Story: Baeyertz, Charles Nalder

Page 1 - Baeyertz, Charles Nalder

Baeyertz, Charles Nalder

1866–1943

Teacher, journalist, editor, critic

This biography was written by G. A. K. Baughen and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

Charles Nalder Baeyertz was born in Melbourne, Australia, on 15 December 1866, the son of Emilia Louisa Aronson and her husband, Charles Baeyertz, manager of the National Bank of Australasia at Colac, Victoria. After the death of her husband in 1871, Emilia Baeyertz became a popular evangelist for the Church of England, working in New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Great Britain as well as Australia.

Baeyertz was educated at Prince Alfred College in Adelaide, and gained a licentiate in music from the London College of Music. In Melbourne on 21 December 1886 he married Isabella Johnston, the daughter of a Baptist clergyman; there were four children from the marriage. Having suffered losses in land speculation, Baeyertz and his family left Melbourne for Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1892. He taught modern and classical languages – he is said to have known 17 languages – elocution, music and singing, and became music and drama critic for the Otago Daily Times, also contributing articles to the Otago Witness. He no doubt benefited from claiming to have the only musical qualification of its kind in New Zealand.

In April 1893 Baeyertz published the first monthly number of the Triad, a journal dedicated to the study of music, art and science; literature was added later. Its coverage of science was always minimal, however, and in later years it dealt more generally with current affairs and politics. There was an early struggle to establish the journal commercially, but by 1898 it had expanded to 12 regional issues throughout New Zealand. In 1897 circulation was said to have reached 10,000, and it was said in 1919 that the Triad was found 'in every club, hotel and reading-room throughout Australasia'. During the 32 years for which he was its editor and part-owner the Triad furnished the livelihood of Baeyertz and his family.

Through the Triad Baeyertz sought to disseminate 'a small modicum of musical, artistic, and scientific information throughout New Zealand', an arduous task which he approached with a crusading spirit. Baeyertz himself wrote much of the material, but also printed many articles from leading European journals. In his more optimistic moments he perceived a growing artistic maturity in the receptiveness of audiences to tours by esteemed overseas artists, in the improvement in the diction and accent of New Zealanders, in the busyness of the local artistic communities, and in the emergence of some artists of merit in New Zealand. He admired the painters C. N. Worsley, Petrus van der Velden and C. F. Goldie; the cartoonist David Low; the poet Dick Harris; and the novelist, poet and playwright Arthur H. Adams. However, Baeyertz's view of the arts in New Zealand was mixed. He spoke of New Zealand as 'Philistia': active in the arts but lacking in artistic sensitivity and an appreciation of excellence. This was mostly attributed to the colony's raw youthfulness, although Baeyertz thought the arts in the doldrums throughout the Anglo-Saxon world.

Charles Baeyertz held conservative views on the arts: new movements in painting, such as impressionism and cubism, received scant attention in the Triad, and no praise. Modern poetry fared even worse: between 1912 and 1915 Baeyertz's associate editor, Frank Morton, was involved in an acrimonious exchange with Ezra Pound, whose poetry was described as 'perverted drivelling' and 'revolting insanity'. Despite the journal's wide sales it was directed explicitly at an educated and cultured élite – the 'intelligent and thinking minority' as Baeyertz called it. One of the reasons which he gave for practising elocution was to identify oneself as one of the 'cultivated people', possessor of the standard English accent; he did not welcome the development of New Zealand or Australian accents. Similarly, he did not publish work with a working-class or up-country flavour, like that of the Australian poets Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson. He opposed socialist activity, particularly the strikes of 1912–13, and did not take feminism seriously. In both the arts and politics Baeyertz decried egalitarianism which, he thought, levelled everyone to mediocrity.

Baeyertz sought to stimulate the arts and to counter this mediocrity through his activities as a critic. As judge of elocution and singing at 54 amateur competitions in New Zealand and Australia, and in his reviews in the Triad, he gained a reputation for fearlessness and controversy. He considered it his responsibility to judge all performances against exacting standards of excellence: 'The beautiful is true for the professional and amateur alike,' he said. While his judgement was seldom at issue, his frequently caustic and sometimes abusive remarks caused offence, especially to amateur performers accustomed to a more charitable reception. Baeyertz denounced his opponents with gusto, engaging in lengthy battles with other journalists. Several times he was involved in libel actions. In 1913 he wrote that the tenor John Fuller had a voice like a 'pig's whistle' and accused him of 'closefistedness' and 'managerial meanness'. In the ensuing court case, Fuller was told that 'pig's whistle' meant merely a 'low whisper', while the mention of meanness was held to be fair comment; Baeyertz exulted in his victory.

In 1912 publication of the Triad was moved from Dunedin to Wellington, and in 1914 to Sydney; a separate Australian edition appeared in 1915. The Baeyertz household preceded these shifts, moving to Wellington in 1909 and to Sydney in 1913. But the Triad did not flourish commercially in Australia. Baeyertz ended his connection with it in 1925, when he briefly became editor of the Sydney Sunday Times. He spent the rest of his career as a broadcaster and speech coach for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. He also started a correspondence school of elocution, and was appointed an examiner in the art of speech for the universities of Australia and for the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. In addition to the Triad, Baeyertz, an ardent admirer of the scenery of New Zealand, published a tourist Guide to New Zealand in 1902, and in 1924 a four-volume series on public speaking.

Isabella Baeyertz died in Auckland on 9 February 1929; she had been living in New Zealand since at least 1919. In Sydney on 4 September 1930, Charles Baeyertz married Lily Agnes Price, by whom he had had a son 15 years earlier. He died at Rylstone, New South Wales, on 5 June 1943; Lily Baeyertz died in 1949. Baeyertz had an unexcelled knowledge of the arts and a magisterial aura which was enhanced by the sharpness of his glance and his mephistophelean beard. His standing as a successful editor and dominant personality in the world of the arts in contemporary New Zealand is secure, and the Triad's success suggests that he achieved his objective of improving and broadening the appreciation of the arts.