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by Jeanne F. Young

ON the afternoon of April 3, 1910, there lay on the table in a darkened room an unfinished fragment of manuscript headed “Sorrow and Change.” Near by, in an oaken coffin, were the remains of Catherine Helen Spence. It was as if the task of recording one of the deepest sorrows of her own life—the death of her mother—had been too much for the brave heart, for it was at that point of her life's narrative that the facile pen of the well-known writer had been abruptly stopped. In the lives of those who had known and loved her best and shared in her life's work, there had come indeed a period of sorrow and change. No truer friend, no better helper, no more sympathetic worker on behalf of the distressed, the deserted, and the destitute ever lived, than the “Grand Old Woman of Australia.”

The idea of writing an Autobiography had frequently crossed Miss Spence's mind, but not until after the death of her sister-in-law, the late Mrs. J. B. Spence, in January of this year, did that idea take definite shape. Then, inspired by the reading of Mrs. Oliphant's sad but interesting autobiography, she felt impelled to begin the task of recording the leading events of her own life. Her desire was that this record should be published in “The Register,” the paper with which she had been more or less connected during nearly the whole of her journalistic career. She was delighted on calling upon the Editor, to find that Mr. Sowden had already decided to suggest that she should write the narrative for publication in the paper. In the middle of summer she began her task, and writing to me a fortnight before her death, she said: “My chief trouble is that I cannot sleep; the ‘Life’ is helping the hot weather to keep me awake.” But, with the courage so characteristic of her, she kept on until the end. The proofs of the first three chapters were corrected on her deathbed, and the manuscript leading up to the year 1887 was ready for revision, but the record of the final twenty-three years was still a blank. At the suggestion of Miss Wren and other members of the family, I gladly undertook the revision of the manuscript left by Miss Spence, as well as the completion of the autobiography.

In order to avoid a break in the story the writing was continued in the first person. Had the final chapters taken a biographical instead of an autobiographical form, I feel that I could have done greater justice to the subject of the memoirs. Writing as Miss Spence herself, I had

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necessarily to deal more with events and occupations than with personal characteristics. During the last fourteen years in which we had worked together for Effective Voting — the cause to which she had devoted her life — abundant opportunities arose for me to estimate the worth of her unique personality. Her, cheery optimism — which she claimed to have inherited from her father—no less than her untiring energy and zeal, was always an inspiration to those with whom she was associated.

Her public work will remain for all time as a monument of a brave and unselfish life, but the world will never realise the inestimable value and widespread nature of her private charities and sympathies. Writing an appreciation of Miss Spence just after her death, Miss Rose Scott, of Sydney, said: “‘To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.’ The shadows of time will no doubt eventually dim the vision we now hold of that vivid personality, but her works will live after her, and be the most fitting monument to her memory. Energetic, helpful, courageous, with broad human sympathy guided by a lofty sense of duty and reasoning powers of no mean order, she was an ideal pioneer.”

It will be as the pioneer of many great reforms that Miss Spence will be best remembered by her fellow citizens of the Commonwealth she loved so much, and her friends hope that this little volume will be a memento of her highest ideals, and an inspiration for others. In completing the book, the difficulty of filling adequately the blank period was very great owing to lack of material, and I am indebted to Mrs. Agnes Milne, Miss A. L. Tomkinson; and Mr. James Gray for interesting facts relating to Miss Spence's connection with various movements. For the rest, I have done what I could in deepest love and reverence for the memory of a true-hearted and devoted friend and fellow-worker.


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