Reprint: The Yorick 2. - Letters of Marcus Clarke Part 1

In 1879 George Gordon McCrae was working his eyes out in the Melbourne Patents Office -- he drew machinery in detail, anatomical improvements (?) for locomotives, collapsible permabulators, buckets with double bottoms to them, barbers' chairs, omnibus brakes, hat-irons, armor for Blucher-boot heels, windmills, wire ropes, scissors-and-knife combinations, hand-saws: their like and their unlike.

His evenings in Hawthorn (at that time, a widely-spaced village, decorated with trees and grass to walk upon) gave him the relaxation he needed.

Out of office hours he wrote "The Man in the Iron Mask," "The Story of Balladeadro" and "Mamba the Bright-eyed;" followed, in 1883, by "A Rosebud from the Garden of the Taj."

"Out of office hours" has been written advisedly; because W. Hicks, McCrae's chief, looked with an Arctic eye upon literature in Australia; and, should any person have dared to jingle in the department he administered, that person should have jingled incontinently out again.

Good man, Hicks.

Nevertheless, not through lack of watching, he failed of his prey; so the poet remained a poet (that is, a practising one) only during intervals spent at his home. One slip: McCrae had taken Marat with Corday and written a drama round them -- a drama full of cries, punctuated by blows from the guillotine. The subject obsessed him; and, in the office, he drew instead of a digger's cradle, the great-bladed instrument drizzling magenta ink.

Marcus Clarke arrived on the edge of lunch-hour; and the two were examining the picture when Hicks walked in.

Hicks's vocabulary, however limited, was equal to the occasion: the drawing was destroyed, and McCrae and his friend went out. On their way they laughed down the passage; and the chief's door slammed in protest against the insult.

A week later Marcus poked his head into McCrae's room; but George held up his hand so that the visitor fell back. Immediately he appeared again, his beautiful eyes shining like those of an angel.

"'Ow's 'Icks?" he exclaimed, and vanished from the apartment.

A few of Clarke's letters addressed to G.G. McCrae:--
(a) Showing his happy carelessness:
25th June, 1877.
Dear McCrae, -
Once I wanted to write about Holland. I borrowed a book and left it for three years. I now return it with many thanks.
Always truly yours,
Marcus Clarke.
P.S. - It is not my habit to return books, but I, to-day, found this one (which I thought I had lost) quite by accident.
George Gordon McCrae, Esq.

(b) An offer to help his friend, and a chuckle at Hicks:
Dear McCrae, -
Can you trinquer at the house of the light wine of the country and converse to me of the Charlotte si noble si douca, at the hour of 4 p.m.?
I will be at the Bibliotheque at my devoirs.
Et M. Hicquer?
Thine, M.C.

(c) Still trying to help his friend; still interested in "Charlotte":
Dear McCrae, -
Still in Purgatory. Syme wants a picture for the Christmas double number of the ILLUSTRATED NEWS. He is not satisfied with present design. I mentioned your name and he said he would be only too glad if you would do it. His idea at present is: a girl gathering wattle blossoms or some such things for Christmas decorations -- large double colored supplement.
Why not see him? Pay is good. "Charlotte" has got to the library. I will send her up the first time I am in town.
Truly yours,
Marcus Clarke.

(d) Through Clarke's influence, Ada Ward (then playing at the Melbourne Theare Royal) agreed to produce McCrae's drama: the piece went into rehearsal, but Miss Ward's elopement cancelled its performance:
Dear McCrae,--
Can you make an appointment to have a yarn? I don't care to call at the office on private business during office hours, after recently unfolding my mind to Mr. Hicks on the subject of his communication with the late Attorney-General.
I think that I can get "Charlotte Corday" played for you -- that is, if it is an acting play, and not a reading tragedy. You might bring it, but write first to name hour, as I might miss you.
Truly yours,
Marcus Clarke

First published in The Bulletin, 6 February 1929

Note: the second part of this essay wil be published next week.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 28, 2009 8:53 AM.

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