A contemporary critic responds to Wyndham Lewis’s ‘Blast’


The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel: Spring 1915 by William Roberts

On the eve of the First World War ‘ T.P. Weekly’s John O’London records his response to the recently published first issue of Blast.

July 2nd. —I find it is not necessary to resist extravagant gospels; they cancel each other. Yesterday Futurism, today Vorticism. I should like to know the precise moment at which one becomes a fogey when ism succeeds to ism. Mr Ezra Pound does not make this plain in his “Salutation the Third”, printed in Blast, wherein one reads:

These are they who objected to newness,


They supported the gag and the ring;

A little black BOX contains them.

So shall you be also,

You slut-bellied obstructionist,

You sworn foe to free speech and good letters,

You fungus, you continuous gangrene.

I have seen many who go about with supplication.

Afraid to say how they hate you

HERE is the taste of my BOOT,

CARESS it, lick off the BLACKING.

Ezra’s boot it at least tangible, and inter alia it goes far to fulfil one of the declared aims of the Vorticists, “to destroy politeness “ –

but it seems to be all a question of time. Some of us had really got interested in Futurism and Signor Marinetti, when we woke us yesterday to read “Marinetti is a corpse” and to see Mr Pound’s boot quite close. The Vorticists take no stock of either the Future or the Past. “With our Vortex the Present is the only active thing. Life is the Past and the Future. The Present is Art…There is no Present —there is Past and Future, and there is Art “.

It is also written:

“We want to leave Nature … and Man alone. The only way Humanity can help artists is to remain independent and work unconsciously…We need the Unconsciousness of Humanity—the stupidity, animalism and dreams….Nature will give you …grass enough for a cow or a sheep, any fleshly conquest you can compass. One thing she is unable to give, that which is peculiar to men. Such stronger stuff men must get out of themselves “.

Page after spacious page of manifesto and apothegm, set out in type which often hoots from the page.

   In future numbers of “Blast” I shall hope to see precept and example brought together in an illuminative way. Let Mr Lewis spell his window and clean it in our sight, and many shall watch him eagerly. In one instance he already does so. The precept is: “The primary pigment of poetry is the IMAGE”. The example:

Whirl up sea—

Whirl your pointed pines,

Splash your great pines

On our rocks,

Hurl your green over us,

Cover us with your pools of fir.

Is it beauty or boot?’

In an illuminating essay on the author of this piece, Wilfred Whitten (1864 – 1942), whose pen name was John O’London and who went on to found John O’London’s Weekly in 1919, Jonathan Wild claims that Whitten ‘ has a strong claim to be recognized as the most influential literary taste-maker during the first half of the twentieth century in Britain ‘ . According to Wild, Whitten saw himself as a sort of mentor to the lower middle class aspirants to literature of all kinds, including modernism. In his own reaction to Pound and Lewis he certainly shows himself to be open-minded regarding avant garde and even iconoclastic trends in contemporary writing. [R.M.Healey ]


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