ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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ROBERT BUCHANAN’S LETTERS TO ROBERT BROWNING

 

The bulk of Robert Buchanan’s letters to Robert Browning are held in the Alexander Turnbull Library in New Zealand. They were initially offered for sale as Lot 201 of Sotheby's 1913 sale of the Browning Collections and were purchased by Bertram Dobell. A few weeks later they appeared as item 491 in his catalogue, 'Browning Memorials':

dobelcat

Maggs Bros, bought item 491 and had the letters bound by Sangorski & Sutcliffe. The introduction to the letters transcribed below is provided by Maggs, from whom Alexander Turnbull purchased the letters. In due time these will be published in The Brownings' Correspondence, a 40 volume edition of the letters of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, edited by Philip Kelley, Scott Lewis and Edward Hagan, published by Wedgestone Press. Volume 15 of this mammoth project was published in November, 2005, and the first of the Buchanan letters will appear in Volume 31. Further information about the Brownings is available at The Brownings: A Research Guide which is based at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Buchanan’s relationship with Browning is dealt with in Chapter X of Harriett Jay’s biography.

I would like to thank Helen Smith of the Alexander Turnbull Library for granting permission to add these letters to the site. I am also grateful to Mrs. G. Taylor and the staff of the City Central Library, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent for their assistance.

There are two other letters from Buchanan to Browning, one in Washington’s Library of Congress, the other in the British Library. Transcriptions of these follow the Turnbull collection.

_____

 

Autograph letters from R W Buchanan to Robert Browning
(Microfilm of qMS-0293). MS-Copy-Micro-0289. Alexander Turnbull Library.

 

BUCHANAN (Robert William). Poet and Novelist.

A splendid COLLECTION OF SOME 40 AUTOGRAPH LETTERS SIGNED, ADDRESSED TO ROBERT BROWNING, a large number accompanied by signed envelopes. Contained on about 86pp., 8vo. Dated between the years 1864-1879. All carefully inlaid and bound, with a title page, in one vol., half morocco, folio size.

This large collection of letters, addressed to the greatest poet of the time, who, the writer says, has long been one of his heroes, contain much that is of the deepest interest concerning the work of both men. Ranging over an extensive period, embracing some of the most vital years of the two careers, much of their greatest work is discussed and criticised in this correspondence, as is also the work of many of their circle, whose names have become famous in the history of  literature. Browning’s “Ring and the Book” is described as “the poetic masterpiece of this generation,” his “Dramatic Lyrics,” “Pied Piper of Hamlin” and others are discussed, likewise Mrs. Browning’s “Child’s Grave at Florence,” “To Bettine,” etc., and the work of Rossetti, Swinburne, Longfellow, (“a very thin thinker indeed”), G. H. Lewes and others.

The following few extracts will give some idea of the immense interest of these letters:-

Bexhill, Oct. 8th, 1866.

     “ . . . If ‘London Poems’ has not reached you the blame is my Publisher’s . . . I am looking eagerly forward to your next, wh. I already see announced. By the way, I have heard privately from America, that Longfellow’s ‘Dante’ is to be very fine. Longfellow is a very thin fellow indeed, but he is great as a translator.” Etc.

Bexhill, Nov. 9th, 1866.

     “ . . . True work never misses its mark, but forgive me if I am not always sure that the work is true, and that I would not, for the universe, have Goethe’s (to compare great things with small) indomitable satisfaction with my own achievement. I hate Goethe, everything Goethesque; and either you agree with me or I see Goethe and Goetheism wrongly. That man, I believe, to be the incarnate cause of modern times, a horribly perfect Tempter, - the father of unbelief - the Devil’s last and subtlest disguise to entrap the beautiful and the pure of soul . . . I find too often that Goethe is influencing me . . . . and directly I feel that I cry out for God’s help, feeling utterly maddened and adrift.”

Russell Square, 22nd Feby., 1869.

     “ . . . . I am just reviewing your last two vols. (“The Ring and the Book,” published in four monthly parts) . . . . “Caponsache” and “Pompilia” have moved me as nothing else has moved me out of the Shakespeare. I didn't quite like Pompilia at first, but it has grown upon me, until it has become the most precious and suggestive face in the whole gallery of dream. . . . I can only wonder at a splendour of spiritual insight, a concentrated dramatic force, and above all a single hearted and demigodlike benificence, which has certainly not attained so mighty a form since Shakespeare created in the Titan days . . . . you grow richer and greater - wealthier and superber of soul.” Etc.

Russell Sq. Dec. 7th, 1870.

     As to Buchanan’s poem “Napoleon Fallen.”

     “ . . . Shall I, who have been howled at for finding brothers and sisters amongst whores and Thieves, hurl epithets as some have done, at a tyrant overthrown? I cannot describe with what loathing and horror I have read such verses as those called “Intercourse,” by that conscienceless and miserable inanity, little Swinburne - verses which brooded with a feminine friendship, over the prospect of physical suffering and torture.”

Regents Park, March 4th, 1872.

     “ . . . . It appears that the few friends of Mr. Rossetti, not content with every diabolical attempt to blacken my character, are diligently endeavouring to make out that I have tried to injure you . . . The necessity for the flaying these men have recd. is shown by their diabolical private conduct . . . I have been doing Tennyson in St. Pauls; and you will follow . . . I see a new poem advertised (“Fifine at the Fair”). I cannot think, however, that you will ever surpass some things of that kind in The Ring and the Book.”

Brixton, June 3rd, 1879.

     “ . . . . I was delighted with the Dramatic Idylls, but nothing will ever destroy my first love for the Ring and the Book, which I still hold to be your masterpiece, the poetic masterpiece of this generation.” Etc.

__________

 

AUTOGRAPH LETTERS

—— FROM ——

ROBERT W. BUCHANAN

—— TO ——

ROBERT BROWNING

1864 - 79

__________

 

Letter 1: 16th November 1864.

Woodlands Cottage
Iver
Uxbridge
16th Nov. 1864

My dear Sir–

                   Our meeting chez Mr Lewes enables me to recollect that you were interested in the pathetic story of the young Scotch poet David Gray, whose remains have endeared him to so many true lovers of our Literature; and you may have heard of the endeavour, hitherto futile, to collect a fund sufficient to erect some simple Memorial in the Auld Aisle Burying Ground at Merkland. It has been suggested to me that the best way to complete the Fund will be to compile & edit a small volume containing:
         The Memento by Lord Houghton; the Life, reprinted from the Cornhill Magazine; original contributions, of a miscellaneous character—by some few men of eminence; and some poetical remains of Gray. The Whole to be illustrated by a portrait of Gray (from a photograph in my possession) & a picture of the Cottage at Merkland.
         This Book, if blest with a moderate sale, would not only return a sum sufficient to erect the Memorial Stone, but would leave a surplus large enough to make Gray’s parents, now very poor & pinched, more comfortable. Mr Gray  sen., uneducated as he is, has one of the gentlest & truest hearts that throbs.
         Of course the attraction of the volume in the eyes of general readers would be the original contributions; and my object in writing to you is to ask if you will aid the good work with some lines from your pen? I prefer the request with some confidence, because I know how profoundly the biography & remains of Gray must have touched a heart like yours.
         I write by the same post, & almost in the same terms, to Mr Tennyson, Mr Dickens, & Mr Lewes.

         Believe me My dear Sir
                   Most faithfully yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.
         &c.    &c.

_____

 

Letter 2. 19th November [1864].

Woodlands Cottage
Iver
Uxbridge
19th Nov.

Dear Mr Browning –

                   Thanks many thanks! Your answer is just what I expected—kind, hearty, generous.—I wish if possible to get the book out at Xmas; but I will write to you again & more definitely in a day or two.
         But I should like your poem soon, because I think of making an appeal to (say) Mr Millais for an Illustration to one or other of the contributions, & it would be necessary to send him a theme.

         Again, many thanks.
                   Most faithfully yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

         N.B.

Of course it is unimportant to what kind of writing the contribution belongs. Anything of yours would be invaluable. If I dared suggest, I should say there is matter in Gray’s own story for some stern teaching. I have longed again & again to know what your views might be of the modern pursuit of literature as a profession, and have wished for an enunciation as much to the point as “Waring.”
– Now, you mustn’t be angry at the Mouse for squealing in the ear of the Lion.

_____

 

Letter 3: 3rd December [1864].

     This letter was at
first misdirected & has been
flying about for a week.
                                   R.B.

Woodlands Cottage
Iver
Bucks
3rd Dec.

Dear Mr Browning –

                   A look at enclosed Correspondence will show you why I have decided not to go further in the matter of the Gray Memorial. I wish I had had the advice sooner—for your sake as well as my own.—But I never intended to make a “Charity Book”—in any sense of the words.
         I trust to see you again some day, & to talk of this and other matters. Meantime, wont you give me a line to say you dont think I have been humbugging you?

                   Ever yours
                   R. Buchanan.

R. Browning Esq.

         Perhaps, instead of posting enclosed letters back to me, you would kindly send them to

                   James Payne Esq.
                   Messrs Moxon’s
                   44, Dover Street
                                       W.

_____

 

Letter 4: 2nd May [1865].

Belle Hill
Bexhill
near Hastings
May 2nd

My dear Mr Browning,

                   I have asked my Publisher to send you a copy of “Inverburn”– I should value your verdict on it, but should chiefly like to hear whether you think the vein one worth working.

                   Yours always
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robt Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 5: 8th October 1866.

Bexhill
Sussex
Oct 8th 1866

My dear Mr Browning,

                   Your letter is very welcome. I did indeed guess that you might be out of reach—in the midst, I hope, of a more genial summer than we have had in England.
         If “London Poems” has not reached you, the blame is my Publisher’s. I send you herewith, therefore, a copy, & if (after perusal) you find it worth while to say a true word abt it, I shall be the gainer.
         I am looking eagerly forward to your next, – wh: I already see announced.—By the way, I have heard privately from America that Longfellow’s “Dante” is to be very fine. Longfellow is a very thin thinker, indeed, but he is great as a translator. I note this, thinking it may interest you—on Dante’s account.

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 6: 6th November 1866.

Bexhill
near Hastings
Nov. 6th 1866

Dear Mr Browning,

                   Many many thanks. Your words are ever good & kind, and fully repay me for the long years during wh: you have been one of my Heroes. When we first met, I feared I did not impress you favorably; for I have a beastly manner, & seem insolent. But I feel that you have seen deeper, & do not think me a humbug.
         You would do me a great service if you would (in a word or so) let me know what you, who see so deep, thinks of Liz, Jane Lewson, Nell, Edward Crowhurst, Death of Roland, & Scaith o’ Bartle, relatively to the best things in the “Idyls of Inverburn.” I have a very particular reason for asking this, & by obliging me so far you will relieve me of some anxiety. My own feeling is that “London Poems” is a distinct developement beyond the Idyls—newer, deeper. Lewes (who has only read the Introduction & the Little Milliner – neither of wh: he likes much) says that “from what he hears he fears the Book is not a developement on the Idyls.” This has given me pain, especially as it is unfair—unworthy of Lewes’ noble spirit. Will you then tell me what you think—to me, mark, never to be uttered to any other? In some things I think Lewes’ vision is true & fine—therefore I am grieved; and in others I have a suspicion that L. does not look quite far enough, is too Goethesque, especially since he can see no merit at all in the “Undertones.”
         That is the true word I want. Have I grown in your opinion? I want the truth, which I should not get from a smaller man; and you will pour balm on my heart if your conscience can say “yes”. I know I have grown in popularity, but that is nothing; I have never sought popularity, – tho’ even that means something.

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

R. Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 7: 9th November 1866.

Bexhill
Nov. 9th 1866

My dear Browning –

                   (If you will allow me once & for ever to abolish the thin absurdity of “Mr ”—useless where respect is seated so deep) Your letter has done me good—it is the right angelic whisper at the right time— an intimation, ample for all my needs. I will say no more on that head.
         Do not think that I am greedy for the light of recognition, if it be not reflected from the consciences of good wise men! True work never misses its mark;– but forgive me if I am not always sure that the work is true,– and that I would not, for the universe, have Goethe’s (to compare great things with small) indomitable satisfaction with my own achievement. I hate Goethe, everything Goethesque; and either you agree with me, or I see Goethe & Goetheism wrongly. That Man I believe to be the incarnate Curse of modern times, a horribly perfect Tempter,—the father of unbelief,—the Devil’s last & subtlest disguise to entrap the beautiful & the pure of soul. And what is most horrible to me, I find too often that Goethe is influencing me—it is, too, a dreadful struggle to perceive & shake away that influence— and directly I feel it I cry out for God’s help, feeling utterly maddened & adrift.
         These are no rash words—they mean much; & they are not irrelevant—for I have felt more than once a nameless feeling that there were Goethesque touches in my last poems—some of them. That, you may say, would surely have won instead of repelling Lewes. But what is fine art in Goethe, would be filth in me. No one admires Goethe’s best writings more than I do; but it is the whole atmosphere of works & life that I feel would be fatal to me if I dwelt in it too often.
         Do not think me unjust to dear Lewes. I deem him one of the truest souls I know; but there is a truth of one’s own soul however small—beyond the truth of any other soul however grand,—for all purposes of personal inquiry & aspiration.

                   Ever yours
                   Robt Buchanan.

Robt Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 8: 26th November [1866].

Bexhill
Nov. 26th

My dear Browning –

                   More & more thanks!—Yes; silence is golden, & shall not answer Mister Gigadibs – & his brothers.— God bless you!

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 9: 20th November 1868.

23 Bernard St
Russell Sq.
Nov. 20. 1868.

Dear Mr Browning,

                   Are you in Town? & if so may I give you a call between this & Wednesday next? I am only in London for a very short time, & it may be long ere I have another chance of seeing you.

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 10: 23rd November 1868.

23 Bernard St
Russell Sq
         W.
23rd Novbr 1868

My dear Browning,

                   Yes! I will be with you at 2 o’clock to-morrow (Tuesday) afternoon.

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 11: 4th December [1868].

Rock Point
Gourock
         N. B.
Decbr 4th

My dear Browning,

                   Above is my address for a week or so.
         From enclosed programme you’ll see I am starting as public Reader. I hope there is nothing derogatory in a scheme which, if successful, will save me from much trouble, & perhaps enable me to pursue my literary designs in  peace. ’Tis a last resourse.—I hope to open in London at once, if I grip the folk here. Won’t you give me all your sympathy and all your influence? Do, for the sake of all I would gladly do for you!
         I think, too, that, apart from my private motives, my readings will do good to some who hear.

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan

Robert Browning Esq.

         Kindest regards to your sister.

_____

 

Letter 12: 22nd December 1868.

Gourock
         N. B.
22nd Decbr 1868

My dear Browning,

                   When you feel inclined, please send me Vols 1 & 2 of the “Ring & the Book” bound up, with my name in the front. I want them as an heirloom. I have reviewed the first Vol. in the Athenæum, & I hope I have said nothing stupid or false. Of course, however, you are not to know that it is my review. I tell you in confidence, because you really asked for my opinion—thus doing me much honor—and I really think the review, tho’ rough, does embody my conscientious feeling in the subject—so far.
         You must hear me when I read in London. Won’t you? It will be about the third or fourth week in January.

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 13: [mid-January 1869].

Dear Browning,

                   I must insist on your accepting the two Tickets. Be sure, I feel your kindness, however!

                   Yours affectionately
                   Robt Buchanan.

Robt Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 14: 20th January [1869].

43 Grt Coram St
Russell Sq.
Janry 20th

Dear Browning –

                   I had hoped to see you before the Reading but am suffering from a severe cold & cant get out. Please dont fail to be there!—And wherever you can, speak a word for the affair, as it is of the highest importance to have a good first attendance.

         With kindest regards
                   Yours ever
                   Robt Buchanan.

R. Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 15: 2nd February [1869].

23 Bernard St
Russell Sq
         W.
Febry 2nd

Dear Browning –

                   Your letter was a delight to me! I was in awful terror lest you might have been shocked & displeased at seeing our “gentle craft” exhibited on the boards. If I pleased you, I dont care a sous for the rest of Europe! But the fact is, I’ve been very unlucky—nothing really illnatured has been said—& some of the reviews are first-rate. So that I hope to make the Readings pay ere long,—“paying” being the one object of importance in this matter.
         I shall hope to call upon you some day soon. Meantime, I am busy making preliminaries for other Readings.

                   Ever truly yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 16: 22nd February 1869.

23 Bernard St.
Russell Square
                   W.
22nd Feb. 1869

Dear Browning –

                   Is it too much to ask you to come to my second Reading on the 3rd ? It was too kind of you to pay for yr: Tickets, but I wish you’d let me send you them this time.
         I am just reviewing your last 2 vols, but could you possibly let me have sheets of Vol 4 at once—that I may make one concise article for next week’s Athenæum & another for London Review. I dont want to obtrude impertinent opinion, but as you once asked what I thought, let me say now that “Caponsachi” & “Pompilia” have moved me as nothing else has moved me out of Shakspere. I didn’t quite like Pompilia at first, but it has grown upon me, or rather my spirit has grown up to it,—until it has become the most precious & suggestive face in the whole gallery of dream. Indeed, taking the whole work as far as it has gone, I can only wonder at a splendour of spiritual insight, a concentrated dramatic force, & above all, a single-hearted & demigodlike beneficence, which have certainly not attained so mighty a form since Shakspere created in the Titan-days. And believe me, when I say “Shakspere”, I am not bandying a name, but meaning something very dear & special—a motion and a light which I find nowhere else in literature.
         Go on, I say, & do not weary—you grow richer & greater—wealthier & superber of soul. But after all, be merciful—what the devil are we pigmies to do?

                   Ever yours affectionately
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 17: 9th March [1869].

23 Bernard St
                   W.
9th March

My dear Browning –

                   Having just poured out my heart over your opus magnum, I want to remind you of what I asked some time ago—a complete set of the Ring & the Book, with your own autograph on the first fly-leaf. I could get dozens of copies, but I want one as a gift from you.
         Wherever I go now, Pompilia haunts me. And how grand is the Pope’s part!—How small you make me feel,— yet it is something to be able to perceive your greatness.
         May I drop in upon you any day this week? & will you let my wife shake hands with one she adores for my sake?

                   Yours ever affectionately
                   Robert Buchanan.

_____

 

Letter 18: 21st March 1869.

23 Bernard St
Russell Square
                   W.
21st March, 1869

Dear Browning –

                   Forgive me! I thought I had posted you a line early in the week—I certainly wrote one, but I have been worried greatly by business matters.
         As to the review, surely a warm criticism, very deliberately weighed, is not “generosity.” Such judgements must always seem rash to contemporaries, but they are right for all that. If nothing has moved me as much as Pompilia, out of Shakspere, is not the inference simple?
         Shall I come on Wednesday?

                   Yours ever truly
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

         I did not do the London Review after all. What I do want to write is a lengthy essay on you for one of the Quarterlies. Though the Q’s have no circulation, still the essay can be reprinted & do much good. As for yourself, public opinion is, of course, in a certain sense, indifferent to you; but it is the moral duty of such as me, when they feel truly & strongly the vitality of such work as yours, to say so publicly on as many occasions as possible—on public grounds.

 

[Note:
The following extract is from a letter of Sarianna Browning (Robert’s sister) to Annie Egerton Smith - used with permission of the Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

19. Warwick Cr
March 25. [1869]

My dear Miss Smith,

                   After all, I see no reason why I should not write, although I have not been to see Clara– …
         Yesterday Mr Robt Buchanan writer of poetry and reader thereof came here to lunch—he had previously written to ask if he might bring his wife to call, and we were very glad to see them both. She is a nice pleasant young person. By chance, our friend Mr Locker dropped in to lunch, and made our party much pleasanter as Robt & I both like him so extremely; he is not only highly cultivated, but a most kind-natured man. Buchanan you know by his public readings. He is about to produce a play, and we have promised to be there on the first night. You ought to come with us. It is for some time in May.  ]

_____

 

Letter 19: 22nd May 1869.

23 Bernard St
Russell Square
                   W.
22nd May. 1869

Dear Browning –

                   Have you £20, which you could spare till next Tuesday or Wednesday? You know how hard pushed I must be, to trouble you, but my best friends are poor. I would not ask the favor without the absolute certainty of being in cash early next week. Sullivan is to pay me for one play, & Hollingshead for another. I need not hint to you the danger of letting these sort of men know one’s poverty, and the consequent impossibility of pressing them for cash.
         I have to send off the cash to my people in Scotland at once. Can you trust me? & suspend all judgement on my conduct till I see & re-imburse you? I would not lose your good opinion for thousands.

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

R. Browning Esq.

         I have been in Town a week, & should have been up to see you—only every day has been occupied with business.

                   R. B.

         I fancy you can hardly conceive a day or two making so much difference,—but when I mention the word        “rent-day” &c. you may have a guess.

 

[Note: According to an item in The Echo of 15th May, Buchanan had written ‘a new tragic play’ for Barry Sullivan at the Holborn Theatre. However there is no record that it was ever produced.]

_____

 

Letter 20: 26th May [1869].

23 Bernard St
Russell Square
                   W.
May 26th

Dear Browning –

                   I grieve to say that my managers wont pay up for a fortnight; and I write this to ask whether you will be personally inconvenienced by waiting that time for the £20 you so generously lent me. To press them would, I think, be injurious, – and the money is quite safe. If you would rather get the cash at once, I will apply for it elsewhere, and send on. You cant tell how annoyed to feel not to re-imburse you at the very day promised,—and I can quite guess you may want the money.
         At any rate, be sure of this—that by no means regret having asked this favor; for it makes me ever your debtor, & I like to be that. Unless under dreadful pressure I should never have asked your help; but your kind friendship came just in time—without it, I should have been in a sickening difficulty—my poor women folk miserable & ashamed.
         This damnable want of pence is the saddest saltest thing I know: it spoils everything—thought, hope, fellowship. My life is a fiery struggle to get money at set periods to meet claims. Cui bono?
         Things will be better I think when the plays are well afloat—indeed they have been getting better daily, & this present difficulty is a mere fiasco—an accident, a miscalculation.
         Take this affair in your finest spirit—in trust & poetic brotherhood—all who love art being brothers. How much would I not do for you?—Are we not friends, tho' removed, tho' revolving in distant orbits? You I believe are fine as gold; try to believe me so too.

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robt Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 21: 29th April 1870.

Soroba
Oban
         N. B.
April 29th 1870

Dear Browning –

                   Long reflection makes me regret nothing in the Pension matter; & the money is a boon indeed. On first getting your letter of explanation I was somewhat disappointed,—having faintly hoped the kind helper was one of us, a singer, a brother-artist; but that wore off. All feels peaceful and pleasant.
         When you read my “Orm” tell me if you care for it at all. It is sad enough; so is my Soul, God knows; —but it is written in all honesty, be sure of that.
         Kind love from all here.

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robt Browning Esq.

         You dont – or wont – tell me what you are doing. Any such confidence would be kind.

_____

 

Letter 22: 30th May 1870.

Soroba
Oban
         N. B.
May 30th 1870

Dear Browning –

                   Has Strahan sent you “the Book of Orm”? I asked him to do so but am fearful of an oversight; and if it hasn’t yet reached you, want to post you a copy myself.

                   Ever yours
                   R. Buchanan.

R. Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 23: 30th November 1870.

Soroba
Oban
         N. B.
Nov. 30th 1870

My dear Browning –

                   I am just going to publish a lyrical drama called “Napoleon Fallen”—May I inscribe it to you?—Best love from

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 24: 7th December 1870.

I owe your Sister a million
apologies for detaining so long
her copy of “A Blot in the
’Scutcheon” &c”—I shall return
it directly.
                   R.B.

23 Bernard St
Russell Sq
         W.
Dec. 7th 1870

My dear Browning –

                   Just had your letter forwarded from Oban, & was not astonished at its tenor, for I knew something of your old faith & wondered at it, and should never have thought of inscribing to you a “glorification” over the Fallen. No; there is in my poem no attempt whatever to sentimentalize, but I think the general effect is to awaken sympathy with the subject. Shall I, who have been howled at for finding brothers & sisters among Whores & Thieves, hurl epithets as some have done at a Tyrant overthrown? I cannot describe with what loathing & horror I have read such verses as those called “Intercession”, by that conscienceless & miserable inanity, little Swinburne:—verses which brooded, with a feminine fiendishness, over the prospect of physical suffering & torture to the subject. Dont think that I will ever develope the aesthetic instinct at the expense of conscience & feeling. I would rather die. Truth first; afterwards, if possible, Beauty.
         In a word, I feel convinced that you could accept the dedication of “Napoleon” with perfect security & satisfaction. I am not an imperialist, I am in principle a republican; but I am above all one whose religion inculcates charity —to those above & those below me.
         “Charity!” I hear you echo, referring to the epithets “miserable” & “conscienceless” as applied to Swinburne. The fact is, charity is always right, and it is our own fault & disgrace if we are not always charitable. It requires however a superhuman effort to be thoroughly charitable where the personal antagonism is so intense,—but that effort should be made.
         May I send you the proof-sheets & then let you decide?—Please!!

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

R. Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 25: 12th December 1870.

23 Bernard St
Russell Sq
         W.
12th Dec. 1870

My dear Browning –

                   I have cancelled the dedication, being now quite convinced that it is better. I understand all your scruples and respect them. Le bon temps viendra! – Thanks for your corrections on the proof—it was the printer’s first revise— hence all the blunders, & especially that idiotic use of “Parnassus” for “Paracelsus”. As it is, I fear the book will be somewhat incorrect. I am a vile “reader”, & just now, at the last moment, have stumbled on some frightful blunders—e.g. “foreman” (!) for “foeman”, “shouts” for “thrusts”, &c. besides any number of errors in punctuation.
         — Of course I mean to see you ere I leave Town. Meantime believe me with kind regards to Miss Browning

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 26: 24th January 1871.

4 Bernard St
Russell Sq
         W.
Jan. 24th 1871

Dear Browning –

                   Will you be at home any morning between this & Sunday? I must shake hands before I go back to Scotland.
         My “Napoleon” despite its crudity has already reached a second edition, and is still selling rapidly. That, of course, is no test of merit, but I really think the thing has a soul in it, a truth, a central meaning. What it wants is complete re-fusion in my mind and improvement of poetic form. Meantime, it is I believe doing nothing but good,—I mean to all who read it with honest minds. With all my faults, & I know them well, I dont believe I ever uttered a lie yet—that I ever proclaimed as truth one thought that was not deeply rooted in my better & holier nature.—But this is “damnable face- making”. Forgive

                   Yours ever affectionately
                   R. Buchanan.

R. Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 27: 26th January 1871.

4 Bernard St
Russell Square
         W.
26th Janry 1871

Dear Browning –

                   I will endeavour to be with you to-morrow (Saturday) at 1 o’clock. My wife is out of Town, but I will take the liberty of bringing her younger sister with me instead, as we have both to be in the neighbourhood of Bayswater at any rate.

                   Yours always
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 28: 14th June 1871.

Soroba
Oban
         N. B.
14th June 1871

Dear Browning –

                   Will you kindly tell me by return if I may use, in a selection of poems from Homer downwards, your Pied Piper, Protus, Evelyn Hope, & Boy & Angel, and Mrs Brownings Child’s Grave at Florence & To Bettine? Just a line—if you dont object—to satisfy the Publisher.

                   Yours ever
                   R. Buchanan.

R. Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 29: 15th November 1871.

4 Bernard St
Russell Square
                   W.
15th Nov. 1871

My dear Browning –

                   Hope you’ve got my “Drama” & will read & like it. Shall you be at home to-morrow or Saturday in the early part of the day?

                   Ever your friend
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 30: 6th December 1871.

4 Bernard Street
Russell Square
                   W.
Dec. 6. 1871

Dear Browning,

                   Do forgive me!—but can you without inconvenience repeat the loan you once made me. Several schemes have gone wrong & I am in a fix—not that your loan would clear me, but I am absolutely at a stand for spare cash.
         Along with what seems dispiriting, I've better news to communicate. In the first place, I can repay you with certainty on Janry 1st. In the next, I shall after that date be in a very different position, as I have accepted a definite appointment of no arduous kind. In the third, altho’ the Drama of Kings is not lucrative, other work—which I dare not name—is likely to be so.
         So bad & good come together. Up to 1st Janry I shall be in a mess, pressed on all hands for heavy sums, worried to death; but after that, there’s a pleasant prospect.
         Why do I worry you with my affairs? I should be tedious indeed if I detailed the trouble into which my long indisposition plunged me.
         I really should not ask you this time if I were not greatly harried & you were the nearest friend.
         Please send me an early copy of Prince Hohenstiel. I shall review it with keen interest.

                   Yours truly
                   R. Buchanan.

R. Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 31: 4th March 1872.

10(a) Park Road
Regents Park
         N. W.
March 4. 1872

My dear Browning,

                   Altho’ I have been lingering in London I have had no time to write to you till now. It appears that the friends of Mr Rossetti, not content with every diabolical attempt to blacken my character, are diligently endeavouring to make out that I have tried to injure you; and indeed, in “Tinsley’s Magazine,” one of these insects stings as follows:

‘Have you seen,’ wrote our friend—(we were at the seaside, and had seen nothing but waves and petticoats for a long time)—’have you seen the article called The Fleshly School, &c., in The Contemporary? Of course you were angry (you ought to have been, and to be) with the so-called critique on Rossetti, with a side east-wind at several others. It was grimly amusing to me to notice the willingness to wound, and yet afraidness to strike, that characterised the writer’s allusions to Browning. Who,’ continued our friend in his innocence, ‘is Thomas Maitland? There is a

As I believe there is no limit to the malicious misinterpretation of these people, I want to know if this Lie has reached  you? what you think of it?
         Strahan’s use of a pseudonym was a blunder, tho’ honestly enough meant. The necessity for the flaying these men have recd is shown by their diabolical private conduct. Instead of taking their punishment like men, they are using every effort to blacken their critic.
         But all I want to know is – have they been saying anything to Robert Browning directly or indirectly? & what does Robert Browning think of it? If by any possible combination of circumstances, you for one moment fancy that I have even criticised you insincerely—”been willing to wound, yet afraid to strike”—I should like to know it. I know how misconceptions grow.
         I have been doing Tennyson in St Paul’s, & I think fairly; and you will follow: only if I thought you doubted my sincerity, I would rather never criticise you again.

                   Yours always
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robt Browning Esq.

         I see a new poem advertised, & it promises wonders. I cannot think, however, that you will ever surpass some things of that kind in the “Ring & the Book.”

 

[Note: The insert from Tinsley’s Magazine is an actual cutting, the underlining is Buchanan’s.
The poem Buchanan refers to in the postscript is “Fifine at the Fair”.]

_____

 

Letter 32: 2nd May 1872.

10a Park Road
Regents Park
         N. W.
May 2. 1872

My dear Browning,

                   I enclose a copy of St Pauls in which (amid “Faces on the Wall”) you will see a sonnet to yourself: which I hope you will take in good part.
         I could have wished to see you ere leaving Town but that I fear is now impossible. However, face to face or  apart, believe always in the affection of

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robt Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 33: 7th January 1874.

51 Upper Gloucester Place
Dorset Sq.
Janry 7. 1874

Dear Browning,

                   Are you in Town? I see by the papers you are busy as usual, wherever you are.
         For myself, I have been under a Shadow, but am beginning to see daylight. Send me a line, – or call, if you are passing this way.

                   Yours truly
                   R. Buchanan.

R. Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 34: 27th October 1875.

16 Upper Gloucester Place
Dorset Sq
         N. W.
Oct 27. 1875

My dear Browning,

                   It seems an age since I shook your hand, & the desire to do so grows irresistible. I have been for the last 18 months in Ireland, & am now in Town for a short time. Will you come here one morng & have a talk?
         You will be glad to hear that my sister-in-law, whom you know, and who has lived with us from childhood, has had a great success with her first story – “The Queen of Connaught.” A large first edition has been sold, & the second is out. You may guess how far more this delights me than any success of my own.
         I am looking with avidity for your new poem. Do you know, I am projecting a paper on you, of serious length, & I hope it may be more satisfactory to your mind than criticisms generally. Agt such idiotic criticisms as that which appeared the other day in Scribner’s monthly I shall never vindicate you, for they appeal to the merely effeminate & aesthetic, but I think I shall discuss your powers with more understanding.

         Now as ever
                   Yours affectionately
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

         The authorship of the “Queen of Connaught” is mentioned in confidence, but my sister particularly wishes you to tell Miss Browning, to whom she sends kindest regards (in which I join).

_____

 

Letter 35: 10th March [1876].

51 Upper Gloucester Place
Dorset Sq.
March 10.

My dear Browning,

                   I am again in Town on “urgent private affairs”, and should be very glad to see you: a talk with you would do me a great deal of good. With kind regards to Miss Browning, in which my wife joins, believe me

                   Always yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 36: 23rd June [1876].

51 Upper Gloucester Place
Dorset Sq.
June 23rd.

My dear Browning,

                   Will you come to see my play – ‘Corinne’ – blest or damned on Monday? I send you one Stall, but I could send you another if you would like to take a companion. You have so often expressed an interest in my theatrical success, that I do hope you’ll come!

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 37: 25th October [1877].

16 Up. Gloucester Place
Dorset Sq
Oct 25

Dear Browning,

                   I have just returned to Town after a long spell in Ireland. I should much like to have a chat & hand-shake with you, if you have time to call.
         I suppose you have seen the account of me in the World. I am sorry to see that the ruffian is this week falling foul of you. Not that it can do you any harm, or that you could ever reap any profit from the students of such a newspaper. With kindest regards

                   Yours ever,
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 38: 5th February [1878].

16 Upper Gloucester Place
Dorset Sq.
Feb 5.

My dear Browning,

                   About 1st March will commence under my Editorship a new Journal of criticism of the highest class, in which I shall be assisted by many of the Best men of the C. R. & others as eminent. We are anxious to secure the best matter, & only the best. Perhaps when I tell you that I have a strong pecuniary as well as literary interest in the venture you will accede to my wish, that you should give me for our first number some lines of yours—short or long—popular if possible in character, but at any rate yours—& so launch the boat gallantly with the strongest contemporary poetical name. You will be paid liberally, but I put it as a personal favor—as I have done to one or two others, who have acceded on that ground. It will be of vital assistance to me. I know that you do not usually contribute to journals, but it is that very fact which makes your aid more precious—
         The first number of our journal will go all over the Kingdom & be much talked of, & I should be proud indeed to have you in it. Pray dont refuse me but send me something no matter how short.

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

         Please consider the matter of the journal confidential at present.

_____

 

Letter 39: 3rd June [1879].

97 Burton Road
Brixton
         S. W.
June 3.

My dear Browning,

                   I often long to see you but as a bird of passage seldom have the chance. Should you have an hour disengaged between four & seven next Sunday (your ‘calling’ day, I know) I wish you would look in. The place is very convenient either by cab, bus, or train from Westminster. Cab fare from Charing Cross, 2/- I mention this to show you that, though Brixton sounds a long way off, it isn’t! And it is really very pretty just now.
         I was delighted with the Dramatic Idyls, but nothing will ever destroy my first love for the Ring & the Book, which I still hold to be your masterpiece, & the poetic masterpiece of this generation.

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robt Browning Esq.

_____

 

Letter 40: 17th June [1879].

97 Burton Road
Brixton
S. W.
June 17.

Dear Browning,

                   Next Sunday, is my Sunday this month, between 4 & 7, we shall be at home. If the spirit moves you, wander this way –

                   Yours always
                   R. Buchanan.

Robt Browning Esq.

_____

 

“Buchanan, Robert Williams. Autograph letters from R W Buchanan to Robert Browning (Microfilm of qMS-0293). MS-Copy-Micro-0289. Alexander Turnbull Library.” Transcription and addition to this site authorised by the Alexander Turnbull Library. For any further use or publication, please contact the Alexander Turnbull Library for permission.

__________

 

Additional Letters from Robert Buchanan to Robert Browning

 

1. 13th May 1865 (Library of Congress, Washington).

Belle Hill
Bexhill
near Hastings.
May 13th 1865

My dear Mr Browning –

                   I did care to hear your opinion– More, much more, than you may have imagined. If it were courteous to explain what I think of you, you would know what value I set on every line from your hand.
         And what you say, coming from such a quarter, is like new blood to me—blood, heaven knows, very much needed by my very irritable & despondent nature.

                   Ever yours truly
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

_____

 

2. March 1872 (British Library, London).

10(a) Park Road
Regents Park
         N. W.
March 1872

My dear Browning –

                   I am delighted to hear you say what you do say, & have only to ask forgiveness for troubling you with a matter so contemptible. Of one thing I was certain: that these men would poison even your mind if they could.
         My pamphlet is just ready, & be its literary merit what it may, I am convinced that it will do good— most good of all to the men criticised, perhaps even saving them from going headlong to Hell. You will see the whole matter there put in its perfect form of simple & unspoken truth, & you will moreover see other allusions to yourself. In this matter of the Fleshly School, I know every great-minded & honest man will stand on my side; and, come what may, a Snake is scotched effectually & his entire scheme ruined.
         In the whole morale of the affair, I will only plead guilty to one instinct of recrimination. When these men, not content with outraging literature, violated the memory of the poor boy who went home from me twelve years ago to die, I made a religious vow to have no mercy; & I have had none. Thus far I have been revengeful. The main cause is nevertheless righteous & good.

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

Robert Browning Esq.

 

[Note: This refers to Browning’s response to Buchanan’s letter of 4th March 1872 containing the passage from Tinsley’s Magazine. The ‘poor boy’ is David Gray.]

__________

 

In Chapter 10 of Harriett Jay’s biography, Buchanan gives his own account of his relationship with Browning. After Browning’s death in Venice on 12th December, 1889, The Daily Telegraph printed Buchanan’s reminiscences of his fellow poet. Unfortunately I don’t have the full version of this, so, for the moment, these extracts from two provincial papers must suffice.

The Dundee Evening Telegraph (14 December, 1889 - p.3)

REMINISCENCES OF BROWNING—A
FELLOW-POET’S TRIBUTE.

[By ROBERT BUCHANAN.]

     Mr Robert Buchanan, writing to the Daily Telegraph, says:—It was a day to be marked with a white stone in my life when, at the house of George Henry Lewes, in company of whom the only woman present was “George Eliot,” I first met the author of “Pippa Passes.” His interest had been awakened by the fate of a dear companion of my own, David Gray, who had once in the heyday of his boyhood talked of flying to Italy and throwing himself upon the sympathy of Robert Browning! “To the eyes of my raw youth” he seemed more like a North country sea captain than a real live “poet”—legs set well apart, chin tilted up, “with eye like a skipper’s cocked up at the weather” (as I afterwards described him)—his shrewd talk full of “wise saws and modern instances”—my hero stood before me, and, boy-like, I was disappointed, not understanding yet that this poet’s finest dower was the simple strength of his humanity. Not long after that, when we were well acquainted, he honoured me by saying, in one of the strong, vigorous, virile letters so characteristic of the man, that I was “the kindest critic he had ever had.” Generous and gracious words indeed, coming from one of the greatest of singers to a mere boy. Had I time and space, moreover, I could tell of such generous sympathy, such noble toleration as helped to lighten an unknown writer’s weary fight for bread. Perhaps, indeed, there is no finer and more beautiful trait shown in common by the two great poets of the Victorian era than their tenderness and sympathy for all young students of their own divine art and song.
     I remember sadly in connection with the printed reports of the poet’s death one curious physical characteristic of Robert Browning—the phenomenal slowness of his arterial circulation. More than once, at a time when he was in his prime, I found it impossible to find at the wrist any pulsation whatever, or a pulsation so slow and apparently feeble as to be scarcely noticeable. Another memorable thing was the beauty of his handwriting. Speaking one day of Thackeray’s power of minute caligraphy, the poet merrily proclaimed his own power in that way, and illustrating it offhand on a tiny slip of paper which I have now before me. These, of course, are trifles, but they point to the delicacy and refinement of one who was chiefly distinguished for rugged intellectual power. Virile force and vigour have seldom been associated with so delicate a physique.
     How high his place will be in the hierarchy of English song no one can yet determine, but we may be certain that the light of his genius will never wane so long as the blood of Shakespeare beats and throbs in the veins of Robert Browning’s deathless verse.

___

 

The Staffordshire Sentinel (21 December, 1889 - p.7)

REMINISCENCES OF ROBERT BROWNING.
_____

     The death of Robert Browning has called forth a flood of interesting recollections which cannot fail to be of interest to the admirers of the late poet at this juncture. Amongst others who have recalled the characteristics of the dead singer is Robert Buchanan, who in the course of a letter to a contemporary, says of him:—As late as 1866, and even later, Browning’s favourite joke was at his own unpopularity. Known and honoured by the fit, though few, he was still the laughing-stock of the easy writer and the idle reviewer. Time, which reverses so many judgments, changed all that, and for at least a decade before his death the strength and charm of his genius were recognised in two hemispheres. It was a day to be marked with a white stone in my life, when, at the house of George Henry Lewes, in a company of whom the only woman present was “George Eliot,” I first met the author of “Pippa Passes.” His interest had been awakened by the fate of a dear companion of my own, David Gray, who had once in the heyday of his boyhood talked of “flying to Italy and throwing himself upon the sympathy of Robert Browning!” As we spoke together for the first time my thoughts were full of his own lines:—

And did you once see Shelley plain,
And did he stop and speak to you? .  .
How strange it seems, and new!

     But the living poet, not the dead, was in my mind, and to meet him face to face seemed “strange” and “new” indeed. To the eyes of my raw youth he seemed more like a north country sea captain than a real live “poet”—legs set well apart, chin tilted up, “with eye like a skipper’s cocked up at the weather” (as I afterwards described him), his shrewd talk full of wise saws and modern instances—my hero stood before me, and, boy-like, I was disappointed, not understanding yet that this poet’s finest dower was the simple strength of his humanity.
     I remember sadly, in connection with the printed reports of the poet’s death, one curious physical characteristic of Robert Browning—the phenomenal slowness of his arterial circulation. More than once at a time when he was in his prime I found it impossible to find at the wrist any pulsation whatever, or a pulsation so slow and apparently feeble as to be scarcely noticeable. Another memorable thing was the beauty of his handwriting. Speaking one day of Thackeray’s power of minute caligraphy, the poet merrily proclaimed his own power in that way, and illustrated it off-hand on a tiny slip of paper, which I have now before me. These of course, are trifles, but they point to the delicacy and refinement of one who was chiefly distinguished for rugged intellectual power. Virile force and vigour have seldom been associated with so delicate a physique.”

_____

 

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