State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 70 Spring 2002


Lawson Manuscripts in the Lothian Papers

Lawson Scholars were unaware of how many of his manuscripts were in the Lothian Papers until the publication of a checklist in issue No. 28 of this journal (then titled La Trobe Library Journal), edited by John Arnold and Frances Thorn, in October 1981. Colin Roderick had collected Lawson's verse and prose in five substantial volumes without knowing that some of the ‘compositions’ that he had listed as ‘unavailable’ in 1972 were actually in the files that Thomas Lothian had deposited in the State Library in 1945 under seal for 30 years. Since the Lothian Papers have become available to the public, a number of the previously unpublished items to be found there have been published. The story,’ A Bluff that Failed', and the non-fiction pieces, The Editor of the Comet’ [in part] and ‘De Rougement and Us and Some Digressions', were printed for the first time by John Arnold and Frances Thorn in the Journal. Soon after, Brian Kiernan included ‘A Bluff that Failed', ‘“Succeeding”: A Sequel to “Pursuing Literature”', and a Joe Wilson story (to which he gave the title ‘Settling on the Land') in his The Essential Henry Lawson (Currey O'Neil, 1982). In 1984 Lansdowne Press issued a two-volume Henry Lawson: Collected Works, compiled and edited by Leonard Cronin, in which the items listed above were all included, along with other prose (‘The Great Flood of ‘90', ‘Mitchell on Dogs', ‘The Britishah Abroad’ ‘Graveside and Gayside Memories', the full text of ‘The Editor of the Comet', and an unpublished letter to the Bulletin) and verse (‘A Banquet of Stinking Fish', The Damnanreadabook', ‘Sea Children of the Sea', ‘The Newer Things at Home', ‘Gold in their Teeth'). It appears that the Lansdowne volume includes all the complete Lawson texts that are known to exist.
There remain unpublished in the Lothian Papers a number of incomplete manuscripts, early drafts and fragments of both verse and prose. There are no ‘forgotten masterpieces’ among these unpolished pieces, but there is evidence — sometimes painful evidence — of a writer struggling to recover the ‘touch’ which in earlier years enabled him to turn experience into literature. The two stories reproduced here — ‘A Foreign Father’ and ‘A Child in the Dark, and a Foreign Father’ — which appear to be all that survives of Lawson's attempt to write a novel, effectively mark the end of Lawson's most creative period.
Lawson's manuscripts were often very rough — ‘I can guarantee everything save the handwriting, paper, and spelling', he told a publisher to whom he sent a sketch in August 1902. His spelling, always shaky, got worse when he was under stress; and his use of punctuation and capitals was not always consistent. However, although he may have not paid close attention to conventions of expression, he could be obsessive about details in his texts. A poignant instance of this is his mention of the Lothian material in the ‘Will’ which he wrote when very depressed in 1908.
In printing a selection of manuscripts from the Lothian Papers here the aim has been to present the author at work. Lawson's spelling and punctuation — usually indicative of the pressure he was under — have not been altered; but in the case of ‘A Foreign Father', the greater part of which is in typescript, the typist's errors which Lawson corrected have not been noted. Cancelled text is printed where legible; otherwise the fact of cancellation is merely noted. Lawson's later additions to his text are indicated by braces (i.e. {brackets}). Each text is accompanied by a brief general commentary. All footnotes are Lawson's.
John Barnes