Preface [Short Stories in Prose and Verse]

[Editor: This preface by Henry Lawson was published in Short Stories in Prose and Verse, 1894.]

Preface.

This is an attempt to publish, in Australia, a collection of sketches and stories at a time when everything Australian, in the shape of a book, must bear the imprint of a London publishing firm before our critics will condescend to notice it, and before the “reading public” will think it worth its while to buy nearly so many copies as will pay for the mere cost of printing a presentable volume.

The Australian writer, until he gets a “London hearing” is only accepted as an imitator of some recognised English or American author; and, so soon as he shows signs of coming to the front, he is labelled “The Australian Southey,” “The Australian Burns,” or “The Australian Bret Harte,”, and, lately, “The Australian Kipling.” Thus, no matter how original he may be, he is branded, at the very start, as a plagiarist, and by his own country, which thinks, no doubt, that it is paying him a compliment and encouraging him, while it is really doing him a cruel and an almost irreparable injury.

But, mark! So soon as the Southern writer goes “home” and gets some recognition in England, he is “So-and-So, the well-known Australian author whose work has attracted so much attention in London lately”; and we first hear of him by cable, even though he might have been writing at his best for ten years in Australia.

The same paltry spirit tried to dispose of the greatest of modern short story writers as “The Californian Dickens,” but America wasn’t built that way — neither was Bret Harte!

To illustrate the above growl: a Sydney daily paper, reviewing the Bulletin’s “Golden Shanty” when the first edition came out, said of my story, “His Father’s Mate,” that it stood out distinctly as an excellent specimen of that kind of writing which Bret Harte set the world imitating in vain, and, being “full of local colour, it was no unworthy copy of the great master.” That critic evidently hadn’t studied the “great master” any more than he did my yarn, of Australian goldfield life.

Then he spoke of another story as also having the “Californian flavour.” For the other writers I can say that I feel sure they could point out their scenery, and name, or, in some cases, introduce “the reader” to their characters in the flesh. The first seventeen years of my life were spent on the goldfields, and therefore, I didn’t need to go back, in imagination, to a time before I was born, and to a country I had never seen, for literary material.

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This pamphlet — I can scarcely call it a volume — contains some of my earliest efforts, and they are sufficiently crude and faulty. They have been collected and printed hurriedly, with an eye to Xmas, and without experienced editorial assistance, which last, I begin to think, was sadly necessary.

However, we all hope to do better in future, and I shall have more confidence in my first volume of verse, which will probably be published some time next year. The stories and sketches were originally written for the Bulletin, Worker, Truth, Antipodean Magazine, and the Brisbane Boomerang, which last was one of the many Australian publications which were starved to death because they tried to be original, to be honest, to pay for and encourage Australian literature, and, above all, to be Australian, while the “high average intelligence of the Australians” preferred to patronize thievish imported rags of the “Faked-Bits” order.



Source:
Henry Lawson. Short Stories in Prose and Verse, L. Lawson, Sydney, [1894]

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