BRERETON, John Le Gay (1871-1933)


BRERETON, John Le Gay (1871-1933)
scholar and poet
was born at Sydney on 2 September 1871. His father, John Le Gay Brereton (1827-1886), was a well-known Sydney physician who published five volumes of verse between 1857 and 1887. The younger Brereton was educated at Sydney Grammar School and at the university of Sydney, where he graduated B.A. in 1894. He was in the office of the government statistician for some years, but in 1902 was appointed assistant librarian at the university of Sydney, and librarian a few years later. He published in 1896 Perdita, A Sonnet Record, and The Song of Brotherhood and Other Verses. These were followed in 1897 by Sweetheart Mine: Lyrics of Love and Friendship and by Landlopers in 1899, mostly prose, based on a walking tour with Dowell O'Reilly (q.v.). The verse in Brereton's earlier volumes though pleasant enough was not very distinguished, but Sea and Sky, which appeared in 1908, contained stronger work. In 1909 his volume Elizabethan Drama Notes and Studies proclaimed him a scholar of unusual ability and knowledge, and his studies in this period stimulated him to write his one-act play in blank verse Tomorrow A Dramatic Sketch of the Character and Environment of Robert Greene. This is possibly the best Australian poetical play of its period, and has the merit belonging to comparatively few Australian plays that it is actable. The war of 1914-18 led to a slender volume of verse published in 1919. The Burning Marl, dedicated to "All who have fought nobly". In 1921 he was appointed professor of English literature at the university of Sydney. A volume of poems, Swags Up, appeared in 1928, and in 1930 a collection of his prose articles and stories was published under the title of Knocking Round. The sketches of Henry Lawson (q.v.) and Dowell O'Reilly are of particular interest. His edition of Lust's Dominion or the Lascivious Queen was published at Louvain in 1931. It was in the press in 1914 and it was long supposed that the book had perished during the destruction of Louvain. So Long, Mick! a short one-act play in prose, was also published in 1931. Brereton died suddenly on 2 February 1933. He married in 1900 Winifred Odd, who survived him with a daughter and four sons.
Brereton was tall and angular, with the complexion of a man who always went hatless and lived much in the open air. He was inclined to be a mystic and had a beautiful simplicity of character. As an Elizabethan scholar his only rival in Australia was E. H. C. Oliphant (q.v.). His prose work was interesting and sensitive, and the best of his verse gives him an assured place among Australian poets. He was entirely unselfish and did much for Lawson when he was most in need of friends. His kindness, indeed, was extended to all with whom he came in contact. The number of budding authors who sent him manuscripts must have run into hundreds, and if there were but a gleam of talent, the writer could be sure of appreciation and helpful criticism.
Sydney Morning Herald, 3 February 1933; The Bulletin, 8 February 1933; H. M. Green, An Outline of Australian Literature; Who's Who, 1933.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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