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Dennis's Life And Literary Career

"The Making of a Sentimental Bloke," by Alec. H. Chisholm. (Georgian House. Melbourne, 10/6).

AS a close friend of the late C. J. Dennis, and a skilled journalist, Alec. Chis-<*> bolm was well qualified to

writp this admirable and sym pathetic study of the life and literary stature of a strange and contradictory man, whose literary originality was touched with a streak, even if but a faint streak, of genius. To get the atmosphere and check the history of Dennis's early life. Mr. Chisholm visited Auburn (the birthplace of the poet) and Laura, Gladstone and other towns in the north of South Australia. Dennis, it appears, was the son of a master mariner who took to hotelkeeping. Actually, he was brought up by some maiden aunts. True to the general conception of literary genius. Dennis was able to settle down to no routine, and after trying all manner of jobs, and having a very rough time at Broken Hill, eventually got a job on the Adelaide weekly, "The Critic," and later edited the "Gad fly,'? which failed. The future "Poet of the Pushes" then migrated to Melbourne, where, the author relates, he was in fairly desperate straits. However, the turning point in Dennis's life came with his meet ing Mr. and Mrs. Garry Roberts at Sunnyside; the "Backbfock Ballads" were collected and published, and, with the help of his new friends, in 1915, and not without some amusing exchanges between Den nis and George Robertson, august head of Angus & Robertson, "The Sentimental Bloke" burst upon a delighted public and sold out 66.148 copies in six months! Dennis himself described the "Bloke" as "not having any con siderable literary merit, but likely to be extremely popular." The "Moods-of Ginger Mick," "The Glugs of Gosh," "The Mooch of Life" and numberless short poems and pieces were to follow, and the "Laureate of the larrikin" found himself famous in three continents. Mr. Chisholm compares Dennis to Burns—also a man of humble origin, a satirist, a sentimentalist, and nature lover, and also, it must be said, like Dennis, much given to '?pourin' snake juice in yer face." The stature of Burns, however, has grown with the years, whereas the vogue of Dennis has already diminished—a retrogression which the author thinks is only tem porary. Mr. Chisholm delves into the mystery of now Dennis acquired

his amazing knowledge of the larri kin vernacular, mentality and habits. He hints that Dennis probably sank into this company during his earlier down-and-out periods, but he also believes the explanation lies deeper and can be traced to a definite f reakishness in the poet's nature. It is recalled that when a boy Dennis expressed "a devout and urgent desire to be come a larrikin." and therefore his understanding of. and interest in, the species cannot come as a sur prise. Another temperamental oddity of Dennis is noted. While he could be a charming and versatile com panion, he "had moods of coldness and standofnshness with his friends." Mr. Chisholm appears to give ?The Glugs of Gosh" —"a mingling of fantasy and satire"—first place among Dennis's works, and appar ently Dennis himself considered it his best. The author, perhaps wisely, does not attempt to apportion Dennis his place in Australian literature, perhaps because he clearly had no prototype and has no successor. He was, however, a writer of "originality and distinction, jester, satirist. philosopher. patriot, skilled weaver of ballads and songs, and writer of the cleverest verna cular verse in our history." Moreover, he expressed the Aus tralian scene, "her people, her sea sons her birds, her trees." Mr. Chisholm has quoted co piously from Dennis's works, and has printed "The Battle of the Wazzir" and other poems which have not appeared before. There are also many interesting portraits and illustrations.

C. J. Dennis in hit fifties.

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