A bunch of old magazines.
Among the magazines was a 1949 edition of Southerly. A Literary Magazine. Then there was a 1954 edition of Meanjin. A Literary Magazine. Next came Theatre Goer. Australian Live Theatre of 1963 and finally a more modern edition of Quadrant dated 2005. What was it in the contents that impelled me to keep them, apart from my usual habit of not throwing out anything at all.
First let me look at the 1949 edition of Southerly which was edited by one of my old lecturers at University, R. G. Howarth. There was an article by T. Inglis Moore on Mary Gilmore; perhaps that was the reason. It fits in to my interest in 19th Century literature. Looking further there was another article this time by H.M. Green entitled Australian Literature 1948., The Tenth Annual Survey. I sat down to read this instead of getting on with work in the Mulini Press. I soon found out why I wanted to keep it. Two books discussed stand out. The second book written by Robert Close called The Dupe and then the second in the historical series of Australian historical fiction by Eleanor Dark entitled The Storm of Time. Dark's The Timeless Land is my favourite book based on Australian History. I bought and read it in an Army camp in Bathurst. It painted a picture of the foundation years of the First Settlement of New South Wales. It is still a favourite of mine. H. M. Green was not so very enthusiastic. For him it was too long and involved. He wrote that 'There is no more doubt about her talent and industry ... the whole book has a tapestry quality'. He quotes Sir Walter Scott that colonial writers had to 'get up' their history whereas he had been soaked it his history and thus his writing was more natural. Green thought it would take a Tolstoy to handle so great a task. Green thought that 'we have talent but the results could be obtained only by genius'.
As usual Australian critics could not talk about Australian works without mentioning British works or even French or Russian books. In discussing Richard Close of Love Me Sailor fame, he 'had to do' a comparison with Conrad. This was not to be any real comparison but to denigrate Close. His original book was of course banned and he was sent to jail for pornography. That made the book famous at the time.
I was amused at Green's one line dismissal of Patrick White's book. The Aunt's Story. White 'who was born in Australia but [largely] lived abroad, is a clever, rather too obviously clever and elaborate artificial psychological study of a spinster aunt.' Green would probably now like to have that sentence forgotten.
I think that I did keep the magazine because of the John Lang reference. Green was criticizing an essay by F.J.H. Letters called In a Shaft of Sunlight, 'pleasant armchair essays, in which however the author has made several careless statements. He should read more about Fisher's Ghost, in for example John Lang's Botany Bay, if there is any question of reprinting the essay on ghosts'. John Lang as Margin readers will know wrote several versions of that famous ghost story.
The second magazine in my old bunch was Meanjin in 1954 and it was edited by C. B. Christesen and the magazine was published at the University of Melbourne. There are two reasons why I have kept this magazine: the first is an article by the Australian poet A. D. Hope. entitled 'Australian Literature and the Universities'. At the time of writing there were no Australian Universities with courses in the subject. There were occasional lectures given about particular Australian authors. Hope argued for separate courses in Australian Literature at Australian Universities. He claimed these courses should be separate from those courses in English Literature. It was the duty of each country to teach and study their native literature. He coupled this with courses in the country's history and other local subjects. Hope was presenting an argument for courses in Australian Studies, a concept that had not yet emerged. It is a subject that still has relevance in view of the recent argument about teaching Australian Literature to the students in our schools. The arguments against this still follow the old line that Australian Literature is not of sufficient importance. Hope's reasons for adopting this idea are very much relevant today.
The other reason I kept the magazine is because it contains a series of letters by the author R. H. Home that were written from Australia in the 1860s. Home can be regarded as an 'Australian author' because of his long residence in the country. He came to Melbourne in the 1850s during the first enthusiasm of the gold rushes and eventually returned to England in 1869.
He had an adventurous early life as a volunteer soldier in South America. In his early travels he went to North America and eventually returned to England. Home wrote his most famous poem Orion that he sold for a farthing a copy and thus became known as the 'farthing poet'. He also wrote articles for Dickens' Household Words before he set out for Australia.
In Australia he had a number of positions; in none of them was he very successful before he settled down as a literary figure in Melbourne. He had written a number of theatrical works and adapted some well known plays for the stage. In Melbourne he wrote Prometheus the Fire Bringer, a lyric drama and a couple of years later The South Sea Sisters, A Lyric Masque which included an Aboriginal Corroboree. None of his works were profitable. He also published his Australian Facts and Prospects in 1959 that contained a part of his autobiography.
The letters published in Meanjin are important because they give a clear picture of Home's financial difficulties in Melbourne including some comments by Charles Dickens. Home had left his wife in England and did not send her any remittances. She supported herself by working on photographs. Home's letters are in effect 'begging letters'. He was seeking financial support from The Guild of Literature and Art that had been founded by Dickens and Edward Bulwer Lytton. He was also seeking money from The Royal Literary Fund Society. He did receive some assistance. He ended up having to sell his books and prints in order to live. Home had had difficulty with his finances even before he left England for Australia.
These Letters by Richard Hengist Home were edited and commented on by K. J. Fielding. They are a valuable source for the study of R,H, Home's life in Australia.
The next magazine in my collection is not a literary magazine but a Theatre magazine called Theatre Goer. Australian Live Theatre published in 1963.
This magazine is not about nineteenth century literature. Its importance is that it contains the full text of a play by Dymphna Cusack. The play was entitled Pacific Paradise. It is a dramatic play about Atomic tests on a Pacific Island. The characters stay on the island to be involved in the test and are prepared for death. There was a world-wide demand that the test be cancelled. In a dramatic last scene two of the characters ask to be married. It is a racially mixed marriage. They stand waiting for the sun to rise, the signal for the atomic explosion. It is cancelled.
The importance of the play is that at the time it was written there were widespread international protests attacking the continuation of Atomic tests in the Pacific. The play was translated into many different languages and performed in many countries. It was probably the only time that a play by an Australian writer received such world-wide recognition and performance. The play was translated in Japan, Latin America, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Germany, China, Albania, North Korea, Romania, Bulgaria, Cuba and Ireland and performed in England as well as in Australia and New Zealand. Of course the countries were mostly Communist states. There is no mention of the United States of America.
The feature collection of illustrations in the magazine was the production of The King and I in Melbourne with very romantic costumes. There is also a photograph of the winning Archibald Portrait for 1963. It is a wonderful portrait of Patrick White by Louis Kahan. I wonder to where it disappeared. It should be in the National Portrait Gallery. There is also comment on the controversy about Patrick White's play The Ham Funeral. This magazine is not about nineteenth Australian writing or plays. It was kept for the above reasons. I will not be throwing it out.
Kipling in Australia' is the title I have given to the article in the final periodical in my bundle. The actual title is 'The New Republic in the South' Kipling's Australia written by Peter F. Alexander. It appears in a modern magazine, Quadrant in 2005
You might wonder at including this article although it is about a nineteenth century writer; he was not Australian but merely a visitor for a very short period in 1891. There is yet another connection and that is my John Lang Project. Kipling lived well after John Lang but there is an Indian connection. John Lang lived for many years in India and wrote about the country and its people. Kipling lived for part of his early life in India and also wrote about its people.
Perhaps the first connection with John Lang was with the play Lang wrote together with Tom Taylor called Plot and Passion. Kipling took an acting part in a performance of this play in India when he was a very young man who had just returned to India where members of his family were living. Kipling took the part of the villain. There are other connections. Kipling knew John Lang's writings about India especially his book Wanderings in India. It is in that book that Lang wrote a story about a young part Indian boy who was brought up as an Indian. The story of Kipling's Kim appears to have been based partly on the Lang story. So the article on Kipling's visit to Australia had special meaning for me because there was a connection with John Lang.
That is my bundle of old magazines and why I kept them. They did not help in discovering any of the material I lost in my computer but they did remind me about various aspects of my interests in Australian literature way back in the 1950s. Whether I make any use of them in the future remains to be seen. As 'they' say 'Watch this space'.
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|Publication:||M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2009|
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