Pen vs. PC
15 October 2012
This pen was owned by Henry Lawson and used by him during his sojourn in Leeton from 1916-17. It is actually the end of a pencil in which a steel nib has been inserted and attached with a piece of string coiled up around the pencil to hold it all together. Lawson was invited to Leeton with the offer of two guineas a week and a house in return for producing articles and poems publicising the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA). During his stay he also revised one of his poetry anthologies for publication, Selected Poems (1918). The Library holds copy no. 1 and copy no. 10 of a special large paper limited edition of 75 copies of this anthology. It is printed on hand-made paper, with uncut edges and proof sheets of illustrations tipped in. Our copy no. 1 is inscribed by Henry Lawson himself (could it possibly have been done with this pen?) and copy no. 10 is inscribed by the publishers. Among the 30 poems and 10 prose sketches that Lawson wrote during his 20-month stay in Leeton was “A Letter from Leeton”, which was published in a book called The Australian soldier's gift book that was produced as a fundraiser for building homes for returned soldiers. It was later credited by a government report as having had an "inestimable value" in attracting settlers to the MIA after the War.
Not only does the Library hold a copy of this book, I was also thrilled to discover that we have the original handwritten letter!
A pristine Word document with all the changes of mind removed just doesn't have the same character. So much more interesting to see Lawson's thought processes at work with all the crossing out and insertions, and to imagine him writing it with his fingers wrapped around that well-worn pen. This letter was acquired by the Library as part of a collection of literary manuscripts collected by Alfred George Stephens, who was a journalist, writer and critic.