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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - The Literary Periodical Post by :atmytv Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2963

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - The Literary Periodical

(_8 Sep. 10_)

I have just had news of a purely literary paper which is shortly to be started. I do not mean a paper devoted to literary criticisms chiefly, but chiefly to creative work. This will be something of a novelty in England. Its founders are two men who possess, happily, a practical acquaintance with publishing. The aim of the paper will be to print, and to sell, imaginative writing of the highest character. Its purpose is artistic, and neither political nor moral. Dangers and difficulties lie before an enterprise of this kind. The first and the principal difficulty will be the difficulty of obtaining the high-class stuff in sufficient quantities to fill the paper. The rate of pay will not and cannot be high, and authors capable of producing really high-class stuff--I mean stuff high-class in execution as well as in intention--are strangely keen on getting the best possible remuneration for it. Idle to argue that genuine artists ought to be indifferent to money! They are not. And what is still more curious, they will seldom produce their best work unless they really do want money. This is a fact which will stand against all the sentimental denyings of dilettanti. And, of course, genuine artists are quite right in getting every cent they can. The richest of them don't get enough. But even if the rates of pay of the new organ were high, the difficulty would still be rather acute, because the whole mass of really high-class stuff produced is relatively very small. High-class stuff is like radium. And the number of men who can produce it is strictly limited. There are dozens and scores of men who can write stuff which has all the mannerisms and external characteristics of high-class stuff, but which is not high-class. Extinct exotic periodicals, such as the _Yellow Book_, the _Savoy_, the _Dial_, the _Anglo-Saxon_, and such publications as the _Neolith_, richly prove this. What was and is the matter with all of them is literary priggishness, and dullness. One used to read them more often as a duty than as a pleasure.

* * * * *

A great danger is the inevitable tendency to disdain the public and to appeal only to artists. Artists, like washerwomen, cannot live on one another. Moreover, nobody has any right to disdain the public. You will find that, as a general rule, the greatest artists have managed to get and to keep on good terms with the public. If an artist is clever enough--if he is not narrow, insolent, and unbalanced--he will usually contrive while pleasing himself to please the public, or _a public. It is his business to do so. If he does not do so he proves himself incompetent. He is merely mumbling to himself. Just as the finite connotes the infinite, so an artist connotes a public. The artist who says he doesn't care a fig for the public is a liar. He may have many admirable virtues, but he is a liar. The tragedy of all the smaller literary periodicals in France is that the breach between them and the public is complete. They are unhealthy, because they have not sufficient force to keep themselves alive, and they make no effort to acquire that force. They scorn that force. They are kept alive by private subsidies. A paper cannot be established in a fortnight, but no artistic paper which has no reasonable prospect of paying its way ought to continue to exist; for it demonstrates nothing but an obstinacy which is ridiculous. The first business of the editor of an artistic periodical is to interest the public in questions of art. He cannot possibly convince them till he has interested them up to the point of regularly listening to him. Enthusiastic artists are apt to forget this. It is no use being brilliant and conscientious on a tub at a street corner unless you can attract some kind of a crowd. The public has just got to be considered. You may say that it is not easy to make any public listen to the truth about anything. Well, of course, it isn't. But it can be done by tact, and tact, and tact.

* * * * *

I do not think that there is a remunerative public in England for any really literary paper which entirely bars politics and morals. England is not an artistic country, in the sense that Latin countries are artistic, and no end can be served by pretending that it is. Its serious interests are political and moral. Personally, I fail to see how politics and morals can be separated from art. I should be very sorry to separate my art from my politics. And I am convinced that the conductors of the new organ will perceive later, if not sooner, that political and moral altercations must not be kept out of their columns. At any rate they will have to be propagandist, pugilistic, and even bloodthirsty. They will have to formulate a creed, and to try to ram it down people's throats. To print merely so many square feet of the best obtainable imaginative stuff, and to let the stuff speak for itself, will assuredly not suffice in this excellent country.

* * * * *

My mind returns to the exceeding difficulty of obtaining the right contributors. English editors have never appreciated the importance of this. As English manufacturers sit still and wait for customers, so English editors sit still and wait for contributors. The interestingness of the _New Age_, if I may make an observation which the editorial pen might hesitate to make, is due to the fact that contributors have always been searched for zealously and indefatigably. They have been compelled to come in--sometimes with a lasso, sometimes with a revolver, sometimes with a lure of flattery; but they have been captured. American editors are much better than English editors in this supreme matter. The profound truth has not escaped them that good copy does not as a rule fly in unbidden at the office window. They don't idiotically pretend that they have far more of the right kind of stuff than they know what to do with, as does the medium-fatuous English editor. They cajole. They run round. They hustle. The letters which I get from American editors are one of the joys of my simple life. They are so un-English. They write: "Won't you be good enough to let us hear from you?" Or, "We are anxious (underlined) to see your output." Imagine that from an English editor! And they contrive to say what they mean, picturesquely. One editor wrote me: "We want material that will hit the mark without producing either insomnia or heart-failure." An editor capable of such self-expression endears himself at once to any possible contributor. And, above all, they do not fear each other, as ours do, nor tremble at the thought of Mrs. Grundy (I mean the best ones). A letter which I received only a few days ago ended thus: "We are not running the magazine for the benefit of the Young Person, and we are not afraid of Realism so long as it is interesting. Hoping to hear from you." I lay these paragraphs respectfully at the feet of the conductors of the new paper.

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