Australian Tales

by Marcus Clarke

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The Future Australian Race

When we look at those portraits of gentlemen in white wigs, and ladies in short-waisted dresses, which adorn the walls of some few houses in the colonies, and are reproduced by the score in Wardour Street, for the benefit of modern gentlemen who are desirous of begetting ancestors, we are struck with one peculiarity--the fulness of the jowl. In the portraits of notable men this peculiarity is almost exaggerated into a defect. Johnson, Goldsmith, Garrick even, had it. It is one of the signs of the times, and stamps a man as belonging to the Georgian era--to the days of Hogarth's Beer Street, Smollett's Feast after the Manner of the Ancients, and Gilray's Evacuation of Malta. What is the cause of big jowls, full temples, and bull necks? What, in fact, is the cause of Georgian face? Simple excess of aliment. The men of 1720 to 1795 were gross feeders. The Germans are notorious crammers. It is their capacity for gorging which is the measure of their power. They are a race of strong-willed men--men combative and masterful. Experience shows that hollow-templed men are poets, philosophers, and essayists. Facts show that the wits who were supplanted by the strong thinkers of the Hanoverian invasion were exactly such hollow-templed fellows. From the instant the Germans poured into England--from that instant began the reign of full feeding and of drink.

Not to confine ourselves to the respective duration of the uninsurable lives of Kings, let us consider, as from a height of observation, the British people from Hogarth to Gilray. Their recorded lives are records of alimentary excess. The Gate of Calais is a jest at the sparse feeding of the French nation, and is remarkable as a proof that Hogarth, who may be justly considered a type of the middle-class Englishmen of that day, had no notion of nutriment save in the shape of lumps of cooked flesh. His Frenchmen are represented as having become lanterns upon a diet of rich soups, and his English as having been reared into grand adiposity by the mastification of beef-shins and collops of veals. In Beer Street and Gin Lane we see the same theory expressed. The drinkers of gin are squalid, haggard and thin. Men kill themselves; women drop their children over areas railings; corpses are thrust into coffinshells. All is hideous and terrifying. The beer-drinkers are presented, not as well-contented homekeeping persons, but as boozers, fat, swollen with malt, fermenting with new yeast, rudely amorous, bestially desirous of all sensual gratification. This full-up-to-the-throat sort of happiness was really what was enjoyed at the time. In Midnight Conversation, hot punch in huge bowls lends zest to song. In the Rake's Progress the hero is dyspeptically insane. In Marriage à la mode, a cur, half-starved, leaps on the table to seize a bone. In the Four Stages of Cruelty the good boy offers his cake to save the life of the tortured dog. Everywhere intrude shapes and forms of eating. In Midnight and Noon, the girl whom the black boy is kissing, carries a huge pie. In the Industrious Apprentice a whole row of Aldermen are seen, with napkins swathed under their fat chaps, gnawing bones. In the Election Dinner the prevailing taste for gorging and guzzling may be said to have reached its height. One man has burst his waist belt. One pours wine over his friend's head. The disjecta membra of the feast lie around, as are scattered the fragments of a carcase torn by dogs. The host is dying of a surfeit. Oyster-shells literally pile the tables. Tobacco-smoke completes what gluttony began, and burdened stomachs kick against their load.

Let the reader bethink himself of the incessant device employed by the novelists of the Georgian era to produce an embroglio. What is the excuse for Mr. Tom Jones, Mr. Joseph Andrews, or Mr. Peregrine Pickle leaving his chamber in the inn? A modern writer, true to modern facts, would insinuate sleeplessness, a desire to smoke and so soothe the too active brain, fear for his own or his horse's safety--a thousand other matters turning upon mental exercise. Nothing of this sort occurs to the heroes of Fielding or of Smollett. They go to bed and sleep soundly, but are awakened by the effects of their gluttony. "Joseph, in whose bowels the roasted port was still sticking," and "Jones, who began to feel the effects of the punch, combined with the too hearty supper which he ate," rise from their beds and, returning, blunder into different chambers. The device seems so easy that we are convinced it is natural. The men of that time did habitually that which men of our time do but seldom--they over-ate themselves. The caricatures of Gilray and Rowlandson are full of allusions to this practice. To put out of mind those grosser jests with which the student of caricature history must be of necessity familiar, we can remember the Orgies of the P----- of W-l-s, and that recurring decimal in the humorous sum the Household Economy of Farmer George.

The example of riotous living set by the Regent and his friends was, however, an example tempered in some degree by taste. Escaped from the insularity of her moral position, England contrived to get into her cooks' heads some notions beyond roast beef, even though she was compelled to achieve the task by conquering the nations who understood the art of living. During the reign of H.B. we notice that the faces depicted are less gross than of yore. Lord Althorp is a heavy jowled man, to be sure, but the rising curve of little Lord John's nose had already risen above the horizon, and the Iron Duke brings back the severest Roman physiognomy. Though the sensual lip, the wrinkled throat, and the retreating forehead were not to be eliminated for a generation, we see clearly, in the first pages of the struggling Punch, that the English national face has undergone a change. It has become lighter and more keen. Science advances, restrictions upon trade are removed, men no longer embittered by fierce party struggles, turn their attention to money-making. Victoria reigns. The husband of the Sovereign is a man of wide sympathy and philosophic mind. Under his auspices philanthropy becomes fashionable. Universal peace brings attempts at improvement, engineering schemes are projected, industrial social exhibitions held. The picture has another side. The importance of trade is absurdly magnified. To die "rich" is considered to be worth the cost of living an unhealthy and dishonest life. Speculation--which hardens the eye, and wears the strained muscles always engaged in concealing the expression of natural emotion--is rife. Ruin, rapid and total, overtakes many. Genteel Poverty asserts a physiognomy of its own, at once humble and haughty, timid and stubborn. There rises out of this ruin, and this competition, a creature who is known as "Brummagem"--a man who is neither very rich, nor very clever, nor very well-behaved, but who pretends to be all three. Videri quam esse is the motto of smart brokers, sharp traders, and those who thrive by dexterity in avoiding legal offence. In the midst of this--when Tennyson, the hollow-templed, high-nosed, haughty poet, is writing "Maud" to urge the

Smooth-faced, snub-nosed rogues To leap from counter and till--

war bursts, and England regenerates herself in the Crimea, and is fierily baptized in Indian plains. From the men of those latter days--from the men of the last half of this century, springs the Australian race. The gold discoveries attracted to this hemisphere some of the best nerve-power of England.

Already there existed in the Australias much sturdy Anglo-Saxon stuff. The officers and soldiers who, with their families, constituted the free population of early colonial days, were men of courage and daring. Many of the voluntary immigrants were at least equal to the best middle-class Englishman, while the banished population over which such men as Fyans and Therry ruled, had at least the merit of being eminent in their several capacities, even though their capacities had been misapplied. Among the convicts were many men of great courage, great strength, great powers of brain, and in many instances of astonishing talents for mechanics and fine arts. It is only reasonable to expect that the children of such parents, transplanted to another atmosphere, dieted upon new foods, and restrained in their prime of life from sensual excess, should be at least remarkable.

But criminality it is not reproductive. Being as abnormal a condition as skill in painting or playing is an abnormal condition, it cannot flourish beyond its generation. The genius of the thief buds, blossoms, and dies as surely as does the genius of the artist. But for immigration the convict continent would have been depeopled. Immigration ensued, and what an immigration! The best bone and sinew of Cornwall, the best muscle of Yorkshire, the keenest brains of Cockneydom--Bathurst, Ballarat, Bendigo, had them all. With them came also the daring spendthrift, the young cavalry officer who had lived too fast for the Jews, the younger son who had outrun his income. Barristers of good family and small practice, surgeons having all the Dublin Dissector in their heads and all the hospital experience of Paris in their hands, met each other over a windlass at Bathurst, or a drive at Ballarat. If there was plenty of muscle in the new land, there was no lack of blood. Put aside prejudice and look at the Bench, the Bar, and the Church of this great continent. Look at the schools, libraries, and botanic gardens of Australia. Read the accounts of the boat races, the cricket matches, and say if our youth are not manly. Listen to the plaudits which greet a finished actor or a finely-gifted singer, and confess also that we have some taste and culture. Go into those parts of the country where the canker of trade has not yet penetrated, and mark the free hospitality, the generous kindness, the honest welcome which shall greet you. Sail up Sydney Harbour, ride over a Queensland plain, watch the gathering of an Adelaide harvest, or mingle with the orderly crowd which throngs to a Melbourne Cup-race, and deny, if you can, that there is here the making of a great nation. You do not deny it; but----. But what?

"There are many factors in the sum of a nation's greatness--Religion, Polity, Commerce."

Granted; but these are controllable. There is only one influence which we cannot escape, though we may modify it, and that is the influence of Physical Laws. Let us consider what climate the Australian nation will live in, and what food it will be prone to eat, and having arrived at a distinct conclusion upon those two points, we can predict, with positive certainty, their religion, their polity, their commerce, and their appearance. You stare? Attend for a moment, and you will see that a proposition of Euclid is not clearer.

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