Volume 2 of The New Age embodies the influence of European thought (both colonial and mainland) on the British mindset. Everything from the reviews and translations of foreign texts, its prescient critiques "of the deals being worked with the Boers that later led to apartheid," and its energetic debates about socialism (termed the "Chesterbelloc" scandal, borrowing a term from George Bernard Shaw) show a globally conscious Britain that is trying to figure out its position on the greater world stage.
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During the second six months of The New Age‘s “new” existence, the Liberal landslide election of 1906 was still being consolidated, with Sir Joseph Campbell-Bannerman, a Liberal, serving as Prime Minister. During the parliamentary year of 1907 a spate of bills was passed—56 according to The New Age‘s count. Edward VII (1841-1910) was King. Among Campbell-Bannerman’s 19 cabinet members were:
The New Age charts Campbell-Bannerman’s illness, eventual resignation on 4 April 1908, and death on 22 April 1908. H. H. Asquith became Prime Minister on 8 April 1908.
Major international events during this time keyed around:
Major national issues, including those of the British Empire, included
The Liberal Party itself was undergoing a major change in orientation, changing from a concern for individualism to a concern for community. The Liberal party forged a number of alliances with the fledgling Labour Party in parliament, and looked to it for many new ideas. Much of this is reflected in The New Age.
Alfred Richard Orage, age 33, really took control of the publication during these six months. He deleted the words, “an independent socialist review,” from the paper’s subtitle in the first issue of Volume 2 on October 31, 1907, replacing it by “a weekly review of politics, literature and art.” He eschewed the masthead and drew readers’ attention to a new opening feature, “Notes of the Week,” which occupied up to the first three pages. A table of contents appeared, showcasing the well-known names that occur with increasing frequency:
H.G. Wells, Florence Farr, Edwin Pugh, M.D. Eder, E. Nesbit, Arnold Bennett, et alia. Famous names also pop up in banners above the publication’s title. And, as promised in the final number of Volume 1, The New Age became a 20-page weekly as opposed to its 16-page predecessor. This additional space allowed Orage to expand into new features.
Holbrook Jackson ceased to be co-editor with the first issue of 1908: number 10 for January 4, 1908. Jackson’s work as poetry editor was taken over by Frank Stuart (F.S.) Flint—later a major proponent of modern poetry—while Beatrice Hastings probably shouldered Jackson’s other literary work. The price remained the same: a penny a copy, in keeping with the cheaper weekly reviews of its day.
Under Orage’s solo editorship, The New Age took on the format and style that characterized its next 15 years as a cultural weekly. Circulation increased from 5,000/week to 20,000/week, as Orage carefully stage-managed the controversies (both within and outside the socialist movement) played out through its pages. The publication was twice sold out completely during the controversial “Chesterbelloc” discussion.
Perhaps due to the increased editorial space, more book reviews began to appear. The “Book of the Week” feature commences in number 3 (02:52) with L. Haden Guest’s review of a book on a national theater. It then becomes a semi-regular feature—a signed book review by a major figure or writer—although it begins appearing in the Table of Contents only with issue number 5. It augments the standard “Reviews” (usually unsigned). The later numbers of Volume 2 often have all three features dealing with books: “Reviews,” “Book of the Week,” and Arnold Bennett’s famous “Books and Persons.”
The New Age organized its regular coverage of the arts in the following standing features:
As promised by Orage at the close of Volume 1, novelist Arnold Bennett came on board The New Age with a bang in Volume 2. In fall, 1907, when Bennett was newly married and working on what would become his most successful novel, The Old Wives’ Tale (1908), the novelist/playwright announced his intellectual and emotional enlightenment in the piece, “Why I am a Socialist”(02:90). In March 1908 (02:412) Bennett began publishing “Books and Persons” as Jacob Tonson—taking the name of an 18th century printer (and nephew of the same name) who both had contributed much to English literary history. For the next three and a half years Bennett used this platform to discuss books, painting, publishing, magazines, newspapers, travel, theater, censorship, ballet and European news of cultural significance. These early pieces show the interactions between books and pamphlets, literary agents and authors, publishers and the public that were the facts of literary life in the Edwardian era.
The “Chesterbelloc” controversy stems from Bennett’s initial essay, “Why I am a Socialist”(02:90), which may have been prompted by Orage’s continuing series in Volume 2, “Towards Socialism.” Orage invited both Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton to respond to Bennett’s essay and printed each rejoinder without cutting or editing (Martin, 35). Readers may skim it in the following order:
Filson Young attempts a summary in “Chesterton and Belloc: On Shaw, Wells”(02:370). Nonetheless, the debate continues in fits and starts by various participants through 1909, with an obbligato from readers in the “Correspondence” section. Although nominally about the nature of socialism, the exchange is really about the nature of human nature and its relation to evolution. Along the way the participants argue about Roman Catholicism, the use of alcohol, obesity, capitalist monopolies, private property and collectivism. At one point Belloc is moved to say,
You will never establish a collectivist state among us. You
may just possibly arrive, after bungling and unartistic experiment […]
at a sort of slavery in which a few privileged men, thoroughly
contented and possessed of enormous power, will order the rest of the
community at their bidding. (02:290)
Belloc and Chesterton also articulate their theory of Distributism, a new system whereby wealth will be taken from the rich and redistributed to the poor, and structures somehow set up to retain this equilibrium. This was in effect the utopian blueprint which Wells, as well as Shaw, were calling on them to construct in the Chesterbelloc controversy.
These debates, like many others, often start in letters to the editor or in the occasional features such as “Magazines of the Week.” Readers should do keyword searches to locate all discussions of a topic.
The New Age helped open up English intellectual life to Continental influences through reviews and translations of key texts by Russian, French, and German writers and thinkers such as
Music reviews tended to reflect the thinking of the time that concert music was “international,” while folk music confirmed national identity. It was about this time that what we now call “historically informed performance” of music first came in to vogue; its tie to the Arts and Crafts movement is apparent in the publication. Herbert Hughes drops the pose of being “X” as of the December 7, 1907 issue. A novel by a major contributor, H.G. Wells (New Worlds for Old, 1908) knocked the world on its ear with a radical plan for a new world order (see 02:391; 02:412 and many letters). Discussions of the arts were as contentious as of any other topic in the publication.
Granville Barker’s play, Waste, became a cause celebre in the major controversy around the “New Drama” or “new theatre” movement. As Volume 2 opens, the fabulously successful three-year run of the experimental Court Theatre had just ended its “Thousand Performances” (actually, 988). With it, Granville Barker, Shaw, and a host of other gifted people had shown that repertory theater based on a new model could work. In autumn 1907, Barker and his managing partner, J.E.Vedrenne, were attempting to transplant the magic of New Drama to the larger Savoy Theatre in London’s West End. However, Granville Barker’s play, Waste, specially-written to open this new season, was ordered shut down by R.A. Redford, Examiner of Plays–the Censor–on grounds that the play portrayed adultery, abortion, and suicide. The New Age tracks the long tangle with the Office of the Censor as the play becomes a cause celebre. See issue number 2, “Notes of the Week,” for an item on the 71 prominent dramatic and literary authors who signed a petition to the Prime Minister to abolish the Office of the Censor (02:23). L. Haden Guest’s“Drama” column is also devoted to this discussion (02:35). In issue number five, bulletins on the struggle are reprinted in “Notes of the Week”(02:83) and Guest reviews a private performance of Waste(02: 97). He also reviews Archer and Barker’s published plan for a national theater as the Book of the Week (02:52). Ultimately this agitation, along with that of many others in London, resulted in the Prime Minister promising to receive an official delegation about the censorship issue. In February 1908 (see 02:365), this delegation is received by Herbert Gladstone, the Home Secretary much disliked by many people on The New Age.
Poetry was going through the early stages of the revolution soon to be called Imagism. Under Flint as poetry editor, the magazine became a major proponent of free verse, or as he would call it, unrhymed cadence. Contrary to many major literary and reference sources, let it be known here that Flint’s first published poetry was in The New Age for December 28, 1908 (“Unreality,”02:170). Edith Nesbit is the second-most published poet, along with Flint himself, in Volume 2. This volume also highlights John Davidson’s blank verse ballad, “The Testament of Sir Simon Simplex Concerning Automobilism”(02:429)—one of the poet’s last pieces of work.
Cheeky journalism characterizes the entire volume, including the five occasional features about pamphlets (variously called “Pamphlets,”“Recent Pamphlets,”“Books and Pamphlets,” and “Recent Books and Pamphlets”). Pamphlets also are mentioned among the “Books Received,” which item appears eight times in Volume 2. This feature lists, for the keen student of ephemera of another sort, books sent to The New Age and hints at the reading habits assumed by publishers. Issue 2’s list includes seven books on religion, four novels, four history books, three on philosophy (including Thus Spake Zarathustra), three biographies, two women’s autobiographies, two on politics, and one apiece on sociology, self-improvement, travel, art, the classics/ancient world, children’s literature, poetry, and the Empire. Some of these books are then reviewed in subsequent weeks. Of the pamphlets listed, two deal with education and two with Ireland, for a total of three. (One was on clericalism in education in Ireland.)
Another standing feature in Volume 2, “Magazines of the Month,” begins appearing the second week of each month after December 1907 (which has two offerings), replacing the occasional feature named, for instance, “November Magazines.” This item provides a glimpse of other ephemeral sources, now many gone for good, and gives a textual “feel” of the times. What make this feature more than a chunk of dead type is the pithy summaries and extravagant opinions embedded in these humble pieces.
“In Brief,” a feature occurring only three times in this volume, is a solid block of type (02:447, 02:467, 02:486) of what we would now call factoids. Gleaned from other publications and possibly a bit of hearsay and gossip, this feature was an efficient way for readers to gain a lot of information. In tone it resembles the “Notes,” but mainly by selection rather than by comment. Sample topics: the new Irish trademark, size of the Empire, number of political prisoners in Russia, opium in China, and women’s suffrage meetings. This feature, like other smaller items of the publication, can reveal ideas important to readers of The New Age, beyond the mainstream issues that are being slugged out in the main articles and standing features.
For students of the reception of ideas as registered in print, these features of densely packed typeface are a gold mine. They offer opportunities for us to speculate on relationships between readers and writers, publishing ventures and audience, and personalities in both camps. Some of the magazine’s most hotly contested issues begin as terse items in these columns. Especially since many in the paper’s audience were not highly paid, these summaries of worthy tracts, pamphlets, magazines, and books were a bargain at a penny a copy. And there always was that interesting “spin.”
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