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    Barry Watts reads the mail ...

C.J. DENNIS

A Haughty Exchange of Letters

Young Dennis, 'Gadfly' editor


"We like your stuff," publisher George Robertson wrote to C.J. Dennis in 1915, "but we don't like your letter. We are publishers and do not take instructions from authors ... nor do we relish a discussion with one who thinks the size of the royalty is what matters ..."

How could the poet respond to such a rebuke?
      Dennis when editor of the
      short-lived 'Gadfly' in
      Adelaide, early in 1907

"Your chastening letter to hand," Dennis duly wrote from Melbourne a fortnight later, "I'm glad you liked my stuff but grieved that you do not like my letter. I cannot say that I am overjoyed at the tone of yours ..."

C.J. Dennis had written a series of rhymes that had appeared in The Bulletin under the title The Sentimental Bloke . He had proposed that Robertson publish them as a book. "The stuff," Dennis advised, "while not having any considerable literary merit, is, I believe, extremely popular."

What had Dennis's letter said that ruffled Robertson's dignity? He had told Robertson how the book was to be published and demanded a high royalty. Further, he had already arranged for Hal Gye to draw the illustrations and had asked Henry Lawson to write the Introduction. He would, he advised Robertson, consult on the binding later.

Henry Lawson wrote the Introduction

Fortunately Robertson and Dennis soon sorted out their differences and began a memorable partnership between writer and publisher that was to endure for another ten books over two decades.

"The Sentimental Bloke brightened up many dark days for me," Henry Lawson wrote in his Introduction, " I dips me lid and stand aside."


Henry Lawson, above, actually replied to Dennis's
invitation with "Of course I will! You ole fool."

The reading public saluted, too. C.J. Dennis had caught the rising spirit of nationalism and expressed it in slang verse that people understood, learnt and recited. The book sold more than sixty-five thousand copies in its first year and remains in print today.

Before The Sentimental Bloke was published Dennis was single, impoverished and in poor health. Less than two years later he was settling into married bliss as a man of some affluence in his own double-storied home near Healesville.

"It's more than half a dream to me," he enthused to Robertson later, " things are materialising now that I fondly dreamed of years ago."

Poet Laureate visits Dennis

 

 

Publisher George Robertson
George Robertson, above,
later wrote "My pen often
gets me in trouble."


Front cover of The Bloke
Hal Gye's intriguing
front cover design for
'The Sentimental Bloke.'


Illustrator Hal Gye
An early photo of illustrator
Hal Gye from the
English literary magazine
The Bookman.

 

Croll, Chisholm & Dennis
Dennis, right, in later years,
with bookman Robert Croll,
left, and Dennis's biographer
Alec Chisholm, middle.

 

 

In 1934 the touring English Poet Laureate, John Masefield, left, visited C.J. Dennis at his home at Toolangi, near Healesville.
The pair 'clicked' and Masefield planted a commemorative Copper Beech in Dennis's garden.


 
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