Page 1: Biography
Marris, Charles Allan
This biography, written by Stephen D. Hamilton, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Charles Allan Marris was born on 11 September 1876 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. His father, Charles Augustus Marris, was a law clerk, later a teacher, from Lincolnshire, England; his mother, Agnes Reid Allan, was from Glasgow, Scotland. Little is known of Marris’s early life in Australia, but he was for a time a clerk and a schoolteacher at Ballarat and Ipswich. He is reputed to have represented Queensland at cricket; he played tennis and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of sport.
In Melbourne, on 6 June 1900, Marris married Ethel Anderson Revitt; about 1904 they moved with the first of their children to Wellington, where Marris worked as a relieving teacher at Newtown School and Fernridge, Wairarapa. He then became a journalist with the Evening Post and in 1913 was appointed the Post ’s representative in the parliamentary press gallery. The following year Marris left Wellington to become associate editor on the Christchurch Sun, working alongside the paper’s founder and editor, Edward C. Huie, and its literary editor, J. H. E. Schroder. After a decade in Christchurch, Marris and his family returned in 1925 to Wellington where he became editor and later managing editor of the New Zealand Times. Following that paper’s incorporation into the Dominion in early 1927, he was appointed editor of the national sporting weekly the New Zealand Referee and Sporting Record.
In 1928 Marris began a long association with the printer and publisher Harry H. Tombs when he became literary editor for the prestigious quarterly journal Art in New Zealand, the first issue of which appeared in September of that year. In 1930 Marris resigned from his editorship of the New Zealand Referee, although he retained his involvement in newspaper journalism until 1946, largely through a daily column of comment, light verse, correspondence and humour in the Evening Post entitled ‘Postscripts’, written under the pseudonym Percy Flage. Marris edited the three issues of Rata, an annual magazine of photographs, artwork, fiction and poetry published for the Christmas market in 1931, 1932 and 1933. He also edited the anthology New Zealand Best Poems, published annually by Harry Tombs from 1932 until 1943. During this same period Marris became closely involved with the PEN New Zealand Centre, established in Wellington in 1934. He was president in 1937–38 and remained a member until his death.
Marris’s role as a literary journalist developed from his own aspirations as poet and short-story writer. Between 1907 and 1911 he had over two dozen pieces of verse published in the Sydney Bulletin ’s Red Page. A poem by Marris signed Prester John was published in the Canterbury University College Review in 1931, alongside work by Denis Glover. He also published short stories in periodicals such as the New Zealand Railways Magazine and the New Zealand Artists’ Annual.
In common with several other literary journalists, including Alan Mulgan and J. H. E. Schroder, Marris used his position as editor and anthologist to guide New Zealand’s developing literature in a direction he thought suitable. He upheld Georgian poetic conventions and discouraged literary modernism, preferring the work of poets like J. C. Andersen, J. R. Hervey, Eileen Duggan, Robin Hyde and Dora Hagemeyer to that of the avant garde writers who assembled around Denis Glover and the Caxton Press. As a result, Marris was repeatedly excoriated in publications such as Tomorrow. These attacks culminated in a satirical poem by Glover, The arraignment of Paris (1937), in which Marris is characterised as the ‘arbiter of all our art and letters / presenting rotten apples to his betters’. Marris’s public response was muted, although privately he threatened to sue Glover. The ensuing feud polarised New Zealand letters.
Marris’s critical reputation has remained low. Despite his limited view of how New Zealand literature should have progressed, he nevertheless played a prominent role in the careers of several important writers. Most notable among these was Robin Hyde, whom Marris consistently encouraged and for whom he edited and then arranged publication of her 1935 collection The conquerors and other poems.
Little inclined to social life, Marris’s only hobby was his flower garden. He died in Porirua on 30 June 1947, survived by his wife, four sons and a daughter.