(To the Editor. Sir, — Your correspondent, Dugald Ferguson, has very neatly disposed of all the sinful people who play cricket, ride or drive, &c., on the Sabbath, and looking from his point of view at what I thought were innocent recreations and amusements, I must confess that my ideas of Sabbath observance are indeed simple, so simple that they are beyond the ken of the most liberal (to all who run in the same narrow groove as themselves) of the class Mr. D. Ferguson represents. And so "some great man has said that comparisons are odious," is it possible? Now that Mr. D. Ferguson has informed us how he would like to see the Sabbath observed, I must tell him that I in common with thousands more would rather see boating, cricketing, riding, driving, excursion trains, free access to public libraries, museums, &c., walking or running in gardens, fields, woods, and sheltered nooks, see bright and happy smiles, hear the pattering of little feet, and the splashing of pebbles thrown by young hands in streams and soft murmuring brooks, than a congregation, or one of the solemn and doleful countenances that D. F. would have us put on on the Sabbath, the very sight of which would stop the joyous chirping of birds, for even they rejoice on that day. I by no means blame D. F. if he chooses to banish from his "Christian countenance any appearance of hilarity or cheerfulness," it may suit his temperament and correspond to the light in which he interprets the duties and forms to be observed. My idea, still simple no doubt, is that Sunday or Sabbath is a day of rest from the ordinary labors of the week, which should be spent as much as possible in the open air, more especially by those who are so employed that they get little or no exercise during the week, enjoying all things made by our Creator both animate and inanimate, and glorying in the wonderful works of nature, for has not some other great man said: "and this our life exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." Mr. D. Ferguson expresses astonishment at seeing intelligent men trying to abolish old forms and prejudices, and substituting broader and more liberal ones in their stead; had it not been for intelligent and fearless men we would still have the Inquisition with all its arts of torture, and burnings, and persecution, for all who did not see as we see, or do as we would wish them. But Oh! most fortunate Dugald, many will envy you your long account and heavy balance in favour of your soul, which you can hardly overdraw in this life, for the self-denial you practice in not wanting to relax your limbs, after working for six days in the open air at an occupation that affords plenty of exercise, in a game of cricket or a pleasure trip on the "seventh." D. F. has evidently mistaken his day. Christians do not reverence the seventh day, the one appointed by God; let him refer to Genesis, chapter 11,, and 13th verse.
-I am, &c, Joseph Cox, One of the Cricketers. -Tuapeka Times, 19/12/1874.
A Local Poet.
We have received from a friend, proof sheets of a small volume of poems written by Mr Dugald Ferguson, of Tokomairiro, and to be published in Dunedin in a short time. As a general rule persons look with dread upon the appearance of "a local poet" one who, his eye "in a fine frenzy rolling," considers that, because he can jumble a number of words together without using the assistance of either rhyme or reason, he is above the common herd of mortals, and is not to be judged by the rules of spelling, the necessity for grammatical construction or the dictates of common sense. It is gentlemen of this class that are continually afflicting editors with poems upon passing events, from the death of some worthy person, undeserving of ill treatment in verse, to the breaking down of a threshing machine. We are happy to say that from what we have read of Mr Ferguson's poetry, he is by no means to be confounded with the local poets whom we have described. In the first place, his mere versification, as far as rhyme, rhythm and language are concerned, is easy and pleasant, neither offending the ear by harshness of sound, incongruities of expression, or violations of ordinary grammatical rules. Indeed, we may go further, and say, that, in the mere workmanship of his art, Mr Ferguson at once commands attention, and because so far as sound goes, his verses are agreeable reading, the reader is naturally inclined to do something more than merely "run through them." We gladly recognise the fact that is therefore apparent, that Mr Ferguson has taken some trouble with the composition and metrical construction of his verses, as well as with the words in which he has clothed his fancies. That there is need of some such trouble the greatest poets are examples. Indeed, one of the most difficult achievements for a poet, but one which when accomplished gives greatest pleasure to his readers, is the suiting of sound to sense, so as to produce the well-known effect of onomatopoeia, where the actual sound of the words corresponds in a great measure with the sound of the thing described. A notable instance of this is furnished in Homer's well-known description of an advance of cavalry, where the sound of the Greek words actually conveys to one unacquainted with the language the idea that the galloping of horses is being described. Another case, too, frequently occurs in Homer, where "brandishing," in the sense, of brandishing a spear or dart by holding its shaft and quivering it above the head, is described by the word "ampepalon." In our own times Lord Macaulay has given a very good instance of onomatopoeia in his description of the Tiber pent back for a moment by a fallen bridge, and then whirling away all obstruction. We quote the lines from memory, but they run, we believe,
And like a horse unbroken, When first he feels the rein, The furious river struggled hard, And tossed his tawny mane;
And burst the curb and bounded, Rejoicing to be free; And whirling down in fierce career/ Battlement, and plank and pier,
Rushed headlong to the sea.
In the short dissertation we have ventured on we have had no intention of instituting a ludicrous comparison between poets of the world and those of mere local repute. Our object was to impress upon too many who need a lesson, that genius should never disdain the assumption of the most fitting garments for its exhibition. Returning to the subject in hand, we may notice that Mr Ferguson's book, whilst it contains several very excellent pieces of purely local treatment, and several inspired by thoughts of old Scotland, his dear native land, seems to us to derive most merit from one or two little poems — motto poems — on matters of every day life, and of common interest. One in especial we take the liberty of quoting entire,
PRIDE OF DEGREE.
There is pride of high talent, and pride of high birth, A pride of affection, a proud sense of worth;
But of all sorts of pride that is hateful to me, 'Tis where money alone is the mark of degree.
There is well-to-do Jones makes obeisance to Brown, Who drives in his carriage to church and to town,
But of plain working Hodges no notice takes he; 'Tis plain he regards them of lower degree.
And so the line runs, rising grade over grade, As they're happy in fortune or lucky in trade;
The conservative form holding good, on the plea, The longer the purse, more select the degree.
Nay, some doomed by fate fortune's pinches to feel, Still cling to the passion of seeming "genteel,"
And with flimsy veneering at elbow and knee, Make frantic attempts to uphold their degree.
As a source of all blessing, for all ills a salve, All fall down to worship the great golden calf
Mere virtue and truth are like pearls in the sea, Where cash is the great motive power of degree.
It must not be supposed, however, that Mr Ferguson is incapable of portraying the more delicate poetic fancies in which many delight. In "A Song of Home," there are four lines which would not have disgraced his country's laureate —
The Highland youth steals through the shade, His lassie folded in his plaid;
And every breeze that murmurs by bears on its wings a lover's sigh;
and in many other places our author has as sweetly-woven fancies, as the above. To say that Mr Ferguson has not displayed defects, however, would be to hide the truth, but as these defects are evidently such as time and practice will mend, and are occasioned, apparently, by his forgetting, in some very rare instances, that the description of very commonplace events in grandiloquent language is apt to produce an opposite effect to that intended, we shall content ourselves by pointing out, as we have done, that as a rule he is singularly free from the defects common to "local poets," and that we doubt not time will completely purge him of them. -Bruce Herald, 6/4/1875.
We have received a neat little volume of poems composed by Dugald Ferguson, some of whose contributions have appeared in our columns under the signature of "D. F. Outram." This addition to the literature of the colony is very welcome. There is a simplicity and naturalness about many of these poems which we cannot but admire, and occasionally the author shows that he is possessed of "the vision and the faculty divine." We are personally acquainted with Mr. Ferguson, and are glad to congratulate him on the appearance of his first publication. Were he a vain person we would be afraid to speak too encouragingly of his first effort, but being of a modest and retiring disposition his poetic genius requires to be fanned, rather than smothered by criticism, and we hope his little volume will have such a sale as will induce him to continue his courtship of the muses. Our space is too limited for any extracts, but the book can be obtained at a small cost from the printers and publishers, Messrs. Mackay, Fenwick. and Co., Dunedin, who deserve praise for the manner in which they have turned it out, being clearly printed and neatly bound. -Tuapeka Times, 22/5/1875.
DUGALD FERGUSON'S Poems can be had at the office of this paper, Milton and Balclutha; also, at Waihola Gorge, Waihola, Outram, and Mosgiel. Price, 3s 6d. -Bruce Herald, 28/5/1875.
POEMS BY DUGALD FERGUSON.
We always feel pleasure in welcoming the appearance of local talent. To find here and there, amongst our practical, wealth-pursuing community, a few who are capable of giving their attention to the finer cravings of humanity, proves that, as a people, we are not wholly given up to the worship of Mammon.
In the small volume before us we discover much that is worthy of all praise, not only in the sentiments expressed but in the manner of their expression. The poems, taken altogether, reflect credit on their author, and although they are not by any means faultless, they are of so good a character as to entitle Mr Ferguson to a good position in the ranks of the poets of the day. There are two verses in the opening poem, "A Meditation," which particularly claimed our attention, and which we quote :—
Time like a mighty water wheel appears. And high in space is poised its central nave: Its radiating spokes the circling years; The Eternal's nod its motive power gave; And as it slowly rears, the human wave, Is dropping off like countless showers of spray, Until the world seems one extensive grave. And still the fabric will pursue its way Magnificently on until the Judgement Day.
What then, ye proud? How then, ye puny great?
What boots our titles and ambitions dear? Who of this world will not one jot abate? As if ye always would continue here? Kings of the earth — yea, men of might and fear — Who raised a tumult in their fleeting day, On Time's great wheel how futile they appear — Their splendour but some larger drops of spray, Whose weight to the abyss but lends, more headlong way.
What boots our titles and ambitions dear? Who of this world will not one jot abate? As if ye always would continue here? Kings of the earth — yea, men of might and fear — Who raised a tumult in their fleeting day, On Time's great wheel how futile they appear — Their splendour but some larger drops of spray, Whose weight to the abyss but lends, more headlong way.
We regard these verses as a proof of the poetical genius of their author. "A Song of Home" is one of the best pieces in the book, being well written, very expressive, and breathing forth in well-chosen language the author's love for "Auld lang syne." Next in order comes a prettily written poem in praise of Dunedin. We give one verse from it.
How pleasantly, how pleasantly, Beneath the sun's warm glow, From Break-neck's lofty eminence, The city looks below. O'er rugged situations Dunedin spreads away; In waving undulations it winds around the bay. What toiling and moiling is sounding underneath; What scheming and dreaming Within that compass brief !
Among several other pieces we might mention "The world moves on," "In Memoriam," "The Plaiddie," "The Sabbath," as being specially worthy of the most favourable notice. In the "Flag of Scotland," Mr. Ferguson is not happy. The piece opens well, but becomes tedious on account of its failing to carry the reader connectedly through the various scenes it portrays. The same fault applies in a leaser degree to "The time is wearing on," though in the latter poem some very fine lines appear— as for instance: —
Our poor shrinking forms of clay, Growing weaker ev'ry day,
Are sure warnings by the way That the time is wearing on.
But to grasp, to hoard, and grieve For the treasures we must leave
Seems our only end to live. But the time is wearing on.
The quick sound of labour rings As his tool the workman swings,
And no rest the Sabbath brings. But the time is wearing on.
Behold yonder hoary knave, To his passions still a slave,
Though tottering by the grave, As the time is wearing on.
Sinking fast into his grave, Hear him curse, and swear, and rave.
Has the fool no soul to save? As the time is wearing on.
One poem entitled "Sandie and Jean" relates, in excellent metre, a supposed argument between Sandie, who desired earnestly to get married, and Jean who objects to so decided a measure. It would please us to give the argument in extenxo, but we must content ourselves with this single extract— Sandie's final answer :—
Then can you wonder longer, Jamie, friend, That marriage should oft in sorrow end,
When maidens, willingly, so oft are strung By the soft blarney of some supple tongue.
Note this remark — too oft with truth replete — Who'er you see distinguished for conceit,
Who chiefly through their tongues attention gain, You'll seldom see to play their parts as men
Where'er they go, in whatsoever spheres, Their love of self conspicuously appears
Soon Time, the touchstone, their devotion proves, When pacing months have cooled their wedded loves;
Then Self, awaking from his short-lived dream, Now, in the household, views himself supreme,
And to be served and waited on for life Self must be tyrant, and enslaves the wife.
Yet strange it is that cases, nine in ten, To such as these girls turn in choice of men.
The extracts we have given have been taken at random, and must not be supposed to be a partial index to the book. There are many other pieces which might be considered superior to any we have noticed— as for instance "Otago and Scotland " and "Wallace, Knox, and Scott." From "Otago and Scotland" we give the following extract ; —
Otago's mountains high and cold, No legends twine with deeds of old;
No errant knights, and barons bold, Their names here carved
That manor hall, or ruined hold, Have still preserved.
But in her lap, though rough she stands, Is hid the wealth of golden sands,
And ready homes for toiling hands Her plains afford,
Unchequered by the cruel bands Brought by the sword.
And O, Otago, on these terms, Ne'er may romance add to thy charms;
May still thy arts, thy mines, and farms,
Thy fame increase; Ne'er may the crash of war's alarms Disturb thy peace.
One more we also submit from the poem entitled "Wallace, Knox, and Scott":—
Our captive souls his pen leads spell-bound on Through Flodden's Field,
where over the battle clang Rose the last words of dying Marmion.
Where war-cries pealed and arms contending rang,
Where "arrows leaping from their bowstrings sang"
On Scotland's phalanx showering thickly fell, As to the gaps of that undaunted gang
Came others leaping with defiant yell, Who Scotland's fame that day bore gallantly and well.
Towards the close of Mr. Ferguson's book a few "Hymns and Paraphrases" appear, and we could almost wish they had not appeared. These pieces are passable enough, but too much in the style of hymns in general to be pleasing. However, we can honestly congratulate Mr. Ferguson for the production of his book of poems, and trust he may not find a want of support from the outside public. He need be under no apprehension that the poems will be condemned as "unworthy of publication," for although they can never be favourably compared with those of a Byron or a Burns, they are highly creditable productions. "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth," is an old cry, and is repeated too frequently on the appearance of colonial books; but let not our colonial authors be disheartened because of it. We understand that Mr. Ferguson's book will be obtainable shortly at the various booksellers in town. The printing and entire get-up reflects great credit on the publishers, Messrs. Mackay, Fen Wick, and Co.; of this city. -Otago Witness, 19/6/1875.
(from our own correspondent) -excerpt
I paid a visit to the rising township of Kelso the other day, and was very much surprised to see the progressive state in which it is at present, first of all the railway buildings, which consist of a large goods-shed, engine-shed, passenger-shed, stationmaster's house, and several other outhouses, have a very imposing appearance. Then there is Mr Dugald Ferguson's store, which is certainly a rather diminutive structure, but it will no doubt be added to when the requirements of the place demand it. -Otago Witness, 27/11/1880.
TO MY SUBSCRIBERS.
I HAVE the pleasure of intimating that my poems will be ready for publication within a fortnight. DUGALD FERGUSON. -Mataura Ensign, 19/10/1883.
DUGALD FERGUSON'S POEMS.
[Contributed.] This is a goodly volume of 304 pages of original poetry, by a colonial settler. It is dedicated to a Mr David McKellar. It is, also, a subscription volume. The names of subscribers are prefixed to the book. The price is 5s, and the author has a list of about 600 subscribers. He relieved "the tedium of a shepherd's life" with these poetical recreations. His life is said to have been a "failure." But his real "Poems of the Heart" are by no means a failure. Should a second edition be called for, a few errors of orthography, punctuation, and scansion may be beneficially corrected. The larger poems, e.g., "Gustavus Adolphus," "Sandy and Jean," "The Lambs," and "Castle Gay," evince considerable powers of description military, amatory, pastoral, and agricultural. The poem on Dunedin is characteristically faithful to nature, e.g.:
How pleasantly, how pleasantly, Beneath the sun's warm glow, From Roslyn's lofty eminence The City looks below,
"Cousin Mary" is a sweet song, e.g.:
A gentle, unassuming air; A manner easy, free and airy; A wealth of flowing golden hair, Etc.
Like Burns, Ferguson has his own "Bonnie Jean":
Her rosy lips wore a bright smile, Her clear complexion show'd health's hue; Joy dancing in her eyes the while Lit up their depths of bonnie blue, Etc.
The Taieri Plain, it appears, has a beautiful flower of flesh and blood, e.g.:
As the breeze gently ripples the sun-lighted streams, So her face with the radiance of smiles ever beams; Nor more artlessly winning in manners than she Is the lamb as it gambols so blithe on the lea. While soft as the down of the amorous dove, Her full heaving bosom my heart thrills with love.
Exquisite, indeed, is “The Belle of the Ball,” e.g.:
Her slim rounded figure, abounding with vigor, Her manner so sprightly, yet modest withal; Her soft-swelling bosom—a rose in full blossom— Ah, me ! she was charming that night at the ball.
The “Social Glass” is a graphic portraiture of the evils of intoxication:
Oh, the social glass, the social glass, The weary social glass; How many a blighted heart and home Have rued the social glass.
The respective characters of Wallace, Knox, and Scott are well drawn; so, also, are the salient characteristics of Lord Clyde, Charles Dickens, Carlyle, etc. The dirge upon winter is really good — e.g.;
Beneath a black and frowning sky A wintry prospect meets the eye; The misty hills loom dark and high, Where storm-clouds gather gloomily.
The lines written on an infant are well fitted to show the poet’s sympathy with human nature, especially the female side of it.
In his poem on the “Pride of Degree” he tries to teach the colonists that "’Tis mind, and not money, should mark the degree." His elegy on his grandmother and on an aged friend shows the pathos of filial affection. His kindly heart prompts him to write a few lines on “Captain” Barry—
Whose chequer’d scenes, with luck for each occasion, Reminds one of the marvels of Munchausen.
His strictly moral poems are excellent— e.g.:
Mine be the soul, the even-balanced mind, With lofty thoughts and chaste desires refined; That curbs all under thoughts with stern control, And all that tendeth to debase the soul.
His lines descriptive of Otago are characteristically faithful to nature—:
From every height, In wide survey, The hills and mountains spread away In wild confusion, heaved and crossed Like billows on the ocean tossed.
The lines on “Isabel” are splendid— e.g.:
Her form was sprightly as the fawn, Her hair the raven’s hue, Her cheeks like roseate clouds of dawn, Her eyes a glorious blue.
Of how many hoary-headed knaves is the following verse, from a poem entitled “The Time is Wearing on,” descriptive:
Behold yon hoary knave! To his passions still a slave, Though tottering by the grave, As the time is wearing on.
His religious poems breathe the pious strain of a Cowper or Montgomery. In the “Bible Appeal” we admire his noble spirit, e.g.:
Let us fight for that volume which sceptics and fools Would strip of its honors and ban from our schools.
Again, written on a fly-leaf of a Bible, which he presented to a dear friend, we read:
For few and fleeting are the years That in this vale with pain we spend; A scene of trouble, cares, and fears Fills up the view from end to end. But with this Book we have a ray That, with a sense of sin forgiven, Will cheer our oft-beclouded way, And light us to the gate of Heaven.
His Scripture paraphrases are superior to many of those in Church hymn-books— e.g.:
Oh! man, how evil are thy days, Whose boasted strength so soon decays; Distraught by fevered dreams of gains, Fenced with infirmities and pains. From happiness still far exiled, Yet buoyed up by fond chimeras wild Of some bright star’s prospective gleams, That on thy fortune seldom beams.
The poet was a shepherd in New South Wales in the early days. He is a native of Orman, in Argyleshire, and he longs to go back to his old home;
By Crinan’s banks, in life’s decay, I fain would pass the scene away, And by the church upon the hill Recline, when death my pulse shall still. For there, beneath the elm trees’ shade. The friends of early youth are laid. A mother’s love, a brother’s pride, Long quenched in death, sleep side by side.
Prefixed to the book there is a portrait of the bard—the colonial bard of poems of the heart. The work, in an artistic point of view, reflects credit upon the firm of John Mackay, Dunedin. Dunedin, like Caledonia, has new a poet rejoicing in the name of Ferguson. In short, these poetical pieces are superior to many works freely issued from the English press. Mr Ferguson should publish a British edition. Meanwhile he has already published a colonial edition of 1500 copies, almost equal in point of number to the first Edinburgh publication of a subscribed edition of Burns’s poems. So much, by way of criticism — of which the sensitive poet is so timid, for Dugald Ferguson’s poetry. -Evening Star, 17/11/1883.
Dugald Ferguson has achieved the ambition of his life — viz., the publication of his poems, and was fortunate, inasmuch as the task (for a task it must have been) of reviewing them in the Clutha Leader fell to the lot of a very lenient and good-natured critic, who, probably susceptible himself, very properly guarded against saying anything likely to wound the fine feelings of the poet. And after all, it is but right that a critic should be lenient, especially when dealing with amateurs. It must have taken Dugald many weary days and nights to compile the collection of poems he has recently published, and which very few people will ever read, and many a gallon of kerosene or pound of tallow has doubtless been consumed in the endeavour; and after so much patient devotion and mental application, it is easy for the critic to damn the work in a review which takes him perhaps half-an-hour to write. But if easy, it is unkind and certainly unnecessary. The public are the best judges, and if any merit is contained in the poems, they will probably discover it after Dugald is dead and gone. If a man will write poetry, he must abide by the consequences, which are slow appreciation of merit, labor in vain, from a financial point of view, and a compassion from the people nearly akin to contempt. Alas! that this should be so. A poet is never esteemed until he has passed out of existence; and poetry of the mediocre kind is always at dead low water, and never rises above that mark.
Apropos of the foregoing, in whatever order the poetical palate of the public may be, the pabulum is diversified to such an extent that but few can complain of their own peculiar dish being absent from the menu; even the most superlatively eccentric taste must fain admit itself suited. I am not able to state whether colonials en masse are as much endowed with ideal conceptions as their kith at Home, or whether the practicability prompted by a sordid hankering after wealth is more characteristic of the branch than of the stem; but certes colonials are more tolerant in their endurance of the affliction of the Original Poetry column of their weekly newspaper than are their more critical brethren of the Old Country. The ancients had a higher respect for belles lettres than we have of this present prosaic age, and, comparatively speaking, but few came before the public as poets. The few who did do so were as brilliant as they were few, and their lustre is more apparent since they shine in a famous firmament of their own creating — fixed stars, whose brightness totally eclipsed all other luminaries which here and there endeavored to twinkle in juxtaposition to them. The poetical arena of the Homeric age was an arena in name only, and but few met to contest the laurels. Hence we have a scholar (John Sheffield, Duke of Buckinghamshire), as late as Queen Anne's time, speaking thus of poets — 'There are but two the world has yet brought forth, Homer and Virgil.' But now-a-days how very different is it! Then it was next to an offence to pen a stanza. Now 'without his song no fop is to be found.'
Without doubt a too exclusive state of things existed in the good old days when Swift resided with Sir William Temple, and earned his living as amanuensis to that literary celebrity, and some truly gifted men who have since, in spite of all obstacles, left their impress on historic scroll, had a hard uphill toil to even gain passing notoriety amongst the few with whom they most frequently came into contact. Patronism was then the order of the day, and without the patron of acknowledged influence and parts, to smile upon the protege, the light stood a very good chance of being relegated to the interior of the proverbial bushel, with the fate in perspective of perishing by its own heat. Not so, however, in this nineteenth century, and especially not so in the Colonies. The Provincial Press is open to all who like to avail themselves of its publicity, and under the heading of 'Original Poetry' appears some of the most wretched nonsense it is possible to imagine. The Colonial Fourth Estate, albeit it in other respects beyond reproach, is miserably weak in its choice of poetry. Exceptions of course there are, but these prove the rule. Obscure country correspondents, with no more gift for poetry than automatons, inflict sensations of disgust upon their readers by procuring publication of their erratic rhythms. No sooner have they dabbled in prose — and that at the best but mediocre — and beheld their exuberance in all the glory of type, than they lose their heads, and imagine they have some latent genius lurking about somewhere, and instantly endeavor to find it. They cudgel their poor brains, and laboriously string together a series of rhymes as free from harmony or intelligence as they are themselves from genius. This is contributed and given to the world, and the educated reader is made to blush for the erratic taste of the Press, of which he discovers he has too ideal a conception. This is not sophistry. I can prove the truth of my assertions by quoting examples of this rubbish of which I complain, These to-be-pitied individuals who 'pen stanzas when they should engross' are not myths any more than are mosquitos or other petty annoyances. They doubtless imagine their productions par excellence, and the publicity given to what should be consigned to the wastepaper basket, is a dangerous incentive to the continuance of the evil. The cock that mounts to the top of the garden dung-hill and crows in 'the high reason of its fancy,' is not more sanguine of its own eminence than is the spurious sponsor of a too obliging editor, who innocently inflicts upon a long-suffering people the balderdash he is led to believe is meritorious.
The ancients worshipped Apollo as the tutelar deity of poetry, and as Apollo is known as the 'sun-god,' truly may we say that some of our modern poets are 'too much i' the sun.' The fate of the Pierides should be visited upon such authors of frivolous assumption, for the migration necessary to make them magpies could be easily accomplished. Let us have fewer original poems or books of poems, and let those we do have have something to warrant their title. It is the duty of the Press to nip in the bud any such foolish ambition as is manifested by the desire to give such idiotic nonsense prominence in the columns of a newspaper. Poetry is as high above nonsense as Mendelssohn's 'songs without words' are above the hackneyed 'Grandfather's Clock.' Genius can never be produced by art or study; it is a pure and free gift of Nature. 'The poet is born, not made.' The soul must be stored with good and delightful ideas before it attempts to produce delight for others, and this production of delight is the main end of poesy. Our popular poets, whose works adorn any ordinary library, did not earn their laurels easily, gifted as the most of them undoubtedly were. Genius they possessed, but the disloyal road to learning had to be travelled before they were able to give to the world its brightest jewels of literature. This argument is apparently ignored by some of the reviewers of the present day, who are of course responsible for what appears in their periodicals. At the best, many of the so-called poems are merely crude ideas rudely versified. Harmony, grammatic construction, and metre are dispensed with, the poetic license covering these defects. Rhymes are not poems. It requires no great effort to rhyme. The ability is common to all if the necessary trial is made. But the true poetic gift is uncommon, and poetry without this sublimity is as a wax rose to a natural one — as a violet without scent. Few they be who can command our admiration, who can enliven our sympathies, and awaken our passions to a glow by their charm of versification. The gift is not to the many, but to the few, and this in spite of the fact that poetry as an art stands alone, in richness and versatility of terms. Would that the many knew this, and cease in their endeavours to be thought that which they were never intended to be. Let them cultivate a taste for the beautiful in art and nature by all means, but also let those whose positions as literary men warrant their surveillance, be careful to draw the line between poetry and puerility. -Clutha Leader, 7/12/1883.
MUDLARK AND DUGALD FERGUSON'S POEMS.
TO THE EDITOR.
Sir, — When an author sends his work to the editor of a public journal for review, however hostile to the merits of his work the reviewer's expression of opinion may prove, he must be content; he sought his opinion, and having received it must abide with the result. There have been, however, instances when a reviewer has deemed it his conscientious duty to make havoc of the work of an author for whom personally he nevertheless entertained the sincerest respect. I have read of the redoubted Jeffries, of the Edinburgh Journal, who while unmercifully criticising something he deemed amiss in the style of each successive work of the gifted Johanna Bailie, yet in private repeatedly desired to be introduced to her. Such impartial severity in a reviewer is simply commendable. But when a would-be critic, whose opinion has been wholly unsought, goes out of his way for the sole purpose of making an unfortunate author's work the subject of a sneering comment, I would imagine the depth of meanness has been reached. Doubtless the plea that deeming himself qualified to act the part of a public censor of any worthless subject imposed on the public taste, he also deems it to be his conscientious duty to challenge, may be plausible. But when the subject in question has been allowed a courteous pass by the editor of the public Press, or the reviewers to whom these editors delegated the task of testing the merits of this subject, the true plea for such action will be found in the simple pettiness of such a critic's own mind. Such were my ideas when I was informed some weeks ago that the very favorable critique on my poems that had appeared in the Leader had moved your contributor Mudlark (a nom de plume not very suggestive of big ideas), for the sole purpose of setting aside the favorable impression of that critique, to make my name and my work the chief themes in the paragraphs of his next contribution to your paper. Having until the other day, when passing through Balclutha, no opportunity of seeing the Leader in which Mudlark's strictures on my work appeared, I deferred any expression of my opinion on the subject until I had more authority for their verification than mere hearsay. One can hardly forgive a person who assails him at an advantage that he unwittingly exposed to him. Now, I venture to affirm, for reasons of my own, that Mudlark has expressed his opinion on the merits of a book that he has not even seen. In his opening remarks he assumes such a supercillious tone as simply provokes my scorn. 'It must have taken,' are his words, 'Dugald many weary days and nights to compile the collection of poems he has recently published, and which few people will even read, and many a gallon of kerosene and pound of tallow has doubtless been consumed in the endeavor.' I look upon this simply as a sample of shallow impertinence. Even an adverse reviewer, if a gentleman, will allude to the author whose work he is then demolishing with courtesy. In Mudlark's selfconstituted loftiness, Mr Ferguson would be too high a style with which to allude to such a common scribbler as he deems me to be — but let that pass. With reference to the waste of kerosene and tallow that Mudlark deplores so much in connexion with the compilation of my poems, for his information I will confess this much: in composition my usual habit is to con over in my mind in the course of evening walks principally all my matter, so that in taking up my pen to write it is simply to jot down matter that has been already prepared in the order it subsequently appears in print. Hence, whatever blame may be attached to my publication, the sin of waste of oil or tallow in connexion with it must be but a light charge against me. It has been but rare that for the mere labor of composition I have devoted an hour from sleep, or used light that has not been required at the same time for other household duties. Doubtless to Mudlark such a mode of composition is strange, who knowing by sad experience that if ever he suffers an idea that glances through his mind liberty to remain there, and not to prison it at once with pen and ink, it is gone for ever; therefore his concern with reference to my waste of kerosene and tallow was inspired by his own recollection of his own sad extravagance in that respect. Mudlark evidently considers he has a mission to correct the public taste in the matter of original Colonial poetry, as his contributions for that week are pretty well filled with some very smart writing on the subject. He remarks that 'country correspondents, with no more gift for poetry than automatoms, inflict sensations of disgust upon their readers by procuring publication for their erratic rhythms.' As I had certainly been impressed with the fond belief hitherto that in my publication of erratic rhythms there were some poems there that were not unworthy of such pains, the above language should have the effect of setting me down from my high hobby with a vengeance. And after such a mighty snuffing of all country correspondents, are we to suppose that Mudlark's own correspondence to be a bright exception from the generality of such writings and that he is able to write in such terms of profound contempt of others from the consciousness of his own utter superiority to all original contributors to the Colonial Press? Will he explain, then, how it comes that Mudlark is never heard out of the Clutha Leader? How it was that until my attention was lately excited to inquire who was this modern Daniel who had come to judgment, when formerly taking up the Clutha Leader I barely concerned myself to give more than a passing glance at the gossiping paragraphs over his signature? Doubtless by this confession my poor taste in the vein of fine writing is patent; but the real cause is that I have naturally as profound a contempt for all such anonymous hunters of notoriety as Mudlark has for the Original Poetry corner of the Colonial newspapers. There is something particularly currish, in my opinion, in the action of such writers, who, protected by a safe anonimity, can gratify their mean spirit by wounding the feelings of others, under a show of smart writing. Of this class of writers, Civis of the Daily Times, as he is the ablest, is also the most tolerable, in so rarely making petty spleen the occasion of his public comments; although, from my own experience, even he is not faultless in that respect. Mudlark wisely remarks that mere rhyming is within the reach of all. That is so true that I believe he has shown it occasionally to be within his own reach. Concerning one of these efforts of his, an intelligent friend lately told me that he actually cut it out of the paper and preserved it as a curiosity in its way. It was a pity he had then mislaid, it, doubtless had I seen it it might have afforded me some hint as would have benefited me in the view of future metrical efforts. This writer's expression of opinion of what the action of reviewers of poetical publications should be, shows a faint attempt at a literative point, 'but also let those whose position as literary men warrant their surveillance be careful to draw the line between poetry and puerility.' Now this is very good; but what sense can one expect from a writer who would draw that line so fine, that he quotes with approval the opinion of a scholar of Queen Anne's time, that up to then only two poets had appeared in the world — Homer and Virgil. This dictum makes sad havoc with all the classical celebrities of his own country. Doubtlessly also Mudlark who is such another profound scholar in his exalted admiration of Homer and Virgil, looks immeasurably over the heads of these humbler sons of song, who yet so gracefully occupy the lower slopes of Parnassus, such as Bloomfield, Tanahill, Wilson, Thorn and the other numerous band of minor poets of whom their country has such reason to be justly proud, but between whom and Homer and Virgil there is certainly a great gulf fixed. To say that because a person cannot be a Homer or Virgil, he has no right to claim the title of poet, is equally sensible with the idea that because an ordinary carpenter could not construct a cathedral he should not attempt to build a private mansion. Then from the stand point of this idea, and bearing in mind Longfellow's opinion that all writers should be rated at their best, I will fearlessly challenge Mudlark to show where the charge of puerility can be fairly established in connexion with any of the principal poems of the book I have lately published, and that he chose to make the subject of so much sneering comment. Can he take a fair passage from my battle poem for instance and show that either in language or as thought I have proven myself unequal to the subject I undertook to describe? In any of the other longer poems in my descriptions of natural scenery, can he point me out one instance in which nature has been either violated or burlesqued by me? Lapses of rhythm and rhyme I admit occasionally occur, and it would have been well for me had I been more careful on these points; but rhythm though a necessary accompaniment, is not all that is required in poetry. There may be faultless rhythm and perfect rhyme, and yet a shallow poem after all. And as there is often a noble soul pent within a deformed body, so there may be rugged rhythm, and yet in thought and sentiment a noble poem. My already far exceeded space forbids enlarging here, or I would show how little I am indebted to Mudlark's platitudes, for my ideas of what, to use his own phrase, the difference is between poetry and puerility. Mudlark confidently affirms that few people will ever read my poems. What can he say then in view of that prediction, to the fact that I have already disposed of about 1300 volumes and that in a few weeks more I expect to dispose of the 200 volumes that remain of the second edition of my late publication. Of the general impression that the perusal of these poems have left on the minds of their readers, I can only say that to my repeated questions to purchasers of my books since, all have spoken to me kindly of its merits; to this rule, however, I met with one exception who objected to some of the poems. And of the chief poem in the work, Castle Gay, a. composition of over 1000 lines in length, the general testimony that I have heard, borne to its merits, and high moral tone, has been to me most flattering.
Now Mr Editor I contend that the ability to compose a poem of such length alone as can by its own intrinsic interest secure the attention of a reader in its perusal proves such a knowledge of his craft, as might well justify its author's indignation at seeing his work alluded to with contempt by an obscure paragraphist. Honest criticism I do not object to, however severe, and the critic who, while he condemns, points out examples of what he considers faults, and if there is anything commendable, also fairly allows it, secures respect for his judgement; but the pretentious fop who sets up as a self-constituted critic of the order of Lord Jeffries or Macaulay, and proceeds without evidence or reason to damn the work of another, is my especial aversion. — I am, &c.
Dugald Ferguson. -Clutha Leader, 11/4/1884.
NGAPARA (from a correspondent)
Another item of news I may as well give you is that the Tapanui bard, Dugald Ferguson, is now travelling this and the surrounding districts of Oamaru, for the purpose of disposing of the last fifty volumes of his book of poems. Fifteen hundred of these were issued by the Dunedin firm of publishers last year, and it speaks well for the book that so many have found such ready sale. As it has already been so favorably reviewed by most of our colonial papers I need not speak further in its praise than to say that the pieces are well worthy of perusal. -Cromwell Argus, 20/5/1884.
Random notes (by Mudlark)
An American editor, whose page of the Fourth Estate circulates in a rural parish, the pastoral, arcadian scenery of which imbues its youths and maidens with sublimity of feeling, is inundated with poetry. His waste basket is quite inadequate, and rejected M.S. is gradually, but surely filling up his office, and driving him into a corner. The supply is an ever-flowing stream, and it encompasses him about. In desperation, he hits upon an inspiration - a panacea, from an editor's point of view, for all complaints. He will advertise! Here is the advertisement:
WANTED, A Cat that can eat Poetry. Apply at once to the Editor of this journal.
Now, "a cat that could eat poetry" would be worth its weight in gold to most editors. The Otago Witness editor, for instance, would consider such an animal cheap, at any price, because it would be the means of doubling the circulation of that very excellent weekly. The mews of that cat would be pleasant to the editorial ear (no pun meant). And possibly the editor of this thirteen-year old newspaper would also, hail with delight a pussy with a taste for poetry. I have a cat myself with a wonderful poetic appetite. Sometime ago I purchased a copy of Dugald Ferguson's poems — as a table-ornament only. That cat surreptitiously had just one half-hour with them alone in the parlour, and left nothing of that book — but the binding. He sticks at nothing. I tried him last week with the "'poeky" of the Rev. Mr Henshelwood, which recently appeared in the Mataura Ensign. He rejected that, however, as doubtless the editor would have done, had he not feared to give offence.
The local amateur poetry question is a difficult one to deal with. An editor very naturally is averse to giving offence, or hurting the feelings of any aspiring bard by rejecting his M.S., and, with pardonable leniency, frequently publishes utter puerility under the heading of poetry — stuff which any ordinary cat could not stomach, even allowing it had a proclivity, for this particular menu. Hence occasionally we are made to blush for our fellows. Now, whatever else we may have, we should have our newspaper pure and unadulterated. When, after a day's vexation and toil incidental to the earning of our bread (a few. ounces short in weight) by the sweat of our brow, we sit down to enjoy the news and follow out the burning questions of the day (of which there are too many, owing to over-insurance), imagine our feelings when we first alight on the amateur poem, something after this style:
And thou, dear maid!!! with eyes like stars!!!! Or Juno's! Cyclops'! J Owls'!!! or Mars'!!!! I dedicate myself to thee. And if you'll consent, just say so, and we Will be married right off!
(Let me here paraphrase for one moment, to say I am not a poet, except on extreme occasions like this. But the above verse is quite original, and has caused me much anguish in the composition thereof, and is above the average of original amateur poetry.) Now this kind 'of thing' suggests profanity and cat-kicking. It is quite upsetting, and we can no more follow Mr Gladstone's Home Rule debate after reading this than — we could before. Hence it should be suppressed with a flat-iron.
We may expect eighteen and a-half hundredweight of coals to the ton. We are not surprised if groceries doled out to the poor do not come up to standard weight. It serves us right, if we have colic after our whisky, and "the return of the swallow " after our port. Our warranted Scotch tweed suit is expected to shrink and become pulpy after the first heavy rain, and our boot-soles to become porous immediately on wearing. We do not expect, and are not disappointed because we do not get it, pure orthodoxy from our parson, any more than we expect serious deliberations and discussions from our local Parliament. Our quarterly medico's bill, with an affinity to that of our lawyer's, is always of full weight and flowing over; but even this does not surprise us. But the spotless purity of the Fourth Estate should be above suspicion, and local amateur poetry should be sparingly dealt out. When this appears in an aggravated form, added to those other little ills to which flesh is heir, it leads us to the apex of endurance, and we are inclined to topple over. It takes all sorts of people to make a world, and all sorts of literature to make a newspaper. Somewhat apropos of my previous note on "the spotless purity of the Press," I read the following bon-mot in an exchange. It is therefore not mine.
Being of a very sensitive nature myself it shocked me. But all my readers are not so sensitive as I am. I reproduce it for their merriment, and if it does not make them smile — then they must be bilious. She was elderly, and a widow, too, and although she had not had much to do with parsons in her life, one was now attending her bedside. After he had been soothing her for some time she said: "Fancy, in a few hours, I shall be in Lazarus' bosom." He of the black coat corrected her mildly. "In Abraham's bosom, you mean." Whereupon she replied: "Well, it don't much matter which — if you had been a widow for fifteen years you wouldn't be so bally particular." -Clutha Leader, 6/8/1886.
THE OFFICE CAT.
TO THE EDITOR. Sir, — On opening the Leader of the 6th inst., my eyes at once fell on the column devoted to the contributions of my quondam antagonist "Mudlark." And just glancing carelessly over his paragraphs, that I really felt no inclination to read, I noticed my name mentioned in one of these. In his comments about the office cat — a stale idea, already appropriated by "Civis" (could "Mudlark" not have ferreted out some quotations for himself, without giving his readers merely "auld kail het," in the way of something neat and spicy) he writes: "Some time ago I purchased a copy of Dugald Ferguson's poems — as a table-ornament only." Now in this assertion, with its would-be cutting allusion, there is a slight discrepancy, — nothing perhaps to a person of "Mud-lark's" elastic conscience, yet that I think it worth my while to point out. As the sale of my late edition of poems passed almost entirely through my own hands, I can state my belief, almost amounting to a certainty, that "Mudlark's" account of his own prodigality in investing his money in one of my books is entirely without foundation. But I distinctly remember having made a presentation to the gentleman who has been proven to my mind as "Mudlark's" original of a volume of my poems belonging to an edition published about ten years ago — a courtesy on my part that he on his gracefully acknowledged by making it the basis for his strictures on my late improved edition; and which I am persuaded that, at that time, he could scarcely have had an opportunity of even seeing. Query: Whether was it my sledge-hammer assault upon these same flimsy strictures then, or the keener and more incisive homethrust of "'Mudlark,' you lie" of a North Dunedin Church member on the following week, that so ingloriously shut your sneering contributor up; that the voice of that lark was not heard in the land for many many months afterwards? Evidently my own blows must have been stunning enough, when, instead of attempting the best defence in return at the time, he should now, after his slow recovery of two years, manifest his lingering sense of their effects in the silly insinuation contained in his comments on his plagiarised quotation. Speaking of the office cat, sir, is it not a pity that, instead of poetry, this useful animal could not be induced to eat up the contributions of writers like "Mudlark'" who are lunatic enough to imagine that they are qualified to act as Censors of Colonial literature, and thereby spare the infliction of such fashionless lucubrations upon the public. In conclusion, harken, "Mudlark," to this blunt averment, and on its hint be advised by me to be guided: Dugald Ferguson's poems, in the eyes of the public, are likely to be about as little affected by the weight your strictures as a mountain is likely to be shaken by the weight of a mosquito crawling upon it. The disproportion between the circumstances of the illustration are vast, I grant, but not a whit more so than is that betwixt your self-assurance and your talents. —I am, &c,
Dugald Ferguson. Kelso. -Clutha Leader, 20/8/1886.
Mr Ferguson's book has been reviewed in the 'Otago Daily Times,' and the editor has (Dugald - GBC) received such a castigation as will probably deter him from venturing into print for a little time. Our criticism on the same book was the gentle admonition of an indulgent mother compared to the scathing infliction of the terrible reviewer in the 'Times.' It says :— The preface of the editor (Mr Dugald Ferguson) is the worst piece of prose we remember ever to have read. It is not merely that it is ungrammatical — that the writer commits every sort of indignity on every part of speech; that nouns are kept in painful suspense wailing for verbs that never turn up; that prepositions find themselves in the train of words they abhor; that adverbs and adjectives obtrude their offensive personalities where they have no business to be; and that wandering and lunatic pronouns start up when you least expect them. Those things are nothing; you may find them in any ordinary piece of bad prose. But when with all those you have Mr Dugald Ferguson's megatherium sentences, his hendecasyllabic words, his self-satisfied, complacent inflation of phrase, and his studiously periodic structure of sentence, then you have all the elements that go to make up bad prose of the first water. Such expressions as the following are plentiful as blackberries ;— 'Editor for these writings'; 'My labour was limited to select'; In making this selection I was easily guided by finding among his other loose papers and other undigested articles, those that make up the following publication (the italics are of course ours); and so on through this remarkable preface." -Mataura Ensign, 24/5/1887.
"FERGUSON AND THE DAILY TIMES."
TO THE EDITOR. Sir,— -In this morning's issue I have just read your paragraph commenting on the manner in which my preface to my late brother's publication has been reviewed by the editor of the 'Daily Times,' In that paragraph you state your opinion — a rash one I think — that I have received "a castigation as will probably deter me from venturing into print for a little time." Sir, as I have an opinion of my own, that there is nothing felonious connected with the mere fact of the publication of a book — so long at least as the printer's bills are all faithfully paid up — so I consider the critic who would de1iberately make the fact of literary faults in its composition the occasion of a brutal assault upon the author's feelings proves himself to be but little of a man, however much his own superior educational advantages (and these do not always with him stand for superior talents) may enable him to use his mechanical scalpel with more trenchant effect.
Such a castigation as I have received from the 'Daily Times,' characterised by you as "scathing," would have been doubtless merited by me had I in that preface appeared to have been expecting respect to my writing for its grammatical propriety. But when instead in that preface was stated the hard fact of "nine and even 12 hours a day" spent in the laborious employments of harvesting and shearing as a justifiable excuse for the presence of printer's errors, the occasion for this "scathing infliction" will be the more readily admired, became that the leisure remaining from these "nine and 12 hours" so employed had not been bestowed upon grammatical studies.
When the circumstances that led me to the undertaking of that publication are recollected — circumstances I would have imagined that should have rather secured me sympathy in the eyes of a thoughtful and feeling reviewer, or at most to have my faults pointed gently out to me — what can be said of the taste on the other hand that would make my manner of simply stating these circumstances the occasion of being made a butt for public ridicule by one editor, while another comments sympathisingly upon this edifying spectacle?
And when all is said about it, what is there to boast of about the matter? What is a knowledge of grammar after all, but a mere superficial accomplishment that any pedant may have at his finger ends? Hence the chief evil of being lacking in it is that any one with a literary taste, yet who from the accidents of a rolling and laborious life may have forgotten what rules of grammar he once learnt, without having the leisure much to re-acquire what he has forgotten, is continually exposed to the nuisance of every mere pedant's cavils.
Let me say, Sir, again, that you are somewhat mistaken in your estimate of my spirit as to the probable effect upon it of the castigation I received from the 'Daily Times.' You may safely take the word of a man who is not without some grit in his nature, that neither the 'Daily Times' or Mataura Ensign conjoined in their efforts or any, other journal that I know of would have the slightest effect of altering in the least whatever future intention I might entertain of addressing the public by the medium of print while I conceive I have a sufficient message to bring me there.
You may consider this tone a bumptious one. It is far from being so. Let my faults be pointed out in a proper manner, and I trust I will always show grace to acknowledge them. As a proof of this let me state that long before I knew of this vial of wrath that was to be poured upon my head on account of my grammatical delinquencies, some of these italicised examples I had become only too painfully conscious of — when too late, however, to remedy them. I will also skate that some weeks ago, with the serious purpose of preventing the recurrence of these grammatical lapses, I had procured a work that for years before I had eagerly desired to get hold of — viz, Cobbett's famous English Grammar, and which since has, and in the future will be, my purpose to carefully peruse, in the probable view of future possible prefaces and prose essays, nathless the "scathing effects" of professional thunderers and practical blunderers. And trusting that you yourself will show a better spirit than to applaud the act of baiting a man for working in a praiseworthy cause, while battling with adverse circumstances, — I am, &c, DUGALD FERGUSON.
N.B.— All the grammatical errors in the above you are welcome to make capital of.— D.F. Gore, May 24th.
(Mr Ferguson cries 'peccavi' in terms explicit enough, but we fear he has a mistaken idea of the functions of a reviewer. He will remember that we did not withhold from him what praise was due to him in the collation of his deceased brother's works. We expressed our appreciation of those works, and our respect for the motive which induced their collation. If we had not been able to express appreciation of them, the circumstances would have kept us silent. With Mr Dugald Ferguson, however, the case was different. To the writings of his deceased brother he attached some o£ his own, and by the fact that he sent a volume to this office presumably invited criticism. He thus cast upon us, quite without our seeking it, a public duty, and we declined to become sponsors for his own meretricious wares, however willing to render our tribute of appreciation to the writings of his brother. Mr Ferguson is conscious of his deficiencies, and seeks to excuse them under the plea that he is engaged in arduous pursuits which leave him little leisure. Such a plea does not palliate bad work which is put forward for inspection. We should not excuse a tradesman who turned out a botched piece of work because he had not chosen to use the proper tools. Yet this is what Mr Ferguson asks us to do. Now that he has been successful in securing Cobbett's Grammar, we feel sure he will polish up his future work and thus pay proper respect to his readers, who cannot be expected to grope among solecisms in search of an idea, which if it had any existence at all in the writer's brain, was ill penned and crude. We overlook the ruggedness of Carlyle, but Mr Ferguson will excuse us if we do not permit him the same consideration. Two courses suggest themselves as open to Mr Ferguson before he again courts public favor: either wait till he gets more leisure or else employ what little he has got in a more profitable way.— Editor Ensign.) -Mataura Ensign, 27/5/1887.
At this point in Dugald's story, I will pause and ask the question - was he a good poet? And why was he so or not? I have a copy of his 1905 "Poems and Sketches (by a New Zealander)." It has been on my shelves for some years. His poems all rhyme and scan correctly - but I have been to enough amateur readings over the years to have the opinion that those two qualities make for poetry, yes, (and a poem is really what you make of it - rhyme and scan are not necessary at all) but not necessarily for good poetry.
So what makes for good poetry? In my opinion, it is the ability for the poet to connect with the listening or reading audience - to make them feel as the poet feels.
And Great Poetry? For me, it is the ability for the poet to make a readership feel connected with the poet though continents, years, decades or centuries divide. A good poet will have an audience - a Great Poet will have posthumous memorials and festivals.
There is also the difference between a good poet and a bad poet. A good example of a bad poet is Scotland's William Topaz McGonigall. (At this point I would - if I could - reach to my shelves for the biography of William McGonigall. Sadly, it has not yet returned from loan years ago to - of all professions - a librarian. But such is beside the point.) McGonnigall believed himself to be a Great Poet. And his poems had it all - rhyme, scansion (not always though), great and historic themes. The world did not share William's belief in his greatness.
Dugald did not have a belief in personal greatness, but his newpaper letters show his belief that his poetry was good. It certainly sold reasonably well but perhaps that was as much a tribute to the travelling salesmanship of Dugald as anything else. My final argument as to whether Dugald was a Great Poet is this: a Great Poet does not waste time writing complaints to papers about their criticism - a Great Poet writes Great Poetry.
AN EYE FOR EVERYTHING by "Cyclops"
About the best reviewed man of recent days is Mr Dugald Ferguson. It was my melancholy duty to administer a few re marks on a book of poems of his some three years ago, and I supposed he had gone under
with the bubbling cry Of some strong swimmer in his agony,
But here we have him again bobbing up serenely, this time in the capacity editor. Naturally enough, the critics pounce on him again, and he shrieks out that because they point out his blunders they are no gentlemen. Indeed he says to one: As this preface as it stands proves me to be little of a scholar, your manner in referring to it proves you to be infinitely less of a man.
He does not refer to the critic's manner of deferring to the preface but the manner in to slightly alter an election story; the critic says: "I admire your ideas, Mr Ferguson, but --- your grammar," and Mr Ferguson replies: "I admire your candour; Mr Critic, but --- your manners." Mr Ferguson admits every thing alleged against him, and will not stand up to be knocked down, but says it is cruel to knock him down because he has not been trained. Why does Mr Ferguson enter the arena if he is not trained? His replies to both the Ensign and the 'Times' provoked the dreaded editorial footnote which is invariably more pungent than the original attack.
Side by side with Mr Ferguson's dying yell in the 'Times' is another review, which is of a highly laudatory nature, of three children's books. An extract is given in support of the reviewer's eulogiums, and the notice concludes by saying that Caldecott's illustrations increase the attractions of the books. This is just where Mr Ferguson's book is deficient. He should have had illustrations by some eminent artist like Caldecott. If we could only have seen a representation of Mr Ferguson studying his newly obtained Cobbett's grammar, or gained from a picture come notion of what an "empty cenotaph" was like, the work would never have earned the title of "meretricious," which was the last straw that broke Mr Ferguson's back. -Mataura Ensign, 3/6/1887.
Mr Dugald Ferguson's angry protest against the mishandling he received in the Daily Times review of his book raises in a new form the protection to native industries question. "I write bad English, do I?" — retorts Mr Ferguson to his critic. "Well, why shouldn't 1? I am a colonist, and as such am entitled to write bad English." This is a new style of defence, — new with a vengeance, since, if this be allowed, the literary critic is clearly de trop, and may lay down his tools and join himself unto the unemployed. Othello's occupation's gone. That is an evil under which Mr Dugald Ferguson, no doubt, might be consoled. Not so easily, however, would the public be consoled. The literary critic, be it understood, exists for the public and not for the Dugald Fergusons. But let us hear this modest writer's opinion on the rights of native authorship in his own words : —
Pray, Sir, where does the reproach come in that I should be found so deficient in grammar, whose life since a youth has been cast among the most uncongenial scenes and surroundings of Australian and New Zealand farms — scenes in which opportunities for reacquiring forgotten lessons of school studies were singularly lacking? Is such an experience as that a fitting opportunity, think you, Sir, for you to herald to the public your own mighty acumen and critical ability in the hunting-out and holding-up faults for public derision that a more gentlemanly spirit might well have taught you rather to have made allowance for?
Here we are told that a bush author is to be excused in writing ungrammatical sentences because his life has been "cast in uncongenial scenes," and that reviewers are to be restrained from pointing out his faults by a "gentlemanly spirit." Protection to native industry, you perceive. Literary bush-carpentry, if native to the soil, is to be protected against criticism. It won't do, Mr Ferguson! Where is the necessity, prithee, that a man who can't make grammatical sentences should write a book at all? It is the old case :
Nee satis apparet cur factitet versus.
Some praise is due to the colonial youth ambitious of authorship who fails either in prose or verse — praise for the attempt. But that he should be praised for the failure, or even encouraged by silence, is too much to ask. Nevertheless Mr Ferguson, as one example under this class, is entitled to "talk back" to his critics, and to deluge them with opprobrious epithets, if that is any comfort to him. There are extremities of oppression in which, as the proverb has it, even a worm will turn. What good the worm gets by turning does not, however, sufficiently appear. -Otago Daily Times, 3/6/1887.
Random Notes by "Mudlark"
Poor Mr Dugald Ferguson has been smote hip and thigh. On the hip by the Otago Daily Times, and on the thigh by the Mataura Ensign. But he turns again and rends them. He does not know when he is beaten — a Spartan-like trait in his character which is slightly commendable from a brute strength point of view, but it does not alter the fact that he is beaten. I presume he is quite above taking advice, even although it is offered to him in the most friendly spirit. He says his surroundings are not genial to the courting of the Muse. I should have thought they were. Pan was a shepherd, and he never piped sweeter music than when minding his flocks. His richest pastoral symphonies were inspired when shepherding. Burns wrote one of his inspired gems — perhaps the sweetest of them all — just after ploughing. The inspiration was caught when plodding wearily after the plough, I refer to the very beautiful and inspired poem 'To a Mountain Daisy,' than which there is not a more tender and sweeter poem in the world's literature, look where you will. Pastoral pursuits have always prompted our divinest poems — naturally. It was the rich har'st field, as seen from the Stoke Poges Churchyard which prompted some of the finest verses in Gray's 'Elegy in a Country Churchyard' — admittedly the facile princeps of all English compositions.
"Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield; Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke; How jocund did they drive their teams afield; How bowed the woods beneath their sturdy stroke."
But why multiply instances? Leisure and seclusion may make a bookworm or a philosopher, but will never develop a poet. I use the word develop because, if God does not make the poet first he can never be made afterwards. Poets are born, and not made. For instance, Doctor Stenhouse labors in his verse because inspiration is lacking. Many beautiful conceits have been prettily handled by him, but the true ring, the inspired romance, is wanting. Now Mr Dugald Ferguson, although roughly handled, has not been by any means illused. We must accord to him a laudable desire to provide delight to others by the perusal of his poems. He has, however, as many another man before him, been weighed in the literary balance and found wanting. He is, in short, a poetaster, not a poet. Let him take his failure with a good grace. He only aggravates the evil when he retaliates with invective. Let him, like Norval senior on the Grampians, continue to feed his flocks, and let him stick to his shears, and, above all, let him refer to my really most clement critique of December, 1883, and he will discover that my advice was not tendered unkindly, or even in a churlish spirit, and that it was ipso facto correct. It has now been thoroughly endorsed. -Clutha Leader, 10/6/1887.
Random Notes by "Mudlark"
I wish my readers once again a happy Christmas and New Year. I have recorded this wish now for a good many years, but as year succeeds year so does the wish intensify in sincerity. I have also my usual amende honourable to make to all and sundry, not even excepting Mr Dugald Ferguson. Even he should cry "quits" now, as I will mercifully forbear answering his last scathing, convincing, and most powerful epistle, thus yielding the palm of victory to him and hailing him conqueror. Indeed I wish him no harm, and my chidings were administered more in love than in anger. I wish him all kinds of good, and that he may be able to write better poetry as he gets older. He has already improved wonderfully since the critics took him in hand. -Clutha Leader, 23/12/1887.
Otago readers will be pleased to read the following notice from the Anti-Jacobin of a local author's recently published work :— "We hope that Mr Dugald Ferguson, who owns a passion for the bagpipes and can hardly dislike haggis, will take it as a compliment when we say that his 'Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand' (Swan, Sonnenschein, and Co.) contain a fine amount of confused miscellaneous reading. The writer has thrown his colonial experiences, which go back to 1850, into the form of an autobiographical novel, or rather story; the plot being of the slightest kind, though adventures abound, he has also a way of bringing out interesting facts through conversations of a kind resembling those at the close of each chapter in Mrs Markham's 'History of England.' After that it should be needless to add that Mr Ferguson takes eminently correct views of men and things. A capital book for youngsters — for anybody not too old to learn — is this medley of farming and fighting, of courtship and self-help. Healthiness of thought and enjoyment of life run all through it. Next to the 'pipes' Mr Ferguson loves a horse and to talk of horses, a taste which will assuredly do him no disservice with the right sort of readers either in the Old Country or the new. -Otago Witness, 4/6/1891.
BY THE WAY
An audacious rustic, who rejoices in the name of Dugald Ferguson, has desecrated the Book of Job by turning it into rhyme. I have not seen the thing, and I don’t wish to. The unpardonable impudence of attempting to reduce that sublime Biblical poem into jingling verse is simply “Prodigious!” as Dominic Sampson would have phrased it. But idiotic as such an outrage seems, our Dugald is not first in the field. I remember that in my young days I was compelled by brutal moral force (and there is such a thing) to read a version of Job in rhyme as perpetrated by no less a personage than Sir John Dean Paul, a pious but fraudulent banker (of the firm of Strachan, Bates, and Paul), for which I hated him, and only felt consoled for the affliction he had caused my youthful soul when he was transported for forgery and kindred peccadilloes to Western Australia. I don’t wish any personal harm to Dugald, but the fate of Sir John Paul should be an emphatic warning against perpetrating such rhyming enormities! Nemo. -Evening Star, 5/9/1891.
Mr Dugald Ferguson's colonial tale "Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand" has, we are pleased to say, met with such a warm reception as to already warrant a second edition of 2000 copies. The new edition is handsomely bound in red cloth, and is printed in good bold type. The first edition was favourably reviewed by many of the English critics, and a few extracts from some of the notices are given in a fly leaf to enable the reader to judge of the opinion of the press on Mr Ferguson's work. We are informed that there is a steady and increasing demand for the book at many colonial booksellers'. It is no slight compliment for the Anti-Jacobin to say of the work: "A capital book for anyone not too old to learn is this medley of farming and fighting and courtship and self-help," or of the London Echo to say, "A fascinating mixture of reality and romance." We trust that the author will find it necessary to in due time issue a third edition. -Otago Witness, 18/5/1893.
Mr Dugald Ferguson, besides favouring me with a reproachful letter in the Daily Times, has presented to me by post a copy of his ''Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand." And a presentable volume it is, as I concede at sight—clearly printed, brightly bound, respectably published; the publishers, in fact, are Swan, Sonnenschein, and Co., Paternoster Bow. Moreover, this is a "cheap" edition so the book has evidently had some success. I have not read it, but I accept without reservation the word of the Melbourne Argus, the London Atheneum, and other papers, notices from which are prefixed to the title page, that "Bush Life" is a meritorious production. But why address this demonstration to me? Because, as Mr Dugald Ferguson sets forth in his letter to the Times, he imagines that I have referred to him "in terms of studied indignity," and this ''so frequently"; moreover, I have called, him a "bush poet." I confess to the phrase "bush poet," but where is its offence? Theocritus was a bush poet; Burns was a bush poet; the Australian Gordon is a bush poet. Is this not company good enough for Mr Dugald Ferguson? Or there is John Barr, of Otago, New Zealand, whose poems and songs, descriptive and satirical, respectfully dedicated to John Hyde Harris, Esq., John McGlashan, Esq., and other worthies of the "old identity," are published in a neat volume by Greig and Sons, Edinburgh; what is John Barr, but a bush poet? "With regard to the pieces comprised in this little volume," says bis preface, "many of them were composed when the Author was busily employed upon his ground, clearing with his axe, and many a long and sad thought did they help to beguile, both by night and day; the writing of them out being, for a considerable time, his greatest recreation after his day's labour." John Barr is clearly a bush poet — an Otago bush poet, yet in no wise is he ashamed. Nor has he any reason to be so. "Bumptious critic" though I be — according to Mr Dugald Ferguson in his wrath — I can nevertheless read John Barr with considerable satisfaction.
In thinking that I have referred to him frequently in "terms of studied indignity" Mr Dugald Ferguson draws on his imagination. Until a fortnight ago I had not referred to him in any terms at all, and I then merely lamented that my influence with the present Government would not avail to obtain for him, as a bush poet, a pension or sinecure, — an admirer of his at Pembroke having suggested that I should make the attempt. By the way, respecting this Pembroke man, I have a letter from the same neighbourhood recommending me to give him, if he should write again, "a short shrift, for a stitch in time is better than no bread." Never throughout my long experience in this column have I met with a happier mixture of: metaphors than this, and I put it up as a record: "Give him a short shrift, for a stitch in time is better than no bread." After this we may return to Mr Dugald Ferguson, who, I regret to see, is continually getting shunted for somebody else. His original and fundamental grievance seems to be that the public won't buy his poems. Does he blame me for that? His poetry is in exactly parallel case with our frozen mutton, — and here I positively must ask leave to shunt Mr Dugald Ferguson again. At the Wellington Chamber of Commerce Mr N. Reid, replying to the complaint that English sheep fetched from 40s to 50s a head, whilst the utmost value of a frozen mutton from Wellington was 15s, remarked as follows :— There was no combination or ring to keep prices down. The simple reason why Australian and New Zealand mutton was so low was because people would not eat it. Messrs Nelson Bros., of London, and Mr James Nelson, of Liverpool, had over 400 shops, and they had the greatest difficulty in selling our meat. As with mutton, so with poetry — there is no accounting for taste. All that is left to a New Zealand producer, whether of mutton or of verses, is to involve himself in his own virtue — like the ancient Roman — and to leave his rejectors and detractors to wallow in their native degradation. -Otago Daily Times, 13/4/1895.
The vexed question of a plurality of "Civises,"' to quote Mr Dugald Ferguson in his newest letter to the Daily Times, is settled at last. As how? Well, thus it seems: in last week's Notes I happened to divulge that an unflattering notice of Mr Dugald Ferguson in this column a few years ago had clean slipped out of my memory. "Evidently, then," reasons Mr Dugald Ferguson, the "Civis" of to-day is not the "Civis" of "a few years ago." And you call that logic, do you, Dugald, with your "evidently, then"! Far be it from me to argue that "Civis" is one man only, and not a multitude; a starveling unity instead of a "plurality" luxuriating in irrelevances, inconsistencies, and self-contradictions. My ambition runs the other way, and Dugald, quite without intention, flatters it to the top of its bent. In effect he says of "Civis" that he is —
A man so various that be seems to be Not one, but all mankind's epitome.
Mercifully he stops at that. If he were to go on to quote the next four lines I should be ruined. It seems like a giving of myself away, nevertheless I suggest to Mr Dugald Ferguson that he look up the passage for the purposes of his next letter to the Daily Times. He will find it of greater service as a comment upon "the plurality of 'Civices'" than such roadside missiles as "snob" and "snobbishness," a resort to which is beneath the dignity of a bush poet.
What kind of poets has Horace in his mind when he talks of the genus irritabile vatum? Bad poets, mad poets, possibly bush poets. Horace himself, an easy-going worldling, willing to laugh at himself as "a pig of Epicurus' sty," by no means gives one the suggestion of thin-skinned irritability. My own personal relations with poets have not been of an intimate kind — bush poets excepted; but I have heard that Tennyson in his later years was grim and gruff in a very unpleasant degree. Old age, perhaps, or much persecution by American lion-hunters. To Mr Stead, submitting for compliment the first copy of his Review of Reviews, all manner of celebrities gushed responsive — from Cardinal Manning and Professor Huxley down to John Burns and Madame Blavatsky. But with the Poet Laureate no such luck! "Lord Tennyson presents his compliments to Mr Stead, and begs to say that he lives so apart from the world that he can pronounce no opinion as to the proposed Review." This is the snub courteous. An autograph collector, less successful, obtained only the snub curt. "Which do you think the best dictionary, Webster's or Ogilvie's?" he asked, and reckoned confidently on bagging the laureate's signature in reply. The return post brought a sheet of notepaper, on which was pasted the one word — clipped from the writer's own letter — "Ogilvie's." All this, however, comes short of proving that Tennyson, though a bear, was an irritable bear, and I am quite sure he never wrote to the newspapers abusing his critics. This indiscretion is an infallible mark of the genus irritabile, and, by inference, I am afraid, of a bad poet — who need not indispensably reside in the bush; though, as it happens, that is usually where be does reside. -Otago Witness, 18/4/1895.
Quoted: Dryden, from "Zimri: The Duke of Buckingham."
were princes of the land:
In the first rank of these did Zimri stand;
A man so various, that he seem'd to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome:
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong;
Was everything by starts, and nothing long;
But, in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon:
Then all for woman, painting, rhyming, drinking,
Beside ten thousand freaks .
were princes of the land:
In the first rank of these did Zimri stand;
A man so various, that he seem'd to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome:
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong;
Was everything by starts, and nothing long;
But, in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon:
Then all for woman, painting, rhyming, drinking,
Beside ten thousand freaks .
We have received from the author, Mr Dugald Ferguson, a poem in pamphlet form entitled "The Flag of Scotland," dedicated to the Caledonian societies of New Zealand. It is a semi-historical paeon in which the Scottish flag waves and does other things, and English bowmen are shivered. There is a strong flavor of Bannockburn, but no mention of Flodden Field, and a general seasoning of oatcake, and heather, and haggis, and kilts, and philabegs, and claymores, and whisky, and Macs, and Micks - no, no Micks - and "gaidheil ri guaillaibh a' chei'," and other nice things to eat. There is a good swing with the verse, and the poem is generally calculated to spur the patriotic Hielander to a pitch of frantic enthusiasm if recited at Caledonian gatherings. -Oamaru Mail, 9/11/1895.
The Courier says that Mr Dugald Ferguson returned to Tapanui on Saturday, after a tour through the entire South Island. He has been most successful, and succeeded in disposing of close on 3000 volumes of "Bush Life," besides 2000 of a smaller volume, and the author is thus highly pleased at the result. We understand Mr Ferguson purposes devoting himself to a literary career, and will not again undertake canvassing work. At present there is every possibility of "Bush Life" being taken up by a Melbourne firm of publishers, who hare signified their willingness to print an edition of the volume, in which case the author should reap a substantial reward. Mr Ferguson is in excellent health, and his eyes are much better than when he last visited Tapanui. During his travels he met many old Tapanui residents, including the Revs Scorgie, Comrie, and White, all of whom are doing well. -Otago Witness, 19/3/1896.
ABOUT BOOKS AND BOOKMEN.
We have received a couple of neatly printed volumes of verse by Mr Dugald Ferguson. The larger of the two is entitled ‘Poems of the Heart,’ and is a collection of simple, unpretentious rhymes, which, while displaying neither marked brilliance nor originality, are yet wholesome in tone and healthy in sentiment, and will no doubt find admirers among the older-fashioned reading public. Mr Ferguson manifestly takes much pride in his work, and he certainly has expended a great deal of time and pains on the production of these books. The smaller volume consists chiefly of a metrical paraphrase of the Book of Job, and hero again Mr Ferguson’s patient industry is exemplified. He has sought as far as possible to reproduce the original text of the old Eastern legend while making (as he phrases it) “the lines appear to fall accidentally into rhyme.” The balance of the volume comprises what the author terms "sacred poems," but some of these are marred by a certain amount of intolerance which leads him into the use of such expressions as “sceptics and fools,” as applied to those who oppose the introduction of theological matter into the public schools. Let us charitably hope that this was due to the inexorable exigencies of the art of rhyme. -Evening Star, 21/5/1898.
"Poems of the Heart," by Dugald Ferguson. — We have received from the publisher, Mr Jas. Horsburgh, Dunedin, a volume of poems by Mr Dugald Ferguson, designed, as the author points out, to instruct, to amuse, and to elevate — a purpose which, though not easy of attainment, should not in this instance be quite beyond the compass of the the author's efforts. The verses embrace almost every phase of feeling and thought and show the author to be a man of a naturally refined and sensitive temperament, and possessing in a considerable degree the imaginative faculty as well as the gift of easy and appropriate expression. Some of the verses, where they deal with Nature in her sublime or picturesque aspects, touch a high standard of merit, whilst in others there is a quiet and subtle humor, clothed in refined and pleasant expression. There are also historical and heroic themes which are treated with a good deal of spirit and reflect the ability of the author at its best. Taking the volume as a whole, it does infinite credit to the author and should receive generous recognition from the reading public. A word of praise is also due to the publisher for the very excellent manner in which the volume has been presented to the public. No Home publishing firm could do the work better or in more perfect style. -Tuapeka Times, 28/5/1898.
Mr Dugald Ferguson, well known in the southern portion of New Zealand as the writer of spirited patriotic and descriptive verses, is now in Wellington in connection with the publication of an enlarged edition of his poems. A notice of this book, which is entitled “Poems of the Heart,” will be published in our columns. -NZ Times, 6/7/1900.
(SPECIAL TO "THE PRESS.") WELLINGTON, January 28. Mr Dugald Ferguson, poet and author, is at present in Wellington. He has just completed a tour of the North Island with two or three of his publications, which have sold remarkably well, and left him with a handsome profit in hand. When he returns to the South he will probably commence work upon a Scottish novel of the historical romantic kind. -Press, 29/1/1902.
Mr Dugald Ferguson, in common with many Imperial poets of his day, wrote stirring verse to extol the courage of those fighting for Queen and Country in South Africa over a century ago. I offer the following extract from one:
From "The British Lion and His Whelps"
Lyddite shells are the roar of his fury, The bayonet points are his claws. That in his foe's flesh he will bury - And marking his terrible paws.
Are the Gordon's and Guards' noble column, Or Irish or Welsh Fusiliers, Charging on in magnificent volume, The welkin resounding their cheers;
Or the horsemen with emulous glory/Trampling down those Republican loons, The Scots Greys, so renowned in war story, and as famed Inniskilling Dragoons.
All of which reminds this humble writer of the valiant attempt of Sir Walter Scott to describe the Battle of Waterloo in verse. The poem was written to raise money for the widows and orphans of those who fell in the Battle but was not a literary success, drawing the following retort from one Lord Erskine:
On Waterloo's ensanguined plain
Lie tens of thousands of the slain,
But none, by sabre or by shot,
Fell half as flat as Walter Scott.
Lie tens of thousands of the slain,
But none, by sabre or by shot,
Fell half as flat as Walter Scott.
Not discouraged by the ability of local press to make humour of his earnestness, Dugald took a personal anf financial risk and travelled to the Old Country to find a publisher for his latest work, an historical novel set in Scotland in the Days of Bruce and Wallace.
PERSONAL NOTES FROM LONDON
(From Our Special Correspondant)
Mr Dugald Ferguson, of Tapanui, Otago, arrived in London last week. The object of his visit to the Old Country is to arrange for the publication of an historical romance which he has written. Mr Ferguson is placing his work in the hands of the Authors' Society, and is hopeful of getting it accepted through the agency of that body. I may mention that Mr Ferguson has already published in London a book entitled "Bush Life," of which over 7000 copies have been sold. His new work does not deal with a colonial theme, the scene being laid in Scotland. Mr Ferguson will probably be absent from New Zealand for about a year. -Auckland Star, 22/3/1904.
PERSONAL NOTES FROM LONDON
Mr Dugald Ferguson, of Otago, who came home to arrange for the publication of his historical romance, entitled "The King's Friend," has had the work accepted by Mr Donald Alexander Fraser, a Paisley publisher. It will appear in February next. Mr Ferguson returns to New Zealand in the course of a few weeks. -Auckland Star, 23/1/1905.
Mr Dugald Ferguson, of Tapanui, Otago, who went Home last year to arrange for the publication of a romance he has written, returned by the s.s. Turakina this week. His book - “The King’s Friend,” a story of the Scottish wars of independence, was accepted for publication by Mr Alexander Gardner, of Paisley, who was the late Queen's publisher for Scotland, and has issued a large number of distinctively Scottish works. Mr Ferguson's romance is to appear in a handsome illustrated volume of some five hundred pages..While at Home Mr Ferguson published a small book of verses, and he spent an enjoyable time with his kinsmen and friends in the neighbourhood of Loch Fyne, in Scotland. He went South by Wednesday evening’s steamer. -NZ Mail, 19/4/1905.
Welcome Social. — Mr Dugald Ferguson, who lately returned from a 16 months' trip to the Old Country, was tendered a welcome social on Friday evening last. There was a good turnout, and the gathering was a thorough success. The Rev. A. Begg presided, and the programme consisted of musical items, recitations, addresses, etc., the ladies supplying refreshments on a liberal scale. Mr Ferguson expressed his appreciation of the honour conferred upon him, and made an appropriate address. Mr Ferguson is now awaiting the arrival of a consignment of his new book, "The King's Friend," and I understand he will tour the colony selling the volume. -Otago Witness, 10/5/1905.
Dugald found a new respect from the press and public with the publication of "The King's Friend." Reviews were good and there seemed little need to complain of his treatment by the newspapers.
NEW BOOKS AND PUBLICATIONS
Perhaps the chief fault to be found with most of the historical romances which are so popular nowadays is that they give us a great deal of romance, but little real history. The imaginative part of the book is generally regarded by the writer as the jam, and the history as the pill, and, knowing no doubt the taste of the public, he takes care to give a very large spoonful of jam to help down a very small pill. "The King's Friend: A Tale of the Scottish Wars of Independence," by Dugald Ferguson, a resident of New Zealand, is entirely free from this reproach. Unlike most of the sketchy productions which do duty for historical novels in the present day, it deals very fully with the leading characters and events of the period in which the action is laid. Sometimes, indeed, the reader forgets that he is reading a work of fiction, and imagines that he is engaged in perusing a volume of history "tout pur." Nevertheless the period dealt with is so full of romance and stirring incident that the interest of the reader is sustained throughout, in spite of the heaviness of the author's style. The hero, Archibald Sinclair, son of Sir Hector Sinclair, who won his knightly spurs on the field of Largs, accompanies Sir Rhoderick McKenzie to Palestine. On his return, while still a youth, he joins Mr William Wallace, of whose deeds and personality we have a vivid picture in this book. Archibald Sinclair is a gallant youth, and he and his noble steed, Dauntless, brought with him from the East, do good service at the battle of Kirkmichael, when Archibald is knighted. After the death of Wallace, he joins the service of King Robert of Bruce, proving himself not only a gallant soldier and leader of men, but a trusted adviser and man of affairs. He acts as the King's Secretary, enjoys his most intimate confidence, and not without reason is styled "The King's Friend." The story conducts us to the battle of Halidon Hill— of which there is a good description — and leaves its hero in the enjoyment of an honoured old age. It is a tale which will appeal particularly to Scotland, but Englishmen will find it instructive as well as interesting. (Paisley: Alexander Gardner. London : Simpkin. Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co., Ltd.) -Press, 24/6/1905.
SUCCESSFUL NEW ZEALAND AUTHOR.
(PRESS ASSOCIATION TELEGRAM.) WELLINGTON, April 13. A New Zealand author, Mr Dugald Ferguson, has received word by the last mail that his historical novel, "The King's Friend," is selling well at Home. The first edition of 2000 was sold out some time ago, and of a second edition of 2000 only some 300 odd were left when the mail left. The publisher has decided to bring out a third edition. Mr Ferguson has also received a letter from Messrs Sands and Co., of Edinburgh and London, who have agreed to bring out another edition of his well-known book, "Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand." This will be the fourth edition of the work. -Press, 14/4/1908.
Visitor. —Mr Dugald Ferguson is at present on a visit to Tapanui. He disposed of the whole of his stock of books ("The King/s Friend") in the North Island, and is awaiting an edition of "Bush Life," with which he will again take the road. This will make the fourth edition of the Australian story, of which 7000 copies have been sold. Mr Ferguson looks exceedingly well, and whilst awaiting the arrival of his books is visiting his many friends in this locality. -Otago Witness, 17/6/1908.
Did success go to Dugald Ferguson's head? It seems not. He still tramped the roads to sell his books. An admirable and incisive portrait was penned at the time when "The King's Friend" was doing well and, presumably, Dugald was enjoying some prosperity from it as well as the respect from those who had scorned his previous efforts, either in print or to the newspapers.
POET, HISTORIAN, NOVELIST.
AN APPRECIATION OF HIS WORK.
By Tom L. Mills. He came into my room in the Star office the other morning, a greyhaired, sturdy-looking Scot, peering with the gaze of a short-sighted. man. "You do not remember me?" Dugald Ferguson always was and ever will be a modest man, deeming himself of no account, and therefore not to be remembered, although it was only a decade or so since first we met, what time he came up to the city from the back country of Otago. It is with a feeling of admiration for a man of genius, of rare independence of spirit, and of a courage that makes him something of a hero to me that I pen this article upon a visitor that Feilding should be proud to have within its borders. The pity of it is that he is here about a business that few writers of his ability would have the courage to perform — he is canvassing the Dominion with his own books. I have called him a poet — he has a book of poems to prove it; a historian — his "Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand" is the personal record of an observant man who has lived in the colonies since 1855; and a novelist —"The King's Friend" is a historical tale that does not suffer by comparison with Scott's "Ivanhoe," Kingsley's "Westward Ho!" or Conan Doyle's "White Company." I write this verdict after due appreciation of all three novels.
It is remarkable what great things have been accomplished against long odds by Dugald Ferguson. His mental and physical activities seem to deny his having passed the allotted span of life, and yet he has trampled over the greater part of New Zealand, and for sixteen years has earned his livelihood by the personal sale of his books. Yet this man was all his days a farm labourer, going about Australia and New Zealand shearing, fencing, and doing odd jobs about farms by day whilst in his hut at night he dreamed his literary dreams and, by diligent study, evolved the germ of a dream. Without the aid of any culture or the convenience of a public or private library he has turned out a novel of 450 pages dealing with that great period in Scottish history when Wallace bled for its independence, and Robert Bruce welded turbulent clans into a strong nation. Every Scot should be proud of the achievement of Dugal Ferguson in giving in such popular form a story in which their great national heroes, Sir William Wallace and King Robert Bruce come to their own; true Englishmen will overlook the part Plantagenet Edward plays in the tale; and all New Zealanders who read "The King's Friend" should rejoice that this really great novel was conceived and worked out in their land — actually written in a shepherd's hut. I marvel at the wealth of the Fergusonian imagination, and every purchaser will find that he or she has his or her money s worth. The author has put enough incident and material in it to have made three or four full-fledged novels as the modern novelist makes them, for there are fully 200,000 words in "The King's Friend."
Now consider the task that the mere writing of such a work entails — and Dugald Ferguson wrote that book three times, it is now in its third edition, and the first edition, of which he did not see the proof sheets, as the book was printed in the Old Country, was considerably revised. When I first met him, some eight or nine years ago, I learned something or his life's handicap. How his sight gave way, and for something like two years he was in a state of semiblindness. To this day the world as he moves in it has a haze and he is filled with gratitude towards Dr. Lindo Ferguson, under whose care he spent six months in the Dunedin Hospital, that he is able to see at all. Yet despite this great handicap, he has written and published "The King's Friend," and canvassed nearly the whole of the dominion with it since last I saw him in the city. He has also become a member of the British Society of Authors (London). More power and honour and reward be his for this great courage. A sensitive soul and a proud Scot, I feel keenly that such a man should have to sell his own books and regret that in New Zealand the State has no fund out of which such literary genius can get the leisure that would enable him to do more work like the record of "Bush Life" and "The King's Friend." -Feilding Star, 17/7/1909.
LOCAL AND GENERAL
A news item from the south says that Mr Dugald Ferguson, of Tapanui, has just completed a new book entitled "Mates," which, after careful revision, will be forwarded to London for publication, arrangements having been made with a publishing firm to print the work. Mr Ferguson, who is the author of "The King's Friend" (a romance) and a book of Australian and New Zealand adventures, is well known in the Feilding district, which he toured a short time ago. -Feilding Star, 14/6/1911.
MR DUGALD FERGUSON.
Many Feilding folks have a kindly recollection of Mr Dugald Ferguson, the veteran-author of "Bush Life," "The King's Friend," and "Castle Gay and Other Poems." Since his last visit to Feilding, Mr Ferguson has written another long novel on colonial life, to .which he has given the title, "Mates." Congratulations are now due to him, as word has just come from London that Messrs Hodder and Stoughton, one of the most important publishing houses in England, have decided to bring out "Mates" at an early date. Mr Ferguson is at present visiting the Waikato district. -Feilding Star, 14/1/1913.
NOTES AND COMMENTS
A Bookfellow's Surprise.
The opening of a chestnut burr is as nothing to the surprise packets that fall upon the editorial table. One of the most unusual occurred to us yesterday. Two parcels, of no fewer than eleven books in all arrived by post from Messrs Hodder and Stoughton, London, for review in the Star. One of the books was."Mates," the latest novel by that wonderful octogenarian, Dugald Ferguson, author of "Bush Life," "The King's Friend," "Castle Gay," and other poems and sketches. Mr Ferguson, who is still in the north tramping the country and selling his books, is not unknown in the Feilding district, where copies of his books occupy places in the bookcases. Our interest in "Mates" was keen, of course; but imagine the shock which came without any sort, of warning from author or publisher, to read the following dedication. "To T. L. Mills, Esq., editor Feilding Star, whose fearless advocacy of my two previous books stimulated the production of this additional work of realistic fiction, I now gratefully inscribe "Mates." It's a queer feeling to realise that one is a dedication. -Feilding Star, 12/8/1913.
Dugald's literary career now moved from strength to strength. Those who derided his poetry were impressed by his prose.
TO-DAY'S BOOK REVIEW.
DUGALD FERGUSON'S NEW NOVEL.
BY T.L.M. "Mates," by Dugald Ferguson. Hodder and Stoughton. London. 3s 6d (net).
That genius will out, despite all handicaps in life, is proved yet again in the production of another novel of over 500 pages from the pen of Dugald Ferguson, a New Zealand writer who has not yet received the recognition he deserves. Without means, so that he has had to cover New Zealand on foot again and again - from the farthest north to the most southern extreme, selling his own books from door to door — despite the fact that he has reached and turned the allotted span of life, he is still thus actively engaged in the northern part of this island — and terribly afflicted in the matter of eyesight, so that writing with him is even more laborious than it is with Henry Lawson, the Australian poet. Mr Ferguson has put through the printers' hands within the past decade two books of poems, also "Bush Life" (a record of adventures in Australia), and "The .King's Friend," (a stirring historical romance of Old Scotland). About two years ago, when in Feilding, Mr Ferguson discussed with this critic the points of a narrative of adventures in the early days which he had been turning over in his mind for some years. "Get it down on paper," we advised him. The old man said he had neither the heart nor the energy to tackle so great a labour. Twelve months later we heard from him that he had not only completed his big book — which contained 500,000 words — but he had revised it, and "boiled it down," and rewritten it something like four times. And still it was too lengthy. Then it went to Scotland, where the publisher said it was still too long. It was further cut down, until it was within 200,000. And then a heartbreaking thing happened: Mr Ferguson's publisher failed him — would not publish the book! Oh, those publishers, how they crucify the writers! Here was another pile of MS. without a publisher. But an ex-New Zealander in London, a great admirer of the Ferguson courage and talent, came to the rescue and found a firm to take up the work — and that firm none other than Messrs Hodder and Stoughton, one of the most enterprising and important publishing houses in the world. It is to that firm we are indebted for a review copy of Dugald Ferguson's latest achievement, which carries the title, "Mates," and is dedicated to the editor of the Feilding Star — a rare compliment to a critic. Mr Ferguson has written a worth-while story of adventures in Victoria in the '50's and of the rush to Gabriel's golden gullies in the '60s. The principle characters throughout the whole narrative, from the time David Lochead takes his young kinsman Donald Fraser from the Highlands out to Victoria until Donald wins the hand of Minna Sutherland on a sheep station in Otago, are nearly all Scots, Hielandmen and Lowlanders, with a few Englishmen, and some typical colonials. These characters are well defined, and the narrative moves smoothly. There are incidents galore —a storm in the Bay of Biscay, where the mates (Donald Fraser and Jock Dalrymple) come together in saving a stampede of horses on board ship, a bout at fisticuffs, the historic fight between the miners and the police at the Eureka Stockade, buckjumping, breaking-in, and stockriding episodes on outback stations, riotings in shanties and the Lambing Down Pub in Ballarat (which town receives a good deal of attention), and even one bush-ranging episode. In New Zealand, the mates try their hands at goldmining, and are successful; but they lose their winnings through a snowstorm whilst sheep farming in Otago. There is tragedy for Jock, but happiness and success as an author for Donald. A multitude of people pass along in the narrative, and the plottings against Donald of a woman whose life he had saved from a wild bullock emphasise one of the main themes in Mr Ferguson's story: that mean natures turn towards revenge upon larger natures to whom they are indebted. There are some splendid characters, far too numerous for invidious distinction in this notice; and there is a strong strain of a fine religious feeling permeating the narrative, which gives the impression of being largely autobiographical. The author must have a great love for dogs and horses, and must also be a keen lover of Nature, of which there is ample proof in the book. The love element is well and carefully tended all the way through, and this phase of the narrative Mr Ferguson handles astonishingly well for one who has not adventured into the region of matrimony himself. "Mates" should have a large circulation in Victoria and New Zealand, and also in the Old Country, whose readers would gather from its pages an excellent idea of life and conditions in those portions of Britain overseas with which it deals. -Feilding Star, 20/8/1913.
PARS ABOUT PEOPLE
D. M. Ross, writing under the heading of "A Leg Up," says: — "Dear Sir, I read with interest and pleasure the literary Roll Of Honour from the pen of E. L. E. in last Observer. Will you permit me in your kind way to make it more widely known that Dugald Ferguson's true claim to distinction lies not so much in his rhymes as in his prose. As the author of "The King's Friend," "Bush Life," and "Mates" he stands very high amongst prose writers. Midway between seventy and eighty years of age this half-blind and indomitable man is still engaged upon new literary dreams and adventures. Between whiles he shoulders his pack, swallows his pride, which is Highland and considerable, and goes forth sturdy, determined and unashamed to sell his wares, a cheery-hearted, good old New Zealand Walt Whitman," -Observer, 20/3/1915.
Shortly before his death in 1920, at the age of 80, Dugald was elected a life member of the Otago Burns Club, of which he had been a member and official bard since 1898.
I began this story's research with little knowledge of Dugald Ferguson. I had two of his books and an opinion of his accomplishments as a poet - and not a very good opinion. At time of writing I have only dipped into his prose as far as a number of "sketches" from one volume. However, Dugald's critics seem to agree with me as to his poetry and I am happy to agree with them as to his prose. As I write, I admire him. Not yet for his prose, but I admire him for his persistence in "following the muse" against discouragements public and personal. He dreamed of being a poet and author, and became so. The title "Poet and Author" on his gravestone in Tapanui Cemetery is an apt one.
|"Some little good I may have done among my friends may prove my best memorial stone."|
MR DUGALD FERGUSON, AUTHOR.
By the death of Mr Dugald Ferguson, which occurred at Caversham on Sunday last another old resident of the district has been removed, and a man who attained a considerable amount of literary attainment as the result of sheer perseverance (says the Tapanui Courier). The deceased, who had reached the great age of 80 years, came to Australia as a young man, where he was engaged shepherding on the Darling Plains. After coming to New Zealand, he continued his writings, and in the early days invariably "rhymed" on local functions, places or people. Later he became more ambitious, and paraphrased the Book of Job, and published his autobiographical novel, "Bush Life," which portrayed his Australian and New Zealand experiences, and had a fairly wide sale in the colonies and at Home. Another volume, ''Poems of the Heart," was published by Mr James Horsburgh, of Dunedin, in 1897, and this contained some poems of considerable merit, notably "Castle Gay." This volume was dedicated to Mrs David McKellar, the late Mr David McKellar having generously assisted the author in the publication of his books. "Mates" (dedicated to Mr T. L. Mills) was the title of a volume that was widely read, and "The King's Friend" (which ran into five editions and was dedicated to the late Mr E. B. Heriot) was the next production by Mr Ferguson, and these books were favourably received. Mr Ferguson took the road for the sale of his various publications, and, as a seller of books he held a unique record. Of powerful physique, he tramped New Zealand from Auckland to the Bluff, with knapsack on his back, and everywhere succeeded in placing books. He also traversed Australia, and paid a visit to the Old Country. Further editions of "Bush Life" "and "The King's Friend" were published, and the number of volumes sold during the author's wanderings must have run into many thousands. Like many other writers, Mr Ferguson set out on his literary career by the publication of modest volumes and booklets of poems and sketches, finally revising and expanding. During the past few years he was engaged on another novel ("Romance of the Maori War"), which he not long ago completed, but it is not known whether it has been accepted by the publishers. The deceased was engaged in various pursuits earning a livelihood — shearing, following the threshing mills, or doing general labouring work. With advancing years his eyesight failed, and he toiled laboriously with the aid of a powerful magnifying glass, and his powers of perseverance were unlimited. An impediment in his speech was also a very great handicap, and of a sensitive nature, his ailments were a great trial to him. His independent spirit precluded him for a long time from enjoying more worldly comforts that were within his reach, and he gave ungrudgingly to any worthy cause that appealed to him, so that his finances were never too buoyant. Some five months, ago he decided to go to Dunedin, and was in lodgings awaiting admission into Ross Home, in connection with the Presbyterian Church, when he took ill, and his last days were spent in hospital at Caversham. Mr Dugald Ferguson was a brother of the late Mr Robert O. Ferguson, at one time in business in Tapanui, who died many years ago. Mr B. C. Ferguson was also a man of considerable literary ability. The subject of this notice was probably one of the best known men in New Zealand, and he had friends in all parts of the Dominion. He was a man of high religious principles, and a regular attender at the Presbyterian Church. The funeral took place on Wednesday, the remains being brought to Tapanui for interment in the Tapanui Cemetery. -Bruce Herald, 2/2/1920.