New Zealand Literature
Books about New Zealand are numerous enough. To begin at the beginning: Tasman's Log is little but dry bones; of Cook and Crozet I have written elsewhere. Of the writers who tell of Alsatian days, none is worth naming in the same breath with Maning. His Old New Zealand and the even better-written story of Heké's war have about them—like Katherine Mansfield's stories—that elusive something that industry and mere talent cannot supply. Personally I like Polack and Savage among the pioneers, despite the lumbering pretentiousness and doubtful veracity of the former. Earle and Major Cruise are more truthful than readable—conditions which are exactly reversed in the case of Rutherford. If, as is said, Lord Brougham helped to write Rutherford's narrative, he did his work very well; but after the exposure of its “facts” by Archdeacon W. L. Williams, it can only be read as the yarn of a runaway sailor, who had reasons for not telling the whole truth and a capacity and knowledge of local colour which would have made him a capital romance writer had he been an educated man. As a picture of the times, Rutherford's story in the “Library of Entertaining Knowledge” will always, however, be worth reading.
The missionaries have not been as fortunate in their chroniclers as they deserve. The tumid stuff of Nicholas is grotesque enough to be more amusing than the tract-and-water style of Yate and Barret Marshall or the childishness of Richard Taylor. Much better in every way are Buller's (Wesleyan) Forty Years in New Zealand and Tucker's Life and Episcopate of George Augustus Selwyn.
Among the descriptions of the country as it was when the colonists found it, Edward Shortland's account of the whalers and Maori of the South Island, Jerningham Wakefield's of the founding of the New Zealand Company's settlements, Dieffenbach's travels, and Bidwill's unpretending little pamphlet telling of his tramp to the volcanoes and hot lakes in 1842, seem to me at once to tell most and be easiest to read.
On the Maori, their myths, legends, origin, manners, and customs, William Colenso is perhaps the first authority. For his views it is necessary to go to pamphlets and to search the Transactions of the page 376 New Zealand Institute, where much other good material will also reward the seeker. Next to him I should venture to put Percy Smith, Edward Tregear, and James Cowan. The two former used to edit the valuable journal of the Polynesian Association. Mr. Smith made a special study of the origin and wanderings of the Maori race and wrote monographs on the tribal wars. Mr. Tregear produced the Comparative Maori-Polynesian Dictionary. His book, The Maori Race, is well known, as it deserves to be. Mr. Cowan has lately completed in New Zealand a history of our wars with the Maori; I have not had the good fortune to see it, but imagine that it will rank as definitive. John White's Ancient History of the Maori is in the way of form more of a jumble sale than a book, but every student is glad to use it. Sir G. Grey's collection of stories and legends has not been superseded. Archdeacon Stack, Travers, and Judge Wilson are writers on Maori history too well known in New Zealand to require praise. General Robley has written the book on Maori tattooing; Mr. Hamilton a very complete and worthily illustrated account of Maori art. Mr. Justice Chapman's paper on Pounamou or greenstone and its uses deals sufficiently with that.
As narratives of the first twenty years of the Colony two books stand out from among many: Thomson's Story of New Zealand and Attorney-General Swainson's New Zealand and its Colonization. It would not be easy to find a completer contrast than the gossipy style of the chatty army medico and the dry, official manner of the precise lawyer, formerly and for upwards of fifteen years Her Majesty's Attorney-General for New Zealand, as he is at pains to tell you on his title-page. But Swainson's is the fairest and most careful account of the time from the official, philo-Maori and anti-Company side, and may be taken as a safe antidote to Jerningham Wakefield, Sir W. T. Power, Hursthouse, and others. A comparison with Rusden, when the two are on the same ground, shows Swainson to be the better writer all round. Of Rusden's History of New Zealand no one doubts the honest intent. The author, believing the Maori to be a noble, valiant, and persecuted race, befriended by the missionaries and those who took missionary advice, and robbed and cheated by almost all others, says so in three long, vehement, sincere but not fascinating volumes, largely composed of extracts from public papers and speeches. Sweeping condemnation of the Public Works policy, of Radical reforms, and recent Socialist experiments complete his tale. The volumes have their use, but are not a history of New Zealand.
Of early days in the pastoral provinces we get contemporary sketches by Samuel Butler, L. J. Kennaway, Lady Barker, and Archdeacon Paul. Butler's is the best-done picture of the country, Kennaway's the exactest of the settlers' everyday rough-and-tumble haps and mishaps, and Lady Barker's the brightest. One of the volumes of General Mundy's Our Antipodes gives a nice light sketch of things as they were in the North Island in the first years of Governor Grey. Dr. Hocken's well-known book has at once become the recognized page 377 authority on the first years of Otago, and also has interesting chapters on the South Island before settlement. Fitzgerald's selections from Godley's writings and speeches is made more valuable by the excellent biographical sketch with which it opens. Dr. Richard Garnett's admirable Life of Gibbon Wakefield is for New Zealanders a standard work.
Of older books on the Eleven Years' War from 1860 to 1871, Sir William Fox's easily carries away the palm for vigour of purpose and performance. Sir William was in hot indignation when he wrote it, and some of his warmth glows in its pages. It is a pity that he only dealt with the years 1863–5. Generals Carey and Alexander supply the narrative of the doings of the regulars; Lieutenant Gudgeon that of the militia's achievements. General Carey handles the pen well enough; not so his gallant brother soldier. Of Gudgeon's two books I much prefer the Reminiscences, which on the whole tell more about the war than any other volume written by an actor in it. Sir John Gorst describes the King movement and his own experiences in the King's country. Swainson takes up his parable against the Waitara purchase.
Gisborne's Rulers and Statesmen of New Zealand, though not a connected history, is written with such undoubted fairness and personal knowledge, and in so workmanlike, albeit good-natured, a way, as to have a permanent interest. Most of the many portraits which are reproduced in its pages are correct likenesses, but it is the pen pictures which give the book its value. Gisborne had two sides. In the House of Representatives he was the mildest of men, yet as a writer of political articles he had a trenchant style with quite unsuspected powers of banter and sarcasm. Between 1875 and 1885 he was a frequent contributor to the leading columns of the Lyttelton Times. I used to think his best articles were as good as any written in New Zealand in my time except some that appeared in the Evening Post between 1895 and 1910, authorship of which used, rightly or wrongly, to be assigned to Mr. Atkinson.
Of volumes by travellers who devote more or less space to New Zealand, the most noteworthy are Dilke's brilliant Greater Britain, the volumes of Anthony Trollope and Michael Davitt, and Froude's thoughtful, interesting, but terribly slipshod Oceana.
Scientific students may be referred to the works of Hooker and Dieffenbach, to Von Haast's Geology of Canterbury and Westland, Kirk's New Zealand Forest Flora, Sir Walter Buller's Birds of New Zealand, Hudson's New Zealand Entomology, and to the papers of Hector, Hutton, and Thompson. The best popular books on the natural history of the country are Laing and Blackwell's on the flora and Drummond and Hutton's on the fauna. Mr. Drummond is a constant writer on the natural life of the islands, and anything he does is always pleasant to read. Professor Dendy has described the Chathams. Cockayne (botany) and Park (geology) are for the scientific.page 378
A sound, short history of the Colony in the nineteenth century is that of Irvine and Alpers. There are local histories, of which two by Mr. Buick on Marlborough and Manawatu have merit. The official history of the New Zealand troops in the Great War, by Colonels Waite, Powles, Stewart, and Lieut. H. T. B. Drew, is a work in four volumes. As a Canterbury man I must take the pleasure of mentioning the thoroughness and taste with which Lieut. D. Ferguson has written his special account of the Canterbury regiment.
The interest aroused by the Progressive movement and the experimental laws of the nineties brought out a crop of books, to say nothing of a multitude of articles. Of those by New Zealanders, Scholefield's New Zealand in Evolution, Downie Stewart's State Socialism in New Zealand, and Drummond's Life of Seddon are all honest, careful, clearly written studies from quite different standpoints. Among books written by outsiders, André Siegfried's La Democratie en Nouvelle Zelande, Demarest Lloyd's Newest England, and Sir John Gorst's New Zealand Revisited are the best. Lord Bryce's chapter on New Zealand in his work on Democracy is as fair as a sketch could be by an individualist English Liberal not really in sympathy with what he was describing. He consulted me over it, and I did what I could to be of service. The best estimate of the Arbitration Act was written by a commissioner sent by the Government of California about the year 1910. My own book, State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand, has lately been reprinted.
W. P. R.