State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 28 October 1981

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‘The Editor of the Comet’

A manuscript of ‘The Editor of the Comet’, hereafter referred to as ‘The Editor’, mentioned by Lawson in several letters and believed to have been lost [see Colin Roderick, Henry Lawson. Collected prose, vol. 2. (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1972), p.376] formed part of the miscellaneous collection of poetry, prose and correspondence which Henry Lawson sold to Thomas Lothian in 1907. This copy as it exists now is incomplete and is made up of 75 pages of original manuscript, largely written in pencil. On the verso of 12 pages there are apparently cancelled pages, whether by Lawson or an editor is not known, which constitute two drafts of the opening episode of the story. In what follows no claims are made for the presentation of a definitive editing, however a viable working text has been constructed from these cancelled pages.
The composition of ‘The Editor’, can be narrowed down to 9–18 March 1907. In a letter from Lawson to Lothian, 9 March 1907, which lists the arrangement of a volume of Lawson's prose to be published by Lothian, there is no mention of ‘The Editor’. On 18 March 1907. again to Lothian, Lawson wrote “I have just finished longish and very humorous story entitled ‘The Editor of the Comet’ … The new humerous work is very good, they say, and I will no doubt bring it over.”
‘The Editor’ was originally planned for publication in the Lone hand and Lawson obviously thought highly of it. In a letter to Lothian of 23 September 1907 he wrote “I am sorry to say that the Lone hand cannot publish the ‘The Editor of the Comet’ until November, … it is our leading story … The book would be nowhere without the ‘Editor of the Comet’.” Instead the Lone Hand published The stranger's friend in November 1907, and it was not included in the prose volume Triangles of Life, finally published by Lothian's in 1913.
The story of ‘The Editor’ revolves around the editor and staff of a newspaper which is established to help raise public morale in the wake of various natural disasters which devastate Sydney, Australia, and presumably the rest of the world. While many of the characters in ‘The Editor’ were actual contemporaries of Lawson's, and the Comet is staffed by characters who were all fellow writers on the Bulletin, neither the Comet nor the defunct Bunyip1 seem to be meant to directly represent the Bulletin itself. (At the end of the story Harry, the narrator, and Bob Long, the editor of the Comet, pay a mournful visit to the ruined offices of the Bulletin.) Rather, the Comet is part idealisation and part satirisation by Lawson of an Australian magazine. The futility of his ideal in the face of human nature is shown in his satire, and in the fact that the Comet only begins when contemporary social structures had been all but destroyed by attempted invasion, a comet and earthquake. Its inevitable demise is heralded by the re-emergence of a society based on the old system of money and property. There is a glimpse here of Lawson's earlier ‘socialism’, heavily tempered by his pessimistic view of human nature.
We present here approximately one quarter of the text of ‘The Editor’ as it exists in manuscript. Minor changes have been made to Lawson's punctuation, capitalisation and spelling for the sake of consistency and readability.
There had been wars and revolutions and reformations and reactions and earthquakes until at last the world was butted, so to speak, by the head of a comet — the “substance” the scientists called it — instead of being merely brushed by the tail of one, as had happened before, and things had been jolted and altered. This brought about a sort of truce between nations and parties, and a better understanding amongst men.
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Out of the general wreck of things came Brady2 and Black3 and Broomfield4 and Steel and Quinn5 and Lindsay6 and Daley7 and Brown and Me (the last in spite of grammar) and several others of us, all artists, poets and story-writers. Most of our readers and see'rs had survived also.
The Bush was alright and the seasons were good, but the city had been considerably shaken up, or down rather — at least Sydney was: Melbourne was gone altogether. George Street, for instance, had been widened 200 feet, instead of 90 — as proposed by the last State Parliament before the Shake Up — by an average depth of 50 feet, and the Committee For Fixin’ Up Things were deciding whether to fill up this little trench with the Rocks Area and city wreckage or shift the site of George Street altogether and leave the old site as a canal which had, for all time settled the question of the extension of the railway further towards the water.
Now, whether people live in bombarded cities, or in the midst of revolutions — or in tents, hospitals, trees, or balloons in earthquake times — they must have news and be amused. Or else they won't keep quiet. It was the same in the Ark, I suppose. Humour, and a sense of the ridiculous will only die when all things die; and, when they die, then will all things human end.
The money, and most things else, was in the hands of the Committee for Fixin’ Up Things, which was democratic. There was one newspaper office intact, and there was steam — the electricity had been disorganized by the comet. The proprietors and directors had been engaged by the C.F.U.T. to help clear the streets, as they proved fit for nothing else, and the editor and staff had disappeared during the earthquake.
Most of us aforesaid were known to some or other of the Committee, and, being strongly recommended to the President (actually president of the country now) as “writin’ blokes”, we were invited to take hold of the office and get out a paper at reasonable cost. A paper was necessary anyhow for public proclamations and advertisements; and we were instructed by the president to do all we could to cheer up the people and restore confidence. Politics had been done away with for the time being by the Quake and the Comet, and there was no time for sport.
We hunted up the old comps clerks and machinists. The office, by the way, was the office of our old journal, the Bunyip but we decided to call the new paper the Comet. The idea belonged to Fred Broomfield, an old subeditor and literary father of most of us.8 The trouble was to choose an editor. Broomfield declined the chair for reasons which might have been known to himself. I thought of the old Bunyip days — they seemed old now though only a few weeks ago, but attempted invasion followed by an earthquake and the head of a comet all in a month or so make the time behind them seem ever so far away — I thought of the old Bunyip days, when any one could see the editor at any time of the day, as must be so now with the Comet if we wished to make a success. I thought of how I, one of the contributors, was there two or three times a day, and, about once a month had to be removed by the staff for being in a state of great excitement, and violent over nothing whatever. And I was not alone. So I declined the editorship of the Comet. The others, on reflection, declined also. Besides they all wanted to write. Then Fred had an inspiration. “Let's get holt of an Average Reader,” he said, “and put him in the chair.”
We thought it over.
“He'll do for an interviewer anyhow,” said Quinn, “and that's all we want. Get one that will make a good interviewing editor.”
I knew a chap — an average reader of the old Bunyip anyway. He was a typical Australian Bushman who had been educated in a public school in the city and had been in South Africa, London and the States and the Lord knows where else for a few years. Had taken a run round he said. He had been an old par. contributor to the Bunyip on Bush and City-Bush subjects. His spoken language was the language of the Bush, mostly, but his writing grammar would pass — with care. He was over six feet. His name was Bob Long9 and he was long everywhere (except in one district); legs, arms, feet, and hands, which last were sun blotched and hairy and could have crushed any of ours. He had the native good humoured grin, reddish moustache and sun bleached brown hair which stuck up and out like loose hay. He said he'd take the chair if we were in a fix.
We told him he could pass in to us anything he understood but was doubtful about; and
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anything he didn't understand he could chuck in the waste paper basket at once. He could scan verse, write good rhymes himself, so anything he fancied he could put in to the comps.
We caught a B.A. and gave him to Bob to look after his stops and pronouns. The comps would look after his spelling.
Then we got a wide desk and pulled it out from the wall so that Bob's wings could spread comfortably and his long legs stretch under. — By-the-way, we had also been instructed to write descriptive history of the earthquake and comet business as far as it concerned our own country, so we would have plenty to do running round and taking notes.
The first to present himself was a wild eyed young man with longish ragged hair, a black silk tie in a big bow and a manner and dress that might have been caused by the earthquake shock and sleeping out. All his movements were quick and nervous; he seemed like a man who had brought important news. Bob gaped at him for a moment and then pointed to the other chair. The stranger drew the chair up quickly and sat down. He put his hand to his inside coat pocket and glared at Bob.
“Have you seen it?” he said, in an intense whisper.
“Beg pardon,” said Bob.
“Didn't you see that?”
“No,” said Bob, “what is it?”
“Didn't you hear about it? It has been discussed throughout the Commonwealth and I expect to see it in all the leading British and American periodicals when the mail service is restored.”
What is it,” asked Bob. “Another shake or tidal wave, or comet coming, or what?”
“I've got it here,” said the visitor, feeling hurriedly and nervously in right and left hand inside coat pockets.
Bob drew back at first, then his face cleared.
“Oh,” said Bob, “the report! — Hand it over.”
“No,” said the stranger, slipping a parcel of newspaper cuttings, letters and M.S. over and under till he came to what he wanted, “it's not — Well yes, it is a report in a great sense, and will be of some value in the history of the world's literature. Its my analyses of the ingredients of the birth of Australian literature in prose and verse. — Oh here it is! It was published in the Melbourne Book-chap10 just before the earthquake, and fortunately, copies were posted to me two days before Melbourne was destroyed. Stay! — I should like to read it to you — I'm a master of elocution.” And, before Bob had time to pull himself together, he started to read.
He was an educated man — there was no doubt about that. His vocabulary seemed unlimited and his delivery was very rapid, but distinct. But it was all painfully intense.
Bob had to sit it out, but gradually a look of relief came into his face — then one of decision. When it was over, he said, “Wait a minute old chap,” and got up and put on his coat. Then he reached for his hat hanging on the wall on one side of the office while, at the same time, he laid a friendly hand on the shoulder of the stranger who was sitting against the wall on the other side.
“Come on, old chap,” he said, “we'll have a walk.”
We looked out the front windows and saw them skirting the chasm that used to be George Street, Bob keeping the critic on the inner, or safe side. He stopped and faced Bob every few steps, his jaw and hands going all the time, but Bob gradually edged him along.
Bob came back in an hour or so, looking rather tired.
“Ah well! — Pore feller!” he said, as he sank down.
“What's happened to him, Bob?” we asked suddenly.
“Oh! the Shake Up and the Comet has sent him all adrift,” said Bob. “There's nothing uncommon in that, is there?”
“What did you do with him, Bob?”
“Oh I fixed him up alright. I've had experience with fellers in the drought Out Back. I just listened to him and humoured him, and told him lies — I said I'd be glad to publish anything he wrote, for one thing.”
“But where did you leave him?”
“Up at the temporary asylum in the Art Society's new building of course.” Then he scratched his head reflectively — “But I hardly know which to pity most — him or the warders, pore feller.”
“Bob,” I said, “do you know who that man was?”
“No,” said Bob, “I didn't know him from a crow.”
I took a dictionary of prominent Australians
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from the shelf — there were several — found the page and pointed to the line: — “A.S.S. Slaton11 B.A. (and the rest of it) author, poet, novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic.”
“I don't care if he's all that and a lot more,” said Bob. “He ought to be in an asylum in the quietest of times. Don't you know the order of the Committee? — anyone found doing or saying anything that [is] likely to disturb the minds of the people and so lead to a panic, may be shot. They'd shoot A.S.S. as you call him, at once. I did the best I could for him, and I had a lot of trouble to get him in. The place is crowded already with astronomers, and scientists and prophets and ranters and all the rest of it. Hundreds went mad on Australian literature before the Shake Up, and I don't want no more of ’em.” He paused, and his good humour came back a bit. “It seems to have cured most of ’em, except him,” he commented cheerfully, but he was too soon.
I thought that perhaps poor Slaton on the Comet might have done more than any of us towards cheering up the people and restoring confidence but we had neither time nor accommodation for him in the office and concluded that he was better where he was …
… Bob loaded his pipe, fixed up and set to work. He had a paper, someone to look after his stops, pronouns and spelling (and keep an eye on his numbers). He had a type writer who could run off his screed almost as quickly as he could scrawl it. He was chock full of philosophy and bursting with untrammelled and world wide experience amongst men, and he could have been happier than ever he had been in his life, if only he could get peace and quietness, and time. But his troubles weren't over for the day. Billy appeared, wiping the remains of a grin from his lower face with a grimy hand, to announce that Miss Martingale-Harrison12 wanted to see the editar particular.
Perhaps, in the light of subsequent events, Bob thought he heard “Mrs.” instead of “Miss’, and when he saw the woman he was sure of it. It had been slurred round that Miss Martingale-Harrison had been married early in life, but her husband had escaped or she had got a divorce, separation or something and taken her maiden name. Anyway she was Miss Martingale-Harrison to her own awful world. She was tall and straight and flat, and wore a dress of rusty black of ancient and severe pattern, and on her head a boquet of sooty cobwebs tied under her chin with bands of crěpe. Her face was square and hard, her mouth like a sliding joint in boiler plate. The upper lip, the immovable and overlapping plate, slightly curved. She wore a pair of man's spectacles, and a coarse, thin moustache of no particular colour nor direction. She had an excrescence on the bridge of her nose with three whiskers, and another on her jaw with three more. She spoke in rapid yet monotonous tones and used commas only. Her boiled eyes stared blindly at some inanimate object all the time her jaws worked, and she said:
“No doubt you have heard of me, I am Miss Martingale-Harrison, President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Females. President of the Womans Reform League, Secretary of the Sisterhood of Wives and Daughters (I am a Daughter, sir), an officer of the Society for the Better Protection of Women and Girls. I am also an active and prominent member of the Associated Mothers of Other Mens Children.”
“Yes mum!” said Bob meekly, “and what can I do for yer?”
“Do sir? You can do a great deal. In the first place there are several articles of mine here that you could publish at once. We want reparation, sir, we want recognition sir, but first of all, and until we get these, we want, and demand protection.”
“But what are they doin’ to yer, mum?” asked Bob. “I thought the Committee and most men were doing all they possibly could and working day and night to keep the women and children, and cheer them up, and make them comfortable?”
“Yes! — Ye-e-s-ss-s!” (the last word a hissing shriek). “There you are, Coward Man, appalled by the awful retribution that his selfish sin and folly has brought upon his head is doing all he can for his Woman — now that it is too late. So soon as his fright wears off so soon will things be as they were in the shameful past — and worse! And women and children be miserable, helpless, hopeless, slaves again. Slaves to his selfishness, his drunkeness, his brutality, his lusts and his idlenesses! But Man is Lost, Man is Lost! Husbands and Fathers are lost! — utterly Lost!” And to Bob's amazement two great
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Henry Lawson [c. 1907?]: a photograph from the Lothian Collection.

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leaden tears started from her staring eyes.
“Excuse me mum,” he said, with the “Mrs.” idea still haunting his buzzing brain, and very anxious to deal gently with one whose brain might have been turned by the loss of a near or dear one in the Catastrophe. “Excuse me mum, but did you loose a husband in the Shake?”
“No, sir!” she said, and slid up the boiler plate and waited for him. The tears had vanished, Bob knew not where — he never heard ’em fall.
“Maybe you're looking for a husband?”
“What. Do. You. Mean?”
“I mean some one dear to you that you might have lost yer know?” said Bob hastily.
“No sir. We're all saved.”
“Well mum,” said Bob, groping doggedly, “what can we do for you.”
“Do for us! We want our rights, we want the laws altered. The laws have always been for man and against women.”
“There's no laws just now, that I know of, to alter, except the orders of the Committee, and they're all on the women's and children's side if anywhere.”
“Yes — yes. But there will be the laws again and they're all against women.”
“I don't see that,” said Bob, “most of my boys had maintenance orders out against them before the Shake; and I suppose they'll be held for arrears when things have settled down.”
“There — that shows what brutes men are!”
“No it don't mum. I know some of the wives and the cases. And, look here, as for the laws being against women. Why women and girls could swear men's characters and liberty away every day in the week, and go scot free, where a man would get two years hard for conspiracy and perjury.”
“There you go. All the papers against us — even the churches are against us!” Then suddenly, “are you married young man?”
“No mum!”
“Then listen to me.”
He had to. She held forth on the subject of Vile Man for another quarter of an hour, and Bob held out as best he could. She concluded:
“We are the Sisters and Daughters of the Goddess of Female Liberty. We have slaved, suffered, struggled and toiled and worked for centuries, and now we rise again undaunted. We shall not falter nor turn back! Neither Man nor law nor flood nor famine nor war nor pestilance nor earthquakes nor comets shall stay with us until our end is accomplished; and that is the liberation and upraising of downtrodden wives and daughters, mothers and children!”
“Excuse me, mum,” said Bob, who had got an idea and waited, “but, have you got a husband?”
“No sir.”
“Excuse me mum, but now, for the sake of argyerment:— Have you ever been married?”
“No sir!”
“Excuse me agen mum — for the sake of argyerment — and though it might sound ridiculous and impossible — Have you got any children?”
There was a short pause.
When we got in Bob was groping instinctively, and in a dazed though not quite stunned condition, under the desk for his pipe — one hand holding his head on carefully. He got up, shoving the chair back with his legs, and, happening to look down, he smoothed out some burning tobacco on the oilcloth with his feet. The sight of his desk helped to recall him. He hastily gathered up and removed his sheets of copy from the desk over which the ink ran from a broken ink-stand. Then he looked round on us.
“What did she hit me with?” he asked, as if he was seeking information for a leading article.
Some said her brolly and some said the ruler.
“Her face, more likely,” said Bob, “I thought it was another Comet.”
I, who had heard it all, explained the “Mrs.” and “Miss” part of the business.
“But, even then, I only put it for the sake of argyerment,” said Bob. “Some of you chaps write up a scorching article for the better protection of men; it will be wanted when things come round. Write up a scorchin’ article on the wrongs of men and — whats that howlin’ down stairs?”
“Its Billy, the boy,” said some one coming up.
“What's up with him?”
“She caught him a couple at the foot of the stairs.”
“What was he doing to her?”
“Nothin’. He was only tryin’ not to laugh,
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he said. He's bleeding like a pig from the nose into Tally's waste-paper-basket, and he says his back's broke.” …
… And so it came to pass that there was a procession to the sanctum. Men of all sorts and conditions — mostly the hard up one — and women too, mainly of one condition which was occassionally beery or smelling of gin — though how they got it, the spirit that looks after bad men and bad women only knows. They gave the office a disreputable atmosphere, and, the police were suspicious until the short handing was explained to them. Then some of the old inspectors gave their experience and took the office medicine. The freedom of the ladies alluded to about the city was another sign of a return to civilization when all things would be as they were only more so. But we got “copy”, stacks of it and had little to do save transcribe, cut down and ornament a little in form or construction, but not in ideas nor language. Some day I may collect a volume of the yarns, ideas, and the philosophy of open sinners from the brilliant old dead and gone Comet. And I have most of the unpublished stuff in my possession.
Then there came a vision. Any way she was a vision to us after Bob's raw material. She came over from North Sydney, escorted to the door by a younger brother, whom she seemed to have well in hand, but who obstinately refused to enter a newspaper offices. There are boys like that — also girls, and men and women, I suppose; and “natives”. I won't describe her — it might offend other girls — I won't describe her, only to say that she seemed little alongside Bob and that she was a real girl, and a good girl, only bitten by the literary microbe. Good looking girls are sometimes. She was going to see after an old servant of her family, a married woman in University Park camp, and had called in on her way. Her name was Miss Hannah Thornburn.13
She had written some poems for right thinking journals before the Shakeup — that is for journals whose writers never thought at all, or if they did were admonished and cut down, or cut out altogether — also some little washy stories and one school-girlishly romantic long one. She had got some verses in the old Bunyip, and was very anxious to get some more into the Comet. She was just a little flushed at first and her breath came quickly, but quickly she recovered under Bob's influence. They all did. She had two or three little things that she would like him to read, not now, but any time, she said, and she'd call tomorrow or any time he suggested. She didn't want any money she said, she had a good home and all the money she wanted, but she would love to see something of hers in the Comet — if her work was acceptable the money could go to the fund. Bob kept her chatting for awhile, about herself and things, and then asked her if she could call in for an answer on her way back in the evening. She said oh thank you very much, and she'd be sure to call. Then Bob saw her down stairs and out. Then Bob came back and sat down in his chair and clapped his hands behind his head and leaned back and thought, while his work waited. Then he went and opened a side press and took a small brown paper parcel from the shelf, round and clumsily made and tied with much string. I knew what was in it — a very dirty crumpled white shirt and collar. Bob had always carried two, through the Bush and round the world, one against coming across a chance washerwoman, and one against coming across a Bush dance or friendly funeral or likely girl, and for going ashore when travelling by sea. He had grabbed one, in his room in the Coffee Palace, after the first shock, the morning of the Earthquake, when the boarders went out without combing their hair, and had worn it through the Awful Scenes and nearly ever since. He had found a soft shirt at last, washed it after hours and put it on and put the white one away until such time as a washerwoman recovered. Now he called in Billy, and my door, falling a little open in the draught, I heard him:
“Here Billy. Take this out to the Zoo, and find out Mrs. Bridgeway,14 and tell her to get it done up as soon as ever she can and send it in. I'll pay her and the messenger. Now go as fast as you can, and —” calling after Billy, “if she can manage to get it done by the middle of the afternoon you can wait and bring it back, here, you'd better take this with you and pay her what she asks,” and he gave Billy some silver — it looked like two half crowns. Then Bob turned and became aware of me.
“What yer doin’ now, Harry?” he asked after a pause.
“Oh, only an article on the survival of human nature.”
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He looked at me hard, grunted and sat down to his desk.
He read Miss Thornburn's copy, but said nothing.
Now, perhaps I forgot to say that Bob had grave brown eyes that were constantly contradicting his hands and feet and the careless and grimly humorous Bush grin that clung to his lower face; eyes that may have been very dreamy and beautiful when he was a child, and warm and kind and faithful when he was a younger man. They were true still but very sad at times. He leaned back, folded his arms, and looked far away through the opposite wall, and I saw that he was good looking still, and felt his strange unconscious mesmeric or hypnotic power, stronger than ever.
Late in the afternoon she came back. She was flustered and excited this time, and one look up in Bob's eyes as he stood up to shake hands with her told her something.
“Oh I might have known you couldn't use ’em,” she said. “They're not suitable for the Comet and they're only silly little things anyway. I'm sorry I bothered you and took up your time, but I thought —”.
“Sit down,” said Bob, “I want to talk to you.”
She sat down.
“Now, look here Miss Thornburn you can do good work and you've got humour — and that's what the people want more than anything just now — I saw it in two or three places in that prose story of yours,” taking up the M.S.
“Oh don't speak of that stuff — its — its —.’
“But I must speak of it, and the verse. You might be too good to be lost. Now there's them three things “Baby's Dead”, “The Lost Love” and “Sweet days of long Ago” and — and —”
“Oh, please don't,” she said.
“But I must,” said Bob, “I'm an editor. Now “Baby's Dead” isn't wanted just now, there's too many babies dead and it wouldn't do the poor mothers any good to read about it, nor the fathers either. (Now don't you begin to cry, you've got too much sense for that, and what I say is all for your good.) Some might say that “Baby's Dead” might make ’em cry and relieve their minds, and that it does a woman good to have a good cry: but that's rot except the last, and a woman can have a good cry whenever she wants to, whether she reads, sees, hears, or feels anything in particular or not. Now, from glimpses I've had you can see and describe things, and if you want to do good you go round amongst the camps and pick up any bright little womanly things you can find and bring them to me, and anything that it might help the women to have printed. There's plenty of ridiculous and comic things that are pathetic and tragic enough too. And now, as for yourself, there's no “Sweet Time of Long Ago” to cry over, the Sweet Time of Long Ago is only just beginning for you; and if there's a “Lost Love” it must have been you're own fault and you'll get over it and forget all about it. And Baby isn't Dead. You're not married yet you know. By-and-bye — there's plenty of time — the right man will come along and you'll get married, and baby will grow up as good looking as his mother and as strong as his father, and you won't want to write anymore crying things.”
There was a pause. She fumbled with her M.S.
“Do — do you always talk to girls and women like that?” she asked.
“Well I havn't talked to many, at least not many like you, Miss Thornburn,” he said. “But I generally say what I think: so long as I think it will hurt no one and might do some good. I aint much different from other men I hope.”
“But you are,” she said, getting up. “You are very different from other men.” Bob got up too.
“I hope you aint offended,” he said. “I only meant it in kindness.”
“I know you did,” she said. “And I'm not offended at all, far from it.” And she dropped her screed into the basket and gave him her hand. “I'm glad I came. I'm glad you talked to me like you did. And — and I[’d] like to come again.”
“Come in whenever you like Miss Thornburn. You're welcome and — and a blessed relief,” and he saw her down to the door, where the young brother scowled at him and took his sister away.
Bob came back, sat down at his desk, and reached into the W.P.B. for something he wanted to keep, and put it in his drawer. Then he became aware of me through the inner door which had fallen open in a draught.
“I like to keep specimens of hand writing.” he remarked, unnecessarily — and it was a
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lie too.
I went on with my work.
Presently he asked. “Do you think I'm different from other men, Harry?” Trying to carry it off with a forced cluck-cluck and a silly grin.
“No Bob,” I said, untruthfully, “of course not — except perhaps that you're a bigger fool.”
“Well, and do you think women and — well, and girls like men who are different from other men?”
“I'm sure they do,” I said.
Bob leaned back, and stared at the opposite wall. Suddenly he became aware of the slid-back panel where the hole was, and he straightened up as suddenly. He got on his feet and tip toed into the next room, and there was Dick,15 sitting close to the wall with his back to the door, his short hand notes before him, his pencil poised, and his ears cocked for more. He got it. Bob reached out a finger and thumb at the end of a long hand, at the end of a long arm, and lifted that short hand writer by that ear. Then he took him by the collar and firmly engineered him out with his knee and gave him a start down-stairs. When he came back he hovered over me and asked me if I was at that article on human nature yet. But I said No. I'd thrown it aside for the present.
She came several times, and Bob bought, borrowed, or looted another shirt and collar from someone or somewhere, so that one could always be on the way to Mrs. Bridge-way or back. At last one evening he saw Miss Hannah Thornburn home and got on grand with the old man, who was already an enthusiastic admirer of and barracker for the Comet.
And so it went on, until, some months later, we got hints, and then notice that another committee had been formed, consisting mostly of lawyers and surveyors for the restoration and reconstruction of Property. Then the pubs were reopened, mostly in temporary premises, then the police courts. There had been a sort of mild lynch law before; and little law breaking, but that sort of thing wouldn't do, for most brewers, police, lawyers, and magistrates had survived. The police courts opened the day after the pubs did. And almost simultaneously other establishments were opened in temporary places.
“One would have thought the Earthquake and Comet business would have frightened the people into being sober and good and decent,” I said.
“Nothing will frighten people into being good,” said Bob. “Punishment and hardship will never do it, though it might make ’em more healthy in body. Do you think a man, who is a man, and not a criminal is going to turn teetotaly and sanctimonious just because he's been chucked on the floor of a cell, locked in all night, and then dragged before a magistrate who is often his inferior, both in intellect and morals, and fined or sent to jail?”
But there came an evening. We had all kept square on the Comet, because we had hope, responsibility, and decent pay and treatment, and a free hand; but we were tired now and worried by the thoughts of the things that were slipping away from us. And a pub was open opposite. It was the Managing Director16 who did it. He got Rod17 first, and someone went after Rod, and someone after him, and someone after him, and finally Bob and I went over to the pub to see what we could do.
And … Well, we thought one or two wouldn't do us any harm anyway, and we'd be able to fight for the Comet.
It was late next morning, or the morning after, I'm not sure which, we all got together somehow and went back to the Comet Office, taking a supply of beer with us. But the door was shut, two big policemen standing outside, and we saw strange heads at the windows, one of them belonged to a lawyer and one to the “Owner”.18 The Owner, in his shirt sleeves, put out his head and said he was the bailiff in for rent.
We sadly asked him to throw down a few bob, and he did.
Bob and I camped together on bags in some new buildings that night. He drank himself to sleep, and all next morning he lay with his eyes fixed on the pages of an old copy of Our Mutual Friend19 he'd got some where. He'd told me to keep drink and the boys away from him all day. He read and read, and turned back pages and re-read, to keep his mind off things, till at last he could read clear. Then he had a wash, and came out and had a feed and quart of tea in a camp we made. I'd been taking tea into him all day. Then he was alright. Late in the afternoon we were taking a walk down amongst the ruins where the old Bulletin Office used to be, when Bob, happening to look back, dived ahead and round a corner up a
93
lane. It was Miss Thornburn who came running after us panting and with eyes wide and bright.
“Where's Bob, I mean Mr. Long,” she panted, without stop. “I thought I saw him, I want to find him and take him home. Dad's going to start a new Comet and he'll want you all, where's Mr. Long.”
We told her.
“Here,” she said giving her purse to one. “You must take that. I've got my fares up my gloves. I'm one of you [you] know, the boys will want something to square up on and and, I know, the sooner they get over their spree the sooner they'll get to work.” And she ran after Bob. It was a blind lane but I knew she's catch him anyway.
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1

There were two periodicals published in the nineteenth century under the titles of the Comet and the Bunyip yet it is highly unlikely that Lawson knew of their existence much less took them as real life models for ‘The Editor’. Both appear to have been relatively obscure journals. For details about their publication see Lurline Stuart's Nineteenth century Australian periodicals: an annotated bibliogrphy (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1978), items 105 and 121.

2

E. J. Brady (1869–1952), journalist and writer, who was a contributor to the Bulletin from 1891, see ADB, 7, pp.386–7.

3

George Black (1854–1936), politician and journalist who joined the Bulletin as sub-editor in 1889, see ADB, 7, pp.302–4.

4

Fred Broomfield (1860–1941), journalist, who joined the Bulletin as sub-editor under J. F. Archibald. He left the Bulletin in 1888 because of ill-health, but after 1900 worked freelance for the journal, see ADB, 7, p.435.

5

Roderick Quinn (1869–1949), poet and journalist, who was a frequent contributor to the Bulletin, see Graham Kinross-Smith's Austradian writers (Melbourne: Nelson, 1980), pp.70–72.

6

Norman Lindsay (1879–1969), artist and author, who joined the Bulletin as a black and white illustrator in 1901. His own account of this period is told in his Bohemians of the Bulletin (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1965).

7

Victor Daley (1858–1905), poet, was a regular contributor to the Bulletin. Several of Lawson's poems were dedicated to the memory of Daley after his death from tuberculosis in 1905. See Percival Serle op. cit., 1, pp.209–10.

8

Literary tradition has it that it was Broomfield in his capacity as sub-editor who accepted Lawson's first Bulletin contribution. He is also supposed to have helped other writers of the same period.

9

Bob Long, unlike the rest of the staff of the Comet, is not specifically based on any known contemporary of Lawson's. There is however, perhaps a touch of Randolph Bedford (see ADB, 7, pp.241–2), Dick Holt, Sydney bohemian and acquaintance of Lawson's, and even something of Lawson himself, in Bob's characterisation. He is a representative of Lawson's ‘Bushmen’. The increasing use of capitalisation of the word in the course of Lawson's writing indicated his growing preoccupation with the Bush and its inhabitants as having a distinct identity, and embodying characteristics of stoic edurance, fortitude, and even heroism. Bob is well travelled, has read such nineteenth century writers as Dickens and, in his own way, is articulate and somewhat of a ‘natural’ author. He may well represent the ideal audience which Lawson seems to have felt that the Bulletin, after its heady period of the 1880’s and 90’s, was beginning to forsake.

10

While this literary magazine may well be another piece of invention on Lawson's part, it may also be a reference to A. G. Stephens's magazine, the Bookfellow, for full publication details see Lurline Stuart, op. cit., item no. 96. Although this magazine was published in Sydney, and not in Melbourne as in ‘The Editor’, the similarity of the titles is striking. For information on other gibes by Lawson at A. G. Stephens see note 11.

11

There are no entries for an A.S.S. Slaton in any of the biographical dictionaries of the early 20th century. Slaton is, with the exception of Hannah Thornburn, like the rest of petitioners and would be authors who approach the Comet, a fictive and satirised character. While his description bears no resemblance to the most notable Australian literary critic of Lawson's time, A. G. Stephens, the satirical approach to him and other literary critics in ‘The Editor’ closely resembles the tone of an earlier prose piece by Lawson, ‘The Australian writer’ (1899), which is an undoubted thrust at A. G. Stephens and his critical pretentions. Relations between Lawson and Stephens were of a fluctuating and not particularly cordial nature. Lawson resented Stephens's editorial cuts and interference in his Bulletin contributions, and he was often resentful of Stephens's, generally very perceptive, critical evaluations of his work.

12

Miss Martingale-Harrison is another of the characters in “The Editor” who come in for a hearty dose of Lawson's satire. She represents a breed of woman for whom Lawson held a violent antipathy. This antipathy, undoubtedly exacerbated by his view of the course his personal life had taken, is in this case expressed in an amusing but heavy handed piece of caricature. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the caricature of Miss Martingale-Harrison is at least partially directed towards Louisa Lawson and Rose Scott, a Sydney feminist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. For further information on these women who played no small part in Lawson's life see Lorna Ollif. Louisa Lawson: Henry Lawson's crusading mother (Adelaide: Rigby, 1978) and Miss Miles Franklin, “Rose Scott: some aspects of her personality and work” in The peaceful army: a memorial to the pioneer women of Australia 1788–1938 (Sydney: The Women's Executive Committee and Advisory Council of Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations, 1938), pp.90–107. Lawson's attitude towards women in his writing is of a very interesting nature. He appears, particularly in his verse, to have made a rigid polarisation of she-devils or saints, the Miss Martingale-Harrisons or the Hannah Thornburns of the world. And it is his inability to eliminate the overwhelming vituperative personal tone in this incident which weakens the satire. It is also interesting to speculate on the degree of influence which the caricatures of Charles Dickens may have had in the creation of black, dusty and mechanically creaking Miss Martingale-Harrison.

13

Hannah Thornburn, c. 1877–1902. Biographers and commentators on Henry Lawson remain divided as to the extent of the relationship between Lawson and Hannah Thornburn, and any details which exist of the relationship are far from certain. Whether or not they had previously been acquainted it would seem that their friendship probably grew after the Lawsons had returned from New Zealand in 1896. It is not known whether Lawson and Hannah were ever actually lovers. She died in 1902, supposedly with final messages for him on her lips, while he was returning to Australia from England. It appears that her death was caused by the results of an attempted abortion [see Colin Roderick, Henry Lawson. Collected verse, vol. 2 (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1968), pp.376–7. For a conflicting view of the relationship, see Harry F. Chaplin, op. cit., pp.40–2]. Whatever the extent of their relationship it is clear that Hannah Thornburn became an idealisation of womanhood for Lawson. In all his poetry for which she is either the subject or inspiration appearing after her death, ranging from ‘To Hannah’ (1904) and ‘Hannah Thornburn’ (1905) through to ‘The Lily of St. Leonards’ (1907) and ‘Do They Think That I Do Not Know’ (1910) she is invariably depicted as a woman of great personal and spiritual beauty. A woman of almost beatific comfort and inspiration to a poet misunderstood by an unfeeling wife and world. Their love is spiritualised and her influence is described as being such as would have directed him away from the self-indulgent bohemianism which became his personal and creative downfall:
Spirit girl, the good is in me,
But the flesh you know is weak,
And with no pure soul to win me
I might miss the path I seek;
Lead me by the love you bore me
When you trod the earth with me,
Till the light is clear before me
And my spirit too is free
(‘To Hannah’, 1904, Roderick, Collected Verse, 2, 59)
The depiction of Hannah Thornburn in ‘The Editor’ is true to his poetic characterisation of her. Again she is beautiful in a spiritual rather than human fashion, “a vision”, and an embodiment of those virtues that Lawson revered and considered most womanly. Her characterisation throws into stark relief the caricatured figure of Miss Martingale-Harrison, the strong minded, fierce, and decidedly unfeminine “womens’ righter”.

14

Mrs. Bridgeway is first introduced in “The Editor”, when she comes to Bob in the hope of inserting an advertisement in the Comet refuting certain allegations made about her by her neighbour regarding some hens which disappeared during the earthquake and a new feather pillow which appeared amongst Mrs. Bridgeway's possessions. Mrs. Bridgeway, a washerwoman by trade, in gratitude to Bob, offers her services should he ever require anything to be washed.
“Thank yer very much sir. And if yer want any of yer things did I'd be glad to do them, only too glad,” and looked at his shirt and collar. “Well I'll remember, mum, thanky. What part of the Park is your camp in?”
“In the zoo sir! Anyone will tell yer. Good mornin’ sir and thank you very much.”

15

Refers to an earlier incident in ‘The Editor’ when Dick, the shorthand writer, had to listen in and take down an interview between Bob and a Bushman acquaintance of his.

16

The “Managing Director”, Mr. Scoopall, of the old Bunyip, who becomes a contributor of high quality work to the Comet after the earthquake, whilst working at clearing rubble from the devastation. His drinking is noted earlier in ‘The Editor’ when there is a discussion of the affinity between alcohol and the Australian poet, and the narrator notes the re-emergence of the old system of things: “But in Scoopall's case I saw the strongest survival of humanism [humanity] and the swift reorganisation of society. A teetotal Australian poet would be a freak anyway, and I don't think and [any] calamity or war of the elements could produce one alive.”

17

Roderick Quinn, see note 5.

18

One of the proprietors of the old Bunyip who appeared at the Comet office looking for a job and is put to work, initially at the expense of his dignity, in the storeroom: “By the end of the week he was contented and friendly, and by the end of the fortnight he was happy. This thing was new to him. He soon shed his superfluous flesh, or fat, and before six weeks were over he could shift a machine and hump paper upstairs with any three of ‘em. He'd cleared the back lane (that we'd used in the old days for dodging creditors and debts) right back to the first open street so that the cart could come with paper and take out the issue. He said there was nothing like starting in the basement, and he'd be foreman of something before he was done.”

19

Bob's admiration for Dickens had been touched on earlier in ‘The Editor’, in one of his confrontations with an aspiring and conceited literary critic:
“Oh you have, have yer. Now, Dickens wasn't published in Australia, but have you reviewed him?”
The critic hesitated.
“Well—er—yes,” he said, “and the task was very distasteful to me. I never could stand Dickens — never could stand him at all. He grated on me … ”
…“Well that's enough about Dickens,” said Bob. I, in the inner office, could hear that he was getting mad. Bob had read Dickens many times since boyhood, and, in sorrow and pain, and suffering a recovery; at home and in exile, he turned to Dickens as his grandmother might have turned to her bible.