[Editor: This review of National Notes (by William Baylebridge) was published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 17 October 1936.]
An enigmatic figure amongst our Australian writers, a recluse known to few, a man who has travelled widely and thought deeply, a poet of remarkable individuality, and the Nietzschean evangelist of a distinct Australian nationalism: such is William Baylebridge.
For many years he cloaked his identity under the nom-de-plume of “William Blocksidge,” a cacophonous title surely, under which he published privately his books of poems. His recent sequence of Elizabethan sonnets, entitled “Love Redeemed,” should have given him a wider public, although its highly mannered style makes it caviare to the general.
He ranks in the first half-dozen of Australian poets, and his work has been represented in “The Modern Muse,” an anthology published by the English Association in London, which includes poetry from the dominions and America, as well as from Great Britain. His “Anzac Muster,” a collection of racy war tales, has been described as “a kind of ‘Canterbury Tales,’ extremely diverting and full of humour.”
A Queenslander, he served during the war in France, Egypt, and the East, whilst he has travelled widely in Europe and Australia. He champions Australian nationalism, therefore, fortified with an experience of other nations.
His “National Notes,” according to the publishers’ foreword of this small but pregnant book, was originally printed and privately distributed before the modern conception of nationalism had become so prevalent, and “before the first of the modern national reconstructions (that in Russia) had been attempted.” As a political thinker, therefore, he is put forward as a pioneer, one whose gospel was preached ahead of his time. Even at present it has little acceptance in Australia, although a small school of nationalists has recently made its appearance, with its doctrines advocated in Mr. P. R. Stephensen’s book, “The Foundations of Culture in Australia,” and in a new monthly magazine called “The Publicist,” the prime object of which is “to help to create and foster the spirit of nationalism in Australia.”
Epigrams and eugenics.
The “National Notes” range over a wide field, with ten sections devoted to the new nationalism, morals, eugenics, fertilities, their increase and restriction, reproduction and population, marriage and the family, women, the State, politics, religion, laws and conduct. Mr. Baylebridge does not present a completely ordered argument but a series of sentences and paragraphs in a lapidary style, rich with epigrams, fervent at times with an idealism that suggests, both in outlook and expression, the utterances of “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” Mr. Baylebridge, however, is neither as rhapsodical nor as diffuse as Nietzsche; his thought, if it occasionally soars, also keeps close to the ground of fact; his nationalism is based on eugenics. His language is clear and compact, often gnomic. The trend of his ideas and the force of his phrasing can be seen in a few examples:—
“None soars too high if he soars on his own wings … Life is a force that has made numerous experiments in organising itself; let us make another such experiment, and here … No great event, inward and divine, befalls those who do not summon it … We would fling large gifts, fling gifts with both hands, into the abyss of the future … Who sees, and loves not, sees not … The very paucity of tradition with us evokes an infinite suggestiveness … The inexhaustible joy and beauty of life — life lived bravely and imaginatively — shall be our theme. … Let ours be a full affirmation of that energy which is eternal delight … The secret of life is joy, an unfettered expansion of the soul, the human spirit passing out into the world, exulting in all it finds good there, embracing all, loving all, and knowing no restriction — as it needs none — that springs not from the inner principle of its own being … We would revitalise life: what is exalted is not built on feeble blood … The ram and the grasshopper can generate life; let man regenerate it … Our deliverance would come largely of instinct, of divine liberal impulse.”
Here we find a positive philosophy which has the ring of personal sincerity, although it recalls Blake, Nietzsche, and Walt Whitman in many ways. In its stress on the need for recreation of life through the instincts, it links up with the psychoanalysts and such creative forces as Havelock Ellis, D. H. Lawrence, and John Cowper Powys.
A nationalist Australia.
Mr. Baylebridge is not content with pure philosophy, he extends his thought to political applications, and formulates a doctrine of nationalism, working with a biological approach and a broad sociological critique. He finds that the two greatest factors in the evolution of man were the struggle for food and the instinct of sex. Religion and morality are relative, societies are changing and plastic, and we must remould our society as a national State to develop it and make it strong enough to survive. In this remoulding, eugenics must play a vital role.
Again our best course is to give the ideas of “National Notes” in their own words. … “The greatest service we can render to humanity is the service we can render to it before it is born. The eugenist, that discerning humanist, would achieve nobly what the humanitarian bungles. … The enormous sums spent on ‘social services’ are a measure of our decrepitude. ‘Social disservices’ would often be the right reference here. … We not only prevent Nature from weeding out wastage; we make the conditions increasingly more favourable for its reproduction. … Marriage that no longer recruits a race, destroys it. … As a nation, we must populate or perish. … One of the first laws of Nature is the law of self-defence. Are we too immature to understand it? … A passion for peace in the world we now inhabit is surely a passion for annihilation. … A new patriotism would be taught and vitalised. … The welfare of the State would be the definite factor in conduct. To promote that welfare, each would regard himself as a means, an instrument of consecrated service. … Have we not overdone the idea of equality and lost sight of the idea of leadership? … Religion to us would be the vividly present and active soul of our corporate existence. … Race-welfare, vital with nationality, would be our first objective. … We should have to acquire a conscious race-culture. … Eugenic reproduction and usage, a social fellowship based on common ideals, and a sufficient outlet for energy — these we would consider vital. … Nations have now passed the amateur stage; and we, too, must put ourselves not with the condemned, not with the indifferent or the dilatory, but in the front rank of national progress.”
Here are only a few gleanings from an abundant harvest of thought. They serve to suggest the quality of Mr. Baylebridge as a thinker and social critic, and there is no doubt many of his criticisms of Australian society are pertinent and penetrating.
His book is stimulating and provocative. At the same time, many objections immediately arise to the mind of the reader. Mr. Baylebridge moves on a lofty plane of aspiration, but his doctrines, if popularly accepted, and applied here, would no doubt be put to perverted uses, and the results would be far from what he intended. Reduced to practice in Germany, Italy, and Russia, this fervent nationalism has certainly brought unity, efficiency, a common purpose, and a spirit of constructive self-sacrifice. Perhaps we need these forces to disturb the stagnation of our indifferent, self-centred, materialistic Australian life. But we have also seen how these same forces in Europe have meant suppression of freedom, political servility, censorship of thought and its expression in the Press, on the platform, and even in the pulpit.
Nationalism has engendered fear and hate. It has let loose the furies of intolerance. It is driving the nations to the suicide of war. Surely Mr. Baylebridge has got hold of the stick by the wrong end when he condemns the passion for peace as a passion for annihilation? Is not the passion for peace the passion for preservation, for civilisation, for human fellowship? It is war which annihilates, peace which preserves. Do we want to import to Australia the excesses of a fanatical European nationalism? After all, was the individual made to benefit the corporate State? Or was the State, like the Sabbath, made for man? Mr. Baylebridge, no doubt, wants Caesars for leaders; we would probably get Mosleys.
Again, Mr. Baylebridge sticks to the safety of generalisations in his “National Notes.” How are his doctrines going to be applied practically in specific forms? We are promised that these points will be elucidated in a large book, “This Vital Flesh,” of which “National Notes” will form one section. It will be interesting to see the completer development of Mr. Baylebridge’s political philosophy in the new work.
(“National Notes,” by William Baylebridge; The Tallabila Press, Sydney.)
The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 17 October 1936, p. 13
The author of this review mistakenly thought that “William Blocksidge” was the pseudonym of William Baylebridge; however, it was the other way around. He was born William Blocksidge, and so wrote his early works using that name; however, in the 1920s he adopted the name of William Baylebridge, and published his subsequent works under that name. The reviewer also states that Baylebridge “served during the war” (the First World War); however, there is no evidence of him having done so, despite some unsubstantiated rumours or suppositions that Baylebridge may have worked for British military intelligence during the war (with no evidence ever having being provided of this, it seems rather doubtful).
Blake = William Blake (1757-1827), an English poet, author, artist, and printmaker
cacophonous = containing, involving, or marked by discordant or harsh sounds, or an unpleasant mixture of sounds (for example, a cacophony of calls, cackles, or yells)
Caesar = the title of the Roman emperors; whilst the title was applied to all Roman emperors, it is sometimes used to specifically refer to the first holder of the title, Julius Caesar
caviare = an alternate spelling of “caviar”
D. H. Lawrence = David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930), an English writer and poet
dilatory = slow to act, unhurried; tardy; procrastinate; act in a manner which is intended to cause delay
dominion = (in the context of the British Empire) one of the British Dominions (Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand, South Africa), being those countries of the British Empire which were self-governed
eugenics = a social philosophy which aims to improve the genetic quality of human hereditary qualities by selective breeding, especially by encouraging those who are perceived to have good or superior genetic qualities to have children, and by discouraging those who are perceived to have poor or inferior genetic qualities from having children
eugenist = (also “eugenicist”) someone who believes in, or advocates, the principles of eugenics
general = (in the context of an audience or population) the general public, the general community, the general population
Havelock Ellis = Henry Havelock Ellis (1859-1939) an English doctor, psychologist, eugenicist, and author
John Cowper Powys = (1872-1963) an English philosopher, author, literary critic, and poet
Mosley = Sir Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) an English politician and Baronet, Member of Parliament, and leader of the British Union of Fascists
Nietzsche = Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), a German philosopher, author, composer, cultural critic, and poet
Nietzschean = of, or relating to, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) or his writings
nom-de-plume = (French) “name of pen”, pen-name; pseudonym; an assumed name
plastic = flexible, malleable, shapeable, a solid although malleable substance; a synthetic substance, created from a range of processed materials, which is created in a soft and malleable form, but which can be moulded into a variety of fixed shapes or an elastic forms; something which is artificial, fake, or false
pregnant = full of importance, meaning, or significance; abounding, full, teeming; full of implied meaning, suggestive; the state of a female animal or female human who has an offspring (or plural thereof) developing inside her womb, whether it be at the stage of embryo, fetus, or baby
Press = the print-based media, especially newspapers
Sabbath = the Biblical seventh day, regarded as a day of rest (from Exodus 2:2-3, in the Bible); observed as a day of rest and worship by most Christian denominations on Sundays, and by Jewish denominations and a minority of Christian denominations on Saturdays
Thus Spake Zarathustra = a philosophical novel, published in four parts during 1883-1885, written by Friedrich Nietzsche
Walt Whitman = (1819-1892) an American poet, author, and journalist
[Editor: Changed “Baylesbridge, however” to “Baylebridge, however”; “can be be seen” to “can be seen”.]
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]