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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 1 (April 1, 1935)

A Literary Page or Two

A Literary Page or Two

I Had just heard of the death of Frank Morton. I think it was in December, 1923, when Dick Harris, who was a close friend and admirer of Morton's, came into my office. I told him the sad news. Dick was obviously very distressed, but I could not help smiling over his first comment. “Poor old Frank,” he murmured, “My God, I'm sorry—we must have a drink—lend us a bob.” And yet if Frank Morton could have heard Dick's suggestion I am sure he would have appreciated it as a rare tribute to his memory.

I have a picture of Frank Morton, drawn by Tom Glover—it was drawn in 1914. It is a faithful conception of the arch Bohemian as he appeared to Wellington people over many years. Had Tom Glover linked one of his arms in that of Fred Hiscock's, and the other in that of Henry Wright's, there would have been perfect atmosphere as well.

Although he is generally referred to as an Australian writer, Morton really belonged to New Zealand. The claim is worth arguing about. A man of great mental activity, he had a prolific output in elegant prose and verse. “The Bulletin “described him as perhaps the best ballade-writer in Australia or New Zealand. He was a master of all those French forms of verse— the triolet, the rondeau, the pantoum, vilanelle, chante royal and ballade. In his prose, he preached a quaint worldly gospel, denouncing Christian gentlemen, modish matrons, and glorifying dimpled damozels and rollicking glad lads. As David McKee Wright once observed to me, “Morton was a missioner to the heathen of respectability; but what he wanted to teach them Morton was never quite sure.”

“The Triad” was his happy hunting ground. All his best work appeared in that classic monthly. Under a multitude of pen-names he wrote most of the paper. It was Morton and not Baeyertz who made the “Triad,” and, when Morton died, “The Triad” virtually died. It lingered on painfully, but it was only a shadow of its former Mortonian greatness.

During his life Morton published several interesting books of his verse. His “Laughter and Tears” (the deluxe edition) is the largest and most imposing volume of poems ever published in New Zealand. It was printed in a limited, signed edition of 125 copies by the “New Zealand Times” in 1908.

The last time I met Frank Morton was on a sunny Sydney day at Cremorne. He was to me, then, as he always was to all his friends, a dear, sympathetic, kindly soul, ever ready to help and smooth over another's misfortunes.

Frank Morton wrote his own epitaph in triolet form many years before the end came:—

Lino-cut by miss Hilda Wiseman (Auckland) for Lady Anne Walpole, daughter of the Countess of Orford.

Lino-cut by miss Hilda Wiseman (Auckland) for Lady Anne Walpole, daughter of the Countess of Orford.

When I am dead and in the dust
Will you think of me now and then?
For me t'will end all strife and lust,
When I am dead and in the dust.
Somehow, though all is done, I trust
You will, despite surviving men,
When I am dead and in the dust
(Will you?) think of me now and then.

* * *

At the cost of a few shillings I bought a rare bundle of New Zealand booklets at one of Bethune's book sales recently. First and foremost was “Wisps of Tussock” by David McKee Wright, published in Oamaru thirty-five years ago, by Andrew Fraser. As precious as the poems in the book was the autograph inside, of the poet himself. Then there was a copy of Alan Mulgan's “Three Plays of New Zealand “with interesting marginal notes by the previous owner, Richard Pen-fold. Others in the bundle were “Samoa and Its Story” (by James Cowan), “Hinemoa and Tutanekai,” by A. Perry; a critical appreciation of Thomas Bracken by Louis H. Victory and a number of ancient tourist booklets. By dint of careful collecting I am building up a comprehensive library of these old-time New Zealand booklets and pamphlets. I am still searching for a copy of Dick Harris's “Monodies.”

* * *

Another addition to my collection of defunct New Zealand magazines is a copy of “The Kiwi,” which appeared in Invercargill several years ago. The editor was S. G. August.

It was quite a good little magazine, but, like most provincial publications (other than dailies) it finished, I believe, with its first breath.

page 55

A particular feature was an article picking our six greatest men, who were enumerated as follows:—Samuel Marsden, Sir George Grey, R. J. Seddon, Judge Maning, Thomas Bracken and Hone Heke.

* * *

One of the best newspaper yarns I have heard is short and to the point.

A reporter, attending a fashionable wedding, carves his way to the rather worried verger.

“Can you find me a seat—the Press?” he murmurs breathlessly.

Replies the verger: “I'm afraid not, sir—the squash.”

* * *

One of my readers inquires if it is correct that the original of Sidney Carton (Dickens's “Tales of Two Cities”) spent a portion of his life in Wellington?

I believe that this is so.

The original Carton is said to have been Mr. George Allen, and a gentleman of that name is stated to have been on the staff of Wellington College as a teacher of languages. More than this I do not know.

* * *

The Editor has passed on to me a charming letter from Mary Gilmore anent a review I wrote recently of her delightful book “Old Days Old Ways,” in which I likened the task of the reviewer to one exploring many quaint and long forgotten ornaments on an old-fashioned what-not. Miss Gilmore's letter to the editor runs as follows:— “I do want to say to you or your reviewer how I appreciate your notice of my book. It has had the most wonderful notices! But what warmed my heart in your notice was the reference to ‘an old-fashioned what-not.’ How did I come to forget the what-not! But I did not, after all, for I have it in the notes and rough for my next book. If you did not write the notice will you kindly send him or her this note to say ‘thank you.’” Miss Gilmore adds: “New Zealand's Sam Gilmore, of the Royal Oak Hotel, Wellington, was a cousin of sorts of my husband. I believe he had or has a brother in Invercargill.”

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