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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 8 (November 1, 1938)

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two

page 49

Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two

Although it has been published elsewhere, I would like to place on record on this page the beautifully worded tribute paid to the late Miss Jessie Mackay by the New Zealand Centre of the P.E.N. It is not generally known that the two gentlemen who are responsible for this small masterpiece of prose were Messrs. Johannes C. Andersen and Alan Mulgan, both poets and both great friends of the poet herself. Here is their tribute.

“The P.E.N. Centre of New Zealand records its deep sorrow at the death of Miss Jessie Mackay, a foundation member of the centre and a well-loved veteran of New Zealand letters; and it offers its deepest sympathy to her relatives. Members of the P.E.N., however, are mindful that Jessie Mackay died full of honour as well as of years, and they express their appreciation of all that she accomplished as poet, critic, and crusader. Jessie Mackay was one of the most gifted and original poets that this country has produced, and her genius was recognised abroad as well as at home. As a native-born New Zealander she pioneered in the expression of the New Zealand spirit, and linked it with a passionate love of the Celtic race from which she sprang. As a critic she was authoritative and inspired; with the keenest insight and the highest standards she combined a gentle kindness wherever kindness was deserved. Her interest in the work of young authors was warm, unselfish, and unflagging. As a crusader her pen was at the service of cause after cause, and no odds daunted her courage. Illustrious in her art, she was noble in her friendship, her devotion to duty, and her disregard of self. The P.E.N. salutes the memory of a great poet and a great woman.”

* * *

The acquisition some years ago by Messrs. A. H. and A. W. Reed of the valuable Stack Manuscripts has been advanced a further stage by the recent publication of “Further Maoriland Adventures,” by J. W. and A. E. Stack. The first book, “Early Maoriland Adventures,” was published in 1935, the second, “More Maoriland Adventures,” last year, and there is still sufficient Ms. material available for a “Last Maoriland Adventure,” which it is hoped to publish at a later date. The earlier books have gone through various editions, and I hope that when the fourth edition is printed the publishers will see their way to issue a collected edition in one volume. The discovery of the Stack Manuscripts would make a story in itself. The “find” is certainly a notable one and goes to the credit of Mr. A. H. Reed, of Dunedin, who has edited the three volumes published to date. Valuable assistance in the publication of the books has been lent by his nephew, Mr. A. W. Reed, who resides in Wellington.

Space will not permit of more than a hurried survey of the latest volume. Stack continues his interesting story. Romance enters the recital when he tells of his proposal to his future wife and of her acceptance by letter. She was his devoted helpmate for sixty years. His journey, in 1860, from Canterbury to Auckland to meet the future Mrs. Stack, and their subsequent wanderings comprises the first portion of the book. Mrs. Stack then takes up the story and tells of her adventures in the
Bookplate etched for Will Lawson by the late Henry Fullwood.

Bookplate etched for Will Lawson by the late Henry Fullwood.

'fifties and ‘sixties. She is quite as competent a narrator as her husband and in some aspects even more so. This book is going to be in demand and should cause a further sale for the earlier volumes.

* * *

Aspiring novelists are prone to monotonous repetition in connecting up the speaker in dialogue. They will repeat, “he said,” “he cried,” “he exclaimed,” while, at hand, if they only look for them, are hosts of alternatives. Just a few to go on with: he acquiesced, admitted, argued, asked, assented, boasted, called, cautioned, chuckled, corrected, croaked, crowed, declared, drawled, droned, ejaculated, amended, enjoined, enumerated, exploded, flashed, frowned, gasped, growled, grumbled, hinted, inquired, intimated, insinuated, jeered, jested, laughed, leered, maundered, mumbled, nodded, pronounced, puffed, questioned, rejoined, retorted, simpered, snarled, sneered, snickered, stammered, stormed, suggested, urged, volunteered, wondered, yelled.

* * *

The early New Zealand adventures of Canon J. W. Stack are at times quaintly colourful, as giving an indication of the manners and modes of the period. How redolent of Victorian modesty the following observation of the missioner: “Mrs. Steele gave me a warm reception, knowing what had brought me to Auckland and remembering, no doubt, that I was one of the little boys she used to tub regularly every Saturday night at St. John's College, in 1845, though she had tact enough to avoid alluding to it.”

* * *


“A Guest of Life,” by Nelle M. Scanlan (Robert Hale, London), is the ninth novel written by New Zealand's most popular novelist. Miss Scanlan's page 50 first novel, “The Top Step,” was published in 1931, and it is surely a tribute to her industry that, in addition to her many newspaper articles, she has written so many books in seven years. Obviously, also, Miss Scanlan is not indulging in pot boiling, for all her work shows a careful and conscientious pen. Better still, all her novels are sincere and absolutely wholesome. How many of our modern novelists can make the same boast? This latest book is an unaffected and true picture of average people from average English homes. The central characters are two young Englishmen, one so honest in himself that he is ever on guard against others, and the other who has to reach sincerity through hard struggle. In search of fortune these two diverse characters leave for New Zealand. Their respective adventures provide the material for a most interesting story. There is an appealing thread of love interest throughout the story. The New Zealand scenes are well done. Miss Scanlan has never written so easily and with such sincerity. She is a faithful recorder of the vagaries of human nature.

* * *

“Madman's Island,” by Ion Idriess (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is the first book ever written by this popular Australian author. The manuscript was first offered to A. & R. in 1927. As there was no demand at that time for true adventure stories, it was “coloured” into a work of fiction and published. The Ms. is now published in its original form—a true story of the extraordinary adventures of the author and a companion who were forced through circumstances to spend six months on a microscopical island near the Great Barrier Reef—near Cape York Peninsula. The adventures and hardships of the pair are almost incredible. Idriess's style recreates the whole scene for the reader, who in truth, will feel he is on the very island himself, battling against Nature and with Nature for his very existence. The wonders of the great Barrier Reef are painted in all their manifold and sometimes terrifying colours. A remarkable book this, the orders for which have been such that the first printing is over 10,000 copies.

* * *

“The Human Situation,” by W. Macneile Dixon (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is one of the most remarkable books I have read this year. I must confess though, that where I revelled in its beautiful literary style and its wealth of peculiarly appropriate and rare quotations, the subject matter of the book disturbed me as it will probably disturb others. In brief, the author, who is a distinguished professor of English literature, sets out to arrive at an estimate of man and the universe. He attempts to answer three mighty questions: What is the ultimate reality? Is life worth the battle? Does the soul survive the death of, the body? Truly has he undertaken a colossal task. I admire the way he has marshalled his facts, his questionings, and his surmises. He quotes many of the great minds of the centuries, and although his interpretations and his commentaries on them may not be accepted by all, his observations are always interesting.

* * *

“The International Press Who's Who New Zealand, 1938,” has just been published by National Magazines Ltd. It contains biographical sketches and photographs of representative commercial, professional, financial, pastoral and business men of New Zealand. National Magazines Ltd., have already established a sound reputation in the publishing world and with their organisation, which includes leading journalists and business men, is well fitted to have completed such a big undertaking. The illustrated section comprises over 300 pages on good art paper and the biographical section another 557 pages printed in good, clear type and nicely laid out. The book is solidly and attractively bound. It is some years since a comprehensive New Zealand “Who's Who” has been published, so that the appearance of this up-to-date compilation will be welcome.

* * *

“Shibli” Listens In.

Two New Zealanders who are making big sales with their latest books in Australia and New Zealand are G. B. Lancaster (“Promenade”) and Will Lawson (“Harpoons Ahoy”). “Promenade” bids fair to eclipse the big sales record of “Pageant.”

I heard recently from Donald Cowie, the Christchurch writer who left for London some time ago. He tells me that he has just finished the first part of a five volume fictional chronicle of New Zealand life.