The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Clarke, Marcus

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Clarke, Marcus (Andrew Hislop), the distinguished Australian author, was the only son of the late William Hislop Clarke, a London barrister, and nephew of Col. Andrew Clarke, K.H., sometime Governor of Western Australia. The family were of Anglo-Irish origin. Marcus Clarke was born at Kensington, London, on April 24th, 1846, his mother dying a few months after his birth. He was educated at Chomley School, Highgate, under the late Rev. Dr. Dyne. His father dying when he was only seventeen years of age, and leaving him nothing beyond a few hundred pounds by way of patrimony, it was decided by his friends that he should try his fortunes in Australia. He accordingly went out in Green's old "liner" the Wellesley in 1864. On arriving in Melbourne he was taken in hand by his uncle, the late James Langton Clarke, then a County Court Judge in Victoria, who obtained for him a junior position in the Bank of Australia in Melbourne. Figures were not, however, to his taste, and after a brief and eccentric clerkly career, of which many amusing stories are told, he relinquished banking and took to the "bush," being sent in Jan. 1865 to acquire "colonial experience" on Swinton station, near Glenorchy, in Victoria. The owner of the station was Mr. John Holt, but his uncle had a pecuniary interest in it; and young Clarke was thus permitted to lead a desultory, half lazy, half literary life for a period of about two years, during which he acquired "experiences" which, if not exactly those designed, were of high value to him in his future career as a writer, into which latter groove he now drifted. Amongst the visitors to the station was a "materialistic philosopher" named Dr. Lewins, who, struck with the youth's mental calibre and literary capacities, mentioned his discovery of the bush genius to the late Mr. Lachlan Mackinnon, of the Melbourne Argus, who at once offered him an engagement on that paper, in the minor capacity of theatrical reporter. This was gladly accepted, and all went smoothly until one of young Clarke's criticisms unfortunately antedated the appearance of a piece the first production of which it presumably described. He was promptly removed from the regular Argus staff, and became henceforth merely an occasional, though most copious and capable, contributor to that paper and to the well-known weekly journal the Australasian, issued from the same office. In the latter his most brilliant effusions appeared under the title of "The Peripatetic Philosopher." He also contributed special articles, principally of theatrical criticism, to the Argus, in whose columns they formed a striking and favourite feature. Mr. Clarke purchased the Australian Magazine, which he rechristened the Colonial Monthly, and which he conducted. In its pages his first attempt at novel-writing, "Long Odds," appeared in serial form. He, however, wrote the first few chapters, the tale being finished by others, Mr. Clarke, in taking a jump which his horse failed to negotiate, being thrown with great violence and fracturing his skull. This was in 1868. Narrowly escaping with life after a protracted illness, Marcus Clarke resumed his literary activities, and about this time took the principal part in founding the Yorick Club, of which he was the first secretary, and which still flourishes as the leading literary and Bohemian club of the Victorian metropolis. It was at the Yorick that Marcus Clarke first made the acquaintance of Adam Lindsay Gordon, the equally dashing poet and gentleman steeplechase rider, for whom he formed a warm affection, and whose mournful end he deeply deplored, as is evidenced by the sympathetic preface which he wrote for the posthumous edition of Gordon's poems. At this time Marcus Clarke both edited and contributed to Humbug, a brilliant weekly comic journal published in Melbourne, but which, like the Colonial Monthly, was destined to be short-lived. Mr. Clarke stopped writing for the Melbourne Punch when he took the editorship of Humbug in 1869. In the former, however, some of his most sparkling work appeared. Amongst Mr. Clarke's contributory staff on Humbug were Dr. Neild, Mr. A. L. Windsor, Mr. Charles Bright, and Mr. Henry Kendall. Altogether it was a formidable rival to Mr. James Smith's Touchstone, a contemporary weekly of similar character. On July 22nd, 1869, Mr. Clarke was married at St. Peter's Church, Melbourne, to Miss Marian Dunn, daughter of John Dunn, the well-known burlesque actor, and herself an actress of much cleverness. Mr. Clarke now ventured on dramatic work, and wrote Foul Play, a dramatisation of Reade and Boucicault's novel of that name. It was produced at the Melbourne Theatre Royal, but was only a partial success. Various succeeding adaptations were more favourably received. Mr. Clarke now produced the great literary work with which his name will always be associated in both hemispheres, and which placed him at the head of Australian authors. "His Natural Life" is a story based on the tragic experiences of the old convict days, and is equally realistic and repulsive in the horrors it reveals. It was written as the result of a trip to Tasmania undertaken with the view of recruiting the author's health. He not only attained the latter object, but procured from the old convict records of the island the materials for a most powerful narrative, "His Natural Life" at first appeared serially in the Australian Magazine. It was, however, revised almost beyond recognition prior to publication in England, where it was issued by the Messrs. Bentley, and at once attracted the favourable attention of the press and public. In the work of revision and excision Mr. Clarke was assisted by Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, to whom the work was dedicated on its appearance in book form. Mr. Clarke also published a selection from stories contributed to the Australasian under the title of "Old Tales of a New Country." In Jan. 1870 he was appointed Secretary to the Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library, organised by the late Sir Redmond Barry, who recommended him to the position and always remained his staunch friend. He became Sub-Librarian in 1876. Mr. Clarke now published "Holiday Peak" and "Four Stories High"; and his drama Plot, written in 1872 and produced at the Princess's Theatre, Melbourne, also proved an undoubted success. Mr. Clarke, having quarrelled with the Argus and Australasian proprietary, became a contributor to the Evening Herald and Daily Telegraph, both published in Melbourne. He subsequently became connected with the Age and Leader, and contributed much brilliant matter to the latter above the signature "Atticus." The connection with both these journals lasted till his death. In 1878 Mr. Clarke refused the librarianship of the Victorian Parliamentary Library, offered him by Mr. (now Sir Graham) Berry. He did this in the certainty of obtaining the chief position in the Melbourne Public Library, which, however, was, much to his disappointment, conferred on Dr. Bride. His fame as a writer had in the meantime become widely diffused, and he was offered a permanent position on the staff of the London Daily Telegraph by its enterprising proprietor, Mr. E. L. Lawson. This he was compelled to decline through inability to leave Australia. He died in Melbourne on August 2nd, 1881, of congestion of the liver and erysipelas supervening on pleurisy. Mr. Clarke left behind him an unfinished novel entitled "Felix and Felicitas," which displayed remarkable promise. In 1884 a selection from his writings was published by subscription by Messrs. Cameron, Laing & Co., of Melbourne. It is entitled "The Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume," and was edited by Mr. Hamilton Mackinnon, who prefaced it by a detailed Life of his friend and a complete list of his works, which is of much interest to the student of Australian literature.