Last Words
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[ 659 Last Words The Criterion: A Literary Review, 18 (Jan 1939) 269-75 With this number I terminate my editorship of The Criterion. I have been considering this decision for about two years: but I did not wish to come to a conclusion precipitately, because I knew that my retirement would bring The Criterion to an end. During the autumn, however, the prospect of war had involved me in hurried plans for suspending publication; and in the subsequent détente I became convinced that my enthusiasm for continuing the editorial work did not exist.1 Sixteen years is a long time for one man to remain editor of a review; for this review, I have sometimes wondered whether it has not been too long. A feeling of staleness has crept over me, and a suspicion that I ought to retire before I was aware that this feeling had communicated itself to the readers. A stale editor cannot do his contributors justice. I have also felt a growing discontent, in that increase of work in other directions (both inside and outside of Russell Square) has made it less and less possible for me to perform to my own satisfaction a job which might well occupy the whole of one man’s time. I am convinced that The Criterion is not the kind of review which can be taken up and continued by one editor after another. Another man might make something better of it, but he would have to make something very different; and in so doing he would be handicapped rather than aided by The Criterion’s tradition. If a similar review is needed, then it will be far better for someone else to start a new review with a new title. New conditions will very likely require new methods and somewhat different aims. The Criterion has, I believe, represented a definite though (I hope) comprehensive constellation of contributors; whatever part it may have played in the literary history of these sixteen years should emerge all the more definitely for its having begun and ended under one editorship. At this point, I trust that a brief review of its phases, both material and intellectual, is not out of place. The Criterion was founded in 1922 by the generosity of Viscountess Rothermere; the general intention was that it should serve as a kind of successor to the defunct Art and Letters.2 No one expected that it would be more than an “amateur” review: its editing was the evening Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1939 660 ] occupation of an editor who, being on the staff of a City bank, was not in a position to accept a salary. In the first years I owed much, for a time, to the assistance of Mr. Richard Aldington; and during the whole of the first period especially to the late Miss Irene Fassett, my first secretary. There was an interim during which the review was kept alive by the support of a number of benefactors whose names I could not mention without asking their permission severally. Two of them, however, I feel at liberty to name because they have since died; and because I depended on their encouragement throughout: Charles Whibley and Frederick Scott Oliver. Subsequently, the finances of The Criterion were wholly taken over by the firm of Faber & Faber. I welcome this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the complete editorial freedom which I have enjoyed. It should be apparent from what I have just said, that The Criterion did not start with any ambition of emulating the traditional type of British quarterly. It was a quarterly partly for reasons of economy, but also because the editor then had so little time to give to it. It certainly acquired a definite quarterly character; and during a brief period when it was run as a monthly, I came to the conclusion that whatever editorial talent I possessed did not extend to the preparation of a review appearing oftener than four times a year. But so far as The Criterion measured itself against more “professional” periodicals, they were certain reviews, many of them now extinct, published abroad. The Nouvelle Revue Française still flourishes; there was the Revista de Occidente (under Ortega y Gasset); the Journal de Genève (under Robert de Traz); the Neue Rundschau, the Dial of New York, and others.3 It was the aim of The Criterion to maintain close relations with other literary reviews of its type, on the...