MANNING, Frederic (1882-1935)

MANNING, Frederic (1882-1935)
was born at Sydney on 22 July 1882, the fourth son of Sir William Patrick Manning (1845-1915), and his wife Nora, daughter of John Torpy. Both parents were of Irish descent. Sir William Manning, an accountant and financial agent, was Mayor of Sydney from 1891 to 1894, and represented South Sydney for a period in the legislative assembly. He was knighted in 1894. His son, Frederic, a delicate boy, except for about six months at Sydney grammar school, was educated privately. He was taken to England at the age of 15 by Arthur Galton, who had been private secretary to Sir Robert Duff, governor of New South Wales from 1893 to 1895. Galton was a university man who had joined the Roman Catholic Church and had become a priest in 1880. He left that ministry in 1885, was re-admitted to the Church of England in December 1898, took orders, and subsequently wrote several books on theological questions. He was probably responsible for Manning's classical education, as the boy was at school for only six months in England, and did not go to a university. Manning's first volume of verse, The Vision of Brunhild, was published in 1907, and in the same year he became a literary reviewer on the London Spectator. In 1909 he published a remarkable volume of prose, Scenes and Portraits, highly praised by such distinguished critics as Max Beerbohm and E. M. Forster, but for long known only to a discerning few. Another volume of verse, Poems, appeared in 1910.
In 1915 Manning enlisted in the Shropshire light infantry as a private. He was offered a commission but declined it because he felt he had none of the qualities required for an officer. Some of the earlier poems in Eidola, published in 1917, reflect his war experiences. He collaborated with T. S. Eliot and R. Aldington in the production of a small volume of essays, Poetry and Prose, published in 1921, and he was asked by the British government to collaborate with Sir George Arthur in writing the life of Kitchener. Illness prevented him from doing so but he was able to undertake The Life of Sir William White, director of British naval construction, a conscientious piece of work on a subject quite alien from Manning's way of life. This volume appeared in 1923, and was followed in 1926 by an edition of Walter Charleton's translation of Epicurus's Morals with a long introductory essay. Persuaded by his friend and publisher Peter Davies, Manning wove his war experiences into a novel published anonymously in 1929, The Middle Parts of Fortune: Somme and Ancre, by Private 19022, of which an abridged edition with the title Her Privates We, came out in the following year. It was well reviewed and four impressions were printed in January 1930. But the public was getting tired of novels based on the war, and the book had less success than it deserved. In November 1930 a revised and slightly enlarged edition of Scenes and Portraits was published and in February 1933 Manning visited Australia. He died in England from pneumonia after a short illness, on 22 February 1935. He was unmarried. An elder brother, Sir Henry Edward Manning, born in 1877, became attorney-general and vice-president of the executive council of New South Wales in 1932 and was created K.B.E. in 1939.
Manning suffered from bronchial asthma all his life, and though he was occupied for a long period on a novel of the time of Louis XIV, never had the energy to finish it. He was a solitary and a scholar, shy and sensitive, always seeking to avoid notice. Yet among congenial friends his talk was witty and profound, his observations as quick as his understanding. His verse is excellent, technically speaking, but his emotion seems scarcely deeply or sharply enough felt to give him an important place as a poet. His prose is in the highest class, Scenes and Portraits, partly short stories and partly imaginary conversations, has wit and humour, irony and wisdom expressed with a perfection of phrase unexcelled by any other writer born in Australia. Her Privates We gave the life of the soldier at the front with an honesty and accuracy which placed it in the front rank of books of its kind. The character of Bourne in this book is probably based on the author.
The Times, 26 February 1935; The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 February 1935; Nettie Palmer, The Bulletin, 22 March 1933; E. Morris Miller, Australian Literature; W. Rothenstein, Men and Memories; Since Fifty. For his father, Debrett's Peerage, etc., 1915. For his brother, Who's Who in Australia, 1941 For Galton, Crockford's Clerical Directory, 1920, and Introduction to his The Message and Position of the Church of England. For an appreciation of Her Privates We, C. Kaeppel, The Australian Quarterly, June 1935.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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