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Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand

Chapter VIII

Chapter VIII.

The result of this was more satisfactory to me than I ever imagined it could be. After the first few initiatory lessons, Bill Lampiere displayed such an interest in and consequent aptitude for his work as to transcend even Lilly's expectations, though the latter had felt sanguine, at the outset, of being able to make something out of him. It was not, indeed, that Lampiere's abilities turned out to be better than Lilly had imagined them to be: indeed these he found to be dull enough to have taxed the patience and temper of any ordinary instructor. Lilly, however, proved himself to be no ordinary instructor by the manner in which he soon made his directions clear to the confused mind of his apprentice.

Indeed it was soon self-evident that, although lacking in what a phrenologist would term “concentration,” a want which prevented his bringing his ideas to bear rapidly on any new problem with which he was confronted, and which, therefore, hindered his gaining a general idea of a subject, yet, when once supplied with the reason why such an operation should lead to such a result, his natural understanding could grasp the full bearings of the case at once.

Observing this, I doubted much if his mind, clearly intelligent enough, was not of that nature that from natural nervousness simply intimidated its possessor with purely imaginative difficulties. But Lilly with his usual quickness of insight soon page 55 understood what was the cause of Lampiere's apparent slowness of intellect; and patiently accommodating his instructions to this mental difficulty, he was in a short time so gratified at the progress that his pupil was making in a knowledge of his work, that he predicted that he would soon make him so proficient in the use of his tools as to be able to put some of the “fancy” bushmen in the shade.

But if Lampiere had a mental defect that seemed to militate against his ready attainment of handiness with tools, he had another, a physical one, that without Lilly's patient instructions would have seemed a more insuperable difficulty in that direction.

Apart from the difficulties of manipulation common to all novices, there are some people who have much greater difficulties in training their hands to the use of unaccustomed tools than others have. This too, when a considerable experience of the work enables them to have a perfectly correct mental idea as to how the work should be done: yet what the mind directs shall be done, the hand finds itself unable to perform. I suppose a more relaxed state of the nervous system preventing all the manual muscles from being kept well in hand—if I may be allowed to repeat myself—is the real cause of this weakness.

This, however, was a thing that, left to himself, would have simply rendered Bill Lampiere a most handless workman at everything he attempted.

Against this natural defect, Lilly's patient instructions, however, proved to be a most powerful remedy. Continually watching him, and at the same time keeping his patience and temper in a most wonderful manner (for Lilly was naturally a quick-tempered man and with others easily provoked to irritable expression, if work was unsatisfactorily performed) he would take the tool out of Lampiere's hands, and would direct him to watch how he held it, and to hold it so himself, until, in a few weeks' time, with an axe or adze, cross-cut saw or augur, spade or pick, Lampiere showed a familiarity and handiness equal to any other man in the station—Lilly alone excepted.

Even allowing for what I know of the genuine kindness of Benjamin Lilly's heart, all this patient attention and consideration for this young man to me appeared to be simply inexplicable, until I was put in possession of the key to the riddle.

This key, that was furnished by Lilly himself, gave me a fresh insight into this worthy man's many-sided nature.

I have already intimated that Lilly's education was very limited. A bare knowledge of reading and writing and a few page 56 rules in arithmetic comprised it all; neither had he naturally any great taste for reading. Yet all this did not prevent an excessive admiration on his part for the knowledge in others that he lacked so much himself, and, among the various attainments of literary men, he looked upon poetry as the very cream of all.

So then the whole secret of Lilly's attention and consideration for Lampiere, that had first begun in simple commiseration for his forlorn condition, and was further attracted by the man's simple integrity, was now strengthened by a genuine admiration. It transpired that Bill Lampiere was a bit of a poet, and this discovery had raised him immeasurably in Lilly's estimation. It was this apparent feeling of respect for Lampiere on Lilly's part that I had lately observed and that had begun to puzzle me so much.

It might have been about a fortnight after his arrival that Lampiere's poetical accomplishments discovered themselves in a couple of verses that he had scrawled with a pin on a tin pannikin at the conclusion of a meal. These verses caught the cook's eyes, and he showed and read them aloud to Lilly, who was so delighted with them that he got Jack (“cabbage-tree Jack,” as he was termed, from his constant occupation of weaving this kind of hat in his leisure hours, from the proceeds of which he considerably augmented his salary), who was a much better penman than himself, to transcribe them for him.

A few days after this important discovery, Lilly having come over to the store for some nails he was in want of for his work, after some conversation on various matters, suddenly remarked to me:-

“Mr. Farquharson, that young fellow is a poet”.

“A what? Whom do you mean?” I replied in some surprise at this unwonted communication.

“That young fellow who is working with me. Now you're a man of education; don't you think that this is a first-rate production?—at least read it and tell me if you don't think it is.”

I took the paper from Lilly's hand, not a little amused at the eagerness of his manner, as he appeared to consider that what he was handing to me for my inspection was a perfect gem of poetry. Well, I read it over attentively, and then reperused it with deeper interest; for although it was only a comic thing, yet throughout there was a spirit of decided humour and a kind of epigrammatic force in its conclusion, that in my eyes certainly could lay claim to some sort of merit of its own, while such pith and vigour seemed astonishing as coming from such an apparently mild young man as its author. However, I will let the reader judge of the composition for himself.

page 57

Benjamin Lilly's Welcome.
Be you traveller, or overseer,
Or working man who shall come,
Here's bread and meat, sit down and eat,
And have a feed and welcome.

If gentle, snobs, or men in mobs
Of twos and threes together,
Here's lots of tea, then dine with me,
And fill yourselves and slither.

Certainly delicacy is not the chief characteristic of the production, and the last line, that seems to offend in this point, Lilly regarded as the very essence of the wit of the verses, and roundly avowed his opinion that it was fully equal to Burn's famous verses on Inverary hospitality. Indeed, this it might well be; for, apart from the pointed bitterness of the latter, I am not aware that it has any particular claims to literary merit.

I will here again digress to remark that Robert Burns was another of Lilly's ideal men. His devoted admiration for the Ayrshire bard, and, as I have already stated, for Sir William Wallace, and his enthusiasm about the great Scottish victory of Bannockburn—than which themes none more frequently occupied his mind—seemed more befitting a Scot than a native of the Emerald Isle. Of the history of his own country he seldom spoke, and when he did mention it, it was slightingly, as though he considered that there had been some mistake or mismanagement about it.

Yet that he was none the less a patriotic Irishman, his pride in reference to the Irish soldiers in the Peninsular War, and at Waterloo, proved, and any one would have found also who had ventured to make his country the subject of sneering comments in his presence. Yet even on this subject he was extremely impartial, and he freely admitted faults and excesses in the Irish character, and blots in Irish history, made more conspicuous by the natural impulsiveness of the people.

But to return to our subject. “Now, Mr. Farquharson, don't you consider that there is real genius in that piece?” Lilly enquired, when I had finished reading it.

“Well, Lilly, there is enough merit in it to lead me to think that if Lampiere were to seriously give his mind to the task, he could produce something respectable.”

“I think that is very good as it is.”

“Well, for a piece of broad humour it will do very well; but do you know if he has written anything besides this? I daresay he has, as the easy manner in which these lines run, show me that it has not been his first attempt.”

page 58

“Faith, you may say that. When I spoke to him about it, he showed me a manuscript book very nearly full of poetry.”

“Indeed?” I replied.

“Yes, indeed; I think that young fellow will make his name yet. He showed me a poem of three or four hundred lines about his leaving home and voyage to Australia. I tell you it is just capital!”

“Well, well, he may come to something yet; after all, it may be merely rhyme with nothing in it.”

Lilly, however, vigorously protesting that there was something in it, shortly afterwards left me.

I will not say but that, after that, I looked with something like a kindly interest on Bill Lampiere.

Personally I always had a kindly leaning to the reading of poetry, especially of an objective and heroic nature; such as Pope's glorious Iliad, and Scott's stirring lays, with Burns, Byron, Campbell, and such inspiring writers. But the entirely metaphysical, or subjective writings of such men as Browning, Swinburne, etc., and even those of the Poet Laureate himself — “In Memoriam” and a few others excepted—I never felt myself equal to.

In a word, I had by nature that amount of love for poetry which would make me readily believe that, had the circumstances of my younger days been more favourable to its culture than the life of action which I had led, this love would have in time developed itself into a chronic malady of rhyme in myself. I presume, however, that the world has been no loser by the fact that these symptoms were nipped in the bud by the force of circumstances.