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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4


page 81


In grace and genuineness of thought and expression, none of our New Zealand writers of verse have surpassed « Austral, » whose contributions are well known to readers of the Australasian, and to a wider circle still by the specimens in Mr Sladen's various collections of Australasian poetry. In fact, the two or three examples there brought together were copied by reviewers as among the gems of the book. The writer, Mrs J. Glenny Wilson, of Rangitikei (née Adams, of Victoria) has published a little collection under her own name, entitled « Themes and Variations. » It is a book that will be welcomed by every lover of poetry, and that should have an especial charm to those who—like Typo—are colonial born, or who have been dwellers in the colony from early childhood. With the exception of Kendall, the sweetest of Australian singers, no writer has so thoroughly caught the spirit of the southern lands. Here and there we find suggestions of Kendall's style, but there is no imitation; and while Kendall's verse is full of imagery derived from a continent, with its vast arid plains and boundless horizons, Mrs. Wilson's poems reflect the insular beauty of our own land of mountain, forest, and water-springs, with the great Pacific ever in view from any lofty eminence. It is no mere catalogue of natural features that we find in « Austral's » verse—the writer has the power, by a happy expression, to suggest the special charm of the scene she describes. No one who has journeyed through the Seventy-mile Bush, or who has crossed the Paikakariki mountain, can fail to have the landscapes and their associations vividly recalled by two of the poems before us—poems which it is needless to quote here, as they are in Mr Sladen's collection. If the quality we have noted were the only merit of Mrs Wilson's verses they would take a high place, though they might be open to the criticism of being distinguished by mere prettiness. But the little work is by no means a mere sketch-book of natural scenery. One may recognize the gift of insight which sees in the changing beauty of earth and sky the type of something loftier and greater—that which abides and is unchanging. There are questionings, but there is also assurance. There are, no doubt, readers who love the dyspeptic, despairing, and hopeless poets: they will find little to charm them in Mrs Wilson's book. The brilliant and sparkling Moore, when he turned to sacred themes, assumed a fictitious melancholy and disgust with all things terrestrial. « This world, » he piously wrote, « is all a fleeting show, for man's illusion given » — an altogether false and libellous sentiment. The following opening stanzas of a New World, » will give an idea of Mrs Wilson's descriptive powers:

Know'st thou an island on the misty ocean,
Green, green with fern, and many an ancient tree,
Whose waving top, with soft perpetual motion
Repeats the same primeval melody?
The rata with the red-pine interlaces,
And lights the forest with a scarlet gleam:
The sunshine in the hill the shadow chases;
The fern-tree bends in silence o'er the stream.

In « A Bed in the Hills, » there is a suggestion of Kendall:

Peace! peace! The summer breathes around,
Gold marsh-cups bloom in every hollow,
The seeding thistle sheds her down,
And airy spears of hawkweed follow.
The quail starts from her hidden nest.
Where shaking-green with fern embraces:
The mountains glide across the plain,
And vanish into azure spaces.
Blue phantom-land! May Eden yet
Be somewhere in these unknown places?
And he who deeply slumbers here,
(So spake a voice, or I am dreaming),
Through all its sorrows, sins, and fears,
Tasted of life and not its seeming.

—But we must resist the temptation to quote farther from this poem, and will give one exquisite little piece, « Pensees, » in full, as a characteristic example of our author's work:

Out of the deep, the endless coil of truth,
With wear and fret, and toil of many hands,
Strains slowly to the surface; while, in turn,
Each generation strives to lift the line
And read the secret of the fathomless sea.
Let us toil on! Who knows, before we go,
What living thoughts may flash back from these green depths below?

Columbus, wandering by the Iberian shore,
Asked of the waves to aid him in his quest.
And if, beyond that tremulous silver floor
They murmured round some kingdom of the west.
The breakers washed, in answer, to the land,
Fragments of spicy wood, strange fruit and shell,
And once a graven toy for childish hand,
A riddle for the sailor's wish to spell.
And we, who wander by the whispering bent,
In faith, and dream, and broken memory,
Seek for a sign of that far continent
That lies beyond Death's undiscovered sea.

The poems are singularly free from padding: the ideas are clear, and concisely expressed. There is not a long piece in the book, and some of the shorter ones are as sharply and delicately finished as a cameo. The second section— « A Book of Sketches, » is a kind of skeleton drama in detatched pieces. Trifling and fragmentary though it is, it contains good word-painting and shrewd delineation of character. There is not a piece in the book that we would wish to see omitted, and we hope that Mrs Wilson's first contribution to the literature of New Zealand will not be her last; and that « Themes and Variations » may find a place in every library in New Zealand.

« For so Little » is the title of the latest New Zealand « shocker » —the first attempt of a female writer. The work is a morbid and unnatural study of crime and weakness. It is chiefly objectionable, however, inasmuch as it is based on a very recent criminal trial, great liberties being taken with the facts. The attraction of the work will be that all the leading characters represent living persons, who can be readily identified. Bad taste is a mild term to apply to a fiction written on lines like these. The writer betrays more than the ordinary feminine ignorance of judicial procedure, and the murder-trial scene is suggestive of an operatic burlesque.

As a literary effort, the new monthly, Justice, is disappointing. The opening verses by the Rev. E. H. Gulliver are vague, and the original articles declamatory, but sadly deficient in substance. Much of the paper is taken up by Mr Arthur Desmond, our Champion Crank, and one of his articles is appropriately headed « The Working of the Yeast. » If the writings of George and Bellamy fail to set people thinking on social questions, they are a failure indeed—it is not enough that they should set folks talking or scribbling. And herein is the weak point of Justice—not one of its writers seems to have any ideas of his own, or any real acquaintance with the social condition of the colony.

« Bolf Boldrewood, » the author of many deservedly-popular Australian stories, is Mr Thomas Alexander Browne, police-magistrate and coroner in charge of the Albury District, New South Wales.

After a half-century of service, Mr. G. Bullen, custodian of the printed books in the British Museum, is about to retire. It is expected that Dr. Garnett, senior assistant keeper, will be promoted to his place.

The trustees of the British Museum have just bought for the print-room some characteristic specimens of the classic and idyllic work of the gifted but almost unknown artist William Calvert, who died at a very advanced age in 1883. In his youth he had been the friend of Blake, and produced some small designs in black-and-white, on stone, copper, and wood, which show Blake's influence, but have a beauty all their own which causes them to be highly prized by collectors. He was afterwards one of a circle of poetical artists, and in late life confined himself almost entirely to Greek mythological subjects, working generally on a small scale, and in a curious technical manner of his own in oil-color and paper. Caring rather for suggestion than definition, he obtained by this method extraordinary qualities of color-harmony, as well as idyllic sentiment and execution.

The Master Printers of Vienna have celebrated the quarcentenary of the introduction of the art by publishing a history of Austrian typography, which will be illustrated by some exceedingly fine specimens of wood-engravings and process-engravings of various descriptions. The volume is described as one of the most perfect productions of its class ever issued from the press—and those who are acquainted with the fine work of the Viennese printers will not doubt the statement. Only a few copies have been printed for public circulation.

Mr. W. D. Howells, the popular American novelist, began life as an apprentice to the printing trade. While engaged as a compositor, he contributed to the paper on which he was engaged, and occasionally had the satisfaction of setting up his own contributions. He believes that no other exercise is so valuable in the formation of literary style as work at case. The toil over all kinds of manuscript, and the constant necessity of grasping at precise meanings for the purpose of punctuation, is unequalled as a means of learning the construction of sentences, and developing the sense of the choice of fitting words.

The many admirers of Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett's stories will grieve to learn that the gifted writer is dying of consumption at Wayne, near Philadelphia.