Review of The Yellow Danger by M. P. Shiel
The Academy Supplement, July 30, 1898, p. 105-106


The taste for prophetic fiction is acquired. Those who follow the advice of Sidney Smith and take "short views" will have none of it, and even others who find pleasure and excitement therein are bound to admit that the novelist is gaining his efforts by something less than the best or most legitimate means. But leaving art out of the question, it is not possible to withhold commendation from Mr. Shiel. If this kind of romance is to be written, his certainly is a good way to write it. He has worked hard for credibility, and one can, in reading this story, now and then forget its "previosity" altogether. But, as we have hinted, there are higher forms of fiction.
The Yellow Danger is China. Dr. Yen How, a Chinese administrator, having weakened Europe by international strife for tracts of the Celestial Empire, floods the Continent with his countrymen. England is threatened - and saved. The saviour is a consumptive sailor named John Hardy, and if the book has any value beyond its efficacy as a beguiler of time, it is in Hardy's character that that value resides. Long and terrible imprisonment in China, under the orders of Yen How, has filled him with implacable revenge. Add to this passion real genius for naval warfare, an iron will, and the knowledge that his disease must soon cut him down, and you have a picturesque figure enough. The best portions of the book are those which describe Hardy's naval actions. Here Mr. Shiel is excellent. With the assistance of plans, and a very lucid and forcible narrative gift, he makes the encounters perfectly conceivable. The book is punctuated with them, and they are of enthralling interest. People tired of the exiguous newspaper accounts of the engagement in the American-Spanish War will find positive refreshment in Mr. Shiel's full and convincing methods. This passage, though not, perhaps, the best, is the most quotable. John Hardy, as Admiral of the English Fleet, has first ordered no torpedoes to be used in the action, and then manúvred to get the whole of the Chinese vessels in a mass. The stages by which such a result was reached are admirably indicated. Then:

In his desire to lend verisimilitude to his narrative, Mr. Shiel has had recourse to various tricks. He shows us a performance at the Palace Music Hall with Miss Lottie Collins singing the praises of his hero; and after the delivery of England, he quotes from the poems composed to celebrate the event by Mr. William Watson and Mr. John Davidson. To Mr. Francis Thompson fell the more distinguished part of prophesying the nature of the warfare of the future - i.e., by aerial men-of-war! Mr. Shiel's parodies or imitations are not very successful, and in many parts of the story he has lost his sense of proportion and gone astray in the pursuit of irrelevance; but The Yellow Danger remains an exciting and persuasive romance, well worth packing up with one's holiday outfit.


Transcribed by Victor A. Berch

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