The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XII. The Literature of Australia and New Zealand

§ 2. Henry Clarence Kendall

Kendall, born in Australia of English and Irish descent, was employed by Michael in boyhood as clerk and amanuensis, and to Michael is due the credit of having early discerned the boy’s poetical promise. His poems were sent to Parkes, who published them in The Empire.Kendall was twenty-one years old when he published in Sydney, in 1862, his first volume, Poems and Songs. The book contained a good deal that was immature, and Kendall later tried to suppress it. But the promise in it is unmistakable; and so, in certain instances, is the achievement. One of the poems told in impressive fashion the story of the explorers Burke and Wills, who had recently perished. In spite of the opportunities granted by the newspapers, however, Australia was not in those days a good field for poetry. Mistrusting their own judgment, the Australian critics and reading public were inclined to condemn any literature that had not won the approval of the mother-country. Kendall, whose faith in his own powers was not yet shaken by his inherited weakness of character and his consequent unhappiness, boldly sent specimens of his work to The Athenaeum, which, on 27 September, 1862, printed some of them with favourable comments, and on several later occasions gave space and praise to Kendall’s work. This was the first recognition of Australian poetry by an English critical journal, and Kendall was greatly encouraged. He continued contributing poems to the newspapers and, seven years later, collected them, with a few from his Poems and Songs, in a volume entitled Leaves from an Australian Forest. Here he shows himself a true poet, and a truly Australian poet. Though he had spent some years in city life, which he disliked, his heart was always in the country; and he stands in his generation for the poet of the quieter side of Australian country life, and of the beauty of Australian forests, streams and mountains. His third notable volume was Songs from the Mountains, published in 1880. The intervening years had been clouded. In the later poems there are many touches of regret and remorse: on the other hand, some of the poetry of Kendall’s last years reaches a strength and dignity unknown in his earlier work.

The best of his poetry is to be found in the three volumes mentioned, for his efforts in satire and comic writing are negligible. Kendall was not a keen student of the great English poets of the past. His fancy was all for the writers of the nineteenth century; and some of his poetical weakness may be due to ignorance of the greatest models. At times, he seems to be merely an imitator, now of Poe, now of Longfellow, now of Moore. He is not strong in narrative, nor profound in perception of character. But there is grandeur in such poems as his blank verse address To a Mountain, and a fine lyrical quality in his poems of nature and of domestic joy or grief. A gentle, sensitive dreamer, he shows poetry at home in Australia, drawing beauty and sweetness from the poet’s surroundings, without definant or subservient glances at other land.

Contemporary with Kendall, though some eight years older, was the most famous of all Australian poets, Adam Lindsay Gordon. Like Horne and Michael, Gordon, who arrived in Adelaide in 1853 at the age of twenty, brought to Australia a classical education and the traditions of a cultivated home. Through most of his varied, difficult and unhappy life, he was an eager reader of the great poets, from Homer to Swinburne. His poetry, however, was a more direct and personal expression of its author’s own thoughts and feelings even than that of Kendall; and his thoughts and feelings were, far more than Kendall’s, those of the majority of the Australians of his time.