Francis Adams (1862-1893) falls at the end of the Victorian period in English literature, belonging more specifically, perhaps, to the aesthetic and social milieu of the 1890s. He also figures in the literary and social history of Australia in the 1880s. Despite the fact that he returned to England in 1890, Adams represents a strain in Australian nationalistic writing that is usually associated with the Legend of the Nineties.
That Adams should appear to have been ahead of his time is hardly surprising. Apart from the tendency of “golden decades” such as the 1890s to present a coalescence of trends already discernible in earlier years, there is the fact that Adams was a very young writer. He had produced a prodigious output – fifteen books, and regular contributions to a range of Australian and English newspapers and journals – before his death in 1893 at the age of thirty. He was, moreover, a self-taught intellectual, keen to keep abreast of ideas and movements in Europe and America. When he arrived in Australia late in 1884, he said that he had no idea of writing for newspapers. When he left in 1890, he was regarded by many as one of the most acute analysts of Australian society and politics in the Australian press. He certainly presents, for the contemporary reader and scholar, a link between the worlds of Matthew Arnold and Henry Lawson, Heinrich Heine and Adam Lindsay Gordon, Balzac and William Lane, Charles Baudelaire and Marcus Clarke – and his work looks simultaneously to the cultural centre and the frontiers of democracy in a way that is seldom found in advocates of Australian nationalism at the beginning of the 1890s.
The somewhat scanty record of Francis Adams’s life is one of intense activity and constant travelling – travelling which provided a wealth of experience, but which also represented a desperate search for a healthy climate. His tuberculosis links him with the decadence of the 1890s, as well as with the intensity of earlier consumptive artists such as John Keats and Emily Bronte (to whom he had dedicated the opening poem of his first collection, Henry and Other Tales, in 1884). The harsh reality of his disease was not picturesque at all, and the pressure to write early and quickly was financial as well as artistic.
Adams’s life prior to his arrival in Australia is known only in its broad outlines. His parents were both professionals respected in their fields – his father, Andrew Leith Adams, was an army surgeon who, after publishing several works on natural history in India and Canada as well as a report on Malta’s cholera epidemic (1865), went on to become Professor of Natural History at Queen’s College, Cork. Mrs Leith Adams, nee Bertha Grundy, worked as a journalist from 1878 – the same year that her husband took up his post in Cork, and it is probable that the two were separated by then. She worked on the staff of All the Year Round, and also edited the Kensington Magazine from 1879 to 1880. Between 1877 and the end of the century she produced at least twenty-five novels, the most popular of which were the sensational Geoffrey Stirling (1883) and A Garrison Romance (1892). She also wrote poetry, plays and songs, including “Good-bye Daddy,” and a book of memoirs and essays, Dreams Made Verity (1910), which included a lecture on “Fictional Literature as a Calling for Women.”1 In 1883, a year after the death of Leith-Adams from tuberculosis, she married the Rev. Robert Stuart De Courcy Laffan, and they lived for some years in Stratford-on-Avon. An active educationalist, Laffan took a particular interest in higher education, while Bertha Laffan was particularly concerned with education for women and the working class.2 De Courcy Laffan is remembered in Stratford for his remarkable work as headmaster of King Edward VI Grammar School, and it was at School House that Francis Adams stayed when he visited his mother in the early 1890s.3
Francis Adams’s childhood was peripatetic, to say the least, perhaps setting the pattern for his adult life of wandering. He could barely remember his earliest years on Malta, but the idea of them haunted him as a sunny paradise compared to the dreary grey and cold of England. While still an infant he was sent to England (perhaps because of the cholera epidemic?), but, according to his friend Sydney Jephcott’s biographical memoir, he was returned to his parents in New Brunswick in 1866. Three years later, at the age of seven, he went to Cork and then to Frewin Hall, Oxford, and in the following year he lived with his grandparents in Manchester. Then followed a series of schools in Manchester, Risley, Lichfield, three years at St. Augustine’s, Blackheath, and, from 1876 to 1879, at Shrewsbury, where Charles Darwin had been educated. Adams was later quite critical of this type of school, mainly for its dullness, and apparently did not wish to go on to university.
At the end of 1879, Adams went to Paris, where he spent two years. He learnt about Life and Art, mixed with Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt in the Salons, studied French and was attached to the British Embassy with a view to entering the Diplomatic Service. He failed, however, to obtain a place there, in the Home Service or in the Indian Civil Service. Instead, he took up a position in 1882 as Assistant Master at Ventnor College on the Isle of Wight. Ventnor was one of the southern English sea-side towns Adams was to live in after his return from Australia in 1890, largely because they suited his health better than did the “detestable climate” of London. After giving up his teaching position for health reasons, Adams embarked in earnest on the literary career that had already begun with the draft of a novel written in Paris. Leicester, an Autobiography was not published until 1885, by which time Adams had also published a collection of poems, Henry and Other Tales (1884).
The two years at Ventnor were not years of complete isolation from London social and political life, any more than the two years in Paris had been. In 1883, according to H.S. Salt, he joined the Social Democratic Federation “under the Regent’s Park trees one Sunday afternoon at a meeting addressed by his friend, Frank Harris.”4 Although we know very little about Adams’s involvement in the Federation, he did write in 1899: “5 years ago I broke up my health in the struggle, then just beginning, to organize the unskilled London labour,” and in one of his later “Letters from England” to the Bulletin he reported that “the masses everywhere are seething in a discontent, whose savagery has a determination and a purpose in it utterly different to the blind and sullen sulkiness which I knew in them several years ago before I left England.”5
During his London visits, Adams also found time to marry. He had met Helen Elizabeth Uttley at the Clarendon Boarding House in Ventnor, where he had been living. They married on 31 July 1884, just over two weeks before Adams set off alone for Australia on the “Rodney.” A sea voyage had been recommended for his health; perhaps if Adams had known more about the differences in climate between the Australian colonies, he would not have chosen to arrive in Melbourne. During the voyage he worked on a series of lectures on Tennyson, Arnold and Rossetti, which were accepted by the Victorian Review and published in 1885. In that year, he had his first haemorrhage, but recovered more fully than expected and took a tutorship on Yathong station at Jerilderie, N.S.W. His wife having come out from England, they moved to Sydney, but a second haemorrhage persuaded him to head further north still, to Queensland. Helen died within few weeks of giving birth to a son, Leith, in June 1886; the baby died in November that year, and Adams left Brisbane shortly afterwards for a visit to Sydney. During 1887, he married his second wife, Edith Goldstone, who is variously described by Adams’s contemporaries and subsequent biographers as a nurse, a Melbourne actress and working in a Sydney radical bookshop.6
Francis’s brother, Harry Beardoe Adams, whose death in 1892 was mourned by Ernest Blackwell in extravagant terms in the pages of the Worker, migrated to Australia early in 1888 with his wife. Trained in medicine, he worked on the Bulletin for a while before obtaining a position as assistant to the doctor at Dunwich, on Stradbroke Island in Moreton Bay. Harry Adams was Tom Keats to Francis’s John. The younger brother’s death served as a ghastly prefigurement of his own fate, and Adams himself said that the news was his “death-blow.” Harry’s widow was to be present only a year later at his own funeral and inquest. Both couples had shared a house for a time in Rosalie, before Francis and Edith returned to England in 1890.
The two travelled separately (it seems to have been something of a habit for Francis Adams), and Edith was shocked at how ill he was when he arrived in England. The whole of their time in England before his death was a financial struggle, particularly since Adams had to spend the winters abroad. They tried to run a boarding house in Bournemouth in the winter of their first year back, but gave it up after a few months as it failed to prosper. Leaving Edith and her sister Annie to face an irate landlord, Adams returned to his old boarding-house, the Clarendon, at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. He was well looked after at the Clarendon (the landlady, Mrs Merriman, would not let him pay his board “until his book was published”), and stayed there for some time, fearful of London’s bad air and the influenza epidemic of 1892. From then on the couple seldom lived together. Adams does seem to have preferred to be alone in order to work, but financial necessity dictated that his wife should take nursing jobs to supplement his writing income; she frequently stayed with family and friends to save on rent. Their long-distance relationship seems to have remained affectionate and supportive, if unconventional and in many ways more difficult for Edith. They were reunited in 1893, when Adams’s health began to fail seriously and they went to stay in Margate. Adams had written to Sydney Jephcott in July that he did not have much longer to live, and on 4 September 1893 came the final haemorrhage and its sensational aftermath.
Francis Adams’s death on 4 September 1893, three weeks before his thirty-first birthday, was both premature and belated. He had been anticipating it for some time, through years of suffering culminating in tuberculosis and throat cancer, and the theme of suicide as a desirable alternative to life is one that comes up again and again in his poetry and fiction. Adams’s death was sensational at the time, particularly because of the role played by his wife. Later accounts of the event by Frank Harris, R.S. Browne, W.M. Rossetti and Edith Adams herself vary, but the details given in the inquest report were sufficient to fuel press speculation:
London, September 6
At the inquest on the body of Mr. Francis Adams his wife declared that he broke a bloodvessel, and, finding himself choking, he shot himself. She was present at the time, and did not attempt to prevent him committing suicide, as he was in great pain and his case was hopeless, and he appealed to her to allow him to die quickly. She had previously removed his false teeth at his request.
The jury returned a verdict that the deceased committed suicide while of unsound mind, and expressed regret at the action of Mrs. Adams.7
The verdict of temporary insanity may or may not have reflected Adams’s mental state at the time of his death, but the Bulletin set the tone for later interpretations.
To those who knew Francis Adams well, the news of his death by his own hand, and with the connivance of his pitying, devoted wife, will come with no shock of surprise. He was a man to whom the idea of suicide was familiar…. it is no matter for wonder that in the torture of the final death-struggle – the same torture that only last year in Queensland made the closing days of his younger brother one long agony – his mind should have turned to the way of making an end of it all.8
“He was a man to whom the idea of suicide was familiar” – this is true of his writing as of his life, and it is one element in Adams’s work that connects him with the English and European cultural milieu of the “decadent ’90s.” Richard le Gallienne, for instance, in his review of Adams’s Essays in Modernity (1899), paints Adams as a kind of latterday Chatterton or Keats – neglect and consumption together conspired to destroy him:
Remembering Adams’s tragic death and his still more tragic life, there is a sad significance in the words which close his book: – “O, beautiful and beneficent Death!” – as in a sentence that precedes them: ”1 will admit that I wish at times I had been accidentally shot – by someone else or by myself. It would have been better for me. Ah, the women I have loved! the men I have loved! Ah, beautiful and beneficent Death!”9
The myth of the consumptive artist – brilliant, intense, flaring briefly and expiring quickly – is combined here with a sense of the poet’s fascination with death as seduction and release from life’s pains. Australia has its own such tradition, of course, and it is no accident that the two Australian writers Francis Adams was most interested in were Marcus Clarke and Adam Lindsay Gordon.
According to a reviewer for the Bookman, who appears to have interviewed Adams or known him personally, he began to publish stories and poems in various boys’ magazines and family newspapers from the age of eleven or twelve.10 Certainly, when his mother was editing the Kensington Magazine, at least one of his poems appeared in it, “A Lay of Shrewsbury School.”11 It was during his time in Paris, however, that he started to write his first novel, Leicester: An Autobiography. This was revised and completed during two years on the Isle of Wight, when Adams also put together his first collection of poems, Henry and Other Tales, and wrote another novel, The Bruces. All three formed part of a grand plan which was to “prove him as big as Balzac” – Sydney Jephcott sets out the details in his memoir:
A series of novels was to cover each phase of life; his verse was to keep pace with and illustrate his prose, and, later, a cycle of plays would complete the scheme. For nearly 15 years he worked to fill in the details of this plan.12
Although The Bruces was never published, it was advertised in Australian Essays (1886) as appearing “shortly,” together with another ‘phantom’ novel, Voyage on the Adelaide. It would have been one of three novels dealing with Bertram Leicester, another ‘phantom’ being Cranstoun. Both The Bruces and Cranstoun are referred to in the notes to the “Bertram” section of Poetical Works, together with Leicester, and Sydney Jephcott in his unpublished memoir of Adams refers specifically to the writing of The Bruces and The Mills of the Gods,13 It is tantalizing to know that at least some of the missing pieces in Adams’s fictional/poetic jigsaw were written, but are now lost.
Henry and Other Tales was the first of Adams’s books to be published, at his own expense, by Elliot Stock in 1884. “Henry” was later changed to “Bertram” in the Poetical Works (1887), which included the first collection of poetry as “Poems (1881-1883),” together with “New Poems (1883-1884),” “Later Poems (1881-1886)” and five plays. These two volumes of poetry are quite different in character from Adams’s third, the Songs of the Army of the Night (1888). Whereas the latter belongs to a tradition of working-class poetry of revolt, the first two books are more “purely” poetic, if experimental. The few reviews tend to be critical – the Sydney Quarterly Magazine, for instance, said of Poetical Works:
With regard to the poems we endorse the almost unanimous verdict of our contemporaries — that they vary from very excellent, to indifferent and bad — and it is simply deplorable that a man of such talent, capable of producing beautiful, even sublime, poetry should suffer to be published in the same volume with it some productions which are so vulgar and commonplace that we can only regret having read them.14
The novel Leicester, which appeared after Adams had arrived in Australia, met with an equally mixed reaction. The Melbourne Leader, referring to Adams as a visitor to Australia, focuses on the religious problems raised in the novel, and criticizes the book mildly for its “highfalutin” style. A similar objection was raised by the London Athenaeum, but its chief criticism is of the content:
There is unquestionable power in ‘Leicester,’ but far greater power than that shown by Mr. Adams would be needed to reconcile the reader to the repulsive theme he has chosen.15
Adams is criticised for the “unnecessary realism” of the descriptions of disease and, presumably, the moral dubiety of his protagonist, who takes a working-class girl as his mistress. Realism was a recurring theme in discussion of Adams’s work, and it was usually linked with “Zolaism.” Madeline Brown’s Murderer (1887) was actually subtitled “A Realistic and Sensational Novel,” and a favourable review in the Bulletin gave the opinion:
Realistic it is … but, somehow, critics of English nationality always think of one sort of realism, and only one sort – the realism of nastiness. Zola discovered that dunghills were profitable investments. He consents to keep his nose over a cesspool for so much a sniff. Adams, on the other hand, is only realistic as an artist would be who painted the nude figure.16
The word “Zolaism” was, in fact, used approvingly by Fred Broomfield in his review of Adams’s Songs of the Army of the Night, published in Sydney in 1887:
It is in the first part that we hear the trumpet-blast of the social message. Here the verses throb with a realistic agony, a lyric Zolaism, that chains the eyes to the page with a virile fascination. It is so simple, too — the coarse, strong meat of the poetry of first principles. The lines are hot and fervid; the poet’s pulses keep time with the great heart of human woe. This is socialism in verse, anarchism in the guise of a Grecian statue. ‘Outside London’ breathes thick and heavy with the vapours of gutterdom. It is despair, hunger, prophecy, hate, revenge. Francis Adams, a ripe and true scholar, in this shows his devotion to truth and to art. The traditions of classicism are in this volume thrown to the winds. The poet’s muse is a glorified street trull, a Cassandra of the slums, a draggle-tailed Menad from Whitechapel, and her voice is thick and frenzied with shouting at the barricades.17
Certainly, Songs of the Army of the Night impressed most readers as bloodthirsty, revolutionary and anarchistic. Comments in the conservative press ranged from the bland description of the Songs as “a small volume of poems that do no credit to Mr. Adams as a citizen,”18 to the Brisbane Courier reviewer’s attack on poor grammar, spelling, punctuation and slovenly rhymes. Instead of commenting on the poems’ political anarchism, the reviewer accuses the poet of lacking respect for “the established rules of his art,” and regrets the lack of an appropriate education. Whether or not the reviewer knew that Adams was not an unlettered workingman, he was at least conscious of a fundamental clash in the values of the poetry, a clash between the “Culture” of the educated elite and the “Anarchy” of the revolutionary masses. Adams himself was aware of this clash, and highlighted it in one of the poems in Songs:
Yes, let Art go, if it must be
that with it men must starve —
if Music, Painting, Poetry
spring from the wasted hearth.
Pluck out the flower, however fair,
whose beauty cannot bloom,
(however sweet it be, or rare)
save from a noisome tomb.
These social manners, charm and ease,
are hideous to [he] who knows
the degradation, the disease
from which their beauty flows.
So, Poet, must thy singing be:
O Painter, so thy scene;
Musician, so thy melody,
while misery is queen.
Nay, brothers, sing us battle-songs
with clear and ringing ryme;
nay, show the world its hateful wrongs
and bring the better time! (“Art,” Songs 25)
The closing stanza, printed in italics, may represent the radical poet’s faith in the value of his own work – but it also highlights the dramatic or voiced nature of the poetry. Henry S. Salt, in his memoir Seventy Years among Savages, recalls a conversation with Adams:
Of the Songs of the Army of the Night, he said that they were intended to do what had never before been done — to express what might be the feelings of a member of the working classes as he found out the hollowness, to him, of our culture and learning; hence the pitiless invective which shows itself in many of the poems.19
This conscious use of personae is something that Adams was keen to stress with reference to his collected poems. In the Preface, he points out that the poems are spoken by a wide range of characters, none of which should be identified with himself:
For the poor author aforesaid, being of a somewhat objective nature, and having set himself, rightly or wrongly, to the task of painting a variety of characters, is too modest to arrogate to himself, at any rate in the creative part of his work, the privilege of individual utterance. He is well aware, of course, of the disadvantages he incurs by this in an age of individual utterance. (Preface, Poetical Works)
It is interesting that even sophisticated readers are less likely to make this kind of distinction (between poet and speaker) with the passionate, dangerous radical poems than they will with more lyrical or philosophical poems. Perhaps this is because the poems in Songs of the Army of the Night read as though they are intended to rouse the working classes to action. As the poem “Art” demonstrates, there is a performative aspect to this kind of poetry that sits uneasily with notions of aesthetic distance and the adoption of masks to explore a range of emotional and intellectual standpoints.
Whatever the literary merits of Songs of the Army of the Night (1887), it confirmed Adams’s standing among Australia’s radical poets and pressmen, and has given him a certain status in wider socialist circles. There have been several tributes in socialist papers, including F. George’s short piece in the Sydney Communist Review, “A Poet Who Fought For Australian Socialism” (March 1944), which is more notable for its political assessment of his work than its accuracy on biographical details. Stephen Murray-Smith published articles on Adams, with selected poems from Songs, in China and Russia in 1958, and Mary Gilmore wrote in 1953:
No one today knows the way Francis Adams swept the feeling, young and just-awaking minds of Australia when he wrote. I wd. say that ninety percent of the revolutionary verse & feeling (social &, from it, otherwise) sprang from Adams.20
By the time Songs of the Army of the Night was published, Adams had also published a book of essays on Australia. Entitled, appropriately, Australian Essays, the contents were all written in Adams’s first year in Australia. They include two essays on Melbourne and Sydney, comparing their “civilizations,” as well as articles on “The Salvation Army” and “Culture” and a long dialogue, called “Dawnwards.” The influence of Matthew Arnold is evident in this early work, although Adams would later confess to mixed feelings about Arnold’s social and political thought.
In Sydney, Adams was friendly with Ernest Blackwell, “a clever young journalist,”21 who was to found the Centennial Magazine and later take over the Brisbane Worker from William Lane, and Fred J. Broomfield, who would later help Adams by writing favourable reviews of his work and helping with the publication of Songs of the Army of the Night, which was published in Sydney while Adams was convalescing in Toowoomba. Adams’s main professional connections in Australia, however, would be in Brisbane, where he worked for both the mainstream newspaper, the Brisbane Courier, which published scathing reviews of his poetry, and the radical press, the Boomerang and then the Brisbane Worker, both edited by William Lane. By early 1887, his work as a journalist in Brisbane had earned him a degree of local fame, at least, and John Zillman, editor of the Darling Downs Gazette was later to claim that Adams’s work on that paper had helped Thomas McIlwraith to defeat Samuel Griffith in the 1888 Queensland election.22
Although he clearly enjoyed the influence he could wield writing newspaper leaders and articles, Adams could find such praise less than gratifying. In a letter to James Brunton Stephens, he employed a degree of sarcasm to stress his primary vocation as a poet rather than a journalist:
… you must not make me so proud with your praises of my “fascinating prose-style”! Poor old Browning told me he found great interest and pleasure in my verse, Tennyson too said some thing in that way, and so did Oscar Wilde and Mary Robinson and a fair number of other English imbeciles, some of whom took the pain to write to me with absurd expressions of their belief; but these sort of people are different. When I think of the extraordinary consensus of opinion in this matter between Carolus, Spencer Brown, the Courier reviewer and you, I am, I confess, really staggered. I think of what these other people said and quail for their insincerity. How unkind, how really and truly unkind, to bolster up a poor fellow in such a ”crank” and get him to waste so much valuable time – time, wh. might have otherwise been spent, perhaps, on writings like my Courier leaders, which are in a style (Forgive my vanity in quoting; but it is Carolus who speaks, and he, Spencer Brown, the reviewer and you, are my new lights now that the old ones are all extinguished) – in a style that “might please all the English-speaking peoples.” That phrase has got into my heart. “Nunc, est puto, deus Fio,” as Hadrian said, dying on his ‘stool’. So say I, asquat on the Courier leader columns.23
There is no doubt that much of Francis Adams’s day-to-day writing, including the leaders, articles and reviews written for a range of newspapers was ‘bread-and-butter’ work, as he tried to make a living as a man of letters. He did not, however, work for any one newspaper, and a good deal of his time went into writing for the Brisbane socialist papers, the Boomerang and the Worker. Some biographical accounts state that he was on the staff of the Bulletin,24 and it is true that he was a frequent and enthusiastic contributor, even after his return to England in 1890, but Fred Broomfield, commenting in 1934 on Mackenzie Bell’s Half-hours with Representative Novelists, set out to emphasise Adams’s free-lance status:
In the introductory notice of Francis Adams it is stated that he was on the staff of “The Bulletin” while in Australia. Adams was never on the staff of the Bulletin. The ”B” took his work, as did also the S.M.H., the Brisbane Courier, the Melb. Argus. Adams would never tie himself down to any journal, and always claimed to write from his own standpoint. His contributions to the Australian press were invariably signed by his proper name, save a few pieces of verse, or peculiarly personal sketches, when he generally used the pen-name of “Frank Hawkesbury.” He was his own man, and always expressed himself as one having an authoritative right.25
Unfortunately, Adams didn’t sign all his newspaper work – leaders and book reviews were customarily unsigned, and therefore much of his writing in the Bulletin and the Brisbane Courier at least cannot be identified. What he is usually remembered for now are the poetry, essays and fiction that were published in book form, although most are out of print.
In 1888 he published a number of short stories, mainly in the Boomerang, some under the pen-name of “Proteus” in a series called “Up Country Life.” Most of the stories would later be collected in Australian Life, together with a few that he did for the Bulletin in 1889.
With the foundation of the Centennial Magazine in 1888, Adams started to write literary essays again. He started with “Realism” in the first issue, and continued with “The Contemporary Stage,” “Matthew Arnold,” “Shakspere,” “Australian Criticism and the Reaction Against Gordon,” as well as contributing poems (by “Proteus”), serialized fiction, and even a poem “Woman and Artist” under the name of “Annie Hassal,” a character from the serial “Thunderbolt” which he had running in Centennial at the time, “Thunderbolt: An Australian Romance” was a novel-length serial which belonged to the large scheme of interconnecting texts which, according to Jephcott, Adams kept working away at in between his editorial and journalistic work.
By 1889, he was planning to return to England, and he and Edith were saving hard for the fares. “Mind-sick” of Australia and hankering for a literary career outside journalism, Adams continued to turn out short stories and poems for the Bulletin, Queenslander and Boomerang as well as the regular journalistic work. Many of the stories published at this time were later collected as Australian Life (1892).
He was also helping to organize the Australian Labour movement, about which he would later write a controversial article in the Fortnightly Review. Although there is no hard evidence of his role in this, Bernard O’Dowd apparently referred to him in correspondence with J. Phillips in 1895 as “the underground engineer of a great labour organisation,”26 and in his article on Adams in the Socialist O’Dowd also said:
I have been informed on good authority that the real originators of the A.W.U. and Labor Party of Australia were William June, Francis Adams, and an inventor-shearer-miner named Davis, at Davis’ house in Toowoomba, Qld.27
Although he worked hard and passionately for it, Adams scarcely imagined the brave new world under Socialism as one that he could live in, except perhaps in the Utopian dreams of antipodean life that he only briefly entertains in The Australians. Of the bush children, for instance, he writes:
I could have asked nothing better of the gods than to have seen children of my own growing up like these, with the addition of the one thing needful to make them the democrats of the future. Given an education, not the mere seeds, but the perfected flower and fruit of the modem culture, “the best that has been thought and known in the world” of literature, of science, of art, of music, what could not be hoped for from children such as these? Athens actually existed, (p. 173)
At other times, however, he was conscious that he, and others of his class who espoused Socialism and the cause of Labour, might have no place in a mass culture in which the abolition of privilege meant that the lowest common denominator of taste might prevail. There is a kind of humility in the gesture of one of his characters facing this very possibility. Gerald Hastings when he says “Who am I? What am I? What does it matter? The idea is the greatest of our time – the hope the most superb, the faith the most intense. That is enough for me.” Predicting that Socialism will conquer Civilization as surely as the new day will dawn, he perhaps speaks for Adams when he admits:
And there are moments – there have been, and doubtless there will be again -when I have been glad that I have lived now, in the dark and doubtful hours of the night, rather than in the full flood-tide of exultant day…. I am very thankful for death.28
This is not Hastings’ last word, nor is it Francis Adams’s. It is, however, an expression of the dilemma of the cultivated radical, and as such it is central to an understanding of the diversity and tensions in the work of this remarkable writer.
In the same year as this essay, Adams published the series of essays that were to make up The Australians (1893), his collected views on the culture and character of Australia and its people, in which the optimistic assessment of the Australian character is tempered by more conventional notions of Australian cultural mediocrity and philistinism. By then, however, he had returned to England, at least partly out of a desire to write criticism rather than journalism. He was remarkably productive between 1890 and 1893, given the state of his health, unless you subscribe to the theory that consumption actually stimulates creative activity – as A.G. Stephens put it, phthisis “is a stage of genius.”29 A lot of the work was collecting and revising material already written, and correcting proofs, but Adams did produce a series of new articles for the Fortnightly Review that helped attract attention and publishers for his books. The articles covered a range of topics – from accounts of Australian society and politics to pieces on Rudyard Kipling, Shelley, recent fiction, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Marcus Clarke. The Australian material (with the exception of an article on “The Labour Movement”) was to be reworked as The Australians (1893). The literary essays were supplemented by an article on Swinburne, semi-fictional semi-philosophical dialogues on democracy and “the hunt for happiness,” and a controversial attack on Tennyson to form the posthumous volume Essays in Modernity (1894).
During this time Adams took advantage of the favourable attention in the press to secure contracts for two novels, John Webb’s End (1891, previously published as Thunderbolt in serial form) and The Melbournians (1892), a collection of short stories, Australian Life (1892), and a second edition of Australian Essays (1886, 1892). He had already substantially revised Songs of the Army of the Night for an English edition in 1890, and was to make further revisions to the text, which were used by the editor of the 1894 edition. He had, apparently, completed another novel on the voyage to England, “The Mills of the Gods,” which was probably published after his death under the title Lady Lovan (1895) under a pseudonym (see Textual Note).
The other new writing project emerged from a health trip to Egypt in October 1892, when Adams, as “Special Correspondent” for the Westminster Gazette, conducted a series of interviews with Lord Cromer, the Khedive of Egypt and two senior members of the Egyptian bureaucracy. Adams gave a personal, sympathetic account of the Egyptian leaders who, while declaring their loyalty to England, said they were frustrated at having no real representation or voice in the English government of their nation. The interviews received favourable notice even from those who disagreed with his views on the Egyptian crisis. These views would be spelled out more fully in the book he was working on until his death in 1893, The New Egypt, in which he advocated the withdrawal of British troops and government from Egypt. Reviews of the book were understandably coloured by the tragedy of Adams’s death, which preceded its publication, but his views were always too strongly put to be tolerated long by the conservative press.
A hostile critic in the Saturday Review in July 1894 was to complain of the flood of Adams’s work that had been issued or reissued since his death, and of the way in which Adams had been “boomed” by injudicious friends who “have determined that the oblivion which he courted shall not be his portion.” In particular, Essays in Modernity prompted even favourable critics to ask whether Adams would have chosen, on more maion reflection, to republish unaltered some of its more harsh and impetuous criticisms of poets such as Shelley and Swinburne.
On a more positive note, the drama Tiberius (published in 1894 with an introduction In W.M. Rossetti) was acclaimed by many as Adams’s best literary work; this appears In have been his own view. In dedicating the play to his brother, Harry, who had died of tuberculosis in 1892, he wrote:
What he thought was my best — my strongest and most sincere, — this I give In him now, with all the unspeakable memories of our childhood, youth, and early manhood — to him whose strength was in his sincerity, and whose sincerity was sweeter to me than all strength.
Atque in Perpetuum, Frater, Ave Atque Vale!
Songs of the Army of the Night presents difficulties to the bibliographer because one of the English editions is undated, but has “Second edition” on the title page. It should probably read “Second English edition,” as the first two editions are almost certainly 1888 (Sydney) and 1890 (London, Vizetelly). This “Second edition” is, however, identical in both format and contents to the 1890 Vizetelly volume: apart from the difference in publishers’ names and the absence of a date, they could be regarded as the same edition.
It is not possible, without further evidence than has been available to scholars over the last twenty years, to be absolutely certain of the number of editions and their details, but there are two possible scenarios. The first, postulated by Fred Broomfield, is as follows:
1888 Sydney edition [n.d.]
Reeves edn 1890
Vizetelly edn 
Reeves edn 1894
Reeves edn 1910
Broomfield accepts the existence of an 1892 Reeves edition, as listed in the British Museum Catalogue, but regards it as separate from the [n.d.] Reeves edition. I have not been able to locate any copy of a Reeves edition with the year 1892 on the title page. Further, a copy of the [n.d.] edition held in the British Museum is date-stamped “July 1892,” and the Bookseller listing for July 1892 identifies the volume as “2nd (cheap) edition,” which does match the title page of the undated edition (and the English Catalogue of Books listing). The most probable order of editions, which I have given in this bibliography, is thus:
1888 Sydney edition
1890 Vizetelly edn
 [n.d.] Reeves edn
1894 Reeves edn
1910 Fifield edn.
Songs of the Army of the Night was revised several times, with two set of revisions made by Adams himself: the first when preparing the English edition of 1890, and the second late in 1892 during his visit to Egypt. This second set of changes was incorporated in the posthumous 1894 volume edited by H.S. Salt. Further revisions were made to the 1910 edition by Salt, mostly according to his own judgement, but he says in his Introduction that the inclusion of “The Mass of Christ” had been indicated in Adams’s revision of the 1890 edition and had somehow not been carried out in the 1894 edition. On the whole, the changes to each of the editions of the Songs reflect factors such as the country of publication, and the passing of time, as some poems are quite topical in their references to people and places. The English publication, too, contains the following on the reverse of the title page:
Note.—A few lines that were in the Australian Edition have been withdrawn in this. It is not that the Author cancels them, but that he recognizes the difference of freedom of speech in a caste and cant-ruled country like England and in a country like Australia, which is comparatively free from either cant or caste.
Some of the changes to individual poems are revealing, as they show shifts in Adams’s allegiances and circumstances. Some poems dedicated to individuals have their names changed – “To my Friend John Farrell” (1888) becomes “To my Friend Sydney Jephcott” (1890); “To Henry George in America” (1888, 1890) becomes “To Karl Marx” (1894); the poem “To Matthew Arnold in England” is omitted after Arnold’s death in 1888.
A more serious bibliographical problem is posed by the anonymity of much periodical writing in the nineteenth century. Francis Adams is known to have visited China and Japan in 1887, after the death of his first wife, and he has usually been assumed to have written two series of articles that appeared in the Boomerang in 1888 and 1889. The first, “Where Mcllwraith is Going. Sketches from the Land of the Japs. By the special correspondent of the Boomerang,” was issued in nine parts between December 1888 and January 1889, ceasing abruptly, perhaps because of the intensification of anti-Japanese feeling which was evident in an editorial comment of March 1889, when the Premier of Queensland was visiting Japan:
“Queensland for the Japs!”
It would be a sad thing if Sir Thomas [Mcllwraith] had made up his mind to reside permanently in Japan, but we could bear up even against that in preference to suffering a visitation of the quaint folks who have been entertaining him.30
As mentioned above, it was only in correspondence between Stephen Murray-Smith and D.C. Sissons that Adams’s authorship of these articles was brought into doubt. Sissons was able to demonstrate, quite convincingly, that the most likely author was James Murdoch. The evidence is chiefly stylistic, but the error serves as a warning. It would be convenient if Adams had been the only “special correspondent” of the Boomerang to visit Japan and China in 1887, but, as it turns out, he wasn’t. He did write “What the Chinese Can Teach Us” (Boomerang, 11 Feb 1888), but he may or may not have wi illiui a further series of articles called “Overflowing China: Travelling through the Land’ Invaded by the Mongol” (May-Aug 1888). On the other hand, Sissons suggests Adanr. may have written “Building a la Jap,” which appeared in the Boomerang in December 1887. The short piece is well-written, but does not touch on the cultural or social aspect, of Japanese houses, as Adams almost certainly would have done (however briefly), and there is no firm evidence that he wrote it. There was a fashion for things Oriental, and any number of competent journalists could have written the description of the house’s construction and decorations.
It is safest, then, not to assume that Adams wrote any of these unsigned articles on China or Japan; the lack of any substantial essays on China or Japan in his later collections might support such an assumption. Many of Adams’s essays and articles originally published in newspapers and journals, both Australian and English, later found their way into book publications: Australian Essays (1886) included an essay on “The Poetry of Adam Lindsay Gordon” originally published in The Melbourne Review; The Australians (1893) was based largely on a series of articles written for the Fortnightly Review, Australian Life (1892) was a collection of short stories chiefly published in the Bulletin and Boomerang in 1888/9; The New Egypt was foreshadowed by the publication in the Westminster Review of Adams’s interviews with the chief players in the drama of Egypt’s political conflicts; and the posthumous volume, Essays in Modernity, brought together literary essays published in several Reviews from 1891 to 1893. None of these collected works, however, draws heavily on the 1887 trip to Asia. Only a few poems in Songs reflect the experience. While this is puzzling to those familiar with Adams’s frenetic and punishing work schedule even at times of personal stress and ill health, it is possible that he was unable to turn out the kind of journalism that would sell in the Australian press, and was not sufficiently inspired (as he was in Egypt) to write something more controversial for book publication.
A further textual issue is the preparation of posthumous works by other editors – J.W. Longsdon, W.M. Rossetti and Henry Salt being those officially responsible for the production of The New Egypt, Tiberius: A Drama and the 1892/1894 editions of Songs, respectively. In a letter to Sydney Jephcott written shortly after Adams’s death, his widow Edith says that she is “busy correcting proofs of 5 books — poems, essays of his, and also keeping a certain — of a woman from advertising herself at his cost (his mother, to wit).” Adams’s relationship with his mother, and what appear to be slanderously exaggerated accounts of her by Edith and Jephcott, are sensational enough, but the point to be made here, under the dry rubric of “Textual Issues,” is that the relevant part of Edith’s letter, written some time in the two months immediately after Francis’s death, indicates that a large amount of work remained to be seen through the press, and that she was playing an active role in preparing it. She does not, however, appear to have made any major alterations to the texts: comparisons of essays published in Essays in Modernity with their original versions in periodicals show only minor changes, and without much more detailed textual research and access to manuscripts, it is fmitless to speculate which changes were made by Adams himself.
We know more about the editorial practice of H.S. Salt and W.M. Rossetti, both of whom say something in their prefaces to the relevant posthumous publications. Salt I have discussed above. Rossetti stated in his introduction to Tiberius that he had felt it necessary to cut about 80 lines of the play – partly to remove what he felt to be bad puns liom Caligula, and partly to tone down the offensive speeches of Augustus’s renegade daughter, Julia. The manuscript of Tiberius has not yet been located, but it would be inleresting to compare the Rossetti edition with a typescript of the play held in the A.G. Stephens papers at the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.
It would be interesting, also, to know whether Adams himself chose to publish his late novel “Lady Lovan” under the pseudonym of Agnes Farrell, or whether this was a decision made after his death. In earlier correspondence, Adams had referred to a novel in progress, “The Mills of the Gods,” which was almost certainly renamed Lady Lovan. It would not have been the first time a completed novel of his had had a change of name: his serial “Thunderbolt” had been revised into novel form and sold to the publisher (Eden, Remington & Co) as “Strong as Death,’1 before a late change to John Webb’s End. So late was the change, indeed, that the running title throughout the pages of the novel reads Strong as Death. With Lady Lovan, however, it is more difficult to reconstruct what happened without more evidence in the form of correspondence or publisher’s records.
There is an element of incompleteness in the bibliography of Adams’s work, not just in the “unfinished” state of some texts, but also in the possibility that whole novels may be lurking somewhere “out there” – novels which do not appear to have been published, but which we know to have been written. Characters appear in his novels, stories and poems who are supposed to be familiar from the unpublished works. My frustration at having to finish this Research Guide without locating these manuscripts is touched with hope that they may yet be found, as I continue to track down Adams’s connections in England. The papers of his literary executor, J.W. Longsdon, for instance, are not listed in the National Register of Archives, but if they should be extant they could well provide the missing links.
Bibliography and Acknowledgements
This bibliography is the first complete listing of work by and about Francis Adams, although Stephen Murray-Smith and Ian Britain went a long way towards publishing one in the 1970s, as did Con Castan and the University of Queensland’s Victorian Fiction Research Group, I am grateful for their groundwork, and to Nita Murray-Smith for allowing me access to her late husband’s unpublished papers, and for permission to use it photograph of Adams in this volume. Stephen Murray-Smith worked on Francis Adams for many years, and it is a loss to Adams scholarship that his several publication projects did not reach fruition before his sudden death in 1988.
Ian Britain and Con Castan have both moved away from Adams into other fields of research, but have been most helpful in sharing material. Ian Britain’s article “Francis Adams: The Arnoldian as Socialist” in Historical Studies (Oct 1972) is a most useful and detailed account of Adams’s thought, and the honours dissertation on which the article is based (ANU 1971) exceeds its genre’s usual limits in the breadth of its scholarship.
Fortunately, I have been able to build on their labours and add several new items by Adams as well as an expanded and updated listing of criticism and anthologies. More progress has been made with the (notoriously elusive) biographical data on Adams, but only some of this can find its place in a Guide such as this.
The elimination of articles wrongly attributed to Adams must also count as a form of progress, and I must give credit to D.C. Sissons, then a Fellow at ANU, whose correspondence in 1977 with Stephen Murray-Smith helped to establish that a series of articles on Japan was probably written by James Murdoch rather than Adams, as most Adams scholars had assumed (see “Textual Issues” for details).
I have received help and advice on specific points from several other people: Chris Tiffin (University of Queensland), Dorothy Collin (University of WA) as well as the Series editors, Peter Edwards and Barbara Garlick, and their research assistant, Judy McKenzie. I am also grateful to the Australian Centre at the University of Melbourne and the Sir Robert Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at the University of London, for providing me with working facilities in Melbourne and London, and to the University of Ballarat (then Ballarat University College) for a seeding grant in 1992.
The bibliography could not have been compiled, verified or completed without the help of many libraries and librarians, by mail and telephone as well as through access to their collections: the Mitchell Library and State Library of N.S.W., the John Oxley Library and State Library of Queensland, the Fryer Library and Central Library of the University of Queensland, the La Trobe Library and State Library of Victoria, the Special Collections Room of the Baillieu Library at the University of Melbourne, the Manuscript and Petherick Rooms of the Australian National Library, the British Library (Bloomsbury) and the British Newspaper Library at Colindale, the National Library of Scotland, the Ballarat Public Library, and the Mechanics’ Institute of Ballarat. I would also like to thank my partner, Richard Pollard, for his support, interest, and assistance.
- Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements & Isobel Grundy, eds. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present. (New Haven & London: Yale UP, 1990), p. 6. [↩]
- John Sutherland, The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford UP, 1989), p. 7. [↩]
- Leslie Watkins, “The Story of Shakespeare’s School, 1853-1953” (Stratford, [no publisher given], 1953). [↩]
- H.S. Salt, Seventy Years among Savages (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1951). [↩]
- Francis Adams, “A Letter from England,” Bulletin, 25 July 1891:7. [↩]
- E.g. Clive Turnbull, Australian Lives. Melbourne: F.W. Cheshire, 1965; Hawthorn Press, ). [↩]
- The various accounts of Francis Adams’s death referred to are: Frank Harris. My Life and Loves (London: Grove, ); R.S. (Spencer) Browne. A Journalist’s Memories (Brisbane: Read Press, 1927); W.M. Rossetti. Reminiscences; Edith (Admino Dean, letter to W.M. Rossetti 24 Oct , Angeli-Dennis Collection, University of British Columbia; inquest report “Distressing Suicide of an Author.” Keble’s Margate and Ramsgate Gazette, 9 Sept 1893:6. [↩]
- Bulletin, 16 Sept 1893:7. [↩]
- The London Star, 22 April 1899:1. Clipping in A.G. Stephens Papers 1859-1911, Mitchell Library MSS 4937/11. [↩]
- Bookman (London), 4.20 (May 1893):44. [↩]
- Kensington: A Monthly Magazine of Fiction, Science, Art, and Poetry, 6 (June 1879):691. [↩]
- Sydney Jephcott’s memoir, typescript in Stephen Murray-Smith papers, La Trobc Manuscript Collection, State Library of Victoria. [↩]
- National Library of Australia, Palmer Collection, MS 1174. [↩]
- Sydney Quarterly Magazine, March 1887:95. [↩]
- Athenaeum, 30 May 1885:692. [↩]
- Bulletin, 31 Dec 1887:9. [↩]
- This review, together with one by Sydney Jephcott, is included in the 1890 edition of Songs under the heading of “Australian Press Notices,” signed F.J. Broomfield, Sydney Bulletin. The review, however, has not been located in the Bulletin although Broomfield was, indeed, on its staff. In fact, Broomfield had seen the first edition of Songs through the press and Adams had particularly wanted him to do the Bulletin review at that time. Instead, a “Forenotice” of the volume appeared late in November 1887, accompanied by several of the poems. Unless the relevant page is missing from the Baillieu microfilm of the Bulletin, I am reasonably confident that the Broomfield review was not published. [↩]
- Sydney Quarterly Magazine, V.l (March 1888):96. [↩]
- H.S. Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages, p. 83. [↩]
- W.H. Wilde & T. Inglis Moore, ed., Letters of Mary Gilmore (Melbourne: MUP, 1980) p. 296. [↩]
- Bulletin, notice of the first issue of Centennial 25 Aug 1888:5. [↩]
- J.H.L. Zillmann, Career of a Cornstalk (Sydney: Duncan & Macindoe 1914), p. 49. [↩]
- Francis Adams to James Brunton Stephens, [18 or 20] Feb 1887, National Library of Aimtralia (NLA), MS 3271/1. [↩]
- In addition to the Mackenzie Bell introduction (1927), this error appears in the entry on Francis Adams in the Modern English Biography … 1851-1900 (London, 1908) and in S.J. Kunitz, ed., British Authors of the Nineteenth Century (NY: H.W. Wilson, 1936). [↩]
- F.J. Broomfield to Morris Miller, 7 Feb 1934, Morris Miller papers, NLA MS87/2/65. [↩]
- J. Phillips to O’Dowd, 10 April 1895, O’Dowd Papers, La Trobe Library Manuscript Collection, State Library of Victoria. [↩]
- “Francis Adams,” Socialist, 1 Sept 1911:3. [↩]
- “A New Capitalist,” The Contemporary Review, 61 (Jan 1892):105. [↩]
- Leon Cantrell, ed., A.G. Stephens: Collected Writings, (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1977), p. 83. [↩]
- Boomerang, 2 March 1889:16. [↩]