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A Colonial Literary Club.
PBY A. "WANDERING BOHEMIAN.!
IN the year of grace one thousand eight hundred ai -, on a spot not a hundred miles from Collin street, East Melbourne, there existed a literary clu Putting aside tho strong probability that it is flou ishinsr at the present moment, I will proceed i sketoh it aa it was at the date first mentioned, and introduce in a casual way a few of its more remar]
There are clubs and clubs. The one formir my subject most decidedly belongs to the latter div sion-that is to say, without reference to its member the club does. In order to give the interested read some, idea of its character, I can do no better thc desoribe how I first became acquainted with it, ai what my impressions amounted td on the occasio To bogin then, at the beginning. Circumstances wit, bailiffs, dear reader-having compelled me
leave Sydney for a short time, I took ship to Me bourne, where I landed on an ominous first of Apr: decidedly ominous to a man starting life in a strang city, with a'stoe k-in-trade consisting of two or thr letters of introduction, and a aumin money not exceei ing 4s. However, I made the best of it, ai finding friends in B 'hernia, I was baptized, ai became ono of the glorious brotherhood who live ( their wits. In thia society I fell in with Perks, and ; Perks's society I tumbled across the Colonial Literal
The last-named affair came about one afternoo in this wise. Perks and I were smoking, and Perk poor fellow, was well-yes, a trifle " on." N( muoh, but just onough to set him up on stilts, and t impart to his voice and manner the dignified an distinct characteriatioa of a patron. " Smith," he sai gravely, " I must mako'you an honorary member c tho Golgotha. The fact that you are known to b addicted to scribbling will settle the matter of quali fication, and as to the Beconder, ' I ' will see to him Let us imbibe another beer, and start at once." M; reply to the forego ing was eminently characteristic That I was a scribbler I was too vain to deny, th invitation to beer I was too modest to refuse; but i must bo confessed there was some uneasiness in m; mind with regard to tho Golgotha. What Perk meant hythe sinister noun I really could not guess but I had an alarming presentiment that the littl fellow was about to force me into a society of ghouls However, the. mystery was soon cleared ; and ii '. did not go to bed the following night exactly bewil dered by fireworks of intellect, I certainly retiree with aa immeasurable sense of relief. "The Golgotha my boy," quoth Perks as we sauntered past the offici of the local Daily Thunderer, "is a den that we fellow have dignified with the name of club. There the geni who presided over the nicotine, strong drink ;othetics, and the cloaca), respectively, are worshipped by some ton score of enthusiastic disciples. There, ii fact," concluded my friend, dropping from his stilts, " you will meet with good men, capital talk, faii liquor, and infernally evil smells. But here we are."
At this point Perks popped into a dingy passag( leading towards what appeared to bo a bill-sticker'i back skillion. About half way up this corridor there loomed through the darkness a narrow, suspicious looking flight of stairs. At the foot of this my litth friend paused, and instructed me to follow him warning me at the same time to be careful cf'th steps. Careful I certainly was, but a more villainou ladder I never ascended. However, we scramble!
to the top, and lo ! the full glories of the Golgothi burst upon me. Pacing the landing, an old doo: opened into an aromatic room, which, I was informed did duty as " the reading, talking, and smoking-den.' The most remarkable items of its furniture were the spittoons-useful utensils in their way, no doubt, but distressingly plentiful and palpable at the Gol gotha. Passing through a suggestive lavatory, we entered the library, where I found a stock-in-trado, consisting of a couple of desks, four or five chairs, a table, two shelves bristling with ancient magazines and effete blue-books, certain other sundries ol a doubtlúl oharacter, and a melancholy waiter. An apartment, called by courtesy the dining-room, and devoted principally to a brace of dissipated news paper reporters, was the only other feature that arrested a somewhat disappointed stranger's atten tion ; but from tho club rooms I turned with not a little curiosity to survey the club members.
There were about twenty of these gentlemen present, some swallowing, some smoking, some dis cussing local politics, so me doing nothing at all. One elderly member of the company-a biped with a fiery nose and a puffy voice-was holding forth on horseflesh, and I immediately suspeoted him to be what ho was, i.o., a sporting editor. Tho arrival of Porks with a full-flodgod honorary did not attract much attention, but the coat worn by said honorary did. " D-d good coat that of yours, Smith," Baid one, after tho formalities of introduction had been gone through, " d-d good coat, whose cut is it, eh ?" "May I inquire as to the figure ?" was the modest request of another. " Looks like ono of Milton's make," observed a third; "I could almost swear to Milton." To these criticisms and questions I replied in the best way I could, mentioning amongst other things that my respected and long suffering creditor,
Mr. Millett, was the tailor, and that the figure, amouted to a certain sum which I had no hopes of being able to pay. Mr. Millott's whereabouts was then eagerly inquired for, but my answer ruined that gentleman's momentary intercolonial reputation. His name was, figuratively, pitchforked out of doors Sydney tailors (liko all else appertaining to Sydney) being in the eyes of tho Melbournites abominations. I may mention that I, even I, accomplished Bohe mian as they afterwards admitted me to be, suffered not a little in their estimation through the fact that I hailed from the metropolis of Now South Wales. I do not know what saved me, poasibly it was tho asBuranoe that I had proved myself to be too good for Sleepy Hollow by not paying my way there.
There were some queer follows at that Golgotha. On the occasion of my first visit, I was presented with a copy of the bylaws and regulations of the club -a document which informed methat all candidates for membership wore strictly subjected toits first rule but I was never able to perçoive the harmony between this information and surrounding facts. The rule referred to provided for tte election of men accredited in literature, science or art, and for their election only; but presuming I understand what is generally meant by literature, science, and art, T am ready to assert that there were not more than twenty aooredifced pro
fessors of these in the club. In fact some of tb< membors had never ventured in composition beyonc a letter, in science beyond a stale truism, or in ari beyond a schoolboy's attempt on a slate. One lead' ing spirit of the institution was a doctor's son whosi qualification was that he knew a gentleman who hac a brother, who, during the Rev. Charles Kingsley'i schooldays had acted as a " fag " to that genius Another eminentmember hadbeen elected on accouni of his literary tastes, which latter must have been i source of considerable profit to the local Bell'B Life A third gentleman, who, by-the-way, appeared to bf the self-elected champion of the dignity of the insti tution, maintained his position by the m eans of hil reputation as a fair police-office reporter. This mern ber-little Biroh they used to call him-was probablj the smallest as well as the most amusing cad in thi company. I have no doubt that, according to hil oreed, the Golgotha was the grandest club in creation its members the grandest wits alive, and he th i noblest Roman of them all. Notwithstanding th* accredited literary abilities of Birch, hiB syntax, oi rather the examples of it, which came under m j notice from time to time were as wide apart fron orthodox notions'of English grammar as that of youl ordinary Berkshire boar. It is probable, however that, like Herr Wagner, the composer of " music fo: the future," little Birch and his lucubrations wen too perfect to be considered by his contemporariei anything but palpable nonsense. ,
There were other men there of the Biroh type, bul I prefer to leave them alone for the present, anc to glance at a few of those who had a " strain of the thoroughbred" in them, and first of all- Perks. A casual observer of this young writer would very likely set him down as being merely a brilliant mime with a considerable stock of vanity, and a clever way ol persuading everybody that he knew everything. I Perks was not a genius, but he waa something more
than a brilliant mime. There was stuff in the man
good stuff too, only he himself did not appear to value it. Nothing Beemed to satisfy him better than the borrowed and theatrical garb under which he con trived, too successfully sometimes to hide his inherent gifts ; in short, to affect the oynicism of a Cold stream, to ce,rry that affectation into ordinary conver sation, to make it tho staple of his literary work, to look,-talk, and write like a "blase" libertine, con stituted the chiefest delight of my juvenile friend my budding phillosopher. Occasionally, however, in rare and happy moments, he would fling his cant aside, and speak or write out his own thought like a man, and it is to those brief spaces of- time that we are indebted for all that is worthy of association with his name. Should any of my readers be curious to know more of the gentleman immortalised hereunder the nom-de-plume of Perks, they can hunt up i the files of a great Melbourne weekly * and glance
over its gossip, with a perfect faith that they will find his portrait painted there in glowing colours by
The mention of that weekly recalls to mind my introduction to one of its most accomplished con tributors-a sterling fellow, well worth knowing, notwithstanding his many crotchets and the persist ent pugnacity of his pen. This was the Jupiter of local theatrical critics, the Rehoboam of green-room humbugs, the terror of buskined mountebanks, the admirer and fast-friend of genius, no matter how ordinary its position behind the footlights might be. As £ saw, him at tho Golgotha, he appeared to be a quiet, unasBuming, little man, with nothing about him to indicate the heaps of fight in him-nothing to show the bull-dog tenacity, or the fiery spirit of championship characteristic of the Achilles of this pen. A month or two afterwards I was audacious enough to enter the lists against him, but if I had known the fellow to be so cunning of fence I certainly would not have tilted at him. I'd have seen him d-d first.
Another Golgotha "chiel," with the true coin about him, was that brilliant, wayward, unlucky wight, G. A. W. Pew literary men have emigrated to these colonies with equally bright prospects, and scarcely any have so signally failed. " Poor G. A.W. said Jones one day to me, " he has the pen of a ! Thackeray with a double portion of the indolence of
Coleridge." Theremark, especially the last of it, con stituted, in my opinion, an extremely well balanced estimate of our subject. I believed it, not, because I accredited G. A. W. with the accomplishment x>f anything great and continuous, but on account of the many wasted exhibitions of his fine powers which had come under my notice, scattered in.unsalisfactory fragments through perished and perishable news papers. The man was always projecting some work worthy of his genius, but invariably turning back when on the threshold of performance. A good looking Bohemian he was, and a pleasant wit, but, as Jones remarked, indolent,-dreadfully indolent. In the end he sold himself to newspaper proprietors, and thereafter, in all human probability, the one
one novelist of the Australian colonies dwindled down to tho proportions of a mere literary hack.
I approach, the next name with a sorrow that many, many years will not subdue, a name that is associated withsomuch that was loved in the days that were, so much that is missed in the days that are. "A noble memory sanctified by the awful bap tism of death, hallowed by the tenderests lights of an abiding friendship. Few of those who knew Adam Lindsay Gordon, that royal spirit so gifted, so human, and so unfortunate, will wonder that the head which now lingers by his grave is uncovered. Few who were acquainted with the fine, fearless, kingly nature which was hidden behind in unassuming, even shy exterior, will marvel at the loyalty which proffers this tender blossom of its regard for the dead. Gordon, like many others of the supreme brotherhood, Bhrank from all conversation on the subject of his own attain ments or literary work. His was, in the extreme sense, a Belf-withdrawn life. Nobody, looking at him for the first time, without previous knowledge of his gifts, would dream that the man was a genius ; while few, if any, after a successful penetration oí his reserve, would dare to deny his title to that august name. Cut oft'ashewas in the zenith of his splendid powers, suatched away on the threshold of fame, fortune, and happiness, destroyed by tho same hand that gave us the too insufficient evidences left of his superb facul ties, how mournfully pertinent are these lines, the last from his pen :
Child ! Can I tell where the garlands go ?
Can I say whero tho lost leaves veer,
On the brown-burnt banks whore tho wild winds blow . When tboy drift thro the doad wood drear ? Girl I when tho garlands of next year glow,
You may gather again my dear
But I go whe'O the last year's lost leaves go
At the falling of the year.
At the "falling of the year " he went, and we who admired and loved him so much can only come with poor white flowers like this, and strew them with faltering hands upon his grave.