ADAMS, Francis William Lauderdale (1862-1893)

ADAMS, Francis William Lauderdale (1862-1893)
miscellaneous writer
was born at Malta on 27 September 1862. His father, Andrew Leith Adams, then an army surgeon, became afterwards well known as a scientist, a fellow of the Royal Society, and an author of travel books. His mother wrote novels, and his father's father, Francis Adams, was a distinguished classical scholar. Adams was educated at Shrewsbury school and in 1884 published a volume of poems, Henry and Other Tales. In the same year he married and went to Australia.
In 1885 Leicester, An Autobiography was published in London, and in 1886 Australian Essays appeared in Melbourne, where Adams lived for a short period. In these essays we find one on "Melbourne and her Civilization" and another on "Sydney and her Civilization". The first was dated 1884 the second October 1885, and presumably Adams had gone to Sydney in the interim. There he began writing for the Bulletin and other Australian publications. He then went to Brisbane, where his wife died, and remained there until the early part of 1887. In this year he published a novel, Madeline Brown's Murderer, at Melbourne, and his Poetical Works at Brisbane, a quarto volume of over 150 pages printed in double columns. This was followed in 1888 by Songs of the Army of the Night, his best known book. After a short stay at Sydney Adams married again, returned to Brisbane, and remained there until about the end of 1889 writing leaders for the Brisbane Courier. He then returned to England and published two novels, John Webb's End, a Story of Bush Life (1891), and The Melbournians (1892). A volume of short stories, Australian Life, came out a year later. His health was failing rapidly and he was obliged to spend his last two winters in the south of France and in Egypt. After his return to England, realizing he had no hope of recovery, he shot himself on 4 September 1893. He left a widow but had no children. He had nearly completed another volume, The New Egypt, which was published at the end of 1893. His early novel, Leicester, had been largely rewritten towards the close of his life, and it was republished in 1894 as A Child of the Age. The original book was called "an autobiography" but in a prefatory note to the new edition Adams said:—"Beware of taking my characters for myself . . . even when I wrote Leicester I wrote of one entirely unlike myself." Tiberius: a Drama, which has been highly praised, was also published in this year. A collection of his literary criticism, Essays in Modernity, did not appear until 1899.
Adams crammed an immense amount of work into a short life. He often wrote quickly and he revised little. Though most of his prose work is interesting, not much of it is of outstanding merit. Some of his short poems of about 12 lines have a certain Heine-like simplicity which is pleasing, and the blank verse of some of his longer poems is graceful if a little too facile. His Songs of the Army of the Night has often been reprinted, but the reputation of these poems arises from their sentiments rather than their value as pure poetry. Adams felt passionately about all downtrodden races and men. At a time when London Dock labourers worked for fourpence an hour he could not help but raise his voice, and the rhetoric of his "At the West India Docks" echoed throughout the world of labour. Some of his verses caused resentment in Conservative circles, but Adams realized, as few did in those times, how deep was the poverty and misery of a large part of the British nation. It was a time when even such ameliorations as unemployment insurance and old-age pensions were scarcely thought of, and the change that has come about is largely due to men like Adams who were not afraid to express what they so passionately felt.
H. S. Salt, Introduction, Songs of the Army of the Night, 1894 ed.; H. A. Kellow, Queensland Poets; E. Morris Miller, Australian Literature; information from John Oxley Library, Brisbane.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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