ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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‘The World’s Desire’ by Rudolf Blind

 

The court reports of Buchanan’s bankruptcy mentioned his ‘purchase’ of a painting, ‘The World’s Desire’ by Rudolf Blind, and since he never took possession, I wondered what had become of it. I thought it would be easy enough to find a reproduction somewhere online and a brief biography of the artist, but no such luck. Rudolf Blind is not listed in any of the usual reference works and the only mention on the Tate Britain site is the following, from the timeline related to a 2001 exhibition, ‘Exposed: The Victorian Nude’:

“Rudolf Blind, the Belgian-born painter is put on trial for exhibiting a picture alleged to be ‘obscene’ and ‘wicked’; the judge, taking into consideration ‘artistic expression’, throws the case out of court.”

The British Library has two items relating to ‘The World’s Desire’:

A handbill, (“391, Strand. Now on view daily ... The world's desire, by Rudolf Blind, is an unusually large ... picture, representing the adoration of the ideal female nude ..”) and a ticket to view the painting (“A Superb Work of Imaginative art.” An ideal and perfect nude. The World’s Desire. By Rudolf Blind. On view daily. Admission 10 to 6, 1/- 6 to 10 6d. 391, Strand. Beauty, comfort, elegance, and rest”). The British Library gives Rudolf Blind’s dates as 1846-1889, which are wrong, but which are then repeated elsewhere (such is the nature of the internet).

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The New York Times headed its ‘Arts Notes’ section on April 24th, 1892 with the following:

     An Anglo-German painter named Rudolf Blind has written a plaint to the London papers concerning his treatment anent “The World’s Desire,” a painting in which the nude female form is seen. He says that Lord Campbell’s Act allows and almost invites the violation of an artist’s liberty to paint and exhibit the nude. The National Vigilance Association roams the streets and private informers spy on the studio. The laws now give, “as I find to my cost, any individual the power to constitute himself a Vehmgericht for offenses created solely by his own impure imagination, and this, together with the fact that obscurantists whom it is needless to specify walk to and fro in the bailiwicks seeking what worlds of art they may devour.” Mr. Blind had to attend at Bow Street Police Court to explain why “The World’s Desire” should not be destroyed as an obscene work. He holds that the situation makes scarce worth living the existence of a painter who is earnestly striving to portray with sincerity and purity nature’s loveliest handiwork. “Many an inspiration calculated to give the purest artistic pleasure to untold generations will be strangled at its birth by the fear of a possible prosecution unless those to whom liberty of expression in art is dear now bestir themselves with determined vigor. Even the triple shield of a mind conscious of the right may not be strong enough to withstand the fire of Bow Street artillery directed by possibly an irresponsible citizen.”

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This report of the court case is taken from The Times of Thursday, April 28, 1892 (p.14):

POLICE.

     At BOW-STREET, yesterday, Mr. RUDOLPH BLIND, the artist, appeared to a summons taken out by Mr. Edward Cox for exhibiting a picture alleged to be of an obscene and indecent nature. Mr. Keith Frith appeared in support of the summons; and Mr. Rose-Innes, instructed by Mr. Hugh Rose-Innes, represented the defendant. The picture, which was produced in court, represented Eros, the God of Love, unveiling Beauty, the World’s Desire, to her devotees. Cherubs hovering about the goddess symbolize mirth, merriment, and gaiety. Figures in the foreground represent various types and stages of mankind—the aged man of wealth, who proffers jewels; the soldier willing to fight and die for beauty’s smile; the poet ready to employ all his genius in her adoration; and the youth bringing a wreath of roses to lay at her feet, but undecided whether to remain with her, or to yield to the advice of the old man and devote his life to the Church. In opening the case, Mr. Keith Frith said the question to be decided was not whether the picture was beautiful, as there could be no question whatever about that; but the question was, Had the defendant painted a picture which was obscene within the meaning of the Act under which the summons had been taken out? This was Lord Campbell’s Act, 20 and 21 Vict., and section 1 of this Act made it a misdemeanour to exhibit a picture which was obscene. He did not attack Mr. Blind on the merits of his picture, which was undoubtedly a work of art; but the question was whether it was not an indecent picture which was being exhibited for the purposes of gain. Mr. Edward Cox, the complainant, said he was a solicitor’s clerk, and had been upwards of 40 years in one employment. At present he was out of a situation. On March 21 he was passing along the Strand when a bill was put into his hand. On reading it he found it related to a picture called “The World’s Desire,” which it described as “naked and not ashamed.” Witness was induced to go and view the picture which was the subject of this prosecution. On April 14 he had an interview with the defendant, Mr. Blind, who said that he was the exhibitor of the picture, and also the occupier of the premises in which it was exhibited. In consequence of what he had seen he thought it right to take these proceedings. Cross-examined by Mr. Rose-Innes, witness admitted that he knew little or nothing of art. He had never been abroad, and had never visited the Royal Academy. On going into the place where the picture was on view witness could not say that there were any boys or girls present. He thought not. Mr. John De Morgan deposed that he was an engineer, and had also been a journalist. He had seen the picture, and was induced to do this by having a bill put into his hand when passing along the Strand. By Mr. Vaughan.—I think it a highly suggestive picture to the young mind. By Mr. Rose-Innes.—I don’t think it would do any harm to an adult mind. Mr. Rose-Innes, for the defence, contended that the statute under which the summons was taken out was not directed against the exhibition of single pictures which were works of art, but against the trading in pictures of an indecent nature. The complainant had failed to prove that his morals were in any way shocked by what he had seen. If he could have proved that, his proper course would have been to have applied for a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Blind. An offence at Common Law might have been committed, but the complainant had taken a course which he had no power to do under the Act. The learned counsel did not, however, wish to have the summons dismissed on a point of law. He would call men of the highest eminence in their profession, who would prove that the picture could in no sense be called obscene. Mr. F. Goodall, R.A., said he was acquainted with works of art in this and in other countries. He was present, however, to say whether in his opinion the picture was an obscene one, and not to speak as to its merits as a work of art. Mr. Rose-Innes—Do you consider the picture obscene? Witness.—I certainly do not. Mr. Vaughan.—This is intended to be a representation of the human figure; would you consider the exhibition of the female figure as obscene? Witness.—This is a picture. You never find in nature a perfect form; you have to go to many to find one. Mr. Vaughan.—I am suggesting to you that this is a representation of the human form. Witness.— The finest works of the old masters are true ideals of the human figure. The exhibition of the human figure itself would, I should say, be obscene. In cross-examination, the witness said that at the Royal Academy this year there were several pictures in the nude. Mr. H. Stacy Marks, R.A., said that he certainly could not describe the picture as obscene. To his mind there was nothing of a suggestive or improper character in it. Mr. Fallew said that in his opinion the picture was painted in accordance with the conditions of the representation of the nude. He did not find sufficient realism in it to make it obscene. He would not for a single moment consider it so. Mr. Christie Murray said he saw a wilderness of dirt in the minds of the people who could say that the picture was obscene or indecent. Mr. John MacWhirter, A.R.A., after examining the picture closely, said that, in his judgment, there was nothing obscene or indecent about it. Miss Wilson, art critic, Mr. John M. Browne, Mr. M. S. Sullivan, Mr. William J. Larkins, and Mr. Williamson all gave similar evidence. Mr. Vaughan said that when he first saw the picture his impression was that it was one which ought not to be exhibited. This was only an individual opinion, and one likely to be overborne by the evidence which had been called before him. This undoubtedly went to show that in the estimation and judgment of men of great eminence in the arts the picture was one which could not be called obscene. He was quite satisfied that no jury, with the evidence before them which had been given for the defence, would ever convict the defendant of having exhibited a picture which was obscene or indecent. There was only one way to deal with the summons, and that was to dismiss it. This decision was received with great applause.

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On Monday, May 16th, 1892 (p.6) the following letter was printed in The Times:

THE NUDE IN ART.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.

     Sir,—The recent abortive prosecution by a private individual under the provisions of Lord Campbell’s Act of a certain picture at Bow-street is perhaps an opportunity for reviving a discussion on the incidence of that Act, dormant since the death of Mr. H. G. Bohn, who was the chairman of a committee formed with the object of obtaining the revision of 20 and 21 Vic., cap.83, by united action on the part of all those to whom liberty of artistic expression is justly valuable.
     The appointment of an official whose imprimatur would protect the bona-fide worker and whose office would be in terrorem over those who are very properly the target of Lord Campbell’s Act would take the discussion of artistic ethics out of the ill-chosen atmosphere of the police-court—a consummation devoutly to be wished.
     In other words, is it not desirable to establish in this country the system formerly followed in Paris, under which any person could deposit or produce an article he desired to sell or exhibit and obtain a certificate of permission? Those who had nothing to fear always availed themselves of this protection from possible persecution, and those who designedly neglected it put themselves ipso facto out of court.
     A censor of art, such as the Lord Chamberlain, is not, of course, the best conceivable custodian of public morals, but he is at any rate better than the first passer-by, who can, as the law now stands, certainly annoy and possibly ruin an artist, who, whether he be painter, poet, sculptor, or author, may be called upon to prove a negative to the satisfaction of a police-court magistrate. Can anything well be more anomalous than this state of things? Thanking you anticipando for the publication of this letter,
                                                                           I am, Sir, yours obediently,
     May, 1892                                                                                     RUDOLF BLIND.

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In September 1893 Rudolf Blind was in court again, this time for bankruptcy:

The Times (13 September, 1893 - p.2)

A receiving order was recently made against Rudolf Blind, artist, and accounts have now been issued showing unsecured liabilities £2,136 and available assets of small amount. The bankrupt states that his insolvency is attributable to his expenses having exceeded his income owing to ill-health, to interest on borrowed money, and to costs in connexion with proceedings instituted against him in April, 1892, to restrain him from permitting the exhibition of a certain picture. The unsecured liabilities include £450 for borrowed moneys.

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Presumably this is when Buchanan stepped in to ‘accommodate a friend’ (Blind had provided an illustration for Buchanan’s The Outcast published in 1891) and offered to buy ‘The World’s Desire’ for £450. However, due to Buchanan’s parlous financial state which was just as bad as Blind’s (if not worse), the transaction was never completed. It does appear that no money changed hands and the £450 of ‘borrowed moneys’ mentioned in Blind’s bankruptcy report was transferred to Buchanan - who then failed to pay the bill. (I’m trying desperately hard not to use the phrase, ‘the blind leading the Blind’.) Whether there was any more to Buchanan’s attempted purchase of the painting than a friendly gesture is not known. Perhaps he was showing solidarity with a fellow artist, whom he felt was similarly oppressed by the ignorance of the mob. Or maybe he just liked it. In a letter to The Telegraph, published in The Coming Terror and other essays as “Beneficent ‘Murder’ (2)” he states:

“If he likes statues and pictures of the nude (as I do), he contends that he has a right to enjoy them, despite the fact that they create nasty sensations in ‘moral’ people.”

Anyway, by 1897 Rudolf Blind was back in business, with a safer subject, according to this advert in The Times (24 March, 1897):

consoler

As for ‘The World’s Desire’, the last mention I came across, apart from Blind’s obituary, was the following court case.

The Observer (26 November, 1911 - p.12)

LAW REPORT.—NOV. 25.
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King’s Bench Division.

MR. JUSTICE DARLING AND “THE WORLD’S DESIRE.”
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     Mr. Justice Darling heard an action by Mr. William Manning, of Brightlands, Wallington, and Mr. P. H. Head, of The Chestnuts, Horley, against Mrs. Annie S. Blind, wife of Mr. Rudolph Blind, artist, of Queen Anne’s Grove, Bedford Park, for the delivery up of a picture painted by the defendant’s husband, entitled “The World’s Desire,” and a declaration that they had a lien upon it.
     Mr. H. D. Roome (instructed by Mr. R. Chapman) appeared for the plaintiffs, and Mr. Alexander Cairns (instructed by Messrs. Marpole and Marpole) for the defendant.
     Mr. Roome applied that judgment should be entered for the plaintiffs on the ground that the defendant had failed to file a statement of defence.
     Mr. Cairns explained that the defendant had postponed filing her defence until she could obtain certain particulars. He asked that the time for filing the defence should be extended. There was an agreement to exhibit the picture, and the plaintiffs said the defendant had taken it out of their custody.
     Mr. Justice Darling: Is it said that the picture ought not to be exhibited?
     Mr. Roome: No; the picture was painted by Mr. Blind.
     Mr. Justice Darling: It does not follow that the picture ought to be exhibited. What is the subject?
     Mr. Cairns: It is a study in flesh tints—the man is hesitating between the flesh tints and the Church.
     Mr. Justice Darling: You are not going to plead that the agreement is against public morals and cannot be enforced?
     Mr. cairns: No. The defendant alleges that the plaintiffs did not carry out the terms of the contract.
     Mr. Roome said if the defendant really intended to defend the action, the plaintiffs would give her every opportunity of doing so.
     Mr. Justice Darling said he would extend the defendant’s time for filing her defence and direct that the costs of the present motion should be the plaintiffs’ costs in the cause.
     Mr. Roome asked that the picture should be brought into Court.
     Mr. Cairns objected, and pointed out that the defendant had submitted to an injunction not to part with it.
     Mr. Justice Darling: It does not appear to be the class of picture to bring here. (Laughter.) I understand they have brought a picture from the House of Lords, and hung it in the Central Hall of the Courts. I have not seen it, and apparently no person has seen it.
     Mr. Cairns: That is a picture of the Anti-Slavery Convention held in London in June, 1840.
     Mr. Justice Darling: Ah, that is the kind of picture we want at the Law Courts. We cannot have this one. (Laughter.)
     Mr. Roome: This picture is more like the one at the Old Bailey.
     Mr. Justice Darling: Then send it there. (Laughter.)

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The Times (22 February, 1912 - p.3)

“THE WORLD’S DESIRE.”
MANNING AND ANOTHER v. BLIND.
(Before MR. JUSTICE AVORY and a Common Jury.)

     In this case Mr. William Herbert Manning and Mr. Percy Herbert Head sued Mrs. Annie Sarah Blind for delivery up to them of the picture “The World’s Desire” and damages for its detention or damages for trespass and conversion.
     Mr. Rose-Innes and Mr. H. D. Roome represented the plaintiffs; and Mr. Holford Knight the defendant.
     It appeared that the picture, which was painted by Mr. Rudolph Blind and had become the defendant’s property, had been exhibited some years ago and was afterwards stored with Messrs. James Shoolbred and Co. In 1911 the plaintiffs were desirous of having it further exhibited, and with this object, it was alleged, entered into an agreement with the defendant, by which they were to pay her £25 and £26 10s. To Messrs. Shoolbred for warehousing charges, and she was to pledge the picture with them and was to receive a share of profits on the exhibition, sale, or reproductions of it after deduction of costs and charges.
     The £26 10s. Was paid to Messrs. Shoolbred, the picture was insured, and cost was incurred in having it cleaned and varnished and in other ways. The exhibition was a failure, the net loss, after deduction of receipts, being over £175, for which, the plaintiffs claimed, they had a lien on the picture. In the end the defendant’s husband, acting on her instructions, entered the premises in which the picture was exhibited, cut it from its frame and carried it away.
     On August 15, 1911, an injunction was granted restraining the plaintiffs from parting with the picture pending the hearing of this action.
     The defendant’s case was that the alleged agreement had not been made, that the exhibition which took place was one that was permitted by her, pending negotiations for an agreement which did not succeed, and that the expenses were voluntarily incurred by the plaintiffs. There was also a counterclaim for damages for loss arising from improper exhibition of the picture.
     The plaintiffs’ witnesses were still under examination when the Court rose for the day.
     Solicitors.—R. Chapman; Marpole and Marpole.

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The Times (23 February, 1912 - p.3)

“THE WORLD’S DESIRE.”
MANNING AND ANOTHER v. BLIND.
(Before MR. JUSTICE AVORY and a Common Jury.)

     The hearing of this action, in which Mr. W. H. Manning and Mr. P. H. Head sued Mrs. Annie Sarah Blind for the delivery up of the picture known as “The World’s Desire” and damages for its detention was continued this morning.
     Mr. Rose-Innes and Mr. H. D. Roome represented the plaintiffs; Mr. Holford Knight the defendant.
     The plaintiffs’ case was that, by agreement with the defendant, who was the wife of Mr. Rudolf Blind, the painter of the picture, whose property it was, the plaintiffs exhibited the picture in 1911 and expended money on warehousing costs, restoring the picture, and exhibiting it. In return for this, they alleged, they had a lien on the picture. The exhibition was not a success and, eventually, Mr. Rudolf Blind entered the premises, cut the picture out of the frame and removed it.
     The defendant denied the agreement, and alleged that the picture was being exhibited by her permission pending negotiations and that the expenses incurred by the plaintiffs were incurred voluntarily. She counterclaimed for losses which she alleged had been incurred by the failure of the plaintiffs to exhibit the picture in a fit and proper manner.
     Further evidence for the plaintiffs having been called this morning a settlement was arrived at, by the terms of which the picture was to be delivered to the plaintiffs within seven days, the injunction being continued till delivery, the property of the picture was to vest in the plaintiffs, the counter-claim was withdrawn, and each side to bear its own costs.
     Mr. KNIGHT said that Mr. Blind could offer an explanation of his removal of the picture.
     MR. JUSTICE AVORY.—I suppose he did it under a mistaken idea that he had a right to do so.
     Mr. KNIGHT.—On behalf of Mr. Blind, who is an artist of long standing, it was thought necessary to withstand this claim until this stage, as he regarded it as a matter of honour to do so. He is now completely satisfied with the arrangement come to.
     MR. JUSTICE AVORY.—I am very pleased that it has been reached. Questions of law might have arisen which would have put the parties to much further expense.
     Solicitors.—R. Chapman, Marpole and Marpole.

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What happened to ‘The World’s Desire’ after this, I have no idea. Perhaps it still lies rotting in the warehouse of Messrs. Shoolbred, or maybe Mr. Manning and Another managed to sell it. If anyone has any further information about its current whereabouts I hope they’ll drop me a line, I would love to know what all the fuss was about.

Searching for other examples of Rudolf Blind’s work I found the following illustrations from magazines:

misskern

Portrait of Miss Kernochan from The Whitehall Review, 1881.

blinddec

“Gathering Decorations” from The Illustrated London News, December 1888.

winter

“Winter Fuel” from The Illustrated London News, 1889.

saint

“Saints and Sinners” from The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News.

As for Blind’s paintings, I only found two examples online. This untitled watercolour which went for £140 on ebay,

blindwat

snd this 1894 oil painting (32” x 24”), variously entitled Amor og Psyke, Cupid and Psyche and Flora und Zephyr:

erospsyc

In October, 2011 I received the following photo of a painting by Rudolf Blind from Ashley Miller. The watercolour was commissioned by a brother of Ashley’s great-grandfather Arthur Thistlewood Davenport and was sent to him sometime after he emigrated from England to Virginia in the early 1870’s. I’d like to thank Ashley for sending me this further example of Rudolf Blind’s work.

TheFarewellsm

[‘The Farewell’ by Rudolf Blind. Click the picture for a larger image.]

 

I also came across several mentions of an English translation of Leo Frobenius’ Und Afrika sprach: wissenschaftlich erweiterte Ausgabe des Berichts über den Verlauf der dritten Reise-Periode der Deutschen Inner-Afrikanischen Forschungs-Expedition in den Jahren 1910 bis 1912, (4 vols, 1912-13) as The Voice of Africa: Being an Account of the Travels of the German Inner African Exploration Expedition in the Years 1910-1912, (2 vols, 1913) by Rudolf Blind. Presumably this is the same Rudolf Blind, although this aspect of his career is not mentioned in his obituary.

The Times (4 February, 1916 - p.8)

MR. RUDOLF BLIND.

     The death occurred on Wednesday, at his house at Bedford-park, Chiswick, of Mr. Rudolf Blind, the artist.
     Mr. Blind was a son of Karl Blind, and was born in Brussels in 1850. He was educated at University College School and at the Royal Academy. Among his best known pictures were “The Golden Gates,” “Christ the Consoler,” “The World’s Desire,” “Love’s Extasy,” and “The Throne of Grace.” He also assisted with the decorations of the Opera House at Vienna. During the Franco-German War of 1870-71 Mr. Blind enlisted as a volunteer with the German Army and served at the siege of Strasburg in the ambulance service. He leaves a widow and three sons, one of whom is serving in the Army.
     The funeral will take place at the crematorium at Golder’s Green to-morrow, at 3.30 p.m.

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At which point the story of Rudolf Blind becomes even more intriguing. As the son of Karl Blind, the German revolutionary, Rudolf was the step-brother of both Ferdinand Blind, who attempted to assassinate Bismarck, and Mathilde Blind, the noted feminist poet. The following obituary of Karl Blind is from The Times (1 June, 1907 - p.14).

 

OBITUARY.

MR. KARL BLIND.

     We have to announce that Mr. Karl Blind, the veteran German revolutionary agitator and writer, died suddenly of heart failure at his house at Hampstead yesterday. He was in his 81st year, and had been long domiciled in England, after a turbulent and eventful youth.
     Karl Blind was born at Mannheim on September 4, 1826. He was educated in his native town and at Karlsruhe, and at the Universities of Bonn and Heidelberg, where, as a student, he threw himself heartily into the movement, then just coming to a head, but inspired originally by the French Revolution, towards a free and united Germany. His early life in the cause of freedom was full of adventure. In May, 1848, dissatisfied with the results of the preliminary Parliament at Frankfurt, he joined the insurrection in Baden under Hecker, and again in the following year under Struve, when after the storming of Staufen, he was court-martialled, and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. Luckily for him, he was at once released from the casemates of Rastatt, where he was confined, by an outbreak among the Rastatt troops; and, after a provisional revolutionary Government had been set up at Offenburg, on the flight of the Grand Duke Leopold from his capital, Blind was sent to Paris on a political mission and accredited to Louis Napoleon, then President of the Republic. But on June 13, 1849, he was charged with being implicated with Ledru Rollin, in a conspiracy against the chief of the State, and sentenced to perpetual exile from France. He then went to live in Belgium, but for fresh political reasons he withdrew, in 1852, to London, whence he continued to carry on his Republican campaign, both in Germany and elsewhere. He kept in close touch with all the leaders of revolutionary thought in Europe, such as Mazzini, Garibaldi, Kossuth, Herzon, and Louis Blanc. He promoted the Schleswig-Holstein movement in connexion with leaders of the Schleswig Diet, and was head of the London committee during the war of 1863-4. He took the part of the Poles against Russia in 1863; of the North against the South during the American civil war; of Italian unity against the Papacy; of Japan against Russia; and of the Russian democracy against the autocracy. In the Franco-German war his sympathies were with his own nation.
     Karl Blind, who acted as the London correspondent of several German papers, was a copious author on politics, history, mythology, biography, and Germanic and Indian literature, and he was an honorary member of the Italian Academy of Literature. His stepdaughter, Mathilde Blind, the poetess and champion of women’s rights, died in 1896. His stepson, Ferdinand Cohen Blind, made an attempt on the life of Bismarck in Unter den Linden in May, 1866, and committed suicide in prison. Karl Blind married Friederike Ettlinger, a widow, whose husband’s name had been Cohen.

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Photos of Rudolf Blind’s grave in Maldon Cemetery, Essex from the Find A Grave website, taken by Iain MacFarlaine.

blindgarve3
blindgrave2
blindgrave1
outcastblind

[Frontispiece for Buchanan’s The Outcast by Rudolf Blind.]

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Back to Buchanan and the Law: Robert Buchanan’s Bankruptcy

 

Home
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Essays
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The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

 

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