An Autobiography HTML version

Journalism And Politics
In reviewing books I took the keenest Interest in the "Carlyle Biographies and Letters,"
because my mother recollected Jeanie Welch as a child, and her father was called in
always for my grandfather Brodie's illnesses. I was also absorbed in the "Life and Letters
of George Eliot." The Barr Smiths gave me the "Life and Letters of Balzac," and many of
his books in French, which led me to write both for The Register and for The Melbourne
Review. I also wrote "A last word," which was lost by The Centennial in Sydney when it
died out. It was also from Mrs. Barr Smith that I got so many of the works of Alphonse
Daudet in French, which enabled me to give a rejoinder to Marcus Clark's assertion that
Balzac was a French Dickens. Indeed, looking through my shelves, I see so many books
which suggested articles and criticisms which were her gifts that I always connect her
with my journalistic career.
Many people have consulted me about publishing poems, novels, and essays. As I was
known to have actually got books published in England, and to be a professional
journalist and reviewer, I dare say some of those who applied to me for encouragement
thought I was actuated by literary jealousy; but people are apt to think they have a plot
when they have only an incident, or two or three incidents; and many who can write
clever and even brilliant letters have no idea of the construction of a story that will arrest
and sustain the reader's attention. The people who consulted me all wanted money for
their work. They had such excellent uses for money. They had too little. They were
neither willing nor able to bear the cost of publication, and it was absolutely necessary
that their work should be good enough for a business man to undertake it. I am often
surprised that I found English publishers myself, and the handicap of distance and other
things is even greater now. If stories are excessively Australian, they lose the sympathies
of the bulk of the public. If they are mildly Australian, the work is thought to lack
distinctiveness. Great genius can overcome these things, but great genius is rare
everywhere. Except for my friend Miss Mackay (Mrs. F. Martin), I know no Australian
novelist of genius, and her work is only too rare in fiction. Mrs. Cross reaches her highest
level in "The Masked Man." but she does not keep it up, though she writes well and
pleasantly. Of course poetry does not pay anywhere until a great reputation is made.
Poetry must be its own exceeding great reward. And yet I agree with Charles Kingsley
that if you wish to cultivate a really good prose style you should begin with verse. In my
teens I wrote rhymes and tried to write sonnets. I encouraged writing games among my
young people, and it is surprising how much cleverness could be developed. I can write
verses with ease, but very rarely could I rise to poetry; and therefore I fear I was not
encouraging to the budding Australian poet.
There was a column quite outside of The Register to which I liked to contribute for love.
That was "The Riddler," which appeared in The Observer and in The Evening Journal on
Saturdays. It brought me in contact with Mr. William Holden, long the oldest journalist in
South Australia, who revelled in statistical returns and algebraical problems and earth
measurements, but who also appreciated a good charade or double acrostic. I used to give
some of the ingredients for his "Christmas Mince Pie," and wrote many riddles of various