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Cheerful Yesterdays

Chapter IX — Literary Hack-Work

page 112

Chapter IX
Literary Hack-Work

In addition to leader-writing and "specialising" for New Zealand newspapers, I was able to add to my meagre income as a school-master by occasional contributions to London papers and magazines. I was for some years the Dominion correspondent for the Morning Post. How exalted an honour that was I did not fully realise till the Empire Press Delegation visited New Zealand in 1925. When I was introduced to Lord Burnham and other delegates by my style and title as a Judge of the Supreme Court, they were courteous indeed, but obviously not impressed; by the time they reached Wellington in their travels they were no doubt blasé of colonial dignitaries. But when it was mentioned that I had once been the New Zealand representative of the aristocratic London daily they were visibly awed, and the inimitable and delightful "A. P. H." of Punch, who was of the party, swept me a bow worthy of the Rajah of Bong.

An article from my pen appeared in the Nineteenth Century shortly after that great magazine added And After to its title; three or four contributions of mine were published by Sir Clement Kinloch-Cooke in his Empire Review; and one article— but I shall come to that story later in the chapter. page 113All this, however, was firing at long range, and many of my shots fell short: the article was stale or forestalled by the time it reached London.

One of my essays in the Empire Review, however, possessed some quality of novelty and literary interest which tempts me to reproduce it, substantially, here. It was called "An Historical Parallel," and described a resemblance which I discovered to exist, close even to the minutest details, between the Land Laws enacted by the Ballance-Seddon administration in the nineties in New Zealand and the Leges Agrariæ of ancient Rome. No one who knew Sir John MacKenzie, the author of these laws, would suspect him of much acquaintance with Roman history. I am satisfied, at any rate, that he was quite unconscious of the parallelism, and so far as I have been able to discover it has never been alluded to anywhere except in the article in question.

In this Colony at the end of the nineteenth century a.d., as in Rome in the middle of the second century B.C. "Land for the People" had become an insistent political cry. Large areas of our pastoral lands, purchased from Provincial Governments in the early days of settlement at as low a price as ten shillings per acre, were in the hands of a few "run-holders"; in Italy, the ager publicus, acquired by conquest from the Italian tribes, was under occupatio in large holdings by descendants of the original patricians. In 1892 Sir John MacKenzie introduced the policy of "compulsory purchase" by the State. In Rome the Tribune Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus in 133 B.C. dispossessed the patricians. The opponents of each loudly proclaimed the policy to page 114be "confiscation," though under the New Zealand Act the Government paid a price ascertained by valuation; and in Rome Gracchus provided monetary indemnification for improvements made on the State domain. Each "possessor," moreover, was allowed to retain a definite area for himself and for each of two sons, so that, however, the family holding did not exceed 1,000 jugera—about 600 acres—in all. Under the MacKenzie law, as under the Gracchan, the principle of "limitation of ownership" was introduced, in each system of legislation, for the first time.

In New Zealand no man could acquire more than 640 acres of "first-class" land or more than 2,000 acres of "second-class" land; in Rome the area of ager publicus which a single possessor could retain was 500 jugera of agricultural land or 800 jugera of pastoral land. In New Zealand the MacKenzie "small settler" could never acquire the freehold; he was given only a "lease in perpetuity" with definite restrictions against assignment; in the same way the Gracchan settler did not obtain dominium, but only what was called an "inalienable heritable leasehold." In both cases it was obligatory to "reside" and "improve"; each reformer was equally impressed with the evils of "absenteeism," and each was equally determined to guard against evasion of the limitation of ownership by restrictions against the holding of additional areas, nominally by a son or nephew or other "next friend." But the new settlers, both in New Zealand and in Rome, had usually little or no capital wherewith to begin farming operations. Most opportunely, Rome at that time had a windfall. Attalus, the young King of Per-page 115gamus, died after having bequeathed his kingdom and the whole of his considerable treasure to Rome. Gracchus, as Tribune, without, it is to be feared, any constitutional warrant, claimed the right of disposing of this money, and carried a measure which enacted that the Pergamene treasure should be distributed, probably as a State loan, among the new landholders to enable them to procure the necessary implements and stock. In New Zealand there was no Royal legacy left to the Government, but there was always the London market to resort to; and so we passed the State Advances to Settlers Act under which the Government could make loans to farmers at a low rate of interest, with provision for a sinking-fund which extinguished the debt in thirty years.

Gracchus foresaw that in a very few years the whole of the available ager publicus would be absorbed by his scheme, so he planned that a definite sum should be appropriated each year from the public chest for disbursement by his "Allotment Commissioners" in purchase of estates in Italy for further subdivision. The New Zealand Land for Settlements Act, 1892, empowered the Government to borrow and expend up to £500,000 per year for the same object.

I was able to round off my comparison of the New Zealand with the Roman agrarian legislation by pointing out a coincidence in nomenclature. The Romans called the occupiers of the large estates possessores (pot-sedeo) because they "sat upon" the land; in New Zealand we call them "squatters."

In one respect, however, my researches had been disappointing, and to this I referred in the con-page 116cluding paragraph of my article. I had not been able to find, in the pages of Niebuhr or Mommsen, any passage that could be interpreted as a reference to the existence of "dummyism" under the Gracchan administration; but I had no doubt, I ventured to say, that had this system of tenure survived the revolutionary turmoil that followed upon the assassination of Gracchus, a Roman "dummy" quite as ingenious and just as unscrupulous as the New Zealand variety would in time have appeared. This observation drew from a correspondent who had the advantage, which I had not, of knowing Greek, a reminder that in Plutarch's life of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus there occurs a reference to "the man with the double face"—a Greek metaphor obviously much neater than our "dummy."1

That other article I have referred to had a strange and, I sincerely hope, an unusual history.

At one period of my life I knew a good deal about Maoris. I had spent several months in what was called the "King Country" at a time when that tract in the interior of the North Island was quite unknown to tourists and such people, and was in fact inaccessible except under circumstances of some risk and much hardship. I had lived among them, seeing no pakehas except my travelling mate. I had studied their language, their manners and customs, their folk-lore and poetry at first hand. I had hoped to write a series of articles, illustrated by photographs; but I soon discovered it was as much as one's life was worth to take a camera into

1 Plut. Tib. Gracch. 8. Trans. by Church: "Afterwards the rich men of the neighbourhood contrived to get these lands into their possession with other people's names."

page 117the King Country, for the Maoris confused the photographer's camera with the surveyor's theodolite— the instrument used by designing pakehas to rob them of their lands.

The more I got to know the Maoris the more attractive I found them to be. In that remote part of New Zealand they had not yet been corrupted by the vices of civilisation or degraded into cadging showmen, as they have since been in some districts, by the army of globe-trotters.

I was particularly impressed and attracted by something that appeared to me very Irish in the charm of their manners, the grace of their hospitality, and, above all, by the imaginative quality of their poetry, their legends, and their attitude towards the unseen world. My idea, I felt sure, was not merely fanciful, and so I developed it in an article which I called "A Celt at the Antipodes." I submitted it for criticism and suggestion to several of the leading Maori scholars in the Colony, and when finally I had got it into a shape that satisfied both them and me I sent it to my agent in London. As usual, I forwarded him a list of magazines to which the article was to be submitted in turn. The list comprised what I conceived to be the six leading monthlies (unillustrated) at that time published in London, and the first of them was the——Review.

My article was promptly accepted by the first magazine to which it was sent, and by the next mail I received from the editor of the——Review a very courteous note: he had read my article" with much pleasure" and "intended to give it early publication."

That was in the year 1904. It was at the end of page 118that year that I forsook school-teaching and turned barrister. I found the law an exacting mistress who left me no time for other interests; I ceased to write for the papers and forgot all about my "A Celt at the Antipodes," In 1909 I remembered it, and thought I might as well have the fee for it, at any rate—£15 I anticipated on the minimum scale per page at that time paid by the—— Review. So I wrote the editor a note to remind him of the article he had accepted in 1904. His reply was prompt and courteous; he had "re-read my article with very great pleasure"; he regretted the delay, but could now assure me of "early publication."

In 1911 I married; wife, home, and children filled my life with new interests and new happiness, and once more I forgot for several years the existence of that article. So obviously did the editor of the —— Review. Something or other recalled it to my mind in 1914—five years after my last reminder. This time I approached the editor indirectly: Mr. Gwynne of the Morning Post, at my request, rang him up in London and told him that "our New Zealand correspondent" felt aggrieved at the non-publication of his article, accepted ten years before with a promise of "early publication." Once more a prompt and courteous letter from the editor of the—— Review. Mr. Gwynne's communication had just reached him (September 8th, 1914); but as a war had broken out in Europe I would no doubt realise that only questions dealing with war and its causes had any interest for the public at the moment. "As, however, we all hope the war will be over by Christ- page 119mas" (this, remember, was written early in September!), the article would, "it was hoped," appear in the course of the ensuing year.

In 1919, after Peace had been duly made and celebrated, I wrote that editor again: this time I tried a little mild chaff. The year recalled to me that the time had come round once again for "my quinquennial reminder"; it also suggested to me that the time was not far off when I must seriously contemplate writing a brief obituary notice of myself for the local morning paper, for if I did not do it, no one else, I feared, would; and I was ambitious to say in the course of it that "among other literary activities he was an occasional contributor to the '—— Review.'" But I failed to "draw" him; my chaffing letter elicited only the usual reply— always prompt and always courteous—"sincerely regret"— "early publications," and the rest. Five years later I wrote again, for the last time. On my appointment to the Bench I had to break up my home in Christchurch and move to Wellington. In the general "clean-up," I came across the editor's letters; my patience was exhausted. So I wrote, I fear, a curt letter; I had many years ago lost my own copy of the MS. of that article; if, as I feared, he had mislaid the original, would he please say so; if not, would he be good enough to return it? In reply the editor wrote once more "regretting the long delay" and returned my original MS. as requested. It had lain, numbered and docketed no doubt, in that editor's drawer for twenty years. I regret that in my "impatience" I should have been guilty of the discourtesy of suggesting that he could ever have mislaid a MS. page 120or anything else. I have since had the pleasure of reading his autobiography, and venture to hope he may some day read mine—or, at any rate, this chapter of it.

But I do suggest that the method adopted by the great—— Review in dealing with contributions accepted by it is not encouraging to literary aspirants from the Antipodes! If the judicious publisher of this book—if one be found—does not think it already too long, perhaps he will print "A Celt at the Antipodes" as an appendix.1 I leave it to his discretion.

1 See page 353.