[Editor: The “Memories & Musings” column, written by “M” (P. I. O’Leary), published in The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), 13 June 1935. Included are some comments on Henry Lawson and Mrs. Aeneas Gunn.]
Memories & Musings
Tasmania’s acting premier.
Mr. E. Dwyer Gray, acting Premier of Tasmania and Treasurer in the Ogilvie Government, is the son of the Dwyer Gray of Dublin “Weekly Freeman’s” fame. Both the paper and its proprietor are dead.
Born with printer’s ink in his veins, this Tasmanian politician took to conducting newspapers as a duck takes to water. He spent many thousands of pounds in fighting the cause of Labour with a printing machine. Indeed, there is no politician who had made such monetary sacrifices for that cause. This proves that as well as being a man of ability, this good Irish-Australian is a man of principle.
Mr. Dwyer Gray took part in the last inter-State Labour Conference in which Mr. W. M. Hughes and the late W. A. Holman figured, and was the third, with that pair of impressive speakers, to give an address at the great final rally in the Exhibition Building, Adelaide, which concluded the conference.
Likeness with Hughes.
The special correspondent at Canberra of a Brisbane contemporary gives an interesting personal sketch of Mr. Dwyer Gray.
“Imagine a small, stooped man, with rather long grey hair and a grey moustache,” he says, “walking thoughtfully along with his hands behind his back and perhaps sucking a good old-fashioned pipe, and you have a fair picture of Mr. Dwyer Gray. He is a journalist, and was connected with Irish papers before he came to Australia. For about a quarter of a century he has been engaged in newspaper work in Hobart, and now conducts a Saturday sporting sheet. He reminds one of Mr. W. M. Hughes. He has the ex-Prime Minister’s habit of holding his hand to his ear to catch a fleeting phrase, and the likeness extends even to his mode of delivery and the metallic quality of his voice. But for all his candour — and he did say some candid things in placing Tasmania’s claims for a few hundred thousand pounds while the other Premiers were talking in several millions — he was suave and courteous. The chairman to him was ‘Mr. Major Casey,’ and he was equally polite to the other delegates. Mr. Dwyer Gray has a passion for figures, and more than one competent person at the conference afterwards expressed the opinion that he has a sound knowledge of finance.”
He should have that sound knowledge. His father had it.
The Lawson “boom.”
Lovers of Henry Lawson can have nothing but the warmest of welcomes for the “Herald’s” enterprise in popularising the prose of that remarkable writer, whatever the commercial implications of that enterprise may be.
Lawson’s fame has been growing since his death. This is as it ought to be; but many people who spoke of this quintessentially Australian writer — he is the most racy and native of Australian authors — were only taking him on trust, as, to-day, so many of them take, say, O’Dowd, Henry Handel Richardson, and Shaw Neilson. The widespread tendency is to talk about these and other notable Australian writers, but not to read their works.
Other lands are familiar with similar manifestations of affected knowledge. George Bernard Shaw, who, being an Irishman, naturally knew more about Shakespeare than an Englishman could be expected to, attacked with characteristic wit and vivacity the national English habit of mouthing Shakespeare’s name in general ignorance of Shakespeare’s plays. Shaw called it “bardolatory.” Shakespeare, in his own country, was greatly renowned, he was, however, even more greatly unread.
The “Herald’s” revival of interest in Lawson will help to change this condition of affairs so far as the author of “While the Billy Boils” is concerned.
In the symposium of opinion of Lawson’s works, which the “Herald” alertly gathered to support its enterprise, there are some unexpected and rather unmeasured dicta. People trying to say the right thing often say something which had been better left unsaid.
One “authority” observed that “without a doubt, Lawson ranks with the world’s best authors.” He does not, and it is merely foolish to pretend that he does. Others whose opinion was asked compared him with de Maupassant and Gorky. Lawson is neither to be likened to the subtle and sophisticated French master of the short story, nor to the sombre, troubled, gloom-haunted Slav.
To call him the “O. Henry of Australia,” as the Director of Education did, is also misleading. The two writers met on a common plane of love of their kind, but they are leagues apart in other respects. If we must compare him with an American, Bret Harte would be the writer.
There was an essential cleanness, a sort of naïveté in Lawson, and, though there was a melancholy shade in his writings, the sunlight was never far away. If that naïveté and simplicity of character went with a certain simplicity of technical method and manner, it was companied also by genuine humour, manliness and generosity, by understanding and heart-warm sympathy, and by a masculine tenderness, the sensitive quality and genuineness of which were only made the more real by a certain exterior roughness — though roughness is not the word.
She of the Never-Never.
There is another Australian writer whose name is frequently mentioned, but whose books hundreds who have repeatedly seen her name have not read, despite their very considerable sales. Her “We of the Never-Never” is something in the nature of an Australian classic.
Melbourne should have a special interest in this writer, for she claims it as her birthplace. Yesterday, Mrs. Aeneas Gunn celebrated her birthday. She was 65. May she have many more birthdays. And may it be years (and more years) before the rumour that made it possible for her to read her own obituary notice becomes a fact.
The motor car, the radio and the aeroplane have wrought some changes, but not such great changes in the land of distances and great hearts of which she wrote. Mrs. Gunn preserves her energy, spirit of humour and zest for life, though she has published virtually nothing for over a score of years. We are a day late in our birthday greetings. They are not the less warm because of that.
The Isle of Capri.
I suppose it is an exaggeration to say that for every ten who know that luscious popular ballad in which a sentimental visitor to Capri falls in love with a married lady to suit a song-writer, there is barely one who could tell you where the island itself is.
Mussolini, remarkable man that he is, has made this beautiful and historical spot across from Naples one of the famous bird sanctuaries of the world. It was through the love of birds of that other remarkable man, Dr. Axel Munthe, famous author of “The Story of San Michele” — a book by which hundreds of readers in Australia have been fascinated — that the Duce did this for the island of the blue grotto.
Munthe is an extraordinary man, with a great, almost a St. Franciscan love and understanding of animals and birds. Not long ago his sight began to fail, and blindness threatened. An immediate operation was advised, but with little hope of success. To the surprise of everyone, Axel Munthe recovered his sight with almost miraculous quickness.
St. Francis Remembered.
Letters of congratulation poured in from all over the world, and then Axel Munthe, like the big-hearted man that he is, paid this beautiful tribute to that other great lover of birds who did not forget a humble disciple in the hour of need:
“The night after my operation was full of torment. I had been operated on by a master hand, but my fate was uncertain. My head was exhausted by insomnia, my courage was beginning to flag, for man gets his courage during his sleep. My thoughts were as dark as the night around me; the night I well knew might never come to an end. Suddenly a ray of light flashed from my tired brain down to my very heart. I remembered all at once that it was the anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi, the life-long friend who had never forsaken me in the hour of need. The day of St. Francis! I heard the fluttering of wings over my head, and far, far away the soft silvery chime of the bells I knew so well. The pale Umbrian saint, the friend of all forlorn creatures on this earth, stood by my side in his torn cassock just as I had so often seen him on the frescoed walls of his dim chapel when my eyes could see. Swiftly swift-winged birds fluttered and sang around his head, others fed from his outstretched hands, others nestled fearlessly among the folds of his cassock. The fear that had haunted me so long left my tormented brain, and a wonderful stillness and peace fell over me. I knew I was safe. I knew that the Giver of life was having mercy on me and would let me see again His beautiful world.”
The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), 13 June 1935, p. 5
The graphic accompanying this article (a portrait of Henry Lawson) was of poor quality; therefore, a copy of what appears to be the same graphic has been included here.
Bret Harte = (1836-1902), an American author and poet
Capri = an Italian island (located in the Tyrrhenian Sea, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples, to the west of the Sorrento Peninsula)
de Maupassant = Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), a French author
dicta = plural of dictum: a short statement, declaration, common saying, or maxim, which gives advice or expresses a general truth, principle, or rule for behaviour (e.g. “Don’t get mad, get even”, “Pride cometh before a fall”, “You are what you eat”; for doctors, “First, do no harm”); a wise saying; a formal pronouncement, statement, opinion, or assertion from an authoritative source
George Bernard Shaw = (1856-1950), an Irish playwright, critic, and author
Giver of life = in a religious context, and capitalised, a reference to God
Gorky = Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), born Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, Russian author and communist
Henry Lawson = (1867-1922), Australian author and poet
Mrs. Aeneas Gunn = Jeannie Gunn (née Taylor) (1870-1961), an Australian author; she married Aeneas James Gunn and subsequently wrote under the name of “Mrs. Aeneas Gunn”
Mussolini = Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), fascist politician and leader of Italy (1922-1945)
O. Henry = a pseudonym used by William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), an American author
score = twenty (sometimes used in conjunction with a cardinal number, e.g. “threescore”, “fourscore”) (may also refer to an undefined large number)
St. Francis of Assisi = Francis of Assisi (ca. 1182-1226), born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, an Italian monk and founder of the Franciscan Order (the Order of Friars Minor); he was made a saint in 1228
Umbrian = of or relating to Umbria, a region of central Italy; of or relating to the Umbri (a people of ancient central Italy), or to the ancient Umbrian language of central Italy
vivacity = the quality of being vivacious: attractively energetic, lively, or spirited (especially as applied to a woman)
[Editor: Changed “Brete Harte” to “Bret Harte”, “Gorki” to “Gorky”.]
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]