Secondhand Rows 

Join Stephen Reid, our secondhand maestro, every month here as he takes a closer look at a couple of titles from his shelves.

February 2019

 - Thursday, February 07, 2019
Welcome once again to our devoted band of readers. As I write, in high Summer, the mountain landscape of our Blackheath domicile resembles instead the opening stanza of Dorothea Mackellar’s poem, My Country – all ‘grey blue distance’ and ‘soft dim skies’. Time then, to call back the bright, dazzling, Australian Summer, and how better than to leaf through this handsome volume of art of Australian artists from the Heidelberg School:


(Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1979) Hardback. First Edition. 160pp, colour illustrations. Owners signature on front paste down and inscription on the free front endpaper. Very Good condition in Very Good Dustjacket. $45

Named after a town north east of Melbourne, the Heidelberg School originally comprised a group of artists who—beginning in the 1880s—chose to paint in the open air, directly from nature and to capture what they saw as a truly Australian vision. The term later evolved to include painters who worked together in artist’s camps around both Sydney and Melbourne. These Australian Impressionists included Tom Roberts, Rupert Bunny, Charles Condor, Frederick McCubbin, Walter Withers and Arthur Streeton. In March 1889, in a letter replying to criticism of their work by the Melbourne art critic, James Smith, Roberts, Condor and Streeton set forth their artistic principles: ‘…that we will not be led by any forms of composition or light and shade; that any effect of nature which moves us strongly by its beauty, whether strong or vague in its drawing, defined or indefinite in its light, rare or ordinary in colour, is worthy of our best efforts and of the love of those who love our art.’ All are represented here in this collection of 70 paintings, along with an introduction and commentary on each work by Patrick McCaughey on the work and significance of the Heidelberg Painters. So, as the misty, rainy days continue on, if you wish to recapture a true Australia Summer, gaze upon McCubbin’s Sunset Glow (1891), Streeton’s Oncoming Storm (1895) or Withers’ Tranquil Pastures (1910).

Heroic Failure and the British by Stephanie Barczewski
From the Charge of the Light Brigade to Scott of the Antarctic to the evacuation of Dunkirk & beyond, a national propensity to glorify disaster and valiant defeat seems to strike at the very heart of what it means to be British (something Australia inherited if the Gallipoli legend is anything to go by). In  this book Stephanie Barczewski surveys the enduring but evolving myth of heroic failure in British culture over the last 2 centuries, arguing that it played an essential part in the nation’s coming to terms with its changing role on the international stage. Initially employed to helpfully gloss over the moral ambiguities of imperial expansion, and then providing a comforting myth of resilience in the face of adversity during WW2, Barczewski shows that the commemoration of heroic failure as the 20th C progressed came to serve as a metaphor, and sometimes as an explanation, for British decline. $20, HB

Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal $25, HB
Henry Morton Stanley, so the story goes, was a cruel imperialist—a bad man of Africa—who connived with King Leopold II of Belgium in horrific crimes against the people of the Congo. He also conducted the most legendary celebrity interview in history, remembered in the words ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’ Compare & contrast with the Heroic Failure above (Stanley features) as Tim Jeal offers Stanley as neither all good nor all bad. Rejected by both parents at birth & consigned to a Welsh workhouse, Stanley emigrated to America, fought in the Civil War—on both sides—before becoming a journalist & then an explorer. With unprecedented access to a previously closed family archive, Jeal provides a re-examintation of post-colonial guilt, new insights into African history, and a fresh understanding of the nature of exploration.

With the Seven Years’ War , Great Britain decisively eliminated French power north of the Caribbean—and in the process destroyed an American diplomatic system in which Native Americans had long played a central, balancing role—permanently changing the political and cultural landscape of North America. Fred Anderson reveals the clash of inherited perceptions the war created when it gave thousands of American colonists their first experience of real Englishmen and introduced them to the British cultural and class system. The war taught George Washington on & other provincials profound emotional lessons, as well as giving them practical instruction in how to be soldiers.