Australian Tales


Hamilton Mackinnon

Marcus Clarke

MARCUS ANDREW HISLOP CLARKE was born at Kensington—the Old Court suburb of London—on the 24th April, 1846. His father, William Hislop Clarke, a barrister-at-law, was recognised as a man of ability, both professionally and as a littérateur, albeit eccentric to a degree. Of his mother little is known beyond that she was a beautiful woman, of whom her husband was so devotedly fond that when her death occurred some months after the birth of the subject of this biography, he isolated himself from the world, living afterwards the life of a recluse, holding of the world an opinion of cynical contempt. Besides his father, there were among other brothers of his two whose names belong to the history of the Australian colonies; the one is that of James Langton Clarke, once a County Court Judge in Victoria, and the other, Andrew Clarke, Governor of Western Australia, who died and was buried at Perth in 1849. The latter was the father of General Sir Andrew Clarke, K.C.M.G., formerly Minister of Public Works in India, and Governor of the Straits Settlements. To the colonists of Victoria he will be better known as Captain Clarke, the first Surveyor-General of the colony, the author of the Existing Municipal Act, and one of the few lucky drawers of a questionable pension from this colony. The late Marcus Clarke claimed a distinguished genealogy for his family, which, though hailing as regards his immediate ancestors from the Green Isle, were English, having only betaken themselves to Ireland in the Cromwellian period. And among his papers were found the following notes referring to this matter:—

In 1612 William Clarke was made a burgess of Mountjoie, Co. Tyrone, and in 1658 Thurloe wrote to Henry Cromwell, desiring him to give Colonel Clarke land in Ireland for pay.

With an inherited delicate constitution, and without the love-watching care of a mother, or the attention of sisters, he passed his childhood. And that the absence of this supervision and guidance was felt by him in after years, we have but to read this pathetic passage from a sketch of his:—

To most men the golden time comes when the cares of a mother or the attention of sister aid to shield the young and eager soul from tile blighting influences of wordly debaucheries. Truly fortunate is he among us who can look back on a youth spent in the innocent enjoyments of the country, or who possesses a mind moulded in its adolescence by the gentle fingers of well-mannered and pious women.

When considered old enough to leave home the boy was sent to the private school of Dr. Dyne in Highgate, another suburb of London, hallowed by having been at one time associated with such illustrious names in literature as Coleridge, Charles Lamb, Keats, and De Quincey. There he obtained whatever scholastic lore he possessed, and was, according to the opinion of a schoolfellow, known as a humorously ecentric boy, with a most tenacious memory and an insatiable desire to read everything he could lay hands on. Owing to his physical inability to indulge in the usual boyish sports, he was in the habit of wandering about in search of knowledge wherever it was to be gleaned, and not infrequently this restless curiosity, which remained with him to the last, led him into quarters which it had been better for his yet unformed mind he had never entered. Here especially was felt the absence of a mother’s guidance, which was unfortunately replaced by the carelessness of an indulgent father. Of his schooldays little is known, save what can be gathered from a note-book kept by him at that period; and even in this the information is but fragmentary. According to this book he seems to have had only two friends with whom he was upon terms of great intimacy. They were brothers, Cyril and Gerald Hopkins, who appear, judging from jottings and sketches of theirs in his scrap album, to have been talented beyond the average schoolboy. Among the jottings to be found in this school record is one bearing the initials G.H., and referring to one “Marcus Scrivener” as a “Kaleidoscopic, Parti-colored, Harlequinesque Thaumatropic” being. Another item which may not be uninteresting to read, as indicating the turn for humorous satire, which, even at so early a period of his life the author had begun to develop, is an epitaph written on himself, and runs thus:—

Hic jacet
Qui non malus, ‘Coonius
Consideretus fuit
Sed amor bibendi
Combinalus cum pecuniae deficione
Mentem ejus oppugnabat—
Mortuus est
Et nihil ad vitam;—restorare

To his schoolmaster, the Reverend Doctor Dyne, the following dedication to a novel (Chateris) commenced by his former pupil shortly after his arrival in Australia was written. From this it is apparent that the master had not failed to recognise the talents of his gifted pupil, nor yet be blind to his weaknesses. It reads—

To T.B. DYNE., D.D.,

Head Master of Chomley School, Highgate.
This Work
is respectfully dedicated in memory of the advice so tenderly
given, the good wishes so often expressed, and the
success so confidently predicted for the author.

But whatever good influences might have been at work during his residence at Dr. Dyne’s school, they were, unfortunately for their subject, more than counter-balanced by others of a very dissimilar character met with by him at his father’s house. It seems scarcely credible that so young a boy was allowed to grow up without any restraining influence, except those of a foolishly-indulgent father, as we are led to believe was the case from the following extract, which the writer knows was intended by the subject of the biography as a reference to his boyish days when away from school. Doubtless the picture is somewhat over-coloured, but substantially it is true:—

My first intimation into the business of “living” took place under these auspices. The only son of a rich widower, who lived, under sorrow, but for the gratification of a literary and political ambition, I was thrown when still a boy into the society of men twice my age, and was tolerated as a clever impertinent in all those witty and wicked circles in which virtuous women are conspicuous by their absence. I was suffered at sixteen to ape the vices of sixty. You can guess the result of such a training. The admirer of men whose successes in love and play were the theme of common talk for six months; the worshipper of artists, whose genius was to revolutionise Europe, only they died of late hours and tobacco; the pet of women whose daring beauty made their names famous for three years. I discovered at twenty years of age that the pleasurable path I had trodden so gaily led to a hospital or a debtors’ prison, that love meant money, friendship an endorsement on a bill, and that the rigid exercise of a profound and calculating selfishness alone rendered tolerable a life at once deceitful and barren. In this view of the world I was supported by those middle-aged Mephistopheles (survivors of the storms which had wrecked so many Argosies), those cynical, well-bred worshippers of self, who realise in the nineteenth century that notion of the Devil which was invented by early Christians. With these good gentlemen I lived, emulating their cynicism, rivalling their sarcasm, and neutralisng the superiority which their existence gave them by the exercise of that potentiality for present enjoyment, which is the privilege of youth.

Again, in another sketch he wrote, referring to this period of his life:—

Let me take an instant to explain how it came about that a pupil of the Rev. Gammons, up in town for his holidays, should have owned such an acquaintance. My holidays, passed in my father’s widowed house, were enlivened by the coming and going of my cousin Tom from Woolwich, of cousin Dick from Sandhurst, of cousin Harry from Aldershot. With Tom, Dick, and Harry came a host of friends—for as long as he was not disturbed, the head of the house rather liked to see his rooms occupied by the relatives of people with whom he was intimate, and a succession of young men of the Cingbars, Ringwood, and Algernon Deuceacre sort made my home a temporary roosting-place. I cannot explain how such a curious Ménage came to be instituted, for, indeed, I do not know myself, but such was the fact, and “little Master,” instead of being trained in the way he should morally go, became the impertinent companion of some very wild bloods indeed. “I took Horace to the opera last night, sir,” or “I am going to show Horatius Cocles the wonders of Cremorne this evening,” would be all that Tom, or Dick, or Harry, would deign to observe, and my father would but lift his eyebrows in indifferent deprecation. So, a wild-eyed and eager schoolboy, I strayed into Bohemia, and acquired in that strange land an assurance and experience ill suited to my age and temperament. Remembering the wicked, good-hearted inhabitants of that curious country, I have often wondered since “what they thought of it,” and have interpreted, perhaps not unjustly, many of the homely tenderness which seemed to me then so strangely out of place and time.

In the midst of this peculiar and doubtful state of existence for a youth his father died suddenly, leaving his affairs in an unsatisfactory state. This unexpected change brought matters to a climax, and at seventeen years of age Marcus Clarke found that instead of inheriting, as expected, a considerable sum of money, he was successor to only a few hundred pounds, the net result of the realisation of his late father’s estate. With this it was arranged by his guardian relatives that he should seek a fresh field for his future career, and accordingly in 1864 he was shipped off to Melbourne by Green’s well-known old liner, “The Wellesley,” consigned to his uncle, Judge Clarke, above mentioned. Referring to this episode of his life, he has written in the following sarcastic and injured strain:—

My father died suddenly in London, and to the astonishment of the world left me nothing. His expenditure had been large, but as he left no debts, his income must have been proportionate to his expenditure. The source of this income, however, it was impossible to discover. An examination of his bankers’ book showed only that large sums (always in notes or gold) had been lodged and drawn out, but no record of speculations or investments could be found among his papers. My relatives stared, shook their heads, and insulted me with their pity. The sale of furniture, books, plate, and horses, brought enough to pay the necessary funeral expenses and leave me heir to some £800. My friends of the smoking-room and of the supper-table philosophised on Monday, cashed my IOU’s on Tuesday, were satirical on Wednesday, and cut me on Thursday. My relatives said “Something must be done,” and invited me to stop at their houses until that vague substantiality should be realised, and offers of employment were generously made; but to all proposals I replied with sudden disdain, and, desirous only of avoiding those who had known me in my prosperity, I avowed my resolution of going to Australia.

After one of those lengthy voyages for which the good old ship “The Wellesley” was renowned, the youth of bright fancies and disappointed fortune set foot in Melbourne; and, after the manner of most “new chums” with some cash at command and no direct restraining power at hand, he set himself readily to work, fathoming the social and other depths of his new home. The natural consequence of this was that one who had prematurely seen so much “life” in London, soon made his way into quarters not highly calculated to improve his morals or check his extravagantly-formed habits. In other words, he began his Bohemian career in Australia with a zest not altogether surprising in one who had been negligently allowed to drift into London Bohemianism. And naturally, a youth with such exceptional powers of quaint humour, playful satire, and bonhomie became a universal favourite wherever he went, much, unfortunately, to his own future detriment. But, in due course, a change came of necessity o’er this Bohemian dream, when the ready cash was no longer procurable without work. It was then, through the influence of his uncle the Judge, that the impecunious youth was relegated to a high stool in the Bank of Australasia. As might have been expected of one who spent most of his time in drawing caricatures and writing satirical verses and sketches he was a lusus naturæ to the authorities of the bank, and this is not to be wondered at when one learns that his mode of adding up long columns of figures was by guesswork, to wit, he would run his eye over the pence column, making a guess at the aggregate amount, and so on with the shillings and pounds columns. After a patient trial of some months it was considered, in the interests of all concerned, that he should seek his livelihood at a more congenial avocation, and thereupon he left the bank. But here must be mentioned the manner in which the severance took place, as being characteristic of him. Clarke applied for a short leave of absence. The letter containing this request not having been immediately answered he sought the presence of the manager for an explanation, when the following scene took place:—Clarke: “I have come to ask, sir, whether you received my application for a few weeks’ leave of absence.” The Manager: “I have.” Clarke: “Will you grant it to me, sir?” The Manager: “Certainly, and a longer leave, if you desire it.” Clarke: “I feel very much obliged. How long may I extend it to, sir?” The Manager: “Indefinitely, if you do not object!” Clarke: “Oh! I perceive, sir; you consider it best for us to part; and perhaps it is best so, sir?” And Mr. Clarke ceased to be a banker. Here it will not be inopportune to quote from an article on “Business Men,” written by him subsequently, referring to this banking experience:—

It has always been my misfortune through life not to be a Business Man. When I went into a bank—The Polynesian, Antarctic and Torrid Zone—I suffered. I was correspondence clerk, and got through my work with immense rapidity. The other clerks used to stare when they saw me strolling homewards punctually at four. I felt quite proud of my accomplishments. But in less than no time, a change took place. Letters came down from up-country branches. “I have received cheques to the amount of £1 15s. 6d., of two of which no mention is made in your letter of advice.” “Sir! how is it that my note of hand for £97 4s. 1 3/4d., to meet which I forwarded Messrs. Blowhard and Co.’s acceptance, has been dishonoured by your branch at Warrnambool?” “Private—Dear Cashup: Is your correspondent a hopeless idiot? I can’t make head or tail of his letter of advice. As far as I can make out, he seems to have sent out the remittances to the wrong places.—Yours, T. TOTTLE.” I am afraid that it was all true. The manager sent for me, said that he loved me as his own brother, and that I wore the neatest waistcoats he had ever seen, but that my genius was evidently fettered in a bank. Here was a quarter’s salary in advance, he had, no fault, quite the reverse; but, but, well—in short—I was not a Business Man.

In addition to this the following remark, bearing on the same subject, written in one of the “Noah’s Ark” papers in the Australasian, may also here be quoted:—

A Man of Business, said Marston, oracularly, is one who becomes possessed of other people’s money without bringing himself under the power of the law.

Finding commercial pursuits were not his forte, the youthful ex-banker bethought him of turning his attention to the free and out-door existence of a bushman. Accordingly he, shortly after leaving the bank in 1865, obtained, through his uncle, Judge Clarke, a “billet” on Swinton Station, near Glenorchy, belonging to Mr. John Holt, and in which the Judge had a pecuniary interest. Here he remained for some two years mastering the mysteries of bushmanship in the manner described in the sketch in this volume, styled “Learning Colonial Experience.” It was during his sojourn in this wild and mountainous region that our author imbibed that love for the weird, lonely Australian Bush, which he so graphically and pathetically describes in so many of his tales—notably in “Pretty Dick,” a perfect bush idyll to those who know the full meaning of the words Australian Bush. Although sent up to learn the ways and means of working a station, it is to be feared that the results of the lessons were not over fruitful. Indeed, beyond roving about the unfrequented portions of the run in meditation wrapped, pipe in mouth and book in pocket, in case of thoughts becoming wearisome, the sucking squatter did little else till night set in, and then the change of programme simply meant his retiring after the evening meal to his own room and spending the time well into midnight writing or reading. From one who was a companion of his on the station at the time, viz. the popular sports-man—genial, generous—Donald Wallace, I have learned that though Clarke wrote almost every night he kept the product of his labour to himself. But we now know that the work of his pen appeared in several sketches in the Australian Magazine then published by Mr. W. H. Williams. These were written under the nom de plume of Marcus Scrivener. It was while residing in this district that he took stock of the characters which he subsequently utilised in all his tales relating to bush life. For instance, “Bullocktown,” is well known to be Glenorchy, the post-town of the Swinton Station, and all the characters in it are recognisable as life portraits presented with that peculiar glamor which his genius cast over all his literary work. And to one of the characters in it—Rapersole—the then local postmaster, Mr. J. Wallace, I am under an obligation for supplying me with some incidents in our author’s bush career. According to Mr. Wallace young Clarke was a great favourite with everybody and was the life and soul of local entertainments such as concerts, balls, &c., in which he took part with great zest. He was also at that time a regular attendant at church, and a frequent visitor to the local State-school, in which he evinced a lively interest, giving prizes to the boys. He was, moreover, an omnivorous reader, getting all the best English magazines and endless French novels from Melbourne regularly. But whatever progress he may have been making in his literary pursuits, it was found by Mr. Holt that as a “hand” on the station he was not of countless price. Indeed, it was discovered after he had been there some months, that not only did the gifted youth pay little heed to his unintellectual work, but that he had to a great extent imbued the station with such a love for reading—more particularly the novels of Honoré Balzac—that the routine duty of their daily existence became so irksome that they sought consolation by taking shelter from the noonday sun under some umbrageous gum-tree, listening to their instructor as he translated some of the delicate passages from the works of the Prince of French novelists. Accordingly it was mutually agreed by the employer and employé that the best course to pursue under the circumstances was to part company. But, fortunately for the literary bushman, it was just at this time when he had tried two modes of making a living and had hopelessly failed in both, that a person appeared on the scene who was destined to direct his brilliant talents to their proper groove. There came as a visitor to Mr. Holt, in the beginning of 1867, Dr. Robert Lewins. As Dr. Lewins had no small share in shaping the after career of Marcus Clarke, it behoves me to briefly refer here to him and his theories. Dr. Lewins, who had been staffsurgeon- major to General Chute during the New Zealand war, had shortly before this arrived in Melbourne with the British troops, en route to England; and, being a friend of Mr. Holt’s, went on a visit to him to Ledcourt, on which station Clarke was then employed. Learning while there of the peculiar youth whom Mr. Holt had as assistant, Dr. Lewins, who was like most thinking men of his class, always on the look-out for discoveries, whether human or otherwise, sought an introduction to the boy, whom practical Mr. Holt considered, a “ne’er do weel.” And no sooner was the introduction brought about than the learned medico discovered that, buried within view of the Victorian Grampians, lay hidden an intellectual gem of great worth. Rapidly a mutual feeling of admiration and regard sprang up between the young literary enthusiast of twenty and the learned medico of sixty—an attachment which lasted through life. The savant admired the rare talents of his protegé with the love of a father; while the fanciful boy looked up to the learned man who had discerned his abilities, and placed him on the road to that goal for which he was destined. But the influence of the elder on the younger man did not cease here, as without doubt the former converted the latter to his views regarding existence. What these views were the Doctor explained in more than one pamphlet addressed to eminent men in England and Europe. As regards his pet theory, which he affirmed he had proved beyond doubt by experiments, extending over forty years, in all parts of the world, it may be, for the curious, briefly explained in his own words, as follows:—

“I.That there is no distinct vital principle apart from ordinary inorganic matter or force,

“II.That oxygen is capable of assuming an imponderable form, and that it is identical with the Cosmic ‘primum mobile’, the basis of light, heat, chemical affinity, attraction, and electric force.”

“III.That the theory of materialism is, in fact, the only tenable theory.”

The result of this tuition as regards Clarke was a remarkably able article on “Positivism,” which he wrote some months afterwards, and which, I believe, saw light in one of the Liberal English reviews. But I am forestalling the order of the biography. Having satisfied himself upon the merits of the newlyfound intellect, the doctor, on his return to Melbourne, told the proprietor of the Argus, with whom he was acquainted, of his discovery, advising him to secure the unknown genius for his journal, and so, in the course of a few weeks after meeting Dr. Lewins, Marcus Clarke appeared in Melbourne, and in February, 1867, became a member of the literary staff of the Argus. After an initiation into the mysteries of a newspaper office the young journalist was allotted the task of theatrical reporter, which routine drudgery he performed satisfactorily till one night he took upon himself to criticise an entertainment, which, unfortunately, through the indisposition of the chief performer, did not come off. This carelessness on the part of the imaginative critic led to his withdrawal from the Argus reporting staff, but his relations with that paper and the Australasian were, however, continued as a contributor. It was during this period that Marcus Clarke contributed to the Australasian the two masterly reviews on Doré and Balzac, published in these pages, besides writing weekly for the same journal those sparkling and humorous papers, “The Peripatetic Philosopher,” which brought his name prominently before the public and placed him at once in the front rank of Australian journalists—and here it may be mentioned that the letter “Q.,” under which he wrote the weekly contributions, was the stock brand of the station on which he had attempted to learn “colonial experience.” Apart, however, from his contributions to the Australasian, he supplied special articles to the Argus, and acted as the theatrical critic of that paper for some time, during which he wrote some admirable critiques on the late Walter Montgomery’s performances—critiques which gained for him the admiration and regard of that talented actor, though unhappily they fell out afterwards for some foolish reason or another. But the active brain of the sparkling littérateur was not satisfied with journalistic work merely. With the pecuniary assistance of a friend and admirer, the late Mr. Drummond, police-magistrate—whose death shortly afterwards by poison received from one of the snakes kept by the snake-exhibitor Shires, whom he held to be an impostor as regarded his antidote, caused so much excitement—he purchased from Mr. Williams the Australian Magazine, the journal in which had appeared his earliest literary attempts. The name of this he altered to the Colonial Monthly; and with praiseworthy enthusiasm set about encouraging Australian literary talent by gathering around him as contributors all the best local literary ability available. But, despite his laudable efforts to create an Australian literature, racy of the soil, he was doomed to disappointment and loss. The primary cause of this unfortunate result may be ascribed to the sneers which any attempt made by an Australian received at the hands of a few selfsufficient, narrow—minded individuals, who, sad to say, had the ear of the then reading public, because they unfortunately happened to be in a position to dictate on literary matters. It was in the Colonial Monthly that Clarke’s first novel, Long Odds, appeared in serial form. Of this, however, he only wrote a few of the first chapters, as shortly after its commencement he met with a serious accident through his horse throwing him and fracturing his skull—an accident from the effects of which he never totally recovered. Some months prior to this mishap—about May, 1868—Clarke, in conjunction with some dozen literary friends, started a modest club for men known in the fields of Literature, Art, and Science —THE YORICK. This has developed in the course of the past fifteen years into one in which the three elements predominating originally are lost in the multifarious folds of “Professionalism.” The Yorick Club was the outcome of the literary and Bohemian—analogous terms in those days—spirits who used then to assemble nightly at the Café of the Theatre Royal to discuss coffee and intellectual subjects. These gatherings grew so large in the course of time that it was found necessary, in order to keep the communion up, to secure accommodation where the flow of genius, if nothing else, might have full play without interruption and intrusion from those deemed outside the particular and shining pale. Accordingly a room was rented and furnished in Bohemian fashion, with some cane chairs, a deal table, a cocoa-nut matting and spittoons. In this the first meeting was held in order to baptise the club. The meeting in question debated, with the assistance of sundry pewters and pipes—not empty, gentle reader—the subject warmly from the first proposition made by Clarke, that the club should be called “Golgotha,” or the place of skulls, to the last, “alas, poor Yorick!” This brief name was accepted as appropriate, and the somewhat excited company adjourned to a Saturday night’s supper at a jovial Eating-House, too well known to fame. The first office-bearers of the club were:—Secretary, Marcus Clarke; Treasurer, B. F. Kane; Librarian, J. E. Neild; Committee, J. Blackburn, G. C. Levey, A. Semple, A. Telo, J. Towers. The first published list of members gives a total of sixty-four, but Time has made many changes in that list, and Death has been busy too. Of the sixty-four original members there have passed away the following well-known intellectuals:—B. C. Aspinall, Marcus Clarke, Lindsay Gordon, Henry Kendall, T. Drummond, J. C. Patterson, Jardine Smith, A. Telo, Father Bleardale, etc. It was at the “Yorick” that Marcus Clarke first met one of whose abilities he entertained a very high opinion, and towards whose eccentric and mournful genius he was drawn by a feeling of sympathetic affection, namely, Adam Lindsay Gordon, poet, and the once king of gentleman Jocks. Nothing could have shown more assuredly the deep feeling and regard felt by Marcus Clarke for Lindsay Gordon than pathetic preface he wrote for the posthumous edition of the poet’s works (an extract from which preface is given in this volume under the title of “The Australian Bush”) when the poet himself put an end to his life, to the horror of the community, which did not learn till after the heartbroken poet’s death that it was only the want of the wherewith to live upon which drove one of the brightest geniuses Australia has seen into a suicide’s grave. To those who knew Gordon and Clarke intimately, the keen sympathy of genius existing between them was easily understood, for there was, despite many outward differences of manner, a wonderful similarity in their natures. Both were morbidly sensitive; both broodingly pathetic; both sarcastically humorous; both socially reckless; both literary Bohemians of the purest water—sons of genius and children of impulse. That the deep feeling for the dead poet and friend lasted till death with Marcus Clarke was evidenced by his frequently repeating when in dejected spirits those pathetically regretful lines of the “Sick Stockrider”—

I have had my share of pastime and I’ve done my share of toil.
And life is short—the longest life a span;
I care not now to tarry for the corn or for the oil,
Or for the wine that maketh glad the heart of man.
For goods undone and gifts misspent and resolutions vain
’Tis somewhat late to trouble. This I know—
I should live the same life over if I had to live again;
And the chances are I go where most men go.

And to see him seated at the piano humming these lines to his own accompaniment, while the tears kept rolling down his cheeks, was proof enough that the tender chords of a beloved memory were being struck, and that the living son of genius mourned for his dead brother as only genius can mourn. Turning to a more lively memento of Lindsay Gordon, characteristic of him when the spirit of fun possessed him, the following note, written to Clarke and kept by him sacredly, will interest his many admirers:—

Yorick Club.

Dear Clarke,—Scott’s Hotel, not later than 9.30 sharp. Moore will be there. Riddock and Lyon, Baker and the Powers, beside us; so if ‘the Old One’ were to cast a net—eh?—


                A. LINDSAY GORDON.

It was shortly after Gordon’s untimely and sad death that Clarke became acquainted with another erratic though differently constituted son of genius—Henry Kendall, the foremost of Australian-born poets. Kendall met with warm sympathy from the friend of Gordon, and, moreover, with a helping hand in the hard life-struggle—which the poet feelingly referred to in the following memorial verses written on the death of his friend and benefactor:—

The night wind sobs on cliffs austere,
    Where gleams by fits the wintry star;
And in the wild dumb woods I hear
    A moaning harbour bar.

The branch and leaf are very still;
    But now the great grave dark has grown,
The torrent in the harsh sea-hill
    Sends forth a deeper tone.

Here sitting by a dying flame
    I cannot choose but think in grief
Of Harpur, whose unhappy name
    Is as an autumn leaf.

And domed by purer breadths of blue,
    Afar from folds of forest dark,
I see the eyes that once I knew—
    The eyes of Marcus Clarke.

Their clear, bright beauty shines apace
    But sunny dreams in shadow end.
The sods have hid the faded face
    Of my heroic friend.

He sleeps where winds of evening pass—
    Where water songs are soft and low,
Upon his grave the tender grass
    Has not had time to grow.

Few knew the cross he had to bear
    And moan beneath from day to day,
His were the bitter hours that wear
    The human heart away—

The laurels in the pit were won;
    He had to take the lot austere
That ever seemed to wait upon
    The mail of letters here,

He toiled for love, unwatched, unseen,
    And fought, his troubles band by band;
Till, like a friend of gentle mien,
    Death took him by the hand.

He rests in peace. No grasping thief
    Of hope and health can steal away
The beauty of the flower and leaf
    Upon his tomb to-day.

So let him sleep, whose life was hard!
    And may they place beyond the wave
The tender rose of my regard
    Upon his tranquil grave.

The idiosyncrasies of the two men were in many respects widely dissimilar—Clarke’s belonging to the polished school of the Old World while Kendall’s were akin to those of his own native land, in the New World, but the acquaintanceship ripened into mutual admiration and friendship; and together they worked on Humbug, the brilliant weekly comic journal, started about this time by Clarson, Massina & Co., under the editorship of Clarke. Probably one factor which exercised an influence over Clarke in the interests of Kendall was the poem, written to Lindsay Gordon’s memory by Kendall, of which the following few lines may here be given:—

The bard, the scholar, and the man who lived
That frank, that open-hearted life which keeps
The splendid fire of English chivalry
From dying out; the one who never wronged
Fellowman; the faithful friend who judged
The many, anxious to be loved of him,
By what he saw, and not by what he heard,
As lesser spirits do; the brave, great soul
That never told a lie, or turned aside
To fly from danger; he, I say, was one
Of that bright company this sin-staned world
Can ill afford to loose.

During this period, 1868-69, Clarke was a regular contributor to the Argus and Australasian, writing leaders for the former journal, and, besides the “Peripatetic Philosopher” papers for the latter, a series of remarkably able sketches on “Lower Bohemia.” These articles, as their name implies, were descriptive of the life then existing in the lowest social grades of Melbourne, composed to a great extent of broken-down men of a once higher position in life, drawn hither by the gold discovery. They made a great impression upon the public, being full of brilliantly realistic writing, reminding one greatly of Balzac’s ruthless style of exposing without squeamishness the social cancers to be found among the vagrant section of a community. Apart from his connection with the two journals named, the prolific and sparkling journalist contributed at this time to Punch some of the best trifles in verse and prose that ever adorned its pages. This connection, however, he severed about the middle of 1869, on undertaking the editorship of Humbug, a remarkably clever publication. In Humbug appeared, perhaps, the best fugitive work Marcus Clarke ever threw off. Besides his own racy pen, those of such well-known writers as Dr. Neild, Mr. Charles Bright, Mr. A. L. Windsor and Henry Kendall were busy on the pages of the new spirited, satirical organ, which was ably illustrated by Mr. Cousins. Notwithstanding, however, all this aray of talent the venture was not financially a success, as at that time, the taste for journalistic literature was very much more limited than now, and a writer, however gifted, had then a poor chance of earning a livelihood by the efforts of his pen. While thus rapidly rising in the rank of Australia’s littérateurs, Clarke was unfortunately induced, by the foolish advice of friends, who felt flattered by his company, to live at a rate far exceeding his income, naturally becoming involved in debt. From this there was no recourse but to borrow, and so the presence of the usurer was sought. Thus commenced that course of life which, after a few years of ceaseless worry, brought, long ere his time, the brilliant man of genius, with the brightest of prospects before him, to the grave brokenhearted. Surely those who led him into the extravagances, men his seniors in years and experience, must bear their share of responsibility for the dark end to so bright a beginning. And yet some of these were his bitterest enemies afterwards. Undeterred, however, by the pecuniary difficulties in which he found himself, he, with characteristic thoughtlessness, plunged into matrimony by espousing Miss Marian Dunn, the actress-daughter of genial John Dunn, Prince of Comedians. This young lady was at the time of her engagement to Clarke playing with great success a series of characters with the late Walter Montgomery, who entertained so high an opinion of her histrionic abilities, as to urge her to visit England and America with him. But the little lady preferred to remain in Australia as the wife of the rising littéateur, and so they were married on the 22nd of July, 1869, the only, witnesses of the marriage being the bride’s parents and the best man, the late Mr. B. F. Kane, Secretary of the Education Department. And the strangest—but characteristic of him—part of the ceremony was that the bridegroom, after the connubial knot was tied, left his bride in charge of her parents, while he went in search of lodgings wherein to take his “better half.” Having settled down as a Benedict, so far as it was possible for him to do so, our author, doubtless inspired by the society he had married into, set himself to work for the first time as a playwright, the result being the production of a drama styled Foul Play, a dramatisation of Charles Reade’s and Dion Boucicault’s novel of that name. It met with but partial success. But not discouraged by this comparative failure, the newly-fledged dramatist wrote, or rather adapted from other sources, for the Christmas season of 1870 at the Theatre Royal, a clever burlesque on the old nursery story of Goody Two Shoes, which met with considerable success both from the Press and the public. But even in this, his almost initial piece, he betrayed that weakness, theatrically speaking, which, more or less, mared all his dramatic efforts, namely, writing above the intelligence of the average audience. Soon after this overwork had told its tale upon the restless brain, and the doctors ordered change of air to the more salubrious climate of Tasmania. But as funds were, as usual with him, decidedly low, how was the change to be effected? Eureka! He would ask the Publishers of the now defunct Humbug to bring out a tale of his in their Australian Journal. The tale should be full of thrilling incidents relating to the old convict days in Tasmania. Brimming over with the idea he sought the presence of the publishers in question—Clarson, Massini & Co.—and made his suggestions. The offer was at once accepted, and the needy writer received the necessary aid to take him over to Van Diemen’s Land, in order to improve his health and enable him to pore over prison records. Thus was the now deservedly celebrated novel, His Natural Life, initiated. But as to how it was completed is another matter. Let the unfortunate publisher testify his experience. And in such manner was produced His Natural Life. But the reader must remember that the work, as now published by Messrs. Bentley in London, is very different, as regards the construction and ending, to that which appeared in serial form in the Australian Journal. As without doubt this is the best and most sustained effort of Marcus Clarke’s genius, and the one upon which will chiefly rest his fame in literature, it is only right to publish here some extracts from the various reviews written of the novel in English, American and German papers.

The Daily Telegraph, London:—“And who,” some thousands of readers may ask, “is Mr. Marcus Clarke? Until a recent period we should have confessed the very haziest knowledge of Mr. Marcus Clarke’s existence, save that in the columns of Melbourne newspapers his name has appeared. Mr. Marcus Clarke has hardly entered into the ken of perhaps more than a hundred persons in England; but, having read the forcible and impressive novel entitled His Natural Life, we have not only come to an acquaintance as admiring as it is sudden with the author’s name, but esteem it by no means a venturesome or hazardous act to predict for it a fame as great as that achieved by any living novelist. Indeed this wonderful narrative, which, despite the thrilling incident, bears on every page the honest impress of unexaggerated truth, has the material of a whole circulating library of tragic romance within itself. The only fault is the over-abundance which necessitates hurry in its disposal. But if Mr. Clarke’s future has been embarrassed in some measure by its own riches, the author may well be satisfied with the result, for he has furnished readers in the old and new countries with matter for grave and earnest reflection; he has re-opened a discussion that has too soon been abandoned to torpor, and he has, in short, rendered better service than the State of Letters is wont to receive at the hands of a mere novel writer. . . . We have by no means over-praised this novel. The temptation to run into superlatives is great, and it has been resisted here for the one reason, if for no other, that, highly meritorious as Mr. Marcus Clarke’s first English publication stems in our eyes, we are yet of belief, after its perusal, that he is destined to give the world yet greater and more effective because more concentrated work.”

Boston Gazette, America:—“One of the most powerfully written and most absorbingly interesting novels that has lately attracted our notice is His Natural Life, by Marcus Clarke. It is a story dealing with convict life in Australia, and has been written ‘for a purpose.’ The plot is constructed with remarkable skill, and in the depicting of character the author manifests a talent we have rarely seen surpassed in any modern writer of fiction. A similar high degree of praise may be awarded him for his description of scenery. The book is intensely dramatic both in subject and treatment, but it is quite free from ‘sensationalism’ in the objectionable sense of the word. The style is healthy, manly and vigorous, and shows a surprising facility in word painting. Mr. Clarke professes to have drawn his characters, localities and incidents directly from nature, and his work bears internal evidence that he has. It is the most stirring story of its class that has appeared since Victor Hugo’s Les Misèrables, of which it has all the fire and artistic feeling, minus the affectation. This novel cannot fail to make its mark.”

The Stectator, London:—“It is something to write a book so powerful, especially as all the power is directed to the noblest end.”

Saturday Review, London:—“There is undeniable strength in what Mr. Clarke has written.”

Morning Post, London:—“This novel appals while it fascinates, by reason of the terrible reality which marks the individual characters living and breathing in it. The tragic power of its situations, the knowledge of the sombre life which the author shows so vividly in the able handling of its subject, the pathos which here and there crops up like an oasis in a sandy desert, lead the reader from the beaten track of fiction.”

The Graphic, London:—“It is, of course, possible that Mr. Marcus Clarke may turn out to be a man of one book, and out of his element in any atmosphere but that of convict and penal settlements. He shows, however, too much knowledge of human nature generally to make us think this at all likely, and if so, he must be hailed as a valuable recruit to the ranks of novelists of the day.”

Vanity Fair, London:—“There is an immensity of power in this most extraordinary book.”

The World, London:—“Few persons will read his remarkable descriptions of convict life and antipodean scenery without recognising an author of commanding originality and strength.”

The Reform, Hamburg (translated irom the German.):—“This novel treats of a terrible subject. The life of the prisoners in Van Diemen’s land is set before us in a panorama painted by a master hand. Ladies of a sentimental turn had better abstain from reading this story, unless they choose to risk a nervous fever. The romance is full of power. The writer illuminates the lowest depths of human nature in a manner which holds us spell-bound, despite ourselves. Marcus Clarke is a master of psychology, and his descriptions of nature are as effective as his style is pure.”

And from no less a giant in literature than Oliver Wendell Holmes, of Boston, America, the following complimentary letter was received by Clarke in acknowledgment of a copy of the novel sent to the author of the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table:—“The pictures of life under the dreadful conditions to which the convicts were submitted are very painful, no doubt, but we cannot question the fact that they were only copied from realities as bad as their darkest shadows. The only experiences at all resembling these horrors which our people have had were the cruelties to which our prisoners were subjected in some of the southern pens for human creatures during the late war. I do not think they were driven to cannibalism, but the most shocking stories were told of the condition to which they were reduced by want of food and crowding together. There are some Robinson Crusoe touches in your story, which add greatly to its interest, and I should think that the colonists, and thousands at home in the mother country, would find it full of attraction in spite of its painful revelations. This work cannot fail to draw attention, and make your name widely known and appreciated as an author throughout the world.”

Besides contributing this historical romance to the columns of the Australian Journal Clarke was busy writing in the Australasian those sketches of the early days of Australia, which were afterwards published in book form under the title of Old Tales of a Young Country. These sketches, like his great novel, though highly interesting as historical records of the colonies, were for the most part worked up from governmental pamphlets and old journals. But in the casting they were stamped by the genius of the master-hand, which could appropriate and improve upon the appropriation as only men of original calibre are able to do. In the meantime the “Peripatetic Philosopher” ceased to adorn the pages of the Australasian with his caustic and eccentric dissertations, because, through the influence of one of the noblest patrons of letters in Victoria—the late Sir Redmond Barry—the Philosopher had been found a congenial post as Secretary to the Trustees of the Public Library, of whom Sir Redmond himself was the respected President. This appointment was made in June, 1870, and from that time Clarke ceased to be connected with the staff of any journal, though remaining a brilliant and valued contributor all his life to newspapers, magazines, reviews, &c., instead of, unfortunately, concentrating his exceptional powers on the production of works of a class with His Natural Life. Among other articles contributed by him about this time were the “Buncle Letters,” which appeared in the Argus and attracted much attention, being running comments of a satirically humorous character, on the social and political events of the day, supposed to be written by one brother resident in town to his less sophisticated brother in the country. In the same journal, Clarke wrote a descriptive sketch of the mining mania which had seized upon Sandhurst at the time; and for piquancy the sketch was among his best in descriptive journalism. At this period, also, he once more tried his hand at the drama, and adapted for John Dunn, his father-in-law, Moliére’s celebrated comedy, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, into English, under the title of Peacock’s Feathers, which was produced with great success at the Theatre Royal. Mention has been made of the interest Sir Rednond Barry evinced in the rising littérateur whom he took under his parental wing when obtaining for him the post in the Public Library. And this interest and regard the respected Judge retained for his protégé, despite his oft-repeated thoughtless acts, to the end of his life, which end arrived, strange to say, only some few months before that of the much younger man, who, on hearing of Sir Redmond’s death, expressed himself as having lost his best and truest friend. But with all the warm regard existing between the vererable judge and the youthful author, there was always a certain characteristic hauteur on the one hand, and a reverential respect on the other, in their official and social relationships. In proof of this a couple of examples may be related. It was a hot summer’s day, and, as was his style in such weather, the librarian was dressed dandily in unspotted white flannel, a cabbage-tree hat shadowing his face. So clothed he was leisurely wending his way up the steps of the library when he met the President, looling more starched, if possible, than ever, and wearing the well-known, flat-rimmed, tapering, belltopper, which shone sleekily in the glare of the noonday sun. The following brief dialogue then ensued:—President: “Good morning, Mr. Clarke.” Librarian: “Good morning, sir.” President: “I scarcely think your hat is exactly suited to the position you occupy in connection with this establishment, Mr. Clarke—Good morning,” and with a stiff bend of the erect body the President took his departure with just a glimmer of a smile playing round the firmlyclosed lips. Again, not long before Sir Redmond’s death, and when the librarian had got himself into “hot water” among the “unco guid” section of the Trustees, through writing his clever though caustic reply to the Anglican Bishop, Dr. Moorhouse’s criticism on Clarke’s article, “Civilisation without Delusion,” the President appeared one evening in the librarian’s office with a clouded countenance, and said, “Good evening, Mr. Clarke.” The librarian, with an intuitive feeling that something was wrong returned the salutation, when the President remarked: “Mr. Clarke, you would oblige me greatly if you were to leave some things undone. For instance, that unfortunate article of yours—attacking so estimable a man as the bishop. Very indiscreet, Mr. Clarke. I—think—I—should require—to—have—some— thousands a year of a private income before I would—venture—upon writing such an—article on —such a subject, and among so punctillious a community as exists here. Good evening, Mr. Clarke:” and the librarian was left dazed and speechless at the solemnity of the rebuke, and the dignified departure of his President. Recurring back to the literary work being done by our author, we find that it was during the next two years—namely, in 1872-73—that his prolific pen was in its busiest mood, for within the space of those twenty-four months he wrote the psychological dialogues styled “Noah’s Ark,” in the Australasian; these were interspersed with those exquisitely told stories, subsequently published in book form under the names of Holiday Peak and Four Stories High. The former was dedicated to Oliver Wendell Holmes upon whom he looked as one of the brightest gems in the literary firmament, and from whom he had received much literary encouragement; the latter was dedicated to an appreciative friend, the late kind-hearted though explosive William Saurin Lyster, the man to whom Australian lovers of music owe a deep debt of gratitude as the first introducer of high-class opera and oratorio to these shores. Of these stories, Pretty Dick is perhaps the finest piece of work as regards execution done by Australia’s greatest literary artist. And in this opinion I am not alone, as the following letter, from one who stands very high in the world’s estimate as a master of true pathos und humour will show:—

DEAR MR. CLARKE,—Boston, 23rd December. 1872.

I received your letter and MS., with the newspaper extract, some two or three days ago, and sat down at once and read the story. It interested me deeply, and I felt as much like crying over the fate of “Pretty Dick” as I did when I was a child and read the Babes in The Wood. I did cry then—I will not say whether I cried over “Pretty Dick” or not. But I will say it is a very touching story, very well told. I am, Dear Mr. Clarke,

        Most sincerely yours,

                O. W.

Apart from these tales, there appeared among the “Noah’s Ark” papers some excellent original verse, at times approximating to poetry and several metrical translations from Greek, Latin, German and French poets. He also composed in this year,—1872—his most effectively written drama, Plot, which was produced at the Princess’ Theatre with success. Following on Plot, he wrote, or rather adapted, the pantomime of Twinkle Little Star, which was played at the Theatre Royal during the Christmas season making quite “a hit.” It was about this time that the relations between Marcus Clarke and the journals with which he had from the commencement of his journalistic career been connected became strained, as is said in diplomatic jargon, and shortly afterwards, all connection between them ceased for ever. As a good deal of misconception exists about the breach that took place between the subject of this biography and the representatives out here of the proprietors of the Argus and Australasian, it is advisable in the interest of the author to explain the cause of the breach. It was in this year that Mr. Bagot, the “indefatigable” Secretary of the Victoria Racing Club, declined while under some peculiar influence to issue free tickets to the press, as had been the universal custom from time immemorial. The very natural reply of the press to this uncalled-for and blundering affront was simply not to report the races. This was agreed to by the morning journals then published in Melbourne. But in the Evening Herald which was not, through questionable motives, consulted in the matter, there appeared the night the Cup was run, a remarkably clever report of the event—perhaps the cleverest description of the Cup meeting which has been seen in the pages of any Melbourne journal. Naturally the sparkling report caused no small consternation in the ranks of journalism in the city; more especially among the authoritics of the Argus, who did not fail to recognise it to be the ingenious brainwork of their own contributor—Marcus Clarke. When questioned on the subject the erratic journalist denied having been at the races, but admitted writing the sketch, claiming his right to do so on the ground that, as the Argus did not choose to employ him because of a disagreement with Mr. Bagot he had every moral right to earn an honest penny from the proprietors of another journal who afforded him the opportunity of so doing. This, however, did not satisfy the ruling power of the Argus (Mr. Gowen Evans), who was probably chagrined to read in another journal the work of one whom he looked upon as that paper’s property. The result of this attempt at autocratic interference and dictation was the loss to the journals in question of the writer whose work above that of all others had adorned their columns, and increased their popularity. Having parted from the journals which he had so greatly aided by his rare abilities, Clarke became attached as a contributor to the Daily Telegraph and subsequently to the Age and Leader. The next, most important and unfortunate, event which overtook him about this period was his insolvency. Though long expected, and known to be inevitable, the victim of untoward circumstances put off the evil day by every means in his power, thereby sinking deeper and deeper in the mire, till at last his doom had to be met, and his name appeared in the bankruptcy list. What those who had helped to lead him into this position felt when the disagreeable fact became known can only be conjectured, but, at any rate, their foolish dupe felt the position more acutely than any acquaintance of his could possibly imagine, judging by the light-hearted manner in which he discussed the subject with one and all. Only these who knew Marcus Clarke intimately—and they were few—realised how keenly he suffered from the thought that one, like himself, with a name and a fame, who had had every chance of being independent, should become what he, poor, generous, thoughtless fellow, had become. Still, it was unavoidable, and his fate was sealed. Would that the first mistake had acted as a warning, but it was not to be, for no sooner was one difficulty overcome than another commenced, ending only when life was no more—that life which was driven to its death by the merciless snares of the crafty usurer, against whom, at the last, he fought as desperately as man does against the remorseless python, who knows his prey is safe in the fatal embrace. Yet despite all these monetary troubles, the inherently strong sense of humour in him would trifle with the seriousness of the position, for it was about this time that he penned the following remarks as the real excuse for his chronically impecunious condition:—

I have made a scientific discovery. I have found out the reason why I have so long been afflicted with a pecuniary flux. For many years past I have tried to tind out why I am always in debt, and have consulted all sorts of financial physicians, but grew no better, but rather the worse. The temporary relief afforded by a mild loan or an overdraft at the bank soon vanished. I once thought that by the judicious application of a series of bills at three months I could cheek the ravages of disease; but, alas! my complaint was aggravated, while I had not courage for the certain and painful remedy of the actual cautery, as recommended by Dr. Insolvent Commissioner Noel. My friends said I had “Got into bad hands,” that I had been deceived by advertising quacks, whose only object was to depress the financial system and keep me an invalid as long as possible. I applied for admission into the Great Polynesian Loan Company’s Hospital, and pawned myself there, in fact, at the ridiculously low rate of 350per cent. I was insured in the Shylock Alliance Company (which afterwards, to my great disgust, amalgamated with the Polynesian) and there I sold the reversionary interest in my immortal soul, I believe, to a bland gentleman who calculated the amount of blood in my body and flesh on my bones by the aid of a printed money-table. Yet my financial health did not seem to improve. I grew anxious, and began to reason. I resolved to write a book. I wrote one, and called it A Theory for the Causation, and Suggestions for the Prevention of Impecuniosity; together with Hypotheses on the Causation, and Views as to the Prevention of Composition-with-creditors, Bankruptcy, Fraudulent Insolvency, and other Pecuniary Diseases. In the course of examination of Bills of Sale, Acceptances, Liens on Wool, and other matters, I discovered by accident the cause of my disease. It was the simplest thing in the world. The idiots of doctors had been treating me for extravagance whereas the fact was that I was cursed with so powerful and innate a passion for economy that I never could bring myself to the expenditure of ready money.

But turning to a pleasanter and more interesting subject, the Cave of Adullam has to be mentioned. The Cave of Adullam! “What is that?” may ask the uninitiated reader. Well, the particular cave alluded to was a club house, once situated in Flinders Lane, behind the Argus office, where stands now some softgoods palatial structure. To this only a very select body of members was admitted, the selectness in this case necessitating that a member should be happily impecunious, and, if possible, be hunted by the myrmidons of the law. From this brief description it will be seen that the Adullamites were a family sui generis. The entrance to the modest building was not easy of access, being only reached by a tortuous lane of ominous appearance, guarded by an animal who boasted the bluest of blue bulldog blood. The pass-words were—“Honor! No Frills!” The members were mostly composed of literary Bohemians, whose wordly paths were not strewn with roses, and between whom and the trader there existed a mutual disrespect. Chief among the members of this exclusive brotherhood was the subject of this biography, who, having discarded the more conventional surroundings of the Yorick Club, became a shining light within the shades of the Cave of Adullam. And to commemorate the genius of the members of the Cave was written a Christmas tale, yclept ’Twixt Shadow and Shine, which contains fanciful portraitures of the leading Adullamites. But, alas! the destroyer of all things, Time, has one by one scattered its members, till now the place that knew the members of that eccentric Bohemian band knows them no more. Sic transit gloria, &c. And with Hamlet we may say, addressing that once coruscating group—“Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table in a roar? Not one now to mock your own jeering? Quite chap-fallen!” Notwithstanding, however, all the merry goings on at the Cave, Clarke was, perhaps, harder at work in those years than at any other time, although certainly the work was thrown off without much effort, and with as little care for a future reputation. It was at this time he first became a contributor to the Age and Leader, with which his connection lasted up to his death, having gone through the trying ordeal incident upon the Age cum Berry Reform Agitation of 1877, ’78, ’79, into which he threw himself with all the zest of a thorough hater of Shoddocracy, writing some of the most telling articles which illumined the pages of these journals at that time. And he fought the more zealously in the fray, because he wrote under the editorial guidance of one upon whom he looked as, at once, the best read and the ablest journalist on the Australian press—Mr. A. L. Windsor. It was during this period he enjoyed the friendship and confidence of the then Governor of Victoria, Sir George Bowen, and was offered by Mr. Graham Berry (now Sir) the Librarianship of the Parliament Library, which he declined, relying upon securing that of the Public Library, in which, however, he was doomed to disappointment a year or two later. Clarke, apart from Melbourne journals, contributed largely to the Queenslander as also to the Sydney Mail through the introduction of the late Mr. Hugh George, the gentleman who as general manager of the Argus raised that paper to a high position, and who subsequently was the valued general manager of the Messrs. Fairfax’s newspapers in Sydney. Of all those connected prominently uith the Argus when Marcus Clarke was its brightest ornament, Mr. Hugh George alone remained to the end the generous advocate of his exceptional abilities, of which he never lost an opportunity to avail himself in the Sydney journals, over which he exercised a control. And about the last negotiations Clarke entered into only a few weeks before his unexpected death, were with that gentlernan, in connection with a proposal that he should start on a tour through the colonies and South Sea Islands as the accredited “Special” of the Messrs. Fairfax’s newspapers, and of the London Daily Telegraph, for which brilliantly written journal he had been acting for some years as “Australian Correspondent;” and that he was held in high estimation by the authorities of that remarkable paper the following letter, written by its proprietor and editor, speaks for itself. Wrote Mr. Lawson Levy:—

“Without having the pleasure of your personal acquaintance, I am sure you will pardon me if I venture to address you on a subject which may not be without interest. I have read your books with very great pleasure, and it has occurred to me that you possess most of the qualifications for journalism of the highest order. Has the idea ever occurred to you of adopting this branch of literature, and would it suit your views to come to England? I am, of course, ignorant of what your position may be, and ignorant of any feeling that you may have upon the subject. It is quite possible that ties may bind you to Australia—ties that you cannot break. If, however, the idea should have entered into your mind, tell me in a letter what your position is, what income you would require to entice you to come to London, whether you feel yourself competent for journalistic, work, whether you have ever done any, and if you have, you would perhaps think it advisable to send me by the next mail, samples of such work. If, moreover, for the moment, the notion should seem acceptable to you, sit down and write me three or four leading articles on any subject that may seem best to you—articles that will make about a column of our newspaper matter; and put into them as much of your force and vigor as you can command. Under any circumstances, whether my ideas waken any sympathy in your mind or not, I am sure you will permit me to congratulate you on the success your works have met with here.”

Why Marcus Clarke did not avail himself of the chance of going to London under such auspices it is difficult to imagine, the more particularly that he was well aware that such talent as his had no possible scope in this, a new country, whereas in London literary circles it would have been appreciated at its proper value.

Surely, in the face of such encouragement, a genius, well nigh suffocated by the denseness of the quasi-intellectual atmosphere surrounding it, should have seized the opportunity to move from scenes clouded over with trouble, and from a community which gave but a feeble response to its bright efforts? But, somehow, it did not, or could not.

Returning to the year 1876, an event happened which deeply affected Marcus Clarke. In August of that year his father-in-law, genial, witty John Dunn, for whom he had a sincere affection, fell down dead in the street. The bitterness of this loss was greatly aggravated by his inability to publish the autobiography of the deceased actor, which he had together with Dr. Neild revised at the author’s request, with a view to its publication after his death. But the wish of the deceased was not carried out, owing, it is said, to an objection taken by a daughter of the actor, who had married into so-called Society circles, to have the ups and downs of a poor player’s family career submitted to public view.

Accordingly, the autobiography of Australia’s clever comedian was not brought out, and the early history of the Australian stage has been lost to the public. For the next three years, besides the journalistic work alluded to, Clarke was busy at dramatic composition, producing, in conjunction with Mr. Keely 1, Alfred the Great, a burlesque, which achieved a success at the Bijou Theatre, during the Christmas season of 1877. This was followed by the adaptation for the Theatre Royal of Wilkie Collins’ sensational novel Moonstone. This play was not the success anticipated, but it must be said in justice to the author that it was considerably spoiled by the pruning-knife of the management, which did its slashing with little judgment. Another piece, a comedietta, styled, Baby’s Luck, was subsequently written for Mr. J. L. Hall, in which that popular actor appeared to great advantage. Fernande, a clever adaptation of Sardou’s emotional drama of that name, was also written about this time, but never produced owing to a disagreement over the matter. Of this adaptation Miss Genevieve Ward expressed to the writer a high opinion of its merits, which, coming from so great an artist and one who had read the play in the original, is no small compliment to the author. It may also be surmised that it was during this period that the fanciful extravaganza of The King of the Genii was composed. This piece is written in a Gilbertean manner, and is not unlike that author’s Palace of Truth. Yet Clarke’s ability as a playright was thrown away, as theatrical managers in the colonies had not, unfortunately, either the capacity to know a good thing, or the enterprise to encourage local talent. But not only was Clarke’s pen busy at dramas—it was tempted into an entirely new field—that of history. At the suggestion of the then Minister of Education, the late Mr. Justice Wilberforce Stephen, he was engaged to write a history of Australia for the State-schools, which had just come under the new secular, compulsory, and free Education Act. This work entailed upon the writer more routine labour than was to his taste, and consequently, instead of devoting himself to the somewhat tedious task, he, after commencing the book, handed it over, in his usual good-hearted way to some impecunious friends, who did not possess any literary qualification for such work, the consequence being that the book turned out to be a miserable fiasco, and was never used in the schools for which it was intended. Some notion of its value may be gleaned from the following critical notice of it in a leading journal:—“In short, the book before us is calculated to impress the reader with the idea that it has been compiled by some literary charlatan rather than by an author of Mr. Marcus Clarke’s ability and reputation.” But because little or no attention was given by the supposed author of the history to the work, it must not be imagined that the fertile mind was inactive. That clever, though eccentric, brochure, The Future Australian Race, was written at this period. Of it an English paper wrote:—“It deals with a subject of considerable ethnological and social interest in language more forcible than philosophical. Mr. Clarke considers that vegetarians are Conservatives, and ‘Red Radicals,’ for the most part meat-eaters, while ‘fish-eaters are invariably moderate Whigs.’ He thinks that ‘the Australasians will be content with nothing short of a turbulent democracy,’ and that in five hundred years the Australasian race will have ‘changed the face of nature, and swallowed up all our contemporary civilisation,’ but it is fortunately ‘impossible that we should live to see this stupendous climax. Après nous, le déluge.’” Besides this his restless mind was weekly giving out articles, reviews, and sketches, bearing his own mint mark, in the Age, the Leader, the Sydney Mail and Morning Herald, and London Daily Telegraph. It was also at work on the Melbourne and Victorian Reviews, in a somewhat significant, albeit imprudent manner, for it was in the Victorian that his “disturbing” article on “Civilisation Without Delusion” appeared, and in the Melbourne his clever rejoinder, to Dr. Moorhouse’s reply to the original article, saw light.

The last efforts of Clarke in the direction of dramatic work, were the two comedies written for his wife on her re-appearance, after an absence of some years, at the Bijou in the winter of 1880. Of the two, the one, A Daughter of Eve, was original; the other, Forbidden Fruit, being an adaptation from the French. The former is undoubtedly clever, being on the lines of Sheridan’s comedies; and in the leading character of “Dorothy Dove,” Mrs. Clarke did every justice to her histrionic abilities.

Besides these comedies, the author left unfinished the libretto of Queen Venus an Opera Bouffe on which he was engaged with M. Kowalski, the eminent pianist, at the time of his death; also the plots and a portion of the matter of the following;—Reverses, an Australian Comedy; Paul and Virginia, a burlesque; Fridoline, an opera comique, and Salome, a comedy. And now reference has to be made to that which more than any other single cause led to the unfortunate pecuniary and other complications in which the subject of this memoir became involved during the last year or two of his short life—namely his appointment as agent with power-of-attorney to act as he deemed desirable for his cousin, Sir Andrew Clarke, in connection with some landed property owned by that gentleman in this colony. Paradoxical as this statement may appear it is nevertheless too true that the confidence placed by Sir Andrew Clarke in his cousin’s ability to act as his sole and unchecked agent in business matters was one of the most fatal errors ever committed both for the principal and the agent. For the former it meant pecuniary loss, for the latter neglect of all literary work. That Marcus Clarke was altogether to blame for the “mixed” condition into which the business affairs of his cousin got is simply absurd. All that can be urged against him in the matter is that he was negligent and thoughtless in connection with them as he had always been with his own. However, the less said the better in connection with this episode of the brilliant littérateur’s life for after all it was not his fault but misfortune, as he has said himself, that he was not a Business Man. Indeed, no reference would have been made to this matter were it not that it was the greatest misfortune that ever happened to Clarke that he had anything to do with this business, as it not only led him to abandon his proper duties, but led him, also, deeper into the clutches of usurers, who eventually wrought him to death before his time. And it is probably owing to this “bungle” that Sir Andrew Clarke has not seen his way to help (although receiving a handsome pension from this colony) the widow and children of him of whose abilities he could think so highly as to induce the Prince of Wales, when on his visit to India where Sir Andrew was Minister of Public Works, to read His Natural Life.The Prince did read the book, and was so struck by its powers that he expressed a desire to meet the author, who, he suggested, ought to go to that intellectual centre of the world—London.

It may be assumed that it was owing to this unfortunate business craze which had seized hold of our author, that there had been left behind in an unfinished state a novel which began so brilliantly as Felix and Felicitas. Commenced years before, it was allowed to lie by during his “landlord” days, and until a few months previous to his demise, when it was re-commenced; but too late, for the hand of Death was already upon him, as he himself too well knew and frequently remarked during the last few weeks of his life—notably on the Queen’s Birthday, preceding his decease—when, walking with a friend in the vicinity of the Yarra Bend Asylum he mournfully remarked, “Which shall it be—the Mad Asylum or the Pauper Grave? Let a toss of the coin decide—head, grave; tail, asylum.” And forthwith a florin was tossed, and fell tail uppermost. “Not if I know it, my festive coin. No gibbering idiot shall I e’er be; rather the gleeful, gallows-tree.”

That English literature has lost through the incompletion of Felix and Felicitas, no judge who has perused the opening chapters can deny; and that the promise of artistic merit held out by these chapters was fully realised by authorities on the subject is proved by the anxiety of Messrs. Bentley and Sons to urge on the writer to complete the work for publication in London; and so capable a critic as Mrs. Cashel Hoey, writing from London to the Australasian of the story, remarked:—

The literary world here has received with great regret the intelligence of Mr. Marcus Clarke’s death. His tales of the early days of the colonies, and his very striking novel, His Natural Life, made a deep impression here. We were always expecting another powerful fiction from his pen. I fear he has not left any finished work, and I regret the fact all the more deeply that I have been allowed the privilege of reading a few chapters of a novel begun by Mr. Marcus Clarke, under the title of Felix and Felicitas. The promise of those chapters is quite exceptional; they equal in brilliancy and vivacity the best writing, of Edward Whitty, and they surpass that vivid writer in construction. It is difficult to believe, while reading the opening chapters of this, I fear, unfinished work, that the author lived at the other side of the world from the scenes and the society which he depicts with such accuracy, lightness, grace, and humour.

In order to enable the reader to have some idea of the interesting nature of the plot of the story ideally drawn, it is said, from the author’s own experiences, the following sketch of it written by him for the publishers will doubtless be welcome:—

The following is a synopsis of my novel now in MS. The title is FELIX AND FELICITAS. Those who were in the Academy Exhibition of 18—remember the picture “Martha and Mary.” The artist was a Mr. Felix Germaine, the son of a country parson having a rectory near Deal. I know the place well. The brother of this clergyman is travelling tutor and friend to Lord Godwin (one like Lord Pembroke), who has just returned from a cruise in the South Seas in his yacht. Ampersand, the idler (everybody knows him), meets Godwin on his return, and tells him of the success of his old schoolfellow—Felix. He brings both to a concert at Raphael Delevyra’s, the famous pianoforte maker; and there they hear some good musical and witty talk. Stivelyn, Carbeth, Storton,—not unlike Swinburne, Buchanin, and Albert Grant—are there amongst others. Felix, who is married to a charmingly domesticated wife, falls in love with Mrs. Delevyra, who, as all the world knows, was Felicitas Carmel—the niece of Carmel, the violinist, who retired from public life, having paralysis of the left hand. (N.B.—The great Beethoven was deaf; but his torments were nothing to Carmel’s.) Mr. Delevyra is a rich, thriving man—some say that his name is really Levi—but Felicitis doesn’t care for him. She and Felix you see—want to live that Higher Life of which we have heard so much lately; and consequently they resolve to break the Seventh Commandment. They get away in Godwin’s yacht; and now begins my effort at mental analysis. In a little time they grow weary; then blame each other; then they are poor: and finally they hate each other—each blaming each for causing the terrible fall from the high standards of Ideality settled by them in their early interviews. In the midst of this Delevyra arrives. The Jew has made up his mind. He loves his wife; but she has betrayed him. He will not forgive her; or rather he cannot forgive himself. He explains the commonsense view of the matter. He shows her that she has spent two-thirds of his income—that her desertion was not only treacherous, but foolish, inasmuch as she loses respect, position, and money. In fine, with some sarcasm and power, he strips adultery of its poetic veil, and shows it to be worse than a crime—a blunder. Felix expects a duel—not at all. Delevyra discourses him sweetly upon the “Higher Life,” and says to his wife— “If this is the congenial soul you pine for I will allow him £300 a year to live with you and make you happy.” Felicitas travels—divorced and allowanced (Teresa Perugino did the same.) She writes books, poems, and travels—very recondite stuff they say. Felix, utterly shamed, goes home in Godwin’s yacht. He is wrecked at Deal, near his own house, and his body is brought to his wife. He, however, recovers, and lives happily. Ampersand says in the last chapter—“You ask what the Modern Devil is.” It is an Anti-Climax. We haven’t the strength to carry, any thing to the end. These people ought to have taken poison or murdered somebody. I saw Felix the other day. He is quite fat and rubicund. His wife henpecks him. He makes lots of money by pictures—but they are not as good as “Martha and Mary”.

The romance is musical, aesthetic, and sensational. It is not written virginibus puerisque, but the effect is a moral one. Some of the characters may be recognised, but I have avoided direct personality.

And now comes the last scene of all, and it is with a sorrowful heart I pen these lines, for Memory flies back to the bright days of our early friendship, when, boys together, we never found “the longest day too long,” and whispers, in mournful tones, “Ah! what might have been.” But it was not to be, and I bow in silent submission to the Omnipotent Will.

Some months before the end came the never strong constitution of my friend began to give forth ominous signs of an early break-up. The once-active brain became by degrees more lethargic, and the work which at one time could be executed with rapidity and force became a task not to be undertaken without effort. The vivid, humorous imagination of the Peripatetic Philosopher assumed a more sombre hue, yielding itself up to the unravelling of psychological puzzles. The keen vein of playful satire which was so marked a feature of his mental calibre turned into a bitterness that but reflected the disappointed mind of this son of genius; and hence, for upwards of six months, from the opening of the year 1881 to the day of his death in the August of that year no literary work of consequence was done with the exception of the Mystery of Major Molineux, which opened in his usual finished style, but which through force of untoward pecuniary circumstances was wound up suddenly, leaving the mystery as mysterious as ever. But above all other matters that occupied his thoughts during the few weeks preceding his death—and the one which may be set down as the chief cause of that death, was the compulsory sequestration of his estate by Aaron Waxman, usurer (since gone to render his account before the Almighty Tribunal), which meant the loss of his position in the Public Library. All these mental troubles came upon the broken-down body in a cluster, and the burden was too heavy to bear. Struggling against his bitter fate—the more bitter that he knew he was himself greatly to blame—he fell by the way, crushed in mind and body, and the bright spirit passed away from the weakly tenement of clay which held it, to, let us hope, more congenial realms, leaving behind it a blank in the social and literary circles it was wont to frequent, which cannot be filled up, for that spirit was sui generis.

The illness which immediately caused his decease commenced with an attack of pleurisy, and this developing into congestion of the liver, and finally into erysipelas, carried him off in the space of one short week. Indeed he had, during the last year of his life, suffered so frequently from attacks brought on by a disordered liver, that little heed was given to the final attack till a day or two previous to his death, when the wife, who had so unwearyingly attended him night and day, found that matters were more serious than anticipated and sent for an old companion and friend of her husband’s, Dr. Patrick Moloney. From the beginning he held out little hopes, as the constitution was sadly worn out, and the mental worry of the latter weeks had completed the task of dissolution. But the dying man himself did not evidently realise his position even up to the time of the insensibility which preceded death setting in, for only a few hours before his decease he remarked jocularly to his watchful wife, “When I get up I will be a different man with a new liver,” and then asked for and put on his coat. But the end came upon him rapidly. Losing his speech he beckoned for pencil and paper, and seizing hold of the sheets moved his hand over them as if writing. Shortly afterwards the mind began to wander, but still the hand continued moving with increasing velocity, and every now and then a futile attempt to speak was made. But the tongue could not utter what the fevered brain wished apparently to explain; and then, by degrees, the arms grew weary, the body fell back on the pillows, the large, beautiful eyes, with a far off gaze in them, opened widely for a second then closed—and all was over on this earth with—Marcus Clarke.

At 4 o’clock on the afternoon of Tuesday, 2nd August, 1881, he died, aged 35.

Reader, let us draw the veil over this sad scene. The sorrow caused by the passing away of so bright a spirit is too mournful to dwell upon.

1.    This is an error in the original text, Clarke did not write Alfred the Great in conjunction with a ‘Mr Keely’, he actually wrote it in conjunction with Mr Henry Keiley. - RT    [back]

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