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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke (1846–1881)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
ALTHOUGH a native of England, Marcus Clarke is always classed as an Australian novelist. The son of a barrister, he was born in Kensington April 24th, 1846. In 1864 he went to seek his fortune in Australia. His taste for adventure soon led him to “the bush,” where he acquired many experiences afterwards used by him for literary material. Drifting into journalism, he joined the staff of the Melbourne Argus. After publishing a series of essays called ‘The Peripatetic Philosopher,’ he purchased the Australian Magazine, the name of which he changed to the Colonial Monthly, and in 1868 published in it his first novel, entitled ‘Long Odds.’ Owing to a long illness, this tale of sporting life was completed by other hands. When he resumed his literary work he contributed to the Melbourne Punch, and edited the Humbug, a humorous journal. He dramatized Charles Reade’s and Dion Boucicault’s novel of ‘Foul Play’; adapted Molière’s ‘Bourgeois Gentilhomme’; wrote a drama entitled ‘Plot,’ successfully performed at the Princess Theatre in 1873; and another play called ‘A Daughter of Eve.’ He was connected with the Melbourne press until his death, August 2d, 1881.  1
  Clarke’s literary fame rests upon the novel ‘His Natural Life,’ a strong story, describing the life of an innocent man under a life sentence for felony. The story is repulsive, but gives a faithful picture of the penal conditions of the time, and is built upon official records. It appeared in the Australian Magazine, and before it was issued in book form, Clarke, with the assistance of Sir Charles Gavin Duffy, revised it almost beyond recognition. It was republished in London in 1875 and in New York in 1878. He was also the author of ‘Old Tales of a New Country’; ‘Holiday Peak,’ another collection of short stories; ‘Four Stories High’; and an unfinished novel called ‘Felix and Felicitas.’  2
  Clarke was a devoted student of Balzac and Poe, and some of his sketches of rough life in Australia have been compared to Bret Harte’s pictures of primitive California days. His power in depicting landscape is shown by this glimpse of a midnight ride in the bush, taken from ‘Holiday Peak’:—
          “There is an indescribable ghastliness about the mountain bush at midnight, which has affected most imaginative people. The grotesque and distorted trees, huddled here and there together in the gloom like whispering conspirators; the little open flats encircled by bowlders, which seem the forgotten altars of some unholy worship; the white, bare, and ghostly gum-trees, gleaming momentarily amid the deeper shades of the forest; the lonely pools begirt with shivering reeds and haunted by the melancholy bittern only; the rifted and draggled creek-bed, which seems violently gouged out of the lacerated earth by some savage convulsion of nature; the silent and solitary places where a few blasted trees crouch together like withered witches, who, brooding on some deed of blood, have suddenly been stricken horror-stiff. Riding through this nightmare landscape, a whirr of wings and a harsh cry disturb you from time to time, hideous and mocking laughter peals above and about you, and huge gray ghosts with little red eyes hop away in gigantic but noiseless bounds. You shake your bridle, the mare lengthens her stride, the tree-trunks run into one another, the leaves make overhead a continuous curtain, the earth reels out beneath you like a strip of gray cloth spun by a furiously flying loom, the air strikes your face sharply, the bush—always gray and colorless—parts before you and closes behind you like a fog. You lose yourself in this prevailing indecision of sound and color. You become drunk with the wine of the night, and losing your individuality, sweep onward, a flying phantom in a land of shadows.”
  3
 
 
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