The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 7 (October 2, 1939)
Among the Books
Among the Books
In all of the written tributes paid to the late “Robin Hyde” no mention has been made of her talents as a public speaker. There was nothing particularly musical about the tonal qualities of her voice, yet it conveyed an indefinable something that appealed instantly to the listener. Then the material of words at her command was no less wide than was her knowledge. Her earnest belief in her subject impressed irresistibly, whether you were with her in this belief or not. I met her first, about ten years ago at the Wellington Town Hall, when she addressed one of the largest political gatherings in the history of the city. To many of those present it was obvious, of course, that the large audience was present for entertainment only. They would not listen to anybody. In the height of the uproar the frail figure of a girl limped slowly to the platform; she held her hand aloft. The uproar subsided immediately, and for nearly an hour there was complete silence, broken at intervals by shouts of applause from the audience.
The speaker was “Robin Hyde” and her subject, “The Rights of Women.” It was, indeed, a marvellous speech for one just out of her ‘teens.
The next time I head Robin speak was at the Auckland University. No mob psychology to work on here—just a cold, critical coterie of intellectuals. Robin spoke for an hour and a-half, seemingly on every subject under the sun, and the listeners were with her every word of the way.
I heard from Robin in a letter dated just a month before she died. A letter so typical of her; she wrote about a copy of Thomas a Kempis a friend had given her before leaving New Zealand; of her latest book, of the place of sex in literature; of her great grand-uncle Sebastion Sircom; of D'Arcy Cresswell, John Guthrie, Oliver Duff, Alison Grant; of a five-pound note endorsed “for oranges” sent to her by a thoughtful New Zealand friend and which, incidentally paid her rent and other things; of New Zealand reviewers (“one wonders why the hate began but one can only accept it impersonally or smash up”), and finally she wrote about Mana Island.
Robin referred to Mana Island because I had told her of a little seaside cabin I had at Plimmerton. Mana Island had been sadly hidden from sight by a big sandhill opposite my section. One week-end when I ran out to my cabin the sandhill was gone and Mana lay shining in the sun in the blue distance. A Public Works bulldozer had removed the hill during the week, in order to improve the visibility at the railway crossing. All this I had told Robin.
“Fancy your Plimmerton cabin,” she wrote. “Oh New Zealand is so good, and except for glimpses, England is not. I'm glad Bob Semple gave you Mana Island. Ever seriously studied the word?”
And these are the last words Robin will ever address to me. As I write this tribute to her I look from my window at Plimmerton and see Mana Island in the distance. The sea is rough and a small yacht is battling through the waves.
In “Robin Hyde's” brief journey through the troubled sea of life, she saw much and achieved much before the waves closed over her. And whether life be long or brief, it is achievement that gives it purpose.
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I remember in the last issues of the “New Zealand Artists’ Annual” a feature strongly prophetic in its estimate of values. It was called “The Annual's Annual Discovery,” wherein was starred some writer or artist, hitherto unknown, whose work was mentioned as showing great promise for the future. One of the discoveries was Mrs. Mary Scott, now a successful writer of numerous books. One year the “discovery” honour was given to a girl of sixteen years, Miss Roma Hoggard. That was seven years ago. I have seen stray poems and stories from her since in worthwhile magazines in Australia and New Zealand. Now her first collection of poems has been published, “Interlude” (The Handcraft Press, Wellington) proving the interesting development of her talent. There are about thirty poems and they all bear the mark of a sweet sincerity. The reviewer may notice that Miss Hoggard has found a new thought for word music—she has written a poem about a clothes line, and made it a magic thing. So the “New Zealand Artists’ Annual” discovered the girl of sixteen who, a few years later, was to sing a song of clothes lines! Ken Alexander writes an understanding introduction to the booklet.
In the estimate of the collector of New Zealand books, historical items come first. I find a greater interest, however, in collecting New Zealand verse and fiction. For the present the latter items may be purchased at very easy prices at current book auction sales. The first editions of such famous New Zealand novels as “The Greenstone Door” (Satchell) and “The Story of a New Zealand River” (Jane Mander) are destined to be very rare items although they are still purchasable occasionally for seven or eight shillings. The first books of some of our leading New Zealand poets are, however, becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Take for instance Eileen Duggan's first small book of verse, or Jessie Mackay's “Ballads,” published in 1889, or Dick Harris's “Monodies,” almost impossible to obtain these days. Yet there is more recent verse becoming just as rare: “Robin Hyde's” “Desolate Star,” the first one or two issues of “New Zealand's Best Poems,” etc. Another item more recent and containing some of the finest poetry written by a New Zealander—“Aldeberan,” by Alan Mulgan, is worth having. Only a few copies were printed of this rare booklet of verse.
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“Brave Days” is an all-New Zealand production” written by women, about women for women” and published by Messrs. A. H. & A. W. Reed. This is the story of the pioneer women of the Dominion written by women from all parts of the Dominion. And most interesting reading it makes. The opening chapter by N. A. R. Barrer gives a graphic picture of early-time journeys to New Zealand in emigrant ships. We read of one mother who died from exhaustion “consequent on ninety days’ severe seasickness.” Then the following brief note to his principals from one shipmaster: “I'm happy to inform you of the safe arrival here of the Slains Castle—all well—having only lost four infants under twelve months, and having five births.” This chapter is just an indication of the trials and tribulations met with by our pioneers. This is a most interesting record, all the more engrossing because of the many writers who contribute and the host of letters and records quoted from. The story commences at Auckland where the earliest settlers landed and is carried on from there to Wellington and other towns and provinces of the North Island. South Island women then continue the narrative from Nelson to Southland. This composite historical effort owes its origin to the Women's Division of the New Zealand Farmers’ Union, publication being made possible through the generosity of Mrs. Allen Bell. It is fitting, therefore, that the book should open with “an appreciation” of Mrs. Bell and her work.
The volume is well illustrated, and sells at the modest price of 4/6.
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“My New Zealand” by A. J. Harrop (Jarrolds, London) is an admirable survey of the Dominion as it is to-day. An extensive field is covered by Dr. Harrop in this book even to including a few chapters on our early history. With that practised pen of his the author writes in an effortless and interesting manner and without any verbal affectation. In his comment on things political it is evident that he is careful to preserve an even balance. The book is full of restrained and well-balanced comment and statement of fact. It is really an excellent handbook for anybody wishing to become acquainted with the Dominion and, of course, intensely interesting to those who, like the author himself, are proud to acknowledge the Dominion as the land of their birth.
The book is beautifully illustrated.
“Pioneers on Parade” by Miles Franklin and Dymphna Cusack (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is something startlingly new in Australian fiction. Yet, there is not so much fiction about it, for the whole story is built on the recent Sesqui-Centenary celebrations in New South Wales and although the characters are imaginary they are obviously built on types. Satire is the weapon used to tilt at high society; the home product and that imported for the big event. It is a very daring piece of work but, if those of whom it makes fun, take its lessons to heart, some good may result. The Australian social climber is depicted with comparatively good humour, but the acid is undiluted in the etching of other samples.
Shibli Listens In.
An imposing selection of Centennial books to be published shortly by A. H. & A. W. Reed include “The City of the Strait,” the official Centennial history of Wellington, by Alan Mulgan. “The History of Hawke's Bay,” edited by J. G. Wilson, A. M. Isdale and C. Price, and “Such Things Were,” the story of Cambridge, by C. W. Vennell.