ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

Home
Biography
Bibliography

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

Essays
Reviews
Letters

The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

Links
Site Diary
Site Search

SIR WALTER BESANT (14/8/1836 - 9/6/1901)
and
ROBERT BUCHANAN (18/8/1841 - 10/6/1901)

 

The Yorkshire Evening Post (10 June, 1901 - p.2)

THE WEEK-END DEATHS.

     Death has been busy amongst distinguished men this week-end. Of Lord Wantage, Sir Walter Besant, and Mr. Robert Buchanan, the chairman of the Society of Authors was undoubtedly the best known. Very few men wrote so much and on such varied topics, and it has often been remarked that even with the burden of years and indifferent health, his capacity for turning out books did not appear in the least to diminish. Perhaps the widest known of the novels which he wrote without collaboration is “All Sorts and Conditions of Men.” He was one of the best living authorities on the topography of London, and shared the belief of many authors that Barabbas was a publisher. Mr. Robert Buchanan has been dying for months past, and quite recently a fund was opened on his behalf. He had a prolific pen, and contributed to the stage as well as to the circulating libraries. How many people know, for instance, that he was part author of the melodrama “Alone in London,” which is still the delight of the gallery?

___

The Evening World (New York) (10 June, 1901 - p.4)

BESANT AND BUCHANAN,
FAMOUS LITERARY MEN, DEAD

Both Novelist and Poet Had Distinguished Careers—
Besant Was Knighted by Queen—
Buchanan’s Strenuous Life.

buchobitworld

     LONDON, June 10.—Robert Williams Buchanan, poet and playwright, succumbed to-day to an illness which had lasted almost a year.
     In October of last year, the poet had a cerebral hemorrhage, followed by paralysis of the right side and complete loss of speech. His life was despaired of at the time, but he rallied. He was born Aug. 8, 1841.

_____

     Robert Buchanan has been known for many years as England’s most aggressive writer. He achieved great success as poet and playwright, but it was for his criticisms of people and literature that he was most widely known.
     None was too exalted for him to attack. At the height of Kipling’s popularity he wrote the “Voice of Hooligan,” in which he accused Kipling of voicing the mob. He declared that the author of “The Seven Seas” had never uttered anything that did not suggest baseness and ignorant vainglory.
     Buchanan was born in Staffordshire, England. He was the son of a Socialist missionary who afterward became a journalist. The poet was educated at the Glasgow high school and university and went to London in 1860.
     He began newspaper work there, entering the employ of Edmund Yates, who was at the same time training Henry Labouchere. He wrote several novels, among them “The Shadow of the Sword.” Among his most successful plays were “Squire Kate,” “The Charlatan” and “Sheridan.” His most recent controversy was with Paul Potter, whom he accused of plagiarising “Sheridan.”

_____

SIR WALTER BESANT DEAD.
_____

     LONDON, June 10.—Sir Walter Besant, the novelist, died yesterday at his residence in Hampstead after a fortnight’s illness from influenza. He was born in 1836.
     Because of his services in the field of literature he was knighted by Queen Victoria six years ago.
     The best known works of the novelist are “All Sorts and Conditions of Men,” and “Beyond the Dreams of Avarice.”
     The first named attracted the attention of the Queen, and as a result the People’s Palace, a famous structure, was erected in the Whitechapel district.
     In his early career he was in literary partnership with James Rice.
     Sir Walter lived at Frognal End, Hampstead, in a pleasant red-tiled house near the great church there.
     During the latter years of his life the novelist was busy compiling the “Survey of London,” which was really a great history of the metropolis.
     He established the Society of British Authors. At the time of the World’s Fair in Chicago he lectured there daily to great crowds.
     Besant was to have attended the Atlantic Union dinner to-night and propose the toast to “English-Speaking Communities.”

buchobitworldbesant

___

 

Daily Express (11 June, 1901 - p.4)

BESANT AND BUCHANAN.
_____

An Appreciation of the Two Eminent
English Writers whose Deaths were
Announced Yesterday.

_____

By ROBERT DENNIS.

     Scarcely since the death of the Duke of Clarence and Cardinal Manning on January 14, 1892, has there been such a remarkable coincidence as the passing away within a few hours of each other of three such men as Sir Walter Besant, Robert Buchanan, and Lord Wantage. They represent a trio which filled a large space in our national life, and although they were of diverse character, they each contributed in a large degree to the greatness of the Victorian era.
     The career of Lord Wantage is dealt with elsewhere. The lives of Besant and Buchanan were so far blended together that they were both authors of no common distinction, and they illustrated the apparently irreconcilable forms which brilliant genius, great personal energy, and individual peculiarities can assume in different men.

The Meeting with Rice.

     Walter Besant was at first intended for the Church, and had a distinguished career at Cambridge, but his mind turned early towards literature, and especially to the romantic period of French poetry. His essentially human sympathies were developed by these early studies, and some of his writings so strongly impressed the late James Rice, then editor and proprietor of “Once a Week,” that he invited Besant to collaborate with him in the writing of a novel.
     The result was a literary partnership of a most remarkable character. Together the pair wrote “Ready-Money Mortiboy,” “The Chaplain of the Fleet,” “In Celia’s Arbour,” and “The Golden Butterfly.” It is amusing to recall that the artist who was entrusted with the designing of the cover of “The Chaplain of the Fleet” made it a picture of a modern man-o’-war, whereas “the Fleet” in the story was, of course, the Fleet Prison. All these stories had an extraordinary popularity, but no one ever knew what part of them was due to Rice and what to Besant.
     When Rice died in 1882 Mr. Besant began to produce novels single-handed, and one seemed to miss in them the dash, the vigour, the spontaneity, the mere story-telling which had characterised the partnership novels.

Besant Single-handed.

     Among the best known of the books written by Sir Walter Besant alone are “The Revolt of Man,” “All Sorts and Conditions of Men,” “The World Went Very Well Then,” and “Armorel of Lyonesse.” They are all pleasantly infused with the historic spirit, although there is nothing like the characterisation which belongs to the immortal Gilead P. Beck in “The Golden Butterfly.” The chief distinction Sir Walter achieved by his novels was probably the creation of the People’s Palace in the East End. His works do not possess the quality of immortality, but undoubtedly they have afforded the past generation abundant healthy entertainment.
     Besides being a writer of fiction, Sir Walter found employment for his energies in founding the Society of Authors and in conducting the work of the Palestine Exploration Fund; while he also devoted an immense amount of time and labour to a compilation of a history of London. Few men have led more busy lives, but he had his reward in the hosts of friends he made, in the financial success of his labours, and in the knighthood with which the late Queen honoured him in 1895.

The Literary Ishmael.

     Buchanan started life with the belief that he was possessed of transcendent genius. There was no height to which his ambition did not soar. He honestly regarded himself to be Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil, and all the rest of them rolled into one. His ideas on this subject were so extravagant that they brought ridicule upon his early efforts. He came to London a penniless youth, published some slight compositions, and on being somewhat severely handled by the critics, turned on them with a lash as heavy, but not so effective, as Byron’s.
     He quarrelled with everybody. He brought Edmund Yates, who had at first befriended him, to describe him in the “World” as “a scrofulous Scotch poet, to whom I have many a time lent money to buy food for his belly and sulphur for his back”—a wholly unwarranted and untrue libel, but one which illustrates the sort of feelings which Buchanan inspired in the people with whom he came in contact.
     He quarrelled finally with his publisher, and set up in business on his own account. His career as dramatist and manager was also marked by the same unfortunate failings, and so he presented the remarkable spectacle of a man of brilliant parts who failed in practically everything he undertook and made nothing but enemies all his life long.
     The mere catalogue of his works would almost fill this column. His best known novels were “The Shadow of the Sword” and “God and the Man”; while his plays ranged from French adaptations through stage versions of “Tom Jones” and “Clarissa Harlowe” down to Adelphi drama.

Comparison and Contrast.

     Here, then, is the end of two strangely contrasted lives—one the prosperous literary man whose methods were pre-eminently businesslike, and whose genius was of a wholly practical character; the other that of a literary outcast, with no more gift of worldly tact than ever belonged to the Bohemians of the eighteenth century.
     It may seem paradoxical that those who knew Robert Buchanan will say that in spite of all his literary and financial troubles, in spite of the endless quarrels and litigation which embittered his life, there was something very lovable about the man. Certainly the fidelity of his domestic friendships was remarkable. Certainly also he bore the stroke of paralysis which came upon him last October, and which deprived him of both speech and motion, with heroic fortitude. Moreover, in his poems there are many tender passages which show that this pugnacious man of letters, this unconquerable fighter, must have had some of the softer feeling which is usually ascribed to the poet. Let us think of him thus rather than as the Ishmaelite.
     Of Sir Walter Besant’s kindly nature innumerable proofs exist. When all his works are forgotten he will be remembered as the friend of the young author. No man since Dickens ever took so practical an interest in the writer who showed promise. Many of our young novelists owe their fame and fortune to Sir Walter Besant, and in fact he founded the Society of Authors in order to protect them from rapacious and unscrupulous publishers. These to a large extent existed in Sir Walter’s imagination, but all the same, credit is due to the kindly disposition which prompted him to enable young authors to obtain fair play.
     Both, then, did the work of a full life. Their literary career belongs to the last century. They were true, sound workmen, and they did their best. They have now passed away at an age which in itself proclaims how crowded their lives were with labour; for Mr. Buchanan was but sixty years of age, while Sir Walter Besant was five years older.

expresspicobit

[From the Daily Express (11 June, 1901 - p.6)]

 

New-York Tribune (11 June, 1901 - p.1)

     Sir Walter Besant’s life was despaired of a few weeks ago, and there was a temporary rally, followed by his death at Hampstead yesterday. He was the founder of the Society of Authors and chief patron of literary agents, and fancied that the publishers considered him their worst enemy, whereas they liked him as a sincere and downright Englishman. The chief work of his closing years had been the preparation of an exhaustive encyclopædia of London, on the lines of Stow’s original survey. This undertaking had engrossed his leisure from novel writing for six years, and had been virtually carried to completion. Robert Buchanan, who died yesterday at Samuel Johnson’s favorite retreat, Streatham, also had controversies with his publishers, and ended by printing his own books. Unlike Besant, whom the literary world loved, Buchanan contrived to set everybody against him by his contentious disposition, and never received adequate credit for his melodious ballads and dramatic work. His illness had been protracted, and his death was well timed, since he was threatened with paralysis and mental disturbance.

___

 

New-York Tribune (11 June, 1901 - p.3)

buchbesantnytrib

SIR WALTER BESANT DEAD.
_____

THE NOVELIST EXPIRES AFTER A FORTNIGHT’S
ILLNESS FROM INFLUENZA.

     London, June 10.—Sir Walter Besant, the novelist, died yesterday at his home, in Hampstead, after a fortnight’s illness from influenza. He was to have attended the Atlantic Union dinner ton-night and propose the toast to “English Speaking Communities.”

_____

     The author of “All Sorts and Conditions of Men” was born at Portsmouth in 1838. After his graduation from Cambridge he was appointed senior professor in the Royal College of Mauritius. Ill health brought about his resignation of this post, and he returned to England and devoted himself to literature.
     His first work, “Studies in Early French Poetry,” was printed in 1868, and five years later he published “The French Humorists.” These were followed by “Rabelais,” “Readings from Rabelais” and “Coligny.” For years Besant acted as secretary of the Palestine Exploration Fund, and in this capacity he wrote a “History of Jerusalem,” in collaboration with Professor Palmer, who was murdered by Arabs, and edited the great work “The Survey of Western Palestine.” In 1871 he associated himself with James Rice, Editor of “Once a Week,” and the two wrote a series of books which had great popularity. Perhaps the most popular of the Besant-Rice novels were “Ready Money Mortiboy,” “By Celia’s Arbor” and “The Golden Butterfly.” The two authors also collaborated in several plays which attained ephemeral popularity upon the stage. They were moreover frequent contributors to the magazines, many of their papers relating to old London.
     Among the novels written by Sir Walter Besant alone the earliest were “The Revolt of Man,” “The Captain’s Room” and “All Sorts and Conditions of Men,” of which the last attracted great public attention, and finally led to the establishment of the People’s Palace in the East End of London. “All in a Garden Fair,” “Dorothy Foster,” “Uncle Jack” and “Children of Gibeon” followed quickly one after the other, and then came “The World Went Very Well Then,” which had a large circulation. “The Bell of St. Paul’s,” “Armorel of Lyonnesse,” “St. Katherine’s by the Tower,” “The Ivory Gate” and “The Rebel Queen” were all popular, but none of them were in so great demand as “Beyond the Dreams of Avarice,” which was regarded as one of the best of Sir Walter’s productions. Later books were “The Master Craftsman,” “The City of Refuge,” “A Fountain Sealed” and “The Changeling,” and several volumes of short stories, mostly reprints.
     Apart from fiction, Sir Walter in 1892 wrote a book on the people of London, another on the city of Westminster and one on London. His “Rise of the British Empire” appeared in 1897.
     His earliest writings were studies in French literature; the work of his later years dealt mainly with the history and life of London.
     Mr. Besant became Sir Walter in 1895, his knighthood being one of the birthday honors conferred by Lord Rosebery, who at the same time testified to his appreciation of literature and dramatic art by knighting Henry Irving and Lewis Morris. He was the first chairman of the executive committee of the Society of Authors, was Editor of “The Author” and did much to make pleasant the relations of authors and publishers. He was also prominent in the formation of the Atlantic Union, founded for the purpose of entertaining American and colonial visitors in England. He visited the United States in 1893.

__________

ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN.

     London, June 10.—Robert Williams Buchanan, poet and prose writer, is dead.

_____

     Robert W. Buchanan was born at Caverswall, Staffordshire, England, on August 18, 1841. He was educated at the academy and high school of Glasgow, and at the university of that city. He left Scotland for London in 1860, and after that date lived generally in the capital, where he won for himself a position as journalist, novelist and playright. He visited this country twenty years ago. In 1896 he attracted considerable attention to himself by becoming a publisher on his own account, but we believe he was himself the sole author published at his establishment.
     Buchanan was fortunate in his first friends, Hepworth Dixon, Westland Marston and George Henry Lewes giving him early encouragement. Dixon was at that time Editor of “The Athenæum” and in a position to give the young Scotchman an opportunity to show his mettle. To “The Fortnightly Review,” of which Lewes was the first editor, he was a frequent contributor in the early days of that periodical. But the first thing that Buchanan did that gave him anything like notoriety was a paper on “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” which was a peculiarly malignant attack upon Swinburne, Rossetti and their followers. If he had published this over his own name it might have caused a passing sensation, and then might have been forgotten. But it appeared over a pseudonyme, which made the attack seem cowardly. At all events, there was a great todo about the matter. Swinburne retaliated with words that stung, and in a very little while the fat was in the fire with a vengeance. All his life Buchanan was dogged by that early article of his, which was not only discourteous, but uncritical.
     He had ability of a crude sort, and won a certain popularity both as a novelist and dramatist. His metrical productions hold creditable rank in the category of minor verse, though it is unlikely that any poem of his will be long remembered. He had imagination, but it was not bridled by taste; the roughness, which was most noticeable in his critical judgments, was, in fact, ever present in him, so that his work, while often vigorous and interesting, was generally without distinction. His first poems were published early in the sixties. In 1874 he collected his poems into an edition of three volumes. His first novel, “The Shadow of the Sword,” appeared in 1876 and was followed by a number of volumes of fiction, including “A Child of Nature,” “God and the Man,” “The Martyrdom of Madeline,” “Rev. Annabel Lee,” “Andromeda” and other compositions.

___

 

The World (New York) (11 June, 1901 - p.7)

nywrldobithead

     LONDON, June 10. — Within twenty-four hours England has lost two of her most illustrious men of letters. Sir Walter Besant died yesterday and to-day Robert Williams Buchanan.
     The death of Sir Walter took place at his home at Frognal End, Hampstead, London, and was caused by gout and asthma. He had been seriously ill for not more than a week. Two of his sons are with the British troops in South Africa, one a captain in the Warwickshire regiment and the other a trooper in the Imperial Yeomanry. The famous writer was sixty-three years old. He will no doubt be buried at Hampstead.
     Buchanan’s death was not unexpected. He was stricken with cerebral hemorrhage and paralysis in October last and had since been slowly succumbing at his London home. The stroke bereft him of speech. He was just sixty.

Besant Studied for Ministry.

     Besant was born at Portsmouth and prepared for the ministry, which, it is believed, he never had serious intention of entering, at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and at King’s College, London, at both of which he won high honors.
     It is said that Besant wrote for thirty years before he took an anywise prominent place in letters. His first book, published in 1868, was “Studies in Early French Poetry,” and for fourteen years afterward he wrote principally of French literature. Then came the lives of Coligny and Whittington. In the mean time—in 1871—he had formed the famous literary partnership with James Rice, and the two brought forth jointly many novels, essays, plays and articles. The association continued for eleven years, with fair success as to popularity, until the death of Rice in 1882.
     The People’s Palace, in the Whitechapel slums, and its counterpart in many other cities of the world, are monuments to the labors of Sir Walter. In his “All Sorts and Conditions of Men,” which with two others of his popular works he dedicated to the memory of his dead literary partner, he painted a place of recreation and education for the poor and the working classes. The purpose of this book was realized, and through the liberality of those who had been drawn to his idea the palace became a fact. Queen Victoria in person opened the institution in 1887, and it has since fulfilled all of the dreams of the man whose brain planned it.
     Besant was for many years secretary of the Palestine Exploration Fund, wrote a history of Jerusalem, and was editor of the noted work, “The Survey of Palestine,” meanwhile contributing much to the magazines. He was the founder of the Society of British Authors, and to him more than to any other man is due the fact that there is an international copyright law. He was knighted by the Queen for his services to literature.

Buchanan’s First Struggles.

     Buchanan was born at Caverswall, Staffordshire, and was the son of a missionary, journalist and pamphleteer, whose socialistic writings caused much discussion in 1830 and thereabouts. He was educated at the Glasgow High School and the famous university of that city, graduating in 1860. At the university he met David Gray, the young poet whose fate was not widely different from that of the unfortunate Chatterton. The two formed a great friendship, and when they left college went to London together and lived in a garret. For a long time Buchanan fought with starvation, and his first volume of poems, “Undertones,” was seen by many publishers before one was found to print it. At last it got before the public and was a moderate success. After this he was able to bring out several volumes of poetry.
     In 1872 he wrote his famous satire, “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” which was the beginning of his never-ending attacks on his contemporaries and which caused a sensation.
     “Lady Gladys,” one of his many plays, was produced here in 1894. He was recently declared a bankrupt, when he was made to admit that he had lost the $60,000 he owed his creditors and more playing the horse races.

___

 

The Aberdeen Journal (11 June, 1901 - p.4)

     THE world of letters is poorer to-day by the loss of Sir Walter Besant and Mr Robert Buchanan. Mr Buchanan had long been hovering on the brink, and his death will occasion little surprise; but the announcement of the passing of Sir Walter comes as a rude shock, for it was not known that he was ill. Both men were long prominently before the public. They were the happy possessors of high intellectual gifts, and the versatility of their genius was testified by the numberless productions of their untiring labours. Both won popularity and fame; but while Sir Walter Besant’s career was steady like a planet’s in its orbit, Mr Buchanan’s was as erratic as that of the most eccentric comet. Sir Walter had nothing to disturb the even tenour of his ways after he won, as he soon did win, a recognised place in literature. There have been few more chequered careers than that of Mr Buchanan. In the case of Sir Walter success seemed to come as a matter of course. Mr Buchanan had for many years a fierce struggle for existence. There is nothing more touching than his account of those early days when he went with his unfortunate companion, David Gray, to seek his fortune in London with the proverbial half-crown in his pocket. It was perhaps owing to the trials of adversity he experienced that he developed that bitterness and asperity which he displayed so prominently, and but for which he might have produced finer work than he did. In most of his writings there is evidence of considerable inequality, perhaps an inevitable result of over-production. But there are at the same time amid much that is dross many rare gems, especially in his poetry, where he attained his highest level. Sir Walter Besant undoubtedly ranked as one of the foremost of contemporary novelists. His aim was ever of the highest, and it was a remarkable tribute to him that his “All Sorts and Conditions of Men” led to the establishment of the People’s Palace in London. When Sir Walter was awarded a knighthood, it was felt that the honour was never better deserved.

___

(p.5)

OUR LONDON LETTER.
_____

(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
_____

BY “JOURNAL” SPECIAL WIRE.
_____

                                                                                                               5 NEW BRIDGE STREET.
                                                                                                                                   Monday night.

. . .

     Lord Rosebery once declared that he never appreciated the privileges which the position of Prime Minister conferred so much as when he had the pleasure of recommending Sir Walter Besant to Her Majesty the Queen for a knighthood. Sir Walter’s death will be a shock to more than Lord Rosebery. The novelist will be a great loss to the literary world, and an irreparable loss to London. Sir Walter was born at Portsmouth sixty-three years ago, but during the greater part of his life he has lived in the metropolis. He lived in it and for it. It gave him, curiously enough, a vitalising power which he had sought for in vain in other parts of the world, its industry stimulated him, its history charmed him, and in return he did all that a man could to improve and beautify it. No quarter of London was strange to him. He had lived in Whitechapel, and his experiences there live to-day in the pages of romances which will be read by generations yet unborn. He knew every house where great writers and musicians had spent their days; he knew where every little streamlet that flows under the town took its rise and whether it joined the Thames. He was for ever endeavouring to improve his own information of London’s history, and nobody could speak of it more interestingly than he. The characters of his novels were drawn from life, and he sought studies in the most out of the way places. The City of London was a favourite resort, and nothing seemed to please him better than to drop into little restaurants and engage any one who happened to sit near him in conversation. On several occasions I have noticed him dining in the quaint old Cheshire Cheese, and regarding the scene around him with evident interest, and on other occasions he was to be seen in a vegetarian restaurant not many yards away form the “Journal” Office.
     Quite another type of mind was that of Robert Buchanan, who also died this morning. While Sir Walter was frank and pleasant, and hail fellow well met with everybody, Buchanan was a recluse, and something of an Ishmaelite. In the course of his life he probably made more enemies than friends, and while he compelled a certain admiration for his undoubted talents, there was about many of his writings an amount of bitterness which alienated from him most of those among us who are not cynics and pessimists. Buchanan’s experiences in London were not such as were likely to sweeten his temper. He has told the mournful story himself, but the pathos of this chapter of autobiography is not so melting as that which peeps out unconsciously of almost every novel and poem which has come from his pen. But if his first experience in London did not improve his temper, it certainly seemed to stimulate his peculiar genius. Early in his career he set the whole literary world against him by an essay which he published on what he called “the fleshly school of poets,” and which was aimed principally at Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Later in life he repented this, and expressed regret, but by that time the mischief had been done. He was always at war with somebody or something, and the gift of satirical humour which he possessed became a terrible weapon in his hands. One of his latest quarrels led to his establishing a publisher’s business. He believed that publishers took unfair advantage of their position, and he determined to do the work himself. The venture was not a success, however. In the course of his career Mr Buchanan has done a great deal of excellent work, but his energies lacked direction, and he leaves behind him only a vague reputation.

___

 

The Edinburgh Evening News (11 June, 1901 - p.2)

TO-DAY’S LONDON LETTER.
_____

[FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENTS.]

     Mr Robert Buchanan had been for a long time out of the purview of literary men. The death of Sir Walter Besant, however, has caused a sensation of profound sorrow. There is scarcely a struggler in the world of letters who has not benefited either directly or indirectly by Sir Walter’s efforts. Few natures equal his. Thackeray had to abandon the ‘Cornhill’ because of the misery and discomfort which the applications of literary aspirants caused him. Sir Walter helped many a tender-footed wayfarer along the thorny path, and of his charities one may say they were legion. He was once speaking to me of the absurd attitude displayed towards him by some publishers because he showed authors how they were allowing themselves unnecessarily to be despoiled by publishers. “To encourage young writers,” he said, ”is not to encourage more successful men to squeeze the last drop of blood out of a publisher. The successful writer can take care of himself, but the young man suffers from the greed both of the publisher and of the rapacious writer.”
     Sir Walter Besant’s Memoirs, for which I know plenty of material is in existence, will not, many of his friends hope, be entrusted to the hands of any average novelist. There was a side of his life of which the public has not much knowledge. He was a man of remarkable culture, and though fiction has crowded out, so far as his writing goes, all other subjects of interest—always excepting London—for some 30 years, Besant’s favourite studies were always of an academic nature.

___

 

The Hull Daily Mail (11 June, 1901 - p.2)

NOVELISTS AND THE PUBLIC.

     Amid a stream of novels that were often intolerably depressing, Sir Walter Besant’s were distinguished by their happy optimism. They cheered and uplifted the reader, and sent him back to face life’s battle with a lighter heart. There was no dissonance, either, between the novelist’s life and the novelist’s work. What Sir Walter Besant was in his books, he was to his friends and to the world at large—a kindly mentor, a genial companion, an honourable foe, a faithful friend.—A critic this morning.

     The deaths about the same time of Mr Robert Buchanan and Sir Walter Besant, and the large space given to notices of their lives and works in the daily journals, enable us to realise more vividly than we are wont to do the prominent part filled by the novelist in the ordinary life of to-day. Fiction is a luxury which has become a necessary. Its masters are accorded by a grateful public almost more than regal honours—do we not remember how the English-speaking world hung on the news of Kipling’s illness in America?—whilst the lower ranks are crowded with men of ability who are adequately rewarded.
     In these new century days man is vastly interested about himself. And it is to the novelist rather than to the scientist or the historian that he turns for information. “Fiction is the machinery by which people learn everything now-a-days,” once said Sir Walter Besant, and the reader in a narrow lodging in a big city particularly wants to know how his fellow-man comports himself in circumstances of difficulty and danger. The novelist, with the aid of the circulating or the free library, supplies the needed means of escape from the narrow mill-horse round. Through the eyes of the modern fiction writer he gazes on strange worlds, forecasts the future, re-lives the past. And fiction is now so specialised that all can have a novel to their minds. Even the preacher is often fain to enter the lists as a novelist, and men so differing in qualities as a Tolstoy and a Crockett turn to story writing as the best vehicle for their thoughts.
     Perhaps the most picturesque figure of a novelist in recent years was Stevenson, living in patriarchal dignity and simplicity in far-away Samoa, and yet writing for two continents for his daily bread. But in the warmth of his feeling for the public, and in the warmth of their regard and love for him in return, Dickens must always take first place amongst the popular English novelists, and in many ways Sir Walter Besant upheld and maintained the tradition he established. Sir Walter, despite his idealism, did not live amongst the clouds, and, like Dickens, he loved his London and his fellow-men well. The People’s Palace, realisation of his dream, to which he owed no little of his fame, and indirectly his knighthood, was, it is true, something of a disappointment; but his cheery optimism never broke down in face of the misery he saw, and he was ever wholesome and stimulating. A writer said this week: “If we could not turn to novels in order to forget our everyday troubles, the madhouses would soon be full;” and for such purposes Sir Walter’s books are difficult to surpass.
     Robert Buchanan was cast in a different mould. His was a more fiery and rebellious nature. The fever of revolt surged in his blood. He has been called one of the last of the great Bohemians. His works deal more with the elemental passions of humanity, and less with how they showed themselves when tamed by civilisation and town life, than those of Sir Walter Besant, with whom, by the accident of death, his name is linked to-day. Robert Buchanan was impatient of his fellows. They seemed to him a race of pigmies, worthy only of his contempt, which he was not slow to pour upon them. He was wanting in sweetness, and in love, and perhaps in consequence, his reputation fell far short of its brilliant early promise. He lacked discipline, and failed to recognise that promiscuous cursing, though it may amuse, does not win respect. And yet he, too, was influenced by Dickens (though the influence did not appear in his writings), for he has put it on record:—“Two or three times a week, walking, black bag in hand, from Charing Cross Station to the office of ‘All the Year Round’ in Wellington-street, came the good, the only Dickens. From that good genius the poor straggler from Fairyland got solid help and sympathy. Few can realise now what Dickens was then to London. His humour filled its literature like broad sunlight; the Gospel of Plum-Pudding warmed every poor devil in Bohemia.”
     Buchanan, in literary life, did not follow Dickens; on the contrary, he attempted the impossible. He sought to achieve lasting work amidst the stress and turmoil of London. In the struggle for life he lost the strength which, carefully cherished, might have won for him a permanent place in English literature. It was his ambition to win fame as a poet, but the great public has no feeling for poetry save of the “Barrack Room Ballad” order, and so Robert Buchanan, with his bold heart, his fiery nature, and his fierce unyielding hatred of the hollow shams and mockeries of the age was swept aside, and was at last conquered by illness. And now we may content ourselves with noting the distinctly modern phenomenon of two men widely differing from each other, but each with large “followings,” going to their graves, lamented by unknown thousands of readers, whose lonely hours they have cheered, and whose lives they have enriched.

___

 

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph (11 June, 1901 - p.4)

     IT would be hard to imagine a greater contrast than is afforded by the two novelists whose deaths we record this morning—ROBERT BUCHANAN and Sir WALTER BESANT. In character, in work, in fortune, they were alike almost the antipodes of each other. It is unlikely that literary history will place either of them in the front rank of men of letters; yet both were considerable figures, and had talent of a high order. The one, however, was a literary ISHMAEL, whose hand was against every man, with the natural result that every man’s hand was against him. The other, though he could be trenchant and outspoken enough on occasion, had a rare faculty for winning the affections of his fellows. ROBERT BUCHANAN, embittered by disappointment, has died under the shadow of financial ruin, almost forgotten by the literary world in which he had once been so prominent. Sir WALTER BESANT, having tasted time and again the joys of success such as comes to few of us, has died, universally beloved and respected, in the home, and amid the comforts, which his well-directed efforts won for him. Of the two men, the less fortunate was in many respects the more gifted; but a malign fairy must have presided over his birth, for those very gifts wrought him little save evil. He left Scotland, where, like many another, he “cultivated literature on a little oatmeal,” in order to tempt fortune in London, which he reached with half-a-crown in his pocket. We have heard it suggested by one of the Scottish literati that it is because literature is cultivated on a “little” oatmeal only that its reward is so poor. More porridge, more pelf, would seem to be the idea. Far be it from us to cast contempt upon Scotia’s national dainty, or to insinuate that BUCHANAN neglected it. Whatever the reason, however, though he had wedded Literature, she did not bring him the “tocher” (Anglice “dowry”) he  had reason to expect with her. Of the other three men who left Glasgow with him, one, WILLIAM BLACK, achieved both fame and fortune; another, CHARLES GIBBON, earned at least, if our memory serves, a modest competence; the third, DAVID GRAY, spent his first night in London under the stars, because he was too poor to pay for a lodging, and caught the chill from which he died. GRAY’S end was tragic enough. The present writer has it at first hand from one who knew him in those far-off days that GRAY was so singularly beautiful in personal appearance that when he walked along the streets people would turn their heads to look at him, as if he were a rarely graceful girl. That he was the possessor of undoubted genius, the poems published while he lay upon his deathbed prove. Yet, tragic as his fate was, one cannot help feeling that it was kinder than that which befell the fourth of that gallant-hearted quartet.
     ROBERT BUCHANAN had, first, the great gift of originality. His poetry was his own, not a feeble echo of another man’s. And much of it was very good poetry, too. Many of the “North Coast Poems,” in particular, are very fine. His father was a Scotsman; and BUCHANAN seemed to have absorbed through that ancestry the story of the Covenanting days in Scotland till they were part of his very being—a story to which, in such pieces as his description of the Battle of Drumclog, he gave rare poetical expression. The strange thing was that, while he was possessed of the old Covenanters’ spirit in some things, he was destitute of it in others. He had, for instance, a truly Cameronian zeal for testifying on behalf of what he conceived to be the truth, however inopportune the moment for the testimony might be. Just when his poetry was beginning to take the literary world by storm, and the secure financial position which fame would have implied was within sight, he was moved to attack two brother poets—SWINBURNE and ROSSETTI—as exemplars of what he called “The Fleshly School.” It was not a genteel attack with a rapier—which might have been forgiven—but an onslaught with a Scottish claymore, and society never forgave him that bit of butcher’s work. He might have weathered the storm, for his two famous novels, “The Shadow of the Sword” and “God and the Man,” won for him a position as a man of letters, which was, and still is, incontestable—if only the stern Covenanting outlook upon life had held all round. Alas! he was no Scotsman where money was concerned; and the latter part of his life was passed under the shadow of financial troubles. His propensity for “testifying” remained incurable through it all, however. Trouble could not tame him. Lord KITCHENER was one of his pet aversions; and, not long before he was seized with the illness from which he died, he must needs earn for himself yet more dislike by a ferocious attack upon Mr. RUDYARD KIPLING, whom he described, most unjustly, and it must be confessed a trifle vulgarly, as a “literary hooligan.” Still, when all is said, even his enemies could not doubt the man’s honesty, nor could misfortune daunt his manly spirit. He was one of those who ever marched straight forward, “breast and back as either should be,” to quote BROWNING’S phrase; and if he was too much inclined at times to play the part of a literary rough-rider, he has also done work instinct with beauty, and well worthy of its place in English literature.
     Of this brilliant literary free-lance—poet, playwright, novelist—Sir WALTER BESANT may be set down as the very antithesis. He had none of that divine fury which at once made and marred BUCHANAN; and, even when combating hypocrisy or a publisher—his two pet aversions—the thrill of indignation in his language never disturbed its air of good breeding. If Sir WALTER BESANT had not his rival’s fire, however, he had more than his rival’s success. And the success was well deserved. It is easy, of course, for the literary snob to sneer at that success as due to placid mediocrity, and a judicious catering for the sentimentality of the middle classes; but that is not the last word upon Sir WALTER BESANT’S work, by any manner of means. True, it does not soar to any high imaginative heights. His heroes and heroines are not the sort of people one meets in everyday life. His plots bear an odd resemblance to geometrical problems, with a triumphant Q. E. D. at the end. But we never read a book of his which was not a bit of sound, honest workmanship. He aped no tricks of phraseology. He wrote with a clear incisiveness, which never left any doubt as to its meaning; and yet, plain as it was, his style always had about it an air of distinction. It was a style, not merely slipshod journalese. Moreover—and in these days that is much—his pages were always clean. Best of all, his books were instinct with the true ardour of humanity. He loved his species—especially the poor. In such books as “All Sorts and Conditions of Men” and “The Children of Gibeon,” he brought home to his readers with all the force of reality the monotony, the joylessness, that life in London means to many. What is more he kindled in the hearts of his readers a desire to do something to make the lives of the poor happier, and brighter, and more hopeful. The People’s Palace at Mile End is the tangible result. There have been other results, we are sure, which are none the less real because they are not visible in stone and lime—many a kind deed done in secret, for instance, many a gallant championship of poverty against wrong. This, too, must be said. Amid a stream of novels that were often intolerably depressing, Sir WALTER BESANT’S were distinguished by their happy optimism. They cheered and uplifted the reader, and sent him back to face life’s battle with a lighter heart. There was no dissonance, either, between the novelist’s life and the novelist’s work. What Sir WALTER BESANT was in his books, he was to his friends and to the world at large—a kindly mentor, a genial companion, an honourable foe, a faithful friend.

___

 

The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (11 June, 1901 - p.4)

THE LAST CHAPTER

     The two authors who died yesterday admirably represent the regular and the guerilla camps of literature. Both were many-sided, had many gifts, and were untiring workers. But whilst Sir Walter Besant, as became the author of “All Sorts and Conditions of Men,” was one of the great conciliating influences of his age, Mr. Robert Buchanan was largely an Ishmael in the world of letters, despite his warm, responsive nature. In the case of Sir Walter Besant especially the loss to that world is large. He was the champion of his craft, protecting the weak, inspiring the doubtful, guiding the puzzled, dealing generously with the unfortunate. A volume would be necessary to deal with his achievements since he was elected the first chairman of the Executive Committee of the Incorporated Society of Authors. Yet if, with the poet Campbell, he could pardon much in Napoleon I. because he once shot a publisher, no man had more weight with or was more cordially appreciated by the publishing princes. The striking success of “All Sorts and Conditions of Men,” in 1882, a novel that played the part of magician’s wand by causing the erection of the People’s Palace in the East End, somewhat overshadowed his other literary labours. Yet it cannot be overlooked that his partnership with Mr. James Rice, although in no sense comparable with the Erckmann-Chatrain combination, resulted in a most enjoyable group of novels, of which “The Golden Butterfly,” in its combination of humour and pathos, is the most notable, as “Ready-Money Mortiboy” was the strongest. Two other prominent features in a singularly successful career were the devotion of Sir Walter Besant to French literature and his Sam Weller-like interest in London. His memoir of Rabelais, published in 1877, was as sane as it was delightful. Without the artistic power of recreating the people of bygone London, his works on “Westminster” and “London” showed considerable research and still more sympathy. Like William Morris in his passionate desire for the well-being of his fellow-men, he lacked the genius of the author of “The Earthly Paradise.” He is outside the rank of those whose individuality has permanently enriched life, but in his day and generation he laboured strenuously, generously, and with considerable success.
     Less commendable were the ways by which Mr. Buchanan sought to take literature by storm. The attacks upon Rossetti and Swinburne in “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” like the recent one upon Rudyard Kipling as “the poet of Billingsgate,” not only recoiled upon their author, but came with a poor grace from a writer whose “realism” was so striking. Yet no man of his epoch could more certainly claim to possess the literary temperament. If he had also possessed self-control and could have been more amenable to criticism, his success would undoubtedly have been great. As it is, he has touched heights in his productions impossible to the contemporary whose death is also reported. We do not refer to his dramatic attempts, where he was handicapped by his epoch, nor to his poetry, which was too fertile, but to detached passages of his novels and miscellaneous writings. His first novel especially, “The Shadow of the Sword,” has idyllic chapters of intense beauty. His memoir, “The Story of David Gray,” the life of that young and stricken Scotch poet, is one of the few perfect gifts of the Victorian age; one of the tenderest and most sincere tributes of literary affection of any age, not to be read “without a renewed sense of tears in mortal things.”

___

 

The Gloucester Citizen (11 June, 1901 - p.3)

OUR LONDON LETTER.
_____

                                                                                                 LONDON, TUESDAY MORNING.

     The deaths of Sir Walter Besant and Mr. Robert Buchanan, announced simultaneously yesterday, came as a painful shock, though the illness of the latter gave no hope of recovery. Sir Walter, besides achieving fame as the creator through his novels of the People’s Palace, and winning so many thousands of readers by his books, was in a special degree the friend of the profession. He was the mainspring of the Authors’ Society, and the founder of the Authors’ Club. He attended very few social events of late, preferring quiet in his beautiful little home at Hampstead; but his mind often went out in sympathy to the younger members of the craft to which he belonged, and he sometimes encouraged them by friendly notes. Buchanan’s death was really a relief, considering his sad physical condition. He was a man of rare brilliance, though unstable. He had many friends, despite his fierce writings. I was pleased to notice, too, about two years since, remembering his former championship of agnosticism, with what a kindly appreciation he wrote of the work of the Salvation Army.

___

 

Brooklyn Eagle (11 June, 1901 - p.4)

Two Busy Bees.

     The death on the same day of Sir Walter Besant and Robert Buchanan illustrates vividly one of the strong contrasts in authorship. They were of about the same age, both have been prominent and active figures in the literary life of England for the past thirty years, and neither has written a book likely to attain literary immortality. But whereas Buchanan was a truculent, militant person, with a talent for keeping his name continually in the public eye, but whose work never benefited anybody but himself, Besant was one of the most helpful writers who ever lived, and his influence is likely to grow larger after his books have become merely names in the literary calendar. And that will be because he was more intent upon helping his fellows than upon his own individual success. Besant did a good deal of critical and historical writing in his youth which has been much praised, but he did not become widely known until he entered a literary partnership with James Rice. The firm wrote a dozen or more popular novels, of which “Ready Money Mortiboy” is now perhaps the best known. They were pleasant, sunny, interesting stories for the most part, and they were calculated to leave the reader better than they found him. The joint authorship is interesting because it was one of the few successful literary collaborations. Perhaps that was because each man kept carefully to his distinct portion of the work. Rice was an editor and was attracted by some of the work Besant submitted. In the partnership he laid out the plots and attended to the business details of the authorship, while Besant wrote out the stories, while Besant wrote out the stories after they were planned. In a larger way, it was such a collaboration as many editors have with contributors to magazines.
     After Rice’s death Besant wrote the novel with which his name is most widely associated and which will be most largely responsible for his future remembrance—“All Sorts and Conditions of Men.” The book dealt in a sympathetic way with the lives and needs of the poor and it started that movement for the amelioration of the conditions of the East End of London, of which Toynbee Hall is the outcome in London and from which half a dozen settlement societies have resulted in New York. The work, which is a favorite topic with Mrs. Humphry Ward, and is described at length in her “Marcella,” did not exist when Besant’s novel was written, and that book gave the impulse which led to its organization. But long before that Besant had demonstrated his desire to help his fellows. When he began to write authorship was an utterly unorganized craft in England. There was no standard rate of pay for books, and the unknown author took practically whatever the publisher chose to give him. Besant organized and for years conducted the Authors’ Society, devoted to getting for authors what their work was fairly worth. He had a bureau which made contracts and placed manuscripts for authors; he conducted a monthly magazine, the Author, devoted to the rights and grievances of his craft, and was influential in the agitation for the national copyright law, which gave English authors royalties on their books sold here and protected American authors from the competition of cheap, uncopyrighted editions of English books. Besant has also written a column of comment in some of the English publications which has been widely quoted in this country. The result of his labors was a much better understanding of the business side of publishing on the part of English authors and much better prices for their work. Besant received his title in 1895, when Lord Rosebery was prime Minister, the same year when Henry Irving and Lewis Morris, the poet, were knighted. There were several more distinguished literary artists upon whom the honor might have been conferred, but no writer who had done more for the people among whom he lived.
     Buchanan wrote several novels and poems of much strength and vigor, which were a good deal talked about when they were new. His anonymous attack upon Rossetti, in the pamphlet, “The Fleshly School of Poets,” and Swinburne’s answer, after Buchanan’s authorship became known, was one of the sensational incidents of the literary world when it happened. But Buchanan’s books are more thoroughly forgotten than Besant’s already, and nothing in the man or his life tends to keep them in remembrance.

___

 

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (11 June, 1901 - p.5)

LITERARY LOSSES.

     The obituary list this morning very seriously depletes the rapidly diminishing band of writers who made a national, if they have not made a lasting, literary reputation during the reign of Queen Victoria. Quite unexpectedly, so far as even the literary public were concerned, Sir Walter Besant dies yesterday; and not unexpectedly, but none the less very regretfully, the world hears of the death of Robert Buchanan. Each of these writer was, in his way, a singularly versatile and a notable man, and produced books which will long be read. In character and temperament it would be difficult to find greater differences than separated these companions into the unknown. Robert Buchanan was a confirmed Bohemian, a sort of incipient outlaw; Sir Walter Besant was all that is regular and respectable in the writing world. Both won official recognition. In his earlier years, when he was regarded as typifying the poet struggling with a deaf and unsympathetic world, Mr. Buchanan was allotted a pension on the Civil List; and in his prime Sir Walter Besant received a well-deserved knighthood—official estimates of the men which their lives and work throughout proved to have been suitable. The one was a poet, critic, dramatist, novelist, journalist, but always a rebel and free lance; the other was an explorer, novelist, journalist, historian, and social reformer, but always a citizen with whose respectability and good sense nobody could cavil. Robert Buchanan’s life gives to anyone who followed it closely a saddened sense of incompleteness and comparative ineffectuality; while Besant probably achieved everything of which his best friends thought him capable. When the world comes to look again closely at the work of the two men it will seem that both produced books which will have a place, though perhaps not a conspicuous place, in the literary history of the nineteenth century. Critically they have been somewhat obscured hitherto by the fact that Robert Buchanan had many literary enemies, and Sir Walter Besant hosts of literary friends.
     Buchanan left Scotland for London with his friend David Gray, to seek a publisher for their poems in the traditional manner. The hard life they lived while trying to feed themselves by authorship killed Gray and left Buchanan a Bohemian for the rest of his days. The stress of that life partly made and partly spoiled the young Scotsman. It cured him of lisping classical echoes in verse, which was his first method; but it also turned him into a ferocious literary swashbuckler, ready to “lay on” with all his might when he took up his pen, right or wrong. One thinks now with a rueful twinge of the fierce enmity that raged in certain literary circles in London when “fleshly” was the word which Buchanan was hurling at Mr. Swinburne, and “scrofulous” was the retort which Swinburne was flinging back. Mr. Swinburne had Mr. Theodore Watts (or Watts-Dunton as he is now called) with the “Athenæum” at his back, and the reviewers who wished to be regarded as in the upper circles of criticism proceeded, with a deplorable unanimity, to “slate” anything that bore the name of Buchanan, while they praised to the skies whatever he wrote and published anonymously. If Buchanan never produced a great poem, or novel, or play, was it to be expected, seeing that during almost the whole of his active working life he was engaged in literary or theological fisticuffs with an incidental publication of books? But we venture to think that in every form of writing which he attempted he succeeded in thoroughly interesting, and often impressing, his readers. His “White Rose and Red” is perhaps the most readable poem of its length in the English tongue. It has, too, other qualities than mere readableness—humour, inimitable parody, dramatic development, and a deep-veined humanity. It is amusing to recollect how far away Mr. Buchanan’s detractors were from writing anything as bright. The poet was also a master of the ballad. In one of his novels, “The Shadow of the Sword,” he came as near to greatness as any tale-teller of his own generation. He was, too, an appreciative and luminous critic. Born to be a God-fearing Scotsman, he could never settle accounts with himself for being anything else, and so, in aimlessness and doubt, he partly missed his mark, but he wrote much that may be gratefully enjoyed.
     Sir Walter Besant, in a less irregular way, played as many parts as Mr. Buchanan. First he was a University scholar and schoolmaster-professor. Then he became secretary of the Palestine Exploration Fund. His first literary work was in the field of criticism. But it cannot be said that he was really known until he delighted the world by “Ready Money Mortiboy” and “The Golden Butterfly,” written in association with James Rice, whose previous publications had been on turf matters. That the secretary of the Palestine Exploration Fund and a racing expert should join forces in the production of novels which charmed everybody is one of the standing problems of nineteenth century fiction. After the death of Rice the tales of the surviving partner lost some of the earlier robustness and closeness to real life, while all the literary charm remained. “All Sorts and Conditions of Men” had power enough in it to start a quiet social revolution, and build the “People’s Palace” in the East End, a bricks-and-mortar form of fame which found recognition in the author’s knighthood. It is not easy to imagine a time when the world will utterly tire of such tales as the three we have named, instinct as they are with a sweet and strong humanity. But since he ceased to write tales with the pristine vigour of these efforts and took to the comfortable journeyman work of fiction, Sir Walter had delved deeply in a new vein, namely, the history of London. It may be questioned whether any living person knows half as much about the London of history as Sir Walter Besant knew, and he did his best to reconstruct for us the place that was, and has disappeared. His work in this direction will unquestionably remain of high value. A bold, chivalrous, tender-hearted man, a sweet and wholesome writer, and a friend of all who write. Sir Walter Besant will be deeply mourned. We can ill afford to lose such as he; in fact, we have few such left to lose.

___

 

The Nottingham Evening Post (12 June, 1901 - p.2)

BUCHANAN TO BESANT.

     About two years ago Robert Buchanan addressed an open letter to Sir Walter Besant, which, in view of the simultaneous passing of these writers, is not without pathetic interest to-day:—“I say to you now, out of the fulness of my experience, that had I a son who thought of turning to literature as a means of livelihood and whom I could not dower with independent means of keeping Barabbas and the markets at bay, I would elect, were the choice mine, to save that son from future misery by striking him dead with my own hand! ‘Whom the gods love die young,’ I would say to myself; ‘whom the gods and Barabbas preserve survive on for despondency, sadness, madness, and despair;’ and my son should surely die. For what I have seen I have seen, and what I have suffered I have suffered.” “The very stones of the street cry out and rebuke you, sir,” he concludes his letter, “when you invite the young and unwary, and, above all, the honestly inspired, to enter the blood-stained gates of this inferno.”

_____

 

Next: Besant and Buchanan Obituaries continued

 

[The Last Months of Robert Buchanan]    [Obituaries 1]    [Obituaries 2]

[Obituaries 3: Buchanan and Besant]    [Obituaries 4: Buchanan and Besant 2]

[The Funeral of Robert Buchanan]    [The Grave of Robert Buchanan]

[Back to Biography]

 

Home
Biography
Bibliography

 

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

 

Essays
Reviews
Letters

 

The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

 

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

 

Links
Site Diary
Site Search