II. Vanity Fair [biography of Philip Durham Lorimer]

[Editor: This is part 2 of the biography of Philip Durham Lorimer, written by Edward Augustus Petherick, which was published in Songs and Verses by Philip Durham Lorimer: An Australian Bush Poet, 1901.]

II. Vanity Fair

From his early youth, Philip had a decided taste for rhyming. Whether he wrote verse as part of his academic course there is no evidence; probably not, but he must have been a great reader of poetry. Soon after his arrival in Sydney he had met a ‘sweet maiden’ with ‘golden tresses’ and his long enforced absence in the “Never Never Country” brought at noon and eve the ‘sweet remembrance.’ In November 1868 the lady died. ‘The Fallen Flower,’ ‘In Memoriam,’ and other pieces reprinted in the present volume, testify to the deep affection in which her memory was ever after held by her disconsolate lover.

The pieces entitled ‘I love thy Smiles,’ ‘I will leave thee in the Sweetness,’ and ‘The Hawthorn,’ tell of another flame, after Philip’s return to Sydney, but he soon bade that lady ‘Good-Bye’ and for the future there is only the aftermath of his first and only love — reflected in the verse which he wrote for other afflicted lovers.*

It was during the period of sorrowing for his lost love that Philip’s opportunity in life came, the help and assistance for which he asked in the letter above quoted. Money was remitted to both brothers, enough indeed to start them on their own account together.

Instead however of investing it in a business in which they had gained some experience, they were unhappily induced to embark in a business about which neither of them knew anything whatever, and for which both were equally unfitted. A few years and their capital was gone. Henceforth Philip’s path was alone and apart : a city life, if it ever had any attractions for him, soon lost its charms, and he naturally returned to the country.

Illness and disappointment had weakened and unfitted him for regular and continuous work. A child of nature with the simplicity of a child and much of its waywardness, he could rest nowhere. With a pride which defied time and remonstrance, he became a wanderer. Without shunning society, without much brooding over the differences and inequalities caused by wealth, or being much affected by the ups and downs of its possessors, he would be “free.” That is the secret of his life, as it is of many others, in this world. Assistance and a home he might have had always, and some if not all the privileges and conveniences of town life. But he would not be conditioned. There was selfishness as well as pride in this refusal and renunciation, for which, to be just, his nearest and dearest friends continually suffered much more than he did.

Many a long tramp he had in all seasons, in sunshine and rain, or in sultry heat, from station to station, over the ranges, along the gullies, across the plains, among the shepherds, or the diggers, getting a job here or there; meeting rough but nearly always pleasant company, he would in the evenings recite his verses and tell stories in the men’s huts, where story tellers and reciters are ever welcome.

In after years when he became well known he was a welcome guest at farms and generally found occupation. In some country homes the kindly unobtrusive visitor was invited to sit by the fireside; the young people and children were fond of ‘Old Phil’ — and he thus became the recognized poet, writing verses for birthday and wedding anniversaries, or other festive occasions, and sometimes in memory of the departed — not unlike the ancient bards and rhymers of his native land. Especially was this the case in his later years, when he reminds us of Scott’s ‘Last Minstrel’ whose

”Withered cheeks and tresses grey
Seemed to have known a better day.”

Philip sang not of ancient but of modern chivalry, the hopes and fears, the sorrows and aspirations, the consolations of ordinary work-a-day life, and in such language as his fellow men could understand. His own cheerfulness often, however, gave place to fits of despondency and the mournful feeling that there remained for him but a short time and then rest. When the fit had passed —

“Getting out of his sepulchre
Into the open air,” —

he would rouse himself and resolve to minister in his own way to those who helped and cheered his onward journey. Withal he was a close observer of the social and political movements of his time and marked what to him appeared the progress, or the retrogression, of affairs in the young and democratic colonies. Among the class of men with whom he became associated, he was a strong advocate of freedom in its best sense, of self-reliance and independence. A spectator, he had his opinions and did not hesitate to express them. He was not a recluse — in one of his latest poems he says —

“I’ve walked alone as one adrift from all.
Yet in communion with the heart of man”

and again —

“When want pressed hard and left me torn but free,
I’ve sought and found a rest in homes of men.”

Phil was a preacher too. His verse has not the melody, or the wit, the smartness, or the slang, of some later Australian poets ; his fancy occasionally rioted with his language, but he caught something of the spirit of nature to which he was so deeply and indissolubly attached; and, he could speak truth.

“A verse may find him who a sermon flies —” wrote the holy Herbert. We find Philip not only composing and singing in “short swallow flights” to “cheer the way,” but preaching on the follies and waywardness of his fellow men, himself no Pharisee or hypocrite, but a fellow sinner too.

* In the year 1871 he printed (in Sydney) a small collection of his Poems, in pamphlet form, which is now rare.

E. A. Petherick (editor). Songs and Verses by Philip Durham Lorimer: An Australian Bush Poet, William Clowes and Sons, London, 1901, pages 22-25

Editor’s notes:
Herbert = George Herbert (1593-1633), British poet; “A verse may find him who a sermon flies” is a line from a poem by George Herbert, “The Church Porch”

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