- Charles Harpur's 200th year
- Click here for an index of Harpur poems on this website. We will continue to add to this list.
- Click here to watch a CEC Report discussion on Harpur.
- Click here to read our media release on Harpur's birthday.
Read on to find out more about Charles Harpur's contribution to the ongoing fight for Australia's independence.
January 9, 2013
Australias true national poet, Charles Harpur, was born 200 years ago this month, on January 23, 1813. The CEC, which owes an incredible debt of gratitude to this sublime individual, has many plans to celebrate Harpurs life and poetry, and to spread the beauty of his ideas at a time when the country and the world so desperately need them. You will hear more about those plans in coming editions of this newsletter, but in the meantime, we continue to bring you more of Harpurs poetry and writings in these pages, to read and hopefully share.
Just like we find in trying to awaken our friends and families, Harpur was often demoralised by the lack of appreciation forthcoming for his work. However, he tapped into a spirit which gave him the courage and fortitude to continue, knowing that one day his ideas would come to fruition. His life as an artist attained unto the standard expressed by the German poet Friedrich Schiller in his On the Aesthetic Education of Man: Live with your century, but do not be its creature; render to your contemporaries what they need, not what they praise. your own nobility will awaken theirs. Similarly, Harpur once observed, At this moment I am a wanderer and a vagabond upon the face of my native Landafter having written upon its evergreen beauty strains of feeling and imagination which, I believe men will not willingly let die. But my countrymen, and the world, will yet know me better. I doubt not, indeed, but that I shall yet be held in honour both by them and by it.
Let us here dedicate ourselves to making 2013 the year that Harpurs premonition becomes reality!
Charles Harpur (1813-1868)
"Bard of our Country"
- By Noelene Isherwood
- Transcript of presentation by the same title delivered to the June 23, 2012 CEC Candidates Workshop
- Click here to watch the video of this presentation.
- The great philosopher and theologian Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) made intelligible how the wilful creative processes of the Human Mind necessarily tend upward into participation in the Divine, and that this process is completely knowable and accessible to every single human beingthat this is the source of true joy, to the extent that we actually choose to embark on that road, and that all this is a matter of faith.
- This concept was fully understood by our own national poet Charles Harpur, and for that reason alone he stands out not only on the Australian stage, but on the stage of all of human history, as a true genius! How fortunate are we that he has made himself known to us and speaks directly to us now with the survival of our nation and the entirety of human civilisation in jeopardy! We must know with absolute certainty what it is that either condemns us as a "little people" incapable of preventing our own extinction, or alternatively, what qualifies us to live on and evolve to create our own destiny. The answer lies in whether or not we choose to be truly human—and in so doing, act, not for ourselves alone, but for mankind as a whole and for our nation.
- Charles Harpur, who was born 200 years ago (in January 2013), grappled with these questions probably more determinedly than any other Australian before or since. In fact in March 1848 after having his patriotic poems criticised, he wrote: I can allow no-one, great or little to kick with impunity against that class of my production. I am doing more, and am missioned to do more, for the intellectual future of my country than any other writer it possesses either by birth or adoption. He was consumed with how to ennoble his fellow Australians to fight for the Common Good, how to secure a true Republic and defeat that brutish monster called British Imperialism, but he also knew that the secret lay in understanding Mans relationship to the Universe and to the Creator of that Universe.
- So today, we will look at three things:
1)His Mission and calling as a poet
2)His conception of Mans relationship to God and the Universe
3)His political interventions and rally call to the nation
Harpurs Mission and calling as a poet
- Charles Harpur was the second son of convict parents, a Currency Lad born at Windsor in the Hawkesbury Valley when the colony was only 25 years old. He spent his early working life in Sydney but hated it and by 1842 (at age 29) returned to the Hunter to settle at Jerrie's Plains. The following year he met his future wife Mary Doyle but they did not marry until seven years later in 1850. He was considered too poor by her family, but he never gave up, writing dozens of sonnets in her honour.
- After they were married he had to balance financial security and the happiness of his family and this was a struggle for him his whole life. At first he took up teaching; then to appease Mary and her family, he spent seven years working with sheep, which he hated; later in life he was appointed Gold Commissioner in Araluen northwest of Bateman's Bay.
- They had five children, the first-born named Washington in honour of that great Republican, and Charles had high hopes (perhaps too high) for him, writing if God spares me to watch over his education, he shall be morally as perfect. I will devote him to great and magnanimous principles. He shall believe that to live for them is religion—and that to die for them is something diviner still.
- The family endured both floods and grinding poverty with precious few good years in between, but the blackest day of all came in March 1867 when their second son Charlie died in a shooting accident. Charles never really recovered from the crippling grief and by then was already growing ill himself.
- But he had a very happy family life. It was the loneliness of his mission and the fact that he had nobody to converse with, on things that mattered, which frustrated him most. He was incapable of making small talk and his poet friend, Henry Kendall said of him, upon meeting him in person for the first time, just six months before he died: One could not be ten minutes in his society without having cognizance of his genius. He had fitful flashes of enthusiasm, during which he never failed to give utterance to memorable things.
- Regarding his appearance, Kendall said: "The man was a noble ruinone that had been scorched and wasted, as it were, by fire. His face looked as if it had been through the hottest furnaces of sorrow."
- Harpur continued to write, all the time trying to get his works published. He complained: "That such things should have to beg their way into print in so hard a fashion is a fact I think which is peculiarly antipodean. But despite his frustrations, and much to the horror of his political enemies, dozens of papers and journals did print his works, broadcasting them over the whole Colony, making his name known to tens of thousands."
- Almost to the last day of his life Harpur worked on copying and grouping all his poems into manuscripts which he numbered. He copied his last poem on 9th June 1868, the day of his death. His wife Mary lived another 30 years and saw to it that her husband's poems were published.
- But it was back in 1842, at age 29, in the Hunter, amongst his beloved "ever-green Forest" by "old Hawkesbury's side", living in poverty, but with a new-found sense of independence and mission, having escaped the "dirty, dusty city" that Harpur composed The Dream by the Fountain. To get a sense of the extraordinary metaphor in this poem, and what Harpur himself was thinking as he embarked on his inspired journey, let me read a paragraph from his Lecture on Poetry presented in 1859 to the School of the Arts in Sydney.
- "The creations of poetry may be said to stand in such relation to ordinary life, as dreams do to the condition of slumber. When the tone of this state is healthy, these are cheerful, full of promise, beautifully fantastic. When diseased, on the other hand, they are ugly boding, full of horror, monstrously incongruous. So is it, speaking broadly, with the creations of poetry, according as the individual minds in which they are produced, and the social soil on which they are intended to operate, are morally healthy or otherwise. And, to continue the analogy in the better part of its agreement, her winged things of love are also, in their forward flight—like dreams, or what we may suppose of dreams—sometimes prophetic. Like these, too, in a salubrious sphere, they beautify the common; nay, they transmute deformity into loveliness, and the terrible into the attractive. They annihilate distance, as with the 'wings of the morning,' and set captivity at large, as by unchainable memories of the breezy liberties of the mountains. In fine, they recall the past, enchant the present, and realise the future—restore the lost, renew the changed, enrich the poor, and reunite by an immortalising picture-power, the living and the dead. And upon the merits of this analogy, fanciful as it may be, I venture to affirm that a society which has no high place for poetry, like a mind that is not lively enough to dream well, is worse than rude, and almost worse than bad, for it is most miserably dull."
- Click here to read The Dream by the Fountain.
- For this noble conception of his calling, Harpur was often ridiculed and attacked. In 1866, just two years before he died, G.B. Barton published a book, Literature in New South Wales and dismissed Harpur saying he had "some true poetry in him" but had only "written two or three pieces which deserve to live on." He added, "The idea of a man declaring himself, as Mr. Harpur does, 'A Monarch of Song in the Land', is something new to literature. If Mr Harpur is entitled to that royal designation, he is in the unenviable position of a Monarch without subjects."
- Needless to say, Harpur had a rather different view of such matters. Of the effect of his own poetry upon himself and on society, he wrote:
- "I should opine that it will operate healthily upon the heart of my Country, and chiefly for good. I have never been so pure-minded, nor so correct in my conduct, as when in frequent communion with the spirit of its inspiration, either composing, revising, or reperusing it. Moreover, I may truly say of it, that it has been to me upon the whole, its own exceeding great reward. And it has been such, because it has never been a mere art with me,—a tuneful medium of forced thoughts and affected passion; but always the vehicle of earnest purpose. Nay, rather might I say, that it has always been the audible expression of the inmost impulses of my moral being—the very breath of my spiritual life. And there is no purer and more sufficing joy without the pale of heaven, than that which the true poet feels, when he knows he is securing an immortal conception to his kind, by inorbing it with beauty, as with the vesture of a star.
- Even in his most melancholy moments, Harpur never ever lost his faith and joy in his mission and the legacy that he was bequeathing to future generations. In To an Echo on the Banks of the Hunter published in 1843 he wrote that no matter what else happens, one hope remains:
- —Tis that, when o'er
My country shall have swept the ripening days
Of centuries, her better sons shall prize
My lonely voice upon the past;—but, more,
That to her daughters, as with glowing eyes,
Bathed in the splendour of these self-same skies,
They'll gaze upon my page—even then my name,
Unheeded now, responsive to the swell
Of their full souls, and winnowed of its blame,
From the dim past (an echo) thus shall come;
And wheresoever Love and Song shall dwell,
To live and die in sweet perpetual doom
Upon the flood of ages—still the same
And in this hope the recompense is great
For much that I may lack, for more that may annoy,
Crowning me oft 'mid these dark days of fate
With joy—even joy!
- This sense of joy came, as Harpur well knew, from devoting himself to his mission. He was quite emphatic that every man must have a mission. In a piece of prose entitled Charity he wrote:
- "I speak boldly. But every man has or should have his Mission in life; and mine is, I believe, to endeavour to break away from the heart and mind of Man as many of its old-world fetters, as the intellectual insight of my nature, and the concurrency of my opportunities, may enable me to ascertain to be such, either absolutely or in effect: in the first place, by the fearless promulgation of liberalising and suggestive ideas; and in the next, by the doing of deeds correspondent to them, whenever and wherever the circumstances of the times shall so far concur with me as to make a fitting occasion. And with this conviction forever at my heart, why should I fear to speak out boldly and to the purpose?"
- But where, you might ask, did Harpur, a lonely colonial boy, son of a convict, acquire this ennobled and sublime sense of mission? From the earliest age, he studied the "immortals"—and I mean studied! He read and translated Homer, he studied the Bible at length, and here's how he described his relationship with Shakespeare:
- "For more than a year of my youth, Shakespeare was nearly my whole reading—was in fact (and luckily) almost the only book my means could at that time command. At first I perused him rapidly right through, in order to take, in one mighty draught, his entire spirit. Then I reperused him with minute attention—that is critically underlined every beauty I could perceive even to a happiness of phrase. I next reconsidered the whole, committing to memory as I proceeded almost all that I had previously underlined. After this, I again read him attentively through with an eye to punctuation alone and yet again for the sole purpose of testing the progressive steps in his versification."
- So it was with other great poets including Burns, Milton, Shelley, John Keats, Edgar Allen Poe, and others. But especially, he loved those who upheld true Republican principles and ideals, who believed that the common man must realise his God-given potential.
- At age 40, Harpur referred to himself as a "Red Republican" meaning a thorough Republican—men whose convictions of the political necessity of republicanism is unshakably founded upon the God-designed sovereignty of the people; and who are prepared, therefore, whenever a true occasion offers, to champion its advent at all hazards, and in all places. So it was that he rallied around John Dunmore Lang's call for "Freedom and Independence for the Golden Lands of Australia". And whilst vehemently opposed to war, he said it is sometimes the case that we can be too tamely baptised into Independence. This is reminiscent of King O'Malleys admonition that Australians sleep on. "If only the people would realise what they own; what is theirs by the grace of God! Trouble is it came to them without a fight!"
- But Harpur knew that such a love of mankind and love of one's nation, derives from what Nicholas of Cusa would call, "participation in God". So, let's look at Harpur's understanding of man's relationship to the Creator of the Universe.
Harpur's conception of Man's relationship to God and the Universe
- Charles claimed to follow no religious denomination and because he hated all religious pretentiousness, was often mistaken for an infidel. He wrote that whilst nothing could shake his own belief in God, he did think that many atheists were far better men than himself (including Percy Shelley whom he defended).
- But he developed his own "Religion of Humanity", based on the belief that by the power of his own free will, Man, acting together with the power of God upon the spring of beauty and goodness in his own heart and mind, can attain the highest degree of moral freedom and perfection. This stanza from his poem Nobility expresses his view of man imago Dei. We know that man is prone
To bow down to Power alone,
Or right or wrong, for Earth's glooms will cloud an earthy wit;
But in his heart, though dark,
There yet glows a truthful spark—
His kin-spark with the Angel, for by heaven itself 'twas lit;
And if still he keep the way
That is lightened by its ray,
On his high throne of Manhood a sun-born God might sit.
Such was Harpur's appetite for discovering the truth about God and the Universe, that when Robert Chamber's controversial 1844 book Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation hit the streets, provoking enormous debate, Harpur welcomed the new ideas and saw in this new view of the universe "Universal Nature moved by Universal Mind". Now we know, thanks to Ann Lawler's [CEC National Chairman] presentation on Charles Darwin to the CEC's July 23-24 National Conference [See New Citizen Vol 7 No 6 Oct/Nov 2011, page 19] that Chambers was a Fellow of the Geological Society of London and a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and that this book was a real operation. It actually kicked off the rigged debate on "evolution" and was avidly read by both Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin. It was an outright attack on Christianity, especially the concept of man as imago Dei. Nonetheless, it inspired one of Harpur's most incredible poems, Geologia [also titled, The World and the Soul] in which he expressed his wonder and elation at the evolutionary principle that governs the universe.
It's a long poem, but I am going to read it to you. As you listen, think through what LaRouche's Basement Team and we ourselves in the CEC have just published in the New Citizen (regarding Real Evolution and the Self-developing Biosphere).
Click here to read Geologia, or The World and the Soul.
You get a sense of how Harpur viewed the universe—the past, the present and the future, as all relatively timeless—but all governed by a constant process of change, ever upward, always onward to greater and greater perfection. But all brought into being by "The evoking word of God! That potent Word Which the mind heareth, as expressed through laws Whose sure results are but the far-produced Decisions of His will." [The same idea Saint John expressed in his Gospel when he said In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:1-3.]
There is much more we could discuss in this poem, but I want to zero in on the end of the third last stanza. Where he says: "Even as a human thought—so far as what Is finite, and imperfect therefore, may With Infinite compare,—as knowledge grows Before it, and combines all congruent things, A necessary progress undergoes In its accruing unity with Truth."
This invisible spiritual or intellectual realm in which the Mind of Man communes with the Mind of God, free from all physical and temporal restraints, is the world of metaphor—the world of poetry. In his Lecture on Poetry which I referenced earlier, Harpur said:
"But the social bearing of poetry, as an art, is only well and worthily inclined to, when it is carried into the service of the truthful as well as of the beautiful: Truth and Beauty being essentially one; nay, being one too, even in appearance, when beheld and contemplated from a sufficient height of thought. And when thus far produced, not only is poetry religious in spirit, but moral in influence." [Echoes of John Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn: "Beauty is Truth, Truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."]
"That we do not live by bread alone is a saying of supreme moment, for it is divinely suggestive of the fact, that the spiritual part of our nature can only be adequately sustained by a meet ethereal nourishment which is alone attainable through the ministry of the Muse; and that the full godward growth of our minds can only be derived from habitual converse with the sublime and beautiful in the laws and harmonies, and in all the seasonable changes and aspects and influences of that great constitution of things which surrounds us to infinity, and which we call the universe. And of these the true seer is the Poet, the highest interpretation, Poetry. [Here, echoes of Percy Shelley's In Defence of Poetry: "Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."]
Now, consider the concept of creativity itself, as Mr. LaRouche began discussing it in a fresh way back on December 27, 2011. He said: "Creativity is the intimation of the future, which drives you to find the idea, which corresponds to that future. And it comes for you as a mood, not as a definite instruction, it's a mood! An idea is there, it stimulates you. And the stimulation of that, induces in you a mood! It's from that mood, which is an anticipation of what you're going to discover, which is what creativity is ."
And then later in an April 17, 2012 discussion: "The fire of creativity, the principle of life, the principle of artistic composition, of scientific discovery, is always an experience of the future, perceived as if in the present. It's like a microsecond in the future: You've penetrated the anticipation of a microsecond in the future, and that participation in terms of Classical musical performance, grips you, and implicitly contains, in itself, the whole music! The entirety of the music is expressed, entirely in that instant, of realisation, of what the meaning of the composition is. And you're edging into the edge of the future, and suddenly the future becomes apparent to you, and in the next moments, you can now express that principle: that's creativity."
With this in mind, listen to Harpur again from his Lecture on Poetry:
"The moderns have too little—or rather, no faith in the ideal. Yet it is the beauteous love-birth of the mind in fruition with its empyreal affinities; a spiritual insight, however imperfect, of the yet-to-be, or of the unfulfilled. And how full of promissory evidence too, are 'these thoughts that wander through eternity' of the Godward ascension and immortality of the soul. Yet the moderns, speaking widely, have no faith in the Ideal. With the ancients, on the contrary, Poesy and Prophecy were the same
"Ideality is the very organ of spiritual progress, and great poets, possessing this pre-eminently, and speaking at large through its Sybiline instinct, but fore-characterise the divine tones of their beatitudes, and forecast in the exalted beauty of their impersonations and of the conditions surrounding them, that reunion with Paradise—with the perfect—which it promises to the future.
Harpurs political interventions and rally call to the nationNow, let's listen to a recitation of one of Harpur's poems in which he poses a very personal question to all of us about the choices we make in life.
The Heavenly Voice
By Charles Harpur 25 July 1846
Through the discord and din of Error and Sin,
And down through Time's dubious shadow, there falls
A Voice as of one to another that calls;
And I know it is Love's by the words of the song—
"Why must You tarry in darkness so long?"
'Tis the question of Love as she singeth above,
By the River of Bliss that eternally rolls
The mirror of happy and purified Souls;
There she is singing, and this is her song—
"Why must You tarry in darkness so long?"
In the depths of Despair her voice, even there,
Pleads still, like a mother's when warning her child,
Round the heart grown defiant and faithless and wild;
But charged are its tones then, and listen, they say—
"Ah, will You wander forever away?"
So why do we tarry in darkness so long when we are being called to a "Holy" fight?
If our sense of identity is not to be defined by the temporal, often crumbling and despairing world around us, but rather by that divine nature within us, then we must take up the political fight for what Harpur called the Public Good! This is what it means to be a patriot and is synonymous with developing the minds of the people. This theme runs constantly through all of his poetry. Here are a few examples:
In Is Wentworth a Patriot?:
A patriot is one who hath no aims
Dividual from the Public Good; whose heart
Is of his Country's a fraternal part;
Whose Interest on that country's altar flames.
A Patriot is one who hath no Self
Dividual from his People
In his War Song for the Nineteenth Century:
They see us wield no weapon,
But in our front shall find
The artillery of the intellect—
The thunder of the Mind.
Why pile we stone on stone, to raise
Jail, Fane, or Public hall;—why plan
Fortress or Tower for future days;
Yet leave unbuilt, to wrong or guilt,
The nobler pile—the Mind of Man?
With finer wool the land to dower,
Behold how strongly we are moved!
Even while a Nation's thinking power,
Unvalued yet,—unnamed, we let
Grow bestial—because unimproved!
In his essay The True Finality Harpur states that the "best condition for the development of the full majesty of man, were one in which the personal freedom and sovereignty of savage life should co-exist with all the artistic beneficences and moral security of civilised society . Hence 'the greatest good to the greatest number' is not a final principle of human community, and is fast giving place to another that is: namely, 'the greatest good to each and all'. Hence too, men can be no longer the creatures of Governments: these can no longer mould them characteristically into masses; individual education upon the most liberal and adaptive scale must be speedily resorted to; so that all men may become more and more, to the destined extent—each and all of them, Governments in themselves."
With this conception of the elevated role of each citizen, regardless of their station in life, you can see why Harpur was (and still is) feared and ignored both by the Establishment, as well as an oppressed population beleaguered with the convict-mentality.
In this context, Harpur defined his task as a poet, to illustrate whatever is virtuous in design, and glorify all that is noble in action; taking occasion also, at the same time, to pour the lightning of indignation upon everything that is mean and cowardly in the people, or tyrannical and corrupt in their rulers.This he did, beginning his political activism in the Hunter Valley around 1842. Now this may say something historic about the residents of Maitland, and it may dismay some of you, but Charles and his brother Joseph honed their political organising skills, by leading the local Tee-totallers organisation. Through his impassioned speeches Charles recruited hundreds of new people to join TTs. But needless to say, neither of the brothers stayed loyal to that cause forever. There were bigger fish to fry.
Already back in 1826 when Charles was just 13 years old, there was agitation in the Colony by the Emancipists who wanted representative government, trial by jury, and land for the Native Youth. The ruling establishment expressed their disdain in The Monitor of July that year: "The people of New South Wales are a poor groveling race , their spirit is gone—the scourge and the fetters and the dungeon and the Australian inquisition have reduced them to a level with the negro—they are no longer Britons, but Australians!" And a week later it reiterated that "they have lost their English spirit and have degenerated into Australians."
Thirty or so years later in 1857, following Daniel Deniehy's famous lecture on the poetry of Charles Harpur to the Mechanics School of the Arts, little had changed. The Herald newspaper also went wild, attacking both the poet and the lecturer viciously. The author of the criticism in that case, was an honoured contributor to Sydney's so-called leading newspaper and was speaking for the high and mighty who thought that the colonials, "numbering less than half the population of an English provincial town", were no longer exhibiting the desired subservience. They were possessed, he said, of "a gross egotism and over-weening self-confidence."
This growing self-confidence notwithstanding, the immigrant intelligentsia of Sydney whose "success" seemingly gave them the right to control the intellectual direction, as well as the politics of the country really got up Harpur's nose. As Normington-Rawling, the author of Harpur's biography put it: "It was the day of 'gentlemen' and 'men'. Harpur was a 'man' and therefore beyond the pale, especially as he was a 'colonial'."
Harpur didn't hesitate to call down the wrath of heaven on politicians, place-hunters, and profiteers. He particularly despised William Charles Wentworth and the free-trader Sir Charles Cowper (Slippery Charlie). Harpur wrote of Cowper: "When flies shall have sufficient ken To comprehend a mountain's magnitude, Thou shalt be fit to legislate for men As well as sheep—but, Cowper, not till then "
In 1846 the population began to mobilise against the resumption of transportation, and against the power of the squatters and land laws. The "operatives" which was the contemporary name for the workers, started to form what came to be called the radical movement and newspapers were launched to speak for them. One of these, the Citizen, urged the workers to form a trades union of all trades. And by 1848 lots of groups including JD Lang's Australasian League had joined the battle. Under the passage of the Waste Lands Occupation Act in the British Parliament in 1846, pastoralists gained a virtual monopoly over land. Charles Harpur took up his pen to object.
The New Land Orders
By Charles Harpur
I long did hope the soil of this bright clime,
Being unenfeoffed to Oligarchical sway,
Was a meet cradle for the birth sublime
Of just Equality at no distant day:
The which, when once its truthful beauty's ray
Maturely shone, should southward draw the prime
Regard of th' world, thence wiser for all time,
And studious more to join the harmonious lay
Of Perfect Freedom perfectly begun:
But now this Hope is shrunk into a Fear!
England's misgovernment its worst hath done
To sow the seed of splendid evil here!
In Sheepshanks we behold a destined Peer,
And Oxtail's stockmen shall 'my lord' his son.
During this time Wentworth referred to the opponents of transportation as democrats, socialists and levelers. The squatters were successful in having Transportation resumed to NSW but the population would have none of it. On 11th June 1849, a day of drizzling rain, when two ships bringing the first batch of convicts arrived into Sydney, the shops were shut and 7,000 - 12,000 people gathered to what became known for many years as the Great Public Meeting. There was talk of another Bunker's Hill. A compromise was reached and the convicts were allowed to land but not to stay. No more convicts ever came to NSW.
Harpur never ran for election, (probably because he was always too poor), but he was both a friend to, and an enemy of many who did. Amongst his closest friends he counted fellow son-of-the-soil, Daniel Deniehy (1828-65) and amongst his opponents, Sir Henry Parkes (1815 1896). But Parkes had not always been his foe.
In 1843 Harpur received a gift from Parkes that sent him into raptures. It was a set of the six volumes of Percy Shelley's poems together with a pen. This was the first time Harpur had read any of Shelley's poetry.
Parkes ran an ivory and toy manufacturing business and in 1847 had also begun to trade in ideas. The parlour at the back of his shop became the meeting place of the radical intelligentsia and budding politicians of the future. But populist politics changes people and the youthful Henry Parkes after winning the Sydney seat in the Legislative Council vacated by Wentworth in 1854, adulated his former opponent saying: "I have been elected the successor of the greatest man who ever trod this country" and "you have made me by your votes the most distinguished commoner in the land". Harpur wanted to vomit! He publicly rebuked Parkes seeing in his remarks, opportunism, sycophancy, and political opportunism. It was the end of their friendship.
Harpur clashed again with his former friend in April that same year, when Parkes supported Britain and France in their launch of the Crimean War against Russia. Harpur pulled no punches in expressing his attitude to war. This is the first stanza of a lengthy poem simply entitled War and is a timely admonition to all those today who are planning the greatest war of all time:
He who in battle slays his fellow man
Without first having duly weighed the cause
Of quarrel, and derived the approval thence
Of his own heart as to the part therein
By him to be sustained—he is indeed
Strictly a murderer! And though this stern truth
Should sound distastefully to many—those
Especially who trade in national madness
And brutal glory: magnifying so
A rag inscribed with some stale jugglery
Heraldic, far more than they honour God
'Tis time the voice of Truth, in all things, should
Be lifted clearly, and sent ringing forth
Even like the startling spirit of a trumpet!
For herein had her simple test been taught
From the beginning, what lagoons of blood
Had so been spared Mankind! What desolations,
What infamies, prevented!
By 1866 Parkes had risen high in the political world and well and truly sold his soul. He took office for the first time as Colonial Secretary in James Martin's second ministry, which Harpur again considered an act of betrayal. After all, Martin was one of the "Sticklers for the rights of cattle" and "Sneerers at the rights of man" referred to in his War Song for the Australian League.
By contrast with Parkes, Daniel Deniehy who had arrived back in Sydney at age 16 from touring England, Ireland and Europe, was the intellectual equal of Harpur, and he also shared his Republican spirit. They first met in 1852 and from that time forth Harpur always referred to him as "Little Dan Daniehy" (due to his short stature). Harpur wrote sonnets in his honour and Deniehy reciprocated his admiration, lecturing on Harpur's poetry at the School of Arts, which he had now wrested control of from the bigoted immigrant intelligentsia.
Deniehy said of Harpur and his poetry, not only is it "exquisite poetry, a rare and delicate imaginative loveliness; but, above all, an impress of character noble and masculine as the profile of a Roman coin—the stamp of a free, self-dependent and self-moulded intellect, which, taken as a type of the growing native mind, must exalt every hope for the grandeur of our national destinies."
But it was Deniehy's moment to shine, when in 1853 the Constitutional Committee, including the traitors Wentworth, Macarthur, Cowper, Martin, and Murray, proposed that the upper house in NSW be composed of members of a hereditary aristocracy. The proposal created an uproar and Deniehy made a name for himself with two brilliant speeches directed against this proposed house of lords—including this gem:
"It was the good pleasure of Mr. Wentworth and the respectable tail of that puissant Legislative body, [that] we are to have an Upper House and A Constitution cast upon us, upon a pattern which should suit the taste and propriety of political oligarchs who treat the people at large as if they are cattle to be bought and sold in the market Here we all know the common water mole was transferred into the duck-billed platypus, and in some distant emulations of this degeneration, I suppose we are to be favoured with a bunyip aristocracy But there is an aristocracy worthy of our ambition That is God's aristocracy. That is an aristocracy that will grow and expand under free institutions, and bless the land where it flourishes."
The speech made him famous as an orator, but it also made him enemies. He and Harpur, convinced that "It is not in the nature of things that men brimful of Englandism can ever do us any real national good", were unfortunately in the minority by around 1857.
But Harpur and his circles remained relentless in their political agitation against the British imperial interests, and in 1858, NSW eventually joined Victoria and SA in adopting voting by secret ballot. For over 100 years it had been talked about it, but now it was referred to as the Australian method of voting. Also as a result of their persistence over many years, a Land Reform bill was eventually passed in the Parliament, but it did hold for long. By 1861 the Free Selection Land Bill was passed into law which favoured, you guessed it, the Squattocracy once again.
So is it any wonder that Harpur saw fit to pen this War Song for the Australasian League, calling on all Australians to fight on.
War Song for the Australasian League
by Charles Harpur
Up Australians! Hark, the trumpet
Calls you to a holy fight!
Round the Evergreen, your standard,
Gather, and as one unite!
Shall the Monarchists condemn us
Into slavery and shame?
Or shall Truth endiadem us
With the stars that write her name?
Shall yon bright blue heaven, enroofing
This green golden land, afford
But a wide and splendid dwelling
For the villain and his lord!
And not a great dome for merit—
Not an open region be
For the outward marching spirit
Of immortal liberty!
Down with Wentworth! Down with Martin!
Murray, Marsh and all their clan!
Sticklers for the rights of cattle—
Sneerers at the rights of man!
We were slaves—nay, we were viler!
Soulless shapes of sordid clay,
Did we hound not from our Councils
Wolves and foxes such as they?
But their doom is sealed! All vainly
Fools against the Right may band!
Hark to scorn's loud-hissing tempest
How 'tis brewing in the land!
Aye, and it ere long shall sweep them
Like uprooted weeds away—
Like a dull obscuring vapour
From the pathway of the day!
By the equalising glory
Of the cause with which we start!
By the blood of honour thrilling
Through each patriotic heart!
By the majesty of manhood
Righteously and nobly free,
We will pause not, till Australia
All our own—our own shall be!
Harpur, even with his health failing, was defiant to the end of his days. In August 1867 he wrote to Henry Kendall: "I am still very bad and do not think I shall ever again be much better. Still, I am content. All this would be nothing to me, if I but found the men and things about me less of brutes and less brutal. Still, never mind. I shall live long enough. So long as I have any essential thing to do I shall not die. No man can. "
Click here for index of Harpur poems.