State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 39 Autumn 1987


Ancient and Modern: Some Recently-Catalogued G. W. L. Marshall-Hall Material

The pious fears of nineteenth century Melbourne churchmen were realist three generations later in the collections of the State Library of Victoria. A gold embossed leather case titled “Hymns Ancient and Modern” remained for many years with other uncatalogued religious material in the J. K. Moir Collection. When the box was opened it did not contain a copy of the Anglican hymnal, but a copy of a book of poems which caused a bitter scandal in late nineteenth century Melbourne, Hymns Ancient and Modern 1898 by George William Louis Marshall-Hall.1 Other material relating to the musician and writer was found with the book, a pamphlet listing controversial sections of his writings, a letter from Hall to Tom Roberts postmarked January 18th 1893 and an envelope dated April 1st 1892 addressed from Streeton to Roberts and bearing a quick pen and ink sketch of the professor by Streeton. This very possibility of confusion between Hall's verses and the hymn book was one of the charges raised against Hall after the publication of Hymns Ancient and Modern. What if the book fell into the hands of the young and innocent, who would unknowingly turn the pages of the volume with the familiar title only to find such doggerel as
O David was a worthy king
Merrily could he harp and sing.
He became the father of his nation
By dint of prayer and fornication.
He loved his lass, and he loved his Art,
And he was a man after God's own heart.
The humorous verses were bad enough in the eyes of the circumspect, but young minds could be corrupted equally by his Hall's lyrical post-Swinburne idylls. These verses deserve some passing consideration as expressions of late nineteenth century taste in Australia.
Now Helios Flames far down the Western
Intense against the ocean shore
The joyous blue of ocean lies,
And ‘twixt the ti-trees’ tender curves,
lingering, dies.
Now all-too-unsuspecting Daphne glides
Among the deepening shades, nor dreams
-How should she?- how sly Eros guides
Her steps towards yon bushes where young
Doris hides.2
The neo-classical images of the poets and painters of the next generation did not spring from a void. The influence of Marshall-Hall's pagan fantasies and his advocacy of a robust Greek-inspired moral and social life was never acknowledged by Lionel or Norman Lindsay, yet he was in all probability a potent formative image on the brothers in the 1890s. Part of the Lindsay mystique, which has never been seriously challenged by scholars, involves undue stress upon the uniqueness and independence of the Lindsay family from their peers. Examination of the body of poetry and theoretical writing published by Hall in the 1890s reveals themes and attitudes later found in varying aspects of both brothers’ art and life.3 For those interested in art, Hall's pastoral scenes bear a special fascination; they are often directly linked to sites associated with major painters of the 1890s, such as Beaumaris, Brighton, Heidelberg, Charterisville, Cremorne and Mosman Bay. The physical details of imagery, such as twisting ti-tree or the sparkle of sun upon water, are recognizable in the vocabulary of the artists, as well as in Hall's verses.
Hall's contemporaries used this volume of verse to force his dismissal from the University of Melbourne. Despite his achievements and the high standards for staff and students which he promoted, Hymns Ancient and Modem became effective ammunition for his opponents. Those who condemned Marshall-Hall often had little contact with the man or his work. They argued that his insulting treatment of established religion was unseemly for one charged with the education of young men and women. Barely a week after the Argus blasted the contents of Hymns Ancient and Modem in a feature article, the University Council was meeting to discuss the professor's conduct.4 Hall first defended his writing upon the grounds of
freedom of thought and speech. He then repudiated his defence and promised not to embarrass the University further. He agreed to resign after a year's leave of absence. Marshall-Hall's retreat can not be fully explained. Serious health problems are a likely cause.5 In 1899–1900 Hall's opponents worked actively to spread fabricated evidence of sexual improprieties. These actions backfired after exposure in the more lively sections of the press. Despite the action of the opposition, the letters, petitions and sermons, by 1900 the University favoured reinstatement. On June 25th, the motion to re-appoint Marshall-Hall was lost in the University Council only by the casting vote of the Vice-Chancellor. A successor to Hall was finally selected by the devious means of withholding his name from the Selection Committee in London. Hall's ability and experience matched that of the short-listed candidates.
It is a testimony to his energy and charisma that the University found itself without a conservatorium after his departure. The majority of the staff and students left with Hall and became the nucleus of his second conservatorium. This organisation survives to the present day under the name of its patroness throughout the teens and twenties of this century, Nellie Melba. From its foundation the Marshall-Hall Conservatorium became an active force in music teaching and performing in Melbourne. In 1914, on the death of his successor Franklin Petersen, Marshall-Hall was again offered the chair of music at the University. Within seven months of taking up his position he died, following a sudden operation upon his appendix.
As late as the 1950s, the name of Marshall-Hall could provoke violent reactions of censure or approval in Melbourne musical circles.6 Thirty years later he is almost beyond the scope of direct recollection. His public image during the 1960s and 1970s was that of the errant professor dismissed for writing erotic poetry. In the 1970s and 1980s there has been a scholarly reassessment of his achievements.7 His contribution to Australian cultural life has been thoroughly reconstructed.
The religious and sexual views expressed in Hymns Ancient and Modern undoubtedly were a partial cause of the wave of moral hysteria that followed. Hall's atheism was no secret. He made attacks upon Christianity in both private writings and published lectures and fiction.8 There were also humorous side effects.
He delighted in shocking passing Church goers by appearing on his front verandah, still wearing his pyjamas, on Sunday mornings.9 In the preface to Hymns Ancient and Modern he multiplied the insult to religion offered in the comic verses, by outlining his ideas upon sexual morality. A recent commentator has suggested that the preface documents Hall's artistic limitation and immaturity, but Hall did not seek cheap excitement from his advocacy of sexual matters as the fitting subjects for the arts.10 Hall believed that the material world was a great continuum, fulfilled in death, when the single being returns to the whole. Sexual union, which he saw as a meeting of the male/female polarities, was a symbol of the underlying unity of diverse elements.
The conflict between Victorian morality and a free-thinking eccentric is not the only source of the furore over Hymns Ancient and Modern. Personal factors were at stake. Since his arrival in the Colony of Victoria in 1891, he had criticized the low standards and pedantic judgements of local music critics. Resentment festered and consolidated itself. He did not confine his attacks to musical circles; James Smith, the litterateur and art critic, was another victim. When the chair of music extended its syllabus to include practical classes in 1895, many private teachers feared the loss of pupils and livelihood. In 1898 Marshall-Hall had insulted the patriotic pro-British feelings of many upright citizens by eulogising Bismark in a public oration some weeks before the poetry scandal erupted.
One direct conflict had arisen between Marshall-Hall and Dr. Alexander Leeper, Master of Trinity College, over a performance of the Greek tragedy, Alcestis, at the Melbourne Town Hall in June 1898. Leeper envisaged a scholarly reconstruction. Marshall-Hall had written a modern score and appropriated this exercise in academic purism for the avant-garde. Alcestis was played by one of his students and Lionel Lindsay, in painting the set, substituted his own designs for the accurate copies of the Elgin marbles favoured by Leeper.11 The fully staged production was a resounding success, but not on Leeper's terms.
A second personal rivalry would surface, during the dispute over Marshall-Hall's poetry, between Hall and his staff member William Laver, a respected musician and Professor of Music at the University from 1915 onwards. In 1899 he used bribery in an attempt to extract evidence of improprieties on the part of Marshall-Hall from his female staff.12
The conflict was not merely a matter of social proprieties. Marshall-Hall strongly identified with the Art for Art's Sake belief. He regarded the artist

Envelope addressed by Arthur Streeton to Tom Roberts, with a sketch of Marshall-Hall upper right. (J. K. Moir Collection; reproduced with the kind permission of Mrs. Oliver Streeton.)

Marshall-Hall's letter to Tom Roberts, January 1893. (J. K. Moir Collection)

as a supremely gifted individual with special insights which set him apart from his fellows. Art could not be made answerable to middle class values. True art criticism could only be written by those who practise and understand art.13 Here was a major point of confrontation between Hall and the numerous correspondents to the Argus who, as respectable citizens, firmly believed in their right to condemn the artist on the grounds of the views and ideas expressed in his work.
The letter to Tom Roberts is brief but worthy of publication because it appears only in a summarised form in the collection of letters, Smike to Bulldog.14
My dear Roberts.
How goes it with you! I fear I can't get over till about Feb 7th. on account of wife-shall have three weeks then-Hurrah! -D-d slow here. Got a fine drama — subject “Bruno”— am full of it! Just finished another “Basoon-Sonata movement & have scored symphony so I am not altogether idle — want a change muchly — artistic companionship — there is no-one left here eheu! How is old Streeton — greet him heartily — Auf wiedersehen G.W.L. Marshall-Hall.
R.H. Croll (who at one time owned the documents discussed here) evidently did not believe the letter to be of much interest, but it provides much information about Marshall-Hall's activities. The symphony was that in C minor, premiered in Melbourne in June 1893. Marshall-Hall's marriage was also disintegrating and his wife and baby daughter would leave Melbourne at the end of January 1893. In Hall's letter this rupture causes inconvenience rather than regret.
The letter provides a documented date for his stay at the artists’ camp in Mosman, a source of speculation amongst writers.15 Much confusion arises from a letter by Streeton to Henri Verbrugghen now in the Grainger Museum.16 Streeton, writing in 1920, gives a date of 1894/5 for Hall's visit to Mosman. Streeton may have confused the date; Marshall-Hall was overseas for the second half of 1894. Streeton's impressions of Hall in Sydney were still vivid:
and he lived with me under my tent on the shores of Sydney Harbour about 1894–5 his first sight of Sydney and he was happy there. Just like a child and I have a great store of memories of his life.
Marshall-Hall made a number of visits to Sydney. In 1899 he “tripped over to Sydney recently, enjoyed the skies and the harbour; and was supped by a tribe of congenial Bohemians.“17 He may have also been up in Sydney circa 1896 when To Irene was published by MacCready of Sydney. All his other literary works were published in Melbourne. Marshall-Hall also worked in Sydney in the decade after the artists’ camp was disbanded. In September/October 1911 Hall conducted Wagner's Lohengrin for the Melba-Williamson Opera in Sydney.
In the text of his letter, Hall mentions that he is “full of” a “drama” called “Bruno”. This was not a theatrical piece, but a dramatic overture inspired by the life of the sixteenth century Italian astronomer, Giordano Bruno. Bruno was a true Renaissance figure, with wide-ranging interests that embraced both analytical science and the occult. As Bruno was burnt by the inquisition, Hall would have immediately found him interesting and sympathetic as an historical character. Moreover Bruno's name was quite familiar in nineteenth century Europe, if not England, as a romantic symbol of the persecution of the creative temperament by narrow-minded governments and authorities. Hall would use an historical Italian setting once more as a focus for his hatred of the church in a play Bianco Capello, published in 1906 and held by the La Trobe Library.18 The play was rather two-dimensional and melodramatic, and drew its colour from the works of Shakespeare and Browning in creating a fantasy of lovers and vendettas in Renaissance Florence. The hypocritical and murderous villain was a cardinal, responsible for the death of most of the main characters before the final fall of the curtain. The historical reference of the Bruno overture is linked to Hall's artistic friendships, as he dedicates the overture to Streeton.19 Because it received its first performance in March 1893, the association between Streeton and Hall was well-established at the time of letter quoted above.
The envelope addressed from Streeton to Roberts bears a quick sketch of Marshall-Hall. A number of similar sketches are found throughout the corpus of Streeton correspondence and illuminated greetings to various friends and associates. (Streeton was capable of dashing off such sketches, after Hall had died, from memory, as the recognizable portrait which appears on the letter to Verbrugghen proves). The illuminations of letters and envelopes were a characteristic product of the romantic enthusiasms of the young Streeton, but such sketches would appear from time to time in letters written in later years, often as caricatures. The interchange
between Streeton and Marshall-Hall of which the envelope reminds the researcher was central to Hall's creative experiences in the 1890s.
Marshall-Hall dedicated a long narrative poem, The Hymn to Sydney (1897) to Streeton, with decorations by that doomed fin de siècle hero of both Marshall-Hall and the Lindsays, Ernest Moffitt.20 Though modern purists could easily dismiss this work as an indulgent fantasy, Hall regarded its contents as deeply serious. It was possibly this poem that he was defending when justifying his use of sexual imagery in the preface to Hymns Ancient and Modern. A handwritten annotation on a copy of the Hymn to Sydney in the Mitchell Library, as well as a covering letter by Hall, places the poem at the very centre of Hall's beliefs. Hall reveals his loathing of Christianity, and its associated sexual morality, in terms which seem outspoken even today but also associates his poem with a lyrical fantasy of Ancient Greece, again his “pre-Lindsay” use of Arcadia. “This is an attempt to realise under modern conditions the attitude of the Greeks towards Life as typified by the Eleusinian Mysteries.” Streeton accepted the tribute without commenting upon the ideas within the poem: “P.S. The Prof. has another poem coming out, connected with the joyousness etc. of Sydney — ‘City of laughing loveliness, sun-girdled queen’ etc.“21 Streeton used these lines as a title of a harbour scene c. 1921, and the painting survived into the 1950s with its original title, so preserving the opening lines of the Hymn to Sydney long after the original fin de siècle culture, which had given birth to it, had become unfashionable.22 Hall's dedication of this exposition of his philosophies and interior thoughts to Streeton suggests something of the depth of friendship between them.
Streeton decorated another long poem by Hall, To Irene (1896).23 He provided a decorative poppy bloom for the cover. It was an appropriate symbol, as the poem is marked by a soporific layering of narrative within narrative, bearing the formlessness of a drug-induced trance. The subject matter of To Irene is comparable to the lyrical pieces within Hymns Ancient and Modern and the more joyous and extrovert Hymn to Sydney. There are the neoclassical references, the lush decadence of many adjectives and a melancholy yearning for lost love. Streeton shared the idyllic imagery of Marshall-Hall in the depiction of a pagan culture on the shores of Sydney Harbour and in transposing the figures of classical mythology into the Australian landscape, in works such as “Oblivion” and “Sydney Harbour”.24 It is not surprising that Marshall-Hall owned Streeton's important Symbolist image “A Bush Idyll”, which depicts a circle of nymphs dancing in a brilliantly lit parched landscape. Streeton and Hall even shared a house in St Kilda during the 1890s. At this period of his life, Marshall-Hall was rather unhappy, as Streeton recalls for Verbrugghen. This episode possibly postdates Hall's separation from his wife.
Marshall-Hall demands attention from all those who are interested in a full appreciation of the diversity of cultural life in Melbourne. The published correspondence between Streeton and Roberts documents Hall's friendship with a number of artists, besides themselves, including McCubbin, Phillips Fox and Bernard Hall. Marshall-Hall was a regular at the Charterisville camp at Ivanhoe, where Lionel Lindsay recalled himself as a young man, “lying on the hillside, smoking and listening to good music and Schubert's songs” played by Hall, who had installed a piano in Phillips Fox's old studio.25 Marshall-Hall was an active and appreciative patron. Streeton, Moffitt and the Lindsays all received commissions to provide decorations for publications sponsored by Hall. He was the subject of at least five portraits. Those by Phillips Fox and Norman Carter are presently untracable. The two portraits by Roberts are both in public collections in Melbourne, the full length study on a polished wooden panel of 1899 in the Performing Arts Museum and the profile study of 1900 in the collection of the Grainger Museum, having been acquired by Grainger himself from the musician's family for the museum. The finest of the portrait studies was painted in 1892 by Streeton and is now in the National Gallery of Victoria. It conveys a direct impression of the bulk and vitality which remained a compelling factor of Marshall-Hall in actuality.26 The portrait has an important position in terms of Streeton's oeuvre; not merely is it a powerful and suggestive document of a former celebrity, but it remains one of the most accomplished and highly developed examples of portraiture in the generally known repertoire of Streeton's work.
Streeton gives Hall credit for promoting his interests and his work, which Hall modestly brushes aside as a reflection of the quality of Streeton's work. “Yes! I've had quite a boom here. I told Hall that I had to thank him a lot in booming the thing, but, as he says, no one could boom a collection of bad pictures in Melb., just now.”27 Hall
paid a major tribute to the artists in his E-flat symphony inspired by the life in the artists’ camps.
This article has stressed the relationship between Marshall-Hall and the visual arts, but he considerably enriched the muscial experiences of Melbourne three generations ago, and the culture of this city bears a partly unrecognised debt to his activities. Both the teaching institutions which were established under his auspices survive and have trained influential performers and teachers. It is possible to speak of direct inheritance. For example, Mary Campbell, “who has been the mentor of many of Melbourne's successful vocalists”, trained in Marshall-Hall's days at his Conservatorium under Elise Wiedermann, herself an associate of the artist circles in which Hall moved.28 There are still many performers and amateurs who trained under teachers and musicians, whose antecedents stretch back to Marshall-Hall's conservatoria. His model of energy and dedication must have broadened the cultural possibilities of colonial Melbourne.
Hall established the first longstanding symphony orchestra in Melbourne, which gave regular concerts for twenty years. He also instituted seasons of chamber music and the annual performances of the opera classes. The senior students of the Conservatorium, coached by Elise Wiedermann and Lucy Rowe, would give fully staged performances of considerable charm under the baton of Marshall-Hall. In 1899, for example, the offerings included scenes from Don Giovanni, Faust, Les Hugenots, Aida and Lohengrin.29 This tradition continued under Fritz Hart at the Melba Conservatorium. Unlike the work of the contemporary painters, Hall's compositions remain regrettably unfamiliar, a fault of public and performers rather than musicologists and historians, who have directed much attention towards Hall. A composer is nothing if his works are not played and the art of the conductor is lost if he lived before the days of permanent recordings. In the end, all of Marshall-Hall's historians fall back upon the words of those who actually heard him conduct:
As a musician Hall was a man possessed of a world reputation and it was frequently that musical strangers expressed surprise that such a man should be content to remain in Australia when he might be a star of the first magnitude in any big European centre. And it was not alone in music that Hall's influence was so valuable. He formed a centre to which all the arts were attracted. By the death of Marshall-Hall artistic Melbourne has sustained a blow, whose effects cannot be over-emphasised.30
Juliet Peers

Notes on contributors

MARION AMIES is National Project Officer of the Australian Bicentenary Historic Records Search.
VANE LINDESAY is well-known as a cartoonist, illustrator and writer.
JULIET PEERS is a freelance art historian and researcher with particular interests in late nineteenth-century art and sculpture.


Published Melbourne, Atlas Press, W.H. Newlands Block Place. I am grateful to Richard Overell for details surrounding the re-cataloguing of this volume.


Extract from the poem “At Beaumaris”


It has been argued that Lionel Lindsay was the possible source of Marshall-Hall's interest in symbolism: see, for example, Therese Radic, G.W.L. Marshall-Hall: portrait of a lost crusader (University of Western Australia, Department of Music, 1982), p. 19. However this denies the seniority of Hall, his own wide reading and quotation, and his established position in Melbourne art circles.


Argus, 5 August 1898, p. 5 carried the article condemning Hall's verses. “We may hope, however, that the publisher, after further consideration, will recognize the erotic and impious character of the work, and in a manly spirit will at once withdraw it from circulation.“


Radic, op cit, p. 27. Marshall-Hall also speaks of his ill health in the period prior to the publication of Hymns Ancient and Modern. The writing of certain verses was an expression of his joy and relief at surviving the illness. “I was in the first stage of my recovery from my recent long and frightful illness. Unable to move hand or foot, I had been carried out and laid on the verandah. It was the evening of a north wind day. My extreme weakness, the delight of once more feeling the open air playing upon me, of seeing the green grass, and the ti-trees, and beyond, the immense ocean, aroused within me feelings as far removed from anything of a sensual character as it is possible to conceive …” Age, 13 August 1898, p.9.


Kenneth Hince, “The Case of the Dismissed Professor” in Quadrant, vol. 3, no. 1 (1958–9), p.25, suggests that “even now there remain live interests which are sensitive and hostile to the mention of his name”.


There have been at least three theses written on Marshall-Hall since the 1970s and also the biography by Radic, op cit. Cross references to Marshall-Hall's activities may be found in biographies of musical contemporaries such as Therese Radic's biography of Melba, published by Macmillan, Melbourne, 1986 and John Thomson, A Distant Music: The Life and Times of Alfred Hill 1870–1960 (Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1980).


See the discussion of his play Bianca Capello 1906, below; also the letter to Professor Morris in the Mitchell Library. This letter provides some reason for the hysterical severity of the attacks upon Marshall-Hall; if Hall had expressed his hatred for the Church, in scatalogical terms such as appear in this letter, widely throughout Melbourne intellectual society during the 1890s it is no wonder that there was a major attempt to discredit him, merely that it took many years to arrive. Hall found the cult of the Virgin Mary particularly offensive as it represented for him, modern prudery regarding birth and conception. Characteristically
Hall saw Christianity as the negation of Greek life and ideals. The Greek “gave the affirmative to life, whose forces he idealised in the form of gods. The Christian negates life … . The angel with the flaming sword is typical of modern beliefs and warns away the Christian from every Eden.” Age, 13 August 1898, p. 10.


A.W. Jose, The Romantic Nineties (Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1933), p.42.


I disagree with the conclusion in the otherwise fine study by Warren Bebbington, The Operas of G. W. L. Marshall-Hall (Master of Music Thesis, University of Melbourne, 1978) that “It was an enduring flaw in Marshall-Hall's art that he believed the portrayal of extremes of human emotions such as the agony of death or the ecstasy of love making to be inherently profound” (p218). Marshall-Hall's poetry, like all nineteenth century art, deserves analysis in terms of the tastes and ideals of the period and their creator, as well as interpretations in terms of present day values. Hall outlined his beliefs on a number of occasions.


Lionel Lindsay, Comedy of Life (Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1967), p.117.


Table Talk, 19 July 1900, p. 12. The Outpost, 14 July 1900, p.2.


Table Talk, 12 May 1893, pp.8–9. This transcript of a lecture by Marshall-Hall on “Press Criticism Versus Art” contains one of his most endearing conceits, a dialogue between Satan, a conservative art critic, and God, an artist and clearly a follower of Tom Roberts in style and technique.


Edited and annotated by R.H. Croll (Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1946), p.59.


Radic, op. cit., suggests that he visited the artists’ camp in 1891 (p. 18) Bridget Whitelaw, writing in Golden Summers (National Gallery of Victoria, 1985) suggests that he visited the camp in late 1891 (p. 183).


Grainger Museum MH 9/8


The Bookfellow, 25 March 1899, p.12.


McCarron Bird, Melbourne, 1906.


Table Talk, 17 February 1893, p.2.


Atlas Press, Melbourne, 1897.


18 December 1896. Croll, op. cit., p.62.


The Arthur Streeton Catalogue (Melbourne, 1935) no. 776. The painting was shown in Melbourne as part of an Exhibition and Art Sale by the Art Lovers Gallery of Artarmon, Sydney in March-April 1959 at the Athenaeum Gallery, Melbourne.


William Macready, Sydney, 1896.


“Oblivion" c. 1892–5. Private collection. “Sydney Harbour” c. 1895. Australian National Gallery, Canberra


Lindsay, op cit, p.59.


Conversations with Mrs K. Mangan, 1987, who can recall the visits of Hall to McCubbin family home possibly c. 1915.


Croll, op cit, p. 62, 18 December, 1896.


Bulletin, 26 July 1933, p.37.


Table Talk, 21 December 1899, pp.20–21.


The Theatre Magazine, 1 September 1915.