LAWSON was born in a tent near Grenfell, New South Wales, on 17 June
1867. His birth is officially registered as Henry Lawson, but his name
has sometimes been given as Henry Herzberg Lawson, sometimes as Henry
Archibald Lawson. In his books it appears simply as Henry, and his usual
practice was to sign his name in that form. His father, Peter Hertzberg
Larsen, was a Norwegian sailor, a well-informed and educated man, who
had much appreciation of the poetry of the Old Testament, but had no
faculty for writing. As it was known that Lawson's father's second name
was Hertzberg it has been suggested that Archibald may have been a
mistake for Hertzberg made at Henry's christening, but there appears to
be no evidence that he was ever baptized. His father, having tried his
fortunes on various goldfields, came to Pipeclay, now Eurunderee, New
South Wales, and there met Louisa Albury (1848-1920), daughter of Henry
Albury, a timber-getter. He married her on 7 July 1866, being then 32
years of age and his wife 18. She was to become a remarkable woman, who,
after rearing a family, took a prominent part in the women's movements,
and edited a women's paper called Dawn which lasted from May 1888 to
July 1905. She published her son's first volume, and about the year 1904
brought out a volume of her own, Dert and Do, a simple story of about
18,000 words. In 1905 she collected and published her own verses, The
Lonely Crossing and other Poems, the work in which is of more than
average quality. She died on 12 August 1920, a woman of unusual
character and ability, who probably exercised a strong influence on her
son's literary work in its earliest days. Lawson believed that through
his mother he inherited gypsy blood, but there is no evidence for this.
Peter Larsen was working at the diggings near Grenfell when Henry their
first child was born, and apparently the family took the name of Lawson
when Henry's birth was registered. The family soon returned to
Eurunderee where the father took up a selection. The land was poor and
little could be done with it, and as Henry grew up, like so many other
bush children, he helped in the work; but, as he said in his
autobiography, he "had no heart in it; perhaps I realized by
instinct that the case was hopeless". Probably the strain of the
hard life was partly responsible for his parents' married life becoming
unhappy, but in the interview with Mrs Lawson, recorded on the Red Page
of the Bulletin on 24 October 1896, she showed herself as a masterful
woman with a strong prejudice against men in general, and one feels when
reading it that even as a young woman she would probably have been
difficult to live with. This is confirmed by private information from a
relative of Mrs Lawson still alive at the time of writing. But the
unhappiness of the family life re-acted on the child, and in his
autobiography at the Mitchell library, Lawson said his home life
"was miserably unhappy", and though he goes on to say,
"there was no one to blame". the sketch in Triangles of Life,
"A Child in the Dark and a Foreign Father", was in all
probability founded on his own experience.
In 1876 a little school was opened at Eurunderee and on 2 October 1876
Lawson became a pupil. It was about this time that he began to be deaf,
but his master John Tierney was kind and appears to have done his best
for the shy sensitive boy. Later on he went to a Roman Catholic school
at Mudgee about five miles away. Here again the master, a Mr Kevan, was
good to Lawson and would sometimes talk to him about poetry. The boy was
steadily reading Dickens and Marryat and such novels as Robbery under
Arms and For the Term of his Natural Life, when they appeared as
serials. An aunt gave him a volume of stories by Bret Harte which
fascinated him and introduced him to a new world. These books no doubt
helped to educate him for writing, for handicapped by his deafness he
could learn little at school, he was no good at arithmetic, and never
learned to spell.
When Henry was about 14 he left school and began working with his father
who had got the contract to build a school at Canadian Lead. His
childhood was now at an end. He had lived in poor country, where the
selectors slaved for a wretched living, and his experiences were to
colour the whole of his subsequent literary work. Some time after this
his parents agreed to separate, the exact time is uncertain, but in 1884
Mrs Lawson and her family were living in Sydney. The house, however,
seems to have been taken in the father's name as he appears in the
Sydney Directory for both 1885 and 1886 as Peter Lawson, builder, 138
Phillip Street. Henry worked as a painter and at 17 years of age was
earning thirty shillings a week. Though his hours were long he also
worked at a night school, and twice entered for public examinations at
the university of Sydney without success. He paid for his
night-schooling himself, and when about 20 years old went to Melbourne
and attended the eye and ear hospital there. But nothing could be done
for him and he returned to Sydney. There he worked as a painter at the
low wages of the time, saw something of the slums and how the poor
lived, and "wished that he could write". He was working as a
coach-painter's improver at five shillings a day when in June 1887 the
Bulletin printed four lines of a poem he had submitted and advised him
to "try again". In October his "Song of the
Republic" was published in the Bulletin, and in the Christmas
number two poems "Golden Gully" and "The Wreck of the
Derry Castle" appeared. Lawson has told us with what excitement he
opened this Bulletin and found his poems. Prefixed to the second was an
editorial note:--"In publishing the subjoined verses we take
pleasure in stating that the writer is a boy of 17 years, a young
Australian, who has as yet had an imperfect education and is earning his
living under some difficulties as a housepainter, a youth whose poetic
genius here speaks eloquently for itself." Lawson was then 20 years
of age, not 17, but the editor showed remarkable prescience in
recognizing the poet's ability so early. Lawson's first story, "His
Father's Mate", was published in the Bulletin for 22 December 1888
greatly to the pride of his father, who, however, died a few days later
aged 54. Lawson in his autobiography said of him: "I don't believe
that a kinder man in trouble, or a gentler nurse in sickness ever
breathed. I've known him to work hard all day and then sit up all night
by a neighbour's sick child." Though Lawson may have inherited his
capacity for writing from his mother, he probably owed the love of
humanity that illumines all his work to his father.
Lawson went to Albany, Western Australia, in 1889, but found conditions
no better there, and was in Sydney again for most of 1890. He then
obtained a position on the Brisbane Boomerang at £2 a week, but the
paper stopped about six months later, and Lawson was back in Sydney
again working at his trade for the usual low wages, writing a good deal
for the socialistic press, as a rule without pay, and getting an
occasional guinea from the Bulletin and smaller sums from Truth. In 1892
he did some writing for the Sydney Worker at twelve and sixpence a
column, and about the end of that year went by train to western New
South Wales and carried his swag for six months doing odd jobs. Much of
his experience of this period was afterwards included in his writings.
Towards the end of 1893 Lawson landed in Wellington, New Zealand, with
one pound in his pocket, worked in a sawmill for a short period, and
tried his hand at a variety of tasks. He then found his way to Sydney
again hoping to get work on the Daily Worker, which, however, had
stopped publication before he arrived. In 1894 his Short Stories in
Prose and Verse was published by his mother, a poorly-printed little
volume of 96 pages, which was favourably received but brought in little
money. He had made a life-long friend in J. Le Gay Brereton (q.v.), who
had been introduced to him by Mary Gilmore, and other friends of his
early literary days were Victor Daley (q.v.), E. J. Brady, and F. J.
Broomfield. In April 1896, while In the Days When the World was Wide was
in the press, he married Bertha Marie Louise Bredt, and soon afterwards
took her to Western Australia. In August While the Billy Boils, a
collection of his short stories mostly from the Bulletin, was published,
and when Lawson returned to Sydney from Western Australia shortly
afterwards, he found that both of his books had been cordially received
by the critics and were selling well. He next went to New Zealand, where
he and his wife were for a time in charge of a Maori school. There he
met Bland Holt (q.v.) the well-known actor, who suggested that he should
write a play. The play was written though Lawson had no knowledge of the
technique of play-writing. Holt gave him an advance against it, and took
it away hoping he might knock it into shape, but nothing more was heard
of it. In January 1899 an article by Lawson appeared in the Bulletin
which stated that in 12 years he estimated that he had made a total of
about £700 by his writings. This included the receipts from his first
three books. He had returned to Sydney and made a new friend in the
governor of New South Wales, Earl Beauchamp, who gave him the financial
help that enabled him to go to England with his wife and two young
children. They sailed from Sydney on 20 April 1900. In the same year his
Verses Popular and Humorous, and a collection of prose stories On the
Track and Over the Sliprails, were both published at Sydney.
Though it was not easy for either Lawson or his wife to fit themselves
into the conventional pattern of the England of 1900, for a time
everything went well. Blackwood and Sons took two books of prose for
publication, The Country I Came From and Joe Wilson and his Mates, both
of which appeared in 1901. Methuen and Company also took a book made up
of prose and verse, Children of the Bush, which was published in 1902.
Lawson stuck closely to his work at first, but for some time drink had
been a temptation to him, and he began to have trouble with it again.
His wife had a serious illness, both found the long winter months very
trying, and both pined for the sunshine of Australia. They were glad to
return to a little cottage at Manly before the end of 1902. But
difficulties arose between husband and wife and they agreed to part. An
account of their association, written by Mrs Lawson without rancour and
with understanding of Lawson's temperament, will be found in Henry
Lawson by his Mates.
At 35 years of age most of Lawson's best work was done. When I was King
and other Verses was published in 1905, The Rising of the Court and
other Sketches in Prose and Verse, and The Skyline Riders and other
Verses in 1910, Triangles of Life and Other Stories, and For Australia
and other Poems in 1913. My Army, 0, My Army! was published in 1915, and
reissued in England under the title of Song of the Dardanelles and other
Verses in 1916. Various minor works, reprints, selections, and collected
editions will be found listed in Miller's Australian Literature and
Serle's Bibliography of Australasian Poetry and Verse. Lawson lived
mostly in Sydney, but had a happy holiday in 1910 with his friend, T. D.
Mutch, at the home of another friend, E. J. Brady, at Mallacoota,
Victoria, and in 1917 Bertram Stevens (q.v.) and other friends arranged
a deputation to the premier, W. A. Holman (q.v.), which resulted in
Lawson being given a position at Leeton on the Yanco irrigation
settlement. Lawson described it as the driest place he had ever been to,
but his health improved very much while he was there. On his return to
Sydney he reverted to his old habits, and became a rather pathetic
though lovable figure in the streets of Sydney. He was only a shadow of
his former self when he died on 2 September 1922. He was survived by his
wife, a son and a daughter. He had a small allowance from his publishers
and a small literary pension. That he did not lack friends may be
gathered from the volume Henry Lawson by his Mates published nine years
after his death. He was given a state funeral. A portrait by Longstaff
(q.v.) is at the national gallery, Sydney, and there is a monument by
Lambert (q.v.) in Hyde Park, Sydney, erected by public subscription.
Lawson was tall, spare, good looking in his youth, with remarkable eyes.
He was shy, diffident and very sensitive, with great powers of
attracting friends to him. A convinced socialist as a young man, he was
always passionately concerned about the under dog. There has been much
discussion about his place as a poet, and opinions have ranged between
those of people who consider him to be no more than a mere verse-writer,
and those who speak of him as "Australia's greatest poet". The
truth lies between these extremes. No one can surely deny the title of
poet to the author of "The Sliprails and the Spur", "Past
Carin'", passages in "The Star of Australasia", "The
Drover's Sweetheart" and that pathetic little poem of his later
days "Scots of the Riverina". But a large proportion of his
poetry is merely good popular verse. However, every writer is justified
in being judged by his best work, and in virtue of his best work Lawson
is a poet. There is no difficulty about his position as a prose-writer.
His short stories are practically all based on his own experience, and
that a proportion of them are gloomy should give no surprise to anyone
familiar with the struggling lives of the men on the land in Lawson's
youth. He had had little education, and no doubt his earliest efforts
were sub-edited to some extent by Archibald and others. But
fundamentally he was an artist, and his absolute sincerity and sympathy
with his fellows counted for much. He had a quiet sense of humour, his
pathos came straight from the heart, his gift of narration is unfailing.
The combination of these qualities has given him the foremost place in
Australian literature as a writer of short stories.
A basic outline of his major works.
Books of Short Stories:
While the Billy Boils (1896)
On the Track (1900)
Over the Sliprails (1900)
The Country I Come From (1901)
Joe Wilson and His Mates (1901)
Children of the Bush (1902)
Send Round the Hat (1907)
The Romance of the Swag (1907)
The Rising of the Court (1910)
In the Days When the World Was Wide (1896)
Verses Popular and Humorous (1900)
When I Was King and Other Verses (1905)
The Skyline Riders (1910)
Selected Poems of Henry Lawson (1918)
“On the Track” and “Over the Sliprails” were both published at
Sydney in 1900, the prefaces being dated March and June
respectively—and so, though printed separately, a combined edition was
printed the same year (the two separate, complete works were simply put
together in one binding); hence they are sometimes referred to as “On
the Track and Over the Sliprails”. The opposite occurred with “Joe
Wilson and His Mates”, which was later divided into “Joe Wilson”
and “Joe Wilson’s Mates” (1901).
more comprehensive list ofLawson's poems go to
FACES IN THE STREET
lie, the men who tell us in a loud decisive tone
That want is here a stranger, and that misery’s unknown;
For where the nearest suburb and the city proper meet
My window-sill is level with the faces in the street —
Drifting past, drifting past,
To the beat of weary feet —
While I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.
And cause I have to sorrow, in a land so young and fair,
To see upon those faces stamped the marks of Want and Care;
I look in vain for traces of the fresh and fair and sweet
In sallow, sunken faces that are drifting through the street —
Drifting on, drifting on,
To the scrape of restless feet;
I can sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.
In hours before the dawning dims the starlight in the sky
The wan and weary faces first begin to trickle by,
Increasing as the moments hurry on with morning feet,
Till like a pallid river flow the faces in the street —
Flowing in, flowing in,
To the beat of hurried feet —
Ah! I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.
The human river dwindles when ’Tis past the hour of eight,
Its waves go flowing faster in the fear of being late;
But slowly drag the moments, whilst beneath the dust and heat
The city grinds the owners of the faces in the street —
Grinding body, grinding soul,
Yielding scarce enough to eat —
Oh! I sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.
And then the only faces till the sun is sinking down
Are those of outside toilers and the idlers of the town,
Save here and there a face that seems a stranger in the street,
Tells of the city’s unemployed upon his weary beat —
Drifting round, drifting round,
To the tread of listless feet —
Ah! My heart aches for the owner of that sad face in the street.
And when the hours on lagging feet have slowly dragged away,
And sickly yellow gaslights rise to mock the going day,
Then flowing past my window like a tide in its retreat,
Again I see the pallid stream of faces in the street —
Ebbing out, ebbing out,
To the drag of tired feet,
While my heart is aching dumbly for the faces in the street.
And now all blurred and smirched with vice the day’s sad pages end,
For while the short ‘large hours’ toward the longer ‘small
With smiles that mock the wearer, and with words that half entreat,
Delilah pleads for custom at the corner of the street —
Sinking down, sinking down,
Battered wreck by tempests beat —
A dreadful, thankless trade is hers, that Woman of the Street.
But, ah! to dreader things than these our fair young city comes,
For in its heart are growing thick the filthy dens and slums,
Where human forms shall rot away in sties for swine unmeet,
And ghostly faces shall be seen unfit for any street —
Rotting out, rotting out,
For the lack of air and meat —
In dens of vice and horror that are hidden from the street.
I wonder would the apathy of wealthy men endure
Were all their windows level with the faces of the Poor?
Ah! Mammon’s slaves, your knees shall knock, your hearts in terror
When God demands a reason for the sorrows of the street,
The wrong things and the bad things
And the sad things that we meet
In the filthy lane and alley, and the cruel, heartless street.
I left the dreadful corner where the steps are never still,
And sought another window overlooking gorge and hill;
But when the night came dreary with the driving rain and sleet,
They haunted me — the shadows of those faces in the street,
Flitting by, flitting by,
Flitting by with noiseless feet,
And with cheeks but little paler than the real ones in the street.
Once I cried: ‘Oh, God Almighty! if Thy might doth still endure,
Now show me in a vision for the wrongs of Earth a cure.’
And, lo! with shops all shuttered I beheld a city’s street,
And in the warning distance heard the tramp of many feet,
Coming near, coming near,
To a drum’s dull distant beat,
And soon I saw the army that was marching down the street.
Then, like a swollen river that has broken bank and wall,
The human flood came pouring with the red flags over all,
And kindled eyes all blazing bright with revolution’s heat,
And flashing swords reflecting rigid faces in the street.
Pouring on, pouring on,
To a drum’s loud threatening beat,
And the war-hymns and the cheering of the people in the street.
And so it must be while the world goes rolling round its course,
The warning pen shall write in vain, the warning voice grow hoarse,
But not until a city feels Red Revolution’s feet
Shall its sad people miss awhile the terrors of the street —
The dreadful everlasting strife
For scarcely clothes and meat
In that pent track of living death — the city’s cruel street.
1888 Henry Laswon
In the Days When the World Was Wide
BALLAD OF THE DROVER
Across the rolling plain,
Young Harry Dale, the drover,
Comes riding home again.
And well his stock-horse bears him,
And light of heart is he,
And stoutly his old pack-horse
Is trotting by his knee.
Up Queensland way with cattle
He travelled regions vast;
And many months have vanished
Since home-folk saw him last.
He hums a song of someone
He hopes to marry soon;
And hobble-chains and camp-ware
Keep jingling to the tune.
Beyond the hazy dado
Against the lower skies
And yon blue line of ranges
The homestead station lies.
And thitherward the drover
Jogs through the lazy noon,
While hobble-chains and camp-ware
Are jingling to a tune.
An hour has filled the heavens
With storm-clouds inky black;
At times the lightning trickles
Around the drover’s track;
But Harry pushes onward,
His horses’ strength he tries,
In hope to reach the river
Before the flood shall rise.
The thunder from above him
Goes rolling o’er the plain;
And down on thirsty pastures
In torrents falls the rain.
And every creek and gully
Sends forth its little flood,
Till the river runs a banker,
All stained with yellow mud.
Now Harry speaks to Rover,
The best dog on the plains,
And to his hardy horses,
And strokes their shaggy manes;
‘We’ve breasted bigger rivers
When floods were at their height
Nor shall this gutter stop us
From getting home to-night!’
The thunder growls a warning,
The ghastly lightnings gleam,
As the drover turns his horses
To swim the fatal stream.
But, oh! the flood runs stronger
Than e’er it ran before;
The saddle-horse is failing,
And only half-way o’er!
When flashes next the lightning,
The flood’s grey breast is blank,
And a cattle dog and pack-horse
Are struggling up the bank.
But in the lonely homestead
The girl will wait in vain —
He’ll never pass the stations
In charge of stock again.
MAR 1889 Henry Laswon
In the Days When the World Was Wide
GLASS ON THE BAR
bushmen one morning rode up to an inn,
And one of them called for the drinks with a grin;
They'd only returned from a trip to the North,
And, eager to greet them, the landlord came forth.
He absently poured out a glass of Three Star,
And set down that drink with the rest on the bar.
"There, that is for Harry," he said, "and it's queer,
'Tis the very same glass that he drank from last year;
His name's on the glass, you can read it like print,
He scratched it himself with an old piece of flint;
I remember his drink - it was always Three Star" -
And the landlord looked out through the door of the bar.
He looked at the horses, and counted but three:
"You were always together - where's Harry?" cried he.
Oh, sadly they looked at the glass as they said,
"You may put it away, for our old mate is dead"
But one, gazing out o'er the ridges afar,
Said, "We owe him a shout - leave the glass on the bar.
They thought of the far away place on the plain
They thought of the comrade who came not again,
They lifted their glasses, and sadly they said:
"We drink to the name of our mate who is dead."
And the sunlight streamed in, and a light like a star
Seemed to glow in the depth of the glass on the bar.
And still in that shanty a tumbler is seen,
It stands by the clock, ever polished and clean;
And often the strangers will read as they pass
The name of the bushmen engraved on the glass;
And though on the shelf but a dozen there are,
That glass never stands with the rest on the bar.
1890 Henry Laswon
In the Days When the World Was Wide
somewhere in September, and the sun was going down,
When I came, in search of ‘copy’, to a Darling-River town;
‘Come-and-have-a-drink’ we’ll call it—’Tis a fitting name, I
And ’twas raining, for a wonder, up at Come-and-have-a-drink.
’Neath the public-house verandah I was resting on a bunk
When a stranger rose before me, and he said that he was drunk;
He apologised for speaking; there was no offence, he swore;
But he somehow seemed to fancy that he’d seen my face before.
‘No erfence,’ he said. I told him that he needn’t mention it,
For I might have met him somewhere; I had travelled round a bit,
And I knew a lot of fellows in the bush and in the streets—
But a fellow can’t remember all the fellows that he meets.
Very old and thin and dirty were the garments that he wore,
Just a shirt and pair of trousers, and a boot, and nothing more;
He was wringing-wet, and really in a sad and sinful plight,
And his hat was in his left hand, and a bottle in his right.
His brow was broad and roomy, but its lines were somewhat harsh,
And a sensual mouth was hidden by a drooping, fair moustache;
(His hairy chest was open to what poets call the ‘wined’,
And I would have bet a thousand that his pants were gone behind).
He agreed: ‘Yer can’t remember all the chaps yer chance to meet,’
And he said his name was Sweeney—people lived in Sussex-street.
He was campin’ in a stable, but he swore that he was right,
‘Only for the blanky horses walkin’ over him all night.’
He’d apparently been fighting, for his face was black-and-blue,
And he looked as though the horses had been treading on him, too;
But an honest, genial twinkle in the eye that wasn’t hurt
Seemed to hint of something better, spite of drink and rags and dirt.
It appeared that he mistook me for a long-lost mate of his—
One of whom I was the image, both in figure and in phiz—
(He’d have had a letter from him if the chap were living still,
For they’d carried swags together from the Gulf to Broken Hill.)
Sweeney yarned awhile and hinted that his folks were doing well,
And he told me that his father kept the Southern Cross Hotel;
And I wondered if his absence was regarded as a loss
When he left the elder Sweeney—landlord of the Southern Cross.
He was born in Parramatta, and he said, with humour grim,
That he’d like to see the city ere the liquor finished him,
But he couldn’t raise the money. He was damned if he could think
What the Government was doing. Here he offered me a drink.
I declined—’twas self-denial—and I lectured him on booze,
Using all the hackneyed arguments that preachers mostly use;
Things I’d heard in temperance lectures (I was young and rather
And I ended by referring to the man he might have been.
Then a wise expression struggled with the bruises on his face,
Though his argument had scarcely any bearing on the case:
‘What’s the good o’ keepin’ sober? Fellers rise and fellers
What I might have been and wasn’t doesn’t trouble me at all.’
But he couldn’t stay to argue, for his beer was nearly gone.
He was glad, he said, to meet me, and he’d see me later on;
He guessed he’d have to go and get his bottle filled again,
And he gave a lurch and vanished in the darkness and the rain.
. . . . .
And of afternoons in cities, when the rain is on the land,
Visions come to me of Sweeney with his bottle in his hand,
With the stormy night behind him, and the pub verandah-post—
And I wonder why he haunts me more than any other ghost.
Still I see the shearers drinking at the township in the scrub,
And the army praying nightly at the door of every pub,
And the girls who flirt and giggle with the bushmen from the west—
But the memory of Sweeney overshadows all the rest.
Well, perhaps, it isn’t funny; there were links between us two—
He had memories of cities, he had been a jackeroo;
And, perhaps, his face forewarned me of a face that I might see
From a bitter cup reflected in the wretched days to be.
. . . . .
I suppose he’s tramping somewhere where the bushmen carry swags,
Cadging round the wretched stations with his empty tucker-bags;
And I fancy that of evenings, when the track is growing dim,
What he ‘might have been and wasn’t’ comes along and troubles him.
DEC 1893 Henry Laswon
In the Days When the World Was Wide
ON THE WALLABY
a big country
An’ Freedom’s humping bluey,
An’ Freedom’s on the wallaby
Oh! don’t you hear ’er cooey?
She’s just begun to boomerang,
She’ll knock the tyrants silly,
She’s goin’ to light another fire
And boil another billy.
Our fathers toiled for bitter bread
While loafers thrived beside ’em,
But food to eat and clothes to wear,
Their native land denied ’em.
An’ so they left their native land
In spite of their devotion,
An’ so they came, or if they stole,
Were sent across the ocean.
Then Freedom couldn’t stand the glare
O’ Royalty’s regalia,
She left the loafers where they were,
An’ came out to Australia.
But now across the mighty main
The chains have come ter bind her—
She little thought to see again
The wrongs she left behind her.
Our parents toil’d to make a home—
Hard grubbin’ ’twas an’ clearin’—
They wasn’t crowded much with lords
When they was pioneering.
But now that we have made the land
A garden full of promise,
Old Greed must crook ’is dirty hand
And come ter take it from us.
So we must fly a rebel flag,
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.
We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting
O’ those that they would throttle;
They needn’t say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle!
SECRET WHISKY CURE
no tale of heroism, ’tis no tale of storm and strife,
But of ordinary boozing, and of dull domestic life—
Of the everlasting friction that most husbands must endure—
Tale of nagging and of drinking—and a secret whisky cure.
Name of Jones—perhaps you know him—small house-agent here in town—
(Friend of Smith, you know him also—likewise Robinson and Brown),
Just a hopeless little husband, whose deep sorrows were obscure,
And a bitter nagging Missis—and death seemed the only cure.
’Twas a common sordid marriage, and there’s little new to tell—
Save the pub to him was Heaven and his own home was a hell:
With the office in between them—purgatory to be sure—
And, as far as Jones could make out—well, there wasn’t any cure.
’Twas drink and nag—or nag and drink—whichever you prefer—
Till at last she couldn’t stand him any more than he could her.
Friends and relatives assisted, telling her (with motives pure)
That a legal separation was the only earthly cure.
So she went and saw a lawyer, who, in accents soft and low,
Asked her firstly if her husband had a bank account or no;
But he hadn’t and she hadn’t, they in fact were very poor,
So he bowed her out suggesting she should try some liquor cure.
She saw a drink cure advertised in the Sydney Bulletin—
Cure for brandy, cure for whisky, cure for rum and beer and gin,
And it could be given secret, it was tasteless, swift and sure—
So she purchased half a gallon of that Secret Whisky Cure.
And she put some in his coffee, smiling sweetly all the while,
And he started for the office rather puzzled by the smile—
Smile or frown he’d have a whisky, and you’ll say he was a boor—
But perhaps his wife had given him an overdose of Cure.
And he met a friend he hadn’t seen for seven years or more—
It was just upon the threshold of a private bar-room door—
And they coalised and entered straight away, you may be sure—
But of course they hadn’t reckoned with a Secret Whisky Cure.
Jones, he drank, turned pale, and, gasping, hurried out the back way
Where, to his old chum’s amazement, he was violently sick;
Then they interviewed the landlord, but he swore the drink was pure—
It was only the beginning of the Secret Whisky Cure.
For Jones couldn’t stand the smell of even special whisky blends,
And shunned bar-rooms to the sorrow of his trusty drinking friends:
And they wondered, too, what evil genius had chanced to lure
Him from paths of booze and friendship—never dreaming of a Cure.
He had noticed, too, with terror that a something turned his feet,
When a pub was near, and swung him to the other side the street,
Till he thought the devils had him, and his person they’d immure
In a lunatic asylum where there wasn’t any Cure.
He consulted several doctors who were puzzled by the case—
As they mostly are, but never tell the patient to his face—
Some advised him ‘Try the Mountains for this malady obscure:’
But there wasn’t one could diagnose a Secret Whisky Cure.
And his wife, when he was sober?—Well, she nagged him all the more!
And he couldn’t drown his sorrow in the pewter as of yore:
So he shot himself at Manly and was sat upon by Woore,
And found rest amongst the spirits from the Secret Whisky Cure.
. . . . .
And the moral?—well, ’tis funny—or ’tis woman’s way with
She’s remarried to a publican who whacks her now and then,
And they get on fairly happy, he’s a brute and he’s a boor,
But she’s never tried her second with a Secret Whisky Cure.
was King and Other Verses