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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 2 (May 1, 1940.)

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two

page 37

Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two

Afew days before he died the late Lindsay Buick told me with that quiet characteristic enthusiasm of his that he was planning to write a new edition of his famous work “Old Marlborough.” He told me something of the splendid new material which had reached him, mostly through numerous letters from old residents. Because of his earlier work many old settlers had written to him giving important historical details of the province across the Strait. When I heard of Mr. Buick's death a few days later I expressed the fervent hope that these letters which he hoped to use in the proposed new edition would be preserved. I presume that this was done. This leads me to the centennial volume recently published. “Marlborough, a Provincial History,” which is a very satisfying work. In fact I will be bold to state that it surpasses anything yet produced in the rapidly growing library of Centennial publications.

The writing of the book was in several hands, the editing being carried out by Mr. A. D. McIntosh, assisted by Mr. W. R. Allen, editor of the “Marlborough Express,” and Dr. W. E. Redman. The result of this composite effort, admirably edited, has been that each group of chapters, or each chapter on separate historical aspects has been written by people well versed in their subjects. A happy thought, too, was the selection of Miss Eileen Duggan to write the introduction, for Marlborough is her native district. In a 3,000-word foreword Miss Duggan has given us one of the most striking and beautifully phrased introductions to be found in any his-torical work. Added to all these Interesting facts it must be noted that the appendix to the volume contains an imposing array of names, facts and figures, the illustrations are many and particularly well produced, the end papers artistic and striking, and the general format a delight for any book over. Whitcombe and Tombs, the printers, have done their job well, and appropriately enough the marketing is the hands of Mr. Duckworth, of Marlborough, who is known as an enterprising and bookish bookseller.

And now am I going to write a critical analysis of the book itself? No, space will not permit. I have mentioned points not usually stressed by New Zealand reviewers to whom I will leave the pleasant task of commenting on the letterpress of a book, the reading of which, to me, has been a special pleasure.

It should be mentioned that while Buick's “Old Marlborough,” and C. A. MacDonald's “Pages from the Past” have evidently proved exceedingly useful in compiling the book, the present history is more of a supplementary one which adds greatly to its historical value.

* * *

If we had a New Zealand Le Gallienne I can imagine what a delightful essay he could write about the literary atmosphere surrounding Whitcombe and Tombs bookshop in Christchurch. It is a very large bookshop this, probably the largest in New Zealand, but this does not prevent it from being the homeliest literary club, for it is here that
Bookplate by A. E. Caddick, of Christchurch. It incorporates his three favourite authors, his favourite sport and something representative of New Zealand. The artist is Colin Lovell Smith, of Christchurch.

Bookplate by A. E. Caddick, of Christchurch. It incorporates his three favourite authors, his favourite sport and something representative of New Zealand. The artist is Colin Lovell Smith, of Christchurch.

you will find, several times during the week, groups of writers and bibliophiles discussing what is dearest to their hearts, the books around them. Somehow these groups always hover round one particular part of the shop, the secondhand book department, for Whitcombe's specialise in this particular sphere. They do not deal in dog-eared magazines here, or in mouldy text books, but in a particularly interesting class of books, ranging from the early classics of the wonderful 'nineties to the moderns of this century. And the New Zealand section is one of the finest to be seen South of the line, boasting in fact of a special catalogue.

Here then is that right ripe atmosphere of old books, and that the company is not lacking is proved by a survey of the literary talent that Christchurch has given us. Schroder, the New Zealand essayist, comes in every now and then with that rare smile of his, and if it is summer time he will be wearing one of those straw hats about which he has written with such Elian artistry. If he is up from Timaru, Ian Donnelly, who is cultivating a Chestertonian aspect, will make Whitcombe and Tombs his first port of call. The deep, deep voice of Ngaio Marsh has been heard there, more often than once. Mona Tracy, as Percy Crisp so aptly said, directs her steps to Whitcombe's when she is making a “Sally Forth.” And somehow the shade of Percy him-self always seems to be present. Other shades are there—the frail one of Jessie Mackay, and of Esther Glen. Pleasant and sad memories weave together and there is a permanence given by those who have been there for years. E. V. Chaffey, the intensely vital manager of the department, is liked by all, to such an extent by one famous visitor of the long ago that this page 38 page 39 visitor later dedicated a book to him. Other permanents are C. J. Johnstone who knows so much of New Zealand books that he wrote a supplement to the Hocken Bibliography, and Percy Dobbs, now in charge of the secondhand department. And the scholarly A. E. Caddick, who has one of the best association libraries in the country, must also be regarded as a permanent.

Finally, let me echo a fervent hope that, although time persists, ever so more frequently of late, in pulling the curtain down on people and places we hold most dear, that the Whitcombian Literary Club of Christchurch may endure for many a day.

* * *

It is safe to say that no New Zealand publication has ever had such a wide and attentive audience as “Making New Zealand,” the pictorial surveys now being published by the Department of Internal Affairs. Admittedly the series is a plain example of literary spoon-feeding, but this is well in step with the times, when except for the easily read novel, the average reader will sheer away from anything that savours of history. When history is presented to them with more space devoted to picture than to letter-press, and the latter so interesting and easily assimilated, the modern reader cannot help but be interested. Take, for example, the two latest issues of the surveys. One is devoted to the story, development and influence refrigeration has had on New Zealand production, and the other a history of our pasture lands. Just imagine how many people would be interested in such subjects presented in the old-fashioned manner; yet in the pictorial survey fashion everyone will read these two books and find them intensely interesting. “Pasture Land,” prepared by J. W. Woodcock and H. I. Forde, tells the story of our grass and tussock lands, the felling of the bush, cropping and pastures, the dairy industry and other aspects of farm development. No. 12 of the series, prepared by F. R. Callaghan and D. O. W. Hall, tells in similarly interesting fashion, the story of refrigeration, and the part it has played in the farm life of the country. In both publications the lay-out has been the work of J. D. Pascoe, who is showing himself to be a pastmaster in this particular department.

* * *

“Error” writes asking whether “A Dictionary of Typography and Literary Almanack” is considered an authority on literary dates. He instances the case of Elias Ashmole whose birth is given as May 23rd, 1617, and death, May 18th, 1612. Obviously this is a printer's error, excusable in the rush of daily newspaper life but hardly so in a dictionary. The famous antiquary died on May 18th, 1692.

* * *

A few notes about some of the Centennial Literary Prize Winners:—

Francis Howard Harris, who won the novel competition, was born in Palmerston North twenty-eight years ago, and is now living in Lakemba (N.S.W.).

Mrs. E. N. Greatorex, who won a prize in the same section, is better known as Bettie Riddell. She is also living in Australia; born in Napier.

Monte Holcroft, who won the essay competition is also a successful novelist.

Mr. G. N. Morris, of Auckland, who was second in the same section, possesses the finest Katherine Mansfield library in New Zealand.

Miss Helena Henderson, who tied with the Rev. J. R. Hervey (Christchurch) in the short poem, also comes from Christchurch. She is one of the most retiring of our writers and has written verse of rare sincerity. One of her daughters is following fast in her footsteps as a writer of verse.

Frank Sargeson and Roger Finlayson, who gained places in the short story competition, are two young members of a clever literary coterie in Auckland.


“The Day Before Yesterday,” by the Rev. Melville Harcourt (A. H. & A. W. Reed), is described as a short history of the Bay of Islands. Although not described as an official centennial history publication, this book must be regarded as a valuable supplementary work. The author, the Vicar of Waimate North, appears to have made a very close study of the historical facts at his disposal and with little or no quotation he has dramatised the whole story in his mind's eye. The result is a picturesque lively narrative in which the good and the bad are featured with delightful impartiality. Captain Cook, Samuel Marsden, James Busby, Bishop Selwyn, Hongi Hiki play their parts against a background of traders, rum runners, whalers and other picturesque figures of those early days. The activities of the missionaries occupy the major portion of the narrative, and here again the author is just as quick to praise as to blame. The Bay of Islands was well in the spotlight in those days and a host of notable happenings, including the colourful pageantry of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, are described. The book carries a foreword by the Most Rev. Dr. Averill.

* * *

“Yeomen of the South,” by M. C. Thomas (printed by the Southland News Co., Ltd.), is a biographical record of the early farmers of Southland. The pioneers are grouped under the various settlements, and the account of their activities makes an interesting though perhaps somewhat disjointed history of Southland. The book runs to 188 pages and is paper bound.

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