BAYLEBRIDGE, William (1883-1942)

BAYLEBRIDGE, William (1883-1942)
originally Charles William Blocksidge
son of G. H. Blocksidge, auctioneer and estate agent, was born at East Brisbane on 12 December 1883. He was educated at Brisbane Grammar School and by a private tutor David Owen, M.A., a good classical scholar. He went to London in 1908 and published a volume of poems, Songs of the South, which was followed a year later by Australia to England and other Verses. Both these books were suppressed shortly after publication. In 1910 no fewer than four volumes were privately printed, Moreton Miles, Southern Songs, A Northern Trail, and The New Life, of which copies were sent to the principal public libraries, but few, if any, were sold to the public. There was no publisher's name on any of the volumes, and there was nothing to suggest where they had been printed. One of these books, however, The New Life, was reviewed in the Bulletin on 14 March 1912, and the anonymous reviewer, probably A. H. Adams (q.v.), pronounced it "an astonishing thing to have come from Australia—astonishing in its crudeness and occasional strength, equally astonishing in its gassy rhetoric and its foolishness". In another place he suggested that here was "a new prophet, a new poet—or a new lunatic". But evidently the effects of the volume's strength were greater than those of its weakness, for the book was referred to several times in later issues. Life's Testament, c. 1914, A Wreath, c. 1916, and Seven Tales, 1916, were also privately printed, and attracted no notice, but in 1919 a volume of Selected Poems was issued by Gordon and Gotch at Brisbane which slowly made its way, helped by a literary group at Melbourne of whom Vance and Nettie Palmer and Frank Wilmot (q.v.) were the leaders. Baylebridge had returned to Queensland in 1919. He had travelled extensively in Europe, Egypt and the East, and is stated to have done "special literary work" during the 1914-18 war. His familiarity with the subjects of the stories in his An Anzac Muster, privately printed in 1921, suggests that he had personal experience at the front, but there appears to be no evidence to show that he belonged to any of the fighting forces.
Baylebridge lived the last 20 years of his life at Sydney. He was continually revising his poems and his philosophical writings in prose. His National Notes, first published in 1913, had a third edition in 1936. He received his first authoritative recognition as a poet in Nettie Palmer's Modern Australian Literature, published in 1924, and the inclusion of seven of his poems in An Australasian Anthology, published in 1927, was a confirmation of the standing Baylebridge had gained in Australian poetry. He had completed a volume containing a sequence of 123 sonnets in 1927 but it was not published until 1934. H. A. Kellow, in his Queensland Poets, states definitely on page 217 that this volume was published in 1927, but this is a mistake. Kellow discusses the sonnets and probably Baylebridge had lent him the typescript and told him that he intended to publish in that year. When the book did appear in 1934 it was widely and well reviewed. Kellow had hailed him in 1930, as bidding fair to be "the greatest literary figure that Queensland has yet produced", but with the publication of Love Redeemed Baylebridge took an acknowledged place as one of the leading Australian poets. In 1939 he published a collected edition of his earlier poems under the title of This Vital Flesh, which was awarded the gold medal of the Australian Literature Society as the most important volume of Australian poetry of its year. A small volume of Sextains appeared in the same year, also Life's Testament, a reprint of the first section of This Vital Flesh. Baylebridge contemplated issuing a volume or volumes of his later poems, also a popular edition of his prose tales An Anzac Muster, but they did not reach publication. He died at Sydney on 7 May 1942. He never married.
Baylebridge was tall, fair and good-looking, a good athlete in his youth, a good musician, and a sound man of business; he was interested in the Stock Exchange and was in a good financial position. He was pleasant in manner, an interesting conversationalist, perfectly normal and without suggestion of eccentricity, yet inclined to retire into himself and live a separate life with his poetry and philosophy. In reality he was anxious for recognition, but whether consciously or not adopted methods of publication which made this difficult to be given. He was interested in the format of books and his were always beautifully printed. His philosophy as expressed in National Notes was much less original than he thought and will not be an important part of his fame. His prose in An Anzac Muster in spite of its mannerisms is excellent; at times it ranks with the best that has been written in Australia. This book was issued in an edition of 100 copies and is exceedingly rare. His place in Australian poetry has been sufficiently indicated. Unfortunately the bibliography of his works is confused, as some of the poems appear over and over again in differing versions. It is to be wished that both a complete edition and a careful selection will some day be issued. On the question of the poet's name there is some doubt. His name was originally Charles William Blocksidge. Up to 1923 at least he was signing his letters "W. Blocksidge" but not long afterwards he adopted the name of William Baylebridge, both in private life and for his books. He does not seem to have gone through any process of law, but there appears to be no reason why his wishes should not be respected. His death notice in the Sydney Morning Herald of 8 May 1942 gave his name as "William Baylebridge".
Private information and personal knowledge; E. Morris Miller, Australian Literature; H. A. Kellow, Queensland Poets; Firmin McKinnon, Meanjin Papers, June 1942; T. Inglis Moore, Six Australian Poets; H. M. Green, An Outline of Australian Literature.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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