MISS C. H. SPENCE.
AN INTERVIEW BY A SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE.
MISS C. H. SPENCE.
MISS C. H. SPENCE.
Were I asked to name the most notable woman in South Australia and to confine my reply to those who owe whatever position they hold to their own intrinsic worth and work. I
should have no hesitation in deciding in favour of Miss C. H. Spence. There are few who have a higher reputation for philanthropy earned by work not money. We praise those who freely give of their possessions, whether earned or inherited, and properly so, for if the money is theirs it is purely optional, equally from a moral as from a legal point of view, whether they keep it or give it away. But one who freely gives himself for the good of his fellows bestows a gift as much more valuable as one's self is superior to his belong ings. On these grounds I place Miss Spence's noble work for the good other fellows as equal to that of any man or woman in the colony. But in forming the judgment I have given I also take into consideration her great intel lectual capacities, her wide reading, her pure literary taste, and sound critical judgment. It is doubtful whether any South Australian writer — of course excepting her old and dear friend, Mrs. Martin, author of ''An Aus tralian Girl' and 'The Silent Sea'— has received greater recognition at the hands of English publishers and readers than Miss Spence has for her novels. It was, therefore, with very great pleasure that I followed my instructions, and waited upon Miss Spence at her residence, Eldon, St. Peters, to obtain a few particulars concerning her life, her work, and her plans during the lengthy trip she is to take through America and Europe. I found her seated before a pile of American letters and papers, for the San Francisco mail had arrived that day. Miss Spence comes of a long-lived family, and although sixty-seven years of age is wonderfully active, and has no need to use glasses. I had written requesting the interview, and asking her to provide a few
particulars of her life. She expressed pleasure that she should have to talk to an inter- viewer who was in full sympathy with her dearest projects for the betterment of the social and political cenditions of the people, and asked that these rather than personal matters should be dealt with. On my repre- senting that I might be taken to represent a large proportion of the younger people of South Australia who have only known of her work in recent years, and that particulars of her career would be of great interest, she gave the following interesting statement :— I was born in Melrose, Scotland, towards the end of 1825, and came to South Australia in 1839 in the barque Palmyra from Greenock with my Family. I was at one school— a private ladies' school — from the age of four to thirteen, whsn education in that way was stopped. I did a little daily governess's work and school teach- ing between the age of seventeen and twenty five, and here that manner of instructing the rising generation ceased. I took to writing occasionally for the South Australian, which was then the Conservative journal, edited by my brother-in-law, Andrew Murray. When he left South Australia to join the Argus staff I was supposed erroneously to be the Editor, whereas the late Mr. W. W. Whitridge held that position. I wrote ' Clara Morison' at the time when Adelaide was nearly deserted for the goldfields of Victoria. It was published by Parker & Sons in 1854 and was well received. 'Tender and True,' another tale of the same period, was published by Smith, Elder, & Co. in 1856, and this work has gone through many large cheap editions. Before another novel was published, my mind had received a strong impression on re- presentative reform from the work of Thomas Hare, a sound Chancery lawyer, and it has since the end of 1860 been the main objeot of my life to advocate its adoption in the Aus- tralian Colonies, and especially in South Aus- tralia. My first article on the subject was written for the Argus but was not accepted. After Mr. Lavington Glyde had introduced suggestions on Hare's lines into the As- sembly, and dropped them when he saw they were not liked, I began writ- ing letters to the Register on the subject, signed with my initials, and aroused some interest, but the editors did not publish the letters in the Observer or comment on the subject, so I published a pamphlet called ' A Plea for Pure Democracy' in 1861, whioh Mr. Hare, John Stuart Mill, and Professor Craik considered the most powerful argument for equal or proportional representation from the popular side that had then appeared, and they suggested to my Scottish relatives that it should be republished with slight alterations in England. Did they publish ? No ; they know that is would simply be a I0ss of money in England as it had been in Adelaide, and were not so per- sonally interested as I was in the subject. Did you make any converts at this time? Yes; my letters and the 'Plea' impressed that brilliant young journalist, the late Frederick Sinnett, and in the evening Telegraph and the Weekly Mail he advocated Hare's system. In the WeeklyMail I published in serial form 'Uphill Work,' afterwards brought out by Bentley in 1885 as ' Mr. Hogarth's Will,' in which I in- troduced Hare's method of voting to the general reader. Did you know Mr. Hare personally? Yes. On my visit to England in 1865-6 I made the acquaintance of him and his family as well as of Mr. J. S. Mill, Sir Rowland Hill and his brothers, who were all interested in the representation of minorities. In fact Sir Rowland when Secretary of the Colonization Commission had introduced a provision into the first Municipal Act for the City of Adelaide which embodied quorum election or the quota principle, which is Hare's central point. The single transferable vote of Hare allows quotas to combine with- out personally meeting, and is therefore a great improvement on the quorum. My father, David Spence, was the first Town Clerk of this Cor poration, two of the members of which were elected by quorum. Then you and your brother are the second generation of Spence advocates of electoral reform ? Yes, my mother, who reached the age of ninety-six and died in 1887, took the keenest interest in all my public work, and especially in repre sentative reform. To her I owe my first lesson in politics, given in 1832. When Iasked why she and my father took so much interest in the
Reform Bill her reply was that there was nothing that man had devised— not even the British Constitution— s0 good but that it might be made better by man. To her I owe my most telling illustra- tion to show the singleness of the vote in spite of the contingent choices— that of the circu- lating library— from which a man has a right to one book, but may send a list of several by a messenger. When did your connection with the Register and Observer begin ? It began through my novel writing. When the Observer first brought out a serial story the late Mr. J. H. Clark opened with 'Hugh Lindsay's Guest,' changed without my consent by Bentley into the less appro- priate title of 'The Author's Daughter,' when it appeared in three volumes in 1868. The Observer and Journal, in conjunction with the Queenslander, published later 'Gathered In,' which I consider my best novel, but that has not yet taken the form of a book. You are the author of a primer on politics and political economy, are you not? Yes. In 1880 I brought out for the South Australian Education Department a little book on 'The Laws We Live Under,' which is, I believe, still taught in some of our schools. This book has met with approval in the other colonies and from English educationists, and many teachers in South Australia have thanked me for it, but it demands intelligent teaching, and does not count for results, so that it is not taught as generally as I hoped it would be. I was sorry, too, that the book was kept in the school, and was never in the hands of the children at home or of their parents. I have given a copy now and then to intelligent working men, who told me that they had learned much from it of their duties as citizens. Have you not been closely connected with charitable work in the colony ? Yes, and in particular with the boarding-out system. The movement for introducing this method of dealing with the juvenile wards of the State was initiated in South Australia— and, indeed, in Australia, for this colony was the first to take it in hand— by Miss Clark. Almost immediately I became identified with it, and was a member of the Council of the Boarding- out Society, to which the work of boarding-out and inspection of homes was entrusted. The Chairman of this was Mr. T. S. Reed, who rendered most useful service in organizing the system. Ultimately the Boarding-out Society became merged in the State Children's Council, which has been in operation for several years, and has
had in its hands the administration of the Reformatory and Industrial institutions as well as the boarding out and apprenticing of children who have been committed to the charge of the Government. I have been a member of that Council from its foundation, and still hold my position upon it, my fellow members having done me the honour of asking me to do so, and to represent the Council at the International Conference on Charities to be held at Chicago in June. A few years ago in conjunction with a number of other colonists I took part in establishing a Charity Organization Society in Adelaide. It did good work during several months, but it had to bear the brunt of much prejudice, and at last ceased to be, owing to lack of sympathy and support. That there is room for such a Society, having for its object the concentration of benevolent effort, I am firmly convinced. A similar Association which is in successful operation in Melbourne has asked me to act as its representative at the Chicago Con- ference. I may add that on two occasions I have been one of the delegates from South Australia to Intercolonial Conferences on Charity held in the Victorian capital. Is not the work of public leoturing, with which your name has been so closely asso- ciated lately, a new departure ? Yes. This is how it began. After more than thirty years' writing, when opportunity offered, and talking when I had the chance, in favour of that method of recording votes which made the Parliament or the municipality the mirror of the electors without producing much effect on public opinion or in the popular Press, an opportunity opened in Melbourne at the end of 1891 to speak to a working men's club at Collingwood, when I was for the second time acting as an Adelaide dele- gate to an Australasian Conference of Charities. I took my brother, J. B. Spence's, telling phrase of Effective Voting as my starting-point, and under that title I have continued to advocate the reform. I found I could interest intelligent artisans in the subject, and I had a good hearing from the Trades and Labour Council, though the indifference of the Melbourne Press prevented my doing much there. If I could interest Melbourne people, I thought, could not I interest my own fellow-colonists also ? I started the campaign at the Democratic Club in Adelaide, and the Adelaide Press gave me fair criticism and encouragement. Not only have my sayings and doings, my travels north and south and east and west been noted, but the Adelaide and most of the pro- vincial papers have dealt with the reform in their leading columns. In twelve months I have done far more with my voice in the way of argument and advocscy, and with the voting-papers as an object lesson than in thirty years by my pen alone. I have travelled 3,000 miles all over the province, and addressed nearly sixty meetings. Has your public lecturing been confined to the one subject ? Recently it has, but I have also lectured on literary subjects — that was my first trial of my voice. 'Elizabeth and Robert Browning,' 'George Eliot,' 'Our Mother Tongue,' 'Who wrote Shakspeare's Plays?' ' Novels relating to the Future,' &c. I may tell you of a letter I greatly prize in connection with the lecture on George Eliot. The lecture was published in the second number of the Melbourne Review, and drew from George Eliot herself an autograph letter of considerable length. [Miss Spence produced one of those neat, beautifully written letters characteristic of George Eliot. In it the writer says she never read criticisms except special passages read to her by her husband. It is something to be told that Mr. G. H. Lewis considered it equal to the best articles in any English magazine, and that she herself says passages in it showed that comprehension of my meaning, that putting of the finger on the right spot, which is more precious than praise.'] What have been your relations with the Australian Press? Since the year 1878 I have been on the outside staff of the Register and Observer, and at last the round woman found the round hole which she could fill. Literary articles and reviews of new books were of course anonymous, but in the social articles I early took the nom de plume of ' A Colonist of 1839.' In these I had the latitude I love, and these are more representa- tive of me than my works of pure fiction. I have always had the pleasantest relations with the proprietors of the Register, and I was glad to put my very best work into their columns. For many years I con- tributed regularly to the Sydney Morning Herald when it was in the hands of my
friend Dr. Garran. I have also written for such magazines as we have had in Australia, the Melbourne Review, the Victorian Review, and the Centennial, published in Sydney. In the Centennial I published ' A Week in the Future, 'a social speculation, not so extravagant as Bellamy's or Gronlund's. I wrote when in England an article for the Cornhill Maga- zine, 'An Australian's Impressions of Eng- land, and have also written for the Fortnightly and Fraser's Magazine. What is the nature of the mission which is to take you away from us for a time? Well, in this I may be a little Utopian ; but as I am as willing and anxious to learn as to teach I am sure of spending a profitable time. I wish to understand the character of the social and political institutions of the United States thoroughly, and I want to aid by my voice and pen those who are working for electoral reform and the purification of politics, for I believe —and the absolute sincerity of her intentions and the strength of her conviction thrills her as she speaks — I believe, and I work because I believe, that the system I am advocating will purify and elevate politics to their proper place. Do you confine yourself to this subject ? Oh, not by any means. I am, as I have already said, to be present as a delegate at the International Conference of Charities at Chicago in June. I also wish to study the question of woman suffrage and the education question in America. May I ask how you propose to work? I can hardly tell at present, but I have re- ceived most encouraging letters from America. I shall of course be guided almost entirely by my friends. I hope, however, to de- liver a large number of lectures and illustrate the principle as I have done here by test elections. Those who know America tell me I shall take well there as a lecturer. I shall not confine my lectures to Effective Voting. I have a series of lectures on literary subjects and an address on the Democratic Ideal, which appeared in the Register, and which is my special favourite. I shall also adopt Mr. W. C. Grasby's suggestion, and lecture wherever I can on the social, political, and educational phases of Australian life. He says his experi- ence is that I shall get good audiences for those subjects. I have understood, Miss Spence, that the advocacy of proportional representation has made much greater progress in Europe— so much, indeed, that it has been adopted to some extent? Do you not intend to enquire into these experiments ? Oh, certainly. I shall first go to London and confer with Sir John Lubbock and Mr. Leonard Courtney, M.P. The latter gentleman, by-the-way, is also a strong advocate of woman suffrage. I shall then go to Belgium, where a magazine has been published in the interests of proportional representation for eleven vears.
The Electoral Bill was thrown out, although many of the Conservatives saw that it is the most steadying system that can be devised, and should accompany the extension of the Franchise. I also wish to visit Switzerland, where the system is in operation in three cantons, but I wish to try and wean the people from voting in lists. They have the Catholic list, the Democratic list, the Workman list, and the Radical list, and the vote must be trans- ferred to men of the party. Some of these parties appear alike to us, but they are not. The new Kingdom of Servia also adopts the list system. Now may I ask one more question? Do you intend to do any work in connection with woman suffrage? Probably I shall. I shall confer with Mrs. Fawcett and others, but I have no plans. I have always thought I ought to have a vote, and that I should have liberty, free from arbitrary restraint, to do any work for which I think I am fitted, but I think Effective Voting is more important, or at all events should go with the granting of the suffrage to women. On behalf of the readers of the Register and the thousands of fellow-colonists who admire her alike for her abilities and noble self- sacrificing work, I thanked Miss Spence for the interesting information she had given me, and on their behalf also expressed the wish that her trip might be as pleasant, and in every way as successful as she could desire. Miss Spence leaves by the express to-day, and will spend a few days in Melbourne and Sydney prior to her departure for California.