WRIGHT, David McKee (1869-1928)


WRIGHT, David McKee (1869-1928)
poet and journalist
was the son of William Wright, D.D. (1837-1899), a Congregational missionary, scholar and author. An account of him will be found in the Dictionary of National Biography. He married a daughter of the Rev. David McKee, an educationist and author of much ability, and their son, David, was born at Ballynaskeagh, Ireland, in 1869, while his parents were home on furlough. He was left with a grandmother until he was seven years old, and was then for 10 years in London. He went to New Zealand when he was about 18 and had some years of station life, during which he did much writing in both prose and verse. He studied for the Congregational ministry and attended university classes at Dunedin in 1897. He had done much private reading, but found that apart from English his education was generally below that of the other students. He won a university prize for a poem, and published about this period, Aorangi and other Verses (1896), Station Ballads and other Verses (1897), Wisps of Tussock (1900), and New Zealand Chimes (1900). None of these were important, though they contained some good popular verse. As a clergyman Wright was liked, but he found the work uncongenial and gave it up for journalism in which he had considerable experience in New Zealand. Coming to Sydney in 1910 he did a large amount of successful free-lance work for the Sun, the Bulletin, and other papers. Becoming editor of the Red Page of the Bulletin he encouraged many of the rising writers of the time, and continued to do an enormous amount of writing himself in both prose and verse. Much of this appeared over pen-names such as "Pat O'Maori" and "Mary McCommonwealth" and much was signed with his initials. As he grew older his mind turned more and more to the country of his birth, and in 1918 he published his most important volume, An Irish Heart. In 1920 he was awarded the prize for the best poem in commemoration of the visit of the Prince of Wales, and in the same year the Rupert Brooke memorial prize for a long poem, "Gallipoli". Neither of these poems has been published in book form. He died at Glenbrook in the mountains near Sydney on 5 February 1928.
Wright was kind and generous and was loved by his contemporaries. Though much of a Bohemian, something of the clergyman still clung to him. He never indulged in profanity, he had the strictest regard for the truth, and his love for humanity was sincere; it was said of him that his "only use for an enemy was to forgive him". He was a great journalist, but his place as a poet is harder to determine. Zora Cross, in An Introduction to the Study of Australian Literature, gave him a high position among Australian poets. But Wright himself would have discarded his quite capable early work, and charming though An Irish Heart may be, it is too derivative to be work of the highest kind. It is not a question of individual words or phrases, but rather of a man steeping himself in the modern Irish school of poetry, and with all the skill of his practised craftsmanship reproducing its spirit in another land. A true verdict might be that he was one of the finest craftsmen of our writers of verse, but that under the constant strain of journalism his emotion became too diffused for him to be able to take a really high place among our poets. A large amount of his work, including some short plays, has never been collected.
Zora Cross, An Introduction to the Study of Australian Literature; The Bulletin, 8 and 15 February 1928; E. Morris Miller, Australian Literature; William Wright, The Brontes in Ireland.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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