Filson Young

Filson Young: The first media man (1876-1938), by Silvester Mazzarella

Table of contents

9.”The Outlook”



The Outlook had been founded in 1898 expressly to promote the type of Empire unity of which Joseph Chamberlain [was he Colonial Sec in 1903?] became the chief exponent. By accepting the editorship of this weekly, Filson committed himself to active support for Chamberlain’s Tariff Reform programme, which aimed to strengthen ties with the Empire for the benefit of both Britain and the colonies by special protection of mutual trade, and was thus the opposite of the ‘Free Trade’ which was a cornerstone of the Gladstonian Liberalism of C.P.Scott and Lathbury. If, as claimed by David Ayerst, Filson was at this stage ‘a splendid descriptive writer, an Imperialist, but not a Tariff Reformer’(102), he was obviously not in all respects the ideal man for the job.


He came from a traditionally Liberal family whose hero had been Gladstone. He had worked for C.P.Scott, an opponent of Joseph Chamberlain’s popular imperial designs in South Africa, and for D.C.Lathbury, another opponent of Chamberlain who had supported Gladstone over Home Rule for Ireland. He had then worked for Harmsworth on the Daily Mail. This was clearly not a political appointment, but the Mail was basically Unionist, if tending to vacillate; that is to say, it supported the right-wing policy of ruling Ireland directly from Westminster. Filson had been attacked in various quarters for some of the views he had expressed in Ireland at the Cross Roads, and for the second edition (January 1904) he felt the need to write a new preface to defend himself on religious, political, moral and literary grounds. He denied that the book was a Protestant attack on Roman Catholicism, insisting that any religion that wielded the power Catholicism did in Ireland would be equally pernicious, and he explained that the reason he rejected the Gladstonian ideal of Home Rule for Ireland was because it was too much an Englishman’s idea of what would be good for Ireland, whereas the only meaningful way forward was to free Ireland to develop on its own terms under the ægis of a benevolent and permissive

British government. In the moral sphere, he denied he was advocating sexual permissiveness as a means of reducing lunacy, and from a literary point of view, he rejected the charge that he had indulged in over-fine writing. In fact, he was now well on the way from Gladstonian Liberalism via Chamberlain’s right-wing Liberal Unionism to the Conservatism he would firmly profess as editor of the Saturday Review in the 1920s.


No sooner had Filson embarked on his editorship than, in January 1904, a group of Chamberlain’s younger supporters, including Leo Amery (who in South Africa had offered Filson a job with the Times), J.L.Garvin (future editor of the Observer) and the novelist John Buchan, formed a club called ‘The Compatriots’ to promote wider patriotism within the Empire. Garvin was already making his mark as a journalist committed enthusiastically to Tariff Reform, and the Compatriots felt (Chamberlain agreed) that he would have more power if he could be his own editor. Soon after this the Compatriots managed to buy the Outlook through Sydney Goldmann (later Goldman), one of their number who had made money from gold mining in the Transvaal. (103)


Filson had meanwhile stamped his personality on the paper, sharpening its focus by reducing the number and increasing the quality of its contributors. On the model of the famous Saturday Review of the 1860s, he emphasized the arts while keeping up a high standard of criticism expressed in straightforward language. In early October 1904 Amery introduced Goldmann to Garvin, and it was agreed that Garvin should contribute a weekly political article to the Outlook till the end of the year as a first step towards taking over as editor.


To Filson, Garvin was simply a contributor always tiresomely late with his copy. He liked him, but decided at the beginning of January 1905 that he must put his foot down:


It is now a quarter to four, and nothing has arrived from you. You will admit that every time on which you have promised to send anything in by a certain time, it has not come; and that it is impossible to work in this way, if your postal arrangements are such as make it impossible for me to rely on your statements.


I am sure it is quite unintentional on your part to create these difficulties; but it is absolutely necessary that the paper should not be late on Friday, as it has been on every occasion hitherto when you have been writing for it. Unless you can absolutely guarantee that you will keep faith with me I must arrange to have another set of leaders written in case yours do not turn up on time – and that would be absurd … please help me by recognising these simple facts. (104)


By the Friday mentioned in this letter (which was written on a Wednesday), Filson was astonished to learn from Goldmann that Garvin would be replacing him as editor with immediate effect, though it is not clear whether Filson was sacked or walked out of his own accord.


… as Garvin walked in, the whole editorial staff walked out in symathy with the displaced editor, Filson Young. Somehow a complete paper had to be produced between a Monday and Thursday in January 1905. While Mrs Garvin firmly locked up her husband to write the main articles expounding his political creed, three or four of us got together and dashed off articles and reviews on whatever subjects came easiest to hand – a hectic but amusing adventure. (105)


 Garvin was embarrassed. Filson’s good opinion of him survived the upheaval, but his feelings towards Goldmann were less charitable. However, Garvin didn’t share Filson’s pride in the arts section, commenting:


The thing is horribly turned out – spotty headings on blotting paper and all the literary part full of dandy phrases and all the cheap coxcombery of the self-conscious epithet. We must make the literary tone and the middles heaps better when there’s time. (106)


The outside world was mystified by these events. At the beginning of December the Express had told its readers about advertised plans for improving the Outlook, describing Filson as a very able journalist who had already stamped his personality on the paper. Then on January 9 it reported:


Many London journals seem to be living on volcanoes; and the latest outburst has occurred beneath the editorial chair of the Outlook.


Apart from all this, Filson was extremely active in 1904 researching and compiling the comprehensive manual he had needed but which hadn’t existed when he bought his first car. In 1900 he had laughed at Kipling’s enthusiasm for ‘motoring’, as driving cars was invariably called in its early days. But two years later he had bought a steam car and quickly become a convert to what had become a fashionable craze. In 1903 he was working for the Daily Mail whose proprietor, Alfred Harmsworth, had written a book on motoring the year before with contributions from the well-known racing drivers S.F.Edge and Charles Jarrott. Filson had met these two men when the Daily Mail sent him to Ireland to cover the Gordon Bennett Trophy race in the summer of 1903. He drove his beloved steam car for thousands of miles before changed it for a motor car (and he believed steam cars would one day come into their own again). Now, busy though he was first with the Mail and then the Outlook, he set out to produce a sort of Mrs Beeton of motoring by himself. And with the publication of The Complete Motorist in September 1904 he became regarded almost overnight as one of the foremost authorities in Britain on anything to do with cars, an achievement which must have slightly softened the blow of his brutal dismissal from the Outlook. The 338 closely-packed pages of The Complete Motorist contained everything from the story of the evolution of the motor car to how the engine works, from a consumer’s guide on existing types of car and how to buy, run and look after them, and information on the available magazines about cars and on the financial side of motoring. Lest this mass of information prove too dry, the book was rounded off with personal motoring reminiscences and a collection of letters from such various motorists of his acquaintance as Kipling, Charles Jarrott, Sir Horace Plunkett, St Loe Strachey (editor of the Spectator and deadly enemy of the ‘Compatriots’) and even the Secretary to the War Office Mechanical Transport Committee, while one Lady Jeune gave a woman’s view of the ‘social side’ of motoring. The book rapidly became something of a motorists’ Bible; it ran into five editions in little more than a year and was regularly revised and reprinted up to 1907, with a final update in 1915, by which time cars and motoring had come a very long way since the beginning of the century. During this period Filson was in considerable demand in the press as a freelance writer on motoring matters. (107)





102 Ayerst, Garvin of the Observer (1985), 56


103 Like Filson, Goldmann had been a correspondent on the western front in the Boer War. He had complained in the Outlook of 16 Jan 1904 that the Transvaal gold-mining industry was being ‘stifled and crippled by a lamentable shortage of coloured unskilled labouur’.


104 FY to J.L.Garvin, 4 Jan 1905.


105 L.S.Amery My Political Life, Vol.I (1953), 267.


106 J.L.Garvin to L.S.Amery, 8 Jan 1905


107 The blurb to the unauthorized 1973 reprint (by EP Ltd) of the first edition of The Complete Motorist comments: ‘The author was astute enough to appreciate that the motorcar would change the way of life of a whole society and was not destined to remain for long as a mere toy in the hands of the rich. This insight provides a theme to this book which was intended to help contribute to the production of the truly complete motorist. Its lessons are still valuable today, both to those interested in the Veteran car and to those drivers who wish to discover how the automobile acquired its present importance and prestige.’

[notes 102-107]

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