A Commentary (May 1927)
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[ 59 A Commentary The Monthly Criterion: A Literary Review, 5 (May 1927) 187-901 We by no means regret that The Criterion and its successor, The New Criterion, began and continued for four years as a Quarterly. It was part of the original programme, in 1922, to revive some of the characteristics of the quarterly reviews of a hundred years ago, which had languished in this century of rapid production and consumption. The contents were to consist largely of essays written for The Criterion or with The Criterion in view, essays, as the announcement predicted, “longer and more considered than are possible in reviews which appear at shorter intervals.”2 These articles were to be, and were, the work of men who were not hurried, and who could have the incentive of knowing that a part at least of their readers would read their work with corresponding care and leisure. With the leisure, ripeness and thoroughness of the reviews of a hundred years ago, The Criterion was to join another of their characteristics, a certain corporate personality which had almost disappeared from quarterly journalism; it was to exhibit, without narrow exclusiveness or sectarian enthusiasm, a common tendency which its contributors should illustrate by conformity or opposition .3 It was to be up-to-time in its appreciation of modern literature, and in its awareness of contemporary problems; it was to record the development of modern literature and the mutations of modern thought. The Criterion will retain the benefit of its experience as a quarterly. Rather than publish every month brief notes of events in music, art and the drama, we propose to preserve, in the chronicles, the quarterly point of view: Mr. J. B. Trend will continue every three months the international survey of music to which he has given such distinction, and this will alternate with art and dramatic chronicles.4 In each number we shall publish one foreign chronicle, and each foreign literature will be chronicled twice a year. Books will be reviewed with the same care and at the same length, and will be reviewed more quickly after publication. During the next few months there will be a little delay; for we have still to notice some of the most important books that have appeared since our January number. 1927 60 ] What Books Should Be Reviewed? The selection of books for review – and even the shortest notices represent a very careful selection – is regularly one of the most difficult of editorial problems. We should always be glad to receive from readers reminders of omissions, or suggestions. But we have sought always to avoid the perfunctory review; a long notice should be either a review of an authority by an authority, or a review of an important book by someone whose opinions on that book are likely to be interesting or valuable. We do not review a book merelybecauseeveryotherjournalhasdoneso.Onthecontrary,whenabook appears, such as Revolt in the Desert, which is fully treated by every daily and weekly newspaper, we consider that we are not called upon to review it at all, unless we wish to say something that has not been said already.5 But if a book seems to have been overlooked or mishandled, or, on the other hand, over-praised, then we have an obligation towards it. Part of the function of a monthly periodical is to follow the daily and weekly journals , and criticise and correct at more leisure. The Five O’Clock Philosophers It is quite possible that the public of the future will dispense altogether not only with quarterly reviews, but with monthlies and weeklies, and will find all the aliment it requires in its daily and Sunday newspapers. Certainly the daily papers are more and more able to provide mankind with its daily opinions, not only on politics but on everything else. So far as the journals may be supposed to encourage any interest in the public mind, other than wireless and professional sport, this may be a good thing. It does not seem always to be good for the minds of the distinguished authors whose opinions the newspapers purchase. We have already had occasion to hint at the effect on the mind of the Dean of St. Paul’s of providing rush-hour thought for the City worker.6 Not that excellent articles do not appear in the daily papers; but the difficulty of this kind of composition, for a writer of great reputation, seems to be to stick to his...