- The Great Adult Review
The life and work of Austin Harrison (1873–1928), like those of many editors, occurred mostly behind the scenes, overshadowed by the authors he championed and published. However, and despite a relatively short life—a heavy smoker, he died at fifty-five from bronchial pneumonia—Harrison’s legacy is substantial, as evidenced by this all-encompassing study, the first to highlight and contextualize Harrison’s important (if neglected) contribution to literature. Martha S. Vogeler has woven into Austin Harrison and the “English Review” what she calls five “intertwined themes”: a father/son relationship (Austin versus his famous Positivist father, Frederic); Harrison the journalist; authors seen by their editor; “public affairs journalism”; and periodical history.
Having cut his journalistic teeth in Europe—a stint in Berlin (1898–1905) for the Times and then for Reuters led to his 379-page Pan-Germanic Doctrine (1904), published anonymously—Harrison returned to England to write for the Observer (1905–1910), reviewing over eighty titles, mostly nonfiction prose or drama. Then came the English Review, founded in 1908 by Ford Maddox Hueffer (as of 1919, Ford Maddox Ford) with the help of Joseph Conrad. Over thirteen months Ford edited a dozen or so numbers, while Harrison over thirteen years (1910–1923) would edit one hundred and sixty. By 1911 Harrison had [End Page 489] increased advertisements to twenty-four pages, cut the journal’s price from Ford’s two shillings six to one shilling, and lowered the annual subscription price from twenty-five to twelve shillings six, postage paid. By 1912 circulation was up fifty percent. One Times advertisement (perhaps composed by Harrison) called the English Review “The Great Adult Review BUT the only Review which always contains something of interest to THE LADIES.” Harrison’s self-promotion included his declaration that its editor “does not use the blue pencil on what the magazines call ‘naughty’ words.… We stand for courage, originality, progress, truth, and literature.”
This no-holds-barred editorial policy, commendable for its daring, had predictable consequences. For instance, after reading Frank Harris’s “Thoughts on Morals” (1911), Spectator editor John St. Loe Strachey announced that he would no longer cover the English Review in his weekly summary of periodicals, to which Harrison responded with a list of signatures to protest the boycott. I urge curious readers to discover (pages 146–49) how the feud unraveled amidst ambiguities and acrimony involving Bernard Shaw, Laurence Housman, Thomas Hardy, Ford, and Harrison’s father.
More often than not, Harrison went against the grain. His marriage in 1914 to an ex-Catholic divorcée with two children vexed his parents (they did not attend the wedding) and, according to Vogeler, helps explain his support of divorce reform. By all accounts, Harrison was (in Vogeler’s words) “affable and diffident, encouraging and dismissive, efficient and careless, quirky and conventional” as well as “expansive, allusive, and dogmatic.” To Gertrude Stein, for example, who had offered him her prose portraits, Harrison sent a terse postcard: “Madam, I really cannot publish these curious studies.” Harrison also kept dubious company. Friendships with the priapic Harris and the notorious occultist Aleister Cowley did nothing to bolster his credibility among the literati. On the other hand, Harrison over many years played an important role in the careers of D. H. Lawrence (fifty-three titles or excerpts appeared in the English Review), H. G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, John Masefield, Arnold Bennett, Shaw (Vogeler points out that Harrison defended Shaw against censorship while “skirting the main issues in the plays”), and countless other writers whose work appeared or was reviewed in the English Review.
Literature, it should be noted, was but one of Harrison’s many enthusiasms, and the English Review carried articles on everything from “The New Impressionism” (1910) and “The Truth about White-Slavery” [End Page 490] (1913) to “The Servant Problem” (1916) and “The Inner Life of Pauper Asylums” (1921). “Women and Morality” (1913), purportedly written by the mother of a civil servant stationed in South Africa in an attempt to win sympathy...