Preface to the fifty-first thousand
Nearly a year ago Henry Lawson wrote in his preface to the first edition of these rhymes : “I think a man can best write a preface to his own book, provided he knows it is good.”
Now, and at the end of some twelve months of rather bewildering success, I have to confess that I do not know. But I do know that it is popular, and to write a preface to the fifty-first thousand of one’s own book is rather a pleasant task ; for it is good for a writer to know that his work has found appreciation in his own land, and even beyond.
But far more gratifying than any mere record of sales is the knowledge that has come to me of the universal kindliness of my fellows. The reviews that have appeared in the Australasian and British Press, the letters that have reached me from many places setting aside the compliments and the praise have proved the existence of a widespread sympathy that I had never suspected. It has strengthened a waning faith in the human-kindness of my brothers so that, indeed, I have gained far more than I have given, and my thanks are due twofold to those whose thanks I have received.
I confess that when this book was first published I was quite convinced that it would appeal only to a limited audience, and I shared Mr. Lawson’s fear that those minds totally devoted to “boiling the cabbitch stalks or somethink” were many in the land, and would miss something of what I endeavoured to say. Happily we were both mistaken.
These letters of which I write have come from men and women of all grades of society, of all shades of political thought and of many religions. But the same impulse has prompted them all, and it is good for one’s soul to know that such an impulse moves so universally. I created one “Sentimental Bloke” and he discovered his brothers everywhere he went.
Towards those English men of letters who have written to me or my publishers saying many complimentary things of my work I feel very grateful. Their numbers, their standing and their unanimity almost convince me that this preface should be written. But even the flattering invitation of so .great a man as Mr. H. G. Wells, to come and work in an older land, does not entice me from the task I fondly believe to be mine in common with other writers of Australia. England has many writers : we in Australia have few, and there is big work before us.
But when I stop and read what I have written here the thought occurs to me that, even in this case, the man has not written a preface to his own book, and Mr. Lawson’s advice is vain. For I have a picture before me of a somewhat younger man working in a small hut in the Australian bush, and dreaming dreams that he never hopes to realise dreams of appreciation from his fellow countrymen and from great writers abroad whose works he devours and loves.
And I, the recipient of compliments from high places, of praise from many places, of publisher’s reports about the book that bears my name I, who write this preface, have a kindly feeling for that somewhat younger man writing and dreaming in his little bush hut; and I feel sorry for him because he is out of it. Later perhaps, when strenuous days are over, I shall go back and live with him and tell him about it, and find out what he thinks of it all if I can find him ever again.
C. J. Dennis.
Melbourne, Ist September, 1916.
C. J. Dennis. The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1917 [first published 1915], pages vii-ix