The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 2 (June 1, 1929.)
Among the Books. — Our Book Causerie
Among the Books.
Our Book Causerie
Travelling—by rail, of course—to Napier, recently, I had as a fellow-traveller a railway worker on holiday. He was reading a novel, but as I took my seat beside him, he courteously said “Good morning,” and went on reading. As the train sped on, I could hear him now and again “nichering” to himself. Clearly, he was enjoying his book. I was engaged writing for some time, but, my task finished, I, too, took out a book. As I reached for my bag, I saw the title of the story my neighbour was reading. Coincidence—my book and his were by the same author! I said nothing, but proceeded to bury myself in the story. From that first greeting not another word passed between my neighbour and myself until the train pulled up at Woodville. Still neighbours we sat down to lunch. Our physical hunger satisfied, we mutually relaxed and walked the platform yarning until “All seats, please!” was called. As we lifted our books from our seats before sitting down, I said, “Strange, we are reading books by the same author!” “Are we?” he replied, “that's funny.” Then, after a pause, “Y'know, I like a good yarn … a good yarn, an' this one's just pie on!” The name of the book was “Well-to-do Arthur.” “Yes,” I said, “a good yarn, but Pett Ridge has done better.” “This'll 'bout do me, anyway;” he replied. Another pause, then: “How's that you've tackled?” “Oh,” I said, “it's a bit of all right.” Then I went on: “D'you know when you told me you were a railway worker, I was glad to see you reading one of Pett Ridge's books. You know, of course, that he was a railway employee before he turned author?” No, he hadn't known, but, now that he did know, he'd get some more of his “stuff” next time he wanted something to read! I assured him he couldn't do better, adding, “I've just a chapter to read of mine, so you can have it when I finish.” “Right-oh,” he replied, “we'll swap.” And we did.
How many railway workers know that Pett Ridge is an ex-railwayman? In the early “'Nineties,” while still a young man, he went to London as a Railway Goods Clerk. Almost immediately he started story writing, and soon found his feet. Sensing, somehow, that literature is a good walking stick, but a bad crutch, he continued to write out way-bills by day and stories by night, until such time as he was earning by his stories a sum equal to three times his wages as a Railway Goods Clerk. When this point was reached he walked out of the “Goods” office and took on authorship as a profession. What of his books? The high figures to which almost every one of them has attained is answer sufficient. We of the older school love our Dickens so well, that we instinctvely resent anyone trying to poach upon his preserves. In our opinion no one could come near him in the delineation of London life and character. In that realm of fact and fancy the last word was with Dickens—or so we thought. Then along comes a “Goods” clerk and shows us that, while Dickens is still supreme, there are a hundred and one types of London life that Dickens left untouched. These it has fallen to the luck of Pett Ridge to see and note, subsequently reproducing them in one or other of his books. I don't know just how many books Pett Ridge has written, but I'm sure I've read nearly three dozen of them—all good. There are some hypercritical persons who speak of Pett Ridge as “merely a humorous writer,” and who declare that “his stories are not of much account as literature.” Perhaps not; but the average man in this, as in so many other instances, will please to differ from the so-called experts, and will lose nothing by so differing.
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Will H. Ogilvie Again.
“A Handful of Leather,” by Will H. Ogilvie, illustrated by Lionel Edwards (Constable, London, per Whitcombe and Tombs). Will H. Ogilvie, after making his name as an page 43 Australasian poet, returned to the Old Country and settled down in his native Border town. He arrived in Australia in his twentieth year, and returned to Britain before completing his fortieth. He has been back in the Old Country another twenty. During his sojourn in Australia he became enamoured of the life and poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, and it is no exaggeration to say that much of the latter went to the making of Will H. Ogilvie. Though since his return “Home” he has sung of Border subjects, historical, traditional and local, ever and anon his muse harps back, if not to its former haunts, at least to its former loves. Is there not more than an echo of his Australian days and lays in the following verses from “The Land We Love” (1909):
Armstrongs and Elliots! You know where they were bred—
Above the dancing mountain burns, among the misty scaurs;
And through their veins, these Border lads, the raiding blood runs red,
The blood that's out before the dawn and home behind the stars!
Armstrongs and Elliots!!
And touch your glass with mine!
Armstrongs and Elliots! And how should they forget
The pride their fathers gathered round the roving, reckless names?
Can't you hear the horses neighing, and the riders jesting yet
Above a thousand driven steers and fifty farms in flames?
Armstrongs and Elliots!!
Stand up and drink to it!
Alter a few words in these verses and who, hearing them read for the first time, would guess that they were not written during his Australian days? Indeed, Mr. Ogilvie himself seems to have been carried away by the old familiar swing of the verses and imagined he was writing for an Australasian audience and not for Border Scots. In this, his latest volume, he returns to his early love—the horse, and in it he lets himself go, just as he did in “Fair Girls and Grey Horses,” “Heart of Gold,” etc., for the drum of hoofs, and the jingle of reins beat true to the music that thrills through his veins. To Will Ogilvie, as it was to Adam Lindsay Gordon, the speed of the horse is “an endless glory.” He hears again the hoof thuds of years agone and calls up the ghosts of old mates who have ridden with him in that “sunny country where the golden wattle grows.” This book contains much of the best things Will Ogilvie has ever done. The illustrations by Lionel Edwards are all that they should be. Australasian admirers of Will Ogilvie, not entirely for “auld acquaintance sake,” but for its own inherent merit, must procure this, his latest volume, if they would feel the old thrill once again. (Price 16/-.)