[Editor: This article, regarding A. G. Stephens, was published in The Press (Christchurch, NZ), 22 January 1909.]
A. G. S.
As seen and heard by the “Nice New Zealand boy.”
(Specially written for “The Press.”)
A. G. Stephens was in Christchurch. He had done many things, and was, by all accounts, a man worth meeting. I wanted to meet him, and if I had no introduction, I had impudence, and soon found an excuse. A book in which cuttings might be pasted was procurable cheap; a pile of old papers would provide the cuttings. I should go to him with my collected “works” beneath my arm, seeking his opinion of their doubtful worth. So should I be able to meet him, and so should I be able to gauge his reputed kindliness.
The scheme succeeded. He came to me in the smoking-room, a squarely-built man, with a square-cut beard. I remembered that his face had been compared to that of Jehan Rictus, and for a moment fell to wondering who Jehan Rictus might have been. With inane remarks such as I imagined suitable, I handed him the clippings. He looked at them carefully, and spoke of them, but I did not listen carefully. They were vastly uninteresting clippings, and had been paid for long ago. Now they had taken me into his presence their purpose was served. I wanted to try to guess what manner of man this was.
His garb and beard suggested the sea, but he was no sort of seaman, that I had ever seen. His age, also, was doubtful. If he were under middle-age, then he had done much work and known many worries; if he were much beyond, say, forty-five or fifty, he carried his years easily. His eyes were clear and very steady, his nerves so under control that the liquid in the coffee-cup he held never rippled or swirled as it would have done had his hand shaken ever so slightly. He was a strong man, and in good condition.
The critic was talking. He talked as he would have written, meaning what he said and saying it definitely. His voice was very even, almost free from accent or intonation. Every word came clear; in each sentence there were little pauses, where stops would gave been had the phrases been written down. A. G. Stephens is a journalist, may be, but he is a scholar first, last, and always. In a smoking-room his voice and themes seemed out of place. His words should have been spoken in some quiet library where the public did not come. The way in which he spoke of lesser things showed how he came to hold the position he does amongst Australian men of letters.
In his manner there was neither pose nor conceit. His kindliness was wonderful. He was so kind that he did not refrain from saying things which it was good far me to know. I began to like him, and to be half-ashamed of the way in which I had come to him.
His remarks on things were good to hear. “Don’t go away to do great things in London. Others have done that and come back to be sorry. Don’t go to Sydney to be a Bohemian.
“The decent life is best — even for journalists. Travel — and come home. You will find no better city than Christchurch in your travels.
“If you want to be a journalist, look at all things, cultivate everybody. Everybody has something to tell you; and many persons mistake diamonds for pebbles — for want of sympathy, or simply not seeing them. Talk to Christchurch business men — tram conductors — cabmen — dustmen — anybody who will talk to you. All copy, when you are able to get the wheat from the chaff.
“I saw a fine thing to-day on your Park notice-board — No. 7 of the by-laws of the Christchurch Domain: “No person is permitted to carry burdens within the limits of the Domain.” See how big that is, imaginatively? Just the opposite to Dante’s “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” You must leave all your cares behind, all your load of woes, when you come to the Domain — simply, the Board will not permit you to carry them further. You ought to make something of that — everything’s copy if you’re going to be a journalist. Try it as a villanelle.
Cast off your load of care!
Here’s freedom, take your share!
It can be done much better than that.
“New Zealanders are greatly appreciated in Australian journalism. They have not, perhaps, a great reputation for brilliancy, but they have a better reputation for steadiness. The qualities are seldom combined. And the energy of New Zealanders is always notable. It is more persistent than the Australian energy, which is somewhat apt to be spasmodic. Mr Taperell, Mr Nolan, and Mr Jack Barr, with other graduates from the New Zealand Press, are well spoken of in Sydney.”
So he talked on upon all sorts of topics, but always in the same level voice and the same steady, unflashing eye.
“You are a nice- boy, and I like you,” were his last words. He is a nice, kind critic, and I like him. So we are even, if only the Editor has space to spare for this.
The Press (Christchurch, NZ), 22 January 1909, p. 7, column 6
copy = any information, interview, news, or human interest stories which are considered to be worthwhile putting into a newspaper, magazine, or periodical (i.e. any article or item which is considered to be newsworthy, of interest to the reading public, or worthy of submission to an editor of a periodical publication)
Dante = Durante degli Alighieri (circa 1265-1321), known as Dante, an Italian poet (best known for his epic poem “Divine Comedy”)
See: “Dante Alighieri”, Wikipedia
inane = any chatter, activity, or production which is regarded as pointless, purposeless, meaningless, lacking sense, lacking significance, or intellectually insubstantial; engaging in boring petty talk or insubstantial conversation which is indicative of someone who is silly, stupid, devoid of intelligence, or mentally vacant; chatter which is regarded as stupid, petty, and boring (and/or annoying); having an outward appearance of being mentally vacant or devoid of intelligent thought
Jehan Rictus = the literary pseudonym of Gabriel Randon (1867-1933), a French poet
See: 1) “Jehan Rictus”, Wikipedia
2) “Jehan Rictus”, Babelio [a French language article, with a photo of Jehan Rictus]
3) “Jehan Rictus: Carte postale photographique dédicacée de Jehan Rictus à Félix Rey”, Edition-Originale.com [includes a photo of Jehan Rictus]
Press = the print-based media, especially newspapers (can be spelt with or without a capital letter: Press, press)
villanelle = a type of poem which consists of five tercets (a tercet is a three-line stanza) and one quatrain (a quatrain is a four-line stanza)
See: “Villanelle”, Wikipedia
ye = (archaic; dialectal) you (still in use in some places, e.g. in Cornwall, Ireland, Newfoundland, and Northern England; it can used as either the singular or plural form of “you”, although the plural form is the more common usage)
[Editor: Changed “vilanelle” to “villanelle”.]