Reprint: A Gordon Memento by W. A. Brennan

In the library of the Yorick club Melbourne there is a slender dark green volume entitled



Dramatic Lyric

On the fly-leaf there is written, no doubt in the hand of Adam Lindsay Gordon, the inscription "Presented to Yorick Club, with author's compliments." Anonymity is observed also in the printed line "By the author of Sea Spray and Smoke Drift."

The volume was published in 1867 with the imprint Melbourne: Clarson Massina and Co., printers and publishers; Sydney: Gibbs, Shallard and Co. 1867.

The Yorick Club was founded in 1868 in response to an invitation by Marcus Clarke to men interested in literature and art. Gordon' s death took place in 1870 so that the presentation of the volume was made sometime in the two years from 1868 to 1870. Gordon was a foundation member of the club and was known to some of the members who have died within recent years.

Apparently Gordon believed that he would be better known as the author of "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift" than as Adam Lindsay Gordon. Apart from its rarity, the volume of "Ashtaroth" is interesting in several ways, and is worth examination by students of Gordon chronology.

Most of us in our day drank of the volume to which Marcus Clarke wrote his memorable, if not generally acceptable, introduction, which included the reference to the "weird melancholy" of the Australian bush.

Nearly all commentators on Gordon's poems have spoken apologetically and even disparagingly of "Ashtaroth."   The memorial volume issued a few years ago does not include it, although "Thora's Song" is published as a separate poem.

The publication by the author in 1887 suggests that he had an artist's confidence in his own work. It was, moreover, a sustained effort. Gordon could not have "dashed it off" as poets are   believed to dash off their work in fine frenzy. It was at least a year after publication that he presented the copy to the Yorick Club. Such an interval would give ample time for the "sickness" which an author sometimes feels even for his best work.

The work as a whole is undoubtedly unattractive, but not more so than many of those written by authors of greater fame which have been given permanence in their collected poems. It is worth study, however, for the gems that are found in it. There is probably no more interesting or graphic writing than that which is contained in the moonlight elopement of Harold and Agatha from the pursuit of Hugo, as related by Agatha to the Mother Superior in the convent many years later. What heroine of modern picture show romance moreover could more accurately reflect the capricious mind than the closing lines of the narrative by Agatha -

   See Harold the Dane thou sayest is dead,
   Yet I weep not bitterly
   As I fled with the Dane, so I might have fled
   With Hugo of Normandy.

It would be interesting to learn where Gordon obtained his inspiration for the poem. Obviously it was from literature and not from personal experience, nor is it likely that it was purely fanciful.

The characters are not such that he would have met either in his English or other experiences. Perhaps those who find satisfaction in attributing Gordon's best work to the influence of other minds may gain some fresh light from this neglected poem. Those who know Greek literature ever so slightly through the translations of Sir Gilbert Murray and others, will possibly be led to believe that Browning, Swinburne, and Gordon drew from the same spring. Theirs was an age of classicism and its echoes have a family resemblance.

First published in The Argus, 4 September 1937

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 15, 2010 9:17 AM.

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