Filson Young

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

Table of contents

15. A publisher’s problems

The move from Cornwall to her husband and Roland Gardens did little to alleviate Elisina’s frustration and boredom, though there were brighter moments, such as the day  she met a young American called Royall Tyler whom Richards had invited to the house. Tyler had offered Richards the manuscript of a book he had written about art in Spain, and Richards had decided to publish it. Meanwhile, in a desperate attempt to find something worthwhile for Elisina to do, he planned with her a new feminist monthly journal to be called The Englishwoman. The first number came out in February 1909. Richards ws publisher and Elisina editor, assisted by a high-powered editorial board that included Lady Frances Balfour, Cicely Hamilton and Lady J.M.Strachey (mother of Lytton Strachey). The Englishwoman supported no particular political party, and its stated purpose was to put the case in ‘convincing and moderate form’ to the ‘cultured public’ for giving women the vote. It was launched with a big splash, and its early numbers contained contributions from, among others, John Masefield, John Galsworthy, Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Philip Snowden, John Davidson, Max Beerbohm and Millicent Garrett Fawcett. There were also early contributions from Royall Tyler and both Filson and Tom Young. Tyler wrote about paintings, Filson about producing Wagner operas, and Tom, a staunch Liberal, about women and political parties. Elisina herself wrote regular book reviews. After the first numbers most ofthe big names dropped out, but the journal kept going.
 The Englishwoman had only been going for six months when Elisina announced in August 1909 that she had come to the conclusion that she was ‘unnecessary’ to her husband and four children (then aged between nine and three) and that it would be better for her to live alone. She left home in the same month and for some time her husband had no idea where she had gone (1). She remained editor in absentia of the journal, and the August number carried reviews by Elisina of two new books: Cicely Hamilton’s Marriage as a Trade and Royall Tyler’s, Spain: a Study of her Life and Arts. Elisina, who must have known Cicely Hamilton who was a member of the editorial committee of the Englishwoman (2), welcomed Marriage as a Trade as ‘an eloquent, impassioned plea for the mere recognition of an accomplished fact – the existence of woman as an individual, and not as a being complementary to man’. The main trouble was the law:

Our laws concerning women are undoubtedly those which represent with least fidelity the customs and opinions of our day. The spirit of them is broken by daily practice. The spirit of the law with regard to women is to consider them as complementary to man – the man is the head of the family. Our laws do not take into consideration women as social units. This arbitrary condition cannot endure much longer, for public opinion, based on a common-sense recognition of facts, is against it. But it is strange how long the husk will hold together before it finally decays and breaks. (3)

This was written by a woman who knew that if she left her husband, the law would take her children from her. She praised Tyler’s book on Spain as an ideal guide book, sensibly unromantic since Tyler knew his subject well enough to have discarded conventional ideas about it.
 Filson was away in the west of Ireland throughout August, and when he did write to Richards it was only to demand rather aggressively some of the money owing to him. Nor did he have anything to do with the subsequent history of the Richards marriage. In October Grant met Elisina in Paris and persuaded her to return to him and the children, but on November 26 she suddenly left again and joined Royall Tyler. Richards tried to persuade them not to leave England, but postcards that arrived for the children made it clear that they were abroad. Elisina continued to edit the Englishwoman from a distance until February 1910, when the journal carried a special announcement:

We regret to announce that Mrs Grant Richards, who has devoted so much time and thought to the Magazine during the past year, has been obliged to resign the honorary editorship owing to ill-health.

At the same time, and without comment, Sidgwick and Jackson took over publication from Grant Richards. Elisina continued to send in reviews, mainly of French and Italian books. On 17 October she gave birth to a son in Paris. Three months earlier Richards had gone to see her in a last unsuccessful attempt to get her to come back for the sake of her other children. He was very unwilling to divorce her, and did not do so till 1914 when at the divorce proceedings Eric Maclagan gave formal evidence that he had met Elisina and Tyler in 1912 in Venice, where they were staying in the same hotel as himself as ‘Mr and Mrs Tyler’.(4) In about April 1910 Filson’s lease on 36 Roland Gardens expired and Richards and the children left the house, which had now seen the break-up of two marriages in five years.

Meanwhile, Richards was having trouble of a different sort with his most prolific author. This trouble had two aspects. First, both men were constantly short of ready cash, which caused tension between Richards who could not pay royalties promptly and Filson who could not wait for his money. Secondly, Richards found it hard to accept that Filson seemed no longer able to produce books of the quality and saleability of those that had done so much to help him find his feet again during his bankruptcy. Month followed month and year followed year, but something was wrong and Filson, still not much over thirty,  seemed no longer capable of getting down to sustained serious writing. His forced labour on Columbus in 1906 had apparently damaged him to a greater extent than either of them realised.

Richards first fell behind with royalty payments in July 1909. At the end of June that year he owed Filson £181 13s 3d [insert modern equivalent], a sum which increased steadily as Filson’s old books continued to sell. Small sums of money changed hands almost weekly. For example, at the beginning of November 1910 Filson announced he was coming to take Richards out to lunch, adding:

I didn’t want to see you for the purpose of extracting money from you, but I am afraid my recurring need of some coincides rather unpleasantly with our meetings. I have been living on my ‘Arabian Nights’ for the last ten days, but they have been exhausted, and I must apply to you again. If you can let me have £10 on Thursday I shall be much relieved. (5)

Richards replied that he would hand over some money when they met, with the balance of the £10 at the end of the week:

Don’t think that I feel your needs coincide with our meetings. I should rather expect them to coincide with the arrival of every new day. You are being too patient. (6)

To give Filson a chance to rest after the exertion of When the Tide Turns, Richards suggested a volume of essays that had already appeared in the press but might interest a wider audience, as the music essays in Mastersingers had done. This was not difficult. Filson chose from his early Manchester Guardian days the series of pieces he had written about Manchester’s Belle Vue Zoo in 1899, adding articles about his South African War experiences from the Pilot, about prisons from the Daily Mail, about life at Ruan from the Outlook, about Monte Carlo from the Tribune, and a few more. He called the book Memory Harbour and had it ready for Richards’ 1909 spring List. Some of this material was certainly worth saving from oblivion, but Memory Harbour never sold well; then as now, it is hard to interest the reading public in general collections of essays, however excellent. Once it had reached the bookshops, Richards came up with a new idea, well aware that it was six months since Filson had done any original writing for the firm. Filson had been admired for his writing on the sea in his two novels, Columbus, and elsewhere, and the marine artist Norman Wilkinson was busy preparing 32 coloured pictures and more in black and white on sea themes: would Filson write between 40,000 and 60,000 words about the sea to go with them? The book could be published in October. (7)

The sea was a subject that had a special appeal at the beginning of the twentieth century. Other writers of the day – Conrad, Kipling, Masefield – had written books with sea themes, and in 1907 Richards had published a wide-ranging prose anthology, The Call of the Sea (edited by F.G.Aflalo) which included extracts (translated into English where necessary) from classical authors such as Æschylus and Lucretius, through tales of voyagers famous and obscure collected by the Hakluyt Society, to more recent English, French and Italian literature; there was even advice from Leonardo da Vinci on how to paint the sea, and Filson was represented by excerpts from Columbus, The Sands of Pleasure and Ireland at the Cross Roads. British composers were also turning to the subject as never before: Stanford’s Sea Songs, ?Parry’s Toward the Unknown Region, Elgar’s Sea Pictures, Delius’ Sea Drift, Ireland’s The Sea, Frank Bridge’s The Sea, Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony.(8) Even Debussy’s La Mer was completed in England: at Eastbourne in 1905. For the Edwardians, voyages across the sea symbolized a spirit of adventure at the start of a new century; Filson had struck this note strongly in Columbus (and would present the other side of the same coin a few years later in Titanic). For the proposed new book, Richards commissioned Wilkinson to do the pictures without first making sure that Filson would write the text. As it happened, Filson would not be coerced. Not even his recent first Atlantic crossing (to do business for Richards in New York) could inspire him. He told Richards: (9)

I hate to seem difficult about the sea-book; but if it is a case of promising, I can’t promise it or anything. I haven’t got a word of that kind of thing in me, or of anything. If you want it by a definite date you must pass me by. I want to get my brain well again, and to try and torture it into creative work is at the moment hopeless. Please try to understand, and not to misunderstand. (10)

Richards persisted, and finally in July Filson agreed to look at Wilkinson’s pictures. Unfortunately for Richards he found them weak and amateurish, a tourist’s conception of the sea; he had no intention of having his work associated with such stuff. All he could do for Richards was take on himself the unpleasant task of writing to tell Wilkinson why he would not do the book.

So Filson had nothing ready for Richards’ 1909 autumn List. What Richards really wanted from him was another novel, but for the moment at least that was impossible. They discussed less ambitious schemes such as ‘stories from Greece’ or a retelling of the King Arthur legends – this last idea from Richards shocked Filson, who was not so arrogant as to believe he could improve on Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. Nothing came of the Greek stories, or a book of beasts which was another of Richards’ ideas, but unfortunately Richards had been convinced by the success of The Wagner Stories (still in constant demand several years after first publication) that there was money to be made out of books of stories retold by Filson. By the spring of 1910 they were discussing a possible collection of famous love stories. This, to be called ‘The Book of Lovers’, nearly came to something. Filson was eager to get started and there was a lot to talk about. Should Romeo and Juliet be left out because Shakespeare and Charles Lamb had already taken care of them? Ought not Petrarch and Laura to be included?

Eric Maclagan thought Millais’ painting ‘Love’ (on view in the South Kensington Museum [Vic & Albert?]) might make a good frontispiece. And would Charles Ricketts design the endpapers? Throughout July 1910 (the month in which he made his last attempt to get back Elisina, now six months pregnant by Tyler) Richards pressed Filson to get on with the book of lovers, but again it was no good. The key to the problem seems to have been that it was precisely when Richards pressed him that Filson could not work, because the pressure Richards had exerted in 1905, 1906 and 1907 had left too deep a wound, still raw when that particular nerve was touched. In this respect the two men were incompatible, because Filson was never the sort of writer who needed constant pressure from outside to get anything finished. At the beginning of August Filson abandoned the lovers and escaped to France, and for a time Richards heard nothing from him but telegraphic demands for books on the lines of SEND THREE CLOTH SANDS ONE TIDE YOUNG HOTEL ROYAL, but eventually the inevitable begging letter came from Dinard:

I had a sort of breakdown and came here. I batten and am better, but I find it an absurd place. Can you get me any money? I really need it badly. (11)

Richards was concerned and sympathetic, and there was no more talk of ‘The Book of Lovers’.

The holiday in France had the desired effect. The book of lovers would never be written, but an idea for a new novel had formed in Filson’s mind, and by the time he returned to England at the end of August he was ready to begin writing it. It seemed that he had at last overcome the writer’s block that had crippled him for two years or more. Of course Richards had no money to pay an advance, but he had found an American publisher, Mitchell Kennerley, who wanted it and was likely to be a more energetic salesman than Dana Estes, American publisher of Filson’s two previous novels. Kennerley was offering £100 in four instalments, but Estes had paid a £250 advance for When the Tide Turns, and had not lost money despite his lazy promotion of the book. As always, Filson was financially exacting. He had met Kennerley briefly in London before going to France. Nothing had been decided then but now, at the beginning of September, Richards had the delicate task of persuading Kennerley that Filson’s unwritten novel would be worth a lot more than he was preparing to offer. Richards knew well that everything depended on this. It was essential to get Filson going again as a serious writer, and he was not the sort of man to write books for nothing. Richards put the case as convincingly as he could to Kennerley and sent a synopsis of the novel, which was to be called ‘The River Road’ and would deal as much with America as with Britain. Filson’s terms were plain: he wanted an advance of £500 immediately in one instalment; then – and only then – would he start writing. He would let Kennerley have the first third of the novel by December 15 (i.e. within three months), with the second third following by January 1 and the third by January 15, and he would give Kennerley first refusal of his next two novels. Richards told Kennerley:

As you know, there is no American publisher that comes over here who does not worry me about Filson Young’s work, and they all handed him out balloons of hot air when he was in New York – Harper’s, Macmillan’s and the whole crowd. No one else has had this definite offer, no one else has seen this scheme. Personally I think you would be safe and that you would be wise to accept it. If you do, would you cable the one word ‘Filson’, and send to me, made out to him, a cheque for £500. If you do not want the book on these terms cable the word ‘Young’ … (12)

The ‘provisional scheme’ for the new novel has not survived, but four months earlier Filson published a poem under the title ‘The River Road’ in the English Review. The poem tells how two lovers ‘wandered blindly through the night’ in a ‘tumult of their doubts and fears’ until they came upon a stream which they followed until it grew into a river with a road running beside it. Confident now, they followed the road and the river:

listening for the roar

Of waters, where the river road

Comes out upon the sounding shore;

Where love shall loose from love the chain,

And self from sting of self be free -

There where the river finds again

The splendour of the open sea.

Once again water, and particularly the sea, figures as a central image in Filson’s work. But Kennerley must have telegraphed ‘Young’. Money apart, the subject Filson had outlined may not have seemed promising. At all events, Kennerley  wrote that he was ‘rather surprised’ at the terms Richards proposed and could not accept them. Richards hastened to point out that the terms were Filson’s, not his own, but defended Filson to the extent of suggesting that he had come to have high expectations after what firms like Harper and Macmillan and indeed Kennerley himself had suggested to him. There the matter rested. ‘I have heard from Kennerley and he is off,’ Richards told Filson; ‘you shall see his letter when we meet.’ Filson was no longer prepared to write novels for the perpetually penniless Richards. It was all very different from 1905 – only five years ago – when he had written The Sands of Pleasure for Richards in a spirit of adventure.

For the only time in his life Filson tried to make a little extra money by lecturing. Between October and December 1910 he gave a series of six University Extension lectures on music at Liverpool University, though this was little help to him financially, since the university appears to have disowned responsibility afterwards for paying him any fee or expenses at all. (13) In February 1911 he talked at the Haymarket Theatre in London on ‘The Music of the Salon’, by which he meant music written for home consumption by composers ranging from Bach, Haydn and Mozart through Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin to the likes of Debussy and other French composers; the soprano Maggie Teyte sang some examples accompanied by Filson on the piano. (14) By 1911 Filson was becoming distinctly wary as far as Richards’ payments of his debts was concerned. When in April they planned a new volume of essays on music to be called More Mastersingers (to contain among other things the unfortunate Liverpool lectures), Filson insisted on adding an extra clause to the agreement:

The author may demand all royalties earned in the first week of publication one month after publication and shall receive the same. (15)

A little later they agreed Filson should receive £5 twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays, but Richards never paid up till Filson asked: it was the same every time, Filson complained. He also had a bank loan of £200 overdue for repayment, and when the bank threatened to apply to Lord Dunraven, who had stood security for the loan, Richards was again called in to help. Richards’ business was solvent at this time; it was just that those who owed money to him were also slow in paying up, so that he never had enough ready cash.

Meanwhile Filson’s books were still selling both in Britain and the United States. Most successful of all was The Sands of Pleasure, which even as late as 1910 upset the police in the north Lancashire town of Barrow (now in Cumbria). Offers came from people who wanted to make a play from it. One such was an aspiring actress called Sacha Tarnowska, who claimed she should play Toni since Filson had based the demi-mondaine’s character on herself. When Richards asked him what he thought about this, Filson replied frostily:

I should very strongly resent any pretension on the part of anyone to be the heroine of the book. The lady in question is not the heroine of the book, and must abstain from saying that she is. (16)

He did his best to squash the idea, but Sacha Tarnowska persisted until Richards consulted his cousin Jerrard Grant Allen, who thought it might pay. Allen knew an actor called H.A.Saintsbury (well known for playing Sherlock Holmes) who would dramatize the novel for £100 and have no objection to Filson putting his name first as one of two authors. Allen was sure a play of this type would be a goldmine in the provinces whatever happened to it in London. But he would have to meet Sacha and be convinced that she was capable of taking the lead; also, she would have to do what she was told – in particular, she must not be billed as a star in advance: it would be up to the critics and public to decide whether she was a star or not. Sacha, Allen, Filson and Richards met over lunch, after which no more was heard of the matter. Perhaps Sacha failed to impress. This happened in 1910, by which time The Sands of Pleasure was also on sale in a cheap edition.

When the Tide Turns was always overshadowed by the earlier novel but it paid its way, reaching a second printing in February 1909 and a cheap edition in 1911. The Wagner Stories went from strength to strength, printing for the seventh time in 1911. Even Mastersingers, mostly written when Filson was only 22, was still in demand, while Richards had plans for a cheaper one-volume edition of Columbus, a book he felt had not yet had the success it deserved.

More Mastersingers was a collection of music-related pieces put together, at the beginning of 1911, from pieces originally written for other purposes as Memory Harbour had been. Its preparation went smoothly. In April Richards sent an agreement based on the one for The Wagner Stories for Filson’s signature, ‘although I am afraid,’ Richards added prophetically, ‘it is inevitable that that book will sell better than this.’ Anxious to squeeze every possible penny out of his work, Filson wasted nothing. Articles written for the Saturday Review and other periodicals; his Liverpool UniversityExtension lectures, and other lectures given in the early months of 1911, so that in some cases it is impossible to know whether the material was first prepared for a lecture and then used for the book, or vice-versa. More Mastersingers was well received by the critics, particularly the long section about Filson’s days as an organ student under Kendrick Pyne at Manchester Cathedral (17)  - the quality of this section, if nothing else, made it clear that Filson at 35 was far from finished as a writer.

E.A.Baughan’s review in the Daily News must have given Filson special pleasure; it was Baughan who, as editor of the Musical Standard, had given Filson his first chance to write about music in 1897, and some of those first essays were still in print in Mastersingers. More Mastersingers too was eventually reprinted, but no one was surprised that it was not a great commercial success.

During the rest of 1911 Filson continued his struggle to get started on a proper full-length book. In a sense he was his own worst enemy because, as he had stated in a letter to Richards in 1909, ‘It is my desolate habit not to be able to write otherwise than for publication,’ and the advances he demanded before he would get down to any real hard work were exorbitant. In May 1911 he had an idea for another novel about the artistic temperament to be called ‘The Fountain Song’ (water again); it is not clear if this was related to ‘The River Road’. He prepared a synopsis which Richards sent to an American magazine hoping they would serialize it, but they said it was too much like a serial they were already running. So much for that. Filson now wrote a three-act play which he offered to the Stage Society in London, but they decided the story was too painful and that the censor would never let a regular theatre do it, presumably because oit criticised the institution of marriage. (18) So it was back to concoctions and formulas already tried and found successful. He agreed with no great enthusiasm to prepare a new book of opera stories on the lines of The Wagner Stories so long as Richards would do the ‘donkey-work’ of collecting librettos for him to turn into readable narrative prose.


1  This and other allegations reported in this chapter about the breakup of the Richards marriage are to be found in accounts of the divorce proceedings in the Daily Mail (‘A Wife’s View’, p 3b)  and  the Times (p 3d), both on 24 April 1914.

2  Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952), playwright, novelist, actress, suffragist and peace campaigner, is the subject of Lis Whitelaw’s biography The Life and Rebellious Times of Cicely Hamilton (1990). Whitelaw writes, Marriage as a Trade overturned traditional beliefs about women, love and marriage with style and biting humour. Elisina was a strong-minded woman, but it seems quite possible that it was Cicely Hamilton who helped her to have the courage to take her fate into her own hands in making what must have been the most difficult decision of her life. Marriage as a Trade was reissued by the Women’s Press in 1981.

3  Elisina Grant Richards, ‘The Silent Company of Books’ in The Englishwoman, August 1909.

4  Elisina and Royall Tyler subsequently enjoyed a long and happy marriage.

5  FY to Grant Richards, 7 Nov 1910.

6  Grant Richards to FY, 9 Nov 1910.

7  Grant Richards to FY in New York, 15 April 1909.

8  See for instance Michael Kennedy The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1964), p 126.

9  FY to Grant Richards, 23 April 1909, from New York.

10  FY to Grant Richards, [date]

11  FY to Grant Richards, 12 Aug 1910.

12  Grant Richards to Mitchell Kennerley, 1 Sept 1910.

13  An interesting exchange of letters was published in the Liverpool Post and Mercury on or about 12 Jan 1911. According to Filson, the Liverpool University Extension authorities asked him to give a course of lectures on music and a moderate fee was agreed, the resources of the Extension organisation being limited. They communicated with him throughout on University of Liverpool headed paper, assuring him that ‘although the Music Lectures’ Association had charge of the arrangements, the University was responsible.’ About a week after the last lecture he was assured that the bursar had been asked to send him a cheque for fees and expenses (travel to and from London).  When nothing came he wrote to ask the bursar to be ‘good enough’ to send his cheque, but instead of a cheque he got a letter which he melodramatically described as ‘probably the most remarkable to which the Vice-Chancellor of a great University has ever signed his name’:

10 January 1911

Dear Sir, The bursar has given me your letter. At present the accounts of the Extension Society have not been transferred to the new organisation. The University is not liable for any expenses previously incurred, but I will see the treasurer of the society and find out what can be done.

Believe me to remain, yours very truly,  A.W.W.Dale.

There was only one thing to be done, concludes Filson, and unfortunately Mr Dale failed to do it; and what he may do now is of comparatively little importance.

History does not record whether Filson eventually got his money, but presumably he did.


14  ‘The Music of the Salon’ was reproduced in More Mastersingers, as was the substance of Filson’s Liverpool University Extension lectures.

15  FY to Grant Richards, 28 April 1911.

16  FY to Grant Richards, 21 July 1910.

17  First published only three or four months previously, as a series of six articles in the Saturday Review, 11 March to 15 April 1911.

18  This rather stiff play, Another Day, looks at the problem of women and divorce in contemporary British high society, and includes a murder. It was never published and probably never performed, but a typescript carbon copy survives.

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