Thursday, August 14, 2014

his quiet way

There is an abundance of evidence that singer and sing can be synonymous with poet and write, but when was the last time I saw anyone praise a poet by calling them a graceful singer, which is the phrase that The Cambridge History of English and American Literature (1907 – 21, in eighteen volumes) uses to describe the Australian poet Daniel Deniehy (1813 – 1868)? The same History says that J. Sheridan Moore (1828 – 1891) “sang in easy style of Australian scenes;” and the writer himself asserted that it was his duty to “sing” -- Vignette --


In the shining day —
In the shadowy night —
On his quiet way —
'Mid the world's fierce strife —
Where the flowers bloom —
Where the forests fade —
When his soul's in gloom —
When in light arrayed —
The Poet, to his instinct true,

-- is the first piece in Spring-Life: Lyrics (1864), which might be his only poetry collection, “an honest and affectionate, if not very valuable, contribution to the Literature of Australia,” as he tells you in the preface, “I am no poet, in the high and true sense of the word,” he says; I am a man who has written some incidental verses and sold them to “newspapers, or the pages of magazines.” One of the pieces was going to be set to music. “When I first wrote them, it was my intention — and I had hopes at the time of being able — to issue a series of Australian Songs, with appropriate music by some of our best composers. […] I hope I may yet be able to accomplish my first purpose, and issue a series of Australian Songs, which, both as regards Music and Words, will do us no discredit in the judgment of those who form the highest tribunal of Art-Criticism in London.”

He is so apologetic that he seems actually ashamed of the book and not just modest, but he will publish anyway because other people have been stealing his poems. “I allude more particularly to the cool and skilful appropriation made in Texts for Talkers (London: Saunders, Otley, and Co., 1860), where extracts from pieces of mine are given as the productions of one OAKFIELD.” Once Spring-Life is published they will not be able to steal from him any more and OAKFIELD will not steal anyway for OAKFIELD is dead, “beyond the reach of praise or censure,” and OAKFIELD never existed, you realise, when Moore writes about “a sly hint ... elsewhere prefixed [in Texts for Talkers], to the effect that “OAKFIELD” and the author of the “Texts” are identical” -- then who was OAKFIELD? -- if he was “the author of the “Texts”” then he was Frank Fowler, a British journalist who lived in Sydney between 1855 and 1858, a man that Moore was “familiar” with, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. “Well known, if not universally popular, in Sydney's literary milieu, Moore was familiar with such men as N.D. Stenhouse, Richard Rowe, James Lionel Michael, Daniel Deniehy, W.B. Dalley, Henry Kendall, John Woolley and Frank Fowler, and edited the Month.” Fowler co-founded the Month.

When Fowler went back to London he published a memoir in which he seems to praise Moore, not by name but with a piece of code that the Sydney gang would have understood, when he opens a list of “The weekly press, in Sydney” with the words “a carefully-edited Catholic journal.” That journal was named Freemans and Moore was the editor from '56 to '57. Fowler's memoir, Southern Lights and Shadows, was published in 1859. He died four years later at the age of thirty.

When I remember that Texts was published in 1860 and Moore made his accusation in the preface only one year after his colleague was dead, I wonder if the news of the death had acted on him like a word of permission.

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