The English Review: An Introduction

By Nora Tomlinson

The English Review: An Introduction

In 1908, Ford Madox Ford (or Hueffer as he was known, until he changed his name by deed poll in 1919), seemed eminently well qualified to start a new cultural journal. He was extremely widely read, and he also knew intimately writers whose work spanned the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth. Through the household of his grandfather, Ford Madox Brown, for example, he met Turgenev and Christina Rossetti. His childhood friends were the Garnetts and young Rossettis and he met Thomas Hardy at a tea party while still in his teens. As a young man living in southern England, he was in regular contact with Joseph Conrad, H. G.Wells, Stephen Crane and Henry James. In the early years of the twentieth century, he was a regular attendee at Edward Garnett’s Tuesday lunches at the Mont Blanc restaurant in London’s Gerrard Street; other regulars included Hilaire Belloc, Joseph Conrad, Norman Douglas, John Galsworthy, W. H. Hudson, John Masefield, Stephen Reynolds, Edward Thomas and H. M. Tomlinson, all of whom became English Review contributors. It was also through Edward Garnett that Ford met W. B. Yeats and Edward’s wife Constance, who provided Ford with translations of the Russian works which appeared in the review.

Although he was certainly never a socialist, Ford joined the Fabian Society briefly in 1906 to help H. G. Wells in his unsuccessful campaign to oust some of the long established Fabians such as the Webbs and G. B. Shaw. This, and his friendship with H. G. Wells and A. R. Orage, the editor of The New Age, gave him contact with a number of Fabian thinkers and writers. Ford was also a member of the Square Club, founded in 1908 by Conol O’Riordan and G. K. Chesterton to honour Henry Fielding; other members included John Galsworthy, Perceval Gibbon, Walter de la Mare, John Masefield, Henry Nevison, and Edward Thomas. Other useful contacts came from his affair with Violet Hunt, who introduced Ford to a number of prominent women writers, such as May Sinclair and the young Rebecca West, which sustained his support for the suffragette movement. His friendship with C. F. G. Masterman, author of The Condition of England, together with his relationship with his Russian brother-in-law David Soskice, gave him access to Liberal political circles.

Ford was also increasingly successful as a published author; since 1900, he had published three volumes of poetry, a trilogy of historical novels about Katherine Howard, three books of art criticism, two novels in collaboration with Joseph Conrad and three novels of his own, as well as several volumes of topographical writing. His poetry and short stories had appeared steadily in a range of periodicals since 1891, and from 1906 he was making regular contributions to The Tribune and writing a series of “Literary Portraits” for the “Books Supplement” of The Daily Mail. Ford was, in fact, in an excellent position to understand the operations of cultural journalism, and together with his range of literary, social and political contacts, this seemed to place him in an ideal position to launch his own cultural journal to chart and articulate some of the uncertainties of the Edwardian age.

Quite why Ford should have wanted to edit a cultural journal is less clear. As so often with Ford, he offered a variety of possible reasons, many of them written with hindsight. He claimed, in 1931, that both S. S. McClure, the American publisher, and Lord Northcliff, the newspaper magnate, had asked him to run periodicals for them, but that he had turned them down because the kinds of projects they had in mind were too political, too “muckraking” and insufficiently cultural. It was, moreover, he thought, a good time to start a new project. “The old literary gang of the ‘Athenaeum–Spectator–Heavy Artillery’ order was slowly decaying. Younger lions were not only roaring but making carnage of their predecessors.” He imposed a retrospective order on his objectives, arguing if a “nucleus of writers could be got together, together with what of undiscovered talent the country might hold, a movement might be started” (Ford, 1931, 362-3), though it must be remembered that Ford was writing this after the foundation of a whole raft of literary and cultural journals which could powerfully claim to have established literary movements. Certainly, Ford had a life-long passion for literature, and he could claim with some justification that “the greater part of his conscious life had been spent in the effort to help the cause of one beautiful talent or another” (Ford, 1921, 16). But the actual circumstances of the Review’s founding were more mundane. Ford’s friend and backer, Arthur Marwood, apparently wanted to publish Hardy’s poem “A Sunday Morning Tragedy,” which had been turned down by The Cornhill Magazine, while Ford claimed the additional motive of trying “to find room for some of Conrad’s less marketable efforts” (Ford, 1931, 191). Douglas Goldring, the assistant editor of The English Review, felt convinced that much of Ford’s own editorial writing was “mainly devoted to erecting a pedestal on which to stand the possibly embarrassed figure of Henry James” (Goldring, 1948, 142). Whatever his real motivation, Ford, in 1908, had the reputation, the energy and enthusiasm, and at least, temporarily, the financial backing to start a new journal, and he welcomed the opportunities this gave him.

He may have been encouraged to start a new journalistic venture by Arnold Bennett’s savage attack on contemporary journalism in The New Age in April, 1908, in which he asserted that English periodicals were “on the whole the most stupid and infantile of any world power” and went on to claim that “it is notorious, of course, that from all the unpretending magazines ideas less than fifty years old are banned” (NA, Apr 25, 1908, 513). It is true that some of the extant nineteenth century quarterlies, such as The Quarterly Review and The Edinburgh Review, were lengthy and ponderous productions, with Ford himself complaining that “the majority of our journals are written by shop-boys for shop-girls . . . and directed by advertising managers for the benefit of shopkeepers” (Ford, 1911, 169). But all journals were not like this, as Ford certainly knew. Though he didn’t do any kind of market research, he was familiar with many impressive cultural journals which could have served him as possible models–he had, indeed, contributed to some of them–and on whose experience he could draw.

Ford should have been under no illusions about the practical difficulties of running a cultural journal, since there were enough examples, particularly in the years preceding the appearance of The English Review, to show him the organisational and financial hazards he might face; both The Monthly and The Albany Reviews, for instance, ceased publication for financial reasons in 1907. There were four possible production schedules he could follow–quarterly, monthly, weekly and occasional; and though his choice of a monthly cycle of publication was probably sensible, given Ford’s other writing commitments and his increasingly complicated private life, the decision seems to have been arbitrary rather than rational. Ford could also choose whether to follow the example of The Bookman, with its lavish illustrations, or of The Yellow Book and The Savoy, and provide beautifully produced, high quality art work. Instead, the few rather dreary illustrations in The English Review suggest that he had not considered the implications or the impact of an illustrated periodical, though he had the background and the contacts to do so. He could also choose editorial policies ranging from the general journals, which addressed contemporary issues with varying amounts of cultural coverage, to the purely cultural ventures. The most original journals were often the purely cultural ones, yet Ford, despite all his frequently expressed convictions about the primacy of culture, chose a hybrid kind of review. The English Review thus entered a market in which the Edwardian reader already had a wide choice of monthlies and weeklies that provided intelligent commentary on contemporary political events as well as social and cultural life.

The wide range of publications available to the Edwardian reading public is linked to a further point. Ford’s claim to greatness as an editor rests heavily on the opportunities he gave to young and unpublished writers, yet many contributors to The English Review were already actively writing for at least one other Edwardian periodical, and fourteen of them had contributed to The Yellow Book, which had begun more than a decade earlier. Thus English Review readers were not encountering a wide range of new voices and opinions, but were rather reading well known writers, engaging with well-aired ideas expressed in a familiar idiom. Indeed, it may even have been its familiarity, its sense of maintaining a tradition of cultural journalism, which made The English Review so attractive to its first readers. What is absolutely clear is that it did not arise out of some journalistic vacuum, nor did it fill a great hole in Edwardian cultural needs.

There is a shortage of reliable information about how The English Review came to be founded and how it was managed; its finances, in particular, are shrouded in uncertainty. Twenty five years later, Ford invented a politician who “was a virulent Tory of the new school, and wanted an organ of his own” (Ford, 1931, 364). This politician withdrew from the venture because of the demands of his constituency and an impending general election. This fictional figure is probably an amalgam of Arthur Marwood, and H.G.Wells, and their involvement with the review in its planning stages is endorsed by Violet Hunt, herself very closely involved, writing of “its promoters, Hueffer, Marwood, Conrad and Wells, busily collecting artists to write and men of goodwill to read what they had written” (Hunt, 18). Conrad’s own memory was of a deep involvement. “Do you care to be reminded” he wrote to Ford when The Transatlantic Review was being planned, “that the editing of the first number was finished in that farmhouse near Luton? You arrived one evening with your myrmidons and parcels of copy” (Aubry, II.323).

Whoever was involved in the initial planning, by the summer of 1908, the review was well under way, and there was a plaque proclaiming The English Review above the door of Ford’s flat at 84, Holland Park Avenue, and the young Douglas Goldring, who was then working for Country Life, was appointed as a part-time sub-editor. “My translation to Ford Madox Hueffer’s review was like a translation to heaven” (Goldring, 1920, 216). Stephen Reynolds, another aspiring young writer, was appointed with responsibility for the business and advertising of the review, and Miss Olive Thomas, “beautiful and austere, kind and cold,” was appointed as secretary, and according to Violet Hunt, imposed some order on very considerable chaos. Violet herself became a “reader, occasional sub-editor, contributor, but above all …a ‘society hand’ and touter for rich, influential subscribers” (Hunt, 22, 28). Duckworth’s were appointed as publishers for the review and it was printed by Ballantyne & Co. of Covent Garden. After extensive advertising in other journals and a great deal of lobbying by Ford and his friends, the first number of The English Review, with its distinctive blue cover and stylish black type, and priced at two shillings and sixpence, appeared at the end of November, 1908. With very few exceptions it was very well received. The initial success was very gratifying and meant that Ford was very much in demand, as Violet Hunt amusingly described. “After the English Review was well started in January, the editor’s courts were thronged socially…And the Review was ‘It’ as Mr. Wells had foretold. The editor gave parties…I lent my maid and my spoons, or he hired the ex-butler of Sir Frederick Leighton” (Hunt, 48-9).

The euphoria was, however, short lived. The review was soon in considerable financial and organisational difficulties. Conrad had anticipated the financial problems, claiming that there was “enough capital to go for four issues” and that “if the public does not respond to the new monthly magazine devoted to Arts Letters and Ideas – then publication will end by the fourth issue”(Karl & Davies, 4, 131). By March 1909, as Violet Hunt reported, the review was “costing its founder his life’s blood in the way of money. Already there had been talk of making it into a company” (Hunt, 51). By June, Ford was receiving extensive loans from his Russian brother-in-law, David Soskice, who was actively involved in trying to raise share capital to put the review’s finances on a sound footing. Some progress was made; by August, William Goode and David Soskice became the first directors of The English Review Company, £1000 was paid into The English Review account and a new publishing contract was negotiated with Chapman and Hall to start on September 1, 1909. But this was too little too late. On December 18, a liquidator was appointed for the review, which was sold to Sir Alfred Mond for a sum estimated by Ford to be a derisory £200. Violet Hunt had persuaded Mond to buy the review, hoping that Ford would be kept on as editor, but Mond ejected him from the editorial chair. Austin Harrison was appointed editor in Ford’s place, though Ford stayed on long enough to assemble the first two issues for 1910. Many years later Ford presented his loss of the review, giving it an alternative gloss. “The control of the English Review, which I had started mainly with the idea of giving a shove to Impressionism and its literary form, was really snatched from my hands by Mr. Pound and his explosive-mouthed gang of scarcely-breeched filibusters” (Ford, 1938, 281). The truth was rather different, much less dramatic and rather more squalid. Ford lost control of The English Review because of an inability to organize, an excessive tendency to quarrel with important contributors and supporters, and a monumental ineptness over money.

Ford could not control the paper work connected with the review. While he undoubtedly had a flair for assembling and selecting an impressive range of materials, claiming that he received an average of twenty manuscripts a day throughout his time as editor, (Ford, 1931, 390) it is in some ways surprising that the review ever reached the printers. Violet Hunt testified to the manuscripts “rammed in anyhow, bulging, sagging, sprouting out of the beautifully incrusted doors” of Ford’s cabinet and to the “priceless manuscripts” mingled with “empty packing cases and reams of discarded packing paper” in the backyard of Ford’s landlord, Mr Chandler. (Hunt, 22) Mizener refers to the fury of H.G.Wells and William Rossetti when manuscripts which they had given to Ford went astray, (Mizener, 166) and Conrad confirmed Ford’s carelessness with manuscripts, complaining to his agent Pinker, that Ford had mislaid a typed copy of Rescue (Karl & Davies, 4, 190). Douglas Goldring reported how Ford regularly instructed him to take a box in the stalls of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, so that he and Ford could retreat from the pressure of contributors and Ford’s increasingly complicated private life, to select articles and correct proofs. (Goldring, 1943, 32) He was, according to Goldring, as a manager “more childishly incapable than any man I have ever met” (Ibid, 22), a view confirmed by Violet Hunt, who said that Ford “seemed like a babe unborn in the guiding of mere worldly matters…driving both printers and compositors wild” (Hunt, 45).

Ford’s quarrels with the review’s contributors and backers were probably exacerbated by the breakdown of his marriage and his affair with Violet Hunt. Although Ford accepted that H.G.Wells had withdrawn financial and editorial help from the review, he erupted when Wells suggested that the serialisation of Tono-Bungay was having a deleterious effect on the profits of the novel, which appeared in book form in February 1909, when the serialisation had another month to run. Ford had offered Wells a share of the profits as payment for the novel, though he was forced to admit that “the actual profits of the first four numbers will be non-existent” (Ludwig, 35). Throughout the quarrel, which rumbled on even after Ford had lost the review, he presented himself as the aggrieved party. Other contributors fell out with Ford over money. Wyndham Lewis believed that Ford had promised him regular work for the review. “ I hope Hueffer will keep to his promise of taking me on as a regular hand”. Instead, Ford delayed payment on the three articles which Lewis did make to the review, causing Lewis to refer to him as “a shit of the most dreary and uninteresting type” (Rose, 39-40). Stephen Reynolds who had resigned from the review in January 1909, on his own admission being unsuited to his job, also quarrelled with Ford over payment for the serialisation of his novel The Holy Mountain. Only the quarrel with Arnold Bennett over payment was resolved when Bennett called Ford’s bluff, by insisting on recognised commercial rates.

The row with Conrad was in some ways surprising since they had worked closely together on Conrad’s Some Reminiscences for the review, Ford even taking down the early pages to Conrad’s dictation. They ostensibly fell out over a note which Ford included in the July 1909 number, regretting “that owing to a serious illness of Mr. Joseph Conrad we are compelled to postpone the publication of the next instalment of his reminiscences” (ER, II, 824). Certainly Conrad’s health was not good during this period, and he was in any case a notorious hypochondriac, but he was infuriated by what he saw as Ford’s interference, and refused to provide further instalments. Underlying Conrad’s anger, however, were two further concerns. He understood the review’s financial difficulties, but as a Pole, could not stomach the idea of Russian money and influence supporting the review, and he was consistently hostile to David Soskice’s attempts to help Ford. What most alienated Conrad, however, was that he and Marwood became embroiled in the turmoil surrounding the breakdown of Ford’s marriage. Ford’s wife, Elsie, visited Conrad towards the end of April, 1909, and accused Marwood of making advances towards her. Conrad was appalled, but instantly sided with Marwood. It was, he wrote to John Galsworthy, “a beastly affair to be mixed up with even in the role of spectator-auditors. I have been and still am thoroughly upset” (Karl & Davies, 4, 224). By August the rift with Ford was complete, and Conrad’s letter to Pinker shows both his own anger and some of the pressure which Ford was under. “His conduct is impossible… He’s a megalomaniac who imagines he is managing the universe and that everyone treats him with the blackest ingratitude…In short he has quarrelled with every decent friend he had” (Ibid, 265-6). What all the bickerings during 1909 indicate is that Ford’s control of himself, his friends and colleagues, as well as the review itself, was increasingly tenuous.

The whole thing was exacerbated by financial difficulties. Ford’s original plan for financing the review seems to have been some kind of profit sharing scheme, as he explained to Edward Garnett, who warned him about the possible awkwardness of this. “I am an idealist and my ideal is to run the English Review as far as possible as a socialist undertaking” (Ludwig, 27-8). Some of Ford’s accounts of this profit sharing scheme are so complicated and bizarre as to be virtually incomprehensible, but all assume excess of income over expenditure. The original capital for the review came from Marwood and from Ford himself. “Of the £5000 that we spent on the review, he [Marwood] paid £2200 and I paid £2800, I being generally liable for the debts of the undertaking beyond that sum” (Ibid, 42). The Financial Times for March 8, 1909, lists Ford as the general partner and Marwood as the limited partner, each of them putting up £500. The much larger sums claimed by Ford seem possible in the light of what is known about the expenditure of the review, though it is impossible to discover whether all this capital was available at once, or indeed, where the large amount apparently spent by Ford actually came from.

It is difficult to establish accurate figures either for the income or the expenditure of the review since financial records for both publisher and printer were destroyed in the bombing of London during the Second World War; only two cash books and cheque stubs survive amongst the Soskice family papers. The review sold for two shillings and sixpence, and Ford estimated that the first two issues sold roughly 2000 copies, that is £250 for each month (Mizener, 160). This figure may well be an overestimate by Ford, and even if it is accurate, sales may not have continued at this level. Jessie Chambers noticed that when she and D.H.Lawrence visited Ford in November 1909; “in the flat there were piles of the English Review lying on the black polished floor and on the window seat” (Chambers, 169). This idea is supported by the fact that when the review went into liquidation in December 1909, no offers could be found for 15000 unsold copies of the review, Duckworth’s claiming a lien on these. (Snow Hill Papers, BH 2/4)

Income from sales seems to have been limited and other sources of income were unreliable. One was from backers, including the money of “cohorts of relations–-German Hueffers, Dutch Hueffers, Paris Hueffers,” (Hunt, 27) and later, of course, from David Soskice, whose bank pass book for 1909 shows numerous loans, both to Ford personally and to The English Review, beginning in May with the first of several £100 loans and one in July for £800. (Snow Hill Papers, DS 4/8) There was also money from the sale of shares when Soskice tried to form a company to save the review; Edward Browne, for example, wrote a cheque for £300 on August 10, but there is no information on other similar investors. The other source of income was from advertisements placed in the review. M.R.Rothwell was appointed as advertising manager in September 1909, but Ford estimated that advertising revenue was only about £30 a month. (Snow Hill Papers, BH 2/4)

Compared with the expenditure for the review, this kind of income was insignificant. The costs for printing, paper and distribution averaged, according to Ford, about £200 a month, which in itself wiped out the income from sales. (Mizener, 160) The review also advertised extensively in most contemporary journals, but such advertising did not come cheaply. For example, between November 14, 1908 and September 4, 1909, The Nation carried five full page, seven half page and three quarter page advertisements for the review, a full page costing £10. The cash book for October 1909 reveals a total expenditure on advertising of £72.5/-, more than double the previous month’s income from the review’s own advertising revenue. There were also salaries to be paid. There are no figures available for the earliest months of the review, but the earlier of the two extant cashbooks, from May to July, shows only a salary of £1, paid to M. Martindale; this is presumably Ford’s sister-in-law, who may have provided clerical assistance. The second cash book, from July to October, covers the period when Soskice was running the review’s finances, and shows Soskice receiving £6 a week as business manager, Rothwell £5 as advertising manager and Douglas Goldring £2.10/- as assistant editor. Ford himself appears to have been paid £6 a week, (Snow Hill Papers, BH, 2/4) although he later claimed that he had received no payment. (Ludwig, 42)

By far the biggest drain on resources, however, was payment to contributors. According to Violet Hunt, Ford’s policy was always to pay his contributors exactly what they asked. (Hunt, 29) He seems to have asked them “Will you take £2 a 1000 words, or will you take a sporting risk which might be estimated at two to one against you as a shareholder?” (Ludwig, 28). Clearly this was a system open to abuse and the arbitrary pricing of contributions for the review did not lend itself to accurate financial management. The amount paid to some contributors is known. Hardy received £20 for his poem “Sunday Morning Tragedy,” Henry James was paid 40 guineas, £30 and 36 guineas, for each of his short stories, (Anesko, 196) and Wyndham Lewis was paid five guineas for each of his contributions. (Meyers, 28) Conrad was paid £80 for the first four instalments of Some Reminiscences, although the cash book records a payment of £25 to Conrad in late June. If, as seems likely, this is an instalment payment, then Conrad received more than £160 for the seven instalments, almost the equivalent of the whole of one month’s income from sales. The same cash book entry records payments of £15 to Ella d’Arcy, probably for her long short story “Agatha Blount,” £3 each to Ezra Pound and Eden Philpotts for poems and £2 to Edward Thomas for a book review. (Snow Hill Papers, BH 2/4)

An advertisement in The New Age shows that the review was never really regarded as a commercial proposition. “In supporting the English Review…the reader will be not so much supporting a commercial undertaking as performing a duty, since he will be aiding in presenting to the world some of its most valuable thought” (NA, Mar 25, 1909, 445). In later life, Ford conceded that he had known “that the review could not be made to run on any sort of commercial lines” (Ford, 1931, 382). Cultural journals are not produced to make their editors rich, but Ford by his wilful inconsistency over payments and his lack of sound accounting practice, brought the review perilously close to extinction. Without full accounts, it is impossible to estimate the full extent of the losses made by the review under Ford, though they were, according to Douglas Goldring, such as “must have staggered even a Northcliffe” (Goldring, 1943, 30). The only thing that can be stated is that the review’s finances were in a mess and that for this Ford was largely responsible.

There is also some confusion about the editorial policy for the review. The first full statement appears in a circular which Ford wrote as publicity before the review was published.

The only qualification for admission to the pages of the Review will be…either distinction of individuality or force of conviction, either literary gifts or earnestness of purpose…the criterion of inclusion being the clarity of diction, the force of illuminative value of the views expressed… [It] will treat its readers not as spoiled children who must be amused by a variety of games, but with respectful consideration due to grown minds whose leisure can be interested by something else than the crispness and glitter of a popular statement. (Hunt, 26-7)

There is a certain amount of blandness about this declaration as well as some question begging about what might be meant by “distinction of individuality” or “force of illuminative views” but it is clear that Ford was aiming at an educated, intelligent readership, that he wanted the review to communicate clearly and that he wanted to avoid the superficial and popular. The declaration isn’t clear about the primacy of culture.

Some publicity, in fact, seems to emphasise the review’s political aspects. “The most able and distinguished writers of today will contribute to the Review: its editorial comments upon Topics of the Month will be without party bias, and will be supplemented by communications from well known Statesmen and Diplomatists” (NA, Nov 5, 1908, 33). The list of contents for each issue always included the names of political contributors, and there were special slips with red print, attached to the front cover of the May and June issues, to draw attention to President Taft’s article on the Panama Canal and Camille Pelleton’s “La Paix at la Guerre en Europe”. The English Review devoted about a third of its space to contemporary political and social issues, and to national and international affairs, though with hindsight Ford gave the impression that the political articles were there simply to fill out the space. In a foreword to The English Review Book of Short Stories, which appeared in 1932, he wrote, “Into any remaining cracks in the structure we dropped the weary imbecilities that pass for seriousness. We gave, that is to say, very infinitesimal space to the Dardanelles problem, Chinese egg problems, Alaskan boundaries, Turkish debts and all the lugubrious pomposities.”

It wasn’t simply that Ford accepted articles on non-cultural topics, though there were plenty of these – W.H.Hudson on “How it feels to be Unemployed”, G.K.Chesterton on “The Homelessness of Jones”, or Arthur Marwood’s “Complete Actuarial Scheme for Insuring John Doe against all the vicissitudes of Life”, for example. Ford himself wrote several powerfully worded political articles. In August 1909, for example, he provided a passionate defence of the suffragette movement, entitled “Militants Here on Earth”, which asserted that female suffrage was inevitable, attacking some of the arguments against it. His most forceful criticism of contemporary domestic politics came in the first two issues of 1910. By this time he had lost the editorship of the review, but was exercising a kind of caretaker editorial role; perhaps his imminent departure gave an extra edge to his writing. The January editorial is a fierce attack on the current state of party political strife and on the press associated with each party for exacerbating the “odious features of the contest” (ER, IV, 330). His final article, “Declaration of Faith”, which appeared under the pseudonym Didymus in February 1910, is less angry and more resigned in tone. Acknowledging that he was by temperament an obstinate, sentimental and old-fashioned Tory (Ibid, 544), Ford explained that he had not voted for the last twelve years and would not be voting in the forthcoming elections because neither party seemed to him to have the good of the nation at heart. Ford’s article is followed by a long and passionate defence of the democratic ideal by Arnold Bennett, in which he castigates both the self-interest of the wealthy and the apathy of the masses. The combined effect of the two articles in what was in effect Ford’s valedictory appearance as editor is to give the impression of a review which cared deeply about the quality of contemporary social and political life, and of a commitment which was rather more than the padding exercise which Ford later suggested it was.

If the political aspects of the review’s articles were concerned to examine the quality of the nation’s political and social life, then much of the cultural content was chosen to explore the nation’s cultural identity, and to articulate what Ford perceived as a state of cultural crisis and respond to it. The main tool for this was the editorial, several of which were later selected and published by Ford in 1911 as The Critical Attitude. The first series of cultural editorials ran from December 1908 to March 1909, that is during the period when Ford had unfettered control of the review. Appearing under the heading “The Function of the Arts in the Republic”, they offered a stark criticism of contemporary cultural awareness. “Indeed a person from another world seeking to estimate the level of intellectual appreciation in England today… would be overwhelmed by the fact that in this proud, wealthy and materially polished civilisation there was visible…no trace, no scintilla, no shadow of a trace of the desire to have any kind of thought awakened” (ER, I, 320). It was to awaken this thought that the review had been founded. “The Art of Letters in England has practically no social weight and practically no contact with the lives of the people. It is with the attempt to form such a meeting place that the English Review has set out upon its career” (Ibid, 797).

The same feelings are repeated in the later series of cultural editorials, which appeared under the heading, “The Critical Attitude”. The first of these, in September 1909, was “The Two Shilling Novel” in which Ford bewailed the impoverished state of the English writer, the general lack of appreciation of literature, and the effect of the falling price of the novel, which meant that for publishers, sales from a popular novel could no longer subsidise more imaginative fiction. In October, the review contained the first of a two part editorial on “English Literature Today” which aimed to distinguish between “the writer of the commercial book and the writer of the book which shall be the work of art” (ER, III, 482). This editorial summarises one of Ford’s central concepts for the function of literature, which was to enable the reader “to be brought really into contact with our fellow men, to become intimately acquainted with the lives of those around us” (Ibid, 488). The second part of this editorial in November tried to illustrate this general principle by discussion of individual writers. For example, Ford singled out three dramatists, Granville Barker, John Galsworthy, and G.B.Shaw because they attempted “to present us with really human figures caught in the toils of vicissitudes really human” (Ibid, 655). He also praised James, Conrad, Moore, Galsworthy, Kipling and Wells because they provided some evidence that “there exists any school of conscious literary Art in England today” (Ibid, 669).

The most powerful “Critical Attitude” is the last. In it, Ford restated the aims of the review, “chief among these being the furthering of a certain school of Literature and of a certain tone of thought” (ER, IV, 531). This had been “a splendid forlorn hope”, and the review had failed because it had been impossible to inculcate a critical attitude in the English.

Even when critics had appeared they have been listened to with dislike and a show of respect. Then they have been patted out of the way. If a slug should enter a bee-hive, these industrious insects…will cover him with wax. They pack the wax down, they smooth it over, they extinguish, in fact, that poor slug until he reposes beneath a fair monument, a respectable protuberance from which escapes neither groans nor foul odours. Now our islands are the bee-hive, and what is the critic in England…but just a slug. (Ibid, 532)

The powerful, almost obsessive imagery is a measure of Ford’s anger, both at the absence of critical attitude and at the failure of his review to generate it. His anger is not despairing, however, since this last cultural editorial contains a kind of declaration of faith in the function of the critic, acknowledging the difficulties to be faced, but also declaiming its rewards.

For nothing is more difficult, nothing is more terrible than to look things in the face. We have to be ready to recognize, and if we are strong enough, to acclaim, that things seeming hideous may embody a New Beauty. We have to watch modern life sweeping away the traditions that we love, the places that we deemed hallowed; we have to consider that it is blowing away ourselves as if we were no more than a little dust. And yet, if we have consciences, we must seek to perceive order in this disorder, beauty in what shocks us (Ibid, 534).

This reads almost like a Modernist manifesto, and is impressive both for its courage and its farsightedness; such a declaration places Ford in the vanguard of critical opinion prepared to respond to new forms of writing. The question remains about how far Ford’s choice of literary contributions was actually as advanced as his critical ideal.

The first item in the review was poetry. Ford’s criticism of a great deal of poetry was that it was too consciously literary, too much written in temples rather than on omnibuses, and that it did not bring its readers into contact with their fellow men. While some of the poetry which Ford chose for the review stays admirably clear of such criticisms, it has to be said that too much of it all too obviously had these failings. Most of the poetry was contemporary–Ford published two posthumous poems, one by D.G.Rossetti and the other by Francis Thompson–by established poets although there were gaps; Kipling, for example, was “omitted because we could not pay his prices” (Ford, 1921, 58). There were three poems by Hardy, whose “Sunday Morning Tragedy” opened the first issue, and three by W.B.Yeats, and of the seventeen contributors to the first volume of Georgian Poetry which appeared in 1912, nine were published by Ford in his review. Thus, some of the poetry by established writers is simple, uncomplicated and accessible; this is true of the poems by Galsworthy, which appeared in February, June and November, 1909. Some contributions show the variety of which a poet was capable, as with five poems by Walter de la Mare in February 1909, which reveal both turgid melancholy and a delightful sense of fun.

But much of the poetry is consciously literary, self-indulgent and full of a romantic melancholy. Ethel Clifford’s “The Dryad” (March 1909), T.Sturge Moore’s “Noon Vision” about Apollo in pursuit of a maiden, and Dollie Radford’s “Four Sonnets” about the darkness of the soul after loss of love and hope, (May 1909) are examples of the kind of poetry which Ford theoretically deplored. This suggests either that Ford was more in sympathy with contemporary poetic styles and subject matter than he was willing to admit, or that he had an astute sense of what was popular even though it wasn’t in tune with his own taste; the three poets referred to above were all well known at the time. Even in his choice of young poets for publication Ford had curious departures from his own ideals of poetry. In September, 1909, he published four poems by Rupert Brooke written during his last year at Cambridge. Brooke and Ford had Fabian contacts in common, but the poems are introspective, effete and self-indulgent, never attempting to engage with contemporary social problems.

There were, however, striking exceptions. It is often claimed that one of Ford’s achievements in The English Review was his recognition of new young talent, and certainly the careers of Ezra Pound and D.H.Lawrence were helped by the review’s publication of their poetry. The first Pound poems appeared in June 1909 and were free versions of some troubadour songs which were then enjoying something of a vogue. “Sestina; Altaforte”, with its modern idiom–“Damn it all! All this South stinks of peace”–celebration of violence and bloodshed–“Hell grant that we soon hear again the swords clash”–is futuristic in tone and attitude, despite its medieval form and mask. Three more poems by Pound appeared in October, and a further three in January 1910. Mizener records Ford’s horror at the artificiality of style and irrelevance of subject matter when Pound first read them to him, (Mizener, 216) but he published them, probably because he recognized that Pound’s energy and enthusiasm for literature were an antidote to the apathy which Ford felt was afflicting English writing.

D.H.Lawrence’s poetry first appeared in the review in November 1909. Written while Lawrence was a schoolmaster in Croydon, and to some extent drawing on his experience there, the poems contain a combination of relaxed conversational language and moments of dramatic intensity of feeling. “Dreams Old and Nascent” contrasts his present classroom environment with images of past and future. “Discipline” is a more sombre poem, recording the resistance of his pupils to his ideas, seeing this as a general indifference to new thinking. The two remaining poems, “Running Barefoot” and “Trailing Clouds” are descriptions of his landlady’s baby daughter, and are remarkable for their lucidity, lightness and vivid imagery. The rhythms are apparently casual yet carefully controlled, and the images drawn from the natural world – the baby’s feet “cool as syringea buds” and the baby clinging to the poet’s arm “as a drenched bee/ Hangs numb from the bending flower.” Lawrence’s poetry in the review shows a concern with contemporary life and culture and exemplifies the “clarity of diction” and “the distinction of individuality” outlined in the review’s prospectus, conveying the sense of a quiet intimate conversation which Ford felt was the ideal poetic voice. Lawrence, perhaps even more than Pound, offered the review’s readers a new kind of poetry.

Only two of Ford’s own poems appeared in the review, but not surprisingly he used the approach of these two younger poets, adopting the mask of one and the quiet conversational tone of the other; these he published under the pseudonym, F.M.Hurd, in February 1910. “The Exile” is in many ways like Pound’s early troubadour poetry; in it the poet assumes the mask of a medieval man whose fortunes have declined.

My father had many oxen
Yet all are gone
My father had many servants
I sit alone

The tones, rhythms and language of this poem are lucid and conversational with the patterning skilfully disguised. Yet the poem is marked with an unmistakeable sense of personal tragedy: “with heavy tears on my eyelids and the weary sighs in my mouth” can be read as Ford’s own statement of personal crisis and longing for escape from professional and personal pressures. The second poem, “To Gertrude” can also be read as a poem of farewell, in which the poet acknowledges the pressures on him. Ostensibly a love poem addressed by an older poet to a much younger woman, it conveys a sense of melancholy at tasks not yet finished and unlikely now to be completed. Given the extent to which these two poems fulfil all Ford’s requirements for poetic writing, it is surprising that there isn’t more of it in the review. Their inclusion shows that despite publishing so much unoriginal poetry, Ford acknowledged the possibilities for a new kind of poetic writing.

Partly because it is a performance art, but also because of constraints of length, cultural journals published very little drama, and by and large, The English Review followed this trend. Ford made an exception, however, for Arnold Bennett’s four act play, What the Public Wants, which appeared in a special supplement to the July 1909 review. Like Reynolds’ The Holy Mountain, Bennett’s play is a very funny and scathing attack on the ruthlessness, barbarity and commercialism of newspaper barons. Given the intensity of Ford’s own dislike of commercialism and his anxiety about the lack of cultural standards, it is not surprising that he felt Bennett’s play deserved a special place in the review.

Serialisation of novels in reviews was a long established custom, though some newer journals such as The New Age and The Albany rarely, if ever, provided this extended presentation of fiction. Ford was, in retrospect, quite cynical about the policy of serialisation. “We jammed in an enormous slice of serial, not because we believed that anyone ever wanted to read a serial, but because we believed that the publicity might be useful to the novelist” (Shipp, vii). In practice, however, the four novels serialised in the review explore areas of contemporary life which deeply concerned Ford, illustrating the lack of culture and fragmentation of human existence, the increasing influence of commercialisation on literature and life and the struggle by women to assert their independence.

H.G.Wells’ Tono-Bungay, which ran in the first four issues, depicts an England in a state of slow but remorseless decay. The England of the stately home, represented by Bladesover, still has some power, but its influence has largely been replaced by “greedy trade, base profit seeking, bold advertisement” (Wells, 341). This commercialism, which Ford attacked repeatedly in his editorials, is symbolised in the novel, not only by the eponymous patent medicine, but also by the increasing suburban sprawl, and by the radio-active “quap”, “that creeps and lives as a disease lives by destroying; an elemental stirring and disarrangement, incalculably maleficent and strange.” Not only does it ruin the fortunes of the novelist’s protagonist, George Ponderevo, but it is also used by Wells to represent “the decay of our culture…in society, a loss of traditions and distinctions and assured reactions” (Ibid, 294). The form of the novel, too, reflects the fractured and fragmented structure of contemporary society. “I warn you this book is going to be something of an agglomeration…And it isn’t a constructed tale I have to tell, but unmanageable realities” (Ibid, 21-2).

Stephen Reynolds’ novel The Holy Mountain, which ran from April to June 1909, is essentially a fantasy in which a hill in Wiltshire is accidentally and miraculously translated to a London suburb, and, at the end of the novel, back again, but the novel provides a comic account of both provincial and commercial responses to this miracle. The criticism of individual greed, provincial narrow mindedness and the corruption and vulgarity of the popular press is savage and funny, but the novel also illustrates the tragedy of small lives caught in vast commercial undertakings, and represents, in fictional form, many of Ford’s concerns about the destructive force of commercial values. Ford’s own novel A Call, subtitled “A Tale of Two Passions”, ran from August to November, and explores some of the ideas which are handled more confidently in The Good Soldier–passion, personal unhappiness in unsuitable relationships and the strains imposed by the need to observe the conventions of polite society. It shows society in Edwardian London to be fractured and vulnerable; surface manners hide a deep unease. The novel eschews the omniscient narrator, and the events of the story are narrated as if access to the truth is limited and the ending uncertain. Violet Hunt’s Wife of Altamont, which ran from December 1909 until March 1910, after Ford had left the review, is an extraordinary mixture of concern for contemporary social issues and of melodrama. The novel explores and deplores the influence of the gutter press, the contrasts between industrial and polite society, and it engages with questions of women’s independence. The novel is frequently funny at the expense of social conventions, but much of its force is dissipated by the melodrama of the plot and by the contrived happy ending which sits uneasily on the novel’s social commentary.

The variety and quality of other fiction in the review is impressive. Ford chose a range of work, including nineteenth century Russian stories in translation, one story in French, the first published fiction by D.H.Lawrence and stories by most of the leading authors of the day. The opening number, for example, included, Henry James’ superbly crafted ghost story, “The Jolly Corner” which helped to establish the review’s reputation. The list of writers whose short stories were printed in the review reads like a kind of Edwardian “Who’s Who” of literature. Galsworthy had two stories, Ella D’Arcy three, while Granville Barker, Walter de la Mare, Arnold Bennett, E.M.Forster, H.M.Tomlinson, Olive Garnett, Edwin Pugh, Violet Hunt, and Ford and Conrad in collaboration, all had one story. Subjects, treatment and length vary enormously but certain key features emerge. Many of the stories deal with the lives of the poor, including Arnold Bennett’s “Matador of the Five Towns” (Apr 1909), and D.H.Lawrence’s “Goose Fair” (Feb 1910). Other stories engage with the needs and aspirations of women in a changing world, including Granville Barker’s “Georgiana” (Feb, Mar 1909) and Ella D’Arcy’s “Agatha Blount”. (Jun 1909) None of the stories selected by Ford is technically innovative or startlingly original in its subject matter, but the selection does show the range which the form can achieve.

Included in the same section of the review as the fiction and interspersed with it are the non-fiction articles, – autobiography, travel writing, and essays. Conrad’s Some Reminiscences are an account of his struggle to find himself and his vocation; the insight which they provide into how the mind of the artist works clearly accords with Ford’s concerns for the status of the writer and his interest in the creative process. Inclusion in the review can also be seen as part of Ford’s desire to provide Conrad with a wider audience; he was one of the writers whom Ford felt deserved greater recognition and success, and the lack of it was, for Ford, one of the symptoms of literary crisis. Ford had worked with and encouraged Conrad as a writer for several years, and the technique used in the reminiscences was that of progression d’effet, or cumulative tension, a fictional device used by both writers. Conrad reveals only so much of himself in a given episode and then withdraws; the result is the unsettling of narrative expectation, which is a feature of so much modernist writing.

There is some splendid travel writing in the review, including four articles by R.B.Cunninghame Graham, whose articles were widely published in other Edwardian journals. Ford was also an admirer of W.H.Hudson’s clear and economic prose, and it was no accident that Hudson’s account of sunrise at Stonehenge and his meditations on the harsh effects of modern living on the wildlife of Salisbury Plain, appeared in the first issue; it provided a kind of benchmark for measuring the literary standards which Ford sought to obtain in the review. Norman Douglas, encouraged by Conrad, submitted three essays on Mediterranean life and history, which are a very readable combination of topographical and anecdotal writing. All the essays are forceful, intelligent and original, and their publication in the review probably helped to established Douglas’ reputation as a writer. Wyndham Lewis is known, together with Pound and Lawrence, as one of Ford’s “discoveries” though there is little in Lewis’ account of Polish exiles and circus folk in Brittany to suggest the iconoclasm to come; the three articles, which appeared in April, May and August 1909, are perceptive, unsentimental and certainly original in subject matter. Ford did not hesitate to accept them for publication when Lewis visited him, perhaps attracted by their estranged and alienated characters, though how much he knew of Lewis’ art training and familiarity with the avant garde art world is uncertain.

Although the journal carried reviews of books, of plays performed in London and very occasionally, of opera and art exhibitions, these reviews were neither as numerous nor as lengthy as might be supposed. Ford was far more interested in creative writing and impatient with the critic’s role. Sometimes the reviewing was intended to bestow prestige on the review, the reviewer and the reviewed, as with Conrad’s discussion of Anatole France’s L’Ile des Pingouins in the first issue, or Edward Garnett’s review of The Collected Works of W.B.Yeats in April 1909. Sometimes the reviews were designed to promote one of Ford’s friends or protégés; this was the case with Ford’s review of Masterman’s The Condition of England in August 1909, and Edward Thomas on Pound’s Personae in June. Generally, however, the reviewing is unremarkable; reviews are seen as less important than original work, and though not explicitly stated, Ford’s dislike of scholasticism reveals itself in the review’s practice of allowing the work of the writer to speak for itself.

The major achievement of The English Review under Ford’s editorship was that it construed notions of contemporary cultural crisis and tried to respond to them. The review was not alone in trying to do this, but Ford articulated this crisis more forcefully and responded more vigorously than any other editor. Both in his editorials and through the accompanying articles and original works which Ford selected for inclusion in the review, he fought to raise awareness of cultural and literary matters and to draw attention to the dangers of trivialisation and commercialism. In this, as in so much of his other work, Ford advocated democratic rather than elitist notions of culture; the best should be more widely available and understood, though massive changes in attitude would be necessary to achieve this. The English Review as it was actually published was more populist than modernist.

Although Ford was forced to give up his review, he had little doubt that under his editorship, it had helped to change the cultural climate of the country. After listing some of the writers who had appeared in the review, he described their impact on him:

It was – truly – like an opening world. For if you have worried your poor dear old brain for at least a quarter of a century over the hopelessness of finding, in Anglo-Saxondom, any traces of a conscious art – it was amazing to find in these young creatures not only evolving theories of writing…but receiving in addition an immense amount of what is called “public support” (Ford, 1921, 136).

This was written in 1921, when Ford was being wise after the event; after for example, “The Imagist Manifesto” of 1913, after the appearance of Blast in 1914, and after the appearance of “Prufrock” in 1915 and Homage to Sextus Propertius in 1917. Certainly Ford provided an outlet for Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis and D.H.Lawrence, but Pound, at least, had enough energy to launch himself on the literary establishment unaided, while Lewis and Lawrence were assisted in their early careers by help from other quarters in addition to that given by Ford. The English Review was more of a main stream Edwardian journal, than an early modernist review, and despite Ford’s own belief “that things seeming hideous may embody a New Beauty,” (ER, IV, 534) the coming of literary modernism could barely have been predicted from a reading of those numbers edited by Ford.

Works Cited

  • Anesko, Michael, Friction with the Market: Henry James and the Profession of Authorship, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
  • Aubry,G.J., ed., Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters, Vol II, London: Heinemann, 1977
  • Chambers, Jessie, D.H.Lawrence: A Personal Record, London: Frank Cass, 1935.
  • Ford, Ford Madox, Ancient Lights and Certain New Reflections, London: Chapman and Hall, 1911.
  • ———————, Thus to Revisit, London: Chapman and Hall, 1921.
  • ———————, Return to Yesterday, London: Victor Gollancz, 1931.
  • ———————, Mightier than the Sword; Memories and Criticisms, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1938.
  • Goldring, Douglas, Reputations, London: Chapman & Hall, 1920.
  • ———————-, South Lodge, London: Constable, 1943.
  • ———————-, The Last Pre-Raphaelite: A Record of the Life and Writings of Ford Madox Ford, London: Macdonald, 1948.
  • Hunt, Violet, The Flurried Years, London: Hurst and Blackett, 1926.
  • Karl, Frederick R. and Davies, Laurence, The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, Vol IV, 1908-1911, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • Ludwig, R.M., ed., Letters of Ford Madox Ford, Princeton: University of Princeton Press, 1965.
  • Meyers, Jeffrey, The Enemy: A Biography of Wyndham Lewis, London: Routledge, 1980.
  • Mizener, Arthur, The Saddest Story: A Biography of Ford Madox Ford, London: Bodley Head, 1972.
  • Rose, W.K., ed., The Saddest Story: A Biography of Ford Madox Ford, London: Collins, 1990.
  • Shipp, Horace, ed., The English Review Book of Short Stories, London: Sampson Lowe, Marston, 1932.
  • Snow Hill Papers, London: House of Lords Record Office. Unpublished.
  • Wells, H.G., Tono-Bungay, London: Macmillan, 1909.

© 2008 Nora Tomlinson

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