by Gasiorek, Andrzej
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The most obvious aspect of The New Age during the six months that comprise Vol. 23 of the journal (May 1918 to October 1918) is its ongoing preoccupation with the closing stages of the war and the need to prepare for the ensuing peace. The “Notes of the Week” and the “Foreign Affairs” sections with which each issue of The New Age opens intervene robustly in debates about the future political reconstruction of post-war Europe and the internal reorganisation of Great Britain. These editorials make it clear that the journal consistently linked the changes it sought within British society to a wider transformation of European politics. Several issues assumed particular prominence during these months: the democratisation of Germany, the necessary conditions for a lasting peace, the problem of Irish independence, the consequences of the Russian Revolution, the League of Nations, and the role of Labour and of the proposed national guilds in the post-war reconstruction of Britain. At the same time, drama, music, the visual arts, and literature continued to be discussed in the pages of The New Age, and there were interesting reviews (for example, of Wyndham Lewis’s Tarr, Marie Stopes’s Married Love, and Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier), lively literary disputes (principally with Ethel Colburn Mayne over the legacy of Henry Harland’s Yellow Book), and some typically provocative “Art Notes” by B. H. Dias (Ezra Pound) and sharp musical reviews by William Atheling (also Pound).
The problem of financing The New Age arose in October 1918. In his “Readers and Writers” column R. H. C. (A. R. Orage) provided a detailed breakdown of publication costs and of the journal’s sales figures, pointing out how small the profit margin was. Orage noted that there was a twopence difference in the price of the journal, depending on whether its purchasers subscribed directly or indirectly; the latter subscribers were being subsidised by the former. He invited indirect subscribers to switch to direct subscription (thus enabling the journal to recoup some of its lost income) so that the price of The New Age could remain at sixpence a week (24:381). But later in the month Orage had to admit that although approximately 100 of the journal’s 1,500 indirect subscribers had volunteered to subscribe directly, this had not raised sufficient income to prevent a price increase. Henceforth, The New Age would cost indirect subscribers sevenpence a week, while direct subscribers would continue to be charged sixpence (27:430).
Names to Know While Using his Volume
- Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928)
- 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, he served as Prime Minister from 1908-1916 and was a close ally of France in the First World War. Having served as junior counsel to Charles Parnell, Asquith was a moderate supporter of Irish Home Rule. Under his administration, a number of significant reforms were passed, including the controversial 1911 Parliament Act, which removed veto power on financial legislation from the House of Lords and otherwise reduced their political clout in a number of ways. Asquith worked to form a coalition government in the first two years of the war, but his efforts to prevail over partisan politics were largely unsuccessful, and the Conservatives in his cabinet (with the public support of Lord Northcliffe's newspapers) managed effectively to undermine his authority. He was forced to resign in 1916 and was succeeded by his own War Secretary, David Lloyd George (see introduction to Volume 24). Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930)
- Conservative MP from 1874 to 1922. Became Prime Minister in 1902, but was defeated in the 1906 election. In the wartime coalitions he was First Lord of the Admiralty, 1915, and Foreign Secretary, 1916-19. He was the chief British representative at the League of Nations in 1920. Known for the “Balfour Declaration” of 1917, which declared British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. (See introduction to volume 20.) Clive Bell (1881-1964)
- Art critic and theorist, who defended post-Impressionism and is known principally for his elaboration of the idea of “significant form”. Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. Married Vanessa Stephen (sister of Virginia Woolf) in 1907. The marriage did not last, although the Bells remained on amicable terms and did not divorce. Published widely on art and was made art critic for the New Statesman and Nation in 1933, a position he held until 1943. Ethel Colburn Mayne (? – 1941)
- Ethel Colburn Mayne was a biographer, novelist, and translator. She wrote for Henry Harland’s Yellow Book under the pseudonym Francis Huntley. She published on Browning, reviewed widely, wrote a well-known biography of Byron, and published a number of acclaimed short stories. She died in 1941. Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1892-1915)
- Enormously talented sculptor and artist, who was heavily involved in early modernist and avant-garde movements (principally Vorticism) and who was championed by Ezra Pound. Exhibited with the London Group and the Allied Artists’ Association in 1914. Volunteered for the French army in 1914. Killed on 5th June 1915 in the course of an infantry charge. Henry Harland (1861-1905)
- American writer whose early work explored the nature of the Jewish immigrant experience in the United States. Harland travelled a good deal in Europe, and in 1889 moved to England. He became heavily involved in Aestheticism. Together with Aubrey Beardsley he founded the Yellow Book, an influential Aestheticist fin-de-siècle publication. Alfred (Charles William) Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe (1865-1922)
- A highly successful publisher, press baron and popular journalist, founder of the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror and later owner of The Times (as of 1908), Northcliffe's influential and widely circulated papers criticized England's military and tactical shortcomings in the fighting of the First World War and were instrumental in undermining Asquith's government in 1916. David Lloyd George, upon taking office as the next Prime Minister, offered Northcliffe a cabinet position, fearing the prospect of his opposition. This offer was declined. In 1918, however, Northcliffe accepted an offer from Lord Beaverbrook, then Minister of Information, to assume responsibility for war propaganda; he resigned from government on Armistice Day. Northcliffe later (in 1920) took part in stirring up an anti-Semitic frenzy in England and throughout much of Europe by publicizing the fictitious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” (see introduction to volume 24.) David Lloyd George (1863-1945)
- After serving as a Liberal MP (for the Welsh district of Caernarvon) in the House of Commons, Lloyd George was named Chancellor of the Exchequer under Herbert Henry Asquith and served from 1908-1915. In 1915, he was named Minister of Munitions, and the following year, Minister of War. Later in 1916, he replaced Asquith as Prime Minister after a Parliamentary upset instigated by Asquith's Conservative opponents, with whom Lloyd George had formed a cautious and temporary alliance. He played a decisive role in the negotiations leading to the final Armistice. Unlike his predecessor, Lloyd George at first adopted an aggressive policy towards Ireland, but he later participated in negotiating the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and it was under his administration that the Irish Free State was established in 1922. (See introduction to volume 24.) Nicholas II (1868-1918)
- Tzar of Russia. Soon after his accession he married Alexandra of Hesse (granddaughter of Queen Victoria). Industrial unrest and poor harvests led to near revolution in 1905. From 1906 the Tzar and his family were unduly influenced by the bogus holy man, Rasputin, in particular because of the hypnotic power he exercised over the Tzar's haemophiliac heir to the throne, Alexis. In 1915 Nicholas assumed command of Russian forces during the war; forced to abdicate in March 1917, he and his family were kept under guard until they were executed in July 1918. (See introduction to volume 20.) Arthur J. Penty (1875-1937)
- Influential writer on guild socialism, which sought to transform socio-economic life by advocating a return to medieval guilds. Penty’s 1906 book Restoration of the Guild System was especially influential in developing this line of thought, which was later developed in different directions by figures such as G. D. H. Cole, S. G. Hobson, and A. R. Orage. An architect, medievalist, and political activist, Penty wrote a number of key books on his conception of guild socialism. A distributist who articulated an ethically informed socialism, he refused all purely materialist explanations of history, but rather tried to combine economics with spirituality. Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)
- Twenty-eighth President of the USA. Elected Democratic Governor of New Jersey in 1910. Became President in 1912 and observed strict neutrality in the war until 1917. Won 1916 election on the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War”. But the increased German submarine attacks and fears of Mexico forming an alliance with Germany led him to enter the war in April 1917. In January 1918 he issued his Fourteen Points as a basis for peace and worked to found the League of Nations. (See introduction to volume 20.)
Main Events of the Period
The Closing Stages of World War One
- Romanian surrender to the Central Powers in May.
- Last German offensive begins on July 15th.
- War Loan Act borrows £250 million in July.
- Gradual intervention in Russia by Allied forces, with the expressed goal of re-establishing an eastern front against the Germans.
- Beginning of Allied offensives on the Western Front in August.
- Battle of Amiens (8-11th August). British deployment of tanks ensures a breakthrough in German lines, enabling them to advance approximately 8 miles on the first day of the battle.
- Second Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Arras (21st August to 3rd September).
- Last Turkish army defeated at Megiddo on September 19th.
- Battles of the Argonne and Ypres (26th September to 15th October).
- German High Command calls for an end to the war (29th September).
- Bulgaria surrenders to the Allies (30th September).
- Damascus falls to Arab and British forces (1st to 2nd October).
- German government appeals to President Wilson for an immediate cessation of hostilities and seeks to open peace negotiations with Wilson, thereby bypassing the other Allies.
- Germany accepts Wilson’s 14 points on October 23rd.
- Surrender of Turkey (30th October).
Events in Russia
- In June, various anti-Bolshevik regimes emerge on the Middle Volga and in Siberia. They are supported by the Czechs. Clashes between Czech soldiers and Bolsheviks. Czech uprising.
- Intensification of Russian Civil War by May and June.
- Vladivostock and Murmansk are taken over by Allied forces.
- The Tsar and his family are murdered on July 16th.
- US troops land at Vladivostock.
- The Supreme Allied Commander on the Western Front (Foch) begins his counter-attack.
- Lenin wounded in an attempted assassination.
- Intensification of the Red Terror.
- Between January and June 1918, the Labour Party debates a proposed new Party constitution drawn up by Arthur Henderson and Sidney Webb. The new constitution, which includes an explicit commitment to Socialism (under Clause Four), is eventually accepted.
- Fisher Education Act raises the school-leaving age from 12 to 14, imposes compulsory part-time education on all those aged 14-16 who are already in work, and promises exapansion of nursery school provision.
- Fourth Reform Act enfranchises women over thirty years of age.
- Finance Act raises the burden of indirect taxation.
- Strikes by the London Police force (organised by the National Union of Police and Prison Officers), munitions workers in Coventry, and cotton workers.
Continuing Series in Volume 23
- “Foreign Affairs” by S. Verdad (J. M. Kennedy).
- “Guilds and Their Critics” by S. G. H. (S. G. Hobson).
- “Oriental Encounters” by Marmaduke Pickthall.
- “Towards National Guilds” by “National Guildsmen”.
- “A Modern Prose Anthology” edited by R. Harrison.
New Series of Interest in Volume 23
- “Chapters on Transition” by S. G. H. (S. G. Hobson).
- “On Certain First Principles” by M. W. Robieson.
- “The Workshop” by S. G. H. (S. G. Hobson).
- “Out of School” by Kenneth Richmond.
- “London Songs” by R. A. Vran-Gavran.
- “What America Has to Live Down” by Ezra Pound.
- “Tariff and Copyright” by Ezra Pound.
- “On the Reorganisation of University Education” by M. W. Robieson.
- “Views and Reviews: Man and the Machine” by A. E. R. (A. E. Randall).
Several key topics are discussed in detail in Volume 23 of The New Age. Of these, the following are the most significant:
The Democratisation of Germany
Perhaps more than any other single issue, the democratisation of Germany emerges as the most urgently debated question. The journal’s editors emphasised again and again that Germany had sought political hegemony over the rest of Europe by military means, and that the war was principally being fought in order to resist German aggression and its desire for territorial expansion. The battle between the Allies and Germany was interpreted in various ways: as a struggle between opposed traditions, namely “Prussianism” versus French “Latin” culture (3:034), as a belated response to the French defeat in 1870, and as a conflict between materialism and humanism. The New Age insisted that although the military defeat of Germany was the prerequisite for peace, such a defeat was on its own an insufficient guarantee of any future peace, which had to be accompanied by a full democratisation of Germany and by its moral regeneration.
The point is clearly made in the course of a polemic against pacifists, accused by The New Age of failing to grasp the economic and political ramifications of the impending post-war settlement: “By the military defeat of Prussia only, it is not probable that her moral revolution will be brought about within a measurable period; and in consequence of this, it is not probable that her military defeat will release the Allies from the obligation of further economic war. But the moral defeat of Prussia, registered and perpetuated in a complete transformation of her political system, would, on the other hand, make superfluous, and even impossible, the search for a new dimension of warfare” (8:114). Returning to this question in the last issue of this volume, The New Age asserted that the democratisation of Germany, while of obvious benefit to that country itself, was “outweighed a thousand times by the advantages to be derived from it by the rest of the world” because “as fast as Germany moves towards democracy the war-spirit of the Allied peoples will everywhere decline. A democracy cannot fight a democracy” (27:422).
The Necessary Conditions of Peace
Before turning to the spirited debate in The New Age as to the merits and demerits of a proposed League of Nations, it is important to consider its view of what were the vital conditions of any future peace. The journal argued that the conditions which had led to war needed to be extirpated and that the post-war settlement was required to create social, economic, and political structures that would prevent its recrudescence. Above all, the principles of political democracy needed to be explicitly linked to the issue of economic justice. The New Age appealed to the British Labour Party to exert influence both within Britain itself and within post-war Germany in order to ensure that a future German democracy did not become a mere sham. Failure to bring about changes to the political system and to the economic organisation of nation states would, The New Age maintained, result in the victory of capital. “The Criteria of Peace” thus held that it was “the prime duty of Allied Labour in general and British Labour in particular first to ensure economic democracy in their own countries and then to insist, even by the continuance of war, that the German Social Democracy shall follow suit” (8:118). In a later issue, it was further argued that a successful peace depended on Prussia’s unconditional surrender, the delineation of post-war national boundaries, and the creation of a system that could defend these boundaries. This last demand goes to the heart of the debate about a League of Nations.
The League of Nations
The question of the League of Nations was a hotly contested issue in the pages of The New Age, which was deeply sceptical about the rationale for its creation and about its practical viability as a supranational entity. Concerns were raised about the League’s moral authority, its right to interpret international law, its dependence on members from nation states that each had their own political agendas, and the likelihood of its descent into a bureaucratic quagmire. The New Age came out in opposition to the League of Nations on the grounds that it was both impracticable (the pragmatic argument) and unjust (the ethical/political argument). Above all, it raised two overriding concerns: that the League would concentrate political and military power in the hands of a body which would not be answerable to democratically elected national governments; that it would exist to serve the interests of capital and the military forces that defended capital. “Notes of the Week” for July 13, 1918, put it as follows: “What but a military and capitalist alliance could the existing League become in the circumstances; and what else could be expected of it but the perpetuation of its present military and capitalist functions?” (7:098). The New Age feared that, far from safeguarding peace, the League of Nations would aggravate “the evils of the old diplomacy” (10:146) and would thus “inevitably add to the occasions of war” (12:180). In its last major statement on this issue the journal argued that because the League of Nations would have supranational authority, and because “privileged power” invariably seeks to “escape popular control,” there was “every reason for concluding that a League of Nations in this sense is designed as a counter-measure against democracy, and not as a democratic supplement” (25:391).
Earlier volumes of The New Age had discussed the question of Irish independence, and this question is again prominent in this volume, especially in the first few issues. But it is now increasingly inflected by a wider concern with the post-war independence of countries such as Czechoslovakia (written here as Czecho-Slovakia), Jugoslavia, and Poland. The New Age consistently defended the right of these as yet only emergent countries to national self-determination, and it further argued that recognition of their independence should be linked to the compulsory democratisation of Germany. It was imperative not only that these countries be granted independence but also that their future freedom be safeguarded by denying Germany access to the raw materials required for the prosecution of war. The new national boundaries of these countries, as well as those of Russia, were to be strongly defended, as was their economic and political autonomy. Noting that Germany had exploited both the economies and the peoples of the countries it had subjected, The New Age argued that “Germany must not be allowed to control any more subject-races” and insisted that that this “will never recur with the establishment of an independent Poland, Jugo-slavia, and Czecho-Slovakia” (22:344) and with the robust protection of Russian provinces.
This position vis-à-vis central European countries had consequences for The New Age’s position on Ireland. In keeping with earlier editorials, the journal defended Home Rule for Ireland, which on a point of principle it linked with the French struggle for Alsace-Lorraine (3:33-36). But The New Age also argued against Irish nationalists’ isolationist stance, maintaining that because the defeat of Germany was as much in an independent Ireland’s interest as in that of Europe as a whole, the Irish should actively support the war effort. In an important piece (“Notes of the Week” for May 23rd 1918), the journal staged an imaginary dialogue between its editors and a representative nationalist in which it insisted that the difference between German Imperialism and the aims of the Allies was that “between a new, hopeful and growing future and the repetition of an ancient and hopeless past; and that as between Germany and England the choice of Ireland, even if she should remain bond, should be England, if only because the future of a victorious England must be with freedom, whereas the future of a victorious Germany is necessarily with slavery” (4:051). The New Age was optimistic that an Allied victory in the war gave the best possible chance of the victory (and extension) of democracy and that only by this means might national self-determination for Ireland be eventually brought about.
The Russian Revolution
Along with the American entry into the war and moves towards self-governance in India, the Russian Revolution is described in The New Age as one of the three major events of the period. And while the first two of these events receive relatively scanty attention in this volume, the political implications of the Russian Revolution appear to have exercised the journal’s editors and contributors a good deal. For The New Age the fate of Russia was crucial to the post-war balance of power. Recognising that Russia was still under German occupation and that the Allies had relatively little direct influence there, the journal urged that everything be done to help Russia resist the occupation and, indeed, to foment anti-German feeling. But as the months of 1918 go on, and the Russian civil war intensifies, an increased scepticism about Bolshevism comes very much to the fore.
As might be expected, given The New Age’s politics, one of its main reservations about the Bolshevik Revolution concerned the question of democracy. The “Foreign Affairs” section of July 11th 1918 begins bluntly with the following assertion: “The case against the Bolsheviks is an exceedingly simple one; and it is that they are not democrats by inclination, by principle, or by conviction, and that they have set up an oligarchy after having thrown down a democratic assembly” (11:165). For S. Verdad (J. M. Kennedy) the Bolsheviks were “maintaining themselves in power by force and terrorism” and in this respect could not be differentiated “in any way from the Tsardom” (11:165). Arguing in a later issue (August 8th 1918) that Russia needed to replace the Soviet system of delegacy with a properly representative constituent assembly, The New Age suggested that systems of delegacy required delegates to be intelligent and educated; in the absence of these prerequisites, as in post-Tsarist Russia, “delegacy is bound to degenerate into mob-rule” (15:231). Delegacy was thus deemed to be “inapplicable except to a nation that has passed through representative government. Bolshevism, in short, is premature; and only an abortion of government can be expected of it” (15:231).
Running through almost all the issues of this volume there is a marked concern with the reconstruction of Britain after the war. This concern manifests itself in a number of important series such as “Guilds and Their Critics” (which polemicises with G. D. H. Cole), “Towards National Guilds,”“Chapters on Transition” (by S. G. Hobson), “On Certain First Principles” (by M. W. Robieson), “The Workshop – Chapters on Transition,” (again by S. G. Hobson), and, perhaps most significantly, A. J. Penty’s “National Guilds versus the Class War,”“Syndicalism and the Neo-Marxians,” and “The Neo-Marxians and History.”
These essays all testify to their writers’ sense that a transitional phase in the nation’s history is about to come to an end and that it is possible to intervene radically in the formation of a new post-war society. The role of the Labour movement and, more specifically, of Guild Socialism are hotly contested topics. The New Age was in these months particularly troubled by the amalgamation of the five major English banks, which it deplored as a move to concentrate financial power in the hands of a cartel. On October 3rd 1918, the journal described the five banks as “already virtually a Trust” and went as far as to suggest that their amalgamation constituted no less of a threat to democracy than Prussia had in the previous generation (23:359). In opposition to the power wielded by the banks – described as a “Monopoly of Money” – The New Age urged a “Monopoly of Labour” through the amalgamation of trades unions. The Labour movement was to prepare for the possibility that if the Labour Party were in government with only a small minority, they would be unable to implement the socio-economic changes they sought to bring about. By focusing on the need to develop union power, the Labour movement would acknowledge that “a little political power goes a long way when great economic power is behind it” and also that “it is on its economic power and not on its political power that Labour must depend for its influence upon reconstruction” (15:231).
This was, however, a general argument. More specifically, The New Age engaged in detailed debates about the specific characteristics of Guild Socialism, exploring both its principles and its organisational modes. A. J. Penty’s three essays are of particular interest, not least because they chime so well with the general ethos of The New Age itself. On May 16th 1918, for example, R. H. C. (Orage) sought to defend “spirituality” from the cant with which it was habitually associated by suggesting that it should be read as connoting “spiritedness – a certain liveliness of intelligence exhibited in action, thought and feeling” (3:042); on August 15th 1918 Penty, in turn, argued that the “right method” for Guild Socialists to adopt was “not to preach revolution, but to preach ideas” (16:250). For Penty, Neo-Marxism was motivated less by a desire for justice for the working class than by a self-defeating class hatred. His own attempt to “spiritualise” Guild Socialism led him to assert that it aimed at “spiritual regeneration” be means of an economic transformation. Guild Socialism begins “at the economic end of the problem in the belief that it is only by and through attacking material and concrete evils that a spiritual awakening is possible”; thus the conflict of interests between capital and labour under prevailing economic conditions is not reducible to material factors alone but rather is “the inevitable accompaniment of a materialist ideal of life which rejects religion and art with their sweet and humanising influence” (16:253).
It is interesting to note that although the issue of gender does not feature prominently in this volume of The New Age, it nonetheless carries on a subterranean life in its pages, which indicates that the question of male-female relations was rarely far from the surface in radical intellectual circles. Stereotypical remarks about “woman” in a review of Benjamin Kidd’s The Science of Power provoked a letter which insisted that any “doctrine of “The” Woman is as much a fallacy in the history of the world as the doctrine of “The” Englishman is a fallacy in the history of races” (5:079). Janko Lavrin’s “Culture and Erotics” (8:124-5) indulged in its own equally tendentious generalisations, arguing that “in killing the respect for Woman one destroys all those mysterious spiritual springs which come into mankind only through her,” and suggesting that “the crux of the woman-question is not how to ape the modern tired and sensual man, but how to regenerate him” (8:125). B. H. Dias (Ezra Pound) pursued a similarly one-sided view when he observed with typical chutzpah in his “Art Notes” of August 1st 1918: “Not wildly anti-feminist we are yet to be convinced that any woman ever invented anything in the arts” (14:223). In the September 5th 1918 issue, the question of equal pay was raised in “Notes of the Week”, the discussion concentrating mainly on the practical difficulties of implementing it (19:295).
Literature and the Arts
Most of Vol. 23 of The New Age is preoccupied with the end-game of World War I and with the task of rebuilding Europe in its aftermath. Political problems are thus canvassed in greater depth and detail than artistic and cultural issues, which doubtless seemed to be less pressing. Nonetheless, there are valuable contributions on literary and artistic topics, most notably B. H. Dias’s (Pound’s) “Art Notes,” some of the interventions made in the “Readers and Writers” section, and several key reviews of fiction and poetry. The Music and Drama review columns alternated week to week: Pound’s music column, written under the name of William Atheling, reviewed live performances and offered him a platform for articulating his strong likes and dislikes; drama productions were reviewed by John Francis Hope (A. E. Randall). The debate between R. H. C. (Orage) and Ethel Colburn Mayne over the significance and the legacy of Henry Harland’s Yellow Book and the Decadent 1890s (discussed below) is of particular interest.
Ezra Pound’s intermittent “Art Notes” (published under the pseudonym “B. H. Dias”) make fascinating reading. Pound engaged with a wide range of topics between May and October 1918, among them the sculpture of Gaudier-Brzeska, about whom he would later write a full-length monograph; the standard of painting on view at the Royal Academy; the paucity of interesting architecture in London, which enabled him to extend his assault on unnecessary ornamentation in poetry to that of architecture; and the value of the cinema as a new art form. A brief review of Gaudier’s sculpture and drawings (on display at the Leicester Gallery) explained that they required detailed critical study, which they had not yet received; writing as “Dias”, Pound cheekily concurred with his own claim (in propria persona) in the exhibition catalogue that Gaudier’s death “was the greatest individual loss which the Arts have sustained in war” (4:058). In issues 6 and 8 he mocked the Royal Academy and asserted that academicians’ work was invariably meretricious; for Pound, the Royal Academy “is not there to interest people who are acquainted with contemporary art or past master-work” but “is there to “get off” as much painting . . . on to the public as the befoozled public will take” (8:125). Starting in late August 1918 he embarked on an occasional series of “Notes” on London architecture in which he deplored alike the lack of serious critical debate about architecture and the lack of any coherent aesthetic governing the practice of metropolitan building. Also noteworthy is his “Note” for issue 22 (September 26th 1918). In a brief foray into the aesthetics of early cinema he declared that because art “is a stasis” (shades of Wyndham Lewis and the recent collaboration over Vorticism here) the cinema cannot properly be regarded as art; arguing that it merely carried on a debased theatrical tradition, he accused it of conveying an attitude of “sentimental sensationalism” (22:352) and declared that its best use was as a news medium.
The music reviews in this volume (written under the pseudonym “William Atheling”) gave Pound the opportunity to bestow praise and cast aspersions at will. Above all, Pound was able to promote the music he valued by discussing it in terms of the wider aesthetic he was developing in his discussions of literature and art. Performers are praised for the intelligence with which they play, rather than for technical virtuosity. His likes and dislikes are announced in uncompromising tones. Likes: Chopin (with reservations about his romanticism), Debussy (in parts), Liszt (as piano composer), Ravel, Schumann. Dislikes: Beethoven, Gounod, Saint-Saens, Wieniawski, Wagner (bombast and rhetoric). Mussorgsky’s music seems to have been especially important to Pound during these months: he comes in for repeated praise and is described in the last issue of this volume as “the titan” who is well beyond Schumann and Rimsky-Korsakov (27:429). Pound was generally acerbic about contemporary English music, laying the blame for its weakness at the hands of those who “boom Elgars and Parrys as men of commanding genius and of international significance;” for Pound, the “only way to improve an art anywhere is by maintaining the strictest standards of judgment” (7:108). His position was that: “Patriotism in music consists in getting the best; it does not consist in a demand for the local product” (15:242). Support for the national on the grounds of patriotic sentiment was to be deplored. The function of good criticism, Pound declared, was “to make it possible for the best performers to present their best work,” to make no “concession whatsover to ignorance and bad taste,” and to try to develop “the discretion of a possible public” (27:428).
In the “Readers and Writers” column R. H. C. (Orage) made a number of telling interventions, each of which sheds a good deal of light on The New Age’s attitude to contemporary writing. A June issue took note of the Little Review and pondered the significance of its particular approach to literature; addressing recent work by Joyce, Lewis, and Pound, R. H. C. considered their writing to be too clever by half, and he argued that it smacked too much of the inward looking coterie. The Little Review’s cultivation of obscurity disclosed its contempt for the wider public and ensured that it would in turn be ignored by the majority of readers. (Both Lewis and Joyce came in for pointed criticism: “I am staggered by the cleverness of such a writer as Mr. Wyndham Lewis; and a little more so by the cleverness of Mr. James Joyce. But in the case of both of them, I find myself growing more and more annoyingly mystified, bewildered and repelled. Is it, I ask, that they do not write for readers like me?” (6:089).)
A more sustained engagement with the aesthetics of The Yellow Book was to take place in later issues. The ground was prepared by a brief critique of Clive Bell’s essays on art, described by R. H. C. as defending a “bohemian” conception of the aesthetic that required a wealthy culture and society to sustain it. This trivialisation of art’s significance, which treated it as an ornament to material opulence, meant that Bell’s work was “not worth dwelling on a moment longer” (12:187). On October 3rd 1918 Orage once again had the Little Review in his sights; this time it was Pound’s special Henry James issue. He singled out Ethel Colburn Mayne’s essay on James for particular criticism, using it as the occasion to declare that the Yellow Book had been a cul-de-sac; Colburn Mayne’s article was “a confession” of this fact under “the disguise of criticism of Henry James” (23:366). In a lively response Colburn Mayne repudiated the charge and suggested that there were affinities between the spirit animating the Little Review and that which had informed the Yellow Book (25:397). Unimpressed, Orage stuck to his guns, observing that the latter publication’s insistence on “the purely aesthetic standard” had inevitably brought about “an early decay” (25:398). He followed this up with an important critical statement, which was marked by distinctly Arnoldian overtones: “A cul-de-sac occurs in literary history when a direction is taken away from the main highway of the national language and literature; when the stream it represents is not part of the main stream of the traditional language, but a backwater or a side stream . . . [the Yellow Book] led nowhere or only upon the rocks of realism or into the shallows of fancifulness; and its pioneers were therefore compelled either to turn back or to perish” (25:398). Colburn Mayne sought to close the debate (in the last issue of the volume) in a conciliatory manner by suggesting that the differences between the Yellow Book and The New Age were small in comparison with their shared devotion to the task of artistic renewal (27:435).
Ezra Pound’s presence in Vol. 23 of The New Age is all but ubiquitous: he wrote two articles (“What America Has to Live Down” and “Tariff and Copyright”), and he contributed the poem “Homage à la Langue d’Oc” to issue 9, all in his own name; but he also submitted fourteen music reviews under the pseudonym of “William Atheling” and thirteen “Art Notes” (discussed above) under the pseudonym “B. H. Dias”. The only issue in which Pound does not appear is number 24; the indefatigable poet-critic made up for it in number 25 by contributing two columns, “Art Notes” and “Music”. It is scarcely surprising, then, that he emerges as a significant critical voice with which the journal itself feels it must come to terms. In June of 1918 we find R. H. C. (Orage) considering Pound’s Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry and arguing that the poet’s insistence on craftsmanship in the writing of verse is to be commended (13:201). But by October Orage was making greater claims on Pound’s behalf. He now recognised the importance of his critical writings and translations (in Pavannes and Divisions) and admitted that “a serious attempt will be necessary before very long to arrive at a judgment concerning one of the most gifted, slovenly, arrogant and spirited writers of our day” (22:366).
Pound’s series “What America Has to Live Down” ran in six parts from issue 17 through to issue 21. The essay addressed itself to the question of America’s long delay in entering the war. Pound claimed that the American people should not be blamed for the delay, responsibility for which lay at President Wilson’s door. But equally importantly the essay was concerned to defend freedom of thought and the exchange of ideas; Pound maintained that a lack of adequate communication between America and England ensured that the two countries faced each other with more or less complete mutual incomprehension. Pound defended the importance of clear prose to the frank exchange of ideas and, citing Kipling’s dictum that “transportation is civilisation,” insisted that this maxim applied to thought as much as to material goods. Advocating a course of counter-culture for Germany – the efficacy of which he drily questioned – he argued that only “on Confucian lines can the world endure a German recrudescence” (21:329). “Copyright and Tariff” extended this line of thought. Once again addressing the problem of communication, Pound maintained that books should be permitted to circulate as freely as possible between countries. And this argument, it should be noted, chimed with the general position being advocated by The New Age. As “Notes of the Week” put it in the course of a discussion of the conflict between the spirit of nationality and the League of Nations: “The two, however, are bound to clash unless, as they rise as nations, the various peoples do not [sic] learn to understand one another better. This mutual understanding should be the chief task of the world’s intellectuals for the next decade” (21:326).
- Wallace Martin, The New Age Under Orage: Chapters in English Cultural History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1967).
- Arthur Marwick, A History of the Modern British Isles, 1914-1999 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).
- Katherine Lyon Mix, A Study in Yellow: The Yellow Book and Its Contributors (London: Constable, 1960).
- John Silverlight, The Victors’ Dilemma: Allied Intervention in the Russian Civil War(London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1970).
- John Stevenson, British Society 1914-45 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984).
- A. J. P. Taylor, English History 1914-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976).
- Andrew Thorpe, The Longman Companion to Britain in the Era of the Two World Wars 1914-45 (Harlow: Longman, 1994).