The Tyro: An Introduction

By Scott W. Klein

The Tyro: An Introduction

The Tyro was the second of three literary and arts magazines edited by the writer, painter, polemicist, and aesthetic provocateur Wyndham Lewis. It appeared between 1921 and 1922, and like Lewis‘s pre-war Vorticist journal Blast lasted for only two issues. The Tyro marked Lewis‘s attempt to reinvigorate English experimental art after World War I, and to meet some of his claims in the second issue of Blast, which appeared in 1915 and bore the subtitle “The War Number”. In the opening editorial of that issue, Lewis asserted that Blast had a “serious mission… on the other side of World-War. The art of Pictures, the Theatre, Music, etc., has to spring up again with new questions and beauties when Europe has disposed of its difficulties” (Blast 2:5), and further promised “We will not stop talking about culture when the War ends!” (Blast 2:5). This tone of jocular utopianism, to some degree distinct from the comic paradoxes of the better-known Blast 1, emerges in Lewis‘s claims that advanced art would not only survive the War but become the foundation for an improved and advanced British society. In “Artists and the War” he claims with hyperbolic grandeur “Mr Wyndham Lewis‘s first action after the war will be to erect (with the aid of numerous accomplices) a statue of Van Gogh, and another to Pablo Picasso, in suitable London squares; and these will be shortly followed by statues to more contemporary painters, it is hoped” (Blast 2:24).

Lewis never erected such quixotic statuary, but he may be said to have erected The Tyro in their place. Lewis believed in the formative relation of art to culture before and in the early days of the War, and after the War Lewis wished to promulgate the idea of a new avant-garde while reestablishing his interrupted artistic career. Before the explosion of Vorticism onto the literary and arts scene of London in 1914 with Blast, Lewis had established a reputation as a writer with short stories published in The English Review and The Tramp. During the War he produced a series of stories and other short pieces that appeared in The Egoist and The Little Review. These include “Young Soldier” and “The French Poodle” (The Egoist, March 1916), “The Code of a Herdsman” (Little Review 4, July 1917), “Imaginary Letters” (Little Review May 1917-April 1918), “Inferior Religions” (Little Review, September 1917), and “A Soldier of Humour” (Little Review, December 1917-January 1918). The Egoist serialized his novel Tarr from April 1916 to November 1917, and The Egoist Press published the full novel in 1918. Lewis had exhibited as a painter in Roger Fry‘s Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition in 1912, and gained a further reputation with such works as the portfolio of drawings called Timon of Athens in 1913, mural decorations for the nightclub Cave of the Golden Calf, and the design of a dining room for the Countess of Drogheda. In March 1916, however, Lewis joined the army and was posted to France, where he was stationed as a battery officer, a second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. He served during the Battle of Ypres in 1917, and after a bout with trench fever was commissioned as an official war artist for both the Canadian War Memorials and the British government, beginning work in December 1917. Although he maintained a surprising degree of aesthetic productivity during the War, Lewis complained to John Quinn in 1920 that he felt he had not lived up to his potential in the 1910s. In his early pre-War years he had to spend half of his time on “propaganda and similar activities”, and considered the work of his war years—including his commissioned war paintings—“sheer loss of time.” He expected that, “These coming few years should be my first years of complete work” (Lewis Letters 120).

For Lewis, establishing this “complete work” meant first coming to terms with the War‘s effects on the relationship between art and culture. He later referred to the Great War as “a cyclopean dividing wall in time: a thousand miles high and a thousand miles thick, a great barrier laid across our life” (Wyndham Lewis On Art, 13). The metaphor of the “cyclopean wall” suggests not only the enormous rough-hewn dividing structures of Mycenaean masonry, but the name‘s etymological origin: the cyclopean walls were so massive that the Greeks thought they could only have been built by Cyclops, monstrous one-eyed creatures. Lewis‘s allusion suggests not only the War‘s monstrosity but the sense that it was created by barbarians of limited vision. Lewis‘s question for the post-War artist was how that vision could be made more expansive and less blinkered through the medium of art. “What Art Now?” was the title of his article for The English Review in April 1919, in which he played on the metaphor of art and vision, noting that “The war drove all the great pictures off the surface of the earth into the cellars of the museums”, he added that “it drove all the arts underground. They now come up: a little wan and blinking, some of them. What are they going to do? we are asked” (Wyndham Lewis on Art, 113).

The Tyro was intended to be the answer. In the first issue Lewis writes “No time has ever been more carefully demarcated from the one it succeeds than the time we have entered on has been by the Great War of 1914-18. It is built solidly behind us” (1:3), and announced that its intent was to interest not those who looked ever backwards but those “whose interest lie all ahead, whose credentials are in the future” (1:3). Yet Lewis‘s sense of art was less cyclopean than Janus-faced. At the same time as he tried to create a new art for a new time, he was also attempting to reinvigorate his pre-War aesthetic project. He was an inveterate reviser of his own work, and The Tyro was in part Lewis‘s attempt to remake Blast for the post-War world, to create both an individual and group statement on the continuing necessity of support for advanced art. At first Lewis had hoped to continue where he had left off in 1915. Through 1919 he continued to hope for a third issue of Blast, perhaps to be published in America. But it was impossible to reorganize the original group of Vorticists. Lewis did reassemble some of the original Vorticist painters as “Group X” for a show in March 1920. But among the original contributors for Blast, both T. E. Hulme and Gaudier-Brzeska had died in battle. Ezra Pound, a vital collaborator on Blast, remained an inveterate supporter of Lewis—for example, he helped Lewis get his fiction published while Lewis served in France. But by the late 1910s, Pound was spending his time as European editor of The Little Review. Rather than support the creation of The Tyro, which Pound viewed as Lewis‘s attempt to reignite a lost aesthetic battle, Pound tried to redirect Lewis‘s work to other journals, such as The Little Review and Two Worlds. Lewis was offended by Pound‘s lack of interest in his new editorial project. He demanded that Pound stop his importuning to place Lewis‘s work elsewhere, and leave him to himself for at least a year, if Pound wanted to remain Lewis‘s friend (see Pound/Lewis 134).

Pound had several strictures against Lewis becoming too involved in his own new publication. There was declining interest in avant-garde art in London, and Pound considered that he was looking after Lewis‘s best interests by urging him to publish in mainstream magazines of higher visibility. Pound thought that creating a new Blast was an attempt to return to an already dated ideal. Even in the early days of the War, English critics had relegated Vorticism to the dust heap of aesthetic and promotional history. For example, in 1916 Edmund Gosse wrote that because of the War “we may probably hear very little more about ‘vorticists”, (cited by Peters Corbett, 82) and a flyer for The Little Review from around 1920 advertises “THE LITTLE REVIEW IS IMMORTAL… surpasses ALL includes ALL outlives ALL ISMS” including Vorticism (reproduced in Morrisson 144). Although Pound mounted a late defense of Vorticism in his 1919 essay “The Death of Vorticism” in The Little Review (cited by Wees 208), by the early 1920s Pound became so weary of English aesthetic conservatism that he moved first to France, and later to Rapallo. Avant-garde publishing was moving to America and to Paris—even Ford Madox Ford founded the transatlantic review in France. Pound urged Lewis to consider decamping himself. He wrote to Lewis, “Try New York—I mean emigrate. England is under a curse” (Pound/Lewis 130).

More pointedly, Pound objected that The Tyro was mainly of interest to a small coterie of artists in London. “Cant see that TYRO is of interest outside Bloomsbury” (Pound/Lewis 127), Pound wrote to Lewis in 1921, complaining about its reiteration of Blast‘s attacks on critic Roger Fry, and his colleagues Duncan Grant and Clive Bell. However, Lewis‘s conflicts with these critics predated the War. Fry had been instrumental in introducing modern French art to the English public, organizing the shows “Manet and the Post-Impressionists” at the Grafton Galleries, London in 1910, and the “Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition” at the same gallery in 1912 (Wees 28-32). Although Lewis began his career as a painter under Fry‘s aegis, he broke with Fry over a perceived betrayal when Fry, according to Lewis, stole a commission that was promised him for the “Ideal Home Exhibition” in 1913. In the wake of this controversy, Lewis broke from Fry‘s Omega Workshop and, with Kate Lechmere, founded the Rebel Arts Center, a precursor to Blast.

Lewis‘s dislike of Fry was not merely personal, although it emerged in intensely personal exchanges. Fry and his Bloomsbury colleagues favored relatively traditional European painters such as Bonnard and Utrillo, and they were unsympathetic to English painters, and to more radical forms of artistic expression such as Cubism. In Lewis‘s view, the kind of Matisse-inflected decorative arts sold by the Omega Workshop marketed a watered-down version of experimentation to the haute bourgeoisie of London as a way for them to prove their “taste”. In Blast Lewis attacks Fry as “THE BRITANNIC AESTHETE,” the “GOOD WORKMAN” and “ART-PIMP” (Blast 1:15-16), and he satirizes Fry‘s Omega Workshop directly in Blast 2, decrying “Matisse ‘decorativeness‘ in Mr. Fry‘s curtain and pincushion factory in Fitzroy Square” (Blast 2:41). Nor did these exchanges become less heated during the War. Lewis caricatured Fry as Hobson in his novel Tarr, while in a 1917 review Fry‘s colleague Clive Bell referred to Vorticism as a “puddle of provincialism” (cited in Wees 153). In the March 5, 1920 issue of The Athenaeum, Bell attacked the Imperial War Pictures, including Lewis‘s, and claimed the best English painter was second class compared to the French (cited by Rose in Lewis Letters 116). Lewis‘s responded in an intemperate letter to The Athenaeum calling Bell “a grinning, effusive and rather servile Islander” (Lewis Letters 117), and in The Caliph‘s Design (1919) Lewis lampooned Fry‘s insipid love of decoration in a section titled “We Fell in Love with the Beautiful Tiles in the South Kensington Museum Refreshment Room” (Lewis On Art 178-9). Finally, Lewis was offended that while he, Hulme, and Gaudier-Brzeska had served the national cause during the war, the Bloomsbury critics had stayed safe at home in England. In his 1937 autobiography Blasting and Bombardiering he particularly attacked Fry, Bell and Grant for their pacificism: “The ‘Bloomsburies‘ were all doing war-work of ‘National importance,‘ down in some downy English county, under the wings of powerful pacifist friends; pruning trees, planting gooseberry bushes, and haymaking, doubtless in large sunbonnets… All were of military age. All would have looked well in uniform” (Lewis Blasting 184).

So without Pound‘s strong support, and with the Bloomsbury critics centered in his crosshairs, Lewis gathered a new group of patrons and contributors to create The Tyro. Most significantly, Lewis formed an alliance with T. S. Eliot. Pound had introduced Eliot to Lewis around 1914, and Lewis had published Eliot‘s early poems “Preludes” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” in Blast 2 as Eliot‘s earliest British publications. Eliot had returned the favor by reviewing Tarr positively in the September 1918 issue of The Egoist. Lewis also enlisted as writers Sidney Schiff, Herbert Read, John Rodker, and Robert McAlmon. Schiff was an independently wealthy novelist and patron of the arts who published under the pseudonym Stephen Hudson, and Read was an art critic and poet who would later edit the works of T. E. Hulme. Lewis welcomed Rodker and McAlmon with more ambivalence. Rodker was an early supporter of experimental painting in England, and wrote of the “new artists” in The Dial Monthly in 1914 (“The New Movement in Art”, cited by Wees 39), but neither Pound nor Lewis found him intellectually or personally impressive. Yet Rodker proved useful to Lewis after the War, publishing in December 1919 a portfolio of Lewis‘s artwork, Fifteen Drawings, through his short-lived Ovid Press.

Robert McAlmon also offered the joint appeal of possible publisher and patron. McAlmon ran the Paris-based Contact Press, which would publish some of Hemingway‘s early work and the first edition of Gertrude Stein‘sThe Making of Americans. Lewis hoped that McAlmon would publish books he had begun writing in the 1920s; in addition, McAlmon offered Lewis the social and financial connections of his wife‘s family. (Although homosexual, McAlmon had entered a marriage of convenience with the daughter of financier John Ellerman, Annie Winifred Ellerman. Ellerman would become known better in literary circles as Breyer, the companion of HD, the poet Hilda Doolittle; Lewis‘s interest was mainly in access to her father‘s salon.) Gathering graphic artists for The Tyro was more straightforward. William Roberts, Jessica Dismorr, and Edward Wadsworth had signed the original Blast manifesto; others, such as Frederick Etchells, had published artwork elsewhere in Blast. Dismorr, Etchells, Roberts, Wadsworth, and Frank Dobson had exhibited with Lewis as part of Group X, and David Bomberg had displayed at the Rebel Arts Center. Only Welsh artist Cedric Morris and French sculptor Jacques Lipchitz were new additions to the Lewis group.

Lewis arranged for The Tyro to be published by The Egoist Press. He had inherited some money upon his mother‘s death from influenza at the end of the War, and he promised to split the financing of the magazine with Sidney Schiff, who in turn agreed on the condition that his participation be anonymous, lest contributors expect that they would be paid. Harriet Shaw Weaver, former co-editor of The Egoist, agreed that The Egoist Press would publish the journal without, however, her further financial support. Lewis later withdrew his own promised investment, claiming fiscal difficulties, but the journal was launched nonetheless, both as a group project and as an adjunct to Lewis‘s first major solo show of painting, “Tyros and Portraits,” which opened at the Leicester Gallery in April 1921. This was the first of Lewis‘s significant outings as a solo artist (a 1918 solo exhibition, “Guns,” exhibited his war drawings and some of his war paintings, but Lewis felt that the work was compromised by the terms of its creation). It consisted of two distinct kinds of artwork. The “portraits” were uncontroversial. They were far more representational than Lewis‘s abstract Vorticist work, and included images of Pound and Sacheverell Sitwell. But Lewis‘s most extreme innovations, and the images that would give the journal its name, were the figures called “tyros” — grotesque creatures seemingly composed entirely of threatening teeth, which jutted malevolently from faces hewn together from harshly juxtaposed planes. Critical response to these images was predictably mixed. Lewis himself admitted to Agnes Bedford that with the exception of the drawings, the “Tyros and Portraits” were “not easy to like” (Lewis Letters 124). Lewis explained his idea of The Tyro both in a brief interview for the Daily Mail on April 11, 1921, and in texts written for the show. To the Mail he explained:

Harlequin or Punchinello—a new and sufficiently elastic form or ― mould into which one can translate the satirical observations that are from time to time awakened by one‘s race… The Tyro, too, is raw and undeveloped; his vitality is immense, but purposeless, and hence sometimes malignant. His keynote, however, is vacuity; he is an animated, but artificial puppet, a ‘novice‘ to real life. (“Dean Swift with a Brush. The Tyroist Explains His Art”, reprinted in Lewis The Complete Wild Body 359).

In the catalog copy for the exhibition, which Lewis reprints largely unchanged in the first issue of The Tyro, Lewis further calls Tyros “immense novices” who “brandish their appetites in their faces … most of them are, by the skill of the artist, seen basking, themselves, in the sunshine of their own abominable natures.” The Tyros, he suggests, are “a few large seeds” of a “constantly renewed mythology” (“Tyros and Portraits,” reprinted in Wyndham Lewis on Art 188-90; also The Tyro 1:2).

What can one make of these new figures in Lewis‘s art, which are grotesque in the extreme and the presumptive launching point for a new period of Lewis‘s work? Although Blast urged artists to create “MACHINES OF LIFE, a sort of LIVING plastic geometry” (Blast 1:140), as representations the Tyros mark a turn away from Vorticist abstraction, a turn already present in Lewis‘s war painting. In the catalog copy from “Guns” Lewis suggested that viewers “finding eyes and noses in this exhibition, will begin by the reflection that the artist has conceded Nature, and abandoned those vexing diagrams by which he puzzled and annoyed” (Wyndham Lewis On Art 104). Lewis had also already defended artistic grotesquerie in The Caliph‘s Design, where he called certain beetles‘ abilities to camouflage their faces into “hideously carved and detestable masks” a “considerable creative feat” and emphasized against the decorative aesthetic of Bloomsbury that “The artist‘s function is to create—to make something; not to make something pretty” (Lewis On Art 153). The Tyros’ refusal to attend to the aesthetics of the beautiful deforms Blast‘s “blessing” of “the separating, ungregarious BRITISH GRIN” (Blast 1:26), turning the human face into portraits of post-War Englishmen as young monsters, something akin to caricature. And this was part of Lewis‘s intention. In Blast 2, Lewis had criticized English journalistic caricature as toothless, faulting Punch in particular with approaching satire as though it were a Victorian parlor game. He wrote, “To reform Punch would be impossible. It would be like an attempt to resculpt the Albert Memorial. There is no harm whatever in Punch, any more than in any other Victorian institutions. But that it should represent England to-day is an absurdity” (Blast 2:79). The Tyros would put the teeth—both literally and metaphorically—back into English satire.

But what exactly was Lewis satirizing? Lewis shared with Jonathan Swift a hatred of human folly and an unblinking allegiance to rationality, and Lewis alluded copiously to Swift in his journals (he blesses “SWIFT for his solemn bleak wisdom of laughter” in Blast 1:26, and included the drawings by Jessica Sanders titled “Island of Laputa” in Blast 2:8 and his own “Drawing for Jonathan Swift” in the unpaginated last section of Tyro 2 [figure viii]). During the War, he found plenty of ammunition for his disgust toward those who turn against the life of the mind. Lewis wrote to Pound in 1917 from the French front, “I am truly not sanguinary except when confronted by an imbecile: not, thank God, from lack of stomach” (Pound/Lewis 106). The Tyros‘ association of masquerade, newness, and purposelessness suggests a general criticism of an English culture too newly arrived in the post-War era, and therefore too inexperienced, to know who they are or how they should understand the world around them.

In Blast Lewis called Humour “the Individual masquerading as Humanity like a child in clothes too big for him” (Blast 1:38). The Tyros—immense beginners—turn that critique graphically against the viewer, with a satiric edge deriving specifically from the War. David Peters Corbett has suggested that the Tyros are in a sense Lewis‘s real “war art” (See “’Grief with a yard wide grin’: war and Wyndham Lewis’s Tyros” in Peters Corbett 99-123). The figures are Lewis‘s means for waging war in the world of art by means of art, the gigantic monsters who created the cyclopean wall of the War replaced by the grotesque and naive beginners left in their place. The word “tyro,” indeed, derives etymologically from the Medieval Latin tiro, which means a “beginning soldier” or “recruit .”Hal Foster has suggested that in his work in general Lewis imagines “a new ego that can withstand the shocks of the military-industrial, the modern-urban, and the mass-political, indeed, that can forge these stimuli into a new protective shield, convert them into a new hardened subject able to thrive on such shocks” (Foster 115). The Tyros can be seen as Lewis‘s attempt to embody that “new ego” as the recruits in a new intellectual war. As both the object and the subject of the shock of War, the Tyros are soldiers who translate that shock into a compensatory attack against the world of early 1920s art and culture.

Just such a Tyro greets the reader of the first number of The Tyro, running the full height of the page and leering aggressively at the viewer with a puffed chest, or perhaps a shield held closely before it. This image, called “The Cept” in the catalog of Lewis‘s art (drawing no. 451, Plate 75 in Michel) retains some of the startling qualities of Blast‘s puce cover, and the title page of the first issue preserves some of Blast‘s typographical style. Like the interior pages of Blast, the cover of The Tyro organizes different sizes of sans-serif block type into geometrical forms, and, as often in Blast, juxtaposes the blocks of type against one another as significant elements of graphic design. The journal’s differences from Blast, however, are more noticeable than the similarities. Lewis recognized that the rhetorical and graphic mode of Blast—paradoxical, comic, outrageous—was no longer suited to the post-war world. “The War had washed out the bright puce of the cover of the organ of the ‘Great London Vortex,‘” he would later write. “Too much blood had been shed for red, even of the most shocking aniline intensity, to startle anybody” (Lewis, Blasting 90). Thus The Tyro displays on the whole a more moderate editorial tone than Blast, and, unlike Blast, never aspires to be an objet d‘art itself. Conversely, The Tyro promises a narrower focus on the visual arts than did Blast. Despite also containing poetry and prose, the cover promises that The Tyro will emphasize “THE ARTS OF PAINTING SCULPTURE AND DESIGN.”

Paul Edwards notes that The Tyro“def[ies] conventions of smart production for the high arts” and looked more like a weekly (Edwards 253). The first issue is little more than a broadsheet, revealing its origin as an adjunct to Lewis‘s exhibition of paintings. Lewis proclaimed optimistically on the cover that the journal would be “produced at intervals of two or three months,” but suggests more realistically in his opening note that the “appearance of the ‘Tyro‘ will be spasmodic” (1:2). In his opening editorials Lewis establishes the ambit of the Tyro project, calling the figures “at once satires, pictures, and stories” (1:2) and lashes out at the Bloomsbury art critics. This first issue of The Tyro is organized so that Lewis‘s and Eliot‘s essays take pride of place. Lewis‘s opening statements are followed by two of his own essays, “The Children of the New Epoch” and “Roger Fry‘s rôle of Continental Mediator”, followed by two essays by Eliot, which address in Eliot‘s own mode several of Lewis‘s concerns. In “The Romantic Englishman, The Comic Spirit, and the Function of Criticism,” Eliot elaborates on Lewis‘s idea of an English literary “mythology” and turns to Fielding and the 18th century novel for the origin of the satiric character, much as Lewis harks to Rowlandson and Hogarth as models for modern English art in his diatribe against Fry. In “The Lesson of Baudelaire” Eliot endorses Lewis‘s reservations abut the French influence on British art with a rejection of the then-contemporary Dada movement. These youthful essays display signs of Lewis‘s and Pound‘s tendency towards rhetorical spleen; Eliot complains in “Romantic Englishman” about “the petrified product which the public school pours into our illimitable suburbs” (1:4), and declares that “Dadaism is a diagnosis of a disease of the French mind” (1:4).

A second Tyro drawing identified as “The Brombroosh” separates Lewis‘s and Eliot‘s critical work from their creative work later in the issue. Lewis prominently places two of his own pieces among the issue‘s selection of prose and poetry. “Will Eccles (A Serial Story)”, although marked “To be Continued” does not continue in the second issue. (Lewis would later revise and complete it as “You Broke my Dream, Or An Experiment with Time” in The Wild Body; this final version is reprinted in Lewis, The Complete Wild Body 181-8.) A full-page drawing of two Tyros, slightly more genial in appearance than the Cept or Brombroosh, appears with a brief appended dialogue presenting them as parodies of sentimental artists. That one Tyro channels his Romantic desires for creation into the construction of a lady‘s hat jabs directly at the triviality of Fry‘s Omega Workshop (1:7). Eliot‘s poetic contribution, an otherwise uncollected poem titled “Song to the Opherion”, appears under the pseudonym Gus Krutzsch. This lyric originated in the manuscript of The Waste Land, which was then in Ezra Pound‘s hands, and the identification of authorship is expedited by Eliot‘s use of the name “Gus Krutzsch” in the margins of a early draft of “The Burial of the Dead”, the opening section of The Waste Land (Eliot 5).

The remainder of the issue‘s poetry, prose, and criticism were contributed by Lewis‘s loose consortium of friends and patrons. Robert McAlmon‘s two poems use animal imagery to metaphorize the loss of men during the War; in “The Wild Boar” the carnage of warfare is captured by the “bullets streamed like hot water spurting from a nozzle during hunting” (1:12). John Adams‘s “Café Cannibale” suggests a more hysterical version of Eliot‘s prose poem “Hysteria”, while John Rodker‘s “Mr. Segando in the Fifth Cataclysm” — a piece that Rodker had sent to Lewis earlier and independently as a satire on H. G. Wells — was edited and renamed by Lewis to dovetail with the Tyro Mr. Segando reproduced on the previous page. Art and literary criticism by O. Raymond Drey and Herbert Read round out the issue, along with art work by David Bomberg, William Patrick Roberts, Frank Dobson, and Lewis‘s own image “Lady Seated at Table” — a much softer portrayal than those of the Tyros, and suggestive of changes in Lewis‘s editorial policy and artwork to come.

Those changes become apparent in the double second issue. A freestanding number no longer intended in part as an adjunct to an art exhibition, the second issue is in most respects a more professionally crafted publication than the first. Lewis lays out its pages in single columns rather than journalistic double columns, and he includes a formal masthead and separate pages devoted to tables of contents for both for editorial content and artwork. This much larger issue — nearly six times as many pages as the first — was no doubt made possible by the addition of several pages of advertising. These ads include notices for several forward-looking design groups, bookstores, and galleries in London; the music publishers Chester and Goodwin and Tabb, who represented modern English composers such as Arthur Bliss; Lewis‘s favored Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel, which advertises itself still in 1922 as “The only Vorticist Saloon in London,” and a smattering of notices for international bookstores and arts magazines, including the Dutch journal De Stijl. Two advertisements tout publishing projects of John Rodker. A notice for his translation of Lautreamont‘s Lay of Maldoror appears side by side with an ad for his Casanova Society, then publishing a limited edition of Giacomo Casanova‘s complete memoirs — and identifiable as another Rodker project only by the identical mailing address.

The cover no longer promises regular appearance, although Lewis‘s opening editorial draws attention to the “new and enlarged form the paper has taken” (2:3). The contributors‘ list is largely the same as in the first issue, but there is only one contribution from Eliot, a poem from Rodker, and a memory piece by Sidney Schiff, publishing under his pseudonym Stephen Hudson. The selection of reproduced artwork is more substantial than in the first issue, including a wider range of artists: Lewis includes more work by Vorticist colleagues Jessica Dismorr, Frederick Etchells, and Edward Wadsworth, and adds photographs of sculpture by Jacques Lipschitz and Frank Dobson. The most significant editorial change, however, is Lewis‘s downplaying the importance of his graphical Tyros. Although he had promised in the first issue the appearance of “Ten especially potent Tyros” in the next number, as well as a graphical “clash between the Cept and the Megaloplinth” (1:2), there are no more examples of Lewis‘s Tyronic art in the second number beyond the ferociously grinning figure on the cover, shown in profile and boxed in graphically by a frame that threatens to squeeze it out of existence. Lewis claims that he suppresses his graphic Tyros in the second number to make room for artwork by others, and promises that “More Tyro satires will make their appearance in the following number” (2:3). Yet Lewis includes six examples of his other draftsmanship in this issue, suggesting that he had other reasons for rethinking the appearance of further Tyro artwork. This shift away from graphic caricature is in keeping with the generally more sober tone of the second number. There are fewer rhetorical jabs at Bloomsbury, and the essays are generally longer and less polemical. There is a stronger emphasis on the international arts, suggested by the inclusion of a “Lettre de Paris”, written in French by Polish-French art critic Waldemar George, and an essay on a show of Russian art by Jessica Dismorr.

The Tyros of issue two have undergone two changes: they are now mainly literary rather than graphic, and Lewis has broadened the range of their satire. In the quasi-Platonic dialog “Tyronic Dialogues: X. and Y.” (2: 46), the conversing artists are no longer immature soldiers arrayed against received ideas of artistic culture, but mouthpieces for Lewis‘s developing conception of the solitary self and the oppositional artist — they are early prototypes for the teacher-student relationship of Horace Zagreus and Daniel Boleyn in Lewis‘s later The Apes of God. Lewis‘s story “Bestre” extends the prototype of the aggressive Tyro from satire of nominally cultured post-War Europeans to include the titular Breton innkeeper, describing the primitive personal battles that he wages through grimaces, using his eye as a weapon. Bestre, with his “odiously grinning face” (2:53) and a body described by Lewis using a rhetorical landslide of grotesque images, is a Tyro in all but name. “Bestre” shows Lewis‘s Tyronic criticisms becoming increasingly the subject of literary satire that treats all human interrelationships as primitive social interaction and rebarbative physicality. (“Bestre” is a revised version of Lewis‘s second published short story “Some Innkeepers and Bestre”, which originally appeared in the June 1909 English Review; a slightly revised further version appears in 1927 in The Wild Body; these first and third versions of “Bestre” are reprinted in The Complete Wild Body, 221-33 and 77-88).

Lewis‘s major contribution to Tyro 2, however, is not fiction but a lengthy aesthetic essay, “Essay on The Objective of Plastic Art in Our Time”. This is the third of Lewis‘s major post-War essays on the status of contemporary art, following upon his earlier “Prevalent Design”, published in The Athenaeum from November 1919 to January 1920, and The Caliph‘s Design, published as a short book by The Egoist Press in 1919. The Platonic literary shape of “Tyronic Dialogues: X. and Y.” has already suggested Lewis‘s increasing interest in positioning his aesthetics within a philosophical framework beyond aesthetics, and this sixteen-page essay is one of the first attempts to consider art in the context of philosophy and culture that would typify Lewis‘s later polemical writings. In particular, Lewis declares in this essay that art holds an intellectual position comparable to the sciences in its “experimental character” and “spectacle of constant evolution” (2: 22), and a position close to philosophy insofar as it is “a valuation.” He quotes approvingly from Schopenhauer that art “plucks the object of its contemplation out of the stream of the world‘s course, and has it isolated before it” (2:31), one of the earliest published instances where Lewis addresses his dislike of Bergsonian metaphysics in philosophical detail. Although Lewis was unhappy with having to cut the essay to fit it into the journal — it appears with a disclaimer that further sections would appear in future issues, and Lewis complained to Herbert Read that his essay “is rather mutilated, to get it in” (Lewis Letters 131) — the essay demonstrates Lewis‘s ability in The Tyro to treat his dislike of flux and Futurism, already apparent in the calculated outrages of Blast, with a new weight and intellectual gravity. The world of the manifesto has given way to a more fully argued discursive and reflective criticism.

The Tyro ceased publication after this second issue. Lewis attempted to promote and disseminate the journal more widely, but to little practical effect. He took 60 copies to Paris on a trip with Eliot, and sent an inscribed copy to James Joyce, but neither action helped the journal make a significant impact (Letters 131). Although he planned for the future— asking Herbert Read, for instance, for his notes on Hulme for a third issue — the journal never reappeared. It was certainly noticed by its immediate targets. Virginia Woolf noted that Lewis‘s retorts stung Bloomsbury; she wrote in 1921 that Roger Fry and her sister looked at The Tyro without supporting Lewis with their money: “Roger and Nessa read him in shops, and won‘t buy him — which… proves that they fear him” (quoted by O’Keeffe 231). But despite this succès d‘estime, The Tyro ceased publication for fairly clear reasons. As with most of the English little magazines, many of which folded in the late 1910s, funding was a continual problem. Lewis depended on the goodwill of a few patrons and the unpaid contributions of his writers and artists. (Lewis would later reciprocate this goodwill for Eliot‘s The Criterion; he wrote to Eliot in 1923, “As I understand with your paper that you are almost in the position I was in with The Tyro and Blast I will give you anything I have for nothing, as you did me” [ Letters 137].) Moreover, The Tyro depended, as Pound had objected earlier, on an insular appeal to a small group of practicing artists, which Lewis underlined in the second number of The Tyro where he claimed “I do not for my part believe that any painter or sculptor has been understood, ever, by anyone except a painter or a sculptor” (2:7). Pound chided Lewis that in the climate of post-War London one had to work to bring in more readers, not cater to an established coterie—“If there arent 30 or 50 people interested in literature, there is no civilization. & we may as well regard our work as a private luxury, having no aims but our own pleasure. = You cant expect people to pay you for enjoying yourself” (Pound/Lewis 130).

Beyond pragmatic problems of funding and readership, the extreme idiosyncrasy of Lewis‘s “tyronic mythology” was arguably alienating to the readership it hoped to court. In Blast Lewis had cursed “those who will hang over this Manifesto with SILLY CANINES exposed” (Blast 1:17), and the ferociously grinning Tyros of his second journal risked insulting not only competing artists but Lewis‘s audience itself. That Lewis abandoned the Tyro project so precipitously suggests that he himself became aware of its limitations. Lewis originally planned to produce more Tyro work, including signing a contract with Constable and Co. in 1922 for a novel provisionally titled Life of a Tyro (O’Keeffe 237). But Lewis never completed this novel, and had to return his advance money eight years later with interest and legal costs. The fact that Lewis drops the term “tyro” in his fiction and art after 1922 suggests that he was shifting the focus of his satire on a particular post-War group of artists to a larger and arguably darker vision of human grotesquerie and naivety. In his later fiction, Lewis would increasingly suggest that all people are creatures of habit and obsession, “wild bodies” in thrall to idées fixées that he called “inferior religions.” Lewis‘s satire becomes increasingly universal and self-implicating, an idea already suggested by the 1920-21 self-portrait Mr Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro that he painted for the original exhibition (painting P27, plate 74 in Michel). Much as Swift‘s Gulliver concludes that all men, including himself, are Yahoos, Lewis‘s increasingly clear idea that all men are Tyros obviates the usefulness of “the tyro” as a differential category. They were a quick aesthetic stopping place on the way to Lewis‘s later idea that representation itself constitutes satire, that no one exists outside of the world of sardonic criticism.

We may thus understand The Tyro as Lewis‘s attempt to revive the idea of the English avant-garde, but also as the record of Lewis‘s professional transition: from defining himself largely as a painter, editor, and organizer of group projects, to defining himself as a solitary — even aggressively isolated — writer and critic. Lewis spent much of the early 1920s reading and researching in the British Library, which he called “going underground,” and working on a massive series of books, which bore the working title The Man of the World. During this period Lewis became increasingly alienated from his friends and backers. Pound had been less than impressed by the contributors to The Tyro, compared to those in Blast, and in 1924 wrote to Lewis, “We were hefty guys in them days; an of what has come after us, we seem to have survived without a great mass of successors” (Pound/Lewis 138). By the mid-1920s, this loose consortium fell apart. After a series of perceived professional slights, Lewis criticized several of his Tyro colleagues in print. He attacked Robert McAlmon in Time and Western Man as “that literary wonder we will call Bud Macsalmon” (43) and satirized Sidney Schiff and John Rodker as the aesthetic poseurs Lionel Kein and Julius Ratner in his work in progress The Apes of God, a portion of which appeared in The Criterion in 1924. Equally importantly, Lewis was forced to admit the lack of effect of the journal‘s aesthetic ambitions. He wrote in Tyro 2, “The landscape of art in London has not changed much since the appearance of the first number of the Tyro” (2:9), and this opinion scarcely changed for the duration of the 1920s. In “A World Art and Tradition” in the February 1929 issue of Drawing and Design Lewis wrote “Since I last wrote about painting (Tyro 1922), there has been nothing very much to report; everywhere ‘abstract‘ painting has vanished from the scene as far as England is concerned except in the practice of individuals” (reprinted in Wyndham Lewis On Art 255). Despite Lewis‘s attempt at one last literary journal, The Enemy, which appeared for three issues between 1927 and 1929, the Bloomsbury critics ultimately had more impact on British taste, remaining the standard-bearers for French art into the 1930s.

In a memorable image in The Tyro, Lewis equates painters with soldiers, declaring “[W]e have sometimes to entrench ourselves; but we do it with rage” (1:3). For Lewis the defense of art was itself a kind of war, and as The Tyro begins with a declaration of the possibility of a new post-War art, it ends by Lewis retrenching to a series of oppositional and increasingly solo efforts. Lewis would retrospectively defend as a rhetorical artifact of the times what he called the “particular note of solitary defiance” and “what must have seemed an exaggerated individualism on my part in The Tyro” (Lewis, Rude Assignment: An Intellectual Autobiography 212). While such a stance was unable to help The Tyro recreate the success of Blast or revivify the pre-War avant-garde, it demonstrated nonetheless Lewis‘s deep-held belief that art was the key to cultural continuity, and even nationalist self-definition, in the wake of cataclysm. The year after The Tyro ceased publication Lewis wrote to T. S. Eliot to wish him success with his journal The Criterion. Lewis declared that if The Criterion were to fail “the chance of establishing some sort of critical standard here is diminished” (Lewis Letters 137). The Tyro, however idiosyncratic and rebarbative, was Lewis‘s significant attempt to establish such a critical standard for England in the post-War period, to vault the cyclopean wall of the War as the standard bearer for a revivified Modernist painting and letters.

Works cited and consulted

  • Edwards, Paul. Wyndham Lewis: Painter and Writer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
  • Eliot, T. S. The Waste Land; a Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound. Eds. Ezra Pound and Valerie Eliot. London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1971
  • Foster, Hal. Prosthetic Gods. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: MIT Press, 2004
  • Lewis, Wyndham. Blasting & Bombardiering. London, Calder & Boyars, 1967
  • —. The Complete Wild Body. Ed. Bernard Lafourcade. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1982
  • —. The Letters of Wyndham Lewis. Ed. W. K. Rose. Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1963
  • —. Rude Assignment: An Intellectual Autobiography. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1984
  • —. Time and Western Man. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1993
  • —. Wyndham Lewis on Art: Collected Writings 1913-1956. Eds. Walter Michel and C. J. Fox. London: Thames and Hudson, 1969
  • Michel, Walter. Wyndham Lewis: Paintings and Drawings. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.
  • Morrisson, Mark S. The Public Face of Modernism: Little Magazines, Audiences, and Reception, 1905-1920. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001
  • O’Keeffe, Paul. Some Sort of Genius: A Life of Wyndham Lewis. London: Jonathan Cape, 2000
  • Peters Corbett, David, ed. Wyndham Lewis and the Art of Modern War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998
  • Pound, Ezra, and Wyndham Lewis. Pound/Lewis: The Letters of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis. Ed. Timothy Materer. New York: New Directions Pub. Corp., 1985
  • Wees, William C. Vorticism and the English Avant-Garde. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972.
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