The Public Image of John Shaw Neilson
John Shaw Neilson once remarked that 'Some people seem to think that it [the lyric] should be as definite as an ironmonger's catalogue, and as dogmatic as a Calvinistic sermon.' In hinting that his critics were a practical lot who demanded that the lyric utterance be as clear, confident and precise as a Bulletin ballad, Neilson was lamenting a critical myopia which was by then a tradition in this country. Sadder still, the myopia extended to his public image. Some writers, and Christopher Brennan comes to mind, have personalities so striking that they threaten to dwarf their art; a few, like Shaw Neilson, possess a public image so at odds with their utterance that the contrast alone can fascinate. And there is no doubt that Neilson's public image assumed such importance that it defined the critical approach to his verse.
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