“An Old Master” by C.J. Dennis – original pencil-drawn manuscript

October 31st, 2015 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, News, Poems for adults, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

In the lead-up to the Toolangi C.J. Dennis Poetry Festival this year, I was interviewed on ABC Radio 774 by Libbi Gorr. A number of listeners rang in with interesting stories about C.J. Dennis.

One caller was of particular interest. David Hume told me that his grandfather, Walter Hume, had been a mate of Dennis, and had received from him as a gift the original pencil-drawn manuscript of Dennis’ classic poem, “An Old Master”. This is one of Dennis’ better known poems, and is often heard recited at Poets’ Breakfasts and other poetry events these days. It is of particular interest to Victorians, as it is set in the hills around Toolangi.

David duly sent me the manuscript, which I am posting now. I have asked Dr. Philip Butterss from the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide to have a look at it, and he is in no doubt that it is authentic. (Dr. Butterss wrote the award-winning biography of C.J. Dennis, “An Unsentimental Bloke”, published by Wakefield Press last year. He has been very helpful to me in my writing of the presentation of “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke” that I performed with Geoffrey Graham and Jim Haynes at the festival this year.)

Walter Hume was born in Fitzroy, Melbourne, in 1873 (three years before Dennis was born). However, he moved to Adelaide in 1904, and may well have met him over there. Hume developed a cheap method of making pipes which became popular around the world, and become a very successful and wealthy businessman.

You can view his biography here:

The manuscript was given to Walter Hume in about 1936 or 1937.

It should also be noted that it would appear that this is the first time that the friendship between Walter Hume and C.J. Dennis has become public knowledge.

David also gave me a copy of a covering letter that Dennis wrote to Hume.

Here it is:

Dennis to Hume 1 copy

Dennis to Hume 2 copy
(At the top is a watermark that reads: ARDEN. TOOLANGI. VICTORIA.)

The letter reads as follows:

“10th June, 1935.

W.R. Hume Esq.,
5 Studley Avenue
KEW E.4.

Dear Hume,

You see how I hasten to break my stern rule about answering correspondence as soon as greed scents the least chance of possible material profit. Human nature is like that.

Frankly, and briefly, I am greatly attracted by your scheme, but –

Although my need at the moment be great, I can hardly see myself entering into any scheme that means certain winnings for me while others (on my behalf) put their money on a horse they know nothing or little about.

Not that I would throw cold water on your scheme – far from it. It has possibilities, provided that the difficulties and problems before you are first thouroughly understood and appreciated.

Through experience I have learned something about book publishing, and I should be glad to put those problems before you on the first occasion we are able to meet.

I have little desire to go to town just at present. Since I saw you last I have again been in and out of hospital (for the fourth time in twelve months) and I do not feel exactly in travelling humor.

However, when your return to town if you will, at your convenience, drop a line to me, or ring me I shall endeavour to get in personal touch with you to discuss matters.

Will you allow me to say that I regard it as a very great kindness that a busy man, like yourself, should devote so much valuable time to the interests of myself and my work.

You are rather at sea in regards to “The Bloke” dialect; but we will discuss that, too, when we meet.

With kind regards,

Yours truly,

C.J. Dennis”

(signed in his customary green ink)

What, exactly, was the proposal that Hume was making to Dennis? We will probably never know.

My computer appears to be struggling, so I will continue this story in another post.

12 responses to ““An Old Master” by C.J. Dennis – original pencil-drawn manuscript”

  1. Patsy Hohnen says:

    How fascinating to peep into the mind of Den in such a personal document. Interesting that he likened entering into a business scheme to putting money on a horse.
    He does sound rather fragile and uncertain.

    What a treasure to unearth. It was an excellent interview and so fortunate that David Hume happened to be tuned in.
    Well done Mr President.
    Thanks for sharing it with us. Patsy

    • Stephen says:

      Thank you again, Patsy.

      Interesting perspective – “fragile and uncertain”. Yet at other times he seemed so confident and strategic. Perhaps he lost some confidence with the passing of the years.

  2. Edel Wignell says:

    A fascinating glimpse of history. Thank you very much for sharing, Stephen.
    Edel Wignell

  3. Very interesting Stephen, many thanks–Geoffrey

  4. Barry Watts says:

    A great find, and a generous donor. Well done all round!

  5. Will Hagon says:

    Lovely to find and interesting now for us to speculate. However I wonder about Den’s spelling of ‘humor’ as well as the ongoing horror of the reflexive pronoun when delicious, neat little pronouns are continually and wrongly ignored:
    “Will you allow me to say that I regard it as a very great kindness that a busy man, like yourself, should devote so much valuable time to the interests of myself me and my work.
    I love Den and his works dearly so was sorry to see ‘yourself’ wrongly in place of ‘you’ and ‘myself’ wrongly in place of ‘me’.

    Other than that, heartwarming.

    • Stephen says:

      Yes, I did notice that, too. I think I decided to let it go, as it was a spelling issue rather than a question of re-writing. Thanks for getting in touch, Will.

  6. David Hume says:

    I think all of the followers to this interesting relationship between W R Hume and his mate “Den” will be pleased to know that following discussions between the 8 families of W R Hume’s children agreed to donate the above letter and the original transcript of An Old Master to the National Library of Australia in Canberra,

    They were delighted and have now posted it on their website. As Den would say….”take a peek”

    David Hume.

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