Marcus Clarke’s Essential Recycling

Marcus Clarke’s preface to the poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon is one of the classic texts of Australian literature, with its proclamation of “something very like the beginnings of a national school of Australian poetry”, its characterisation of “the dominant note of Australian scenery” as “Weird Melancholy”, and its vivid evocation of the landscape of the Australian bush. In A Problem and a Solution: Marcus Clarke and the Writing of “Long Odds” (1946) Samuel R. Simmons pointed out that Clarke was recycling material originally written to accompany reproductions of Nicholas Chevalier’s The Buffalo Ranges and Louis Buvelot’s Waterpool near Coleraine in Photographs of Pictures in the National Gallery Melbourne, issued in twelve monthly parts from October 1873 to September 1874, and published the following year as a book. L.T. Hergenhan examined the texts Clarke recycled in “Marcus Clarke and the Colonial Landscape” in Quadrant, July-August 1969, and reprinted the two pieces in A Colonial City: High and Low Life: Selected Journalism of Marcus Clarke (1972).

But this was not the only recycling Clarke practised. The material was also used in a hitherto unremarked essay Clarke contributed to the Brisbane Courier and its weekly companion the Queenslander in which he gives the most substantial and extensive appreciation of his poetic contemporaries that he ever wrote. The preface to Gordon’s poems is perhaps his best-known piece. But its source in the Brisbane Courier and the Queenslander offers Clarke’s fullest response to the emerging literature of Australia.

Clarke was adept at recycling. Partly this was a freelance writer’s way of maximising the income from each piece written. But it was also a way to maximise exposure when the material initially appeared in a narrowly localised publication. The state capitals and regional centres all had their own newspapers—the Melbourne Argus, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Brisbane Courier, the Adelaide Advertiser and Register, the Hobart Mercury and so on—but their circulations were restricted to individual cities. To gain national exposure required other strategies. Henry Kendall published his poems in multiple venues, often years apart and in variant texts—from the Empire and Sydney Morning Herald to the Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser and the Australasian.

But as well as this reprinting, Clarke developed a habit of recycling. It was a way of assembling new material from pre-existent blocks—a different way of construction from Romantic assumptions of spontaneity and organic coherence. He adeptly cut-and-pasted documentary material into his novels His Natural Life and Chidiock Tichbourne. He collected previously published stories into Four Stories High and created a sort of Decameron or Canterbury Tales by writing new introductory and connective material that made the initially individual pieces into something like a whole.

The Argus reviewer of Clarke’s first book of stories, Holiday Peak and Other Tales complained, on May 26, 1873: 

We submit that there is a nice ethical question involved in this modern system of making up books out of a quantity of second-hand material. In the case under notice, we have one paper with which the reader makes acquaintance for the first time. It occupies some 16 pages out of 84, and it must be admitted that the novelty bears a very small proportion to the old matter. People who buy the book will be caught by the name of the short new story, little dreaming probably that they are already acquainted with the greater part of the remaining contents. Mr Clarke, no doubt, can plead custom as his excuse for this mild deception on the public, but we cannot avoid the conclusion that anything calculated to mislead is a custom more honored in the breach than the observance. However, we will say no more on this point, merely remarking in passing that we are astonished that a gentleman of Mr Clarke’s versatility and facile powers of expression should think it necessary to come before the public with a rehash of his old works instead of contributing to the general amusement by a fresh exercise of his talents. 

The title story had in fact already been published too, in the Australasian. Today Clarke’s collecting his stories into a volume would seem to be an unexceptionable practice. Some of his other practices were more inventive.

In November 1873 Marcus Clarke’s six-year association with the Argus group came to an end. John Pacini records in A Century Galloped By: The First Hundred Years of the Victoria Racing Club (1988) that the VRC had refused to issue complimentary press passes for its spring meeting, on the grounds that there had been applications for over 100, when thirty would have been more than adequate. In due course it settled on issuing twenty. In the meantime the Argus and the Age responded with a threat not to run any report of the Melbourne Cup. The Herald chose to have it both ways, boycotting attendance at the meeting but nonetheless publishing a report, on November 6, 1873, “The Cup, Told by the Camera”: “By a judicious employment of the Camera Obscura, a person could absolutely sit at the editorial desk of The Herald, and still see the racecourse at Flemington.”

The “report which, with eyes fixed upon the picture before us, we dictated through a speaking tube to a shorthand writer” was of course a hoax. It read like something out of a novel. Indeed, it was out of a novel. Clarke had adapted it from his account of a race in Chapter 50 of his first novel, Long Odds.

The manager of the Argus, Gowen Evans, was not amused that Clarke was writing for the Herald. He wrote to him: 

I quite admit having told you that we should not be too anxious to enquire for whom you wrote, but I don’t recollect having been informed that you were writing for the Herald. It seems to me that if I had known, I should not have consented to that particular connection. The Herald has broken every rule of professional etiquette, and I should not consider it safe to allow anyone connected with that office to come inside ours. I don’t mean to insinuate that you would deliberately give any information gleaned from your access to our office, but you might unintentionally mention things that would most certainly be by the Herald people put to any use that might suit their interest or their malice. Therefore you must choose between us and the Herald, and as long as I have anything to do with the editorial arrangements, I will not submit to be brought in contact with anyone whom I know to come from that office. 

Hamilton Mackinnon quotes the letter in The Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume (1884) and remarks: “No independent journalist could well be blamed for withdrawing himself from so autocratic a patronage, even at pecuniary loss.”

It was the end of an extraordinarily productive relationship with the daily Argus, the weekly Australasian and the monthly Australasian Sketcher that had provided the original home for material Clarke reassembled for four of his books—The Peripatetic Philosopher (1869), Old Tales of a Young Country (1871), Holiday Peak (1873) and Four Stories High (1877). 

Having broken with the Argus and Australasian, Clarke needed to establish a regular connexion with another newspaper group. He turned to the Brisbane Courier, and its associated weekly, the Queenslander. On December 20, 1873, they published “The First Queensland Explorer”, originally run in the Australasian in 1870 and already collected in Old Tales of a Young Country, and in January they published his story “Basau: or, the Gypsies of the Sea”, which had appeared in the Herald the previous month.

Both publications then serialised Long Odds, from January to June 1874, and His Natural Life, from June 1875 to February 1876. Long Odds had already been serialised in Clarke’s Colonial Monthly in 1868-69, published as a book in 1869, and serialised again in the Australian Journal in 1872. His Natural Life had originally been serialised in the Australian Journal from 1870 to 1872, and then published in a revised and shorter form as a book in 1874. It was this shorter text that the Courier and Queenslander serialised.

As well as extracting further mileage from already published material, on August 21, 1875, Clarke began a new column for the Brisbane Courier and the Queenslander, “Country Leisure”: 

My retreat is a very humble one, and—so far as I have at present constructed it—consists but of one room. That room, however, is filled with the best companions in the world. Poets, sages, dramatists, meet me there whenever I make a party of pleasure, and hold with me the most delightful conversations. It is not every day, however, that I can escape to the pleasant fields and green meadows in which my little estate is situated. Like Horace, I have my duty in the city … Other folks’ business jumps up about me on all sides—“Remember, you are a witness in the trespass case, your solicitors want to see you about your friend’s dishonored acceptance—try and get this poem into the Polynesian.” If I say that I will do my best, the poetaster cries “That’s all nonsense, my dear fellow, you can if you like you know!” But in the country one has no such troubles. 

It was with poets that he dealt in his second “Country Leisure” paper, September 4, 1875. It is notable as Clarke’s fullest engagement with his poetic contemporaries. And it contains his first proclamation of the establishment of a school of Australian poetry: 

If I do not much mistake, Australia will have a school of poetry peculiarly her own. In historic Europe, where every rood of ground is hallowed in legend and in song, the least imaginative can find food for sad and sweet reflection. When strolling at noon down an English country lane, looking at sunset by some ruined chapel on the margin of an Irish lake, or watching the mists of morning unveil Ben Lomond, we feel all the charm which springs from association with the past. Soothed, saddened, and cheered by turns, we partake the varied moods which belong not so much to ourselves as to the dead men who in old days sung, suffered, or conquered in the scenes which we survey. But this our native or adopted land has no past, no story. No poet speaks to us. Do we need a poet to interpret Nature’s teachings, we must look into our own hearts, if perchance we may find a poet there.

What is the dominant note of Australian scenery? That which is the dominant note of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. Weird Melancholy. A poem like “L’Allegro” could never be written by an Australian. It is too airy, too sweet, too freshly happy. An Australian might readily write in the strain of “Ulalume”, “The Raven”, or “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Australians have written “The Four Graves”, “Our Hope”, “The Sick Stockrider”, and “Ghost Glen”. Undoubtedly the chief of those who have attempted to climb the shining heights is Henry Kendall, of Sydney, the author of the poem last named. He has caught clearly the wild and grotesque spirit of his native forest. 

Beginning with “In historic Europe” and ending with “too freshly happy” the passage was recycled into the preface Clarke contributed to Gordon’s poems the following year.

Then, after the tribute to Kendall, Clarke recycled a paragraph that he had originally published in September 1874 as part of the text to the monthly series Pictures in the National Gallery Melbourne, and collected in book form in 1875. The paragraph was part of a description of Nicholas Chevalier’s The Buffalo Ranges

The Australian mountain forests are funereal, secret, stern. Their solitude is desolation. They seem to stifle, in their black gorges, a story of sullen despair. No tender sentiment is nourished in their shade. In other lands the dying year is mourned, the falling leaves drop lightly on his bier. In the Australian forests no leaves fall. The savage winds shout among the rock clefts. From the melancholy gums strips of white bark hang and rustle. The very animal life of these frowning hills is either grotesque or ghostly. Great grey kangaroos hop noiselessly over the coarse grass. Flights of white cockatoos stream out, shrieking like evil souls. The sun suddenly sinks, and the mopokes burst out into horrible peals of semi-human laughter. The natives aver that, when night comes, from out the bottomless depth of some lagoon the bunyip rises, and, in form like a monstrous sea-calf, drags his loathsome length from out the ooze. From a corner of the silent forest rises a dismal chant, and around a fire dance natives painted like skeletons. All is fear-inspiring and gloomy. No bright fancies are linked with the memories of the mountains. Hopeless explorers have named them out of their sufferings—Mount Misery, Mount Dreadful, Mount Despair. As when among sylvan scenes in places  

Made green with the running of rivers,
And gracious with temperate air, 

the soul is soothed and satisfied, so, placed before the frightful grandeur of these barren hills, it drinks in their sentiment of defiant ferocity, and is steeped in bitterness. And in this bitterness there is a weird and wild delight. Let us take an example. 

Clarke then quotes the opening of Kendall’s “The Fate of the Explorers”: 

Set your face towards the darkness—tell of Deserts weird and wide,
Where unshaken woods are huddled, and the languid waters glide;
Turn and tell of deserts lonely, lying pathless, deep and vast,
Where in utter silence ever Time seems slowly breathing past—
Silence only broken when the Sun is flecked with cloudy bars,
Or when tropic storms come hurtling underneath the sultry stars!
Deserts thorny, hot and thirsty, where the feet of men are strange,
And Eternal Nature sleeps in solitudes which know no change. 

This is wonderfully accurate. It could not have been written by any but a man with an exquisitely keen sense of natural beauty, and a heart attuned to the special and immediate recognition of the fascination which dwells in loneliness and desolation.

When Henry Kendall attempts love measures, mark how he falls into the style of Poe … But in the following the bush-glamor is upon him again, and he gives us a picture unmatched for local color and truth. 

Swarthy wastelands wide and woodless, glistening miles and miles away,
Where the south wind seldom wanders, and the winters will not stay:
Lurid wastelands, pent in silence, thick with hot and thirsty sighs,
Where the scanty thorn leaves twinkle with their haggard hopeless eyes;
Furnaced wastelands, trenched with hillocks, like to stony billows rolled,
Where the naked flats lie twirling, like a sea of darkened gold;
Burning wastelands, glancing upward with a weird and vacant stare,
Where the languid heavens quiver o’er red depths of stirless air! 

The passage quoted is the opening of Kendall’s “Fainting by the Way”. After some close focus on “the force of the epithets”, Clarke remarks: “The poetic instinct is sure and keen throughout.”

In the original text attached to the Chevalier painting, Clarke went on to refer to foreign rather than Australian writers: “Amid all this sadness there is that weird delight, which Hoffman, Poe and Hawthorne have expressed in their stories.” In the “Country Leisure” article and the Gordon preface Clarke omitted this sentence but retained the adjective “weird” and the reference to Poe, reshaping them into the memorable, “What is the dominant note of Australian scenery? That which is the dominant note of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. Weird Melancholy.”

After its publication in the Gordon preface the phrase “weird melancholy” achieved wide acceptance as a description of the bush, and as a characterisation of Gordon’s poetry. But in the earlier “Country Leisure” article, the recurrence of “weird” in the passages Clarke quotes from Kendall, and in his characterisation of “Ghost Glen”, suggest that Kendall was very much in his mind. The paragraph from the description of The Buffalo Ranges serves as a commentary on Kendall’s poetry in the “Country Leisure” piece. But Clarke later recycled it again in his preface to Gordon’s poetry.

After dealing with Kendall, Clarke’s “Country Leisure” continues: 

No less accurate are the verses of Adam Lindsay Gordon—now gone to his rest—when he permits himself to speak of the scenery of the land where he laid his bones. In that most pathetic and beautiful of lyrics, “The Sick Stockrider”, he writes 

’Twas merry in the glowing morn, among the gleaming grass,
To wander as we’ve wandered many a mile,
And blow the cool tobacco cloud, and watch the white wreaths pass,
Sitting loosely in the saddle all the while.
’Twas merry ’mid the blackwoods, when we spied the station roofs,
To wheel the wild scrub cattle at the yard,
With a running fire of stockwhips and a fiery run of hoofs;
Oh! the hardest day was never then too hard!
Aye! we had a glorious gallop after “Starlight” and his gang,
When they bolted from Sylvester’s on the flat;
How the sun-dried reed-beds crackled, how the flint-strewn ranges rang
To the strokes of “Mountaineer” and “Acrobat”.
Hard behind them in the timber, harder still across the heath,
Close beside them through the tea-tree scrub we dash’d;
And the golden-tinted fern leaves, how they rustled underneath
And the honeysuckle osiers, how they crash’d! 

This is genuine. There is no “feather-bed soldier”, no poetic “evolution from internal consciousness” here. The writer has ridden his ride, as well as written of it. The name of Gordon awakes sad memories in those who knew him. I will end this brief mention of his genius—though the classic student will find much to repay him in the many Browning-Landor poems which bear the poet’s name—by the quotation of the last two stanzas of the poem … Pray read the poem through, guest of mine, and tell me if you do not feel what Kingsley calls “a lump in your throat” at the last couplet. 

The last lines of the poem are italicised in Clarke’s quotation: 

Let me slumber in the hollow where the wattle blossoms wave,
With never stone or rail to fence my bed;
Should the sturdy station children pull the bush flowers on my grave,
I may chance to hear them romping overhead. 

In the Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume Hamilton Mackinnon records Clarke’s reaction to the poem: 

To those who knew Gordon and Clarke intimately, the keen sympathy of genius existing between them was easily understood, for there was, despite many outward differences of manner, a wonderful similarity in their two natures. Both were morbidly sensitive; both broodingly pathetic; both sarcastically humorous; both socially reckless; both literary Bohemians of the purest water—sons of genius and children of impulse. That the deep feeling for the dead poet and friend lasted till death with Marcus Clarke was evidenced by his frequently repeating when in dejected spirits those pathetically regretful lines of “The Sick Stockrider”: 

I’ve had my share of pastime and I’ve done my share of toil
And life is short—the longest life a span;
I care not now to tarry for the corn or for the oil,
Or for the wine that maketh glad the heart of man.
For good undone and gifts misspent and resolutions vain
’Tis somewhat late to trouble. This I know—
I should live the same life over, if I had to live again;
And the chances are I go where most men go. 

And to see him seated at the piano humming these lines to his own accompaniment, while the tears kept rolling down his cheeks, was proof enough that the tender chords of a beloved memory were being struck, and that the living son of genius mourned for his dead brother as only genius can mourn. 

After dealing with Kendall and Gordon, Clarke’s “Country Leisure” essay turns to another fellow member of the Yorick Club: 

Mr George Gordon McCrae has written some lyrics finished with the nicest taste, but there is in his writing little which may be claimed as purely Australian. Mr McCrae, in common with the majority of our writers, is Australian only by accident. His tastes and sympathies are all of the old world. At a “Carnival Ball”, hanging over a “Bridge at Calais”, or meditating upon the fate of the “Prisoner in the Iron Mask” he can utter the sweetest of notes, but the country of his adoption is to him bleak and barren of interest. The same may be said in almost equal measure of your special Queenslander, Mr Brunton Stephens. Despite the “Our Hope”, which is inspired by true local influence, Mr Stephens does not fulfill the conditions of time and place. He thinks more of the singers of the Old World than of the beauties of the New. The Queensland National Anthem is highly poetical, but it might have been written at Susquehanna for all the Australian color in it. 

After quoting and discussing work by Australis and Charles Harpur, Clarke announces: “But now for a true Australian ballad—wild, weird, and terrible—the ‘Ghost Glen’ of Henry Kendall.” Clarke quotes the poem in full, declaring: 

This is the true “Spirit of the Lands”. I stand at the door of my cottage and see the evening shadows creep up and enfold the strange and haggard trees. All is fantastic and unreal. The moon is frightened to rise. The mountains murmur. Nature seems naked and ashamed. Yet how wildly, how subtly sweet is the charm of this desolation, or rather this ignorance of culture. 

The “Country Leisure” essay then concludes with a now justly famous passage, originally attached to Louis Buvelot’s Waterpool near Coleraine in the text to the May 1874 number of Pictures in the National Gallery Melbourne and later recycled again as the conclusion to the Gordon preface: 

Australia has rightly been named the Land of the Dawning. Wrapped in the mists of early morning, her history looms vague and gigantic. The lonely horseman riding between the moonlight and the day sees vast shadows creeping across the shelterless and silent plains, hears strange noises in the primeval forest where flourishes a vegetation long dead in other lands, and feels, despite his fortune, that the trim utilitarian civilisation which bred him shrinks into insignificance beside the contemptuous grandeur of forests and ranges coeval with an age in which European scientists have cradled his own race.

There is a poem in every form of tree or flower, but the poetry which lives in the trees and flowers of Australia differs from those of other countries. Europe is the home of knightly song, of bright deeds and clear morning thought. Asia sinks beneath the weighty recollections of her past magnificence, as the suttee sinks jewel burdened upon the corpse of dread grandeur, destructive even in its death. America swiftly hurries on her way, rapid, glittering, insatiable even as one of her own giant waterfalls. From the jungles of Africa, and the creeper-tangled groves of the Islands of the South, arise, from the glowing hearts of a thousand flowers, heavy and intoxicating odours—the Upas-poison which dwells in barbaric sensuality. In Australia alone is to be found the grotesque, the weird, the strange scribblings of Nature learning how to write. Some see no beauty in our trees without shade, our flowers without perfume, our birds who cannot fly, and our beasts who have not yet learned to walk on all fours. But the dweller in the wilderness acknowledges the subtle charm of this fantastic land of monstrosities. He becomes familiar with the beauty of loveliness. Whispered to by the myriad tongues of the wilderness, he learns the language of the barren and the uncouth, and can read the hieroglyphs of haggard gum-trees, blown into odd shapes, distorted with fierce hot winds, or cramped with cold nights when the Southern Cross freezes in a cloudless sky of icy blue. The phantasmagoria of that wild dreamland termed the bush interprets itself, and the poet of our desolation begins to comprehend why free Esau loved his heritage of desert sand better than all the bountiful richness of Egypt. 

The sustained appreciation of Kendall is significant in the context of what was often a strained relationship between Clarke and Kendall. In The Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume Mackinnon remarked: 

Though the idiosyncrasies of the two men were in many respects widely dissimilar—Clarke’s belonging to the polished school of the Old World while Kendall’s were akin to those of his own native land, the New World—still the acquaintanceship ripened into mutual admiration and friendship. 

In due course that admiration and friendship soured, as Ken Stewart documents in “A Careworn Writer for the Press” (Henry Kendall: The Muse of Australia, ed. Russell McDougall, 1992). Clarke’s generous assessment of Kendall here, and Kendall’s similarly generous assessment of Clarke, importantly attest to the readiness of both of them to transcend personal disagreements. “As a novelist,” Kendall wrote in The Freeman’s Journal, March 2, 1872, Marcus Clarke “stands head and shoulders over all who have attempted storytelling and character-painting in these colonies”.

Adam Lindsay Gordon committed suicide in 1870. In 1876 Clarson, Massina & Co reissued his Sea-Spray and Smoke Drift, first published by George Robertson in 1867, with a new preface by Marcus Clarke. Clarke began: 

The poems of Gordon have an interest beyond the mere personal one which his friends attach to his name. Written, as they were, at odd times and leisure moments of a stirring and adventurous life, it is not to be wondered at if they are unequal or unfinished. The astonishment of those who knew the man, and can gauge the capacity of this city to foster poetic instinct, is, that such work was ever produced here at all. Intensely nervous, and feeling much of that shame at the exercise of the higher intelligence which besets those who are known to be renowned in field sports, Gordon produced his poems shyly, scribbled them on scraps of paper, and sent them anonymously to magazines. It was not until he discovered one morning that everybody knew a couplet or two of “How We Beat the Favourite” that he consented to forego his anonymity and appear in the unsuspected character of a verse maker. 

Sir Frank Madden confirmed that poem’s immediate impact in Edith Humphris and Douglas Sladen’s Adam Lindsay Gordon and his Friends in England and Australia (1912): “Within a few days every sporting man in Melbourne knew it by heart. We were all horsemen then, and looked upon steeplechasing as the acme of the sport.”

Clarke’s preface contains some sketchy biographical details and recollections. “I do not propose to criticize the volumes which these few lines of preface introduce to the reader,” he announced, but he did remark that “in such poems as the ‘Sick Stockrider’ we perceive the genuine poetic instinct united to a very clear perception of the loveliness of duty and labour”. And Clarke again proclaims the achievement of what he and Gordon and Kendall had been labouring to establish, the foundations of a future literature of Australia: “The student of these unpretending volumes will be repaid for his labour. He will find in them something very like the beginnings of a national school of Australian poetry.”

About a third of the preface is new. For the other two thirds, Clarke recycled the material from his “Country Leisure” essay of the previous year, including its already recycled material from his text to Pictures in the National Gallery Melbourne.

The preface was reprinted in 1880 when A.H. Massina reissued Sea-Spray and Smoke Drift combined with Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes and Ashtaroth, under the title Poems of the Late Adam Lindsay Gordon. Ronald G. Campbell recorded in The First Ninety Years: The Printing House of Massina, Melbourne, 1859 to 1949 (1949): “Gordon’s Poems was another best-seller, 20,000 volumes being disposed of between 1880 and the end of the decade.” Marianne Ehrhardt’s Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1833–1870; A Checklist (1984) lists twenty-four editions in the next twenty-eight years. Ian F. McLaren assembled eighty-eight editions and variations of it containing the preface in his collection of Gordon’s works, now in the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne.

Recycling material from the description of a couple of paintings and a literary column might seem a strange way to write a preface to a friend’s book. Brian Elliott writes in Marcus Clarke (1958): “The utilization of the passages was not incongruous, since Clarke had Gordon’s poetry in mind when he wrote them.” Perhaps. Interestingly, in his original text to Chevalier’s portrayal of the Buffalo Ranges Clarke had quoted a description of the Alpine Chain from The Discovery and Exploration of Australia (1865) by Gordon’s old friend Julian Tenison Woods. But the recycled passages were previously applied to Kendall’s work in the “Country Leisure” essay. Maybe Clarke had both Gordon and Kendall in mind. 

We do not know Clarke’s immediate circumstances at the time of writing the preface—how busy, how stressed, how pressed for time he was. After his bankruptcy and the consequent sale of his library in 1874, he may not have had copies of Gordon’s books to work from. Among the volumes listed in the sale catalogue were Gordon’s Ashtaroth, marked “scarce” and “now out of print”, Sea Spray and Smoke Drift, in a “special edition, on toned paper”, and Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes. Perhaps he was unable to assemble adequate biographical details; perhaps he found himself unable or unwilling to write extended literary criticism. Perhaps he felt the material he had written on the paintings was too good to be lost to view, so used it again. In that he was correct. Because of its evocation of Australian scenery, the preface has been endlessly reprinted and cited, not only in editions of Gordon’s and Clarke’s work, but in anthologies and studies of both Australian literary criticism and Australian landscape. It contains some of the best-known writing about the Australian bush ever written. As Brian Elliott remarks: 

In its own time it was the revelation of a new poetic faith in the landscape of Australia. Pruned of its artful effects, it does express very perceptively the kind of sensibility which had developed in Australia in appreciation of the native landscape. 

In Cyril Hopkins’ Marcus Clarke Hopkins reflects on Clarke’s impressions of Australian scenery: 

These are to be found in scattered passages throughout his works, but nowhere in such striking form as in his well known introduction to Adam Lindsay Gordon’s volume of bush ballads, so much so, that it has come to be regarded less as an essay on their poetical merits than as one on his own impressions of Australian scenery. Be that as it may, however, this introduction or preface to Gordon’s verses was regarded by Lord Lytton and other eminent literary men as the finest piece of work that ever came from the pen of Marcus Clarke … 

Immaterial whether every allusion to the animal and vegetable life of the region he is describing—his version of its fauna and flora—be or be not strictly accurate. He is merely striving to reproduce, in striking and brilliant language, the mental impressions acquired during his sojourn in its midst, impressions of a wild nature which had awed and yet partly captivated his easily excited imagination and which continued to haunt it long after he had left the scenes where it is present, and was living amidst quite other surroundings, just as the refrain of some melody, learnt in childhood, haunts us at intervals throughout our life, forgotten for long periods at a time but suddenly recurring to our memory and never entirely losing its potency and charm. In short, he is aiming at drawing a vivid picture of certain phenomena which he had studied at close quarters and of thus conveying to his readers some idea of that “subtle charm” attributed by himself and by others to the nature of the wild Australian bush. 

Michael Wilding is Emeritus Professor of English and Australian Literature at the University of Sydney. He co-edited Cyril Hopkins’ Marcus Clarke with Laurie Hergenhan and Ken Stewart (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2009). His latest novel, The Magic of It, was reviewed in the October issue.

Leave a Reply