Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Yellow Book according to John Lane

If only there had been thirteen days of Christmas, this post would have been just perfect. I currenty have a set of The Yellow Book in stock and as a result was doing a little digging when I came upon this article in the Pall Mall Gazette, just before the publication of the first volume of the now in/famous periodical. I know that people always assume that the title, and therefore the binding, was derived from the yellow bound books of the French decadence, but I have always wondered how much evidence there actually is for that. Sadly, this interview with John Lane comes tantalisingly close to answering the question but just veers away at the last minute and doesn't quite address in a definitive way, why The Yellow Book was yellow. Still, its fascinating to read Lane's thoughts about the publication before it all began even if it is, fairly transparently, a puff piece...

"The Yellow Book"
An Interview With its Publisher

Mr. John Lane, little dreaming of the dangers of the vicinity, was quietly walking down the Charing Cross-road, when a Pall Mall Gazette interviewer suddenly darted from his place of concealment, and held a note-book and pencil to the head of the publisher before he had time to realize that he had approached the confines of newspaperland. For Mr. Lane at once carrited one's mind to the "Yellow Book" which is to be issued on the 16th inst., and quartlerly thenceforth on the 16th of every third month.
"Tell me all about this Yellow Book Mr. Lane." - "Let us go round to the Hogarth Club, then."
Five minutes later the club had been reached, and the chat was in progress.
"An illustrated quarterly , with fiction for its backbone, is somewhat out of the ordinary path of your firm, I believe. How was this new departure initiated?" - "The idea was born in this very club, in that very chair you occupy. I was here one day. Mr. Harland and Mr. Aubrey Beardsley came in and suggested to me the scheme of a light and advanced quarterly. I liked the idea at once, and we discussed it so practically that we had fixed upon a name - the present name - before we separated. Within a few days the scheme had taken definite form, and we had decided upon the main lines upon which it was to be run. We had preffered the quarterly to the monthly, because while there are plenty of light monthlies, there is nothing among the quarterlies similar to the book we desire to produce."
"And those main lines upon which you decided were?" - "To have a magazine, which chall be beautiful as a piece of bookmaking, modern and distinguished in its letterpress and its pictures, and popular in the best sense of the word. We long to get as far as possible away from the bad old traditions of periodical literature. We shall have no serials, and every picture is to be independent of the text, unless the text also be provided by the artist."
"To parody Lord Arthur Pomeroy's 'why fairies?' may I ask why the Yellow Book?" - "Well, we were aware that the official books of France and China, the equivalent of out blue books, are yellow books, but our title has no association with that. We originally intended to bind the quarterly in yellow paper wrappers, like the French novels, and hence the title. But as our scheme developed we found the volume becoming so bulky that, of course, no paper could hold it together. So we are going to have a yellow cloth binding, and Mr. Aubrey Beardsley, the art editor has designed the cover. It is a different design, I should tell you, to that on the cover of the prospectus we are issuing. But I will give you a copy for reproduction in the Pall Mall Budget. The first number will be in pott quarto, which is the size of the paper on which the old plays and the old divinity books of the seventeenth century were printed."
"Mr. Harland will be the literary editor, I understand?" - "Yes, and he will gather round him as many of the younger generation of authors as may be. Not exclusively though, of course. For instance, Mr. Henry James has a story in the first number."
"What else about your first number?" - "'John Oliver Hobbes' and Mr. George Moore have collaborated on a comedy scene. George Ederton has written a story quite out of the 'keynotes' vein."
"By-the-bye, Mr. Lane, what is the attitude of the quarterly going to be towards Mrs. Grundy?" - "It is carefully stated in the prospectus, that we shall seek always to preserve a delicate, decorous, and reticent mien an conduct. That reminds me, although perhaps the connection is not very clear on reflection, that Mr. Beardsley will have in this first number a portrait of Mrs. Patrick Campbell in her character of the Second Mrs. Tanqueray. This is his first attempt at portraiture. Altogether, there will be fifteen separate illustrations, and twenty-one stories, essays and poems."
"There will be no limited edition about this quarterly?" - "It will be as unlimited as ever we can make it, you may take my word for it. We mean it to be a book that every booklover will love at sight, and a book that will make book-lovers of many who are now indifferent to books. You will appreciate the sincerity of our intentions of making it beautiful to the eye when I tell you that we shall eschew all advertisements other than publishers' lists. Altogether we hope to present the world with that which is getting rarer and rarer, something unique"

...if only they had known...

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