Reprint: The Dennis of the Early Days by Randolph Bedford

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The death of Clarence Dennis removes yet another of the men who belonged to the Australia that is no more; to the pre-war days when life in Australia was brave and cheerful. In 1913 Dennis, David McKee Wright, Henry Lawson, and myself produced a daily for the Federal elections, published by the Sydney Worker, and having a great circulation at the published price of a ha'penny. Lawson, trying to reduce his Australianism to politics, and succeeding, although his deafness cut him loose from half of life; David McKee Wright, forgetting the fairies of Irish poetry to write topical verses; Dennis writing topical verses also; myself roaring "Australia" at the top of an energetic voice; and Dennis, after the last edition of the paper was put to bed at about 5 in the afternoon, reading in the bar of the old Edinburgh Castle the script of the "Sentimental Bloke" long before it saw print.

Our daily ran for a month before election day,
and apparently we were a great success, as W. M. Hughes had a 13,000 majority-- his publicity cost of the election being £2/15/, in 10 lots of advertising dodgers at 5/6 each. Even then, 25 years ago, Dennis, was a frail man -- or rather frail boy! Because he was always a boy. The memory of "Den" is for me the memory of courage-- of a brave thing in a weak body, living on the strength of a spirit that carried him for many years.

When I think of courage at its highest in men it is not the courage that makes for spectacle. Heinie, invalid for most of his life, singing his brave songs in exile; Carlyle the dyspeptic, stunned by the loss of the MSS of his French Revolution, saying, "I must write it better"; bedridden Henley insisting that he is the captain of his soul; Robert Louis Stevenson, marked for early death, yet writing as if he would live for ever; Victor Daley, sapped by tuberculosis, yet thinking clearly to the end and singing his songs as if he were to be on this earth immortal; all the heroes of brush and pen who have fended off their own dissolution by newly creating humour and beauty-- these are the epic men of the world.

And of them was C. J. Dennis. More terrible than active pain is the slow suffocation of disease of respiration; the recurrent sensation of impending death; the recovery only to die again a many deaths. Dennis had that experience of smothering horror daily repeated for many years, and he worked and chuckled in verse and was cheerful enough to help thousands of people-- also hopeless, but not articulate.

It is a long way back to our ha'penny paper in 1913, but in the end Clarence Dennis had not   greatly changed. Painfully then, always-- his life was a battle of willing spirit and physical frailty. The part of the real writer is to ease the irritations of the reader and bring to him distraction from the working troubles of a life that is often hard and at the best is pitifully short. To the people weary of struggle the man who can deliver humour and cheerfulness is a benefactor, and, so judged, Charles Dennis deserves well of his country.

First published in The Courier-Mail, 23 June 1938

[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 February 2, 2011 7:53 AM.

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