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Notable South Australians/A Biographical Note on George E. Loyau

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A Biographical Note




LORD BACON has left it on record, that the most humble author takes precedence of all crafts, callings, or professions, be they civil, military, or tribunal. It is by our writings that foreigners have been taught most to esteem us, and this fact is the more noticeable in the expression of Gemelli, the great Italian traveller, who told all Europe in the year 1700, that he could find nothing amongst the Anglo-Saxons, but their writings, to distinguish them from the worst of barbarians. To be an author is to be allied with poverty, and to form one of a grotesque race of famished buffoons, whose calamities cannot, or will not, be understood in these commercial times of money-getting. Australian authors especially, or the best of them—are either unknown or neglected. One or two there are who have made money, but these loved not their art, and only wore the literary mask, for the advancement of literature was not the first object of their designs. Dr. Johnson had a notion that there existed no motive for writing but money, and though crowned heads have sighed with the ambition of authorship, this great master of the human mind supposed that on this subject men were not actuated either by love or glory. These are commercial times at the antipodes, and the hope of profit has always a stimulating influence even if it is a trifle degrading. Habit and prejudice will reconcile even genius to the task of money-making. And why not? In a country composed for the most part of seekers after wealth, where there is no public provision for men of genius save the Destitute Retreat, an author need not be a more disinterested patriot than others. If his livelihood lies in his pen—why not use it? He is no worse knave than he who uses his tongue for the same purpose. But is there a livelihood in the pen? Perchance the subject of this notice can answer that question more fully than any man on this side of the Equator. If drudging on in patient obscurity, and suffering the slights and "stings of outrageous fortune," may be worth the designation of a "livelihood," then has the author of "Australian Wild Flowers" indeed lived. Far from me is the desire to degrade literature by the inquiry—is there not some stone-breaking to be had in the place of a profession of letters? Perhaps the question may be useful to many a youth of promising talent, who is impatient to abandon a lucrative post for the author'squill. Let such consider that the press is the only opening for their productions, and even here they may be ousted by the army of English scribes who invade the columns of colonial newspapers year by year. Nevertheless, if we are tohave an Australian literature pure and simple, someone must make a beginning. A man may labour with his pen like a horse in a mill till he becomes as blind and as wretched, but his work is not forgotten, and if he has but laid one small stone in the foundation of the noble edifice, he has accomplished more than Dives with a million at his bankers.

Amongst those who have toiled long and honorably in the cause of Australian literature, Geo. E. Loyau may take first rank. For thirty years he has been connected with the colonial press, in the capacity of editor, leader-writer, and general contributor; whilst in poetry, essays, and fiction, hehas produced more than any other living Australian author. Twenty-three years ago he published his first poem "The Australian Seasons," in book form. It was reprinted by several of the English newspapers, and received most favourable notices in the colonial press. In quick succession followed "The Pleasures of Friendship," "Australian Wild Flowers," "Colonial Lyrics," "Tales in Verse," and many more of a less ambitious order. To a man with such Bohemian tastes as he evidently possessed at that time, one is at fault to guess how his mind found play to work out the airy images of the brain in song. Bushmen and bullock drivers some thirty years ago were certainly not famed for refined imagery of thought or expression, yet Loyau was more at home with these rough denizens of the bush than in the elegant circles of city life, and his most expressive poems were written while wandering, Bohemian fashion, the length and breadth of Australia. From extensive rambling through nearly every town and hamlet in the land, Loyau took to himself a wife in 1875. To the influence and judicious counsel of his better-half, a far-seeing and amiable lady, the author of this volume owes his safe anchorage in the harbour of domestic happiness. Doubtless the incidents of his long wanderings had furnished him with many of the quaint characters depicted in his tales and sketches of colonial experiences and adventure. Some of these are weird, romantic pictures, but they are none the less true to nature, and will be valuable to posterity, as showing what manner of people comprised the bush pioneers of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria. The longest and best of Mr. Loyau's stories were written after his marriage: "Leichardt the lost Explorer," "The Early Days of New South Wales," "Out on the Flinders," "The Castaways," "Affection's Test," "The Bargunyah Records," "Australian Press Experiences," "Types of Colonial Life," "A Remarkable Life," "Jollimonts' Legacy," "The Lifer," "The Victim of Circumstances," etc., together with "Essays on Fifty Subjects"—went through the columns of the press in the various colonies. If the whole of these were gathered together for publication they would comprise more than twenty volumes of 200 pages each. Later on he wrote the "Gawler Hand* book," "The Representative Men of South Australia," and "Personal Adventures," all of which were published in book form in Adelaide.

Apart from his undoubted right to rank as one of the founders of Australian literature, Mr. Loyau has been contemporary with the best men in the field of letters that these colonies have produced. He was the friend of Charles Harpur (the father of Australian poetry), Henry Kendall, Rev. Dr. Lang, Rev. W. B. Clarke, R. Hengist Home, Frank Fowler, R P. Whitworth, K D. Stenhouse, F. S. Wilson, Daniel Henry Denihey, Garnet Walch, and others, some of whom have joined the great majority, but whose names will live in the annals of Australia as pillars of its infant literature. Loyau in one of his many letters to myself complains that he found the literary life arduous and ill paid. For some years, though editing a first-class country newspaper, and contributing regularly to several magazines, he could only eke out a bare existence, and the higher form of poetry was a drug in the market. Thatcher, the comedian rhymster, made more money out of his local songs in one town in Victoria than Henry Kendall with his grand and soaring genius. Time, however, is on the wing. Time will revenge the dead poet, the sweetest of all Australian singers. The story of ten years ago is the story of a bygone age. The recognition of true worth must surely come; and

"What though thy muse, whose fount is in thy heart,
Doth sadly flow beneath a darksome shade!
Yet flowerets richly bloom in that deep glade,
Illumed by rays that from thy genius dart.
The vulgar come not to that lonely dell
Whose waters sweetly chime or louder swell.
Which are a mirror set in emerald case,
Reflecting fairy forms, and Virtue's face."

In this brief note friendship cannot show his honest face, else could I recount that which were worthy of its name. The poor help the poor, not perhaps so much in a pecuniary way as in broad sympathy and love. None so poor as the scribes of this new land; but they are, as a rule, a passionate brotherhood, ready to assist one another with purse and pen. Sic vos non vobis.

Of Mr. Geo. Loyau's efforts in poetry and prose the Town and Country Journal, one of the oldest and best papers on this side of the Atlantic, says:—"In this hard, prosaic age, when dress and show are regarded as the chief end of mankind, it is quite refreshing to find a man like the author of "Wild Flowers" and the "Australian Seasons" wooing the muse in the midst of poverty and trial. If Mr. Loyau were not both a bold and fearless writer, he would not dare to publish poem after poem, and story after story, amongst a population who have never shown much partiality for native talent in letters. Some of his "Wild Flowers" are fair to look upon, and exhale the grateful odour of the blossoms of poetry. In all he has written Mr. Loyau is purely Australian. In the city, or away in the far bush, he translates what he sees, hears, and feels unaffectedly, but with great vigour and expression and graceful ease of language."

I am no prophet—a man cannot be one in his own country—but through the vista of time I see the forms of a vast throng that will surely fill this new land and raise it into one of the great nations of the earth. To these shall the pioneers of Australian letters look for that due right and recognition which is lacking in our day. From these, not Loyau alone, but I, together with the few who love their art above all consideration of place and pay, shall undoubtedly obtain the reward due to hard work and patient obscurity.

Oh, birds that sing such thankful psalms,
 Rebuking human fretting,
Teach us your secret of content—
 Your science of forgetting.
For every life must have its ills—
 You, too, have times of sorrow—
Teach us, like you, to lay them by,
 And sing again to-morrow.

For gems of blackest jet may rest
 Within a golden setting,
And he is wise who understands
 The science of forgetting.

Oh, trees that bow before the gale
 Until its peaceful ending,
Teach us your yielding, linked with strength,
 Your graceful art of bending;
For every tree must meet the storm,
 Each heart encounter sorrow:
Teach us like you to bow, that we
 May stand erect to-morrow.
For there is strength in humble grace,
 Its wise disciples shielding—
And he is strong who comprehends
 The happy art of yielding.

Oh, streams which laugh all night, all day.
 With voice of sweet seduction.
Teach us your art of laughing more
 At every new obstruction;
For every life hath eddies deep,
 And rapids fiercely dashing.
Sometimes through gloomy caverns forced.
 Sometimes in sunlight flashing.
Yet there is wisdom in your way.
 Tour laughing waves and wimples;
Teach us your gospels built of smiles.
 The secret of your dimples.

Adelaide, S.A., November 1885,