ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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BOOK REVIEWS - POETRY (12)

 

Napoleon Fallen (1871)

 

Napoleon Fallen: a lyrical drama (1871)

 

The Spectator (31 December, 1870 - p.9-11)

GREEK TRAGEDY AND MODERN LITERATURE.

MR. BUCHANAN, in a fine dramatic poem, which he has just published,* on “The Fall of Napoleon,” has attempted to revive a form of poetry for which there is a great function in all literatures, but which the modern world has carefully neglected. Shelley, indeed, attempted something like it in his “Hellas,” and his “Prometheus Unbound;” yet these beautiful but highly unreal poems belong to a region altogether too far from the world we live in, too completely a world of delicate and abstract dreams, to achieve the objects which the greater tragedies of ancient Greece achieved for the world in which they appeared. We may describe that object generally as the interpretation or attempted interpretation of the relation between the greatest of human actions, passions, and aims, and the mysterious power which shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will. Modern literature eschews these wide and dim horizons more and more, and limits itself more and more to the imaginative delineation of the most definite and limited forms of human life and passion. Now and then, indeed, we have a poem, like Mr. Tennyson’s Arthurian cycle, and Mr. Browning’s “Ring and the Book,” in which the ideal ends of life are delineated with great power, and we obtain a true master’s criticisms on the certain Nemesis of guilt and the slow purposes of God. But even such poems as these hardly satisfy the want to which we refer,—the want which threw the Hebrew seer into apocalyptic visions of the future, and which compelled even the calmest of the great Hellenic poets to try the acts of man by a supernatural law and find for them a divine catastrophe. The old Hebrew visions and Greek tragedies summoned before the imagination the invisible powers which fought with man and against him in all his greatest endeavours,—delineating them not as elements of human nature, but as mysterious rulers over it. The Greek tragedians attempted to distinguish between the guilt of the man and the power which avenged the guilt; between the endurance of the human demigod and the hard omnipotence which tasked that endurance to the utmost; between the pride of the Eastern tyrant and the offended deities who decreed his fall. They appealed at one and the same time to the conscience of man and to his faith. They united instead of separating the imaginative life of his moral nature and his religion. They brought the deepest moral and social and historical puzzles of their age to the dim light,—the best they had,—of their spirits. Modern poets for the most part shrink from this. They will paint the highest man they can conceive, and that man’s view of God,—but they will not venture to explain, except in the most indirect way, their con- ception of the supernatural agencies at work in the world. They will not delineate on the same plane, as it were, their thoughts of man and their thoughts of God; they will not attempt to solve for us the dark problems of the Universe in terms anything like so simple as those in which they state them. Judea and Greece were as frank in relation to what they attributed to superhuman agency, as they were in relation to the passions and actions shadowed forth. As belief in a revealed God has become more definite, there has been more and more tendency in our poets to shrink from suggesting, even in the most reverent form, any large conception of the divine plan in relation to the evolution of society and the destiny of nations. The poetry of religion has grown rapidly in its relation to the individual life, but shrunk out of relation to social and historical events. The breadth and grandeur in the visions of the ancient poets have been exchanged for inten- sity and depth. Yet there is room for something of the older type too. There is no reason why modern poetry should shrink entirely from tracing the divine finger in national destinies, and shadowing forth the retribution by which societies and races rise and fall.
     Mr. Buchanan, in his “Napoleon Fallen,” has attempted something of this kind with no small success. The reader will be reminded of the general structure of “The Persæ” of Æschylus, where Atossa, anxiously waiting for news of Xerxes and his great expedition against the Greeks, and troubled by visions of ill omen in her sleep, consults with the counsellors of the absent king, while messenger after messenger comes in with news of the calamity at Salamis, and the chorus of old men chaunt their lamentations over the presumption and arrogance of their young master, and the calamities of the kingdom prostrate under the anger of the gods, stripped of all its youth and strength only that the soil of Greece might be whitened with the bones of the vast Persian host. The ghost of Darius, summoned from the dead to counsel his widow in her affliction, only adds to her grief by predicting the coming defeat of Platææ, and forbids for the future the attempt of the Persians to extend their rule across the Hellespont into Europe. There is enough, we say, in Mr. Buchanan’s dramatic poem on “Napoleon Fallen” to recall this. The scene is laid at Wilhelmshöhe, where Napoleon, when it opens, is already a prisoner. We are allowed first to hear German citizens exchanging their views on the august prisoner, his calamities and character. Then Napoleon himself appears in conversation with his physician, who wounds the master, to whom he is nevertheless devoted, by the infusion of pity into his manner. Then we have a very fine soliloquy, in which Napoleon, musing on his own failure and its causes, gives us probably a nobler conception of his life and aims than the true one, but still tainted enough to be quite within the discretion of the poet. Then we have a chorus in which Napoleon’s godless policy is bitterly condemned, and his mysteries of craft are reduced to their true significance, in the light of a higher wisdom. Then a Roman Catholic bishop is introduced, to give the Roman Church’s conception of Napoleon’s fall, and of the real secret of his former power,— the aid given him by the French priesthood,—which is very powerfully painted. Then messages of the Revolution in Paris, and of the investment of Paris by the Prussians, follow, by a pardonable licence of the poet’s, in rapid succession;—though what, by the way, the taking of ”the citadel,” while “Strasburg still stands” (p. 47), may be, we are quite at a loss to conjecture, possibly the taking of the citadel of Leon, though that is on the opposite side of France; the citadel of Strasburg did not fall before the city;—and then a sarcastic account of the offer by the Orleans’ Princes of their swords to the Republic. Here follow a succession of choruses, depicting the deadly strife between France recalled to life and freedom, and the German invader, but constituting, we think, the least effective part of the play, because pitched in too shrill a key, and entirely failing to do justice to the spirit of fidelity and persistency in the German purpose. A discussion between an Imperialist officer and the Emperor follows, in the midst whereof, by another pardonable licence, comes news of the taking of Rome by Victor Emanuel’s troops, which seems to the Emperor to complete the effect of moral and political earthquake. Then we have a picture of the Emperor’s dreams haunted by the spectres of all whom he has injured, from which he rises to reflect that had he had his uncle’s cold imperturbability, had he been as free as the first Emperor from human weakness, these calamities could never have fallen upon him,—a line of reflection which, after leading him to infer that those suffer most who are least guilty, plunges him into musings on the life of Christ, and the relations of the destructive genius of Germany to tle religion of Christendom. The Emperor is taken as a kind of representative of that conscience of the world which is too sin-stained to believe in the triumph of good over evil, but not too sin-stained to wish and endeavour to believe in it; and as he sinks to sleep, a succession of choruses close the play, in which the despair of humanity at the hideous evils which overwhelm the earth is contrasted with the visible renovation of that earth as it is seen by the purged eyes of a purer wisdom, and the anguish and suffering of France is presented as a sort of purgatorial trial fitting herself and Europe for a higher phase of social life than any yet attained.
     Mr. Buchanan’s conception in thus combining anew for the modern world the delineation of action with the divine interpretation and judgment of it, as the old Greek tragedies did it for the Greeks, was a fine one, and will, we believe, succeed in making us feel the great scope and meaning of the awful events taking place around us, as few of us have been able to realize that scope and meaning as yet. The magnitude of the events has dwarfed our human intelligence till an interpreter, and a poetic interpreter, has become needful. We do not say that that interpretation will be fully supplied by Mr. Buchanan’s study. It is probably far too favourable, both intellectually and morally, to the imperial exile; but that might be needful to give dignity to the subject. It does not attempt to interpret in any large way the work of the Teutonic race that has delivered this stunning blow at France; and the general bias of the poet is, no doubt, French to partiality. Still, the tone of the whole is pure and lofty, if at times too exalté, too little composed for an attempt to put the true significance on passing events; and the poetic studies of the Emperor in exile and his episcopal critic are very finely  drawn, and very firmly judged as well. Thus speaks the supposed Emperor of himself:—

                                                         “Maker of men!
Thou Wind before whose strange breath we are clouds
Driving and changing !—Thou who dost abide
While all the crowns on all the heads of kings
Wither as wreaths of snow!—Thou Voice that dwellest
In the high sleeping chambers of the great,
When council and the feverish pomp are hush’d,
And the dim lamp burns low, and at its side
The sleeping potion in a cup of gold:—
Hear me, O God, in this my travail-hour!
From first to last, Thou knowest—yea, Thou knowest—
I have been a man of peace: a silent man,
Thought-loving, most ambitious to appease
Self-chiding fears of mental littleness,
A builder in the dark of temples fair
Where men might meet together not for praise,
A planner of delights for simple men—
In all, a man of peace. I struck one blow,
And saw my hands were bloody; from that hour
I knew myself too delicately wrought
For crimson pageants; yea, the sight of pain
Sicken’d me like a woman. Day and night
I felt that stain on my immortal soul,
And gloved it from the world, and diligently
Wrought the red sword of empire to a scythe
For the swart hands of husbandman to reap
Abundant harvest.”

And this is the Bishop’s account of the origin of the imperial power:—

                                   “Thy throne was rear’d
(Nay, hear me, Sire, in patience to the end)
Not on the vulgar, unsubstantial air
Which men call Freedom, not on half-consent
Of unbeliovers—tho’, alas! thou hast stoop’d
To smile on unbelievers—not on lives
That saw in thee one of the good and wise,
Not wholly on the watchword of thy name;
But first on this—the swords thy gold could buy,
And most and last, upon the help of those
Who to remotest corners of our land
Watch o’er the souls of men, sit at their hearths,
Lend their solemnity to birth and death,
Guide as they list the motions of the mind,
And as they list with darkness or with light
Appease the spiritual hunger. Where
Had France been, and thou, boasted Sun of France,
For nineteen harvests, save for those who crept
Thine agents into every cottage door,
Slowly distilling thro’ each vein of France
The vital blood of empire? Like to slaves
These served thee, used thy glory for a charm,
Hung up thine image in the peasant’s room
Beside our blessed saints, and cunningly,
As shepherds drive their sheep unto the fold,
Gather’d thy crying people where thy hand
Might choose them out for very butchery.
Nay, more; as fearful men may stamp out fire,
They in the spirits of thy people killed
The sparks of peril left from those dark days,
When France, being drunk with blood and mad with pain
Sprang on the burning pyre, and all her raiment
Burning and streaming crimson in the wind,
Curst and denied her God. They made men see,
Yea in the very name of Liberty,
A net of Satan’s set to snare the soul
From Christ and Christ’s salvation; in their palms
They welded the soft clay of popular thought
To this wish’d semblance yet more cunningly;
Till not a peasant heir of his own fields
And not a citizen that own’d a house,
And not a man or woman who had saved,
But when some wild voice shriek’d out ‘Liberty!’
Trembled as if the robber’s foot were set
Already on his threshold, and in fear
Clutch’d at his little store. These things did they,
Christ’s servants serving thee; they were as veins
Of iron binding France to thee, its heart
Throbbing full glorious in the capital.
And thou, O Sire! in thine own secret mind
Knowest what meed thou has accorded them,
Who, thy sworn liegemen in thy triumph-hour,
Are still thy props in thy calamity.”

We must give part of one of Mr. Buchanan’s choruses, to show how truly he carries out the old conception of embodying in it the highest glimpses which we have of the divine judgment on human things. It is part of that which immediately succeeds the Emperor’s first account of his own purposes:—

“STROPHE I.

     “Ah woe! ah woe!
How art thou fallen, Man of Mysteries!
Is this the face, are these the subtle eyes,
Kings sought in vain to fathom, and to know?
     O Man of Mysteries,
     O thou whom men deem’d wise,
Call not on God this day!—His hand hath struck thee low.

“ANTI-STROPHE I.

“Call not on God, but listen.
Yea, with thy soul’s ears, listen! The earth groans,
The thunder roars, swords flash, blue lightnings glisten!
Hark! those are human moans!
List! the sharp rattle of the fiery hail,
The splashing rain of blood! Dost thou turn pale?
Who wrought this? who atones?
What, thou the people’s Shepherd? Look, and see:
Thy fields are darken’d with a blood-black pall;
Thy farms are ruinous; in the granary,
Where golden wheat should be,
The wounded lambs are gather’d as they fall.
     O Man of Mysteries,
     Hearken unto their cries!—
Call not on God this day—’tis now too late to call.

“STROPHE II.

“Yet, if thou darest, pray. Thou canst not tell
How prayer may bring thee gain;—
And with thy prayer say thou these words as well:
‘Soon falls the house mark’d with the cross of Cain!’
O man! with secret hands thou didst prepare
A Pleasure-house most rare,
A beauteous Temple magically built,
So that thy people gladden’d unaware
And wandering therein forgot thy guilt,
And drank the amorous ditties woven there
To lutes of lechers and their lemans fair:
And all glad things were welcome in thy sight
Save the glad air of heaven; all things bright
Save the bright light of day; and all things sweet
Save country-featured Truth and Honesty:
All these thou didst abolish from thy Seat,
Because these things were free.
     Thou call on God this day—
     Thou call to the Most High—
Who asked Hell’s blessing then, and let God’s gifts go by!”

That will, we think, satisfy the reader that the framework of the Greek tragedy is by no means without real fitness for the poetical treatment of modern events by the poet whose purpose it is to interpret our life in relation to the highest glimpses we can obtain of divine laws,—to show the lights and shadows in which, to the eye of Providence, these human events are probably enveloped. Indeed, it is remarkable enough that in modern times, as in the greatest days of Greece, such religion as we have is more and more closely mingled with life and action, so that far from shrinking, as we should have shrunk a few generations ago, from the most intimate union between the human and divine even in literary portraiture, we constantly seek after it and crave it. Mr. Buchanan has written on a subject still, perhaps, too near to the minds of men, for complete success. His choruses should certainly be both more musical and more calm. Yet his idea is fine, and in great part finely worked out; nor do we see why he should not remove all traces of excitement and haste in a future edition. It might then become one of the finest of his fine works.

__________

     * Napoleon Fallen: a Lyrical Drama. By Robert Buchanan. London: Strahan.

___

 

The Examiner (7 January, 1871)

MR ROBERT BUCHANAN’S NAPOLEON.

     Napoleon Fallen. A Lyrical Drama. By Robert Buchanan. Strachan & Co.

     The fertility of Mr Buchanan’s muse is marvellous, and even startling. Although little more than seven years have elapsed since the first fruits of his genius were presented to the public under the felicitous title of ‘Undertones,’ Mr Buchanan is already one of the most voluminous of our verse-writers. Within that brief period he has published half-a- dozen volumes of poems, and he now announces a volume of ‘Ballads of Life’ as ready for immediate publication, and ‘An Epic Poem’ in preparation. It must, however, be admitted that Mr Buchanan’s poetical works are hardly less remarkable for variety of style and subject than they are for the almost unrivalled rapidity with which they have been produced. Every successive volume is a veritable creation, or congeries of creations, and not a repetition, either in matter or in manner, of any of its predecessors. There is obviously no lack of originality in Mr Buchanan; on the contrary, the defects of his poems would lead us to suspect that this faculty is kept in a morbid state of activity. His muse, indeed, is probably too often in labour to beget mature and healthy children with a long and happy life before them; at all events, his progeny exhibit all the symptoms of being born out of due season.
     The latest of Mr Buchanan’s productions bears evident trace of having suffered from an excessive curtailment of the natural period of gestation. ‘Napoleon Fallen’ is at once the most ambitious and the least successful of its author’s many poetical experiments. In a prefatory note Mr Buchanan calls his work a “Napoleonic Play, or Lyrical Drama, or Dramatic Poem,” apparently not knowing very well what name ought to be bestowed upon it, and his readers will assuredly share his perplexity. It will be observed that the poem is described on the title-page as a lyrical drama, the author thereby indicating his preference of that designation over the other two which he might have selected. We doubt the propriety of the choice, and are of opinion that the novel appellation “Napoleonic Play” would have conveyed a more accurate impression of the character of the piece. ‘Napoleon Fallen’ is decidedly Napoleonic—that is its chief if not its only merit. The author of this poem has indeed attempted a feat closely resembling that undertaken by its hero when he threatened to “restore at Cherbourg the marvels of Egypt,” for he has attempted to restore at London the art which was supposed to have perished with Euripides; and the degree of success attained in both cases is about equal.
     Mr Buchanan tells us that he has nowhere throughout his poem expressed his own political opinions, and we are, of course, bound to believe him; but, at the same time, we must take leave to say that, if this statement is accurate, he has not expressed anybody’s political opinions. And yet, if the work before us has an object, it is clearly the expression of political opinions on the events that have taken place in France during the past six months. The political views of the author of ‘Napoleon Fallen’ are, however, so utterly worthless, that we are not surprised that he should seek to divert attention from the substance, in order to fix it on the form, of his poem.
     Mr Buchanan seems to think that he has here drawn some sort of portrait of the ex-Emperor Napoleon the Third, although he suggests, with commendable modesty, that “The man who here soliloquises may not be the real Napoleon.” That there is good ground for the author’s doubt regarding the faithfulness of the likeness he has drawn will be sufficiently apparent when we mention that Mr Buchanan’s hero is represented as congratulating himself on having given France “nineteen years of sleep.” But the characters in the “Napoleonic Play” are mere puppets, and no one will be likely to mistake them for anything else.
     We might refer at length to the many glaring defects and inconsistencies of this poem, but the most satisfactory method of justifying the censures we have passed upon it will be to cite a few of the best passages it contains, and leave our readers to judge for themselves. Here is the second strophe of the first chorus, perhaps the best thing in the book:

Yet, if thou darest, pray. Thou canst not tell
How prayer may bring thee gain:—
And with thy prayer say thou these words as well:—
“Soon falls the house marked with the cross of Cain!”
O Man, with secret hands thou didst prepare
A Pleasure-house most rare,
A beauteous temple magically built,
So that thy people gladdened unaware
And wandering therein forgot thy guilt,
And drunk the amorous ditties woven there
To lutes of lechers and their lemans fair:—
And all glad things were welcome in thy sight
Save the glad air of heaven; all things bright
Save the bright light of day; and all things sweet
Save country-featured Truth and Honesty:
All these thou didst abolish from thy seat,
Because these things were free.
         Thou call on God this day—
         Thou call to the Most High—
Who asked Hell’s blessings then, and let God’s gifts go by!

     It must be admitted that this is a powerful imitation of the Greek drama, but the thought is scarcely worthy of the vesture. Mr Buchanan’s meaning is neither original nor profound, and it might have been quite as effectively rendered in prose. There is nothing here that would justify even the faintest burst of song, and this majestic strain only brings the poverty of the thought into more glaring relief.
     Of all the characters, or titles, that figure in this “Napoleonic Play,” we like the Bishop best. His opinions are not more extravagant than those put into the mouth of the hero, but he states them with more simplicity. After announcing that God would uplift the fallen Emperor, the good Bishop thus answers Napoleon’s anxious inquiry regarding the modus operandi of his restitution:

By the secret hands of His great Church,
Even now in darkness and in scenes remote
They labour in thy service; one by one
They gather up the fallen reins of power
And keep them for thy grasp; so be thou sure,
When thou hast gather’d round thy soul
The robe of Holiness, and from the hands
Of Holy Church demandest thy lost throne,
It shall be her’s to give thee.

     We may as well mention that Louis Napoleon expresses a doubt whether Rome would be able to fulfil her part of the bargain, and resolutely refuses to accept the terms proposed by the simple Bishop.
     Mr Buchanan’s poem closes with a chorus or Epode, giving a lyrical description of the millennium. It is interesting to observe that he is sound on the woman-question; although rather perplexing to be told in one stanza that there are to be marts, and in the other that there shall be neither buying nor selling in the New Jerusalem:

         In the fair City then,
         Shall walk white-robed men,
Wash’d in the river of peace that watereth it;
         Woman with man shall meet
         Freely in mart and street,
At the great council-board woman with man shall sit.
         Hunger and Thirst and Sin
         Shall never pass therein;
Fed with pure dews of love, children shall grow;
         Nought shall be bought and sold,
         Nought shall be given for gold,
All shall be bright as day, all shall be white as snow.

___

 

The Athenæum (7 January, 1871)

Napoleon Fallen: a Lyrical Drama. By Robert Buchanan. (Strahan & Co.)

MR. BUCHANAN takes care, in his preface, to inform us that in the present work he has nowhere expressed his own political opinions; but there is perhaps no great rashness, for all that, in determining that he is certainly not an Imperialist. There is little mercy shown to the fallen Emperor in his pages. The scene is Wilhelmshöhe; the time, shortly after the surrender of Sedan. The opening shows us German citizens walking in the gardens of the château, and talking, of course, of the great prisoner. “O, he may thank the fates” (says one)—

He sits so snug, the man of sin!—
How cunningly, before the end,
The Snake contrived to save his skin!

FIRST CITIZEN.

Thou art too hard upon him, friend.
He saw that all his cards were played,
And so, to save more bloodshed, strayed
Into the cage.

SECOND CITIZEN.

                         A cage, indeed!
Where from a gold plate he may feed
Of all earth’s dainties, while afar
France, ’neath the tramping feet of War,
Bleeds like a winepress. There he lolls,
Butcher of bodies and of souls,
Smiling, and sees the storm blow by!

     Next we have Napoleon himself and a physician, who tells him his ailment is “spiritual,” and advises books and music, and casting away care—which last, like many things recommended by the faculty, is easier said than done. Then comes a long soliloquy to the following effect:—

                                 Yes, sick—sick—sick;
Sick of the world; sick of the fitful fools
That I have played with; sick, forsooth, of breath,
Of thought, of hope, of Time. I staked my Soul
Against a Crown, and won. I wore the Crown,
And ’twas of burning fire. I staked my Crown
Against a Continent, and lost. I am here;
Fallen, unking’d, the shadow of a power,
Yet not heart-broken—no, not heart-broken—
But surely with more equable a pulse
Than when I sat on yonder lonely Seat
Fishing for wretched souls, and for my sport,
Although the bait was glorious gifts of earth,
Hooking the basest only.

The soliloquist goes on to expose freely his dynastic aims, while affirming that he was by choice “always a man of peace”:—

                                     “Blood may flow,”
I thought, “a little blood—a few poor drops,—
A few poor drops of blood: but they shall prove
Pearls of great price to buy my people peace;
The hounds of War shall turn from our fair fields,
The cannon shall become a trump of praise,
And on my son a robe like this I wear
Shall fall, and make him royal for all time!”
O fool, fool, fool! What was I but a child,
Pleased beyond understanding with a toy,
Till in mine ears the scream of murther’d France
Rang like a knell.

     After which follows a chorus, with due strophe and antistrophe—

         Ah woe! ah woe!
How art thou fallen, Man of Mysteries! &c.,

which over, “enter a Bishop,” who carries various interesting pieces of news to Napoleon, and first of all regarding the Empress and the young Prince: they are in England,

Where they have found a home
Among the frozen-blooded islanders
Who yesterday called blessings on thy brow,
And now rejoice in thy calamity.

Whereto Napoleon responds,

Old man, I never looked for friendship there,
I never loved that England in my heart;
Tho’ ’twas by such a sampler I believed
To weave our France’s fortunes thriftily
With the gold tissues of prosperity.

     The Bishop tells him the true cause of his downfall,—his want of staunchness in supporting the Church,—remarking, with considerable reason, that the Imperial throne was reared

Most and last, upon the help of those
Who to remotest corners of our land
Watch o’er the souls of men, sit at their hearths,
Lend their solemnity to birth and death,
Guide as they list the motions of the mind,
And as they list with darkness or with light
Appease the spiritual hunger. Where
Had France been, and thou, boasted Sun of France,
For nineteen harvests, save for those who crept
Thine agents into every cottage door,
Slowly distilling thro’ each vein of France
The vital blood of empire? Like to slaves
These served thee, used thy glory for a charm,
Hung up thine image in the peasant’s room
Beside our blessed saints.

     Perhaps the most poetical passage in the book is the description that follows, of the present attitude of the nations of the earth:—

Note how, upon her rock,
The sea-beast Albion, swollen with idle years
Of basking in the prosperous sunshine, rolls
Her fearful eyes, and murmurs. See how wildly
The merciless Russian paceth like a bear
His lonely steppes of snow, and with deep moan
Calling his hideous young, casts famished eyes
On that worn Paralytic in the East
Whom thou of old didst save. Call thou to these
For succour; shall they stir? Will the sea-beast
Budge from her rock? Will the bear leave his wilds?
Then mark how feebly in the wintry cold
Old Austria ruffles up her plumage, Sire,
Covering the half-heal’d wound upon her neck;
See how on Spain her home-bred vermin feed,
As did the worms on Herod; Italy
Is as a dove-cote by a battle-field,
Abandoned to the kites of infamy;
Belgium, Denmark, and Helvetia,
Like plovers watching while the wind-hover
Strikes down one of their miserable kind,
Wheeling upon the wind, cry to each other;
And far away the Eagle of the West,
Poised in the lull of her own hurricane,
Sits watching thee with eyes as blank of love
As those grey seas that break beneath her feet.

     In fine, argues the Bishop, there is no help for the fallen Emperor save in the power of the Papacy, which, for a moment eclipsed and despised, is

         Based
Invulnerable on the soul of man,
Its darkest needs and fears.
     *         *          *         *
In her dark book of Fate
E’en now she dooms the Teuton.

At which point the conversation is interrupted by successive messengers announcing the German advance on Paris, Bazaine’s holding Metz in the Emperor’s name, and the proclamation of the Republic. This last news draws from Napoleon a significant aside:—

Now, may the foul fiend blacken all the air
Above these Frenchmen, with revolt and fear
Darken alike the wits of friends and foes,
With swift confusion and with anarchy
Disturb their fretful councils, till at last,
Many-tongued, wild-hair’d, mad, and horrible,
With fiery eyes and naked crimson limbs,
Upriseth the old Spectre of the Red,
And as of yore uplifts the shameful knife
To stab unhappy France; then, in her need,
Fearful and terror-stricken, France shall call
On him who gave her nineteen years of sleep—
And he may rise again.

     The Chorus again has its way, with rhymes of Swinburnean swing:—

Sons, ye are bloody-shod! Sons, ye breathe bloody breath!
Your nostrils feel, O sons, the salt sharp stench of death!
Your brethren rot afield, your children cry in the dark;
Across your sisters’ throats the butcher leaves his mark;

     After this come a lengthy conversation between Napoleon and an officer who has escaped from Paris in a balloon, and an announcement by a messenger that “Rome is taken.” Then Napoleon sleeps, and to him, sleeping, come the spirits of his mother Hortense, of the first Napoleon, of Julius Cæsar, of Maximilian of Mexico, singing in turn verses of no very soothing tendency; so that the Emperor, at last awaking, may well say, “I have had ill dreams.” He opens ‘A Life of Jesus,’ falls into reflections on theology, drinks a composing draught, and goes to sleep again with a kind of prayer on his lips. The work ends with several choruses and semi-choruses of a mystical character, announcing that “In his white robes of peace, CHRIST shall arise and reign.”
     The plan, it will be seen (which includes no action whatever), somewhat recalls Shelley’s ‘Hellas.’ The style is of that over-loaded kind of which Shelley was probably the avant-courier, and which in weaker hands has been so abused in our own day. A flare and glare of words dazzle us from every page,—“eagle,” “wolf,” “hydra,” “blood,” “fire,” “lightning,” “hurricane,” “earthquake,” “God,” “Hell,” &c. The versification, though sometimes imperfect, apparently through haste, has much impetus and vivacity.
     As a tour de force, this extemporary piece is by no means discreditable to Mr. Buchanan’s skill of hand; but we do not think it can add anything to his permanent claims as an artist.

___

 

The Scotsman (10 January, 1871 - p. 5)

NAPOLEON FALLEN. A Lyrical Drama. By Robert Buchanan. London: Strahan & Co.

MR BUCHANAN has here made a bold seizure of a prominent character in modern history for poetic handling. He feels that he has been courageous even to temerity, saying truly in his preface that “ardent politicians, who would have let me have my own way with Tiberius or Peter the Great, or even Bonaparte, are certain to rate me roundly if I disagree with them about Louis Napoleon.” But others besides “ardent politicians” may question the good taste of making a living man subject of such artistic treatment as Mr Buchanan here gives the Emperor. He would say, in reply, perhaps, that Napoleon is dead for history; to which again Imperialists would probably rejoin, “nous verrons.” He revived before, after Strasbourg, and Boulogne, and Ham; and who shall say that a second lease of power may not yet be his? And, be this as it may, is it fair to practise this sort of dramatic vivisection in any case?
     But, leaving such nice questions, it must be allowed that Mr Buchanan has handled his topic at once with much dramatic vigour and great lyrical grace. He is a little too fond of blood and swords, fire and famine, death and wounds: but of these, he may well plead, Europe is now full. Here is a striking scene representing Napoleon asleep at Wilhelmshohe, with his good genius—the spirit of his mother—and his many evil genii contending in his dream. It is a fair specimen of the mixed vigour and tenderness of the poet’s fancies:—

Night. NAPOLEON sleeping. Chorus of SPIRITS.

A VOICE.

What shapes are ye whose shades darken his rest this night?

CHORUS.

Cold from the grave we come, out of the dark to the light.

A VOICE.

Voices ye have that moan, and eyes ye have that weep,
Ah, woe for him who feels such shadows round his sleep!

CHORUS.

Tho’ thou wert buried and dead, still would we seek and find thee,
Fly where thou wilt, thou shalt hear feet from the tomb behind thee.
Sleep? shall thy soul have sleep? Nay, but it shall be shaken.
Gather around him there, spirits of earth and air, trouble him till he awaken!

A VOICE.

Who in imperial raiment, darkly frowning, stand,
Laurel-leaves in their hair, sceptred, yet sword in hand?

ANOTHER VOICE.

Who in their shadow looms, woman-eyed, woe-begone,
And bares his breast to show the piteous wounds thereon?

CHORUS.

Peace, they are kings; they are crown’d; kings, tho’ their realms have departed;
Realms of the grave they have, and they walk in the same weary-hearted.
Sleep? Did their souls have sleep? Nay, for like his was their being.
Gather around him there, spirits of earth and air, wake him to hearing and seeing.

SPIRIT OF HORTENSE.

Woe! O ye shades unblest,
Leave ye my child to rest,
     Leave me here weeping.
This night, at least, have grace,
See, the poor weary face
     Child-like in sleeping.

SPIRIT OF CAESAR.

Greater than thou, I fell: thy day is o’er.
Thou reap the world with swords! thou wear the robe I wore!
Back to thy books and read again how, in his hour of pride,
At the foot of Pompey’s statue, slain by slaves, Imperial Caesar died.

SPIRIT OF HORTENSE.

Woe! From his bed depart,
Ye who first taught his heart
     Bloody ambition.
Back! he is God’s in sleep;
Ah, in his heart burn deep,
     Pain and contrition.

SPIRIT OF BONAPARTE.

Greater than thou, I fell; die, and give place.
Thou take from my cold grave the glory and the grace!
Thou rise victorious where I fell! Back to thy books, thou blind!
Read how I watched the weary Sea, less vast than my Imperial mind.

NAPOLEON (in sleep.)

Dost thou too frown, dark Spirit of our house?
Scorn be thy meed for scorn. Thou hadst become
A theme for nameless bards, a lullaby
For country folk to rock their cradles with,
A sound, a voice, and echo of a name
Dying most melancholy. In my mouth
Thy name became a trumpet once again
And woods and wilds, to earth’s remotest peaks,
Echoed “Napoleon.” Cursed be thy name.
Cursed be thou this day! . . . O mother! mother!

SPIRIT OF HORTENSE.

Father in Heaven, they rise!—
Spirits with dreadful eyes
     Hither are creeping.
Thrice on this brow I write
Thy blessed Cross this night,
     Moaning and weeping.

A VOICE.

What Spirit art thou, with cold still smile and face like snow?

SPIRIT.

Orsini; and avenged. Too soon I struck the blow.

A VOICE.

And thou, with bloody breast, and eyes that roll in pain?

SPIRIT.

I am that Maximilian, miserably slain.

A VOICE.

And ye, O shadowy things, featureless, wild, and stark?

CHORUS.

We are the nameless ones whom he hath slain in the dark!

A VOICE.

Ye whom this man hath domm’d, Spirits, are ye all there;

CHORUS.

Not yet: we come, we come—we darken all the air.

A VOICE.

O latest come, and what are ye? Why do ye moan and call?

CHORUS.

O hush! O hush! we come to speak the bitterest curse of all.

HORTENSE.

Woe!—for the spirits wild,
Woman and man and child,
     Hither are creeping.
Thrice on his brow I write
Thy blessed Cross this night,
     Moaning and weeping.

CHORUS.

     Ours is the bitterest curse of all:—for we
     Are Souls that perished, foully slain by thee.
Ah! would that thou hadst slain our bodies too, like theirs!
     We ate of shame and sorrow till we ceased.
     We drank all poisonous things at thy foul feast—
Back from the grave we come, with curses deep, not prayers.

     With sin and death our mothers’ milk was sour,
     The womb wherein we grew from hour to hour
Gather’d pollution dark from the polluted frame—
     Beside our cradles naked Infamy
     Caroused and Lust sat smiling hideously—
We grew like evil weeds apace, and knew not shame.

     With incantations and with spells most rank,
     The fount of Knowledge where we might have drank,
And learnt to love the taste, was hidden from our eyes;
     And if we learnt to spell out written speech,
     Thy slaves were by, and we had books to teach
Falsehood and Filth and Sin, Blasphemies, Scoffs, and Lies.

     We drank of poison, ev’n as flowers drink dew;
     We ate and drank of poison till we grew
Noxious, polluted, black, like that whereon we fed;
     We never felt the light and the free wind—
     Sunless we grew, and deaf, and dumb, and blind—
How should we dream of God, souls that were slain and dead?

     Love, with her sister Reverence, passed our way
     As angels pass, unseen, but did not stay—
We had no happy homes wherein to bid them dwell;
     We turned from God’s blue heaven with eyes of beast,
     We heard alike the atheist and the priest,
And both these lied alike to smooth our hearts for Hell.

     Of some both Soul and Body died; of most
     The Body fatten’d on, while the poor ghost,
Prison’d from the sweet day, was withering in woe;
     Some robed in purple quaff’d their fatal cup,
     Some out of rubied goblets drank it up—
We did not know God was; but now, O God, we know.

     Ah woe, ah woe, for those thy sceptre swayed,
     Woe most for those whose bodies, fair arrayed,
Insolent, sat at ease, smiled at thy feet of pride;
     Woe for the harlots, with their painted bliss!
     Woe for the red wine-oozing lips they kiss!
Woe for the Bodies that lived, woe for the Souls that died!

     Lambs of thy flock, but oh! not white and fair;
     Beasts of the field, tamed to thy hand we were;
Not men and women—nay, not heirs to light and truth;
     Some fattening, ate and fed, some lay at ease;
     Some fell and linger’d of a long disease;
But all look’d on the ground—beasts of the field forsooth.

     It is too late—it is too late this night—
     To bid us live again in the fair light:
Back from the grave we come, with curses deep, not prayers.
     Ours is a darker doom than theirs, who died
     Strewing with blood the pathway of thy pride—
Ah, would that thou hadst slain our bodies too, like theirs!

SEMI-CHORUS I.

Tho’ thou wert buried and dead, still would they seek thee and find thee.
Fly where thou wilt thou shalt hear feet from the grave behind thee.

HORTENSE.

Woe! woe! woe!

SEMI-CHORUS II.

Ye who beheld dim light thro’ the chink of the dungeon gleaming,
And watch’d your shade on the wall, till it took a sad friend’s seeming,
Ye who in dark disguise fled from the doom and the danger,
And dragging a patriot’s chain died in the land of the stranger.
Men whom he set aside to die like beasts in the traces!
Women he set aside for the trade of polluting embraces!
Say, shall his soul have sleep? or shall it be darken’d and shaken?

CHORUS.

Gather around him there, spirits of earth and air, trouble him till he awaken.

___

 

Glasgow Herald (10 January, 1871)

LITERATURE.
_____

NAPOLEON FALLEN: a Lyrical Drama. By Robert Buchanan. London: Strahan & Co. 1871.

IT is not wonderful that the events of the last six months should have powerfully stirred all human hearts. Those who, like the poets, are the most sensitive and sympathetic, naturally feel the interest and horror of the time more deeply than others. In a single sitting, Mr Swinburne produced an ode on the new-born Republic, and Mr Robert Buchanan, after brooding on the spectacle for only a month or two, presents us to-day with a Lyrical Drama on the central figure of the first month of the war—the fallen Napoleon. He propounds his theory of the spirit of the dethroned Government, his views of the sources of its power, the secrets of its success, its conscious and unconscious aims, and the fatal poison in its blood which brought its destruction on it like a whirlwind. The attempt to give us a living portrait of the leading personage of a period, is one which is usually left by the poet till the historian has marshalled, in orderly sequence, the turbulent chaos of events in which the judgment of contemporaries is apt to lose itself. Mr Buchanan offers the slightest of apologies for his departure from the common practice. “The man who here soliloquises,” he says, “may not be the real Napoleon, but I believe there is some justification for my portrait. After all, truth is one thing and dramatic truth is another.” We find it difficult to admit the apology. There is no necessity in the nature of things compelling a poet to exhibit his dramatic truth in connection with historical fiction, and we are doubtful whether Mr Buchanan has studied his central figure with sufficient patience to entitle him to use it as the hero of a Lyrical Drama. It is not true, in our opinion, that it “is likely, on the other hand, to secure certain elements of real strength from the mere fact of its being based on contemporary events.” It is certain that the book will be more rapidly read and widely circulated now because its subject has hardly yet left the columns of the daily newspaper. We “lack as yet the proper foreground for the contemplation of the chief character.” “Fortunately,” says the poet, “the subject, if treated with any ordinary skill, will be always gaining instead of losing that artistic distance which many think so necessary.” It is not “distance” that is wanting, but “truth;” and the one is hardly at all valuable except as a help to the other.
     From his dedication to the “Prophets and Martyrs,” Mr Buchanan’s text appears to be this: however violence may reign in the world; however armies may trample down the fair fields of peace, and desolations stalk abroad; however long, vice may revel in a horrible prosperity—a calm will follow after the storm, virtue will resume her reign, the inner truths of life are fixed steadfast as the everlasting hills, the soul is safe. We quote the invocation entire:—

TO THE PROPHETS AND MARTYRS.

O Prophets! that look forward, searching slow
     The future time for signs, what see ye there?
What far-off gleams of portent come and go?
     On what, with lips like quivering leaves, and hair
     Back-blowing in the whirlwind, do ye stare
So steadfast and so still? O speak and tell—
Is the Soul safe? Shall the sick world be well?
     Will morning glimmer soon, and all be fair?
O Martyrs! all ye see this day is sad,
     And in your eyes there swim the fatal tears,
But on your brows the Dawn gleams cold and hoar.
I too gaze forward, and my heart grows glad—
     I catch the comfort of the golden years—
I see the Soul is safe for evermore.

     Our main quarrel with this Lyrical Drama is that it seems to us that this thesis is not established in it. It consists of a series of dialogues between Napoleon, a Bishop, an Officer, and a Messenger, interrupted by Chorus and Antichorus, Strophe and Antistrophe. At last, wearied out a little by the stress of the many considerations that have been urged on his attention, Napoleon falls asleep. He is visited in his dreams by a troop of spirits—the spirit of his mother Hortense, the ghost of Maximilian, of Cæsar, of the First Napoleon, of Orsini, of the prisoners whom he sent to Cayenne, and last of all by the souls who have been lost through the demoralisation of the Empire. This wakens him up, and he expresses himself in a long soliloquy, after which he falls asleep again, to be visited in his second slumber by a Chorus of the Dead, a Chorus of Citizens, and a Final Chorus or Epode, in which the result to which the whole drama is meant, as we understand, to point—the result that the Soul is safe—is didactically declared. The events of the past six months, as Mr Buchanan views them, appear to us to teach no such lesson. It is true that, at the beginning, the crimes of Napoleon were punished in the most exemplary way—and that Victor Hugo, who has regarded the fallen Emperor as the incarnation of every thing mean and wicked, is entitled to speak of the Bursting up of the Neva. But Mr Buchanan thinks that Napoleon was a man of peace—a man of many good instincts—a man in alliance with religion and the Church—the people’s shepherd when the people needed one—a good father and a good husband. His crime, if it can be called a crime, appears to have been that he selected a set of poor creatures as his trusted counsellors—

Not France betrayed thee, Sire; but rather those
Whom thy most noble nature, royally based
Above suspicion and perfidious fear,
Welcom’d unto thy council; not poor France,
Whose bleeding wounds speak for her loud as tongues,
Bit at the hand that raised her up so high;
Not France, but bastard Frenchmen, doubly damn’d
Alike by her who bare them, and by thee
Who fed them. These betrayed thee to thy doom,
And falling clutch’d at thine imperial crown,
Dragging it with them to the bloody dust.

     And if the fall of Napoleon loses its instructiveness in view of this theory, the rise of the Republic affords no such consolation to Mr Buchanan, writing at Christmas, as it was fitted to afford to Mr Swinburne writing in the early days of September. The splendid endurance of the French Defence is associated historically with the Republic, but Mr Buchanan has apparently none of the wild enthusiasm with which Mr Swinburne welcomed that form of Government as the “Light of the life of Man.” He regards the men in power, as most Englishmen do, as people doing what they see to be their duty doggedly and well—on the whole surprisingly well; but he is not clear as to the success with which they may be crowned or the failure with which they may be rebuked. Merely to have maintained a Republican form of Government appears nothing to Mr Buchanan, and the explanation of that feat is no doubt what M. Thiers gave in his memorable mot—“The Republic is the Government which will divide us least.”
     The drama in fact, to one with Mr Buchanan’s views, is not yet ended, and it is absurd to attempt to deduce its lesson. It is this which weakens the effect of a poem in which there are scattered abundantly passages as musical and as powerful as any which Mr Buchanan has given us. There is nothing in the events around him to justify the burst of exultant song with which he concludes:—

SEMI-CHORUS I.

Nay, for the Lamb shall wrap the world in whiteness;
     Nay, for the wise shall make it fair and sweet,
Slaves and fools shall perish in the brightness!
     Thrones shall be as dust around His feet!

SEMI-CHORUS II.

Peace! ye make a useless lamentation.
     Peace! ye wring your hands o’er things of stone.
Comfort! ye shall find a habitation
     Fairer than the fairest overthrown.

FINAL CHORUS, OR EPODE.

     Comfort, O true and free,
     Soon shall there rise for ye
A CITY fairer far than all ye plan;
     Built on a rock of strength,
     It shall arise at length,
Stately and fair and vast, the CITY meet for man!
     Towering to yonder skies,
     Shall the fair City rise,
In the sweet, dawning of a day more pure
     House, mart, and street and square,
     Yea, and a Fane for prayer,
Fair, and yet built by hands, strong, for it shall endure.

     These events have thrown no light on the prospects of that “City of God” which so many prophets and martyrs have seen. From the midst of every darkness the prophets have seen, far off, the shining of its celestial walls. Mr Buchanan’s poem is meant to draw aside for us the veil with which the things of faith are hidden, and to reveal to us God and truth visible in living history. In spite of the great merits of his verses— in spite of the wonderful pictorial power which he exhibits throughout this remarkable poem—he has failed, because he has been more of a journalist than a poet or a prophet—a man who cannot help writing and speaking of things as they occur before his eyes, and drawing great lessons from them as a kind of necessity of trade, whether the lessons in them have as yet been made obvious by the events themselves or not. It is a curious illustration of the journalistic habit of mind of our poet that the next verse in this fine chorus should refer to the great subject of woman’s suffrage, which he probably agrees with Mr Mill in thinking the panacea for all human woes—

         In the fair City then,
         Shall walk white-robed men,
Wash’d in the river of peace that watereth it;
         Woman with man shall meet
         Freely in mart and street,
At the great council-board woman with man shall sit.

And who is the holy Bard of this stanza?—

         In the fair City of men,
         All shall be silent then,
While on a reverent lute, gentle and low,
         Some holy Bard shall play
         Ditties divine, and say
Whence those that hear have come, whither in time they go.

And what is the sense of the remarkable reference to the Contagious Diseases Acts agitation in the next stanza?—

         No man of blood shall dare
         Wear the white mantle there;
No man of lust shall walk in street or mart;
         Yet shall the magdalen
         Walk with the citizen;
Yet shall the sinner grow gracious and pure of heart.

     The poem has the merits and defects of a political pamphlet in verse. The verse is often of the highest quality, and there is enough to prove Mr Buchanan a poet who owes it to his reputation, to prefer one book as perfect as he knows how to make it, to half-a-dozen, shot off in hot haste under the spur of a momentary excitement.

___

 

The Illustrated London News (14 January, 1871 - p.11)

     Poetry is not yet extinct; and, in spite of Mr. Carlyle’s opinion, expressed in a letter which has lately got into print, that “no man now reads verse wholly in earnest,” we find more than 200 new works in verse, not including new editions, published in Great Britain during the year. Mr. Robert Buchanan, the author of “London Poems,” “Undertones,” and “Idylls of Inverburn,” is not merely a verse-writer, but a poet; yet we fear he has attempted something beyond his powers in his two latest productions. “The Book of Orm,” which was but the introduction to a grand religious epic, left upon our mind a perplexing impression of vague cloud-shadows, interspersed with flecks of sunshine, cast upon the Highland hills, with a mystical commentary on high-flown moods of sentiment. There was in it a lack of healthy humanity, of hearty sympathy with common joys and griefs, a morbid straining after the supernatural, which we should not have expected from the earlier poems of this author. In his lyrical drama of Napoleon Fallen, just published by Messrs. Strahan, he follows the example of Mr. Swinburne in taking for his theme of poetic imagination the late astonishing changes of government in France. The Emperor is introduced, in his retirement at Wilhelmshöhe, soliloquising or conversing with his attendants—a physician, a bishop, and a military officer—upon the extraordinary turn of his affairs. He is informed by messengers, as if in a single day, of the events which took place in the months of September and October, at Strasburg and Metz, in Paris, and in Rome; he hears of the complete downfall of the Imperial system, the ruin of the French army, and of the political and civil administration; he is told, also, of the outburst of Republican and patriotic enthusiasm, and of the heroic preparations for national defence. The spirit which may be supposed to animate Paris, under these influences, makes itself known in the passionate songs of a Chorus, which are some of the most powerful passages in the poem. The most interesting parts, however, are those in which the author presents his conception of the Emperor’s mind, of his conscious intention and self-estimation:—

I have been a man of peace; a silent man,
Thought-loving, most ambitious to appease
Self-chiding fears of mental littleness;
A builder in the dark of temples fair,
Where men might meet together, not for praise;
A planner of delights for simple men—
In all a man of peace. I struck one blow,
And saw my hands were bloody; from that hour
I knew myself too delicately wrought
For crimson pageants; yea, the sight of pain
Sickened me like a woman. Day and night
I felt that stain on my immortal soul,
And gloved it from the world, and diligently
Wrought the red sword of empire to a scythe
For the swart hands of husbandman to reap
Abundant harvest. Nay, but hear me swear,
I never dreamed such human harvests blest
As spring from that red rain which pours this day
On the fair fields I sowed. Never, oh, God!
Was I a warrior or a thing of blood;
Always a man of peace; in mine ambition
Peace-seeking, peace-engendering; till that day
I saw the half-unloosened hounds of war
Yelp on the chain and gnash their bloody teeth,
Ready to rend mine unoffending child,
In whose weak hand the mimic toy of empire
Trembled to fall. Then feverishly I wrought,
A weapon in the dark to smite those hounds
From mine imperial seat: and as I wrought,
One of the fiends that came of old to Cain
Found me, and since I thirsted, gave to me
A philtre, and in idiocy I drank;
When suddenly I heard, as in a dream,
Trumpets around me silver-tongued, and saw
The many-coloured banners gleam i’ the sun
Above the crying legions, and I rode
Royal before them, drunk with light and power,
My boy beside me blooming like a rose
To see the glorious show. . . .
O fool, fool, fool! What was I but a fool,
Pleased beyond understanding with a toy,
Till in mine ears the scream of murdered France
Rang like a knell? . . .
The curse of blood was on my hands again!
My gentle boy, with wild affrighted gaze,
Turned from his sire, and moaned; the hounds of war
Screamed round me, glaring with their pitiless eyes,
Innumerable as the eyes of heaven;
I felt the sob of the world’s woe; I saw
The fiery rain fill all the innocent air;
And, feeble as a maid who hides her face
In terror at a sword-flash, conscience-struck,
Sick, stupefied, appalled, and all alone,
I tottered, grasped the empty air, and fell!

This soliloquy proves, we think, that the poet has a true insight into the character of Napoleon III.; and we therefore regret his departure from the proper dramatic method in the remaining parts of his composition. The lyrical bursts of invective and execration with which the fallen Emperor is assailed, not only by the Chorus of Republicans, but likewise by Ghosts and immortal Spirits, who ought to know better, have the appearance of a ferocious persecution rather than of an assertion of Divine justice. The aspiration towards a perfect moral world, or Civitas Dei, with which Mr. Buchanan ends his poem, is one cherished by every Christian heart; but it will never be realised till we all learn to practise that charity, which is scarcely compatible with so much scolding and cursing, either of emperors, or of knaves and slaves, or of any other persons. It is certainly not just to accuse Napoleon III. of being the author of those social corruptions and vices of Paris which were as rife thirty or forty years ago, to judge from the French literature of that date, as ever under his reign. His political errors have been terribly atoned for; and the poets may now leave him in peace. If Mr. Buchanan is an inspired prophet, we will not debate the grounds of his familiarity with the counsels and judgments of the Almighty. But if he is merely a human poet, we would commend to him the spirit of tolerance, of compassion, and of universal sympathy, which accompanies the genius of Shakspeare.

___

 

The Saturday Review (21 January, 1871 - Vol. 31, p.86-88)

NAPOLEON FALLEN.*

ONE result of the war in France has been, as we learn from the Special Correspondents, to fill the lunatic asylums in that country. Whether any similar result has followed in England, we are not prepared to say. If, however, people in general have been affected in the same manner and to the same degree as have not a few among our professors and poets, we cannot but feel anxious about the sanity of our population. It may indeed be the case that what they do, they do, not from any disorder of the brain, but from deliberate preference. They may have thought that in no way could they better show their sympathy for France than by acting as so many Frenchmen are now acting. They may have felt that when every one was pouring out a torrent of words, without waiting to send a little sense floating down it, they themselves would incur the suspicion of devotion to the German side if they were either not to speak at all, or stayed to think before they spoke. If such has been their opinion, we can congratulate them on their success. There are not a few among them, we are proud to say, who are so extravagant in dealing out words, and so parsimonious in dealing out sense, that all that is required to complete their career is an ascent in a balloon and a descent among a credulous population. There may, again, be other poets and professors who have no greater feeling for France than for Germany, but who hold that, when such a din of words is going on, it is only an affectation of singularity of character to remain silent. So indeed we remember at one of the grand Reform demonstrations in the Agricultural Hall, though the hubbub was so great that not a sound could be distinguished, numberless orators nevertheless felt inspired to pour their little stream of words into the vast sea of noise. Their action, indeed, could be apprehended by the sight, and stimulating it was to the inventive faculties of the mind. For each observer had to try to form for himself some notion of what each orator might be talking about, merely by watching the opening and closing of his mouth and the violent swinging of his arms. Close as is the comparison between these orators and our poets and professors who are now so full of war, it is still closer when we remember that at each door of the Agricultural Hall fresh bands of men come pouring in, each headed by its brass band playing with all its might. Happy was the man who could find a platform from which to speak amidst so vast a tumult of sound. When all are noisy, to be pre-eminently noisy, and to be noisy without fear of criticism, must be one of the greatest of joys to your modern orators, professors, and poets. There are, however, a few men left in England who have not their ears so full of the din, whether of war or of illustrious Special Correspondents, that they do not still, when they read, stop to ask what it is all about. Such a question, we must confess, has forced itself upon us as we have risen from the perusal of Mr. Robert Buchanan’s Napoleon Fallen. We cannot pretend to say from which, if indeed from either, of the two motives we have mentioned above, Mr. Buchanan composed “this Napoleonic Play, or Lyrical Drama, or Dramatic Poem.” Though he apparently sympathizes deeply with France, yet he desires to say that “I have nowhere in the following pages expressed my own political opinions.” It may therefore merely be that he felt that when M. Gambetta was composing despatches, Professor Beesly making orations, Mr. Swinburne pouring out poems, and bombshells everywhere were bursting, it would scarcely be suitable that Mr. Robert Buchanan should remain altogether silent. We must do him the justice to admit that he is not nearly so often and so long unintelligible as his rival Mr. Swinburne. They may perhaps both be compared to porpoises or whales. They often disport themselves on the surface of the water to the gratification of the beholders, but both at times dive down out of all sight and powers of following. But while Mr. Swinburne remains in the depths for a long time, Mr. Buchanan comes up much more frequently to breathe, and is also less fond of diving. Though in separate passages he is not so incomprehensible as his younger rival, yet he puzzles us perhaps more when we try to grasp the meaning of his lyrical drama as a whole. In his preface he says:—

     The man who here soliloquises may not be the real Napoleon, but I believe there is some justification for my portrait. After all, truth is one thing, and dramatic truth is another. If my play possesses verisimilitude, no critic has a right to object to it because he would have conceived the chief character differently.

     Unfortunately, however, Mr. Buchanan, in our opinion, has failed both in truth and also in dramatic truth. His Napoleon is as incomprehensible as the real Napoleon, and his play possesses, as far as we can see, no verisimilitude. We do not complain of the liberties which he takes with dates so as to crowd a great many incidents into the few short hours of a September night. Messengers may perhaps come in upon the fallen Emperor more in number and with more rapid sequence than even they came to the Patriarch Job. Ghosts too may be allowed to appear at Wilhelmshöhe as well as at Philippi, and a chorus of spirits may, for all we care, alternate with a chorus of Republicans. These bodily and spiritual appearances may be varied by the arrival of an officer of the Imperial staff from Paris, or a bishop from England, and of a physician from the next room. But we do complain when messengers, ghosts, spirits, Republicans, officer, bishop, and physician all alike talk in a strain that reads at times like a curious burlesque of Shakspeare, and at times like the utterances of a man fresh from Bedlam, or from the perusal of the Daily Telegraph. We can find no verisimilitude in a messenger who rushes in to say—

                                 From his lone isle,
The old Italian red-shirt in his age
Has crawled, tho’ sickly and infirm, to France,
And slowly there his leonine features breed
Hope in the timid people.

Nor do we think that Napoleon was the man to allow any messenger to make a speech of forty lines on end, even though he wound it up with the following eloquent abuse of the Republic and the Orleans Family:—

             Coming with mock-humble eyes
To the Republic, this sham shape of straw,
This stuff’d thing of a harlot’s carnival,
The dilettante sons of Orleans, kneeling,
Proffer forsooth their swords, which, being disdained,
They sheathe chopfallen, and with bows withdraw
Back to their pictures and perfumery.

We should mention that there are four messengers in all, who tread on each other’s heels, and break in upon the Emperor just after the physician had prescribed that he should “rest from all fierce ache of thought.” Though his prescription cannot be followed, we should do this worthy doctor an injustice if we did not quote the praise that his master bestows on his fidelity, in language, however, which seems to us singularly devoid of meaning even for the utterances of a Napoleon. “I have eat,” he says, “my life from his cold palm for years.” On the withdrawal of the physician, and before the first of the messengers bursts in, a bishop enters from England, giving news of the Empress and the Prince Imperial, and of the unfavourable state of English opinion. He then, in a speech of some pages, exhorts the Emperor to turn his hopes to Rome, and reminds him what support the Church has always given to his throne. In metaphors forcible, if somewhat contradictory, he tells him that the priests have been

Slowly distilling thro’ each vein of France
The vital blood of empire.

And that also

                       They were as veins
Of iron binding France to thee, its heart,
Throbbing full glorious in the capital.

Without pretending to any profound anatomical knowledge, we find it difficult to conceive that the heart could throb with much comfort, let alone glory, so long as it was bound by iron veins to anything. Much less can we conceive this when these iron veins have at the same time to be distilling blood through other veins. Does Mr. Buchanan know the meaning of the word distil, and does he imagine that vital blood is ever made to fall in drops through the veins? The bishop is hindered in any further anatomical illustrations by the first of the messengers, who enters with the news that the Prussians are marching on Paris, though “Strasbourg still stands, stubborn as granite.” As he goes out with the cry that

           Within, Famine and Horror nest,
And rear their young on ruin,

he is met by the second messenger coming in with a second edition, as it were, of the same news that “Strasbourg still stands,” though he omits all mention of the young reared on ruin. However, he informs the Emperor that Bazaine is faithful to him, and that Garibaldi has crossed over with “his leonine features.” The second messenger, in his turn, meets the third messenger,

On whose swart face the frenzied lightning plays,
Prophetic of the thunder on his tongue.

The thunder gave indeed a long roll, as this is the gentleman who, no doubt encouraged by the Emperor’s recognition of his lightning and expectation of his thunder, made the speech of forty lines. The Emperor here retires, we hope for refreshment, and his place is supplied by a chorus, but whether of spirits or of Republicans we hardly know. Their language is confusing enough for either. They call upon some one, but whom we do not make out, though it is clearly neither the Emperor, nor the bishop, nor any one of the messengers, not even the one with “the swart face” and “the frenzied lightning,” and they thus urge him:—

Scream me the thunders down! cry till the lightnings spring!
And all for France, our mother France, whom we are carrying.

Then, coming to more practical advice, they exhort people in general to

Fill each loophole with a man! and finding
     Each a foe, aim slowly at the brain.

It would have been more intelligible to the young Moblot if he had been told to aim at the head, but “head” has the disadvantage that it does not pretend to rhyme with “refrain.”
     The chorus is ended by the return of Napoleon and an officer, fresh from Paris, who contrives in a speech of two pages, by the illustration of a wolf and a hydra, to make the Emperor clearly understand that France, though at first fascinated, yet resists. In the midst of their talk the fourth messenger enters with news that Rome is taken. After the officer and his master have alternately made grand speeches for some twenty-six pages, the Emperor, long after the reader, begins to feel sleepy and lies down in the vain hope of a quiet nap. It is in vain that the spirit of his mother Hortense watches over him, and thrice marks his brow with the cross, as ghosts rise up one after the other to trouble  him. The spirit of Cæsar first appears, and recommends to him a study of History. He is followed in turn by the spirits of the First Napoleon, Orsini, Maximilian, and of a great many nameless ones whom the Emperor has either slain or corrupted. Being at last thoroughly awakened, he seeks for rest in a soliloquy of some eighteen pages, perusing at intervals and criticizing a Life of Jesus, and some work on theology. At last “he drinks a sleeping draught,” says his prayers, and happily falls asleep, in spite of a chorus of citizens and a chorus of the dead, who, finding apparently the stage clear, think the opportunity not unfavourable for vocal harmony. The citizens have a good deal to say, and so have the dead; and then there is semi-chorus I. and semi-chorus II., and a chorus, but who join in all these is not very clear. Still less clear are the words that they sing. At all events we should not like to be called upon suddenly to parse the following hymn, as a venial slip in grammar might lead to something not far short of blasphemy:—

         Christ shall arise.
Scorning all vanity,
Sweetness and sanity,
Meekness and lowliness,
Shall to love’s holiness,
Shepherd humanity.

The Emperor, we may hope, like the old King before him, was above grammar, and could sleep calmly on in spite of doubtful constructions, and choruses of citizens and of the dead. At all events he does not seem to wake, even when the Lyrical Drama closes with a grand Final Chorus or Epode, in which no doubt all the characters come on again, from the ghost of Cæsar to the last of the four messengers.

     * Napoleon Fallen. A Lyrical Poem. By Robert Buchanan. London: Strahan & Co. 1871.

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The Graphic (18 February, 1871)

     “Napoleon Fallen.” A Lyrical Drama. By Robert Buchanan. (Strahan and Co.) Mr. Buchanan has lived to verify the canon of the old critical school, which forbade a poet to deal with the great events of the immediate present, as the principal subject of his poem. His “Napoleon Fallen” as a representation of the character of the fallen Emperor, although a dark and terrible picture of crime, will not fully satisfy the enemies of the late Emperor; because in their eyes the picture is not dark and criminal enough to be a portrait;  while those who pity his fallen grandeur, and still more those who saw in the late Emperor the fine qualities of a great ruler, a faithful ally, and a true friend, will turn from Mr. Buchanan’s sketch with feelings of regret, if not with positive feelings of disgust and abhorrence. The atmosphere of the political world is too much clouded and disturbed with party spirit and political prejudice to enable the public to look clearly, calmly, and without any disturbing medium upon the poem before us solely and simply as a work of art. And even here, on this, the most legitimate ground of criticism, we have reason to apprehend a most unfavourable impression of Mr. Buchanan’s effort at poetry, which in name is “Napoleon Fallen,” but in reality “Buchanan Fallen.” The Emperor is represented by our poet as a captive in the castle of Wilhelmshöhe, where—

He sits so snug, the man of sin

and tells us—

                                         I staked my soul
Against a crown, and won. I wore the crown
And ’twas of burning fire. I staked my crown
Against a continent, and lost. I am here
Fallen, unkinged, the shadow of a power.

     He is ultimately visited by a chorus of Republicans and citizens, who sing their abuse to most wretched imitations of Swinburnian measures. Then we have the visit of a Bishop, who rebukes the fallen autocrat for his treachery to the Pope, and denounces England as the home of “frozen-blooded islanders.” Towards the close of this most undramatic drama, there are tacked on some choral commonplace verses, celebrating what looks like a coming millennium, when

In His white robes of peace
Christ shall arise and reign

For Mr. Buchanan’s credit as a poet of unquestionably great genius and genuine inspiration we much regret the appearance of this unfortunate poem, which, when compared, or rather contrasted, with his “London” and “Undertones,” is verily as “water unto wine.” We cannot leave him without reminding him that he has a great reputation to sustain, which he will seriously jeopardise by a repetition of such versicles as the present; and also that the word “orisons” is not the denotative term for morning prayers in contradiction to “vespers,” but “matins.”

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The Guardian (22 February, 1871)

Reviews.
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Napoleon Fallen: a Lyrical Drama. By GEORGE BUCHANAN. Strahan.
Songs before Sunrise. By ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE. Ellis.

     In spite of Mr. Carlyle, poets have persisted in writing at a time calling imperatively for action. They have been like caged birds, which sing the more vigorously the louder the noise that is being made about them. And they have been right in this exertion of their faculties. They have only done in their way what Mr. Carlyle did in his way. He wrote a prose epic on the French Revolution; and they, seeing France once more ablaze, though not with native fires, have cultivated their nicer, but not therefore contemptible, gift of rhyme. Why should it be considered improper to polish verses in time of war? Words are like arrows, which need careful feathering and balancing if they are to travel far. The poet may have a more exquisite sense than the gunner, but sending a shell home is to the gunner quite as nice a process as turning a couplet is to the poet. Neither the one nor the other must be rebuked because he keeps in his place and goes quietly about a work which he cannot do well if he is hurried. Gunners and poets, in fact, are liable to the same temptations; if ill- trained, they make more haste than good speed, waste their ammunition, and fire above and beyond the mark. Not that there is any reason to complain, on the score of precision, of the recent practice of artillerists. They have done their work so well that the echoes of their thunder will last on indefinitely. It is wonderful if already there are not some half-dozen persons busily engaged in writing epics on the fall of Sedan, or even on the siege of Paris.
     But epics are not at present in question. Mr. Buchanan, indeed, has an epic on the stocks; but the poem before us, he suggests, is a Napoleonic play, or lyrical drama, or dramatic poem. Whether it is called by either of these names or some other, it is an earnest and spirited work, that deserves and will repay perusal. If Napoleon is in the technical sense its hero, some parts of his character are exhibited in no heroic light. For example, his past relations to Paris are thus described:—

     This temple where thy name
Was fluted forth by silver choirs of Fame,
This Pleasure-house of nations, this abode
Of strange enchantments, in due time became
An outrage and a shame,
     Abominable in the eyes of God;
For all the beauteous things within the place
Were witchcraft: all its glory was a lie;
Not one true angel but perceived it base—
There was no gift of grace
But such as bawds may sell and gold can buy;
Nay, even Art and Music, each with face
Averted, passed in tears. Thereon a cry
Went up against they marvellous work and thee
From the throats of all things free.
And o’er thy fields the desolating horde
Like to a swarm of locusts rose and spread!
The lightning of the Lord
Struck at thy glorious Temple, and it fled
Like Vapour before sunlight! The green sod
Is bloody where it stood and fair feet trod.
     Fallen with thee it lies,
     And it shall ne’er arise.
How should God bless thy work? Thou didst not build to God.

     It makes, of course, a great deal of difference into whose mouth a passage such as this is put in a dramatic poem. The words quoted are those of a Chorus of Republicans, and there is also a Chorus of Spirits, and a Chorus of Citizens, to say nothing of a Chorus of the Dead. Some Germans and their wives, also, have a chat about the prisoner as they walk in the gardens of Wilhelmshöhe; and a Bishop confronts him in full reliance on the temporal and spiritual strength of the Papacy, and an officer of the Imperial Army tries to comfort him by devoted and unshaken allegiance. But the principal authority in the poem as to Napoleon’s inner man is Napoleon himself, who lays his heart bare with an openness that is rather strange in so reserved a person, and shows us, beneath ambition, spite, and even meanness, some great though rather cloudy depths of faith and aspiration after good. Which of the several interpretations given of the Emperor’s character is the true one must remain doubtful, for there is no one of the speakers that has authority finally to silence the others; and as for Mr. Buchanan himself, he warns us that he has nowhere in the poem expressed his own political opinions. He has observed severely the unities of time and place, for the scene is the Château of Wilhelmshöhe or its immediate vicinity, and the time is the interval between sunset and midnight on an evening not long after the surrender of Sedan. Otherwise he has allowed himself abundant liberty; he alters chronology, varies his views of men and things, and walks round the fallen Napoleon, as if he were not quite sure from which of several points it would be best to sketch the mysterious and semi-torpid giant. Readers may draw the conclusion, that the ex-Emperor is more than a match for the poet; that when Napoleon plays the Sphinx, Mr. Buchanan is scarcely a competent Œdipus. It may be so, but a clever man can often deal skilfully and agreeably with enigmas that he cannot solve. There is an earnestness, a faith, a confidence in the ultimate triumph of truth and goodness, that underlies the varied delineations of the poem; and we are glad to see that Mr. Buchanan, though dealing with rather an exciting subject, writes with more composure, with more power of directing and concentrating thought, with sounder and healthier command of feeling, than appeared in The Book of Orm.

[Note:
The review of Swinburne’s Songs before Sunrise, which follows this review of ‘George’ Buchanan’s Napoleon Fallen, may be of interest. However it is a particularly bad scan, impossible to transcribe, but good enough to get the gist, so the original is available here.]

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Illustrated Times (25 March, 1871)

Napoleon Fallen. A Lyrical Drama. By ROBERT BUCHANAN. London: Strahan and Co.

     This poem has already been referred to in our columns, and we have little now to say, except that it is a book to read, partly for reasons which are obvious, and partly because it is an index to a certain stage in the growth of the poet’s mind, or at least in his designs. We still think events in course of transaction a dangerous subject for a lyrical drama, especially for one which embodies so much criticism, historic and other, as the present. Mr. Buchanan writes thus in his preface:—

     In reading this Napoleonic play or lyrical drama, or dramatic poem (I know not which is the fit title), it should be remembered that we lack, as yet, the proper foreground for the contemplation of the chief character. . . .
     One final word. I desire to say that I have nowhere in the following pages expressed my own political opinions.

     It seems to us that when the “high muse” has to speak thus before she sings, she makes a fatal admission. Any great action and passion may call for the lyre; but the terms on which it may be struck are terribly stringent in days like these.
     But all this is of little consequence. What interests us more with regard to the high opinion which most thinking men have formed of Mr. Buchanan is the fact that he, at least, cannot isolate himself as Goethe and others succeeded in doing, but must go with his time and feel with his brethren. Apart from its numerous touches of high poetic merit, the drama is worth much, looked at from this point of view alone. No living writer more thoroughly reflects—and no living poet more variously refracts—the most fervent advances of the modern spirit into the future. What the coming “epic” may be we cannot even guess; but it may concern those who read books only to fling them by when the first impression is over to learn that we have repeatedly read the “Book of Orm” since its publication, and have at every fresh perusal “struck ile” as to its deeper meanings.

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The British Quarterly Review (April, 1871, Vol. 53 - p.572-573)

Napoleon Fallen. A Lyrical Drama. By ROBERT BUCHANAN. Strahan and Co.

     Mr. Buchanan is a brilliant improvisatore, and could doubtless produce dramas and epics to order on any subject to which the revolutionary mind is akin. We do not doubt the genuineness of his lyrical passion; it is white-hot and  screaming, but it seems as if it were easy to kindle, not quite rational in its foundation, and certainly not classical in its expression. As a rhymed pamphlet, special-pleading a cause, and echoing the cries of the hour, ‘Napoleon Fallen’ is unquestionably powerful; as a dramatic representation of events in the shape in which they will descend to history, it is too violent to be true. It was a happy device to incorporate the Athenian chorus with the modern drama; the expedient provided expression for the eager feelings with which the world witnessed the stupendous struggle. But to import into the statuesque forms of poetry the frantic passion and inarticulate rage of the vanquished, in their naked amorphous violence, removes the poem out of the sphere of art. If the representation of a thing is meant to be permanent, the thing itself must be not only real, but also permanent in its nature. Lessing laid down this canon, and one would have thought that it was now established. But if ‘Napoleon Fallen’ is not perfect as a poem, there is very much fine poetry in it. The lyrical fire which an age in travail with revolutions produces is perhaps not rare in our days; Mr. Buchanan unquestionably possesses it. He also possesses that belief and faith without which no man has a right to sing at all—belief in the divine end of human life, and faith in the future. With poetic indefiniteness it is rather an aspiration than an articulated creed, but he is at least no emasculated Pagan. His dramatic power is less obvious, and perhaps it is only the dramatism of the lyrist—the mere modulation of passion into a different key.

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The Westminster Review (April, 1871 - Vol. 95, p. 579-581)

[Note: This review of Napoleon Fallen was framed by reviews of works by Swinburne, O’Shaughnessy and Morris, which, considering the ‘Fleshly School’ affair would begin six months later, are also transcribed below.]

     It has been said by a great critic that since Shakspeare’s day no poet has revealed a power of the same lyrical quality and genuine inspiration, with the exception of Shelley. Since Shelley’s day, however, no one has certainly revealed that peculiar lyrical gift, in all its strength and flow of harmony, as Swinburne has. 14 He possesses in a peculiar way many of the characteristics of Shelley. We do not for one moment mean that he is an imitator of Shelley. He sings precisely as Shelley does, because it is his easiest method of utterance. He hates, too, despotism as Shelley did. He reveals, too, Shelley’s faults. He shows the same wild enthusiasm. His love for liberty makes him almost welcome licence. He reveals further much the same defects of style as Shelley. He gives way too much to mere verbal artifices. He deals, too, frequently with unpleasant images, which by their very repetition, instead of strengthening only weaken his verse. But these faults only appear here and there. How strong, and how keen-edged are his lines may be seen by this fervid appeal to England, asking how long she will bear with the temporal and spiritual Philistinism of the day—

         “And thou, whom sea-walls sever
               From lands unwalled with seas,
         Wilt thou endure for ever,
               O Milton’s England, these?
Thou that wast his Republic, wilt thou clasp their knees?

         These royalties rust-eaten,
               These worm-corroded lies,
         That keep thine head, storm-beaten,
               And sun-like strength of eyes
From the open heaven and air of intercepted skies;

         These princelings with gauze winglets
               That buzz in the air unfurled,
         These summer-swarming kinglets,
               These thin worms crowne and curled,
That bask and blink and warm themselves about the world.

         These fanged meridian vermin,
               Shrill gnats that crowd the dusk,
         Night-moths, whose nestling ermine
               Smells foul of mould and musk,
Blind flesh-flies hatched by dark and hampered in their husk.”

     14 “ Songs Before Sunrise.” By Algernon Charles Swinburne. London: F. S. Ellis. 1871.

 

580     These are, in spite of all that has been said against them, noble lines, worthy of the great Republican poet himself. But Swinburne has other moods than these. Here is a delicious landscape taken from the commencement of Siena:—

“Inside this northern summer's fold
The fields are full of naked gold,
Broadcast from heaven on lands it loves;
The green-veiled air is full of doves;
Soft leaves that sift the sunbeams let
Light on the small warm grasses wet
Fall in short broken kisses sweet,
And break again, like waves that beat
Round the sun’s feet.”

     Few will refuse to acknowledge the beauty of this description. The epithet “green-veiled ” is delicious. Tennyson somewhere talks about the “green mist” of the trees, but “green-veiled” is far more subtle in its beauty, and refers to that green gloom which every one feels, especially in the height and blaze of summer, when plunging under the thick dark green foliage of a wood. Equally beautiful and delicate, too, is the image of the leaves “sifting,” as they do, the sunbeams, which fall on the “small warm grasses wet.” To match the beauty of this passage we must go all the way back to Chaucer’s “Flower and the Leaf,” and to that wood where the poet found—

           “The greene grass
So small, so thick, so short, so fresh of hue,
That most like unto green wool, wot I it was.”

     Mr. Buchanan 15 has abandoned the pleasant paths in which his muse delighted. “Willie Baird” is exchanged for Napoleon III. We think Mr. Buchanan has not done justice to his undoubted powers. He has attempted to write in about as many weeks a poem, to which nearly as many years would hardly do justice. It was but the other day, too, that he gave us the “Book of Orm,” and we see announced as in preparation “An Epic Poem.” Shakspeare himself would not be equal to such an undertaking. “Napoleon Fallen ” bears on the face of it marks of haste. The very printers seem to have been in wild haste in printing it, and have made not mere nonsense, but absolute blasphemy of a passage at page 134. Still here and there shine out passages, which show Mr. Buchanan’s dramatic and lyrical power.
     Mr. O’Shaughnessy’s poems 16 very much resemble in style the illustrations with which they are adorned. There is a weirdness and sadness, not without a deep beauty, which is striking. Like the illustrations they indicate power. Often fanciful and often showing want
of restraint, they are full of poetical feeling, which is as yet only partially developed. One of the most beautiful pieces is the “Glorious

     15 “Napoleon Fallen. A Lyrical Drama.” By Robert Buchanan. London: Strahan and Co. 1871.
     16 “An Epic of Women; and other Poems.” By Arthur W. E. O’Shaughnessy. London: John Camden Hotten. 1870.

 

581 Lady,” containing the picture of that fair one, of whom all youthful poets and painters dream, but whom they never realize, except in the world of art. We shall look forward with interest not only to the future of the poet, but of the illustrator of this remarkable volume.
     The quick appearance of the second edition of the fourth volume of Mr. Morris’s “Earthly Paradise” 17 proves that there is a public which welcomes genuine poetry. Mr. Morris’s popularity has, however, something remarkable about it. He is, we have noticed, appreciated by those, who as a rule, do not care to read any poetry. To our personal knowledge, political economists and scientific men to whom Shelley is a mystery and Tennyson a vexation of spirit, read the “Earthly Paradise” with admiration. We do not pretend fully to explain this phenomenon. One of the causes, however, obviously is the excessively easy flow and simple construction of Mr. Morris’s verse. The rhyme, too, is never forced. It seems to fall into its place in the most natural way possible. Then again, those wonderfully simple photographic touches of Mr. Morris’s reveal, without any trouble on the reader’s part, the whole scene in a moment bright and vivid. It is this direct painting, which in a great measure has made Mr. Morris such a favourite with that highly cultivated class of readers and thinkers, who shun anything like vagueness and thinness of treatment. We must remark, too, in noticing the second edition, the way in which Mr. Morris, like Mr. Rossetti, has enriched our language by drawing upon the stores of our old and forgotten words. Reading his poem is like reading a fresh and more vigorous style of English than that to which we are daily accustomed. We have probably the richest language in the world, and yet we do not know how to use it effectively. Mr. Morris has evidently made our older authors his especial study. If we look at merely the first tale in the volume—“Golden Apples”—we shall see how many noble words he has rescued. First there comes in the third line, that fine old word “rack,” for cloud, used by Shakspeare and his contemporaries, and which has never gone out of use probably in any part of England, certainly in none with which we are acquainted, among the peasantry. Then immediately after follows “foredone," destroyed, another Shakspearian word, but which, like “forespent,” has long been forgotten. And these words, like all the others which follow, “fell” for skin, “worm” for dragon, “ness” for headland, still locally retained in Devonshire, are never forced upon us, but fall naturally, and almost we would say, lovingly into their places. Lastly, we would especially call attention to the beauty and freshness with which all natural objects are described. As long as there are fields and flowers, and sea and sky, Mr. Morris’s “Earthly Paradise” will be read for the beauty and truth with which he has described them all.

     17 “The Earthly Paradise.” A Poem. By William Morris, author of “The Life and Death of Jason.” Part IV. Second Edition. London; F. S. Ellis, 1871.

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The Sun & Central Press (10 August, 1871 - p.12)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new lyrical drama, “The Teuton before Paris,” in which he attempts a delineation of Bismarck, and also of the Emperor, will appear within a few days. The poet has also a third drama in preparation, the hero of which will be the first Napoleon. By-the-bye Mr. Buchanan will probably bring out these two poems with “Napoleon Fallen,” in one volume. The first edition of Mr. Jenkins’ work on the Coolies has been exhausted.

Back to Reviews, Bibliography, Poetry or Napoleon Fallen.

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Book Reviews - Poetry continued

The Drama of Kings (1871)

 

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