Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis: 9th October
October 8th, 2014 | C. J. Dennis, Henry Lawson, Poems for adults, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis
This must surely be one of the very most significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, for it is the date of publication by Angus & Robertson – 99 years ago – of his blockbuster masterpiece, “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke”.
Dennis initially had very modest hopes for the book, and was as shocked as everyone with its phenomenal success. According to Wikipedia, the first print run consisted of 2,500 copies only, but a further 5,000 were released several weeks later, on 2nd November. Another 5,000 were released on 6th December, another 5,000 on 25th January (presumably after a bit of a break over Christmas and New Year), and on it went. Within eighteen months it had sold 66,000 copies!
Indeed, the relationship between Dennis and his publisher, George Robertson, got off to a very shaky start. Robertson resented Dennis giving him details about how the book should be published. He replied, “We like your stuff, but we don’t like your letter. We are publishers, and do not take instructions from authors…” Dennis apologised (after a fashion…), and the relationship was soon on a firm footing, which it never lost.
It was Lawson who first introduced Dennis to George Robertson when Dennis had been in Sydney the year before, 1914. Indeed, it seems likely that Lawson can claim at least part of the credit for Angus & Robertson accepting “The Sentimental Bloke” after it had been rejected by several publishers.
Lawson was already very much a literary star by then and, with that in mind, Dennis asked him to write a Foreword to the book. Lawson was happy to oblige, but Dennis was uncomfortable with much of what he had written. Lawson made reference to the class struggles evident in the book, but did so in what Dennis felt was a rather sour way, and he was concerned that it might put some readers off. Lawson eventually more or less agreed to sign anything that Dennis wrote on his behalf. (Dennis eventually partially repaid this debt when he tried – unsuccessfully – to secure a pension from the government for Lawson towards the end of his life.)
“The Sentimental Bloke” outsold all of Lawson’s books, and the joke is sometimes made that the most successful thing Lawson ever wrote was the Foreword to “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke” – and he didn’t even write it!
Next year – 2015 – will mark the centenary of the publication of “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke”.