An Autobiography HTML version

We made the acquaintance of the family of Mrs. Francis Clark, of Hazelwood, Burnside.
She was the only sister of five clever brothers-- Matthew Davenport, Rowland, Edwin,
Arthur, and Frederick Hill. Rowland is best known, but all were remarkable men. She
was so like my mother in her sound judgment, accurate observation, and kind heart, that I
was drawn to her at once. But it was Miss Clark who sought an introduction to me at a
ball, because her uncle Rowland had written to her that "Clara Morison," the new novel,
was a capital story of South Australian life. She was the first person to seek me out on
account of literary work, and I was grateful to her. I think all the brothers Hill wrote
books, and Rosamond and Florence Davenport Hill had just published "Our Exemplars."
My friendship with Miss Clark led to much work together, and the introduction was a
great widening of interests for me. There were four sons and three daughters--Miss Clark
and Howard were the most literary, but all had great ability and intelligence. They were
Unitarians, and W. J. Wren, my brother-in-law, was also a Unitarian, and had been one of
the 12 Adelaide citizens who invited out a minister and guaranteed his salary. I was led to
hear what the Rev. J. Crawford Woods had to say for that faith, and told my old minister
(Rev. Robert Haining) that for three months I would hear him in the morning and Mr.
Woods in the evening, and read nothing but the Bible as my guide; and by that time I
would decide. I had been induced to go to the Sacrament at 17, with much heart
searching, but when I was 25 I said I could not continue a communicant, as I was not a
converted Christian. This step greatly surprised both Mr. and Mrs. Haining, as I did not
propose to leave the church. The result of my three months' enquiry was that I became a
convinced Unitarian, and the cloud was lifted from the universe. I think I have been a
most cheerful person ever since. My mother was not in any way distressed, though she
never separated from the church of her fathers. My brother was as completely converted
as I was, and he was happy in finding a wife like minded. My sister, Mrs. Wren, also was
satisfied with the new faith; so that she and her husband saw eye to eye. It was a very live
congregation in those early days. We liked our pastor, and we admired his wife, and there
were a number of interesting and clever people who went to the Wakefield Street Church.
It was rather remarkable that my sister's husband and my brother's wife arrived on the
same day in two different ships--one in the Anglier from England, and the other in the
Three Bells from Glasgow--in 1851; but I did not make the acquaintance of either till
1854 and 1855. Jessie Cumming and Mary Spence shook hands and formed a friendship
over Carlyle's "Sartor Resartus." My brother-in-law (W. J. Wren) had fine literary tastes,
especially for poetry. The first gift to his wife after marriage was Elizabeth Browning's
poems in two volumes and Robert Browning's "Plays and Dramatic Lyrics" in two
volumes, and Mary and I delighted in them all. In those days I considered my sister Mary
and my sister-in-law the most brilliant conversationalists I knew. My elder sister, Mrs.
Murray, also talked very well--so much so that her husband's friends and visitors fancied
she must write a lot of his articles; but none of the three ladies went beyond writing good
letters. I think all of them were keener of sight than I was--more observant of features,
dress, and manners; but I took in more by the ear. As Sir Walter Scott says, "Speak that I
may know thee." To my mind, dialogue is more important for a novel than description;
and, if you have a firm grasp of your characters, the dialogue will be true. With me the
main difficulty was the plot; and I was careful that this should not be merely possible, but
probable. I have heard scores of people say that they have got good plots in their heads,