The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 3 (June 1, 1939)
Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two
If “Robin Hyde” did not continue to write furiously I am sure she would languish and die. She was born to intense activity. Over the last two years four books have been published from her pen and a fifth is due very shortly. During much of this time she has been meeting almost incredible adventures in the Far Eastern war zone; has been seriously ill in hospital; and still she writes not only novels, but also poems and articles for the press. She is one of the most interesting writers that this country has produced and much of her work in prose and verse will live. At times she is difficult to follow because her thoughts take big leaps, leaving the reader breathless with her hurrying pace. Yet “Robin Hyde's” literary journeyings are so interesting that you simply must follow her. Her haste is sometimes disconcerting, but she is always sighting new and strange scenes, and discovers for us things we feel we should have seen for ourselves.
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I have been asked to expand on my recent brief reference to Mona Gordon's “Children of Tane.” My earlier comments were made after reading a proof copy of this bird book. Now I have seen the finished product and a beautiful book it is. Experts have already declared that the work is authoritative. The author writes with enthusiastic admiration for the wonderful birds of New Zealand in a thorough and painstaking way. Besides most useful appendices there are beautiful colour plates, photographs and diagrams; in short Mona Gordon has given us a very satisfying work on bird life in this country. A fine description of the early bird forests of Aotearoa is given in the opening chapter and then the writer vividly describes the coming of two deadly forest enemies—the axe and the flame. We learn much concerning the early days from Maori lore and legend, of the Maori love of birds and of his qualifications as a naturalist and observer. The next section of the book deals with the bird literature of New Zealand and then follows a section on our bird sanctuaries. Clearly and interestingly classified we meet and know through the pen of the writer, all the various species of birds and we see them in the perspective of history and legend. Here then is a bird book for the average reader as well as for the ornithologist. Dents have published several New Zealand books of late, but I should say none as satisfactory from all points of view, as this one.
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Meanwhile the Government Tourist Department is producing some attractive booklets, the lates of which is “New Zealand Flowers and Birds.” This is one of the most artistic publications ever issued by a State Department in this country. In beautiful colour plates and letterpress the book deals with the better-known flora and fauna of New Zealand. Congratulations to Mr. L. J. Schmitt, Manager of the Department, and to Mr. Arthur Messenger, editor of the book.
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This month's bookplate was designed from “the family arms,” by Edward T. Roberts, of “Riverside,” Christchurch, while he was attending school. The owner is a genealogical enthusiast and is the only New Zealand member of the Society of Genealogists, London. His uncle is T. E. L. Roberts, who produced a volume of poems, “Rimu and Rata,” some years ago.
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“Art in New Zealand,” for March, contains the winning entry of its annual short story competition. It is from the pen of Una Craig. Stories by E. D. M. Doust and Eleanor Scott are highly commended in this competition. Other literary items in the issue include poems by Barbara Dent, page 46
J. R. Hervey and Paula Hangar, interesting articles, reviews, art notes, etc. The pictorial section features in excellent colour and black and white reproductions—the work of John Platt.
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In the old days this country had some remarkable links with famous writers. Alfred Domett himself a writer and a friend of Robert Browning, came out here in a windjammer in the last half of the past century. He became a prominent figure in politics in the capital city. Charles Armitage Brown, a friend of Keats and with whom he wrote “Otho the Great,” lived for a few months in Taranaki. He was buried in New Plymouth, and after the Maori wars his grave was lost for some time and eventually located on Marsden Hill. Mary Taylor, a close friend of Charlotte Brontë once ran a shop in Wellington. In one letter she wrote to Charlotte Brontë she said: “I went to the top of Mount Victoria and looked for a ship to carry a letter to you. There was a little thing with one mast.” It is, of course, a well-known fact that Samuel Butler took the setting for “Erewhon” from his memories of the Canterbury Plains.
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I spent a most interesting evening recently poring over some old files of “The Bulletin” and here is a paragraph I thought worth while reprinting, even if it is 36 years old:—
“‘The New Zealand Times,’ Wellington (M.L.) just about holds the record for changes in its literary staff—for getting hold of bright young men and losing them. Marter and Taperell both did time on that paper. Late-lamented Evison was at one time editor; J. T. M. Hornsby, Taperell again, R. A. Loughman, and J. L. Kelly have had control of things all within a few years. Latest changes are that Guy H. Scholefield, a talented youngster, who has done some good work and will do better, has been lifted from the ‘Times’ to the editorial staff of Christchurch ‘Press,’ vice J. P. Whitelaw, who goes to London under engagements to Bretts Agency. Harcus Plimmer, after about three years' theatrical and commercial life, has rejoined the staff, which has also been strengthened by the acquirement of E. Schwabe, late of ‘Hawke's Bay Herald.’ This continuous ebb and flow of par-hunters points to the ‘Times’ as the literary registry-office for the ‘Maoriland Press.’ If the proprietary could become a trifle less restless, the ‘Times’ would be a better paper.”
Out of all the well-known pressmen mentioned the only two I know of who are alive to-day are Guy H. Scholefield (“the talented youngster,” now Parliamentary Librarian and a Doctor of Literature) and Harcus Plimmer, one of the most familiar and popular pressmen in Wellington.
“Apron Strings,” by Mary Kelaher (New Century Press, Sydney) is an unusual drama of human passions told with a fair degree of artistry. The author is at her best when she describes in the opening chapter the last moments of David Warren, the central character of the story. Just when the reader is expecting the exit of David “his mind set out on its last adventurous journey, back … back through the years.” It is then that we learn that in his earlier life our hero fell from the domestic pedestal of rectitude. The blurb on the jacket of the book describes David's futile life, and, inferentially, his unfaithfulness is ascribed to his mother's overpowering affection for him. Certainly David does not secure much assistance in his wife and family. The reader is left feeling sorry for David and his sole and rather pathetic romance.
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“Rewi's Last Stand,” (A. H. & A. W. Reed, Wellington and Dunedin) is an historical romance by A. W. Reed, based on the scenario of the film play by Rudall Hayward. The swiftly moving story centres round the Maori wars in the Waikato in the ‘sixties. Love and adventure, the introduction of famous figures in New Zealand history, and an account of the famous battle of Orakau, are the main ingredients in this gripping story, so well told by Mr. Reed. Nicely produced and including seven full-page photographs supplied by Frontier Films Ltd., the book is surprising value at the retail price of 2/9d.
“Shibli” Listens In.
“Wellington in Verse and Picture” is the title of a book to be published shortly. It contains some beautiful tributes in verse to the Capital City, also many fine pictures.
Nearly £40 has been collected for the Jessie Mackay Memorial Fund. Subscriptions may be forwarded to the Secretary of the P.E.N., Box 965.