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2. Revisiting the Periodical Essay (1860-1940)

Those Forgotten Reviews: Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde as Reviewers

Bénédicte COSTE


Publiés par Oxford University Press, The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (2000-) et The Collected Works of Walter Pater (2019-) sont le résultat d’une série d'engagements personnels et éditoriaux couvrant deux siècles.
Depuis Essays from ‘The Guardian’ de Walter Pater, parus dans une édition par souscription en 1897, jusqu’aux deux volumes de son journalisme annoncés pour 2023 en passant par les deux volumes des écrits journalistiques d’Oscar Wilde publiés en 2013, les éditeurs se sont toujours intéressés aux écrits périodiques de Pater et de Wilde. Si les recensions du premier ont été publiées au tournant du siècle, les nombreux écrits journalistiques du second ont été rapidement publiés dans une édition (quasi) complète par un trio d’éditeurs scientifiques engagés en 1908. Cet engagement contraste avec la réticence des éditeurs de Pater, comme cet article souhaite le montrer en s’intéressant aux différentes éditions de leurs recensions depuis le tournant du 20e siècle.

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1. Revisiting ‘essays’ and ‘reviews’

1Admittedly the periodical contributions of Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde are not forgotten and never were, but their degree of recognition needs to be more precisely ascertained in regard to the ‘generic anxiety literary studies […] still possess about journalism, a word that is seldom used in literature environments where reviews become “criticism” and “articles” “essays”.’ (Brake 2017 65) In what follows, I vindicate the use and interest of the accurate term of ‘review’ as a distinguished and ancient journalistic genre and rely on the twin cases of Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde to interrogate how such re-labelling operated when their literary reviews were remediated in the early 20th century.

2A journalistic genre in itself, the book review harks back to the early history of periodicals. Described as ‘a humble form of criticism […] one of the minor genres of the literary system’ (Boemia and Locati 8), it has played a central role in the journalistic and literary history of the last four centuries, sometimes verging on literary criticism. Defining the review as ‘a short form of notice […] focused on current literature’, Elizabeth Carolyn Miller underlines that ‘the genre itself is not coterminous with literary criticism’ (Miller 629) but can be envisaged as ‘a meta-genre reflecting ‘the changing identity of the book within a broader print culture.’ (Miller 626) In the ‘Reviewing’ entry of the Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism, Joanne Shattock notes that reviews appeared in all types of British periodical publications; first concerned with areas such as theology, philosophy, history, or science, they progressively engaged with literature and most especially novel-writing in an era when twenty or thirty thousand novels were published in Britain. As a means of promoting literature, reviews significantly developed in parallel with signed contributions first introduced by Macmillan’s Magazine in 1859. They progressively gained ground in the periodical world with newspapers being slower in adopting them. Although reviewing was associated with low pay and status, it also functioned as a means of supplementing the remuneration of many a member of the professions, the clergy or the university, and it increasingly came to be seen as a road for recognition along with periodical essays in a time when the sheer number of publications in the second half of the nineteenth century—between 1846 and 1916, their volume quadrupled and their price was halved (Raven 2005; Weedon 2003)—made covering all new publications nearly impossible. As a genre, reviews were repeatedly discussed (Malone 2016) in the periodicals as well as in the guidebooks to journalism that cropped up in the 1880s.

3Vindicating the book review as ‘a familiar ingredient of media’, Laurel Brake underlines its multiple forms depending on titles and periodicity: the review ‘resists being locked down into a single type’ (Brake 2021 74). If some of them reached a comfortable ‘40 octavo pages in the quarterlies’ (Shattock 538), most of the reviews in weeklies and dailies came to be characterised by their brevity, stylistic heterogeneity, smaller typeface, unobtrusive layout, and position, usually at the end of an issue. Whether candid or vituperative as in the Saturday Review, literary reviewing progressively acquired respectability and usefulness as literature and literature consumption became a marker both of respectability and Bourdieusan distinction. Reviewing was coterminous with the professionalisation of literature, including its teaching at the university level. The institutionalisation of literature relied heavily on a formidable body of reviews whose authors were hidden behind the protective shield of anonymity or pseudonymity or acknowledged as part of the personal journalism appearing in the last decades of the century as a by-product of New Journalism. Along with nascent celebrity culture book reviews became integrated into a culture of advertisement and log-rolling, reviewers being sought both for their own status and for the publicity their name could provide to newly published wares.

4However, within journalistic genres most susceptible to remediation, reviews have long been the least likely to be reprinted, valued, and discussed. They are either approached as instrumental to the reception of a given work or seen as ‘not “original” […] allegedly occasional, ephemera.’ (Brake 2021 81) Such neglect contrasts with the situation of Victorian periodical essays, most of which were usually reprinted in book collections, in a relation of interdependence (Brake 2017 b) that enabled the transmission of many seminal writings. By contrast, the greatest part of literary reviews was not republished, at least not during their author’s lifetime, arguably because they were originally part of a culture of perpetual obsolescence. When they have, those texts have been included in collected essays where they function as complementing other pieces such as fiction and essays. However, they are important in assessing individual and collective literary output within Victorian print culture as is their material transmission to later ages. Under what conditions were some reviews deemed worthy of remediation and for what purposes? Both Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, admittedly well-known in their lifetime, offer apparently contrasting situations to explore the conditions of remediation of their reviews.

5My corpus is composed of mostly unsigned literary reviews, temporarily rubbing shoulders, in the case of Oscar Wilde, with letters to the editor, lectures in the twin volumes of Reviews and Miscellanies (1908) supplemented by a bibliography of all of his writings published in 1914 as a comprehensive archive. In the case of Pater, nearly all signed and unsigned reviews were collected posthumously, firstly as an unwelcome supplement to the first edition of his Collected Works in 1901 and 1910 in Britain while more complete volumes were published under different imprints in the US. Neither Pater nor Wilde collected those reviews: their literary executors did, with the result that they were passed down to posterity under various material and textual guises, and were filtered through specific discursive constraints by different editors pursuing specific intentions and objectives, using a perplexing terminology. Most of those reviews are accessible in digitized format; all have been or are in the process of being issued by Oxford University Press in scholarly annotated editions. Wilde’s journalistic pieces including essays and reviews were published in 2013—admittedly after more famous writings such as The Picture of Dorian Gray (2003)—and include a section on ‘Journalism Dubia’ ascribing hitherto unknown contributions to the Irishman (Wilde 2013) reflecting the embarrassment and the interest of scholars confronted with unsigned journalism and unresolved material questions such as commissioning, payment and editorial interventions. Confronting the same issues, two volumes of Pater’s journalism including reviews should appear in 2023 as part of his Collected Works. How did those contributions travel from mostly anonymous periodical publication to consecration within the dark blue covers of an OUP volume? What were the different editorial decisions embodied in some remarkable editions of the early twentieth century? Answering those questions by exploring the publication history of Pater’s and Wilde’s reviews contributes to reflecting upon processes of author recognition and canonization. Retracing the print vicissitudes of their reviews nuances the history of literary criticism by reinstating periodical contributions as one of its core ingredients: reviews function as ‘nodes that participate in a vast synchronic matrix of networks attaching to each title reviewed, each publisher, each contributor, each author, and each periodical or newspaper.’ (Brake 2021 88)

2. Pater and Wilde as Victorian journalists

6Both Oxford graduates (respectively in 1862 and 1878), Pater and Wilde contributed to periodicals from the 1860s (Pater) to the early 1890s, both being freelance journalists during a great part of their publishing careers (Small and Guy 2000). Quantitatively, Wilde’s output (Mason lists some 300 periodical contributions) greatly exceeds Pater’s mere 21 acknowledged literary reviews. The number of periodicals in which they published reviews is revealing: Pater contributed to a comparatively smaller number of periodicals—The Westminster Review, The Fortnightly Review, The Nineteenth Century Review, Macmillan’s Magazine, The Academy, The Athenaeum, The Guardian, The Pall Mall Gazette, The Bookman, The Daily Chronicle—than Wilde who published in no less than 57 different venues, with a huge part (85 reviews) in the penny paper The Pall Mall Gazette. Their reviews appeared in monthlies, weeklies, and dailies, Pater being the only one to contribute to the quarterly Westminster Review.

7As a budding scholar, Pater began his publishing career as early as 1866 with reviews of different genres: essays by S. T. Coleridge (Pater 1866, 106-32); a biography of Winckelmann and Lodge’s translation of The History of Ancient Art among the Greeks (Pater 1867, 80-110), soon to be followed by a review of three volumes of poetry by William Morris (Pater 1868, 300-12). Running to some 30 octavo pages, those reviews obey the format of the Westminster but appear as stand-alone pieces rather than in the Belles Lettres section where other publications were reviewed. Those initial reviews also correspond to the genre’s expectations as writings are presented, discussed and appreciated from an impressively erudite point of view in the case of Coleridge and Winckelmann, from a historical and literary one in the case of Morris. Yet, they display, as Laurel Brake notes, from the Winckelmann’s review onwards, a language replete with ‘dissident, disruptive and violent representations of affect, akin to those found in sensation narratives’, redirected here to the ‘male space of reviews’ (Brake 2017 62). Furthermore, ‘Winckelmann’ is especially important as it presents a literary portrait framed by speculative cultural history. Unsurprisingly, it became the first review Pater remediated with a slightly modified version in Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873) (Evangelista 2009, 23-54). ‘Poems by William Morris’ was remediated in two parts, the seven final paragraphs becoming the controversial ‘Conclusion’ to The Renaissance and the first part of the text appearing as ‘Aesthetic Poetry’ in the first edition of Appreciations (Pater 1889). ‘Coleridge’s Writings’ enjoyed a different treatment as Pater embedded parts of it, hybridizing literary portrait and literary criticism, in ‘Samuel Taylor Coleridge’, for T. H. Ward’s poetic anthology (Pater 1880, 102-14) and Appreciations (Pater 1931, 64-106). Those remediations both show the importance of reviews and Pater’s skill in building upon reviewing to consolidate his status as a cultural and literary critic.

8Possibly because these first reviews were unsigned, Pater switched to the liberal Fortnightly with its distinctive politics of signature. Under John Morley’s editorship, he temporarily relinquished reviewing and definitively adopted a hybridized form of cultural criticism and literary portrait, a genre C.A. Sainte-Beuve had recently established as a respectable entryway to periodical literary criticism. Signature contributed to Pater’s early recognition before the publication of The Renaissance sparked such a controversy that he was led to withdraw the ‘Conclusion’ from the 1877 edition. The more homoerotic ‘Winckelmann’ however, was left almost untouched, at the end of the volume.

9Pater’s attachment to Morley’s Fortnightly cannot obscure the fact that he also published reviews in other venues. In terms of political and religious affiliations, his contributions appeared in High Anglican (The Guardian), secular, mostly liberal organs: The Fortnightly Review, The Nineteenth Century where his 1889 review of W.S. Lilly’s A Century of Revolution has been described as a ‘model of his recommended critical method of “appreciation” as the style of review of “aesthetic criticism”.’ (Brake 2021 82) Some of those periodicals were generalist, some were cultural (The Athenaeum), high-brow weeklies (The Academy), and others were trade journals such as The Bookman. Macmillan’s Magazine belonged to Pater’s publishing house and was the first venue for his imaginary portraits between 1887 and 1889 as well as for ‘Feuillet’s “La Morte”’ (Pater 1886, 97-105), and ‘M. Lemaître’ ‘Serenus, and Other Tales’ (Pater 1887, 71-80). Professional ties also account for his collaboration with The Guardian under D.C. Lathbury’s editorship. The choice of James Knowles’ unsectarian The Nineteenth Century proves adequate when Pater discusses Fabre’s Toussaint Galabru (Pater 1889, 621-23), or Lilly’s unfavourable views on the French Revolution (Pater 1889, 992-94).

10As those examples show, Pater returned to reviewing in the 1880s, when he lived in London commuting to Oxford to teach. ‘His prodigious activity was partly fuelled by economic necessity’, Brake comments (Brake 2013, 493). In the 1890s, he contributed only 2 reviews, one on the volume edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray in the recently established Bookman (1891), and one on George Moore’s Modern Art in the Daily Chronicle (1893), asserting his interest in contemporary art and his ability to support acquaintances in unexpected venues, but also pigeonholing them respectively to a specialized periodical and to the ephemerality of the daily press. He let his name appear as a future contributor to the Yellow Book in April 1894. It is unknown if he would have approved of the controversial content of the magazine but to the last, Pater was a periodical contributor engaged in, adapting to, mastering, and somewhat subverting journalistic and literary genres. His final publications are sombre imaginary portraits (Pater 1893, 949-57) along with austere writings on Greek art and French religious architecture respectively appearing in Harper’s Magazine (1850-), The Contemporary Review (Pater 1894, 242-56) and The Nineteenth Century. (Pater 1894, 481-88; 963-70). By publishing fiction in a recently established American popular magazine concomitantly to essays in distinguished reviews, Pater was balancing his production between literary audacity and academic respectability. All in all, he appears to have exercised careful discrimination both in the choice of reviewed publications and in the periodicals his reviews appeared in. Whether he was commissioned or not, his literary reviews fit the format of the periodicals they appeared in while their content subtly subverts expectations, praising modern poetry (William Morris, Arthur Symons) or ironizing upon its less appealing versions (Andre Raffalovich, Edmund Gosse), going against the Arnoldian grain in the case of Wordsworth, or checking John Addington Symonds’s ebullience.

  • 1 Wilde first contributed to the magazine in November 1875.
  • 2 Wilde’s ‘Literary Notes’ appeared in 13 out of the 25 issues he edited.

11Like Pater, Wilde’s journalism appeared when the boundaries between the higher journalism of the quarterlies and monthlies and that of weekly literary papers were dissolving, as reviewing for the press became acceptable. Wilde was still in Oxford when he published his first review of the Grosvenor Gallery’s first exhibition in 1877 in the Dublin University Magazine,1 an activity he pursued as late as May 1890 (Mason 162). After leaving Oxford and clearing his father’s inheritance, Wilde found himself obliged to earn money: along with lectures and conference tours in North America and Britain, periodical contributions proved a welcome source of income, which may explain his substantial record as compared to Pater’s. As Guy and Small note, Wilde first’s regular employment was that of a reviewer for The Pall Mall Gazette (1884-1890) while also contributing poems and signed reviews of theatrical performances for the newly-established avant-garde Dramatic Review (1885-1886). In a time of market restructuring, Wilde first worked as ‘a reviewer, not a critic’, two ‘quite distinct roles’ (Guy and Small 2000, 43), Stokes and Turner insisting that ‘reviewing was an essential activity within a literary and journalistic milieu that Wilde, at a difficult stage in his career, had been anxious to join’ (Stokes and Turner 2013, xxix). As both scholars note—this also can be said to characterize Pater—Wilde was never a salaried journalist, but ‘a professional author who continually wrote articles and reviews on literature, drama and art.’ (Stokes and Turner, 2017 370) Both genres also proved an effective means for honing his journalistic skills and developing a professional network. Stylistically, his literary reviews follow a prevalent model: excursus, content analysis/summary, appreciation, assessment, or literary judgment accompanied by epigrams, humour, and wit. Often discussing several publications, his unsigned reviews for The Pall Mall Gazette are quite distinctive for their extensiveness and the opportunity they provide him to display ‘his impressive learning and intellectual engagements’. (Stokes and Turner 374) Wilde benefited from his activity for the radical evening paper under W. T. Stead’s editorship where, review after review, he learned how to provide ‘that quickly delivered message—the wry aperçu, the effortless dismissal, the insouciant paradox’ as New Journalism stylistics furnished him with ‘the space in which to sharpen his aphoristic points.’ (Stokes and Turner 382) Such activity paid off when he was offered the editorship of the shilling monthly Lady’s World in 1887. Renaming it The Woman’s World, Wilde contributed with irregular2 ‘Literary and Other Notes’ (later ‘Literary Notes’) signed ‘editor’, a literary review column using a conversational tone again peppered with gossip and epigrams, ‘of uneven literary criticism sometimes descriptive, occasionally sharply analytical (Stokes and Turner 2013, xxxvii), already considered as problematic for the magazine (Clayworth 1997, 93). In fact, Wilde developed his own version of personality journalism by mainly discussing women’s writings in a constructive manner and engaging in what M. Mendelsohn terms the ‘review-as-revision’ technique (Mendelsohn 2007, 108). After he relinquished his editorship in June (?) 1889, he continued to contribute reviews until he was in an intellectual position to concentrate on longer essays in criticism for The Fortnightly Review and The Nineteenth Century in the early 1890s. Still, he published two reviews in the liberal Speaker edited by Wemyss Reid (whom he knew from his editorship of the Woman’s World) as late as 1890 including one on Pater’s Appreciations (Wilde 1890, 319-20). His subsequent fame, both as a subversive critic and successful playwright was fuelled by his earlier networking activity as a reviewer of literature and drama.

12His three trials in 1895 changed both the course of Wilde’s existence and that of literature with the almost complete disappearance of every publication even remotely associated with his name in nearly all newspapers and periodicals (Bristow 2022). Yet, Wilde’s fate should not obscure the fact that his final press contributions were the two moving letters to the editor he sent of the Daily Chronicle respectively in May 1897 and March 1898 to expose prison conditions (Wilde 1897, 9) and advocate reform ([Wilde] 1898, 5). However, his unofficial censorship was to have serious consequences on his posthumous publications and on Pater’s own posthumous career.

3. Pater’s embarrassing reviews

13After Pater’s untimely death in July 1894 his literary executors, Charles Lancelot Shadwell and Edmund Gosse, along with Clara and Hester Pater were most cautious in managing his literary estate so that no hint of homoeroticism appeared. In the post-1895 context, his writings were treated as sensitive material. L. Brake and S. Evangelista (Evangelista 2013) have respectively retraced how the first posthumous collections of essays (Miscellaneous Studies, Greek Studies) were arranged before their insertion in the Collected Edition which first appeared in a privately printed edition in 1901 and in the New Library Edition of 1910. Reprinting his fiction and non-fiction, but not his reviews, that edition includes Pater’s own remediation of ‘Feuillet’s “La Morte”’ as a book chapter in the second edition of Appreciations to replace his inconclusive remediation of ‘Poems by William Morris’ (Daley 2017 471-489).

  • 3 Under Pater’s sisters’ permission, Gosse labels Pater’s reviews ‘articles’ (Gosse 1896, v). The 190 (...)

14Gosse found himself in charge of Pater’s 9 unsigned reviews published in the weekly Guardian between 1886 and 1890. L. Brake has discussed the various stages and frictions the volume triggered, including tensions between Gosse and poet and journalist Arthur Symons (Brake 2013). Privately published in 1896, Essays from ‘The Guardian’ was not integrated into the 1901 edition but came as an addendum with a subscription of its own before it became the final volume of Pater’s New Library Edition in 1910 once Frederick Macmillan overcame Clara and Hester Pater’s reluctance. The title erases review as a literary genre but the collection designed to ‘preserve’ those reviews, prints the dates of their first publication while Gosse’s brief ‘Note’ pays minimum regard to Pater’s consideration of literary reviewing.3 Admittedly, those reviews are mostly puffs (i.e. ‘blatant promotion’, Shattock 538), but they also testify to his interest in all literary genres, displaying a genuine meditation on the state and fate of current French and British literature still deserving discussion. Some were quite influential such as ‘Robert Elsmere’, one of the earliest reviews of Mrs Ward’s 1888 controversial novel, and one instance of The Guardian’s editor refusing to associate his name with the review (Brake 2013).

15However, the journalistic origin of those reviews remained a problem: ‘Symons, Shadwell and the sisters share a desire to protect Pater’s reputation as a writer of literature by suppressing the publication of his reviews and perhaps other journalism.’ (Brake 2013 489) Clara and Hester Pater further objected to Frederick Macmillan’s desire to republish Pater’s other reviews after he had been sent a list by a London bookseller.

  • 4 Mosher’s edition of The Child in the House in the Brocade series went into fourteen editions betwee (...)

16In his introduction to his 1897 fine printing edition of Essays from ‘The Guardian’ American publisher of ‘aesthetic’ literature, Thomas Mosher insists on the ‘interest’ of American readers and presents his edition as a counterpart of Gosse’s private edition which had turned these reviews into an ‘introuvable’ book (Mosher v). To distinguish what in fact is a ‘fac-simile’ of Macmillan’s edition including the title, Mosher provides a lithograph of Pater by Rothenstein ‘here given for the first time’ (Mosher vi) and more importantly reprints the list of all Pater’s known reviews Symons had published in The Athenaeum in 1897 in his argument with Gosse, thereby implicitly announcing his own edition of Uncollected Essays in 1903, which he justified by an unflinching demand for Pater’s texts in the US.4 Despite another misleading title, his collection was the first to offer readers the remainder of reviews still uncollected in the volumes published in the early 1900s under the supervision of Pater’s embarrassed editors.

17Mosher’s terminology displays a specific unease with Pater’s reviewing activity: his introduction to Uncollected Essays correctly refers to book reviews as ‘articles’ belonging to ‘the realm of higher literary journalism’ (Mosher 1903, v), by which he certainly means criticism. But conceding that they are less important than his ‘published works’ (i.e. literary portraits and fiction), he advises readers to approach them like a ‘collection of letters’ addressed ‘“to the inner circle of his friends”’ (Mosher 1903, v). This might be read as a polite manner of considering them as puffs but also as Mosher’s attempt to market a sense of intimacy between Pater and his new readers. Arguably, those 12 reviews testify to Pater’s adhesion to and expertise in the genre of the review: whether a collection of poems (Symons, Raffalovich), correspondence (Flaubert), monograph (Symonds), novels (Wilde, Lemaître), all titles reviewed were recent, eclectic publications spanning some three decades and all literary genres.

  • 5 A note from the editor mentions Symons’s 1897 review of Essays from the Guardian noting Pater’s rep (...)

18Far from being merely topical pieces and when replaced within Pater’s publications, these reviews both support and echo his literary or imaginary portraits. ‘Symonds’ Renaissance in Italy’ reads as a response and firm corrective to Symonds’s vision of the Renaissance and as a check to his lack of ‘reserve’ (Pater 1903, 11). ‘A Poet with Something to Say’ is a puff of Arthur Symons’s first volume but also an astute reflection on the status of poetry in contemporary times pitting the poet’s ‘faith in the eternal value of art’ against ‘the somewhat artificial modern preference for telling and having a story in all its harsh unrelieved effect’ (Pater 1903 84). André Raffalovich’s collection of poems It is Thyself is ironically dismissed. The now forgotten Jules Lemaître and Ferdinand Fabre but also the highly valued correspondence of Gustave Flaubert are insightfully discussed. Mosher’s inclusion of ‘A Novel by Mr Oscar Wilde’ and ‘Mr George Moore as an Art Critic’ is a tribute to Pater’s adroit defence of controversial writings and an addition to the budding acceptance of the two Irishmen in the 1900s. ‘Wordsworth’ is perhaps the most problematic text as it reviews recent editions of the poet’s works within a reprint of a large part of his essay-portrait of 1874 ‘William Wordsworth’ in the Fortnightly,5 unexpectedly building upon a portrait for review purposes, or rather re-shuffling his writings (Shutter 2008). The desire for Pater’s writings he ascribes to American readers may have led Mosher to include Pater’s ‘Introduction’ to Shadwell’s translation of Dante’s Purgatorio (1892), which is neither a review nor an essay, but Pater’s only extant meditation on Dante’s poetry and on his position in fin de siècle Britain, also deploying his still largely undiscussed conception of translation of poetry.

19Despite its heterogeneity, Mosher’s edition brought to light contributions that had been for the most part anonymous, preserving them from the oblivion that his British literary executors had consigned them to. But as Brake concludes: ‘Gosse’s, Shadwell’s Miscellaneous Studies and Mosher’s Uncollected Essays—is the chaotic result of individual enterprise and access to Pater’s textual legacy without any other rationale.’ (Brake 2013, 488) Gosse’s and Mosher’s editions display their respective uneasiness with Pater’s reviewing which they consider as steeped in topicality and inferior to prose fiction, Mosher being admittedly more inclined to classify it as serious criticism.

20A few years later Pater’s place as a daring critic appeared to be secure when avant-garde and newly established publishers Boni and Liveright published Sketches and Reviews in their Penguin Series (1919). Established in 1917 in New York City, the publishing house is noted for its catalogue of modernist US and British writers and its fight against censorship laws in the 1920s. Again, the title reflects the editors’ interrogations about Pater’s journalism. If ‘review’ is accurate, ‘sketches’ refers to portraiture implying a reading of those pieces as diminutive productions compared to Pater’s full-length portraits. Admittedly the term resonates with Pater’s own remediation which had turned ‘Winckelmann’ and ‘Coleridge’s Writings’ into sketches of fuller literary portraits.

21In his introduction, avant-garde critic Albert Mordell (1885-1865), then known as the editor of Dante (1915), provided context for the (re)publication of ‘nearly all the known fugitive writings of Walter Pater, since the posthumously published “Essays from the Guardian”’ (Mordell v). How he found himself editing Pater’s reviews remains unclear, but he proved a keen reader. To earlier editors’ depreciation of Pater’s reviews, Mordell substitutes praise for his achievements as a literary reviewer while his edition attempts to strike a balance between short and longer reviews by reprinting both. Praising ‘so distinguished and scrupulous a reviewer’, Mordell is the first to note that ‘Pater polished his book reviews with the same elaborate care that he did his other essays’ (Mordell v), therefore reinstating reviews at the core of Pater’s journalism. He furthermore reinforces such recognition with a series of anecdotes: Moore complained that Shadwell’s list of Pater’s publications did not include the review of his 1893 Modern Painting (Mordell vi), Wilde was said to have been happy with Pater’s signed review of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Symons had admittedly gained recognition thanks to Pater’s review. Pater himself had displayed acumen in reviewing Flaubert’s correspondence, testifying to his ‘own indebtedness to the supreme French stylist.’ (Mordell vi)

22The unity of these 9 articles is however hard to pinpoint and Mordell’s editorial principles appear devoid of rationale: Sketches and Reviews reprints ‘Aesthetic Poetry’ (1889); the newly-titled ‘Coleridge as a Theologian’ prints parts of the 1866 review that Pater had discarded in his portrait of Coleridge for Ward’s English Poets (1880) and Appreciations, somehow presenting the newly-created text as Pater’s original. Reprinting reviews of the 1880s and 1890s which had already appeared in Mosher’s Uncollected Essays, the collection omits Symonds’s ‘Renaissance in Italy’ and ‘Fabre’s Toussaint Galabru’, foregrounding authors—Wordsworth, Wilde, Moore, Symons, Lemaître, Flaubert—a daring American publisher deemed worthy of promotion by publishing the reviews of an influential critic of the previous century. It comes therefore as a surprise that all references to the journalistic origin of these reviews should be erased, transforming them into decontextualized pieces severed from their original context, functioning as an addendum to Pater’s serious literary criticism itself denied its periodical origin.

23Mordell’s selection functions as a gauge for the canonisation of nineteenth-century authors, testifying to the importance of the review even when awkwardly remediated. Along with Mosher’s and Gosse’s editions, his collection preserves those reviews from ‘oblivion’ as was noted in a 1919 review ([Unsigned], 1919). A later collection merged Mosher’s Uncollected Essays and Boni and Liveright’s Sketches and Reviews (Pater 1990) offering all of Pater’s known reviews except for those in The Guardian already included in the Library Edition, again preserving them but as mere testimonies of bygone reviewing. Twentieth-century scholars mostly remained reluctant to discuss them, possibly because the early editors turned those ‘reviews’ into a lesser genre undeserving any attentive book remediation, or scholarly discussion (Conlon’s 1982 monograph is an exception) in hard-to-find editions. As Brake argues, whether reprinted in Miscellaneous Studies, Greek Studies or Essays from The Guardian, essays (an inappropriate term in Pater’s case) and reviews are ‘similarly originally journalism’ (Brake 2013 493). Their inclusion in the Collected Edition of Pater’s works, in forthcoming volumes explicitly titled ‘journalism’, should restore Pater’s reviewing as one of his journalistic activities.

4. Oscar Wilde’s committed friends

24Wilde presents a radically different picture since what was uncollected in his lifetime was soon published in a monumental edition thanks to an efficient network of committed collectors and editors. Wilde remediated nothing of his periodical contributions except in Intentions (1891), which includes substantial essays in criticism previously published in distinguished monthlies such as The Fortnightly, The Nineteenth Century, and Blackwood’s. That they were timely contributions to the literary and aesthetic fin de siècle debates was proved by their quick volume publication by Osgood & McIlvaine and testifies to Wilde’s own remediation capacities.

  • 6 The Picture of Dorian Gray was published under Charles Carrington’s imprint.
  • 7 ‘Wilde’s literary reputation has survived so much that I think it proof against any exhumation of a (...)

25Considering the near-complete disappearance of Wilde’s name or writings from print culture after 1895, it took the unflinching labour of three individuals—literary executor Robert Ross, bibliographer Stuart Mason (Christopher Sclater Millard), and ‘discreet’ collector Walter Ledger—to achieve the first edition of his Collected Works under the Methuen imprint6 as early as 1908. In their edition recently investigated by K. Ahmadgoli and I. Small (2008), volumes 13 (Reviews) and 14 (Miscellanies) are relevant as both include reviews. Reviews prints some 98 reviews along with an index of authors and titles of books reviewed. Miscellanies prints some 20 press contributions erroneously labelled ‘Essays and Criticism’, most of which are performance or exhibition reviews. Ross works along simple editorial principles: every review identified as ‘genuine’ appears although he mentions ‘many anonymous reviews which [he has] failed to identify’ as they were ‘buried in the contemporary press’ (Ross 1908 b, xiv), the remainder of which apparently would not have received Wilde’s approval. His defence of the publication of those apparently insignificant reviews hinges on two arguments: Wilde’s reputation in the early 1900s is sufficiently good to bear publication,7 and they are of ‘unusual interest’: ‘curiously prophetic’, ‘biassed by prejudice hostile or friendly’ or ‘conceived in the author’s wittiest and happiest vein; only a few are colourless.’ (Ross 1908 a, ix) For all the diversity of opinions exhibited, Wilde’s reviewing testifies to his insertion into the journalistic world. Sketching his career in terms of rejection from the literary community (Pater included), Ross correctly positions the reviews as belonging to ‘the middle period of Wilde’s meteoric career, between the aesthetic period and the production of Lady Windermere’s Fan and points out their interest and relevance for ‘the wiser critical judgments of to-day.’ (Ross 1908 a, xiii) Wilde may have been opinionated, but his literary judgement has stood the test of time.

26As a concluding volume ‘fragmentary and desultory’ designed to present ‘points of view’ (Ross 1908 b, xi), Miscellanies displays the variety of Wilde’s interests, with Ross insisting that some of those ‘writings’ (Ross 1908 b, xvi) are even better than some of his finished works. This time, the publication is justified by ‘the number of anonymous works wrongly attributed to [Wilde], chiefly in America, and spurious works published in his name’, which have led him ‘to violate the laws of friendship by rejecting nothing [he] knew to be authentic.’ (Ross 1908 b, xiv) Miscellanies is firstly meant to deter fraudsters, testifying to the growing Wilde manuscripts industry in the early 1900s. Secondly, it is meant as an acknowledgement of Wilde’s literary worth: for instance, his letters to Whistler are reprinted to fend off accusations of plagiarism (Ross 1908 b, xv). Along with Reviews, the volume presents valuable writings and reinstates Wilde’s reputation in the face of impending oblivion or fraud thereby asserting his rightful place in literary history. By republishing and remediating Wilde’s periodical contributions, those volumes turn periodical writing into a necessary corpus for assessing literary value.

  • 8 ‘Mr. Mason has pedantically observed all the principles of the Berne and Berlin Conventions and tho (...)

27The introduction to both Reviews and Miscellanies credits ‘Mr. Stuart Mason […] [who] has supplied a list which contains every genuine and authorised English edition’ (Ross 1908 b, xiv), an acknowledgement heralding Mason’s Bibliography of Oscar Wilde. Published in 1914, after his Bibliography of the Poems of Oscar Wilde(Mason 1907), the book is the result of Mason and Ledger’s collaboration, and that ‘astonishing and ingenious compilation’ (Ross) by an ethical editor8 is still standard work in Wilde’s studies. Among other achievements, it traces a substantial number of unsigned reviews and establishes Wilde’s authorship, once again to dispel opprobrium and legitimate Wilde’s literary works, which Ross insists in the preface ‘were never mentioned except once the day after his death, and then more in pity than in admiration.’ (Ross 1914, viii)

28The first part of the Bibliography lists ‘periodical publications, etc’ in alphabetical order (of the periodicals’ titles), indicates Wilde’s signed and unsigned texts in some 57 titles, and correctly lists letters to the editor as periodical publications, therefore functioning as a body of textual annotations to Reviews and Miscellanies, even listing pieces of journalism not included in Ross’ 1908 edition. The list highlights the great variety of dailies, weeklies, and monthlies, in the UK, the US, and France that Wilde contributed to, as well as their religious diversity. It also shows a more versatile Wilde writing for the recognized organs of higher journalism as well as for alternative, daring titles (The Century Guild Hobby Horse, The Spirit Lamp, The Chameleon) or the avant-garde The Dramatic Review without neglecting his 47 contributions to The Pall Mall Gazette most of which reprinted in The Pall Mall Budget. Mason’s Bibliography is a materially impressive reminder of Wilde’s extensive journalistic activity.

29For almost every title, Mason presents the periodical and reprints the masthead, frontispiece, title page, or wrapper. Each publication is sourced and annotated; illustrations, if any, are mentioned, as are reprints. Some contributions are reprinted along with some illustrations; relevant letters Wilde exchanged with his editors or publishers are quoted as are comments from critics such as Comyns Carr’s derogatory words (Mason 1914, 69) to illustrate the early reception of each item. For instance, Mason describes the contents and layout of ‘The Case of Warder Martin. Some Cruelties of Prison Life’ which appeared in The Daily Chronicle on May 28 1897, provides information about the whereabouts of Wilde when his letter to the editor was published. The text is cited along with the mention of its reprint in De Profundis in 1908 as well as in a pamphlet (Children in Prison and Other Cruelties of Prison), the material description and price of which are given. Another instance of Mason’s meticulosity is his explanation of Wilde’s refusal to contribute to The World (Mason 234) because of a snippet published in the weekly, testifying to his engagement with the profession, and within it, with Edward Yates’s conception of personal journalism.

  • 9 Mason’s own marked copy of Bibliography at the Clark Library displays his further work on Wilde’s w (...)

30Excavating the vanished world of late-Victorian journalism, Mason’s Bibliography showcases Wilde’s extensive reviewing activity. More than being a ‘restorative bibliography’ (Mackie 2019, 34), it is an archive meant to pave the way for further studies, substantiating claims that Wilde was a genuine man of letters, editor, reviewer, letter-writer, and professional journalist.9 As opposed to Pater’s timid and embarrassed editors, Mason belongs to a committed network determined to legitimate all of Wilde’s writings as valuable literature. His Bibliography is also the product of a sexually dissident community, ‘a tightly knit group of gay men’ engaged in establishing Wilde’s credentials as a man of letters rather than an outcast, collaborating ‘to rehabilitate Wilde by consolidating his textual corpus (Mackie 28).

31Collected Writings certainly enabled Methuen to later issue selections of Wilde’s reviews. E. V. Lucas, Methuen’s editor, published the aptly titled A Critic in Pall Mall, Being Extracts from Reviews and Miscellanies in 1919, a collection devoid of prefatory matter but printing journalistic sources and offering a selection of what Lucas felt were Wilde’s best contributions and supplemented by a digest of some of his reviews titled ‘Sententiae’. Wilde further benefited from Methuen’s edition published in the US by Double Day Page and Company (1925). The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Criticisms and Reviews was introduced by Irish playwright and poet Padraic Colum (1881-1972) energetically defending Wilde’s criticisms as the ‘flashing of sabres’ (Wilde 1925, xi).

32As opposed to Pater’s cautious editors who separated the grain from the chaff by omitting or relabelling reviews, Wilde benefitted from a trio of punctilious editors striving to install his presence and legitimacy within all sectors of British letters, ‘[l]aying […] the scholarly and archival foundations for Wilde studies, aim[ing] to establish a definitive canon cleansed of dubious texts that they felt misrepresented Wilde’s authorial persona’ (Mackie 28), providing generations of scholars with material that has been used for the scholarly edition of his complete journalism.


33After 1873 Pater carefully avoided controversy whereas Wilde experienced scandal, imprisonment, and ostracism. However, both enjoyed a similar reception in the 20th century with Pater eliciting limited interest from academics and Wilde triggering even less interest until the repeal of the 1885 Criminal Act which decriminalised homosexuality in 1967 and made his name acceptable in literary studies (Bristow 2010, 47). The reception and remediation of their reviews present a more nuanced situation: Pater’s posthumous collections tend to mask the undignified status of literary reviews, whereas their patient collection makes a substantial part of Wilde’s Bibliography after Ross vindicated their worth with Reviews and Miscellanies.

34Macmillan’s final but incomplete Pater’s Library Edition in 1931 has long remained standard. By contrast, American publishers proved more daring by saving Pater’s reviews from oblivion, admittedly aestheticizing them into collectors’ volumes, insisting albeit awkwardly on their character as literary criticism. By contrast, in the early 1900s, Wilde’s writings were the object of ambiguous interest, pirating and manuscript fraud (Mackie 2019), testifying to the unstable position of the Irishman in literary communities in Britain. As a counterattack, Ledger, Millard, and Ross collaborated to create a workable archive of all of Wilde’s publications designed to contribute to his literary status and accordingly deployed in stand-alone volumes. From the 1970s onwards, Wilde’s slowly gained academic canonicity, itself the result of the decriminalization of homosexuality, materialized in the ongoing edition of his Complete Works by OUP. Pater presents a slightly different case: recent generations of committed scholars determined to explore untapped archival material and revalue the totality of his writings including his reviews are more explicitly sustained by the development, legitimacy and autonomy of periodical studies, as the forthcoming Collected Works volumes bear witness.

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1 Wilde first contributed to the magazine in November 1875.

2 Wilde’s ‘Literary Notes’ appeared in 13 out of the 25 issues he edited.

3 Under Pater’s sisters’ permission, Gosse labels Pater’s reviews ‘articles’ (Gosse 1896, v). The 1901 edition bears a ‘Note’: ‘The nine papers contained in the following volume appeared anonymously in The Guardian newspaper.’ (Gosse 1901, np).

4 Mosher’s edition of The Child in the House in the Brocade series went into fourteen editions between 1895 and 1908 and Mosher published more editions of Pater’s writings. See

5 A note from the editor mentions Symons’s 1897 review of Essays from the Guardian noting Pater’s reprint both in the Guardian and in The Athenaeum and justifying it by Pater’s insistence on his vision of Wordsworth.

6 The Picture of Dorian Gray was published under Charles Carrington’s imprint.

7 ‘Wilde’s literary reputation has survived so much that I think it proof against any exhumation of articles which he or his admirers would have preferred to forget.’ (Ross 1908 a, ix)

8 ‘Mr. Mason has pedantically observed all the principles of the Berne and Berlin Conventions and those other conventions which have no other authority than courtesy.’ (Ross 1914, v)

9 Mason’s own marked copy of Bibliography at the Clark Library displays his further work on Wilde’s writings.

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Bénédicte COSTE, « Those Forgotten Reviews: Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde as Reviewers »E-rea [En ligne], 20.2 | 2023, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2023, consulté le 01 octobre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Bénédicte COSTE

Université de Bourgogne
Bénédicte Coste is Professor of Victorian Studies at the University of Burgundy (France). Her work has centred on British Aestheticism and more especially on Walter Pater, Aestheticism’s most gifted theoretician. She has translated most of his non-fiction writings into French.

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