[Editor: This review of Hits! Skits! and Jingles!, by W. T. Goodge, was published in Truth (Sydney), 11 June 1899.]
Hits, Skits and Jingles; W. T. Goodge. “Bulletin” Newspaper Publishing Company.
There are perhaps few better known journalists in New South Wales than Mr. W. T. Goodge, the genial and gifted “Colonel” of the “Leader” a bi-weekly paper published at Orange. Certainly there is no man on the provincial press who enjoys anything like the popularity he does. And deservedly so, for in point of ability he can challenge all, and in versatility has no equal.
The little volume of verse, it would be absurd to call it poetry, which he has just published, is destined to be widely popular, for in its pages are contained many quaint conceits and merry quips, such as a people love to read — not for instruction, not for education, but for amusement, for mental recreation. Thus their publication will earn for his name and his writings an even greater share of popularity than he enjoys at present. Whether they will bring him any enduring fame is quite another question, one highly problematical.
While he lives and writes, giving us new matter over which to chuckle and laugh, his book will be read and enjoyed. Once he ceases so will his memory fade and die. As sketches of our life, as it is, some few of his numbers are valuable; as pasquinades aimed at our national failings we have some fine satire.
But generally in all there is a superficiality, a mere glossing over the surface, which shows how the writer has failed to catch the Gilbertian sting, even while he has successfully caught the Gilbertian method. All through the influence of W. S. Gilbert is apparent, but in “Hits, Skits, and Jingles,” there is little of that caustic, keen sarcasm and cynicism which has given an enduring fame to “Bab Ballads.”
Perhaps this is not to be wondered at. Written, very often hurriedly, spurred perhaps by the appearance of a grimy “devil” at the elbow with a demand for “copy sir,” dashed off without much thought or care, the wonder is that they are as good as we find them. What they might have been, had they been the result of a loving recreation rather than the demands of a trying livelihood, polished and re-polished, instead of being sent wet from the pen to the printer, we can only surmise. But from what we know, the surmise is a most hopeful one.
The life of a country journalist is hard and irksome. Monotony has marked it for its own. Different from the city man with his ever-varying experiences and merry bustle, the country journalist plods on his weary round from year to year. His most exciting period is at the annual show or race meeting, with in between times a stray political gathering or municipal muddle. The rest of the time is devoted to big potato literature, to chronicling the petty doings of local daily life, at which the clique in the next street grows wildly indignant, and to writing an obituary for Mrs. Johnston’s cow, whose death has cast the customary “gloom over the neighborhood.” And when these fail; when Parliament is in recess; when the Eastern question has been done to death; when that great standby, “Slanging the Municipal Council,” has roused such ire that the city fathers are threatening to withdraw their advertisements, what then? The paper must come out; the comps must have “copy.” What then? Is it any wonder the man with an aptitude for writing jingle should dash off, as Mr. Goodge has done:
Oh, it’s nice to be an editor, it’s beautiful indeed,
When the comps for the copy are a-callin’!
When there isn’t any matter, and there isn’t any screed,
And the comps for the copy are a-callin’!
When you’re collaring an article “on how to build a barn,”
There is someone sure to come along to have a little yarn,
And he will not care a button for a “damme” or a “darn,”
When the comps are a-callin’ for the copy.
And there is considerably more of this. Mr. Goodge has a natural ear for rhythym; and all his verse runs smoothly. His craft is undoubtedly good, and it is palpable that had he taken more time, more care with his work — if the demand of his business permitted — we would have had some gems equal to anything in the “Bab Ballads.” In their place in the columns of the paper his hits, skits, and jingles were without question masterpieces; collected and published in book form and challenging criticism with other works similar in nature, if not in the surroundings of their productions, they fall far short of the mark. But, despite all this, there is much to admire. What grim satire on the excessive use of what is termed the national adjective is there contained in the following:
The sunburnt —— stockman stood,
And in a dismal —— mood,
Apostrophised his —— cuddy;
“The —— nag’s no —— good.
He couldn’t earn his —— food.—
A regular —— brumby ——!”
He jumped across the —— horse
And cantered off, of —— course!
The roads were bad and —— muddy.
Said he, “Well, spare me —— days,
The —— Government’s —— ways
Are screamin’ —— funny
He rode up hill, down —— dale,
The wind it blew a —— gale,
The creek was high and —— floody.
Said he: “The —— horse must swim,
The same for —— me and him,
It’s something —— sickenin’,
He plunged into the —— creek,
The —— horse was —— weak,
The stockman’s face a —— study!
And though the —— horse was drowned,
The —— rider reached the ground,
There is no idealising here, no seeing with artistic eyes. That Australian stands sharply limned, clear as a silhouette.
But there are others in which Mr. Goodge strikes a higher note. In “Christmas Bells,” wherein are contrasted the Christmasses in the Old and New World, he gives us something very good:
The Christmas Bells of the olden land clang out on the frosty air!
The snow lies deep and the owlets sleep in the oak boughs gaunt and bare.
Our old friend Rob, with tuneful sob in his welcoming Christmas trill,
Finds new born zest in his crimson breast as he stands on the window sill.
He taps and taps on the pane, perhaps, and his eye has a trace of scorn,
As he seems to say in his wilful way: “Get up! It is Christmas morn!”
The wind blows chill o’er the snow clad hills and the frozen lakes and fells,
But hearts grow warm in the wintry storm at the sound of the Christmas Bells.
* * *
The Christmas Bells of the golden land ring clear on the balmy air,
In the morning gray of a glorious day in a land that is bright and fair;
The rising sun on the mountain’s brow is sending his beams afar,
Far over the hue of the azure blue to the wane of the morning star;
And the sunbeams bear on the morning air, when the clang of the bells rings sharp,
Sweet sounds as soft as the winds that waft through the strings of the golden harp;
In the laughing gleam of the mountain stream ’tis borne to the flowery dells,
And the bush birds list in their sylvan tryst to the sound of the Christmas Bells!
Yet despite the marked difference, despite the wonderful range from sunshine and brightness to gloom and snow, the message of the BeIls is the same in each instance.
So cheerily ring the Christmas Bells,
The Christmas Bells,
The Christmas Bells.
* * *
The silvery sound a story tells,
A story tells,
A story tells,
Of sweet good-will when the
Ring out on the Christmas morning.
This has the genuine ring; in its composition has been care and thought. It is not pot-boiler’s stuff, written, as so much of the book has been, while the “comps are calling.”
Mr. Goodge has evidently been a voracious reader of the comic poets. Here is a verse with a touch of Tom Hood:
A burglar once broke into song,
And just got through three bars,
When someone hit him with a stave,
And he saw greater stars.
But Hood having gone that far would have worked the motive into quite a long and humorous poem, bristling with puns and jokes. But Mr. Goodge is worked out in three, and his puns are lamentably poor. Here, again, we have something like Bret Harte; it is “The McCamley Mixture”:
Lank and long,
Bluff and hearty
Sort o’ party,
Got the “blanky” habit strong!
And this runs through five verses. It would be interesting as a study of Australian dialect if the dialect itself were interesting; but it isn’t. In “98” we gain a glimpse into the writer’s vocabulary, and at a quaint Artemus Ward style of orthography:
Who fears to speak of ’98,
Whose natal day we celebr8?
This is the day from which we d8
New resolutions, good and gr8!
Henceforth our smoking shall ab8,
The weed nicotian we shall h8,
We’ll swear off gin and whiskey str8,
And put no nobblers on the sl8.
A man wandered down to the Circular Quay,
And over the beautiful harbor looked huay,
Exclaiming, “My heart, I am longing to fluay
Far over the waves of the emerald suay.
This is humorous and ingenious. Truth would like to quote more, but space will not permit. In “Praying for Rain,” “The Bogan Scrub,” “Dan the Bullocky,” “Old Man Canoblas” (an apostrophe to the well-known mountain, ambitious but very crude), “The Rural Politician,” “The Great Australian Slanguage,” “The Australian” is much worth reading, much that is interesting and amusing. Hence the book-lover should secure a copy of the unpretentious little volume, quite certain that he will more than get his money’s worth. Truth wishes the literary infant “good luck!”
Truth (Sydney, NSW), 11 June 1899, p. 7
[Editor: Changed “Hits, Skits and Jingle” to “Hits, Skits and Jingles”; “no equal,” to “no equal.”; “livlihood” to “livelihood”; “Government’” to “Government’s”. Inserted a comma after “crude)”.]
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]