ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)
BOOK REVIEWS - POETRY (23)
The Devil’s Case (1896)
The New Rome (1898)
The Echo (12 December, 1894 - p.1)
Apart from a small collection of Scotch studies and a novel which its author has publicly disowned, Mr. Robert Buchanan has not published any new work for some time. It is a pleasure to be able to announce that he has completed a new poem. This, which bears the characteristic title of “The Devil’s Case: a Bank Holiday Interlude,” will be published very shortly. It is written entirely in unrhymed stanzas. Besides this, Mr. Buchanan has almost ready a new prose story, which is to take the name of his famous Haymarket play, The Charlatan. Indeed, its plot is founded upon that work, and will treat of the career of an impostor who makes capital out of the modern craze for hypnotic and mesmeric séances. In this novel Mr. Buchanan has had the help of Mr. Henry Murray, brother of Mr. Christie Murray, and author of “A Song of Sixpence.”
The Era (15 February, 1896)
MR BUCHANAN’S new poem, “The Devil’s Case: a Bank Holiday Interlude,” will, we are informed, be published next week, bearing on its title-page the name of “Robert Buchanan,” as publisher as well as author; and simultaneously will be issued a pamphlet in which the author, while dealing with the methods of publishing generally, explains his particular object in becoming his own publisher. Henceforward, we understand, all this writer’s works will be issued direct to the booksellers by himself, his contention being that the ordinary publisher is an anomaly and a nuisance—to quote his own words, “a barnacle on the bottom of the good ship Literature, yet presuming to criticise the quality of the cargo in the hold.”
The Derby Daily Telegraph (15 February, 1896 - p.2)
When the Incorporated Society of Authors threatened to become their own publishers and put all other publishers out of court, the trade, I am afraid, only laughed. I don’t think Mr. Robert Buchanan is a member of the society, but he is a Society of Authors in himself, poet, playwright, novelist, pamphleteer, &c., &c., and I have just seen a pamphlet in which he announces that his poem, “The Devil’s Case,” to be issued next week, will bear his own name as publisher. Poor Barabbas has had to put up with a great deal since Byron christened him, but Mr. Buchanan will, I fear, be the last straw to Paternoster-row.
The Belfast News-Letter (24 February, 1896 - p.7)
It is the firm conviction of Mr. Robert Buchanan that the ordinary publisher is a “barnacle on the bottom of the good ship Literature, yet presuming to criticise the quality of the cargo in the hold.” Therefore, his name will appear to his new poem, “The Devil’s Case: A Bank Holiday Interlude,” as publisher as well as author. In addition, he will issue a pamphlet explaining his attitude in this matter, and will for the future issue all his own works direct to the bookseller. It is to be trusted that Mr. Buchanan will not have to repent of his venture, but bankruptcy (if, indeed, that be any terror to so brave a man) has been known to lie that way.
The Aberdeen Journal (4 March, 1896 - p.5)
Mr Robert Buchanan has caused a mild flutter of interest among book people of late by announcing that henceforward he will publish his works himself. To-night he has issued his new poem “The Devil’s Case: a Bank Holiday Interlude,” which, in my opinion, will quite sustain the reputation for eccentric genius which this Scottish author holds. A day or two ago he made a kind of “opening announcement” as publisher in a pamphlet entitled “Is Barabbas a Necessity?” directed, of course, against the publishing trade. Mr Buchanan now stands as unique as Marie Corelli, who has abandoned as futile the practice of sending her works to reviewers. Whether Mr Buchanan will follow her in this may be determined by the reception his “Devil’s Case” meets with, but I do not think it probable.
The Scotsman (9 March, 1896 - p.3)
Mr Robert Buchanan’s new poem, The Devil’s Case, assumes to hold a brief for Satan, and to defend him against all the aspersions that have been thrown upon his character from time immemorial. It is written in a jingling trochaic measure that has no distinction whatever, and, when associated with the very theological subject of the work, sounds flippant and no more. So far as the matter of the poem is concerned, it must be said at the outset that if the Devil has nothing more to say for himself than is here set forth, he is most deservedly damned.
Would you know how I, Buchanan,
It begins by asking, and then goes on to state how he, Buchanan, walking on Hampstead Heath, met the Devil, and was taken into his confidence, and asked to publish the “Interview.” Then comes the case. Hornie claims credit for all the good things man has ever done, and blames another supernatural power for all the evil that is in the world. It was he—he, Hornie, not he, Buchanan—who put Prometheus up to bringing down fire. It was he who prompted the building of the Pyramids. It was he who invented printing. (This, by the way, explains many things known only to those intimately connected with the press—proof-readers, compositors, sub-editors, and special correspondents.) It was he, the Devil, who “upraised the drama,” which (to spurn grammar) he might upraise it a little further, for it wants him badly just now, having only Mr. Jones. Then he, the Devil, explains his sentiments. He is democratic, and, as he puts it, in what for poetry sounds uncommonly like prose, and sloppy prose too —
Tennyson I liked extremely
After he, the Devil, has done, he, Buchanan, says his, Buchanan’s, prayers in the shape of a litany which might do duty in any church service. The object of all this highly respectable euchology is probably to give the book an odour of sanctity, and dissipate the sulphurous fumes that obnubilate the work as a whole—much as is the transpontine melodramas you find the dashing young hero, who has lived a life of five acts of the most godless folly, dissipation, and crime, suddenly turn round and repent, saying, “Ah, yes, we have all sinned. We have all suffered. But let this be a warning to us all to avoid the quicksands of fast life and the fate of The Roysterer of Rutherglen,” whereat the gallery, thinking that it has assisted at a demonstration of ethical science, applauds vigorously. So it is with this poem. It is cheap melodrama where it affects sublimity. One can enjoy a tasty bit of bold blasphemy, whether in trochaics or in the more stately and more truly English iambic; but the small audacities of him, Buchanan, sound weak when one thinks of the “Man’s forgiveness give—and take” of a gentler questioner of the powers beyond. The work is a piece of perverted sentiment which poses as imagination, and seeks to cheapen the great creations of Milton and Goethe. The most obvious reflection it suggests is that, for all a writer of Mr Buchanan’s calibre can say for him, the Devil would stand a better chance if he were left to conduct the case himself; for he is not without a certain ability.
The Edinburgh Evening News (10 March, 1896 - p.2)
Mr Robert Buchanan having turned publisher of his own works, does not find things proceed very smoothly. One London morning paper, supposed to have the very largest circulation, won’t accept his advertisement, and in another Mr William Archer, the dramatic writer, has criticised him in trochaics after the style of Mr Buchanan’s latest book. It is a wise author who knows when to leave well alone, and most everyday publishers would be glad to have the advertisements which Mr Buchanan is receiving by way of criticism, and which he is finding so hard to bear.
The Glasgow Herald (12 March, 1896 - p.10)
The Devil’s Case: A Bank Holiday Interlude. By Robert Buchanan. (London: Robert Buchanan, and all Booksellers.)—Mr Robert Buchanan, who was not regarded in official circles as good enough to be the Poet Laureate of Britain, has been appointed laureate to the Devil by the Devil himself. In accepting his Satanic brief, Mr Buchanan, who acts as his own publisher, binds himself to set forth the ideas of the Devil, who is the Father of Lies. For that reason the book is necessarily a mass of poetic lying, the cool and blasphemous assumption of the Arch-Rebel being that he, and not his Divine Master, is the author of all the good that has been done in the world from the beginning until now. The plan of the poem is simple. The poet, being on Hampstead Heath on a bank holiday, lingers until it is dark, and finds a mysterious figure sitting on a fallen, withered tree, and takes it for that of a priest or parson. It is no such person, but Satan himself, reading the pink edition of the Star, which shows His Majesty’s peculiar taste. The two—Poet and Prince—soon get to talk. The Devil complains bitterly of having been always misunderstood and misrepresented, especially by priests and poets. Marlow, Milton, Calderon, Goethe, Byron, and Burns failed to do him justice:—
“Even Burns, my prince of singers,
He declares that his true nature has never been comprehended, and he beseeches the poet to act otherwise:—
“Be the Laureate of the Devil!
The poet’s answer is, “Sing your praises? Devil take me if I do!” But all the same he listens, and the book contains the case for the Prince of Evil stated by himself. He makes out a strong case, but, of course, he talks with a lying tongue. All the good that Another ought to have done, but neglected to do, was done by him, the Outcast, the maligned, the misunderstood—
“I’m the father of all Science—
That may be taken as en epitome of his achievements for the benefit of mankind. It was he that invented printing, originated the theatre, the modern novel, and the newspaper. All these are beneficent, and are therefore his, the Devil’s, work. The poet, in reply, tells the proud and boastful spirit that even if what he says were true, he is but an instrument doing the work of his Creator. To this he does not directly reply; and in the end, before he disappears from the poet’s sight, he says:—
“Name me not the Prince of Evil—
The book ends with a piece which the poet calls “The Litany. De Profundis,” which is serious, but is not free from certain dim hints of the mocking, derisive spirit—as if the Almighty, having been outraged and angered, the poet wished to soothe Him by fulsome adulation. It is not easy to understand what, if not the Devil, tempted Mr Buchanan to waste his time upon a theme so little calculated to do himself or anybody the least good. Poetically the workmanship is much beneath his best manner. He did not, however, mean to write in “great heroic measures,” but rather “in roguish, rhymeless stanzas”—trochaics, in fact—specimens of which we have quoted. Even as a satire the poem necessarily fails, for the single reason that it touches only to outrage the religious beliefs of the nation. The poet’s defence is that the poem must be regarded from a dramatic point of view. That is to say, the ideas are not the poet’s, but the devil’s own. That is a mistake. The ideas are what the poet thinks the devil would announce, if he really had a chance. This makes a difference in the point of view.
The Lichfield Mercury (13 March, 1896 - p.4)
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN, the many-sided, has just made an excursion which has awakened considerable interest in literary circles, and will engender a great deal more. Like Godwin and Richardsons of the old times, and William Morris of the present times, he has become his own publisher. He has “gone one better” than Ruskin. Publishers who have watched the literary career, which has been a chequered one, of Robert Buchanan, poet, novelist, playwright, and so forth, smile darkly when the newest addition to their order is mentioned. The only remark that can be extracted from them is, “We shall see.”
The Echo (14 March, 1896 - p.1)
A BOOK OF THE WEEK
“THE DEVIL’S CASE.”
One August Bank Holiday Mr. Robert Buchanan met the Devil face to face on Hampstead Heath. The poet, so he tells us himself, had been wandering about all the afternoon among the merry-makers, full of sadness and envy by means of personal bereavement and financial troubles. To him the laws of Earth and Heaven “seemed one vast Receiving Order,” and his angry spirit rebelled against the “deaf and dumbness” of the “Old Lamp-lighter,” just then lighting up His stars. And lo! in the midst of his disillusion and distress, as the phantoms of dead friends seemed to flit past him, he discovered the Devil. His make-up was curious, certainly—a white-haired old man the Fiend appeared, “clerically- dressed, bareheaded, spectacles upon his nose,” and he was reading a pink edition—not the creamy Echo colour—of an evening paper. Truly this Devil is up to date. He is more than that, our poet assures us, he is “the real and only Devil.” All other poets have slandered him. Marlowe painted him “a monster—insolent and goggle-eyed.” “Milton’s Devil was a parson, voluble and bellow-winded, like his garrulous God Almighty, quite impossibly absurd.” Calderon’s Magico Prodigioso was “only hideousness divine.” And “Goethe, that superior person, blundered also, like his betters.” Even Byron’s was a “prosy Devil,” mixing “bad blank verse and metaphysics.” Never one has comprehended his true nature. Really he’s the “kindest-hearted creature in this Universe of Sorrows,” the “Prince of Pity,” the spirit of rebellion against the needless suffering of the world. His affection for mortals “is the cause of all his woes.” And so Mr. Buchanan is asked to be his laureate, to state “the case for the defendant.”
So far we have followed almost word for word Mr. Buchanan’s own proem, and, no doubt, many readers will already be inclined to turn away in disgust from this account of what may appear to them a tissue of blasphemies. More particularly, perhaps, will their gorge rise when we follow up these quotations with another, indicative of the more violent moods of the new Devil:—
Well, I know that I shall triumph
That is not the usual tone in which the founder of Christianity is alluded to, for a little later we hear “Not of Thee, my Jesus, spake I, but of Him they name the Christ.” Yet for all this revolting vehemence we are inclined to agree with Mr. Buchanan that “He alone blasphemes who smothers truth his conscience bids him alter.” And it is to our mind a far more serious offence that a man of letters who, even in this volume, gives us a touch of his quality in the beautiful “Dedication,” and in occasional bursts of rhetoric throughout the “Sataniad,” should waste his fine poetic gifts in religious controversy. We dislike even the form of his verse—uninspired four-lined stanzas in trochaic metre, that are in themselves a direct encouragement to slovenliness of style and of thought. It is a small matter, perhaps, that in deference to metrical exigences, Heracleitus becomes “Heraclitus;” yet this is a sign, however insignificant, of the carelessness and flippancy that too often takes possession of Mr. Buchanan’s muse.
But we have yet to state “The Devil’s Case.” No lover of evil is he, but a rebel against the immoral designs of that God who is “ever slaying and re-making,” and crushes like shells the worlds He has made. “Evil, Lord, is Thy creation, since Thou sufferest pain to be,” was the remark which occasioned Lucifer’s expulsion from Heaven, and he proves its truth to his laureate by showing the misery, anguish, crime, disease, famine, and death upon the earth. All these forms of suffering and sin are “God’s invention”—His bungling methods of developing His scheme of creation.
Blindly, feebly, God had blunder’d,
while the Devil, as “the father of all sciences,” has laboured to improve the world and increase human happiness. But “vain was all his strife for mortals,” for “the pestilence religion” spread. Egypt, beautiful Greece, and Rome—all were ruined by superstition, and at last God’s crown descended “on the brows of Death.”
And so, in this strange sort of Devil’s biography, we reach the figure of the Christ. On that topic the “Prince of Pity” becomes as drearily monotonous as Mr. Buchanan himself; indeed, he repeats, with slight variations, the old complaints of the poet in “The Outcast,” “The Wandering Jew,” “The City of Dreams,” and even earlier verse.
Let Him rise, and keep His promise;
His delusions have made this “feeble, gentle Thaumaturgist” a “winged curse.” Four lies has his folly fathered, the first, “A life hereafter shall redeem the wrongs of this;” the second, the possibility of loving a neighbour as one’s self; the third, “About the morrow take no heed, sufficient ever is the evil of the moment;” and—
Lie the fourth—“Lord God the Father
In the name of this “Death the Christ,” priests “have sicken’d Earth with slaughter.” Meantime, the Devil has striven to help man and banish suffering by inventions, arts, and practical philanthropy. Death alone he “cannot vanquish: Death and God perchance are one.” For the future race there may be happiness.
Yet the pity! ah, the pity!
For them nothing remains since there is no life beyond. Death silences all that forms our nature—
Memory, consciousness, self-knowledge,
That is the indictment, and while some of us may resent Mr. Buchanan’s employment of poetry for didactic purposes, and more will shudder at the passionate violence of several of the phrases, it is impossible to deny that this Devil is a brilliant product of creative imagination, and that much of the language put into his mouth echoes the cry of some of the thoughtful of the present generation. It is a patent fact that evolution throughout the ages has meant the infliction of infinite pain upon half the living world. Such a method of development shocks our whole moral sense; it is quite out of keeping with our idea of a loving and just Providence. And we must all revolt against the substitute modern science offers us for immortality. Nought can perish, say our scientists. The individual is merged and lives again in the race. But, as our poet states, it is just that personal life of “loving, hoping, apprehending” for which we yearn. What comfort to us is absorption in the Infinite or re-appearance in the type? Mr. Buchanan’s Devil can only suggest practical and benevolent Epicureanism.
Only for a day thou livest!
But that does not satisfy our poetic Ishmael himself, as his periodic laments make clear. After all, is it necessary to give up belief in a future life? Is it not almost an essential postulate of existence? Even the Devil, when parting from his Laureate, remarks:—
If the priests were right, and yonder
Admittedly Mr. Buchanan has adopted a partisan attitude upon an all-enthralling problem. Have we not a right to ask the poet (if only as a relief to the eternal monotony of his plaints) to give us a poem on the side of Deity.
* “The Devil’s Case.” By Robert Buchanan, author and publisher.
MR. BUCHANAN’S NEW BOOK.*
MR. BUCHANAN cannot forgive those who, having heartily admired, and still heartily admiring, his earlier poems,—for example, his London Idylls, and many more that were full of force and genius,—cannot admire his later productions. But that is his own fault, not theirs. He tells us in this new production of his that “the riever’s savage blood” is in his veins. No doubt it is; but in his earlier poems he kept it down and did not let it get into his poems. Now his hand is against every man, and his only object appears to be to strike blows which will make somebody’s nerves recoil, but even so he strikes wildly, and in a fast and furious spirit that has no coherent purpose in it. The Devil’s Case: a Bank Holiday Interlude is one of the most incoherent of his productions. It has no consistent conception in it at all. One never knows what he would be at. He tells us in one place that he never dreamed that he should ever be the man to “state the case for the defendant,” whom he “loath’d with all his heart.” Nevertheless, he will “tell the truth and shame the Devil, tell it even tho’ it praise him,” and we conclude therefore that he really thinks he has been making a case for the Devil all through. That case apparently is that the Devil is the Prince of Pity, and has always endeavoured to tempt man to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, in order that he may compass his own partial deliverance from the life of constant suffering to which the Creator had doomed him. If there be anything approaching a coherent conception in the book, that is its main thought. But that conception as he presents it is full of intrinsic contradictions. It rests on the story in Genesis, but nevertheless the poet evidently rejects that story from the beginning. Indeed, he begins by assuming that the version in Genesis was a falsehood, that misery and death had prevailed everywhere long before the fall of Adam, that indeed it was the ruin which Satan found everywhere in the rudimentary worlds that God was creating which led him into rebellion, and that it was his indignation at the delusion which the Creator was palming off on Adam and Eve that induced him to tempt them also into rebellion. Then he goes on to make the Devil express his conviction that sin does not exist, that it is God’s “invention,” which is another mode of saying that there is no such thing as temptation, or indeed as moral evil at all as distinguished from suffering. And that we suppose to be as near Mr. Buchanan’s real thought as anything can be in a book which has no unity of purpose except, perhaps, to hit out in all directions against the faiths of all sorts of Christians. He states the case for the tempter while making the tempter deny the possibility of temptation. He rests it on traditions which he treats as foolish fables, and yet deals with as the assumptions of his “case.” He confounds together Scripture and a philosophy which has no sort of relation to Scripture, and welds them into an inconsistent and unimaginable whole. If there be no such thing as sin, there is no such thing as an evil spirit, and sometimes it would seem that Mr. Buchanan’s Devil is meant to be an instrument of God for the education of the human race, first by stimulating their intellectual restlessness in the largest sense, and next by stimulating their passions. But the two functions are so different that it is impossible to combine them into any coherent character, especially as the passions of selfishness and revenge, which are quite as deeply rooted in human nature as those of the flesh, appear to be denounced by Mr. Buchanan’s Satan as unworthy, and in Satan’s own case are supposed to be all swallowed up in pity. We submit that if, as Mr. Buchanan’s Satan represents, all the instincts which take the form and appearance of love are to be fostered and encouraged, without modification under the influence of that larger appreciation which the higher study of life would suggest, it is impossible to imagine a law which would control the selfish and jealous nature of man in other directions, except by the interference of a conscience which his Devil indignantly rejects as the “invention of God.” If pity, guided by intellect, is to be the conscience, why should it not control the egotism and greediness of the animal man in all directions alike? Mr. Buchanan’s Satan assumes to condemn all cruelty and violence, but to excuse all the excesses of the senses. That only shows him to be a very poor creature in point of intelligence. The larger curiosity which he so eagerly defends would soon discover that the carnal passions of man are just as cruel in the one direction as in the other, and need as much control from the conscience which he denies, as the fierce competitive instincts which lead directly to murder and war. Goethe’s Satan was a real tempter, a being who believed in sin with his whole nature, and availed himself of all the passions of man, as well as of his intellectual restlessness, to lead him into sin. Mr. Buchanan’s Satan is either a half and half Satan, who does not believe in sin at all, and therefore is not a tempter, or if he does, and only professes to disbelieve in it in order to draw human beings into it the more easily, is very far indeed from what he wishes to make himself out, a Prince of Pity, since he could not be less pitiful to man than by endeavouring to conceal from him one of the great cardinal facts of his nature.
The very conception, therefore, of this wild production is thoroughly confused. Mr. Buchanan never got his own mind clear as to what sort of Satan he wished to picture. He intended, we suppose, to make him in the main the patron of all scientific investigation, the advocate of all self- knowledge. But if he had carried out this conception at all thoroughly, his Satan would have been no Devil, and Mr. Buchanan had therefore to throw in a certain pantheistic approval of all the more misleading passions, which is very far indeed from a result of true self-knowledge or true observation of life. And Mr. Buchanan’s execution of his conception is as rude and wild as his conception itself is confused. He is nothing if not clever, but his cleverness in this book is not attractive, and very seldom even in the highest sense imaginative. We have not found a single passage that reminds us of Mr. Buchanan’s earlier work, in the whole of this incongruous and very irreverent, indeed blasphemous, poem. He makes his Satan declare that “love and human kindness” are “the supremest qualities of true revolters,” but that is a conception which he does not pretend to work out. He extols Voltaire, whose revolt had no “love and human kindness” in it, and makes light of Christianity because its “love and human kindness” had no revolt in it. We have no doubt that a superficial desire to satisfy the temporary yearnings of everybody, oneself included, is the source of a very great deal not only of revolt, but of the particular kind of misery which those who believe in responsibility hold to be sin, but there is no effort made in this poem to distinguish the instincts and impulses which are gratified by inflicting immediate pain on others, from the instincts and impulses which are gratified by fulfilling the immediate desires of others,—the latter often quite as fatal as, sometimes more fatal than, the former. The whole conception of Satan is a thorough jumble, as is almost inevitable when a poet tries to create a tempter who treats the very conception of temptation as radically unmeaning. Perhaps the following passage may give as good an idea of the rhapsodic profanity of Mr. Buchanan’s poem as any other:—
“Oh, the sorrow and the splendour
Round him, as he look’d to Heaven,
‘Thus,’ he said, ‘throughout the ages,
‘One by one the tribes and races
‘Dead they lie, the strong, the gentle,
‘All the tears of all the martyrs
‘Where are they whose busy fingers
‘Ants upon an ant-heap, insects
‘Ev’n as Babylon departed,
‘Yea, the Cities and the Peoples
‘Ev’n as beauteous reefs of coral
“First the insects that upbuilt them
“O’er the reef the salt ooze gathers,
‘Shall I bend in adoration
‘Deaf to all the wails and weeping,
That is a fair specimen of the whole,—the hasty rhodomontade of a clever man certainly, but verse quite unworthy of Mr. Buchanan’s early genius.
*The Devil’s Case: a Bank Holiday Interlude. By Robert Buchanan. London: Robert Buchanan; and all Booksellers.
Reynolds’s Newspaper (15 March, 1896)
BOOKS AND MAGAZINES.
THE DEVIL’S CASE.
(Written and published by Robert Buchanan, 36, Gerard-street, Shaftesbury-avenue, W. Price 6s.)
Mr. Buchanan, has a merit rare among English writers in the present day—the courage of his opinions. Moreover, he has another qualification equally unusual he is never dull and he has always some message to convey. His latest work, “The Devil’s Case: A Bank Holiday Interlude,” is a weird and paradoxical attempt to prove that the unknown God is the author of all cruelty and evil in the world; and that all good and progress come through that mythical superstition of whom we hear so little in these days—the Devil. Prefixed to the volume is a beautiful little dedicatory poem, which we cannot refrain from quoting. It is a wholly charming, felicitous, and delicate piece of workmanship.
“Look,” he said. “The Hell thou doubtedst
Then, methought, the moonlit houses
Dead and dying; woeful mothers
Shapes sin-bloated from the cradle
Everywhere Disease and Famine
The Devil then proceeds to narrate his work for mankind since the dawn of civilization—work constantly thwarted, but ever advancing to its goal.
“Eighteen hundred years of Europe
“‘Pass from knowledge on to knowledge
“‘Fear not, love not, and revere not
“Only for a day thou livest!
These extracts will give a better idea of a work in many ways remarkable, than any amount of description. The novelty of the volume lies in the audacity in saying in print what multitudes think in secret, and, terrified by the conventions of the world, have not the courage openly to express. A serious of striking illustrations add to the interest of the book.
The Spectator (21 March, 1896 - p.16)
“THE DEVIL’S CASE.”
SIR,—As you have informed me that you have no room for an elaborate letter, but will permit me to protest briefly against your criticism of “The Devil’s Case,” I must perforce confine myself to one or two points of importance. In the first place, let me assure you that I have never doubted the existence of evil, or sin, or temptation, although I hold that the very idea of evil is inconsistent with the idea of Omnipotence. God created man imperfect; consequently the imperfections of man, in others words his “sins,” are “God’s invention.” I assume that no sane person now believes that man has fallen from a state of innocence, or perfection? But you go further and accuse me of suggesting that all the instincts and appetites of men are to be sanctioned and encouraged! I don’t know where you discover this suggestion,—it is utterly opposed to anything I have ever thought or (I believe) written.
The Era (28 March, 1896)
[The article, ‘The Devil and the Dramatist’, which links The Devil’s Case to the ongoing discussion of plagiarism surrounding the play, The Romance of the Shopwalker, is available in the Letters to the Press section.]
The Hampshire Telegraph (28 March, 1896 - p.12)
Not content with becoming his own publisher, Mr. Robert Buchanan is to be his own advertisement manager. He can hardly be called a novice in this department of literary activity, but Mr. Buchanan has certainly hit on a novel method of advertising his new book, “The Devil’s Case.” No more actual criticisms for him. With the prescience of the Scot, he supplies anticipatory criticisms—Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Balfour, Lord Rosebery, Dr. Parker, and many other celebrities are pressed into service with practical audacity and amusing cleverness. This is a delicious leaflet of criticisms which, taken in conjunction with the great charm of the Devil’s personality, should give this plea for Lucifer a boom.
The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle (4 April, 1896)
“The Devil’s Case” is stated in verse—indifferent verse, we are told by some critics—by Mr. Robert Buchanan, in a book with that title, which he has just issued as his own publisher. There is not much of a plot. Mr. Buchanan happens to meet with the Prince of Darkness on Hampstead Heath, and enters into conversation with him. His Satanic Majesty delivers a long harangue in praise of his own merits. Speaking in the character of an accused person, he avers he has a case which, rightly stated, must procure him an acquittal. Mr. Buchanan listens with great patience, and, after one or two feeble attempts to confute the Devil, succumbs to his eloquence, and bows down and blesses him.
Book-Bits (27 February, 1897 - p.122)
IT is gratifying to learn that Mr. Robert Buchanan’s courageous experiment—that of publishing his own books—has succeeded. But in connection with “The Devil’s Case,” the first volume published by him, he makes the following characteristic remark: “I knew Logrollia too well to expect any rational treatment there, but I did expect a little sane consideration in my native land. There was a time when Scotland had brains of its own; now its culture seems to be only a weak reflection of the rushlights of Clapham.”
The following notice appears in The Ballad of Mary the Mother:
Whether it is due to this, my own incompetence, or pure chance, I have (so far) not come across any contemporary reviews of The Ballad of Mary the Mother.
Mr Robert Buchanan, man of letters, is irrepressible. For a long while he has either been allowing his literary fire to die out, or he has been sulking, Achilles-like, in his tent. The critics who so mercilessly slated his “Devil’s Chase” were doubtless laying the flattering unction to their souls that they had silenced for ever the pen, if not the voice, of Robert Buchanan. Little did they know the man they were dealing with. The poet-publisher was born to fight, if any man ever was. Keats, we are told, was, in his youth, of a distinctly pugilistic turn, but his sensitiveness killed it. But Robert Buchanan has fostered his pugnacity till it has become a second nature to him. That spirit which urged him to become the literary censor of his age; to denounce in language, neither poetry nor prose, the “fleshly school of poetry”—the so-called mawkish, erotic sentimentality which a few dyspeptic poets had made fashionable; to pose before the world as the one whose sole desire was to understand and interpret humanity; to satirise mankind a la Swift, without Swift’s genius; in fine, to misinterpret Matthew Arnold’s dictum that poetry was a criticism of life, still animates him. He has tried to build a reputation on the notoriety of popular discussion; he, like that other Literary celebrity, Marie Corelli, struck out in a new line, and the result—in his case at least—has been most disastrous. His magazine failed, his dramas failed, his essays and his novels have not succeeded. And Robert Buchanan turned pessimist. He has declared that a literary life deteriorates a man’s moral life. In the case of some men, it certainly does. But in most cases it is the abuse of the literary life that makes the Robert Buchanans. Mr Buchanan’s latest is an address to bookbuyers, issued from his publishing office in Gerrard Street. He is about to issue five books, and he wishes to offer the literary Cerberus a most tasty sop. Referring to the reception which his “Devil’s Chase” received in Scotland, he writes—“I did expect a little sane consideration in my native land.” But he ought to console himself with the dictum about the prophet and his country. “I am the only surviving Religious Poet,” says Mr Buchanan in concluding his address, “and am possibly the last of the race.” If religious poets are those who transmit unworthy, trashy thoughts in infelicitous diction and weak rhyme, it is just as well that he is the “last minstrel.” A definition of the term “religious poet” would be interesting.
The Glasgow Herald (6 February, 1897 - p.9)
Two new volumes of poems by Mr Robert Buchanan are about to appear through his own publishing office in Gerrard Street. They are respectively entitled “The Ballad of Mary the Mother: a Christmas Carol,” and “The New Rome: Ballads and Poems of our Empire.” Both books will be illustrated, some of the pictures being drawn by Mr Buchanan himself.
The Hull Daily Mail (30 December, 1897 - p.4)
“The Ballad of Mary” is the title of Mr Robert Buchanan’s new work issued to-day. Mr Buchanan is his own publisher, and is not sending any copies to the press.
The Hull Daily Mail (12 January, 1898 - p.1)
Mr Robert Buchanan’s new work, “The Ballad of Mary the Mother,” will cause a greater outburst of Christian condemnation than any of his previous works.
The Westminster Budget (21 October, 1898 - p.21)
Apropos the early appearance of a new volume of poetry by Mr. Robert Buchanan—“The New Rome” it is to be called, and it will consist, according to the author’s description, of “poems and ballads of Empire”—it may be recalled that it is thirty-eight years since his first volume of poems, “Undertones,” was published, and that in 1870, in consideration of his merit as a poet, he received from Mr. Gladstone a pension of £100 per annum. The late Mr. Hutton, of the Spectator, declared that Mr. Buchanan’s poems were “nearly perfect of their kind, realistic and idealistic in the highest sense.”
The Scotsman (7 December, 1898 - p.11)
THE NEW ROME. Poems and Ballads of Our Empire. By Robert Buchanan. London: Walter Scott.
Mr Robert Buchanan explains in a prose postscript to his new book of poems that he began the work as a satire, but was unable to keep it up in that vein. One thinks of Mr Austin Dobson’s triolet—
I intended an ode,
and remembers occasions on which one has been inclined to be grateful for the caprices of poets. But Mr Buchanan is not any more successful in the lachrymose than in the satirical vein. He wanted to whip the age with Juvenal’s lash, but found himself, he says, too full of pity. He can be savage enough, however, when he is after an effect. The truth is, his book is a miscellany of poems without any sort of homogeneity, except that they may all be made to refer to modern conditions of things. It represents the British Empire as a modern Rome, and inveighs, with what seems an artificial indignation, against the subservience of religious to political ends. He parodies Mr Kipling, and goes into a rather hysterical objurgation of Nietszche. On the other hand, he extols Burns and Mr G. B. Shaw. One piece praises Maeterlinck, and another speaks of Schopenhauer as the new Buddha. Whatever is obvious about any modern man or idea is said somewhere or other in these poems, and put with restless impatience of thought and a constant appeal to the womanish of man’s sentimentalities. It is too much to appeal to the example of Juvenal in such a connection. Beside the thunders of the rhythmic indignation of the Roman, these smaller utterances sound like the ingeniously-contrived bleatings of a toy lamb; and, when a book takes up such a thesis as the vices and follies of the contemporary age, serious men want sterner stuff than this.
Glasgow Herald (14 December, 1898)
The New Rome: Poems and Ballads of our Empire. By Robert Buchanan. (London: Walter Scott.)—
“Proceed! I’m listening!
“Satan again!” says the poet, and the newcomer responds—
“I see you recognise me!
“What brings you hither?” asks the poet, and the Æon answers that it is to remind him of sundry noble themes “worth your while, my son, to sing of.” He counsels him against satire, and most of all to “shun the jogtrot jungles of the pinchbeck Masters.” “And if,” says the poet, “my Muse refuses to obey you?” The reply is prompt:—
“Be damn’d with Austin and the poetasters!
“Rome!” answers the poet,
Then he proceeds to draw a parallel between the old Rome and the British Empire, the Rome that now is, characterised by sins, sorrows, and wrongs. What is now wanted is a Bard like Juvenal of yore:—
“Fearless, free-spoken, sane, and strong,
“All right,” quoth the Devil, agreeing with the justice of the poet’s parallel, while maintaining his own conception as to methods, which he thus expounds:—
“But not by hate and not by scorn,
“Amen!” says the poet, and the Devil resumes by declaring that in his throat he lies who, taught by tyrants, sees in him “the Evil Spirit that denies.” He declares, on the contrary, that his task is “to affirm and free.” He goes further:—
“I claim as kin
The reader will be inclined to ask—“Can this be the Devil?” So it would seem—according to Mr Buchanan, his dear friend. Then the poet goes on to complete his parallel between the ancient Rome with its horrors and cruelties of custom and the evil practices of the New Rome:—
“The gods are dead, but in their name
He then makes a dash at the New Woman, whom he denounces as a creature who, in striving with men in the arena, now as of old, forgets “her sex, her children, and her God.” The Devil defends the new woman, who, so far from being marred, is rather enfranchised. The poet of course takes a shy at newspapers—how natural in the case of the man, who has in his time earned many a precious and needful guinea through those same newspapers! He also strikes with satiric sword at the philosopher to whom there is no God, and can see no heaven, but only “the eternal, Cul de Sac!” Then there is the poet who is
“happy, and at home
These things would have made Huxley and Browning laugh. One would fancy that the world was going to the Devil, but in this case the Devil checks the poet, and mends his mood by saying—
“But hark, that cry!
This is curative, and the poet is at least partially pleased with the patriotic words of the Devil, who further delivers a fine eulogium on the home-bred valour of the British race.
“Enough of Rome! My Poet’s gentle eyes
Such is the introduction to Mr Buchanan’s “Songs of Empire,” which are vastly different from most of the Imperial “row- de-dow” odes and songs which have been showered upon the public of late. They are daring, biting, crushing, clever, and roll along with immense spirit. They are songs and ballads which only Mr Buchanan could or perhaps would write. They may not please all readers, but there cannot be the slightest doubt as to their intense readability. Two of the ablest and “rummiest” of the lot are “The Chartered Companie” and “The Ballad of Kiplingson,” which ought to delight many people without hurting the subjects of them. On the other hand, the poem on “The Grand Old Man” will produce a mixed impression of pleasure and pain, according to the reader. “The Irishman to Cromwell” is a scarifying piece of verse. Among the series under the title “Through the Great City” will be found many a masterpiece of verse—such as “The Sphinx on the Thames Embankment,” and “The Last Christians.” Among other poems, “The Gnome,” which sketches the life and character of Heine, is capital. A couple of pieces on “Burns” are also fine. In fact, the whole book is a marvel and a treasure.
The Arbroath Herald (15 December, 1898 - p.2)
“THE NEW ROME.” By Robert Buchanan. London: Walter Scott. (6s.)
In this volume of “Poems and Ballads of our Empire” Mr Robert Buchanan has assumed the role of a British Juvenal, satirising with characteristic power many things which make the British Empire of to-day strikingly like the Rome of the days of the great Roman satirist. The author who undertakes the unhappy task of “lashing,” to use Swift’s phrase, his age, must pay the price. If some bless, there are many who will curse him. Mr Buchanan will have many readers, I hope, who will swear inwardly over lots of his lines. It will do them good so to swear; it would be a sorry business, indeed, if this volume were read with admiration all round. The spirit of the poems is strong for truth and righteousness. There is expressed musically and valiantly the contempt for loitering, insolent, hypocritical wealth, and the sympathy for downtrodden labour which form to-day the trumpet call for all sons of the morning.
“Honour to those who died for this our Rome,
Whatever be the faults of this volume there is in it throughout the note of Ruskin’s principle that national wealth can only be rightly reckoned in happy homes and hearts, and in helpful lives—in justice, righteousness, peace and freedom—and not in conquests written in letters of invasion, brutality, rapine and extermination, even although these may mean increased trade, extended empire, more gold and more gluttony. A courageous, patriotic, disturbing volume this, fitted to do most good to those whom it satirises most effectively.
The Guardian (27 December, 1898 - p. 6)
Mr. Robert Buchanan, who rarely abandons the attitude of an Ishmael among the poets of his time, sustains that character—with talent and with energy, as always—in his last volume, The New Rome, “poems and ballads of our Empire” (Walter Scott, 8vo, pp. 387, 6s.). It will certainly displease those whom, we take it, the author intended primarily to displease—the “Jingo Jew,” the “cockney cliques,” and “the gigman,” to whom we recommend, among other items, “The Charter’d Companie” and “The Ballad of Kiplingson,” but we fear it may offend the inoffensive too. Frankly, those who read the volume through must be prepared to encounter much that is quite blasphemous, much that is indiscriminately violent, and some irony of the sort that is unconscious praise. Inspired by “The Aeon” (another name for Mr. Buchanan’s unnameable client), he has scourged some of the obvious vices of his age in Juvenalian satire and Goethian rhapsody with something of Byron’s forcible wit. It is a pity that he has attacked also things that many good men hold not only harmless but even sacred, and that since nature has not denied him the gift of verse he has relied so constantly upon a rather monotonous indignation. However, it is only just to recognise, on the æsthetic side, his dexterity and strength, and, on the moral, his perfectly sincere and passionate humanity; let those who doubt either read “Old Rome,” “The Wearing of the Green” (new style), and “The Cry for Life.” He is seldom a sweet poet, and indeed, generally, Mr. Buchanan is to be taken as medicine.
The Academy (28 January, 1899 - p.119)
THE perusal of Mr. Buchanan’s latest volume, The New Rome (Scott), from first page to last, leaves some such impression as a mass meeting in Hyde Park—for the poet writes (as was said of another) at the top of his voice, and he is usually angry. We believe his anger to be mainly just, we believe his impulses to be mainly right; but he has certainly lost the art of enchaining attention. Poetry that is to reform the world must first allure and then persuade. Mr. Buchanan flings his songs at us, caring apparently nothing for form. The begetter of the book, he tells us, was Mr. Herbert Spencer, who wrote to him: “There is an immensity of matter calling for strong denunciation and display of white-hot anger, and I think you are well capable of dealing with it. More especially, I want someone who has the ability, with sufficient intensity of feeling, to denounce the miserable hypocrisy of our religious world, with its pretended observances of Christian principles side by side with the abominations which it habitually assists and countenances.” Mr. Buchanan, however, gave up the idea of a connected satire, and produced this volume of distinct but, he holds, congruous lyrics and ballads. We quote, from the section called “In the Library,” a poem to Mr. Hardy:
THE SAD SHEPHERD.
Thy song is piteous now that once was glad,
And in thine arms—aye me!—thou claspest tight
Shepherd, God bless thy task, and keep thee strong
We do not quite gather for what Mr. Hardy is commended. Not even at the dawn of his day was he a particularly cheery writer, nor does he, we imagine, aim now at helpfulness. (In another poem, we might add, Mr. Buchanan writes: “Tom Hardy, blow the clouds apart With sounds of rustic fifes and tabors!”) Mr. Buchanan also addresses Mr. Bernard Shaw, and bids his work “God-speed.” But for Mr. W. D. Howells and Mr. Henry James, Tolstoi and Ibsen, he has only hard knocks. Altogether, there is a vast deal of undisciplined vigour in this book, but the verses have been thrown together with the utmost recklessness and no suggestion of revision. Many of the pieces are mere rhymed journalism.
The Press (New Zealand) (13 April, 1899 - p.4)
A Modern Satire.
Apparently we owe Mr Robert Buchanan’s latest volume, “The New Rome,” to a suggestion from Mr Herbert Spencer that he should write a satire on the age. Juvenal’s cloak, however, does not quite fit the modern satirist. “The New Rome” is imperial England,
“gathering hour by hour,
Across the foam come the shrieks of the slain; at home a thousand starve, a few are fed; not Christ, but Christus Jingo rules; the new woman leads the dance of death and vanity, patriotism is the desire to cut our neighbour’s throat, and the unfortunate Mr Chamberlain, for his speech on the love of one’s country, come in for a severe castigation as “heir of Judas,” which is a clear infringement of the copyright of some of the Irish Party. Because of her bloodshed, her hypocrisy and her lust, this Empire, too, shall share the inevitable doom of old Rome, “with all the weary world for tomb.” When dealing with his literary confreres, Buchanan does not spare the lash. Only the “little banjo-bards” are now strumming, he says; the age is one of wind and windy reputations.
“Ended is all the mirth and song,
The grim monarch of this throng is Zola, grimy as his theme. Then comes Tolstoi, mad with his self-made martyr’s shirt, and obscene through hatred of obsceneness. Ibsen follows, with his gospel of sin, squirming at Nature and Society, and hugging his gloomy bottled thunder. But it is on Kipling that the worst blows fall. (The old device of bringing him to St. Peter’s gate comes in rather unfortunately just now after his illness. He tells St. Peter he has just died of a plethora of puffs.
“I was raised in the lap of Jingo, sir, till I grew to the height of man,
But the saint replies that the saddest thing he has ever seen “is a brat that talks like a weary man or a youth with a cynic leer,” and he wants to know what the candidate for Heaven has found, after probing all creation through. “The Flag of England,” Kipling cried, “and the thin black penny-a-line!” Regarded as poetry, “The New Rome” shows a great falling off from the days of Balder the Beautiful and the older Coruisken Sonnets, though there are occasional powerful passages. But one cannot get away from the thought that the satire would have been less savage, perhaps, even, less unjust, had Mr Buchanan’s writings enjoyed the vogue of some of those whom he lashes so unmercifully.
Pall Mall Gazette (3 June, 1899 - p.3)
ENCOURAGED by the praises of those well-known authorities on the art of poetry, the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes, Dr. Parker, of the City Temple, and Mr. Herbert Spencer, Mr. Robert Buchanan continues to take himself very seriously indeed. He tells us in a note that this is a “homogeneous book,” and that Mr. Spencer is to some extent responsible for it. The philosopher called the poet’s attention to the fact that there was “an immensity of matter” (delicious phrase!) “calling for strong denunciation and display of white-hot anger,” and added, “I think you are well capable of dealing with it.” Accordingly the poet—we are summarizing his words—started out to castigate, and produced the introductory dialogue in this volume. But he soon found that he “was drifting into mere imitation of defunct masters”—that “he was only pretending to be in a passion,” and that he had no “hate” in him, being too sorry for poor Humanity. So he ceased to be inspired by Mr. Spencer, and turned to another source of poetry which he terms the Devil, or the Æon, or the Spirit of Supreme Love and Pity, and under this happier influence he completed his book.
To love the worst, to feel
we might expect to find in his pages some signs of humility. We do not find them, but we soon find out who they are that he considers “the worst,” and he dissembles his love by a generous largesse of epithets such as Christus-Jingo, Judas, Jupiter’s guttersnipe, and so forth, whenever he speaks of them. Secondly, the personal note is sounded with such tiresome reiteration that it is impossible to resist the conviction that Mr. Buchanan’s dissatisfaction with things in general is to a great extent the result of his want of success with the British public. We have already quoted the astonishingly egoistical envoi to the book, of which the refrain is, “I end as I began”; and this is true in a literal sense, if applied to this volume, for in the melancholy Proem—which has some genuine pathos of a purely egoistic kind—the predominant feeling is one of bitterness. The Fame he deemed divine is a harlot: Fortune is fickle, and her treasure empty. Mr. Buchanan even goes so far as to picture himself standing naked in “Life’s great hippodrome,” while Fame sits by the side of Antichrist and urges on the wild beasts—Hate, Falsehood, and Calumny. It is all a storm in a teacup, and Mr. Buchanan may invoke himself by name to any extent, thus:—
These voices! Hark, Buchanan! All about thee.
Woe unto thee, Buchanan!
The result is rather to raise a smile, as we try to imagine any other poet’s name—except perhaps Walt Whitman’s—in the place of his. People are not so much concerned with Mr. Buchanan as he imagines; and, so far from wishing him any harm, we fancy that they will in general extend to him the tolerance which is generally given to gentlemen who have a certain power of metrical expression, but who are obviously suffering from acute megalomania. If Mr. Buchanan’s voice were less shrill, it would be more audible. On the whole, we think we prefer his rabidness in regard to Verlaine, Ibsen, and Rudyard Kipling to the attitude of pitying tolerance which he adopts when speaking of Tennyson and Robert Browning, just because they were men who, with all their knowledge of human sins and sorrows, did not rant about the Devil and the Æon, or squeak and gibber about upas trees.
* “The New Rome: Poems and Ballads of our Empire.” By Robert Buchanan. (London: Walter Scott.)
The Standard (20 June, 1899 - p.4)
Mr. Robert Buchanan, who has given to his latest collection of verse the not very appropriate title of “The New Rome: Poems and Ballads of our Empire” (Walter Scott), is well known to be a poet with a grievance, or many grievances. This age has declined to accept Mr. Buchanan as the moral teacher he believes himself to be. In his “Prose Note” to “The New Rome,” he says that he has learnt, by sharp experience, that loftily didactic poems are not wanted by the public. He has found that “all modern Society expected from its poets was a little verbal music and a great deal of acquiescence and patriotic sentiment. . . . For a verse-writer to be a thinker and a pioneer, in revolt against political and religious abominations, was regarded as an impertinence; his business was to twang the lyre, or strum the banjo, leaving politics to the thieves and thinking to the philosophers. To tell the truth, or what seemed to me the truth, would please no one but my friend, the devil. Well, my diabolical instinct was too strong for me, and this book is another proof that I am past all ordinary salvation.” This is all very fine and haughtily defiant; but the true cause of Mr. Buchanan’s failure is another and a sadder tale. In all our recent literature there is no example of a man who has more conspicuously falsified the promise of his prime. He is the possessor of a noble poetic talent, which, rightly used, would have placed him among the Immortals. He ought to be one of the greatest—perhaps the greatest—of our living poets; for there is none left among us more richly endowed by Nature with imagination, originality, and the power of expression. Mr. Buchanan best knows how he has used these splendid gifts. If he is now almost ignored by the present generation of readers, or known chiefly as the writer of lampoons on his younger contemporaries, it is not because he has been too ethical or too religious. Even as it is, he can still write with a true poet’s touch. Take for instance the beautiful “proem” with which the volume opens:—
Ah! the dream, the fancy!
One turns with a sigh from such a stanza as this to the vulgar satire on a more successful versifier which is called “The Ballad of Kiplingson.” It is, indeed, quite painful to observe the paroxysms of vituperative anger into which the fame of some younger writers drives Mr. Buchanan, who ought surely by this time to have acquired that mellowed calm which should be among the rewards of the bard as he grows old. On the whole, it is an unsatisfying volume, and one closes it repeating the melancholy epitaph on a great literary faculty which has missed its mark: what a poet the author might have been!
The Yorkshire Post (9 August, 1899 - p.7)
Mr. Robert Buchanan has published a volume of verse called “The New Rome” (Walter Scott, 6s.), of which it is hard to say whether the high pretension or the bad taste is most amazing. The sub-title is “Poems and Ballads of Our Empire”; England is the “New Rome”; but a larger title was wanted to do the book justice. It embodies many moods and speculations which have troubled the author. They were not to be silenced:—
Ah, the Voices! and the Faces!—wild and wan, on
And Mr. Buchanan not only talks to himself, but in passages of rare assurance, to the Maker of heaven and earth, stating, for one while, what he would do “If you were a man like me, and I were a God like you.” His attack on Mr. Kipling is so vulgar in conception and feeling that he must have regretted it; and yet he uses Mr. Kipling’s method in verses written for the honour and glory of a Little Englandism masquerading as Christianity. He says that the book is a satire after the manner of Juvenal, and that Mr. Herbert Spencer got him to write it. The shade and the philosopher are to be commiserated together.
Complete Poetical Works (1901)