The Literary Reputation of Adam Lindsay Gordon
'Whatever a stern criticism may say as to the abiding merit of his work, at least there can be no doubt as to the value which the heart of Australia sets upon it.' These words were spoken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr John Cosmo Lang, on 11 May, 1934 at the unveiling in Westminster Abbey of a memorial to Adam Lindsay Gordon. A distinguished gathering saw Gordon take his place between Tennyson and ThomasCampbell; some were able to find his situation merited as well as appropriate. On this occasion, over sixty years after his death, Gordon, it seemed, had at last been assigned a place in the literary world.
This picture of poetic merit duly recognized and suitably honoured is more colourful than accurate; and one may detect in the words of the Archbishop's oration more tact than conviction. 'A stern criticism', he implies, might find it less easy to justify Gordon's place among the great poets of the English language. Other English commentators were more forthright. 'Colophon', the critic for John O'London, simply pointed out that Gordon's poetry has no great literary merit, and that he earned his place in the Abbey as a representative of Australia, not of the art of poetry. His inclusion among his peers was a friendly gesture towards the cultural aspirations of an imperial asset, not a serious critical statement. The Manchester Guardian, more timid, escaped pronouncing any judgment upon Gordon's poetry by noting its appeal to Australians.
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