Letter by Norman Lindsay to Alec H. Chisholm 1964.09

September 1964

Dear Alec,

You made a nice job with your biography of Dennis, and I read it with interest, but I observe that you've skated over one salient content in Dennis's make-up, and that was his addiction to booze. It raises a conscience problem for the biographer, or the profilist, when dealing with an unpleasant aspect of his subject, which I've encountered in my own personality sketches of the people I knew, and which is involved in the brief one I'm writing at present on Jack Abbott. Without presenting him as an alcoholic, as well as the writer of Tommy Cornstalk, the pen-portrait of him would lack any vitality.

I confess that when The Sentimental Bloke was first published I was extremely angry on Lou Stone's account, for it unquestionably derived from his Chook and Pinky in Jonah. A.G. Stephens, in his review of Jonah, pointed out that Stone had humanized the larrikin, and Dennis was quick to cash in on that aspect of him, and make a success of it financially, while Jonah was ignored by the public. And Jonah is, in my opinion, the finest novel yet written in this country, whereas The Sentimental Bloke -

At this date, I found the colloquial idiom of its period very flat reading. And it will go flatter with the years. Just at present, when there is so much activity in the publishing world, digging into the past literary world for reprints, a reconsideration of Dennis was inevitable. But on reading your extracts from his verses it is clear that his mental processess became mechanized into the one verse formula he used, which he found easier to write than good lucid prose. I found its reiteration maddening after putting down the book. He had not the mental energy to experiment with other verse-stylisms, and that was the effect of booze. Goodge, with his Hits! Skits! and Jingles!, is a much better light-verse writer than Dennis, and his book should be reprinted. What about you taking on the job, with a foreword about Goodge? I knew him, but just as I knew all the others who forgathered at the Bulletin office.


Yours sincerely,
Norman Lindsay

This letter was written after the paperback edition of The Making of the Sentimental Bloke by Alec H Chisholm was published in 1963.
John (Jack) Abbott served in the Boer War and later wrote Tommy Cornstalk (1902) and Plain and Veldt (1903) based on his experiences there.
W.T. Goodge came to Australia in 1882 aged twenty. After some time in the outback he became a journalist and later edited the Orange Leader. He also contributed a weekly column to the Sydney Truth for nine years until his death.

From Letters of Norman Lindsay edited by R.G. Howarth and A.W. Barker, 1979, p609

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-04