Letter by CJD to J.G. Roberts 1913.09.16

Sept 16/13

Dear Mr Roberts,

I have to thank you for a whole lot of things - for your very kind remarks about my little book, for your kind offices in helping make it known, for that quaint and altogether charming old hornbook and the copies of V.A.S., and for your goodwill generally.

The publication of those modest verses seems to have made for me a number of very good friends. In fact, if I reaped no other reward from it, the knowledge it has given me, not only of the number of my friends, but of their very real appreciation (as evidenced by many kindly offices) - would be ample compensation.

To tell you the simple truth the reception of these verses has greatly surprised me. I don't know that I am so modest as to greatly undervalue my own stuff, but I am beginning to think that I have been rather hard on myself. Some of the comparisons used by correspondents are really embarrassing. One man brackets Aristophanes, Kipling and - Myself! No doubt a good deal must be allowed for new-born enthusiasm, but all the same, I am beginning to think that I ought to stand off a bit and regard my stuff from a fresh point of view.

The latest vanity-tickler to date comes from A.G. Stephens, and it is, for him, wildly enthusiastic. After declaring that "there is nothing better in its way" he tells me (seriously it seems) - that "Australia limits me too far for fame(!), that my talent (sic) is good enough for the biggest audience," and, in short that I should get up on a high place and yell at the world generally.

I have respect for Stephens's literary judgement, as I have for Adams's, and with these two swelling the chorus I am beginning to think that I had better "take myself seriously" as "The Age" critic advises.

The press in all the States has been remarkably kind. In fact the "Argus" notice is the only hostile one the book has received, and they hit me right in the place where I don't feel it. The charge of vulgarity is, of course, absurd. There is nothing I detest more than real vulgarity, and I don't think there is a really vulgar line in the book. Conservative papers in other States do not follow the "Argus" lead. "Sydney Mail", for instance, ladles out much sugar.

I started out to write you a note thanking you for many kindnesses. I find I have managed to write a very flattering essay on Me.

I am grateful for what you done at Geo Robertson's particularly. I don't know if they are handling the book, but they should; they had first chance to publish it, but turned it down because it was not up to - well, the "Argus" standard.

As regards that Slang dictionary: I did start and half finish a brief - very brief dictionary of Aust. slang. My idea is to make it humorous rather than exhaustive, but my friends, by sending books, papers, clippings etc seem determined to push me into a serious and lengthy work. But I think I will stick to the original idea. Life is too short and the market too limited for the other thing.

The hornbook, by the way, will certainly prove useful. It has already proved interesting.

I am glad you liked "The Sentimental Bloke." He is my pet. It is my next job to extend this series and publish separately. I shall write fifteen or twenty pieces traversing the courtship, quarells, marriage of Doreen and Bill, Bill's brief and deeply regretted backsliding, his eventual and permanent reformation, and, of course, the coming of the first infant. Incidentally, I think I shall be able to show people of the "Argus" type that a romantic story and a sound moral lesson can be written very effectively in slang. "The Bulletin" already has three new instalments of this series on hand.

I suppose 'twere vain to hope that you will visit Toolangi again soon. I am told you have a place now at Sassafras. It is still as charming as ever here, but the thing that will shift me when I do shift is the lack of congenial company. I feel it keenly at times. They are good people here, I greatly admire their many good qualities, but their discourse is not exactly inspiring.

I go up and chat with Alec [Cameron] as often as I can manage it. Apart from him I doubt if there is a man here who does not think that money spent on books is thrown away.

I have one literary protege whose education I am beginning with Arnold Bennett's essays, and it is good to watch him beginning to glimpse another world the existence of which he had never suspected.

Yours truly,
C.J. Dennis

J.G. Roberts Collection, MS8508, Book 1 - State Library of Victoria.

The book referred to in the first paragraph above is BackBlock Ballads and Other Verses.
"A.G. Stephens" was then editor of the Sydney magazine Bookfellow. He had been previously literary editor of the Bulletin.
"Adams" is most probably A.H. Adams, then editor of the Bulletin Red Page - an important part of the magazine devoted to literary matters.
"Geo Robertson" was the Melbourne publisher, not to be confused with George Robertson of the Sydney publishers Angus & Robertson.
"Alec Cameron" is unknown, as is the meaning of "V.A.S.".

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-04