Alfred George Stephens (1865–1933) was born in Toowoomba, Queensland, and was educated at Toowoomba Grammar School and Sydney Technical College. His father had been part-owner of the Darling Downs Gazette and for most of his life Stephens was deeply involved in literary journalism. He edited the Gympie Miner (1888–90) and the Cairns Argus (1891–92), and wrote leaders for the Boomerang and literary supplements for the Miner and the Argus. In 1894 he joined the staff of the Bulletin in Sydney and within two years was responsible for the reviews, articles. extracts and notes that made up the ‘Red Page’. For the next 20 years he was the most widely read and respected literary critic in Australia. In 1906 he left the Bulletin and from 1907 to 1925 he brought out 123 issues of the Bookfellow.
As an editor, Stephens exerted enormous influence on both readers and writers, not only by his criticisms and his terse, witty judgments but also by his choice of authors for publication in his journals. He promoted the work of some of the finest writers of his generation: Joseph Furphy, Steele Rudd, Victor Daley, Bernard O’Dowd, John Shaw Neilson, Hugh McCrae, Will Ogilvie, Mary Gilmore, Miles Franklin and John Le Gay Brereton. He was a fervent nationalist, but insisted that Australian writing should be judged against international standards.
Among Stephens’s many books were:
Victor Daley (1905)
Anzac Memorial (1916)
The Wild Colonial Girl (1917)
Henry Kendall (1928)
Chris Brennan (1933)
Most of the manuscripts were purchased from Stephens in 1923. Some items were acquired from him in later years, such as the Kendall and Lawson certificates, which were received in 1928.
The A.G. Stephens Collection comprises manuscripts of poems and stories and letters that he assembled in the years in which he was editing the ‘Red Page’ of the Bulletin and later the Bookfellow. Over 70 writers are represented in the collection, including Arthur Adams, Frank Anstey, Arthur Bayldon, Louis Becke, Randolph Bedford, Francis Birtles, Barcroft Boake, Zora Cross, Victor Daley, C.J. Dennis, Louis Esson, Mary Gilmore, Henry Lawson, Will Lawson, Hugh McCrae, Nina Murdoch, Will Ogilvie, Dowell O’Reilly, Vance Palmer, Marie Pitt, Roderick Quinn, C.H. Souter, David Souter, Louis Stone, B.R. Wise and David McKee Wright. The Quinn manuscripts are the most substantial, amounting to 72 poems, while there are eight poems of Lawson.
Other papers include a letterbook of William Farrer mainly concerning despatches of wheat from Lambrigg Station (1906), copies of birth, marriage and death certificates of Henry Kendall and Henry Lawson, letters to R.A. Broinowski concerning The Spinner (1924) and a 53-page typescript by Stephens containing biographical notes on Australian and New Zealand authors, artists and musicians.
The A.G. Stephens Collection is held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 75. It occupies two boxes. It has been catalogued as a collection and a four-page finding aid is available online at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-238137699/findingaid.
Cantrell, Leon (ed.), A.G. Stephens: Selected Writings, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1977.
Lee, Stuart, Stephens, Alfred George (1865–1933), Australian Dictionary of Biography online
Palmer, Vance (ed.), A.G. Stephens: His Life and Work, Robertson and Mullens, Melbourne, 1941.
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)