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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 5 (August 1, 1934)

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two

page 37

Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two

After long waiting, the second volume of “Legends of the Maori,” has been published by Harry H. Tombs, Wellington. Although the work was originally planned for four volumes the book just published will complete the series. The legends in the latest book are all by the late Sir Maui Pomare, and are edited by Mr. James Cowan. The illustrations by Stuart Petersen are the finest work of their kind ever done in New Zealand. His pen work has improved immeasurably over that of the first volume. Volume II. is a worthy consummation of one of the most ambitious undertakings ever attempted in this country. The binding and printing are of a high standard of artistry. The work, unfortunately, being priced at four guineas a set, is beyond the reach of the average book lover. Much credit is due to Mr. Tombs for making possible the completion of the work.

Any New Zealand editor will tell you that at least fifty per cent. of the writers in this country are poets or would-be poets. Small wonder that many of these poets write so dirgefully (some of them are chronic misanthropists), for there is little or no market for their efforts in the New Zealand Press. One of the few publications paying for verse is the Magazine for which I am writing. There is, however, another oasis in our desert of poetical non-appreciativeness; this is the “New Zealand Mercury,” the latest issue of which I have just received. “The Mercury” gives small cash prizes each issue for the best poem or essay. Miss Eve Langley and Arnold Cork divide the honours in the latest issue. The work of both poets is most interesting and of a superior quality.

To my mind the outstanding poem of the issue is under the rather prosaic title of “At the Sound Film.” It is a cry from the heart. “Vesper” is a sweet little song but woefully out of tune in the last line. Every New Zealand verse lover should subscribe to “The Mercury” (1/- per copy from the Editor, 35 Nairn Street. Wellington).

There is, as usual, much of vital interest to artists and writers in the latest number of “Art in New Zealand.” There is a critical survey by Professor James Shelley of the annual exhibition of the Canterbury Society of Arts. I was pleased to note his remarks about the unfolding genius of Russell Clark, the young Dunedin artist. Mr. A. J. C. Fisher, likewise, reviews the Auckland Society's annual exhibition. There are other scholarly articles and essays, including one from A. R. D. Fairburn on “Some Aspects of New Zealand Arts and Letters.” also two poems. The illustrations are good, and include the two colour plates (“Karaka Berries” by Constance Bolton, “The Blue Vase” by Miles Evergood), and a number of interesting pictures in black and white.

I have been privileged to see an advance copy of the most gripping Australian novel I have read. It is entitled “Landtakers,” and the author is a young Australian, Brian Penton. As a story it rivals “For the Term of His Natural Life,” although the convict life aspect is not the main foundation of the yarn. If I am not mistaken it will be the most discussed novel yet published in Australia. In size it is almost a super “omnibus” production.

Lino-cut bookplate design by Miss Hilda Wiseman.

Lino-cut bookplate design by Miss Hilda Wiseman.

A slender booklet of poems has been produced by Shirley S. Morrison. I have met the author in many parts of New Zealand, sometimes looking for a job, sometimes creating one, and always with a smile on his face. His philosophy is in the first poem, “The Road of Memory,” in the book. Morrison is his own publisher and sells the book from town to town like the true nomad he is.

I have read some quaint metaphors, but none so egregious as that used by A. R. D. Fairburn in an article he has written for the latest number of “Art in New Zealand.” He refers to “the umbilical cord of butter fat which has held us in strict dependence on the Motherland.”

I came across a neat little triolet the other day:

He crossed the room and took her hand,
His eager eyes his joy expressed, Despite the things the others planned,
He crossed the room and took her hand;
She knew that he would understand
Bridge bored her, so at her request
He crossed the room and took her hand,
His eager eyes his joy expressed.

Here is an incident providing just another forcible reminder as to how necessary it is for writers to preserve a duplicate copy of their efforts for possible publication. Some months ago an Auckland writer received an invitation from London “Bookman” to send them an article on New Zealand poetry. The article was completed and duly posted. A week or two ago the writer received word that her article had been burned in a disastrous fire in the “Bookman” offices. They expressed their regret at the happening, and said they were still willing to publish the essay if it were rewritten.

page 38

I met a newspaper man the other day who claimed that he acted as travelling correspondent for the “Bulletin” in 1898 (dealing principally with the Spanish American war). Knowing the multitude of pseudo “Bulletin” staff writers and contributors I was naturally sceptical. A few days later, however, the pressman produced incontrovertible evidence in the form of a discoloured and tattered letter addressed to himself on a “Bulletin” letterhead and signed by J. F. Archibald announcing to the world that the bearer, John O'Neill, was authorised to act as travelling correspondent for the “Bulletin” in America and that any assistance given him by brother scribes particularly with regard to the Spanish-American war would be appreciated.

Though the signature was Archibald's, the body of the letter was in a handwriting closely resembling that of A. G. Stephens. On the left-hand side of the paper were printed a number of testimonials to the “Bulletin” from such celebrities as Mark Twain, Max O'Rell, etc. The document is all the more interesting as it was concerned in the wreck of the “Osaba” off the Australian coast many years ago. John O'Neill is thankful, that not only did he save his life on that occasion,” but also that he rescued, after a soaking in the ocean, the historical document from the “Bulletin.”


“Winds of Heaven,” by Nelle Scanlan (Jarrold's, London), is the third of the trilogy of the history of the Pencarrow family. Leaving aside her first novel and her outstanding journalistic work, no other New Zealand novel writer has achieved so much as has Miss Scanlan by completing this notable saga. Built on the basis of sales and indomitable industry Miss Scanlan's record must go unchallenged. From a rough estimate the trilogy must run into half a million of words. The first novel, “Pencarrow,” is now in its ninth edition, and the second, “Tides of Youth,” in its fourth. “Winds of Heaven,” because of its all devouring interest, will, I think, issue a strong sales challenge to its predecessors. We see the Pencarrows revelling in their after-war prosperity. Kelly ambitiously increases his estate and goes in for horse racing. The family is living in the lap of luxury. Then comes the world depression and the Pencarrow's are forced to grapple with the harsh problem of life. Romance, humour and tragedy make a full story rich in vital interest. Miss Scanlan has reason to be proud of the completion of this notable saga.

“The Road to Nowhere,” by Maurice Walsh (Angus and Robertson, Sydney), is one of the most delightful novels I have read for months. Maurice Walsh is an artist in every sense of the word. His word pictures are rich with colour, whether the touch be tragic or humorous. You live with his characters, and what a wonderful journey to be with them—in a tilt cast with romance and the beauty of Ireland as a background. Rogue McCoy is an appealing, if sombre hero, and I am sure you'll all fall in love with Ailish Conroy and Julie Brien. The murder mystery, the pivot of the story, provides a tragic background to the rich strain of delightful comedy running through the novel.

“The World's Conundrums,” by A. N. Field (A. G. Betts and Son, Nelson), is another remarkable book on world problems, by the author of “The Truth About the Slump.” The book contains a translation by the late Victor Marsden (formerly correspondent of the London “Morning Post”) of the astounding protocols of the meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion. It would be unwise for me to comment on such a remarkable publication, dealing as it does with such high-explosive matter.

“Australia's Backyards,” by R. H. Milford (Macquarie Head Press, Sydney), is as its title implies a picture of the great back country of the continent. The author makes his hazardous journey by motor car, and tells a vital story of the country and its inhabitants, dwelling occasionally on the moral, or immoral habits of the latter. Like most backyards, that of the Commonwealth could stand some tidying up, and the author is not slow to say so. As there is usually an attractive front garden apologising for the backyard behind it, so the author bestows his praises on the grandeur of those parts of Australia that show the fruits of man's labour and cultivation. A most interesting travel book.

“Old Days Old Ways,” by Mary Gilmore (Angus and Robertson, Sydney), will delight the hearts of many old folk throughout Australia and New Zealand. It will also be a revelation to the younger generation as to the hard path travelled by the pioneers of Australia. Only a writer of the quality and charm of Mary Gilmore could invest such a recital of apparently trivial happenings with such compelling interest. It is like turning over many quaint and forgotten ornaments on an old-fashioned “what-not.” The delicate picture is etched across the tremendous background of life in the early days.

Shibli Listens In.

The takings on the first day of Whitcombe and Tombs (Wellington) annual sale recently were a record in the history of the firm.

A one-act play competition, with a prize of #3 3s. is announced by the proprietors of “Art in New Zealand.”

The Laura Bogue Luffman Memorial Fund Committee, Sydney, is offering biennially a prize of #10 which in 1934 will be given for the best one-act play. Mrs. William Moore (Dora Wilcox) informs me that the competition is open to New Zealanders.