Stumblers in the hinterlands: Robin Hyde's letters to Eileen Duggan

Introduced and with editorial notes by Lisa Docherty


In his book Confessions of a Journalist (1935) Pat Lawlor listed Robin Hyde and Eileen Duggan, alongside Katherine Mansfield, as the “three great New Zealand women writers” (212).  It should be noted that he also called Hyde a “genius” and a “girl” (212), and Duggan a “genius” who had published “two wee books”(198). Eileen Duggan (1894-1972) was best known as a poet — between 1922 and 1951 she published five volumes.  She also had an international reputation as a Catholic writer. Hyde (1906-1939) was a generation younger, and between 1929 and 1939 published as a poet, novelist, journalist, and non-fiction writer.  However, her particular passion was poetry. On 16 May 1928 she wrote to her friend and mentor John Schroder, then literary editor of the Christchurch Sun, “I’ll write to Eileen Duggan (of whom I’m a little shy because I’m told that she is shy) and ask her to take tea with me —”, and then a few weeks later reported to him, “But tomorrow I’m going to see Eileen Duggan and am very expectant of a nice afternoon”(7 June 1928).

Hyde’s admiration and respect for Duggan can best be gleaned from her quite frequent mention of  Duggan in letters to others. Again to Schroder:

I admire Eileen Duggan, who seems to preserve a remoteness and spend precious little time worrying over what tram she’s to catch or how she’s to acquire her new summer hat. (1 Sept 1928)

Duggan’s book of verse New Zealand Bird Songs, and Betty Knell’s As the Story Goes, were both published at the same time as Hyde’s The Desolate Star. Hyde complained to Schroder:

Drat Eileen Duggan: even unto the third and fourth generation, may she be dratted. I don’t mind Betty Knell, but Eileen is abominably good — I mean her verse — isn’t it? But really, it won’t matter — may even make people think about NZ verses and rush out and buy all three little books. Let’s hope so. I have reviewed both for my tomorrow’s page. (Dec 1929/Jan 1930?)

To Pat Lawlor, who in 1937 was Secretary of the New Zealand chapter of PEN, Hyde wrote:

But would you kindly — both in your official and personal capacity — give Eileen Duggan my warmest regards and congratulations on her OBE, also on the new book of her poems which is to ring its bell in London town? Tell her she was one of the New Zealand poets I loved first and most, and still do: and I bagged a line of hers — with quotation marks, of course — to set on the title page of a novel of mine. I am glad about the present distinction, but will be even more so in reading her new book, for she’s a shy creature and one doesn’t hear enough of her. (29 Feb 1937)

Hyde used these two lines from Duggan’s poem “Forerunners”(1929) for the epigraph to her unpublished novel “The Unbelievers”:

We are but stumblers in the hinterlands,
Too few for linking hands (see Leggott 1995, 280).

Hyde’s letters to Duggan are housed in the Archdiocese of Wellington Archives, in the Eileen Duggan Collection (bequeathed by Duggan). These are the only letters written by Hyde to a woman that are available in the public domain. The six letters reveal and conceal in the same way as her letters to literary men, but also offer a glimpse into Hyde’s desire for a differently written literary friendship.

The first letter is a response to one from Duggan following the publication of Hyde’s own newspaper memoirs Journalese in 1934. Hyde writes from The Grey Lodge, the voluntary wing of the Avondale Mental Hospital (in Auckland) where Hyde had been living since a suicide attempt in 1933. She was still at the Lodge in April 1935 when she responded to Duggan’s request for biographical material for an article on Hyde. Hyde wrote her life repeatedly, in all genres, but it was often what was left out that was most revealing. Here she notably elides two pregnancies, one living son, and the events that led up to her residence at The Grey Lodge. 

Her letter written in April 1936 from Castor Bay is what I have elsewhere called a “precipice” letter.  Written from the edge, it is a brutal expression of desire and dissatisfaction. Shortly after this letter was written Hyde left the Lodge, and spent the next few years living alone in various places in Auckland (and briefly further north). During this time she wrote fervently and lived poorly, in order that she might travel to England. On 16 January 1938, two days before sailing, Hyde wrote to Duggan and poet and publisher Denis Glover. Evidently she was tying up loose ends, as well as in some way ensuring her relationships with New Zealand writers (and affirming her position as one herself). In the letters one senses a tension between the finality of her statements of admiration, respect (and in the case of Glover self-respect); and the already present expectation of a return. Hyde’s letter to Glover was a long ten pages, a confident and fervent response to his lampoon of New Zealand women writers (including herself) in The Arraignment of Paris. To Duggan Hyde offered a note (most likely written after the letter to Glover), an acknowledgement of an unspoken affinity. 

The final letter in this collection was written in November 1938. Hyde had spent several months in China on her way to England, become caught up in the war there, and fallen in love with the country and its people. She arrived in England sick and straight away began work on a book about her China experience, Dragon Rampant (published in 1939). Disappointed with England Hyde yearned to return to China, and then New Zealand.

On 23 August 1939 Hyde was found dead in her London flat, the result of an overdose combined with gas-poisoning. She was buried on the 26th at the New Kensington Cemetery, in Gunnersbury.  Duggan continued to live in Wellington until her death on 10 December 1972.


2 leaves

Address          The Grey Lodge

                        Gladstone Road

                        Mount Albert


Date                15 December 1934

Dear Eileen Duggan,

            Thank you for writing. I am so glad that you didn’t think reference to your work — and Jessie Mackay’s presumption in that very slapdash book of mine. I still doubt whether I had any right to speak of the women writers as part of the journalistic story. But I love some of the work that has been done, and people don’t know, or forget. I am glad that they have done something to make a little appreciation plain to Jessie Mackay, though I know that she doesn’t work for rewards.

            No, I have no courage at all — only a wish to do or write something as a sort of toll-fee for passing through life, and not much confidence that I ever shall. I am working on and have nearly finished the draft copy of a somewhat romanticized history of old Baron de Thierry — or at least, it’s romanticized in so far as it takes what he dreamed into account. And sometimes I think it will serve, and sometimes that it is laden with detail and piles misfortunes one on another like a great Pyramid and never will the reader stand for it. The basis is an unpublishable memoir of his own, which I have been able to study in manuscript form. But only sometimes there’s poetry, which is a reward for all the rest.

            My best wishes. And I hope that you yourself are well again, CA Marris has often spoken of you in his letters.

Robin Hyde

Editorial Note:

Hyde’s book Journalese was published in Auckland by National Printing, 1934.

Christchurch poet Jessie Mackay (1864-1938), published six volumes of verse between 1889 and 1935, and worked also as a journalist.  CA Marris was a literary editor. In 1934 he assisted Hyde in the selection for her second book of poems.



9 leaves

Manuscript postscript

Address         The Grey Lodge

                        Gladstone Road

                        Mount Albert


Date                12 April 1935

Dear Eileen Duggan,

            I’m typing this because my fist is so consistently awful and your letter asked me to reply “at some length.” It’s very nice indeed of you to think of featuring something about my work in the Women’s Mirror, but when you read the details you’ll probably find them far too higgledy-piggledy for reproduction in any rational journal or periodical.

            But about my poems I’ve had some really good news. Macmillan and Company are bringing forth a book of them, written for the most part during the last two years, to be called, I think, Thine Accursed, and to come forth in a series of theirs named “Contemporary Poets.” CA Marris chose them for me when I was far too ill to attend to it myself, and his selection was what I most wanted. I don’t suppose the book will be out for a few months, as I had to reduce it from seventy to sixty-four and they sent me back the poems for this purpose. They have been re-posted just a week.

            I was reading one of the very abstract and etiolated American quarterlies published in Paris last night, and noticed that Mr Ludwig Lewisohn, who is far too interesting to appear in such lustreless company, declares that poetry is a primitive form of expression, prose a much later and acquired art. Perhaps that’s why I prefer poetry to any form of prose. I have something of a dislike for the intellectual who remains strictly limited by his intellectualism, a sort of animated brain-box out of one of HG Wells’ fantasies. Poetry, if it is poetry, comes from body, mind and spirit too. However, this is neither short nor to the point, but I’m in the predicament of having no definite career, merely a choice between two Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit-holes, the first being journalism and the second, months or even years of illness during which I’ve had time to write as I like.

            To begin from the beginning, I was eight when the war started, living with parents and three sisters in a dingy little abode in Berhampore. I’m afraid my literary efforts began in the shape of writing songs of a “patriotic” nature after my father departed. These were horrible but appealed at the time to baser natures of a few schoolmasters and clerics, who patted me on the head until for sheer vanity I had to go on. Apart from that, I had no manner of “encouragement from wise preceptors.” Far from it. I was reasonably good at mathematics and the one love of my childhood, a schoolmaster with a bright red moustache and a passion for hockey, used to bully me about “dropping this verse nonsense.” However, when I went to college and fell under feminine discipline I disliked it a great deal, and ceased to pay any attention to what was told me. The Wellington Girls’ College had a good literary club, the Rangiriri, which offered quite opulent prizes for essays, poems and stories. I went in for these and had a certain amount of success. Apart from that I hated nearly every minute of life at College and thought all the girls barbarians except one, who used to draw excellent devils as illustrations to my poems.

            When I left I was fathoms deep in love with Rostand and William Morris and Stella Benson and the Russian gent who wrote The Created Legend, I think his name was Feodor Solugub. I was a miserable little object with an anti-social bug, and still am, rather, and have kept the bug on as a pet, though at times it really bites.

            Thought myself very clever to obtain a position writing a children’s page for the Dominion people, aged sixteen, but was in error. I started off writing various original bits and scraps, and did find friends in the most comradely of worlds. No distinctions, except possibly a column designed to show the more skittish side of the Houses of Parliament. I think that really was a mild success for the time being, anyhow both Ministers and Members read it and the gentlest of them took me down by whiles to the little tearoom in the House and there poured tea and misinformation into me. I still find the House and politics entirely fascinating, even the long drear all-night debates and the Labour repartee. The only thing besides writing which I can achieve is to talk politics, preferably flamboyant, from platform or indoor soap-boxes, but I prefer rather to leap up on impulse than to prepare notes and argue in a reasoned manner.

            However, for a long time I was journalistic Jack-of-all-trades, more so, I think, than any other woman journalist in the country. I’ve written leaders, film pages, fashion pages, book pages, rhymelet-and-tale pages for the young and inoffensive, special articles, travel stuff for the Railways and Publicity Departments, interviews with men ranging from Bishops to criminals. I like interviewing men because it is so easy to put ideas into their heads and words into their mouths, which makes the net result more interesting.

            In Auckland I had to concentrate largely on articles of as sensational a nature as I could dig out of the limpet-like and taciturn public. And, though it’s a low taste, I enjoyed it. There’s only one newspaper feature which I would really like to do, and never have done. I’d like to run a column called “For the Defence,” and tell something of the other side of the world that’s so continually hectored by the police and the Nine Hundred and Ninety Nine amendments to the Ten Commandments. I know them pretty well, partly by having lived in close contact with them.

            However I never was flamboyantly and opulently successful as a woman journalist. The peak of my wealth was when the Wanganui Chronicle paid me £4/10/- a week for lady-editing it and gathering advertisements into its fold. And dimly I realized all the time that like Chico in “Seventh Heaven” I was doing “always the thing I do not want to do.” When, because I had no time to write poetry, I broke down and protested that a would-be poet has a duty to his tribe, as such, (it sounds conceited but isn’t, I mean only the duty of endeavour,) I was laughed at. It amounts to this. Whenever I was well enough, I got jobs in newspaper offices, did the work reasonably well and nearly drove a succession of editors out of their wits. Lady-editing I hate with real venom, partly for petty reasons, as when penetrating into the fastnesses of Government House clad as to paws in 3/11d black mittens, whilst all other females swam gloriously into my ken in elbow-length kid gloves at a minimum cost of 17/6d, and partly because I detest the unpleasantnesses which it involves. I found, in that part of my career, that society consists of the sort who made an awful fuss if you put their names in, and the sort who make an awful fuss if you leave their names out. There seems to me very little to choose between them. There was once a Fair here in Auckland, at which I had the dual duties of reporter and guest. A woman who didn’t like my paper called me over to her stall and in a very loud voice began to tell me all about the points in which it displeased her. She had an audience of Auckland’s brightest and best, male and female. Suddenly and to my horror I began to weep “tears as big as marrowfat peas,” like Kath of Cleeves. One of the young stallholders uttered a cry of “Cats,” and seizing me by the elbow led me away to a refreshment stall where my tears could dilute the lemonade. We marched on to the coconut shies, and though still blinded by tears I brought down five coconuts in succession, greatly to the annoyance of the red-faced Naval gentleman who was almost out of them. However, the coconuts were all bad, so nobody scored. I think this proves that I am not really fitted for the responsibilities of gossip-writing.

            The other rabbit-hole is nicer, though uncanny at times. At first I thought it desperately bad luck when I was smashed up at eighteen, and left in a more or less permanently “nervy” condition, but the fact remains that it has been responsible for nearly all the leisure to write that I have ever had. I spent a few months in Sydney once, not then fit enough to make any attempt at professional journalism. As far as I could discover, the few articles I ever submitted to editors were never read, never referred to, never returned. They simply disappeared into limbo. On the other hand, I loved the old Moreton Bay fig trees in Centennial Park, and the lads and lasses riding, slender and brown on their ponies. And in an old hospital which had once been a private home and showed beyond its windows blue-flowering jacaranda trees and a sea of pale glittering lights I started to write poetry again. I had a blest and lonely twelve months down in the South Island, with snow-mountains in my back door and the population mainly consisted of bellbirds and rabbits. I wrote a Sun prize story and poem here, and a good many others. But I don’t in the least regret the harassed and hectic years, and I intend to have more of them. They work in with the leisure times to produce the only good work that I can do. I don’t care for literature divorced from life.

            The last two years have been my best opportunity — I’ve done no journalism but a few freelance articles that pay for flowers and cigarettes — but I’ve had time to get a good deal finished. Journalese was the first prose book, and was intended as a friendly farewell to the newspaper world. The poems, and many new ones since CA Marris sent that collection away, came back to my mind. Then in March this year I completed and posted off Check to Your King, which is a biography of the romantic order, about old Baron de Thierry, who well deserved some recollection. That book is entered now for a non-fiction contest in America, and if it doesn’t there succeed in publication will be sent away publisher-hunting elsewhere. In between times I’ve done a series of stories which are in some sense fantasies, “Lonely Street,” which won the Art in New Zealand prize, was one of them, but they’re intended as what Lion Feuchtwanger calls “those fables which hold more truth than reality.” I have the greatest respect for the old folk-tales, both in verse and in prose, not the pretty ones but the kind whose savour is like the smell of newly-chopped wood in a forest clearing. I see no reason why new personalities of fairytale shouldn’t be created, and why old ones, dried and withered in forgotten pages, shouldn’t be interpreted so that they have one foot in the fable kingdom and one in the human city. I love this kind of writing and shall probably try to find an English publisher for the collection soon. Also on the fairytale side but this time for the child only is a little book in which Gloria Rawlinson and I propose to collaborate. It’s to be simply rhymes, about sparrows and hedgehogs and Disrespectful Thrushes and some more. I have never done anything in the way of a Christmas book and I thought it would be fun. The verses are mostly written already and we propose to find an illustrator and seek our fortunes.

            The book I’m doing now is of an entirely different sort. It’s the story of a queer bird, half Red Indian, half Spaniard, a sort of outlaw who has spent his youth in prison and at war, whither he wandered as a boy of fifteen. He lives now in the slums. I think Walt Whitman says something which bears on his story — “There is to me something profoundly affecting in large masses of men following the lead of those who do not believe in man.” I’ve done about half of this book so at present its fate is entirely uncertain, but I want to make a success of it because it touches the three things about which I can be in earnest — health, peace, enlightenment. The three seem to me dependent on one another, and, linked together, the whole structure of citizenship as it ought to be. If such a trinity of ideals can be the core of a writer’s work, they are what I want for mine: though I’d hate a world without humour, and a book which painted life as humourless would be to my mind untrue. I’ve seen it crop up in so many queer places.

            I want, then, to write of people as they are and as they consciously or subconsciously wish to be: and of fairytales whose people are true, and of one other thing. It’s only in the last few years that I have grown to understand and appreciate New Zealand, the city life and the background of tussocky hills. I’d like to write something of that. The book about Baron de Thierry tells a good deal of the colour of New Zealand’s early history, the by-ways that didn’t get into official accounts. Though I’d like to write more of that at leisure, the next book I want to do about New Zealand must have the present day as its field.

            Remember the magic mushroom down the rabbit-hole? When you nibbled one side you were remarkably small. When you tried the other you shot up over the tree-tops. Don’t you think that writing has much the same effect, only with the minimising side of the mushroom served up much more frequently than the grandiloquent one?

            Probably all this long-windedness will not be in the least useful to you. I can’t help it, my career has been so much a la John Gilpin, and there’s such a deal of it which is difficult to touch on. But perhaps you can rescue a few facts from this debris.

            I had a letter from Gloria telling me that she met you recently and that you had on a geranium velvet frock and buff-coloured shoes, which sounds very attractive. What did you think of the child? Mr Marris told me there was a very handsome portrait of her in Andrew’s, but I don’t think he had met her. She sent me three lines of a little poem about sparrows which I liked very much. I remember one of yours, published under another name and perfectly delightful — it was called “Saturday’s Child.” And CA Marris as John Dene had one of the loveliest sparrow songs you could wish to meet. Curiously enough I don’t believe I have ever seen a good one written outside New Zealand. Poetry here is so much better and simpler than people seem to realize. I loved an Epiphany one of yours in Best Poems of 1935. (Wasn’t the selection good this year. That anonymous sonnet sequence struck me as the best thing about a house since Thomas Hood wrote a very striking un-Hood-like poem about a haunted one.)

            Forgive this bulging letter, which will have to go in a manuscript envelope instead of decently as a private citizen.

[holograph signature and postscript]

Very sincerely

Robin Hyde

PS I should have said that my Mother, who is an Australian, has a gift both as a writer and speaker. She never had time to exercise it and won’t own up to it. I believe her grandfather John Sircom was something of a lad in Melbourne’s old days. He used to write poetry of the epigrammatic and sardonic sort and stalk about the city blackguarding his friends in verse, but they always asked him next time because he was amusing. In old age he presided over a little school for demoiselles and surrounded it with a fourteen-foot wall of galvanised iron, with broken glass and spikes on top. He numbers a mad musician of some talent among his descendants but as he really is pretty mad (he keeps dozens of violins stored under his bed) and still lives on, very irascibly, it would be indiscreet of me to say much about him. PPS Will send photograph soon. IW

Editorial Note:

“Thine Accursed” was published as The Conquerors in April 1935 by Macmillan.

Ludwig Lewisohn (1882-1955) had edited in 1933 an anthology titled Creative America.  Hyde’s college friend was Gwen Mitcalfe, (nee Hawthorn). The Created Legend by Fyodor Sologub was translated by John Cournos in 1916. Sologub was a pseudonym for FK Teternikov (1863-1927). Chico was a character in the Broadway play Seventh Heaven. Hyde won prizes for a poem and story in the Sun in 1929, the year before her five month stay in the South Island (June to October). The story “Temples,” and poem “Vigil,” were published 20 December 1929. “Lonely Street” won the Art in New Zealand prize for 1935, published in March.  Derek Challis holds in his collection an unpublished manuscript “The Uppish Hen, And Other Little Chickens” by Robin Hyde and Gloria Rawlinson, with illustrations by Beula Hay (not with the manuscript). There is also a letter addressed to Rawlinson from Hutchinson & Co publishers dated 9 November 1937 who wrote on behalf of Hyde regarding the collaboration. Challis also possesses a Christmas book written for him by Hyde in 1934.  Hyde was working at this time on Passport to Hell, a novel  based on the experiences of, Douglas Stark (Starkie) during the First World War, which Hyde gathered in a series of interviews with him, March-April 1935. It was published by Hurst & Blackett in April 1936.  Hyde refers to William Cowper’s poem “The Diverting History History of John Gilpin”.




4 leaves

Address          The Grey Lodge

                        Gladstone Road

                        Mt Albert

Date                2 May 1935

Dear Eileen Duggan,

            It’s a splendid article — only far too nice — after the years I have wasted I don’t deserve any commendation. It’s yourself as the only one in New Zealand who has ever, and always, put poetry first.

            I do feel that it’s a much nicer critique than I’m worth, but I suppose I mustn’t pull it to pieces on that account! The facts are all in order — the only thing I have the slightest doubt about is whether I’ve unwittingly misled you over the last book, about the man who is half Red Indian, half Spaniard. His life sometimes has been sad, tragic, horrible: not always, and not in will. Whether people will think that his quite genuine idealism atones for the rest, I don’t know. In real life I don’t think “Starkie” will ever have much of a chance. In a book it may be different: or folk may think it’s too hard a book for idealism to lift it up — I don’t know — I think I’ll just leave it to you

            The photograph is very bad. I am “lean and lank and long as is the ribbed sea-sand.”

            It was very nice of you to mention about the little Christmas book with Gloria. I think she is going through the usual sixteen year old torment of feeling that nothing she does is any good. I don’t know why I say “sixteen year old” when I still get the same hopeless feeling often enough.

            I’ve altered one line in the article, about CA Marris arranging for the publication of the poem-book. I think that perhaps a wrong construction might be put on “arranged for,” and I’m really rather proud of the fact that Macmillan’s accepted them outright and are paying a baby advance on royalties day of publication. Naturally I don’t want that bit mentioned, but I’ve written in “has had news of the impending publication . . . Mr CA Marris collected the poems . . .” He was a dear all through my illness, and the poems are dedicated to him, for I owe him the debts of years and years of kindliness — I know he’s one of your very firm friends and admirers. When I was in Wellington and went up sometimes to his house, you were one of the topics almost certain to arise so that, long before I ever met you, I did know about your poems, and a little about yourself.

            Thank you for the article, and more, for thinking of writing it. It will be a help when the little book comes out. I was to have had tea yesterday with another friend of yours, Muriel Innes, but I’m sorry to say she is laid low with the ‘flu.

            The letter you sent to Parnell did reach me at length — but not till this afternoon, two days after the other one. You must have thought me very uncivil in not answering it — but the Post Office Mills grind slowly.

            My best wishes for your happiness and for the poems.

Robin Hyde

Editorial Note:

The lines “And thou art long and lank and brown, / As is the ribbed sea-sand,” come from part IV of Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner.”



2 leaves

Address          The Grey Lodge

                        Gladstone Road

                        Mount Albert


Date               12 April 1936

Dear Eileen Duggan,

            For one night, I’m not at the Lodge but at Castor Bay, occupying an immense stone sleeping porch with one coal-black handsome mother cat, and two kits, tab and pale mauve. It’s windy and I can hear the sea. Blessed peace! I’d like to write to you, and remain without form and void, only be well, and be happy.

            My sufferings don’t matter much. Most of them are the results of my own vanity, and some of the others I have enjoyed in a way, not being able to care very greatly what the world thought about it. I mean, the world is stupid. It says “Sin,” and you see the rock of a little island with striped queer lilies and a million rooks rather sinister against the sunset — drawing it with them like a reddened net. It says “Shame,” and the little devil inside you knows you get rather a kick out of its raised eyebrows. It says “Suffering” and you see the dearest eyes in the world. It says “death,” and you say “Question-mark?”

            What a peroration! Blame the sea outside, and the infinite lovely relaxation of quiet.

            I love your poems: about all I’ve seen, and I wish I could see more. Some day soon you will bring out another book. For you and for me too (please,) there is a goodish Eastern proverb:

            “The dogs bark, the caravan passes.”

            Goodnight. I suppose Authors’ Week is being a plague and a nightmare. I am exiled from it, fairly joyously except that at first I’d have liked to dance a little in ye public eye and sell ‘em my books. But all those wagging tongues and wagging beards — are they to make us rich? Not if I know my NZ sales resistance! So instead as soon as I can make my doctor let me I am going to Anawata, the Cave of a Thousand Faces. In summer red trees burn there, but in winter red camp-fires, for one sleeps in the cave and presumably eats mussels. Aren’t shellfish vile, except of course in their own regions? Still the Cave of a Thousand Faces is going to be a consolation.

            Best wishes always.


Robin Hyde

Editorial Note:

Hyde was, in the end, invited to contribute to the Auckland Authors’ Week festivities. She contributed an impassioned speech titled “The Writer and his Audience” in which she makes a plea on behalf of writers, not only for the financial rewards necessary to exist, but also:

. . . much more than your money, the New Zealand writers want your lives. I mean that literally. We want that part of you which is unexpressed and put aside as day-dreaming. [. . .] But I think of inspiration as that which we breathe in, that which is in the air. Think of us sometimes, believe in us, hope that we may be honest, that some of us will touch the skirts of greatness and the rest at least catch the canvas as they see it, and you’ll have done your part (Boddy, 325-26).



3 leaves

Address          The Grey Lodge

                        Gladstone Road

                        Mt Albert


Date                 16 January 1938

Dear Eileen,

            Now just on the eve of going away for my year and a day, and much spent with packing, I want to acknowledge your little Christmas card with a letter or note. But my letters get so silly I must swear to keep this short.

            I caught a glimpse of, and picked up, and loved something in, your new green and cream book of poems in Whitcombe’s the other day. Then someone came to tell me my bill was so much, and I had to put it down, but I will see it again in London, and read it slowly. I hope you know I love and respect your work, both poems and the very few but very good short stories I’ve seen — the one about Thomas Bracken, for instance, and another, a long time ago, about Captain Hobson. I would like to see a book of those: it would be a quiet book, but it would be a good and truly strong book.

            You know (it may be my paranoiac instinct to identify things and people with myself, so don’t be insulted, if you violently disagree), I think you and I, though so utterly different in route and all manner of chosen means, work out to somewhat the same equation in the end — but I am clay and you are china (I don’t mean “fragile porcelain,” I mean good honourable china, and for that matter clay not so bad either, though very streaky). But often you say the thing I wish I had said. Anyhow, bless you, as I used indeed to bless you in the days when I first got about the Wellington Public Library, and your first book of poems was the best book of poems there.

            I’m taking your New Zealand Bird Songs in my pack: you know which one I am, or have anyhow grabbed off —

            “Dreamily answers the bandit —

            ‘My head is sold for silver —’“

            I am taking also some of the best New Zealand stuff — poetry only — that I could get hold of; and mean to try if anywhere I can get it a run for our lack of money; because I like it, not to show off.

            The literary pack in London I mean to give an extremely wide berth they are [by] nature a little too red in tooth and claw for my liking, even though the awed little Mr Denis Glover did pronounce me “like a puma.”

            Give my love to those of your friends who are also friends of mine, Marris and Pat [Lawlor] and I think you know Leo Fanning and AH Messenger. I shall be glad to be back: I don’t want to be away from NZ for very long, I like it so that in the event of a Japanese invasion I’ve planned the populating of Hell Fire Beach and Devil’s Love on the west of Stewart Island — You’d like them.

            If you ever find time to write to me c/o New Zealand house, that I would like: if I don’t get shot up in Japan.

            To your poems and yourself, my very best wishes, and more: and please remember me to your nice sister.


Robin (or Iris)

Editorial Note:

Hyde had seen Duggan’s book Poems (1937).  Hyde quotes “The Shag” from Eileen Duggan’s New Zealand Bird Songs (1929). In “Opening the Archive”(1995) Michele Leggott points to the unquoted lines from the same poem: “But God, where all is gentle, / May weary of such meekness, / May turn unto the outlaw, / May bless the Shag, the Sinner”(279).        



4 leaves

Address           c/o Pope’s Hall





Date                 15 November 1938

Dear Eileen,

            Thanks for the little letter. Galatea on the battlefield made me giggle faintly. The Japanese are, I maintain, a surprising people but I think Galatea would have surprised them. Nothing that I ever noticed surprised the Chinese.

            I did not really stay on purpose to have a book, you know — I only hung about a bit too late, partly under a misguided impression that I might be company for the seventy-year-old lady doctor with whom I was staying, partly because, if my Chinese friends had any idea that things were going to march so much quicker than I could run (or they, poor old dears,) they certainly gave me no information about it. But the intrinsically unsound part was that I deserved to get it in the neck, for being there, and they did not. And they got it. It wasn’t so amusing as it must have sounded in the newspapers, or in the articles which I have tried to hack out. There were outrageously funny things that happened, in all quarters, but the trouble is, if you start laughing at one, you suddenly find you’re laughing at all, and then the supreme indecency of laughing at any of it sort of gets you where you live, Anyhow it gets me where I live. Pictures enclosed came to me from a Chinese source and to the best of my knowledge have nothing to do with Hsuchowfu. But with the exception of two displaying executions, there is nothing in these pictures which I did not see in Hsuchowfu — as far as the incendiary bombing stuff is concerned, I saw that not for a handful, but for hundreds. Without colour however I don’t think you get the real effect. Should add that regarding the picture of a Japanese officer making himself pleasant, I never saw any Japanese officer contribute to these performances. The worst I ever saw of Japanese officers was (were?) several in rather bad temper, and a couple tight and fighting in the street. I must say I hoped they would decapitate one another, but of course they didn’t.

            Anyhow as Lady Macbeth sensibly remarks, “no more o’ that, my lord.” I’m convinced that if I could think of it much less I’d write of it much better — and I have to do some sort of account: it’s a matter of moral obligation, but I’m so tired. However I’m not half so tired as I was, nor, I guess, a millionth part as tired as those millions in the world who are really trained and disciplined for their mortal combats. You remember —

            “The other fray in the sun shall be,

            The inner beneath the moon:

            And may Our Lady lend to me

            Sight of the dragon soon.”

            But this all gets so prosy. I’m so glad about Pat’s novel, please give him my love. And sorry, about Mr Marris and the kidneys, I do feel eternally that Charlie Marris gets a rough deal — he puts a lot in, and gets a very little out, and it’s almost wholly the mean little paltry pricks the Tomorrow crowd give him that puts me off the Tomorrow crowd. It’s false literary economy to be put off any writer or crowd of ‘em in NZ. Or as one of ‘em remarks:

            “Shall we let pride lay waste the soul?

            What hope or need have we of pride?

            We are but wanderers in the hinterlands,

            Too few for linking hands.”

            I bagged that bit and one of your Bird Song poems for an article about NZ writers in Tien H’sia, which is the best Chinese periodical to be printed in English. Would send a copy, but I have only the one. The article, called “The Singers of Loneliness” was in their August issue of this year. I met some very friendly, discursive and lovable young Chinese writers, mostly of the student age, but a few seniors, also nice. Would like to do an article about them, but my book is dragging so hard on my wrist and conscience that I’ve done little freelancing since coming to England.

            I loved Nellie McLeod’s article on Jessie Mackay, in a recent Tomorrow. (Tomorrow still sends me Tomorrow, though we have severed diplomatic relations. I’m not sure if they do it because they still love me, or still hate me, but it doesn’t matter much.) I’m ashamed to say I have had no chance of reading your last book of poems. But I got a Christchurch Press containing a review, and, my word, you certainly have made JHES come out of his shell a bit! And that was good — John’s praise is worth having.

            I hope the awful meeting passed off without a tremble. Gloria Rawlinson’s novel is another book I haven’t yet laid hands on, though I read it in ms — in several mss, to be exact. Her mother seemed a little depressed by ill NZ reception, but encouraged by its English one. Have you heard anything recent of the child?

            ‘Goodnight, sweet saint; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.’ I would like some too but substitute a rather beautiful carved wooden mask. I’ll show it to you some day. Very best wishes.

Iris G W

Editorial Note:

Hyde quotes from Macbeth (V. i. 41-42). Hyde quotes first from Louise Imogen Guiney’s poem “The Knight Errant”, then from Duggan’s poem “Heralds” in Poems (1937).  “The Singers of Loneliness” has been reprinted in Disputed Ground (Boddy, 347-58).  Music in the Listening Place, a novel by Gloria Rawlinson was published by Cassell (London) in 1938.  “Goodnight, sweet, prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” are Horatio’s words to the dying Hamlet (V. ii. 312-12).

Works Cited:

Boddy, Gillian and Jacqueline Matthews. Eds. Disputed Ground: Robin
Hyde, Journalist
. Wellington: Victoria UP, 1991.

Glover, Dennis. The Arraignment of Paris. Christchurch: Caxton, 1937.

Lawlor, Pat. Confessions of a Journalist. Wellington: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1935.

Leggott, Michele. “Opening the Archive: Robin Hyde, Eileen Duggan and the Persistence of Record.” Opening the Book: New Essays on NZ Writing. Ed. Mark Williams and Michele Leggott. Auckland: Auckland UP, 1995. 266-93.


Hyde’s unpublished letters

To Denis Glover. 16 Jan 1938. Glover Ms-Papers-418-22. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

To Pat Lawlor. 1934-1939. Lawlor 077-067-5/3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

To JHE Schroder. 1927-1939. Schroder Ms-Papers 0280-03-07.  Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.


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