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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 3 (June 1, 1935)

Among the Books

page 54

Among the Books

A Literary Page or Two

One day in Sydney, in 1922, I was in “Aussie's” old offices in Kent Street, yarning with Phil Harris, the founder and first editor of that wonderful little magazine, when the door of his room was pushed open and a tall gently swaying figure stuttered an apology.

“Alright, Henry, come in,” said Harris, and “Henry” came in treading carefully as though someone were asleep and was not to be disturbed.

This picture of Henry Lawson leaning through the half open door is in my photographic mind, as I write. The poet rivetted his deep, deep eyes on me as he took a seat in Harris's room. He kept on repeating in his halting way Harris's words of introduction “young fellow from New Zealand.” I left after a few minutes for I could see that Harris and Henry had some private matters to discuss.

I have always regretted the fact that I never met Henry Lawson again. I can never forget his eyes—those striking eyes that revealed something of his great soul. Some years later, when I heard of his death, one of his verses came to me suddenly and irresistibly, as indeed it would to other of his admirers:—

The colours of the setting sun
Withdrew across the Western land—
He raised the sliprails, one by one,
And shot them home with trembling hand.

We in New Zealand must feel proud of the fact that Henry Lawson spent some years here. He was journalist, teacher and painter in this country. The last qualification requires some explanation. Henry was out of a job and the late Mr. Edward Tregear, then Secretary for Labour, secured him a position as a painter on the Public Works staff! Tom Mills, of Fielding, later saw him at work painting a small side door to Government House.

Henry wrote some of his best poems and stories in New Zealand, so we can claim to share with Australia the work of a poet whose name will ever live, and of a story writer who has been classed by St. John Adcock with De Maupassant, Kipling and Bret Harte.

* * *

From every point of view Professor Arnold Wall's recently published book of poems “The Order of Release” (Whitcombe & Tombs, Ltd.) is arrestingly original. The author has composed engaging verse on themes that are new; instead of employing a linotype machine in its printing, he has engaged an artist to letter and decorate his poems, for nearly all of them are bound up in the illustrations. Because he has shattered conventions in all departments, his book simply compels interest. The volume is a delight to read. Perhaps the reader will understand my enthusiasm if I quote only one poem—one of more than three score of sets of verse of sustained excellence. The illustration is of Death, the artist depicting quite a presentable figure beckoning to a placid, dignified old man:—

No sly marauder I,
No thief in darkness creeping
To rifle men's treasure-house
While they lie sleeping.
No ghastly symbol either,
Horribly grinning,
All vast eye-sockets and teeth,
To scare the sinning.
Not that, but a kind attendant,
Near the play's end,
Neither cringing nor haughty,
But like an old friend.
Gently warning
The rapt play-lover
“Sir, the last train's waiting
And the play nearly over.”

A striking bookplate by Russell Clark, the brilliant young Dunedin artist.

A striking bookplate by Russell Clark, the brilliant young Dunedin artist.

* * *

L.B.Q. writes to me as follows:—“Your note in the April ‘Railways Magazine’ regarding the original of Sydney Carton prompted me to draw the attention of our College historian, Mr. F. N. Leckie, to the reported connection between Dickens and Wellington College—Mr. Leckie informs us that it was not Mr. George Allen, a Thorndon boat-builder and sometime Mayor of Wellington, but Mr. Gordon Allan, a leading barrister and solicitor of early Wellington, to whom the reference should have been made. This Mr. Allan acted as Examiner in Languages at the College. It was not until after his death that it came out that he was the original of Dickens' Sydney Carton.”

* * *

In the few months that have elapsed since the appearance of its first issue, “Walkabout,” the Australian travel magazine, has developed into one of the most interesting and artistically produced periodicals published on the other side of the Tasman. Its articles deal with all aspects of life and colour in Australia, New Zealand and the South Seas. In the May issue Eric Ramsden has an article entitled “A Modern Maori Princess.”

* * *


“A Century of Love Stories,” edited by Gilbert Frankau (Hutchinson, London) will, I think, be the best seller of the “Century Omnibuses.” Where is the man or the woman who does not love a love story? No page 55 doubt there are some “superior” folk who consider themselves above such human frailty. Yet I can see them furtively reading through the wonderful tales in this wonderful volume and ready to confess that here at least is an exquisite art in the telling. The editor of the collection has made an admirable selection. Being a short story enthusiast I thought I would meet in the volume many old favourites, but the majority of the tales are new to me. I have enshrined them all in my literary temple of Venus, “Pam's Party” by Denis Mackail, a delicate little “true to life” etching; “The Fury” (Paul Heyse) a tempestuous love idyll from Italy; “Semolina” by Horace Annesley Vachell, wherein the heart and the stomach fight an intensely human drama; “The English Tutor” (Percival Gibbon), one of the strangest love stories ever written—these are only a few of the 46 stories contained in these 1024 pages.

“A Century of Sea Stories” is another worthy edition to the library of Century Omnibuses. And what more worthy editor, than Rafael Sabatini. Such a volume as to make Cook's Tours look very small indeed. Here we have a saloon ticket (return) to any country in the world. If your tastes are for a Spanish galleon, a brigantine, a speed launch or a sumptuous modern liner it is all the same. You embark and meet the most weird and fascinating companions. Sometimes you may ship with bloodthirsty buccaneers but you are always observing them from a safe distance. The whole series of trips are so discreetly arranged for the reader, and with such famous sea writers as guides (Conrad, R.L.S., Herman Melville, Max Pemberton, Edgar Allan Poe, etc.) we are surely in the best of company. A great volume of 1024 pages with its 53 stories.

“Far Caravan,” by E. V. Timms (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) confirms my opinion that Mr. Timms is one of the most ambitious novelists Australia has produced. This, I think, is his fifth novel. His development is remarkable. In this book he deals with a period in history practically unexplored by the novelist. His pen travels over the vast area of Russia of a few centuries ago when the people were being torn asunder by a mighty religious conflict between the old and the new. He places the old eight pointed cross of the Orthodox Church in the hands of a mad, lovable old fellow named Dmitri Zalka, who gathers around him the adherents of the old faith. They travel across the wild and often desolate country like a mighty snowball—on, on to Moscow. Interwoven is the glorious romance of Narelle and Bertrand. The story simply teems with action. Small wonder that such a huge canvas lacks in composition.

“Man Tracks,” by Ion L. Idriess (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is another worthy addition to the Idriess library of true adventure stories of Australia. Here we travel with the Mounted Police through the Australian wilds in search of lawbreakers. His facts have been carefully assembled from those who took part in the desperate man hunts he tells of. An engrossing novel of adventure—real life adventure. Price 6/-.

“Insect Wonders of Australia,” by Keith C. McKeown (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is a popular book on the life stories of Australian insects. Possibly the unusual prevalence of mosquitoes during our recent record summer may develop an “insect-mind” among New Zealanders. After reading this book there should be no doubt about the earlier development of such a mentality in Australia. The Commonwealth has an insect family that is truly immense. Mr. McKeown, who is Assistant Entomologist to the Australian Museum, is on familiar terms with the whole tribe and introduces them to us in turn, producing the family album of portraits to illustrate his story. Price 6/-.

“Famous Trials,” by the First Earl of Birkenhead (Hutchinson, London) incorporates in a single volume at a popular price (6/-) his two noteworthy books, “Famous Trials of History” and “More Famous Trials,” both of which books ran into many editions within a few months of publication. This “Omnibus” must have a record sale incorporating as it does the outstanding criminal and civil trials of the last few centuries. Quoting the introduction: “Here is mankind under the microscope, the raw materials of fifty novels fashioned into glittering gems of narrative and character drawing.” The tragic parade of such notorieties as Charles Peace, Burke, and Hare, Landru, etc., makes an engrossing series.

“Shibli” Listens in.

“Good Stories I Have Heard,” by “Tusitala,” in the May issue of the Auckland “Mirror,” contains one of the brightest collection of yarns I have seen assembled on one page.

A warning to New Zealand writers. Make careful inquiries before submitting Ms. to Australian publishing houses. Two books submitted to one concern last year were held up for several months, the publishers ignoring frantic appeals for return of the Mss. Among the several reliable houses are The Endeavour Press and Angus and Robertson, both of Sydney.

One of the most artistic New Zealand book productions of the past decade is the St. Patrick's College Jubilee Book, published last month by Ferguson and Osborn, of Wellington.