Muir Holburn by Laurence Collinson

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An Overland Muster Selected by Stephen Murray-Smith 1965
p146 - 147

Muir Holburn





Muir Holburn was the gentlest person I have ever known. When he moved, he moved as if the slightest violence in step or gesture might injure the very air around him; when he spoke, he spoke as if even a meagre hardness in his voice might distress his listeners. This intriguing and characteristic hesitancy was due partly to the myopia which afflicted him from childhood, but it was a physical short-sightedness only: his vision, in all but the purely literal sense of the Word, was clear and precise: no mean accomplishment in an era of mass confusion. Despite self-deprecation, he became something of a leader in the spheres which interested him, albeit one who sought no power over others, only over himself; a leader by precept, not by force.

Even his poetry-mainly satire of high quality and distinct style, which has been neglected, perhaps because he was urban at a time when nature and exploration were fashionable subjects, perhaps because he himself, so sincerely modest, undervalued his own work-even his poetry, mocking, teasing, and pointed as it is, was never cruel.

He believed that no human being had the right deliberately to hurt any other human being; and that even the likelihood of unintentionally giving pain to others should, as far as possible, be foreseen and circumvented. Because of the value he attached to human existence, he immersed himself in social causes and political action, often to the detriment of his personal life, and often abandoning his writing to do so. When recent and traumatic events in Europe led him to reconsider his political attitudes, he sought for some other means of assuaging his possessive social conscience and found it in scientology, in the furtherance of which he was deeply involved to the moment of his death. Whatever one’s opinion of scientology, one cannot but believe that the stature of the system, and its usefulness to people who sought its aid through him, must have been immeasurably increased by his devotion to it.

It seems outrageous that a person as gentle, as generous, as kind, as optimistic, as tangled with life as Muir Holburn was should have to die, and at the age of thirty-nine. I think of all his interests, and immediately it is impossible in this brief space to do justice to their huge range: his fundamental research, in company with his wife Marjorie, into the history of Australian literature; his twenty or more years of work for the Fellowship of Australian Writers, his delight in music and the theatre, his wit and frivolity which were the visible aspects of his wise and understanding personality. He loomed so large in the hearts of those who knew and loved him-and to know him was to love him-that his sudden and too-early death has left an anguish that we have scarcely begun to feel.




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