Morris Miller is one of the founding fathers of Australian bibliography and of the study and research of Australian literature. His great conspectus, Australian Literature from its Beginnings to 1935 was first published in 1940 by Melbourne University Press, when Miller was nearly sixty years old.
Australian literature 1795-1938 by E. Morris Miller facsimile edition Sydney University Press, 1973.
First published by Melbourne University Press, 1940
Its title page announced it was ‘A Descriptive and Bibliographical Survey of Books by Australian Authors in Poetry, Drama, Fiction, Criticism and Anthology with Subsidiary Entries to 1938.’
The title page also included the statement that the bibliography had been ‘Initiated and Commenced by the Late Sir John Quick, LL.D., Sometime Postmaster-General, Commonwealth of Australia, assisted by Fred. J. Broomfield.’ This statement is a clue to the bibliography’s origins, as an important work of national infrastructure, in Federation and the vision of a distinctive and independent Australian culture.
Sir John Quick (1852-1932), a lawyer and journalist, was a friend of Alfred Deakin, like Morris Miller, and was a member of the first Australian parliament. He was knighted in 1901 for his services to the cause of Federation. Quick conceived initially the idea of a comprehensive bibliography of Australian publications in all fields, an ambition he shared with another industrial lawyer and bibliographer, John Alexander Ferguson, who was born in the same year as Morris Miller.
Ferguson’s seven-volume Bibliography of Australia was published the year after Miller’s Australian Literature.
Miller wrote in the Preface to his bibliography that Quick’s 'idea was due to his patriotism; he determined to spend his last years in making known the achievements of Australians in the world of letters'. Quick produced the first version of his bibliography, A Classified Catalogue of Books and Writings by Australian Authors, in 1927. By 1929 he realised that finishing such a bibliography was impractical for one person and he invited the writers Fred Bloomfield and Bernard Cronin, as well as Morris Miller, a teacher of Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Tasmania, to assist him with a bibliography of Australian literature (broadly defined).
When Quick died in 1932, Miller agreed to finish the work. The next year William Walker, the great Tasmanian book collector, died and Miller was able to consult his collection in the reshaping of his bibliography.
Australian Bibliography and the University of Tasmania
Along with H.M. Green’s A History of Australian Literature Pure and Applied, published in 1961, Miller’s bibliography provides the scholarly foundation for critical, textual, literary-historical and editorial work in the field of Australian literary studies.
This foundational work in national literary infrastructure has been built on in recent decades with BAL (The Bibliography of Australian Literature), edited by John Arnold and John Hay. The editors of BAL paid this tribute to Morris Miller in their introduction to their first volume:
[Morris Miller’s] achievement was … extraordinary. In addition to recording all known novels, plays and volumes of verse by Australian authors, he provided detailed criticism of many of the books he had so laboriously traced and recorded as well as providing a subject index to Australian fiction.
The other resource to build on and extend Morris Miller’s work in Australian bibliography is AustLit: the resource for Australian literature, available on-line at:
AustLit has a strong Tasmanian input, which no doubt Morris Miller would have approved, through its descriptive and bibliographical Subset, Literature of Tasmania, co-ordinated by Philip Mead of the School of English, Journalism & European Languages.
(Notes by Dr. Philip Mead)