Thursday, September 11, 2014

various newspapers for discourses

How could he not be, I say (meaning Paterson's presence in Bertram Stevens' Anthology of Australian Verse, and Stevens in the preface referring to him as one of two poets who were writing “the first realistic Australian verse of any importance,” Lawson being the other), but then remember that Walter Murdoch left Paterson out of The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse -- defying this sentence in his own introduction: “From this gathering the reader will—or so I hope—be able to get a fair idea of the kind of poetry these lands have been fashioning.”

Here the word “fair” has two meanings. On one hand Murdoch was habitually nondogmatic; a shading like “fair” is part of his normal vocabulary; and the essay of his that used to appear in school readers (“When I was at school during the 1940s, our English readers included an essay in praise of tripe and onions,” says his grand-nephew in the introduction to a recent collection of his essays (On Rabbits, Morality, Etc (2011)) starts with modesty, confident modesty (“The essay is to prose what the lyric is to poetry […] it is brief, informal, modest” (Murdoch: The Essay)), or he is “avuncular,” as other writers have said.

The Australians have a reputation for hospitality; and the hospitality of their newspapers is simply extraordinary. For instance, I myself have, in the past few years, been given space in various newspapers for discourses on every kind of topic, from rabbits to the League of Nations, from the poetry of Keats to the proper way of killing fowls, from cabbages to kings. But, curiously enough, I seem to have omitted, hitherto, to write an essay on tripe and onions.

It is not, of course, easy to be sure of this. I could make certain by hunting through the files …

(On Tripe and Onions)

But he won't, he says. It would make him too much like the wife of Lot. The language of humility can be proud; he writes the phrase “humble common sense” and with it he can dismiss Bertrand Russell and Walter Pater very casually, without explaining why they are wrong, they are just on the wrong side of his own common sense, which is humble, almost in the Uriah Heep way, it is meant to deflect despair or some other bad reaction, “things which would depress us horribly if we had to receive them in silence.” Heep's sneer is the difference; he knows that he is defacing his aggression for the benefit of other people. Murdoch, if you take him at his word, is doing it for the sake of happiness.

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