WILMOT, Frank Leslie Thomson Furnley Maurice (1881-1942)

WILMOT, Frank Leslie Thomson Furnley Maurice (1881-1942)
son of Henry William Wilmot, ironmonger, a pioneer of the socialist movement in Victoria, and his wife, Elizabeth Mary Hind, was born at Richmond, a suburb of Melbourne, on 6 April 1881. Both his parents were born in Australia. He was educated at the North Fitzroy state school and in 1895 obtained employment at Cole's Book Arcade, Melbourne. He gradually rose in this service, and when the business was finally wound up by the executors of the Cole estate in 1929, held the position of manager. He began contributing verse to the Tocsin, a Melbourne Labour paper, before he was 20, and later much of it was accepted by the Bulletin and other periodicals. His first separate publication, Some Verses by Frank Wilmot, appeared in 1903, and attracted little notice. Another little volume, Some More Verses, was printed in 1904 but was suppressed before publication. Some years later a few copies of this volume were discovered which found their way into collectors' hands. Finding at one stage that his work was being persistently rejected Wilmot adopted the pseudonym of "Furnley Maurice", and his poems thereafter were published either anonymously or under this pseudonym. In 1913 a slim, well printed volume, Unconditioned Songs, published anonymously, attracted some attention. A few of the poems, written very much in the language of common life, were obviously experimental and not always successful, but discerning readers of verse realized that a writer had arrived who was not only musical, he had something to say. That what he had to say was important was shown in his next publication, To God: from the Weary Nations, which came out in 1917. Revised and with a slightly altered title "To God: from the Warring Nations" the poem was later reprinted in Eyes of Vigilance, but in the meantime an entirely different piece of work, The Bay and Padie Book: Kiddie Songs, had come out (first ed. 1917, third ed. 1926). This volume was meant especially for young children, and few writers in this medium have been so successful. In Eyes of Vigilance, which appeared in 1920, Wilmot printed some of his best work, and in Arrows of Longing, published in 1921, he gathered together most of his uncollected work up to that date. In 1925 The Gully, a poem of about 200 lines, was published in a limited edition, with decorations by the author which suggest that had Wilmot taken up painting he might have had success as an artist.
In 1929 Wilmot had to find fresh means of making a living. He had of course made very little from his poetry. On leaving Cole's Book Arcade he bought its circulating library and carried it on for about three years, also doing some bookselling. It did not pay well and early in 1932 he applied for the position of manager of the Melbourne University Press and was appointed. He carried on the press with great success until the time of his death. It was not only that he expanded its activities very much, he made it pay. And though much of the work published was naturally educational, the press during his period published other important books and incidentally set a high standard in technical production. Though working very hard during the period after leaving Cole's, Wilmot still found time to do original work. The Gully and Other Verses, published in 1929, was the most even in quality of his volumes, and Melbourne Odes which appeared in 1934 showed that he had nothing to learn from the younger poets. This volume contained the centenary ode for which he was awarded a prize of £50 in 1934. He had a serious operation in this year for appendicitis, which apparently was not completely successful, as another operation was necessary about a year later. On his recovery he continued working hard, always hoping that he might have a few years of leisure in which to do original work. In 1940 he was chosen to deliver the first course of lectures on Australian literature at the university of Melbourne under the Commonwealth scheme. He died suddenly at Melbourne on 22 February 1942. He married in 1910 Ida, daughter of C. F. Meeking, who survived him with two sons. In addition to the works mentioned Wilmot published in 1922, Romance, a collection of essays in prose, which though somewhat slight are excellently written. He wrote the verses and some of the prose in Here is Faery, published in 1915, and a few single poems were issued separately. These will be found listed in Miller's Australian Literature. Among them was an essay in satire, Odes for a Curse-Speaking Choir I. Ottawar! An Ode to Humbug. He also wrote short stories and some plays, two or three of which were staged by amateurs. He collaborated with Percival Serle and R. H. Croll in the production of An Australasian Anthology, and with Professor Cowling in Australian Essays. In 1940 appeared Path to Parnassus Anthology for Schools, a charming selection of English and Australian poems with an illuminating introduction. A selection from his poetry was published in 1944.
In his youth Wilmot, who was above medium height, was slim and good-looking. He had a feeling for craftsmanship, was a good amateur printer and a good handy man, he felt that if a thing was worth doing it was worth doing well. He had much appreciation of wit, humour and satire, felt deeply and expressed himself strongly, had a wide knowledge and much appreciation of good literature and music, and was always ready to welcome originality of thought or technique. Of his generosity of temper one example may be given. A. G. Stephens (q.v.) did not like Wilmot's work and wrote it down. After Stephens died Wilmot spent both time and money in endeavouring to arrange for a memorial to his one-time critic. He was perfectly sincere and straightforward. People occasionally, found him blunt or even sardonic, and though fundamentally kindly, he did not cultivate the habit of saying the pleasant thing. Yet seeking nothing and claiming nothing for himself, he gained the affection of all who were associated with him. He disliked intensely facile and cheap effects, but was always glad to appreciate and help honest and thoughtful work. On the advisory board of the Commonwealth Literary Fund his work was invaluable, for he not only had the technical side of book production at his fingers' ends, he was a wise and cautious critic. As a poet he was a combination of the traditional and the adventurous; only time can determine his exact place in Australian literature but it should surely be a high one.
Personal knowledge; information from family; Vance Palmer, Frank Wilmot; B. M. Ramsden, The Australian Quarterly, June 1943, p. 108; E. Morris Miller, Australian Literature; Elzevir, The Argus, Melbourne, 2 February 1935.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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  • Frank Leslie Thomson Wilmot — (April 6 1881 22 February 1942), who published his work under the pseudonym Furnley Maurice, was a noted Australian poet, best known for To God: From the Warring Nations (1917).Early lifeWilmot was a son of Henry William Wilmot, an ironmonger and …   Wikipedia

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