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

§ 4. James Brunton Stephens

To the period of Kendall and Gordon belongs also the earlier work of the Queensland poet, James Brunton Stephens, a Scot who went to Australia in 1866. The popularity of Stephens rests chiefly on his humorous poems, such as To a Black Gin and Universally Respected: and these vigorous and hearty sketches make him the Bret Harte of Australia. They do not, however, show his talent at its best. Stephens is a poet of great strength and fine imagination. His first poem, Convict Once, is a tale of remarkable power and gloom; and among his lyrics are several which, for their music and their passion, are much to be prized. Technically, Stephens is noteworthy for his strong handling of dactylic metres. Another good Queensland poet, George Essex Evans, belongs to a later date, since his first volume was not published till 1891. Evans shared Stephens’s lofty belief in the destinies of Australia. His Australian Symphony and his patriotic poems are full of passion for his country and of a more manful and ambitious love of it than Kendall or any other Australian poet had expressed. His long narrative poem, The Repentance of Magdalene Despar, is strong and tragic, and in his lyric poems he shows a command of original metres and cadences and a choice fancy.

In the decade 1880–90, there began a new era in Australian poetry, possibly due, in some measure, to the new pride and confidence which was the natural result of the increased interest in Australia after the International Exhibition at Melbourne in 1880–1 and the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886. At any rate, it is the poetry of a civilised country, with leisured and cultivated inhabitants. The poems of Philip Joseph Holdsworth, of Francis Adams, of James Lister Cuthbertson, of Robert Richardson, of William Gay, of Grace Jennings Carmichael, of Barcroft Henry Boake and of Victor James Daley show poetry firmly established in Australia, well received by a public that can judge for itself, and flowering with a peculiar vigour. It is the poetry of refined and cultivated minds; but it is free from wilful strangeness and from any native or imported taints of morbidity. Meanwhile, John Farrell had set the vogue for racy, free-and-easy poetry of common life, which his successors are practising with greater skill and verisimilitude than himself. In origin it doubtless owes something to Bret Harte: but it is enriching the English language with vigorous colloquial expressions, and providing readers with excitement and amusement.