Keats had to die before Shelley really stood up for him, but when Shelley did, he did so with passion and venom.
It may well be said that these wretched men know not what they do. They scatter their insults and their slanders without heed as to whether the poisoned shaft lands on a heart made callous by many blows, or one like Keats’s composed of more penetrable stuff….What gnat did they strain at here, after having swallowed all those camels? Against what woman taken in adultery dares the foremost of these literary prostitutes to cast his opprobrious stone? Miserable man! you one of the meanest have wantonly defaced one of the noblest specimens of the workmanship of God. Nor shall it be your excuse that, murderer as you are, you have spoken daggers but used none.
It is I suppose a kind of curse upon all critics. They might at least have this curse in mind when they go to shaft someone who has tried to create something for others, and not just prey or trade on the creations of others. This would, I fear, be too much to ask of the gnats straining after the Essendon coach.
In a foreword to one collection of his poems, W H Auden offered a gradation of his work that may I think have very general application.
In the eyes of every author, I fancy, his own past work falls into four classes. First, the pure rubbish which he regrets ever having conceived; second – for him the most painful – the good ideas which his incompetence or impatience prevented from coming to much…; third, the pieces he has nothing against except their lack of importance; these must inevitably form the bulk of any collection, since were he to limit it to the first class alone, to those poems for which he is honestly grateful, his volume would be too depressingly thin.
This could apply to what passes for my golf, fly-fishing, shooting (only at paper targets with the 30.06 Steyr from the top of the Benz – the Wolf goes tropo over the big bangs; he is threatening to consult Slaters over industrial deafness), drawing, or oil pastels – but best of all to my cooking: where the second category really comes into its own.
A propos of anything but poetry, I have been reading a book called The First Fleet. Some things caught my eye. When the whitefellas landed at Botany Bay, the blackfellas were as amazed as we would be by a visit from Martians – but the question that concerned them most was what sex the visitors were, and one Pom had to drop his strides so that they could see for themselves. (The author does not inform us whether the Pom’s equipment was such that it may have commended itself to Senator Lambie.) The French turned up at Botany Bay only five days after the Brits – our Anglo-Saxon brand of white heritage may have been a very close run thing. The whites could not get over the sound of the kookaburras – I still can’t. The Governor named Manly Cove after the manly bearing of the natives, but they left no-one in doubt that they were horrified and terrified by sharks that were everywhere near there – and a Mr Fanning will now be happy to corroborate them.
When the women convicts were finally landed, there were scenes of unspeakable depravity and lust that not even a vicious tropical storm could still – for all I know, the participants may have thought that the thunder and lightning were all just part of the general effect. Just imagine the racket if they slaked their lust while in irons – they could have put the kookas to flight.
Two of those who got together on that memorable night were memorably named – Anthony Rope and Elizabeth Pulley. I am glad to report that the lovers were married before the birth of the child conceived on that night, and that they were later granted their freedom and given some land. Ropes Creek near St Marys is named after them.
I dislike Australia Day – to put it mildly – but in future I will raise a glass to our true white forebears – the refuse of the far-away slammer – Tony and Betty! Rope and Pulley! (Perhaps we might start a Rope and Pulley Dining Club.)
But the part that really got me was not this great step for mankind when the whites arrived, but the little hiccup before they left England. The commodore and future governor weighed anchor and signalled to the fleet to set sail after him. Then Captain Phillip had to pause. Two ships weren’t moving. The reason? Yes, you guessed it – their crews were Mozart and Liszt. Adrian Quist. As full as state schools. Bliss was it not that day to be alive. Well, my brothers and sisters, my comrades, say a long and fond hullo to the upcoming arsehole of the world, and the Land of the Eternal Long Weekend.
And God bless the convict shaggers of Sydney Cove, our own Australian Adam and Eve!