, Leslie Stephen, Oscar Browning, Edmund Gosse, Frederick Myers (pretty often), Walter Pater, William Morris, Coventry Patmore. Swinburne and J. A. Symonds write, if not in every number, at least twice or thrice in every half year. Henry James, not in general much of a contributor to periodicals, sends studies of Guy de Maupassant, Perre Loti, and the de Goncourts. George Moore, not then such a sought-after master of prose as he has since become, deals with Turgenieff and with Balzac, and contributes also art criticism. A. C. Benson also makes a first appearance. And Meredith, the veteran, in 1890-1 runs One of Our Conquerors as a serial.
There are notable contributions by Oscar Wilde, one his Preface to “Dorian Grey,” and another his famous essay, Pen, Pencil and Poison. Grant Allen writes very often and often very provocatively, as in his Plain Words on the Woman Question (readers old enough to remember the ’nineties will not have forgotten The Woman Who Did). But the Editor was out to cause a stir and did it very successfully. His own short stories, A Modern Idyll, Elder Conklin, Montes the Matador helped to achieve his object. So, too, did Mrs. Clifford’s A Modern Correspondence and Mrs. Mona Caird’s The Morality of Marriage, which set everyone talking in 1890.
ON THE OTHER HAND he secured serious and deeply interesting contributions on many kinds of subjects. Frederic Harrison’s Apologia pro Fide Nostra and Future of Agnosticism and Charles Voysey’s The New Reformation, with Dead Burgon’s counterblast, are instances on the religious side, whilst Sir Robert Ball’s fascinating astronomical papers and Sir William Crooke’s studies in Electricity are instances on the scientific side, not to mention Spencer’s Ethics of Kant in 1888 and Huxley’s An Apologetic Eirenicon in 1892. On burning topics of the moment he secures the right man to write, or at any rate the man whose name will arrest most attention. Thus, Manning deals with Distress in London at the time of the Dock Strike, and with the Education Commission and the School Rate when the Salisbury Government were tackling education. When Newman dies in 1890 W. S. Lilly is asked to write on him, and the young poet, Lionel Johnson, pays the last tribute to Pater in 1894. Browning’s passing is saluted by a series of Swinburne Sonnets. Morell Mackenzie discusses Influenza in an epidemic year; Sir Charles Dilke, by then thrown out of active politics, attacks Our Foreign Policy in 1892. Lord Curzon contributes several articles on Central Asia, Theodore Bent writes on Mashonaland, Brinkley on Japan, and J. B. Bourchier on the Balkans. The more revolutionary aspects of European politics were dealt with by irreconcilables as Stepniak, and Karl and Mathilde Blind. But perhaps the most striking contributions of Harris’ period were the series of articles signed “E. B. Lanin,” a signature which, as he has now avowed, masked Dr. E. J. Dillon, the foreign correspondent who more than any other penetrated into the dark and secret places of Russian life. Some of his revelations, especially those concerning Russian prisons, shocked the British public almost unbearably, and so stirred the poet Swinburne that he contributed an Ode which nearly caused the Review to be censored, but in the meanwhile sent it into several editions.
“Out of hell a word comes hissing, dark as doom,”
it opens, working up through a recital of nameless horrors to its climax,
“Night hath but one red star—Tyrannicide.
God or man be swift—hope sickens with delay.
Smite and send him howling down his father’s way
* * * * * *
Bid the lips whose breath was doom yield up their breath
Down the way of Tsars awhile in vain deferred
Bid the Second Alexander light the Third.”
The Foreign Office must indeed have sat up and wondered what excuses they could offer, if confronted by the protesting Ambassador of a “friendly Power”!
Now and again the Editor runs full tilt, or allows an anonymous contributor to do so for him, against stupidity in high places at home. A notable instance occurs at the beginning of 1891, when the Parnell débacle provokes an article on Public Life and Private Morals by “M.” [Note: W.H. Mallock, according to Houghton.] “If we tolerate atheists like Mr. Bradlaugh and Mr. Morley, if we tolerate felons like Mr. Dillon and inaccurate persons like Mr. Gladstone, we cannot as a nation be otherwise than hypocritical in pretending to be unable to tolerate Mr. Parnell on account of a love affair. While professing to aim at exhibiting vice as hateful we have exhibited virtue as ridiculous.” Thus “M” sums up the final victory of the Nonconformist Conscience.
Or again, when desirous of showing up the English contempt of letters, the Editor publishes an amusing and anonymous dialogue on An Election at the English Academy, the final outcome of the discussion being an election satisfactory to all but a few bewildered lovers of letters, who slowly realize that there is “not a single writer in the d—-d gang”!
A brilliant eight years, all the talent of the ’eighties and ’nineties, and some young men whom the twentieth century was to make famous. H. G. Wells writing on Cycling, and especially Military Cycling, then a glimpse into the future; G. Bernard Shaw mocking at The Religion of Pianoforte; J. M. Barrie, with a brilliant skit on biographers, Pro Bono Publico; Walter Sickert on the Whistler Exhibition; A. B. Walkley on Some Plays of the Day; the Fabians generally spewing the Gladstonian Government of 1892 out of their mouths, To your Tents, O Israel!; and serious persons like Sidney Webb, H. W. Massingham and Justin McCarthy considering on their side What Mr. Gladstone ought to do. Many articles appear on modern, somewhat decadent, French literature by Delilly, Arthur Symons and others—Baudelaire, Verlaine, J. K. Huysmans being among the subjects discussed. W. H. Mallock writes on the Souls, that famous “coterie” of the early ’nineties. There are a number of women contributors, not perhaps as well selected as the man, though Mrs. Meynell appears once with one of her most finished essays. They include Mrs. Lynn Linton, Mrs. Mona Caird, Miss Clementia Black, Ouida, Lady Dilke, Miss Menie Muriel Dowie (a passing notoriety, recognised perhaps prematurely), Miss Flora Shaw, Lady Jeune. These are various aspects of a memorable if risky editorial career, which in September, 1894, steered too close to the rocks, and wrecked itself on the prejudices of both public and publisher.