[Editor: This article about Adam Lindsay Gordon, by P. I. O’Leary, was published on “The Literary and Critical Page” of The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), 6 January 1927.]
Adam Lindsay Gordon.
His poems in magnificent dress.
“The Adam Lindsay Gordon Memorial Volume.” Edited by Edward Vidler. Published by Lothian, Melbourne. £4/4/-.
I have a grievance. The matter of it is thus. In 1921 a book of rhymes of mine entitled “Romance and Other Verses,” was published as a subscription edition. With a modesty at once native and peculiar to myself, I had insisted on “and other verses” after the opening title, “Romance.”
I did not, you see, conscious of my laboured winging in far lower ethers than those in which, with eagle-pinions, the Homers, Dantes, and Miltons soar, have the temerity to call my little bits of rhythmical toying with words “poetry.” But Mr. McCubbin, upon whom the expense of the adventure fell, was, in his department, not so modest. Perhaps his Caledonian spirit, as against the less material Hibernian instincts of the writer of these lines, induced Mac’s boldness. But, with a barefacedness admirable in its completeness, he charged each guileless purchaser of “my” book £3/3/-. The gesture was fine and the response excellent. But — I have kept this up my sleeve — the merit of the book wasn’t mine at all. It was John Shirlow’s. For John Shirlow — prince of Australian etchers — illustrated “Romance and Other Verses” — and that splendidly, as any may see who will take the trouble of asking for the book at the Public Library.
A lost distinction.
However, my point is this — I was, until the other day, in the words of the Sydney “Bulletin,” “the highest-priced poet in Australia,” and now this distinction has been taken from me. The truly magnificent edition de luxe of the poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, priced at £4/4/-, has taken whatever dubious and wayward distinction of the sort I had. I had written in one poem in my book — a poem based on a line of Lawrence Sterne’s — these lines:
I came into your city
Barren of pence or pride.
My pride, a thing more easily snuffable than a candle-flame, remains. My pence — Lothian has exceeded them by 240.
Most readers of this page know my opinion of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s poems. Three years ago, indeed, in these very columns, a discussion, not, at times, without its pardonable warmth, took place as to the propriety of my expressed view that Gordon was not, in essential sentiment, an Australian poet. I am letting these controversial bygones be bygones, and am not attempting to revive that contention. But I am going to say that since that time I have many times dipped into my old dog-eared Gordon, which I love. For one always loves the poets. And now I have before me this beautiful book, “The Adam Lindsay Gordon Memorial Volume,” so admirably edited by Mr. Edward Vidler and so beautifully produced by Lothian’s. Running through the poems once more, how pleasant it is to read, set in such exquisite dress, the lines one lingers on of the unhappy, ill-starred spirit who sleeps beneath the ti-tree at Brighton:
In the spring, when the wattle-gold trembles
’Twixt shadow and shine,
And each dew-laden air draught resembles
A long draught of wine.
* * * * *
Hark the bells of distant cattle
Waft across the range,
Through the golden-tufted wattle,
Music low and strange.
The wonderful phrase-picture commencing with the words
It was merry in the glowing morn among the gleaming grass.
and such spirited lines as these, with their marvellous sense of movement:
Hard behind them in the timber, harder still across the heath,
Close beside them through the tea-tree scrub we dashed;
And the golden-tinted fern leaves, how they rustled underneath!
And the honeysuckle osiers how they crashed!
— here in this beautiful book, to touch which is a sheer delight alone, are these and so many other memorable lines. And they are remarkably illustrated in colour by leading Australian artists.
Years ago the late Sir Frank Madden, who knew Gordon well, declared that the poet’s most characteristic portrait was one showing him with a beard. The splendid painting by Mr. Leslie Wilkie, reproduced in the front of the volume, is such a portrait. This picture, which depicts the maturer Gordon, was painted from hints and descriptions given to the artist by that grand old man, George Gordon McCrae, a friend of Gordon, and himself a considerable poet and a father of poets. Among the beautiful illustrations are Mr. Hans Heysen’s “The Blue Lake, Mount Gambier,” Mr. Will Ashton’s “Dingley Dell,” and a beautiful picture of wattle by that lover of the scented bloom, the late Penleigh Boyd. There are two illustrations not in colour — one of Gordon’s grave and one of a group at the annual pilgrimage to Brighton. Australia’s greatest living poet, Mr. Bernard O’Dowd, is shown in the latter delivering an address.
Fine Literary Articles.
The publication of this volume, easily to be counted amongst the finest examples of book-production in Australia, is due to the enthusiastic work of a committee of lovers of the “laureate of the centaurs” sleeping, in Kendall’s words, “hard by the sea.” It was a happy decision of this committee to induce qualified writers to contribute articles, biographical and commentary, on Gordon. Thus the pen and the brush, the writer and the artist, alike, in this book, pay tribute to the most tragic of singers in Australia. Mr. Vidler, under the initials “E.A.V.,” contributes an admirably summarised and appreciative biographical paper. Mr. J. Howlett Ross, whose qualifications for writing an article on the lady and on Gordon’s romantic, if not reciprocated attachment, has a specially interesting essay on “Gordon’s English Sweetheart,” and Mr. C. R. Long has written two articles, “At Gordon’s Grave” and “The Poets’ Tribute to Gordon,” in which deep acquaintance with the poet’s work and with the eulogies of Gordon by other poets is manifest. Mr. Howlett Ross’s article is full of little-known facts concerning Gordon.
A book for the investor and connoisseur.
This work, the object of which is to aid the funds for the erection of a statue to the poet, is in itself a monument to his memory. It is certain that no other such volume on Gordon will ever be published. And it is equally certain that the value of the book, both for its intrinsic, artistic, and literary quality, and for its interest as a unique edition, will increase with the years, as will the fame of the poet upon whose poetry it is founded. Thus, as a piece of virtu and an investment, “The Adam Lindsay Gordon Memorial Volume” will well repay purchase. To the lover of Gordon, the lover of beautiful things, and to the discerning searcher for a work whose material worth will be progressively enhanced in the future, the volume makes keen appeal. It is a credit to all who have in any way had a hand in its production.
— P. I. O’L.
The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), 6 January 1927, p. 3
The graphic accompanying this article (a portrait of Adam Lindsay Gordon) was of poor quality; therefore, a copy of what appears to be the same graphic has been included here, taken from: Poems by Adam Lindsay Gordon, London: Robert A. Thompson & Co., 1905.
Caledonian = (Latin) Scottish; of or relating to Scotland or its people; of or relating to Caledonia (the northern part of Great Britain, especially the land north of the River Forth; Scotland); a person belonging to one of the Scottish tribes (especially during Roman times); a citizen or resident of Scotland; someone from Scotland or of Scottish ethnicity
Dante = Durante degli Alighieri (circa 1265-1321), known as Dante, was an Italian poet (best known for his epic poem “Divine Comedy”)
ether = the air; the upper regions of the atmosphere (especially beyond the clouds); the sky (especially clear sky), the upper regions of the sky, the heavens; nothingness, the void of space
Hibernian = (Latin) Irish; of or relating to Ireland or its people; a citizen or resident of Ireland; someone from Ireland or of Irish ethnicity
Homer = an author of Ancient Greece; believed to be the author of the epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey
Milton = John Milton (1608-1674), an English author and poet, who became blind later in life; author of the epic poem, Paradise Lost (1667)
pinion = a bird’s wing; in more specific usage, the outer section of a bird’s wing; in broader usage, “pinions” refers to the wings of a bird (“pinion” may also refer specifically to a feather, especially a flight feather, or a quill)
’twixt = (vernacular) a contraction of “betwixt” (i.e. between) (may be spelt with or without an apostrophe: ’twixt, twixt)
up my sleeve = to have something up one’s sleeve is to have something hidden, in reserve, or out of view; to have an advantage, idea, plan, resource, secret, or strategy ready for use if needed
virtu = (Italian; derived from the Latin “virtus”, meaning “manliness”, regarding masculine strengths) ability, bravery, competence, courage, determination, military valour, perseverance, power, vitality; the presence of qualities in a leader or a population which are necessary for military or political achievement, power, or success; ethical behaviour, moral goodness, virtue, virtuousness; an artwork, an object of art, a work of art with artistic merit; an appreciation of, expertise in, or study of, antiquities and/or the fine arts (also rendered as: vertu, virtù)
[Editor: Changed “£3 3/-” to “£3/3/-” (in line with standard practice and regarding the other usage in this article).]