This study was inspired by the discovery, in the recently acquired Hayes Collection at the University of Queensland, of a bound volume of articles on Australian literature compiled by Bertram Stevens. The contents of this volume, which date from approximately 1860 to 1920, showed a for greater range of critical work than I had expected, both in terms of the number of articles (almost one hundred culled from magazines published in places as far away as Canada), and in terms of the variety of critical thought which was manifested. From the articles in this valuable collection, I turned to other magazines and other articles to try to get as comprehensive a view of the magazine criticism as possible.
The following discussion considers the ideas which were held about literature, about criticism and especially about Australians and Australian literature, in the twenty years after 1890. The selection of the actual starting point of the period was more or less arbitrary, and the discussion has been allowed to overlap these dates. On the other hand, the choice of the period was far from random, for as I have argued in the following pages, Australian criticism finds its feet in these two decades, and the tracing of the changes in the style and approach of criticism, in the attitude to literature, and in the national consciousness, generously repays the trouble taken in searching out the articles in more or less obscure and forgotten magazines.
The Bulletin criticism has been largely excluded from this study for two reaons. Firstly it constitutes a study in itself, and has already received a disproportionate share of scholarly attention by comparison with other areas of Australian criticism. Secondly, it has been my ain to discuss as many different ideas and approaches as possible, even at the expense of including material which could not be ranked with the best criticism of the time. Consequently A. C. Stephens’ criticism is more than adequately represented by The Red Pagan, the Bookfellow, and his writings for other magazines, although I have not hesitated to refer occasionally to material in the Bulletin which is especially interesting or significant for the discussion.