■ NEW ZEALAND'S ■; "D.N.8,"
: DR. SCHOLERELD'S TWO '....-' VOLUMES
■ (Written, for the "Evening Post"
!■ . inhere has been no work of reference W greatly needed in this country as the "Dictionary of New Zealand Bio-j graphy" .that Dr. G. H. Scholefield has Just completed and the Department of Internal Affairs has issued as a Centennial, publication. It is modelled on i&ie famous "Dictionary -of ■ National Biography" published, in England during the last fifty-odd years. This also met a heed, but there; is this important difference betweeri Britain, and New Zealand, that iih this country we are much worse off 'for biographies and memoirs, snort and long. Here we lack not only "Lives" in separate volumes, but the potted biographies to be found in such publications as "Britannica" and "Chambers." As every New Zealand journalist knows, it has often been difficult and sometimes impossible to find facts about prominent people in our history. Even in respect of those who came to the top and played a great part in our affairs,, it may not have been easy to lay hands quickly on main facts. Suppose, for instance, you wanted to find something about Vogel, or Ballance, or Atkinson, or Domett, or John McKenzie, Where would you look? You might have had to spend hours in turning up something (perhaps in vain) that is now, thanks to Dr.- Schblefield's years of work, and the enterprise of the Government, available to you in a moment. An undertaking like this is a very formidable one, and the difficulties do not end with the enormous labour of research and writing. A publisher has to be found for a work that is very expensive to produce and makes only a limited appeal.- The British "D.N.8." was born of the enterprise and public spirit of a famous bookseller, George Smith, of Smith, Elder, and Co., who, after many years of success in his calling, made this monumental contribution to the literature of his country "without heed to profit." It took eighteen years to issue the original series of sixty-three volumes, so one may imagine what an outlay was involved. When it was completed the Lord Mayor of London gave George Smith a banquet attended by many of • the"" eminent, and John Morley proposed his toast. The dictionary, now in the hands of the Oxford University Press, is added to from time to time by supplements, and has become a national institution of the highest authority, consulted by inquirers of every kind. Up to 1908 , t .shere w.ejce abqut 30,000 lives in the 8 volumes, arid it was estimated that of cAthp .population of the United Kingdom •whavliad.lreach^di thei.age of 24, years during the" period ■: covered, - one in --SQQQ; obtained entry. The proportion Zealand dictionary. Dr. explains, is about .twice as great. Dr. Scholefield's dictionary will occupy a similar position in New Zealand. He began work on it as far back as 1907, and we may take it that in the intervening thirty-three years =-it--has -never been for long out of his thoughts. His lengthy and admirable introduction gives some idea of the .-^amount of research involved, but anytjoijie who has had to work in such fields Jknows that this is only part of the Story. Two volumes, each of some five i .hundred pages* 'and ranging over the ?-jw3tole of our history—it should not require a great deal of imagination to picture how much scorning of delights and living of laborious days have gone 'to their making. There remained the question of publication, and Dr. Scholefield must acknowledge himself fortunate in that his work was taken up as a Centennial publication, which of course was no more than he deserved. It was entirely fitting that the State should shoulder this essential national memorial, and the Department of Internal Affairs is to be congratulated on being responsible for ,a book that, ..in its format, is worthy of the theme. Printing and binding are admirable. The volumes are made to read with pleasure to the eye, and to last It is not possible here to do more than point to a few examples of the wealth of this record. The comparatively lengthy lives of the eminent will interest many. Here, in a brief compass, are the main facts about leaders like Seddon, Vogel, Ballance, and Atkinson. In the' English "D.N.8.," by the way, Shakespeare's is the longest life, and Wellington's comes second. Dr. Scholefield's gives most space to Grey, and then to Vogel, who takes up more room than Se^don. Again one is impressed with the need for separate biographies of our leaders. Atkinson, for example, is generally associated with conservatism and has borne much of the obloquy heaped upon a policy.of retrenchment . and soup : kitchens, but Dr. Scholefield says there is. good reason to believe Atkinson was a Socialist at heart, and gives reasons. It is surely time one had a "Life" of this courageous' and able soldier-statesman. However, the value of the dictionary may be more in the light it throws on the comparatively obscure. This,has been said more than once of. the "D.N.8.," and Ne'wbolt, after reading the "D.N.B,"' before his fire, wrote a ~' poem on the point. j ■ •■' . ■ ,"...-,. Not of the greatest only you deigned to telfcr* The stars by which we steerBut lights out of the night that flashed, and;fell Again,'are here. The record of national leaders one can find elsewhere but not so easily that of the less eminent. There are many .entries in this New Zealand book of men and women who gave something worth Vbile to New Zealand, but are now more or less forgotten. For romance one may take the career of Josiah'• Clifton Firth, who was ' the chief flourmiller in Auckland, took up 50,000 acres at Matamata, built his own blockhouse against the possibility of trouble, with the Maoris, ran his own vessels'up the river, carried a message from Te Kooti to the Government, and had a hand in a score of enterprises and interests, public and private. And perhaps there is no more romantic figure in the whole dictionary than William Lane, the Englishman who did so much to found the Labour movement in Australia, led the "New Australia"
Socialist colony to South America, and eventually became leader-writer and editor1 of a metropolitan conservative newspaper in New Zealand. Dr. Scholefield includes James Mackenzie, the Highland reever, who gave his name to new country, owned a wonderful sheep dog, and left New Zealand under bond not to return. He can cite the "D.N.8." as a precedent for the inclusion of malefactors. I notice also (and readers must not see anything uncomplimentary in this juxtaposition), a number of footballers. David Gallagher, who captained the original All Blacks, and died a soldier's death in the last war, is here; T. A. Ellison and David Gage, members of the Native team that toured England over fifty years ago; and Alfred Bayly, the famous Taranaki three-quarter. And why not? If a criticism of the book may be made, it is that perhaps the "de mortuis" principle has been applied a little too freely. Weaknesses i some-1 times have an important effect on a man's career, and on the public welfare. However, there are obvious difficulties in the way of such candour, and when I turned up a notorious case in the "D.N.8.," I found that the biographer had been equally kind. Dr. Scholefield is, to be congratulated warmly on having achieved with so much success an object so wide in its scope, so national in its importance, and so long and arduous in its pursuit. It is characteristic of his thoroughness and zeal for truth that the volumes bear a slip asking readers to note and report any errors they may come upon. As he says, despite air the care in the world, error of some sort is almost bound to creep into a book of this kind, and we may expect those responsible to follow the practice of ithe "D.N.8." and issue correction lists. The aim is to build up a record that will be as accurate as it can be made.
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NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY, Evening Post, Volume CXXX, Issue 6, 6 July 1940
NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY Evening Post, Volume CXXX, Issue 6, 6 July 1940
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