He has been called the writers' poet, and with some reason. When Victor Daley put his closest thoughts on paper, he did so with the gracefulness and fluency to which all writers aspire. He wrote so easily, so tunefully, that the job seemed simple. To the craftsman sometimes painfully struggling at the loom of woven words, he represented achievement.
There is none of the moroseness of Gordon about Victor Daley. From beginning to end his heart was light, even if his pocket was empty, which it often was. As was the case with Kendall and Marcus Clarke, routine work appalled him. He tried to stick in an office more than once, but failed.
Daley was born in Ireland and reached Australia early in 1878. His ambition was to be a poet -- nothing else. Money did not attract him and he never sought it. Life itself was not a serious thing to him. The worse it treated him the more he laughed at it. When death took him in December 1905, he was still jesting.
According to Bertram Stevens, his biographer, Daley believed that he was born at Navan in County Meath on September 5, 1858, but he was not sure. His father, a soldier in India, died early. His mother married again and the family went to live at Devonport, England, where Victor went to school and subsequently entered the office of the Great Western Railway Co., Plymouth.
He stood the office for three years and then took ship for Adelaide, South Australia, where his stepfather had relatives. He disembarked at sydney, got into financial difficulties, did odd jobs and finally reached Adelaide. There he secured employment as a correspondence clerk.
He was writing much at this time and achieving publication. One day by mistake he enclosed a love lyric in an envelope which should have contained a business letter. The recipient had no sense of humor and became exceedingly annoyed, so annoyed in fact that Daley lost his job.
Victor left for Melbourne with some money. In this city he staked it all on a racecourse certainty which did not win, and had to find work. He took a job on a suburban newspaper, achieved fame with a couple of sonnets in a local review and became acquainted with Marcus Clarke.
A prospecting friend lured him to Queanbeyan, where the friend was supposed to have struck it rich, but the friend had disappeared when Victor arrived. A job on a Queanbeyan newspaper followed and then he went to Sydney. There he found some market for his poems and many friends, among whom was Henry Kendall.
Melbourne saw him again in 1885, and in 1898 his first published collection "At Dawn and Dusk" was published. It gained the warm praise it deservd from Australian reviewers, but overseas it attracted little notice.
Possibly this failure was the one care which Daley allowed to enter his life. Ambition to be a great poet seemed to die then.
I have been dreaming all a summer dayThose lines introduced "At Dawn and Dusk" but the dream was shattered. Daley was ill-equipped to withstand a serious blow at the one thing he held sacred. He gave in and wrote then only for the bare living the poetry brought him. Friends found him work in a Government office in Sydney after this disappointment, but he could not bear it, and walked out.
Of rare and dainty poems I would write,
Love-lyrics delicate as lilac scent,
And songs and sonnets carven in fine gold.
Bohemia was the only place in which he could live. He drifted into a vagabond life. "At times Daley touched the mire," Mr Stephens wrote, "yet he remained unsoiled; for he was clean at heart, and, apart from the irregularities of Bohemia, he had no vices."
Daley is our poet of Romance, which he saw in dawns and sunsets. His "Sunset Fantasy" is regarded by many as his finest effort, but he was always graceful and colorful, and a delight to read. His is not grand impassioned verse, but rather word music, compounded of rhythm and dainty fancy. A true lyric poet.
Only 47 when he died, after three years of lingering illness. Perhaps it is really true that whom the gods love die young for they must have loved Victor Daley very much.
First published in The Herald 2 June 1934