ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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THE FLESHLY SCHOOL CONTROVERSY

The ‘Fleshly School’ Libel Action

 

The Examiner (20 November, 1875)

examinerswinburnepoem

[The coincidence of the name of the correspondent above Swunburne’s ‘poem’ and the heading given to his letter is interesting. The letter was in response to a piece in The Examiner of 13th November, 1875 which had the same heading, and which is available here.]

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The Examiner (27 November, 1875)

Jonas Fisher. A Poem in Brown and White. London: Trübner and Co.

     This anonymous poem is said by the “London Correspondents” to be the work either of Mr. Robert Buchanan or of the Devil; and delicate as may be the question raised by this double-sided supposition, the weight of probability inclines to the first of the alternatives. That the author, whichever he is, is a Scotchman, may be inferred from one or two incidental sneers at the characteristic virtues of his countrymen. If a prophet has no honour in his own country, it must be said on the other hand that a country seldom gets much honour from its own prophet; the worst things said about countries have been said by renegade natives. There are other and more specific circumstances which favour the report that Jonas Fisher is another of the aliases under which Mr. Buchanan is fond of challenging criticism, rather than one of the equally numerous disguises of the Enemy. There is no reason why the Devil should go out of his way to abuse “the Fleshly School.” Now the hero of this poem has views on some of the tendencies of modern Poetry and Art which coincide very closely with Mr. Buchanan’s, exhibiting the same nicely balanced and carefully differentiated feelings of scorn for effeminate voluptuousness and delight in that voluptuousness which is manly. Jonas Fisher does not sing for  girls, and yet there is not the smallest vice in him. Then Jonas Fisher has a friend who writes a great deal of poetry, very deep and mystical poetry, in dactyls and anapæsts, but who has such a horror of the bloodthirsty critics who lie in wait for him that he refrains from giving his poetry to the world. In this respect he is unlike Mr. Buchanan, but he is very like him in the strong language which he pours out upon

A sort of wretch that lives by prey—
The conscienceless and callous scribe,
The greedy, canting lie-for-pay.

Still, it may not be Mr. Buchanan after all, for happily he does not stand alone in reiterating the good old literary tradition and firmly-accepted truth among a certain order of poets, that everybody who ventures to suggest that perhaps some of their lines have not been immediately inspired by the divine Muse, must either be a base hireling, well paid for spreading abroad the infamous lie, or at the least a crawling, cringing, crafty fiend and a vampire.
     Whoever be the author of ‘Jonas Fisher’—and we have no right to speculate, since he chooses to withhold his name—it is a poem of considerable force and freshness, and well calculated for wide popularity. “Jonas” is supposed to tell his own story. He is a London shopman, who, in his ungoverned youth, led a most profligate life, “swore and spat and smoked cheroots,” and in the company of other spirits equally abandoned, “consumed his health” and spent his money in “low haunts of vice.” From this deplorable condition Jonas was delivered by “conversion.”

But now my days in comfort run,
In better things I find my joys;
Good books displace the pipe and glass,
And mission-work my time employs.

The poem is written partly to describe some of the miseries that he saw among the London poor in the course of his “mission-work,” but more especially to record the conversations he had with “Augustus Grace, Esquire,” a rich philanthropist, who gave Jonas as much money as he liked for benevolent purposes. Their talk has a very wide range. Religious matters in various aspects, the value of dogma, the influence of the Church of Rome, the “natural religion” of good deeds, and so forth, occupy a good deal of their attention, but Mr. Grace is a thinker and a poet as well as a philanthropist, and so he discusses the influence of Body on Spirit, modern Art criticism, Marriage with a Deceased Wife’s Sister, and many other social topics. Jonas very wisely invites his readers, if they like, to treat inverted commas as hints to skip. A large proportion of Mr. Grace’s talk is vulgar and trite enough, but his views are generally put with a certain rough force, and his images, if sometimes unnecessarily coarse, have usually the merit of vigour and vividness. Mr. Grace is the kind of man that might stump the Potteries against Dr. Kenealy with considerable chances of success. His analysis of the various reasons that lead men to Rome would tell with powerful effect from the stump on a demonstrative audience, and his fierce commination of priests for their opposition to the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Bill would be simply irresistible. We mention this with no intention of disparaging ‘Jonas Fisher,’ whose aims are, on the whole, perfectly healthy if rather coarse, but simply to indicate the quality of the work and the peculiar power of the author.
     To look for high art in verses that are intentionally rude and doggrel, and criticise them from that point of view, would of course be unfair. The name of “poetry” is extended to such work by the same courtesy that permits it to the rhymes of Skelton or Swift. It is part of the writer’s intention to be rough and rude; we do not expect refinement from him any more than we expect angelic beauty in a gargoyle, strict propriety of “epitaphs” in Mrs. Malaprop, or rigid logical sequence in Dogberry. Many persons object on principle to such clownish burlesque as ‘Jonas Fisher,’ having no interest in affected ugliness and incongruity, but such persons the author is careful to warn off in his Introduction.

Reader, you might as well expect
From apple-trees to gather figs,
As look for townish airs from me,
Brought up among the cows and pigs.

     The clownish disguise is very fairly well sustained. The narrator’s bald language, and rude mixture of sacred and profane images, is sufficiently natural to have the appearance of being unconscious simplicity. His account of his visit to two Irishwomen is in very good keeping:—

Notions do differ. Some good folk
Are to the poor quite rough behaved:
Push into rooms, hat on, and cry—
“Well, how’s your soul? Friend, are you saved?”

Attention thus they hope to draw,
By sudden pain or startling noise;
As pedlars shout to puff their wares,
Or teachers lash their careless boys.

But I have always liked to act
On “Do as you’d be done by” rule,
And show the manners that I learned
At my dear native Berkshire school.

Well, at the opening door I paused,
Stood still and just put in my chin,
Took off my hat, half bowed, and said—
“Good afternoon. May I come in?”

An inner porch I then perceived;
The door that moment open burst,
Out rushed two angry Irish wives,
And shook their fists, and raged and cursed.

“Off with you, dirty Protestant!
You beast! you devil! get away.”
(I cannot write their curious brogue,
But tell the things they meant to say.)

On hearing this I breathed a prayer—
Which helps one much, and much protects—
“I’m not a Protestant,” I said,
“All Christians don’t belong to sects.”

“You’re not a Christian, sure, at all;
You’re one that mocks God’s mother mild.”
“Blest above women she,”—says I.
I smiled, and then the women smiled.

This kind of wide-mouthed Irish folk,
Change like a swallow in its flight;
One, two—they want to shed your blood,
Three, four—they’re friendly and polite.

     *         *          *         *

They really scarce would let me go,
They hungered for the food of Life;
Next week their zeal was just the same;
The next, they chased me with a knife.

The priest, of course, had come meanwhile,
And heavy threats upon them laid:
I owe no grudge; as one might say,
He did it in the way of trade.

But still when people take to hunt
A missionary down the street,
Then at their door—in Scripture phrase—
He shakes the dust from off his feet.

     This episode will give some idea of the sort of “incidents” that are to be found in ‘Jonas Fisher.’ When the missionary has fully developed his character in his conversations with his patron, Mr. Grace, to whom he acts as a kind of Boswell, holding up a dark background of Evangelical prejudice to set off the Broad Church light of his hero, and when he presents us with a sketch of his outer man, meek and self-distrustful in bearing, clad in glossy black clothes, which in some places stick to him like plaster, and in others hang upon him as on a broomstick, we feel as if we had been introduced to a real personality. There is undoubtedly a remarkable power of dramatic consistency shown in the gradual unfolding of Jonas’s character, with it earnest goodness and narrow prejudices, its spiritual pride occasionally peeping up above the humble flats of its habitual timidity and self-abnegation, its fortress of resentful self-respect behind its wide tracts of meek compliance. The author occasionally forgets himself, and puts words into Jonas’s mouth which belong rather to a third party surveying Jonas from an unsympathetic distance, and making fun of his humility and simplicity; but in spite of occasional lapses, the character on the whole is a complete and consistent picture.
     Augustus Grace, the philanthropic hero of Jonas, his guide, philosopher, and friend, is a much less satisfactory picture from a dramatic point of view than Jonas. He has the weakness attaching to all ideals of the perfect man, while Jonas has the strength of a perfectly real and realisable type. Mr. Grace is simply a somewhat nebulous “muscular Christian,” with plenty of money, and that passionate desire for calling a spade a spade which is often combined with a foolish intolerance of every other mode of expression. The particular form of intellectual pride that besets him is a vehement belief that his own tastes are the supreme gauge of what is manly, and that everything which he disapproves of is effeminate and contemptible. Though strongly committed to Mr. Grace as an ideal of what a man ought to be in these degenerate days, the author, it must be allowed, does keep up a certain appearance of dramatic impartiality by allowing Mr. Grace’s enthusiasm to carry him occasionally too far and expose him to the correction of the faithful Jonas. Thus “Jonas” clearly “has” his master in the following verses:—

“French polish for old British oak!
Each tradesman now brisks up his soul,
Competes at Shows, and pants to stick
A riband in his button-hole.”

“Well, Sir, why not?” said I. “The man
Who makes a pair of pants for fame,
Deserves reward far more than he
Who runs his bayonet through the same.”

Such little passes give a certain liveliness and reality to the otherwise one-sided dialogues in which Mr. Grace expounds his views on such social subjects as we have mentioned. Those views are not in themselves sufficiently removed from commonplace, either in matter or in form, to call for much remark. His indignant censure of the Church for its action regarding deceased wife’s sister is a fair sample of his gospel, and his manner of preaching it—

“Although no Churchman, Sir,” said I,
“I hope ill chance may ne’er displace
The English Church. I love her, Sir.”
“And so do I,” said Mr. Grace.

“And therefore I would have her rest
From torturing with wanton-whip
Her law-chained serfs (as vulgar fools
Their dogs), in vaunt of ownership.

“But (to return from whence we came)
About that argument of mine—
I am to show the priests forbid
To take the high religious line.

“To put it plainly, thus I speak—
‘O bisson bigot, cease your cant.
In sacred law, who bolts a midge
As well might bolt an elephant:

“‘And if, in secret, to devour
A Paul-banned maggot you agree,
Forbear the Pharisaic cry,
“Nought common or unclean for me!”

“‘Forbear, likewise, to gull the land
With threats of Heaven’s avenging rod,
If once it cease to keep intact
Half of a so-called law of God.’

“Oh for a Samson strength to ban
Such liars! I would rather greet
A devil hissing-hot from Hell,
Than a religious hypocrite!”

“Oh hush,” said I; “that sort of talk
All Christians must consider wrong.”
“I stand rebuked,” said Mr. Grace,
“My language was a trifle strong.”

     In the case of what he calls “Parisian art,” which Mr. Grace, in common with Mr. Robert Buchanan, most fervently hates, his vehemence is less well directed. Mr. Grace mentions no names, but if, as is probable, his reference is to what is sometimes called the Rossetti-Swinburnian school, he ought to be told that it is not becoming in one poet to try to raise a public prejudice against some of his brethren because their productions are as distasteful to him from a moral point of view as they certainly are, judged by artistic standards, above his powers. He probably believes that the objects of his censure have an immoral tendency; and if so, it would be unfair to deprive him merely because he is also a poet of his citizen’s right of protest. But he ought to remember that impartial spectators take a different view, and refuse to admit that there is any immoral motive in the works which are to him so objectionable. If men, who do not come under the spell of their legitimate influence, make food of them for their own prurient imaginations, the same may be said of Mr. Buchanan’s and Mr. Grace’s “manly voluptuousness,” and said, too, with more truth. By what hallucination Mr. Grace is brought to believe that the moral law that forbids Mr. Rossetti or Mr. Swinburne to carry out their ideals of art, permits him to draw such pictures as the following ideal of “a pretty woman,” it is impossible to conceive:—

“A pretty woman,” answered he,
“Is quite within the scope of some,
While others to that point of art
Have neither power nor wish to come.

“But nobleness-in-beauty—nay!
In female form their utmost boast
Is, pink and pulpy round of flesh,
Or skin-and-bony square of ghost.

“Of fantasies with which the fiend
Our island-art has lately blest,
That craze that lankness is the type
For womanhood, I most detest.

“No weasel slim to slip through holes
Is woman in God’s primal plan,
But a broad bounteous flexile mould
For framing noble forms of man.

“Such was each queenly Teuton wife,
Alike in peace and warfare great,
With grand blue eyes and vast white arms,
A prophetess, a warrior’s mate.”

Any attractive picture of any object of desire, from a bright new sovereign or a prize ox upwards, would be condemned by moralists of Mr. Grace’s school, and if his practice were judged by his own precepts, he himself would be one of the first to be made an example of. There is no reasonable halting-place between those precepts and Plato’s absolute banishment of the poets.

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The Examiner (4 December, 1875)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan has asked us to contradict the rumour that he is the author of ‘Jonas Fisher.’ He had not heard of the work till he saw our review.

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The Examiner (11 December, 1875)

     In reviewing two weeks ago a poem called “Jonas Fisher,” we took occasion to discuss a “London Correspondent’s” rumour that the poem was the work “either of Mr. Robert Buchanan or the Devil.” The expression was not ours, but the “London Correspondent’s;” and last week, having no quarrel with Mr. Buchanan or desire to say anything ill-natured about him, we acceded to a request which he made, in most friendly terms, that we should “contradict the foolish   rumour.” It was with some surprise therefore that we saw in a paragraph in one of our contemporaries the Examiner quoted as the authority for the strange alternative supposition of the “London Correspondent” (who might have been Mr. Buchanan himself for all that we knew); and our surprise was not lessened when we found that the author of the paragraph in our contemporary was Mr. Buchanan himself! Why Mr. Buchanan should quote us as an authority for a rumour which he knew to come from a different source is known only to himself. May we suggest to him that his talents, which are considerable, would meet with more respect if he would not take to such questionable ways of keeping his name before the public?

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The Examiner (11 December, 1875)

CORRESPONDENCE.
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THE DEVIL’S DUE.

     Sir,—It is with inexpressible interest that I receive, at this distance from New Grub Street, the important and doubtless trustworthy—I should say reliable—information that the Examiner has lately discovered a mare’s-nest, and that a poem which I certainly did not understand to be on your authority, but on quite another kind of authority than  yours, attributable “either to Mr. Robert Buchanan or the Devil,” is at all events not assignable to my illustrious namesake in pseudonymy. So much the better, or so much the worse, as the case may be, either for the songster or the song—possibly for both at once. The invention of the mare’s-nest (I do not use the word “invention” in that sense in which the Church Universal talks, or used to talk, of the Invention of the Cross) is doubtless all in “the Way of the World”—the title and the subject of the greatest of English comedies. But I may perhaps take this occasion to remark that the mere suggestion of such an alternative in authorship as appears elsewhere to have been offered with less discretion than decision would be more perplexing to readers of ‘Paradise Lost’ than to readers of the Book of Job (I do not say the ‘Book of Robert Buchanan’) or of Peter Bell the Third. The devil of Scripture, as we all know, was addicted to “going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it;” a locomotive habit which may suggest the existence on his part of at least one quality in common with the bard whose range of vision and visitation is supposed to oscillate between the Seven Dials and the Land of Lorne:—

Whom green-faced Envy, sick and sore,
To many-childed Dullness bore;
(His sister she; in Dullness’ reign
Such mixture is not held a stain;)
Oft in Grub Street’s filthiest alleys
He met her, fresh from Highland valleys,
Masked under many a furtive name,
While yet there was no fear of shame.

And if this seer, this Vates, this teacher of a new truth—who “is one while what you call artists are legion” —might, on this one account, be mistaken for the tempter of Job, it is possible that on another score he might be confounded with the spirit whose portrait is thus drawn by Shelley:—

The Devil was no uncommon creature;
     A leaden-witted thief—just huddled
Out of the dross and scum of nature;
     With mind and heart and fancy muddled.

But it is certainly inconceivable that the authorship of any work whatever should be assignable with equal plausibility to the polypseudonymous lyrist and libeller in question and to the Satan of Milton, the Lucifer of Byron, or the Mephistopheles of Goethe. The work of which the credit was but now disputed on behalf of two such claimants is known to me as yet only by the extracts given in your columns; but from these I gather that the title of Mr. Robert Buchanan (seu quocunque alio nomine gaudeat) must have been disputable, apart from his own disclaimer, on at least two counts. An author haunted by “such a horror of the bloodthirsty critics who lie in wait for him” has evidently yet to learn the new and precious receipt discovered by Mr. Robert Buchanan (if that be his name), of “Every Poeticule his own Criticaster;” a device by which Bavius may at once review his own poems with enthusiasm under the signature of Mævius, and throw dirt up in passing with momentary security at the window of Horace or of Virgil. I notice also that the present writer has adopted as the object of his servile but ambitious imitation an inimitable contemporary model of original burlesque, on which I am not aware that the “multifaced” idyllist of the gutter has yet attempted to form himself. The apposition of two representative stanzas will suffice to establish at once the fact and the extent of this discipleship. You quote from “Jonas Fisher” the following notable quatrain:—

“Oh, hush,” said I, “that kind of talk
     All Christians must consider wrong.”
“I stand rebuked,” said Mr. Grace,
     “My language was a trifle strong.”

As an evidence of careful study this quatrain is creditable to the docile and obsequious pupil. But hear now the unmistakeable accents of his master:—

Said Captain Bagg, “Well, really, I
     Am grieved to think it pains you so;
I thank you for your sympathy;
     But, hang it—come—I say, you know!”

In the golden roll of the “Bab Ballads,” and perhaps in the very poem from which this particular stanza is taken at  random, there may be stanzas of which the palpable imitation here attempted by the godson of Mr. Jonas Chuzzlewit is even closer and more flagrant; but, judging from what I see of his verse, the last line appears to me to realise with singularly felicitous exactitude the very words which might be expected to rise to the lips of a reader overcome with such emotion as would naturally seek the instant relief of apt expression, and could certainly find none fitter than the eloquent if ejaculatory remonstrance of the gallant Captain with his friend. A more impatient reader of the poem might probably be tempted, with Mrs. Gamp, to “wish it was [back] in Jonadge’s belly;” I will content myself with recommending the author—unless, as is indeed probable, he be also a disciple of the Bavio-Mævian theory (so excellently exemplified by the Mævio-Bavian practice) that Verse is an inferior form of speech—to study in future the metre as well as the style and reasoning of the “Bab Ballads.” Intellectually and morally he would seem to have little left to learn from them; indeed, a careless reader might easily imagine any one of the passages quoted to be a cancelled fragment from the rough copy of a discourse delivered by “Sir Macklin” or “the Reverend Micah Sowls;” but he has certainly nothing of the simple and perfect modulation which gives a last light consummate touch to the grotesque excellence of verses which might wake the dead with “helpless laughter.”
     With the parting expression of a hope that the new pupil, when his voice has a little improved, may ultimately pluck up heart to tell truth and shame the devil and Mr. Robert Buchanan, I take, for obvious reasons, which I trust can by no possibility be supposed to cast the slightest reflection on my courage or my candour, the natural and creditable precaution of signing this too protracted epistle with the honoured name of
                                                                                                                         THOMAS MAITLAND.
     St. Kilda, December 28, 1875.

     P.S.—On second thoughts, it strikes me that it might be as well to modify this last paragraph and alter the name of the place affixed; adding at the end, if you please—not that I would appear to dictate—a note to the following effect:—

     The writer of the above being at present away from London, on a cruise among the Philippine Islands, in his steam yacht (the Skulk, Captain Shuffleton master), is, as can be proved on the oath or the solemn word of honour of the editor, publisher, and proprietor, responsible neither for an article which might with equal foundation be attributed to Cardinal Manning, or to Mr. Gladstone, or any other writer in the Contemporary Review, as to its actual author; nor for the adoption of a signature under which his friends in general, acting not only without his knowledge, but against his expressed wishes on the subject, have thought it best and wisest to shelter his personal responsibility from any chance of attack. This frank, manly, and consistent explanation will, I cannot possibly doubt, make everything straight and safe on all hands.

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The Echo (11 December, 1875 - p.4)

ART AND LITERARY GOSSIP.
_____

     Mr. Charles Reade denies that he is the author of The Queen of Connaught, and it is understood that the writer is a lady.

. . .

     The editor of the Examiner desires us to state with reference to the remark that the poem “Jonas Fisher” was “written either by Mr. Buchanan or the Devil,” that the phrase did not originate with that journal, which merely discussed a previous rumour to that effect.

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The Aberdeen Journal (15 December, 1875)

NOTES ON LITERATURE, SCIENCE, AND ART.
_____

THE Examiner exposes a very pretty little game of Mr Robert Buchanan’s. It seems Mr Buchanan has been putting paragraphs into the papers, saying that “Jonas Fisher” is either by Robert Buchanan or the Devil, and then writing letters to say that it is not by Robert Buchanan!

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Glasgow Herald (27 December, 1875)

LITERATURE.
_____

(1) Jonas Fisher.

     The authorship of this poem has provoked a deal of speculation. Some think it is written by an Englishman, others that it is by a Scotchman. Two or three have a notion that it is the work of a layman, and a number imagine that a Scotch clergyman is the culprit. Whoever is the author, it seems to us that he has more ability than the poem reveals; that generally he writes down to the capacity of Jonas Fisher, the city missionary; and that this is proved by the quality of those passages in which Mr Grace, the strongest and in reality the most important character in the book, discusses the system of the Romish Church and a variety of much tougher themes. There are two clergymen in Scotland who could have written the book, and particularly the more piercing portions. But we shouldn’t be astonished to learn that “Jonas Fisher” is really the work of a woman—such a woman as wrote “Joshua Davidson,” of which peculiar but clever tale something in the poem is for ever reminding the reader. Mr Robert Buchanan, who has more than once cheated his enemies into admiration by shooting through a cloud of anonymity, declares that the book isn’t his, or, at least, that the statement to that effect is unauthorised. It is a marvel that no gossip-monger has accused George Macdonald of being the author. Remembering “David Elginbrod” and several strong characters in his other novels—characters which have a singular knack of speaking out—“Jonas Fisher” is not unlike a thing that he might write in the pauses of severer work. Indeed, the touches of his hand, or of one similar to it, are quite visible in some of its strangely graphic pictures, and in its more delicate and subtle touches. George Eliot might also be suspected of writing such a poem. In point of character, it is a kind of versified autobiography of Jonas Fisher, who tells the story—such story as there really is to tell. It were more accurate to say that the main purpose of the book is to put in striking light the opinions and sayings of Mr Grace. . . .

[The rest of this review (with no further speculation on the authorship of the poem) is available on the ‘Fleshly School’ Libel Action - additional material page.]

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The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (31 December, 1875)

     A short time ago, a poem was published in London entitled, “Jonas Fisher: a Poem on Brown and White,” which the Examiner, in a review, declared must have been written “either by Mr. Robert Buchanan or the devil.” It is now authoritatively stated that it was not written by Mr. Buchanan.

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The London Quarterly Review (January, 1876)

Jonas Fisher. A Poem in Brown and White. London: Trübner and Co., 57 & 59, Ludgate Hill. 1875.

THE author of Jonas Fisher, “a Poem in Brown and White,” has not been good enough to set his autograph upon his work, and has thus afforded Mr. Robert Buchanan a favourable opportunity (not altogether lost) of getting up another fuss about himself. We cannot say we suspect Mr. Tennyson or Mr. Browning, or indeed anyone who has won ever such a small pair of spurs in the fields of verse, of the authorship of this anonymous volume,—which, by the bye, though very much too polemical for poetry, is not without merit. Of poetic merit properly so called it has but little; and the religious and social questions discussed in it in jumpy lengths of rhymed prose, might have been discussed better in plain, unrhymed prose. There is a wise attractiveness to the reader’s curiosity in the opening verses—

“This story is not meant for girls,
But, if they read it, will not harm.
There’s nothing vicious in its blood,
Suppose some outbreaks should alarm.

“The superfine of either sex,
Who will not call a spade a spade,
Who love sleek devils better far
Than angels homelily arrayed.”

And we can endorse the assurance of the author that, if the young people of the present generation are tempted to read the book, it will not do them any particular harm. On the other hand, we are by no means convinced that it will do anyone any particular good, though written with obvious good intentions enough to furnish forth a dozen books with moral and religious purpose. It is a fairly interesting book of verse, and one not to be lightly taken up or put down; but we think it would have secured more readers had it been got into about half the number of stanzas contained in its two hundred and fifty pages. Jonas Fisher may have the luck to create something of a stir; but, even if it does, it will soon blow over.

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The Leeds Mercury (20 January, 1876)

SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE.
_____

(BY PRIVATE TELEGRAPH.)
_____

                                                                                                                 LONDON, Wednesday Night.

. . .

     I hear that Mr. R. Buchanan, who is described by the advertisements of the Gentleman’s Magazine as “the poet,” has brought an action for damages against the Examiner, in respect of a letter published therein, signed “Thomas Maitland,” which recently made fun of Mr. Buchanan’s modest estimate of his own merit, and of the somewhat curious style of prose which he writes. This article, if I am not mistaken, was written by one of the gentlemen whom Mr. Buchanan, under the signature of “Thomas Maitland,” ventured to arraign a year or two ago, and who could well have afforded to disregard all such anonymous attacks. Mr. Buchanan, I believe, in his statement of claim, rather takes the air of a public benefactor who has done his best to check the immorality of modern poetry, and who has been, in consequence, subjected to revengeful onslaughts. I have not seen this statement of claim, but it is sure to be pervaded by Mr. Buchanan’s altogether excessive modesty.

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The Dundee Courier and Argus (22 January, 1876 - p.3)

     Mr Robert Buchanan has raised a libel action against the Examiner on account of a letter signed “Thomas Maitland” which recently appeared in that journal, and was meant as a reply to Mr Buchanan’s New Timon-like criticisms of a year or so ago.

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Liverpool Mercury (27 January, 1876)

     Lord Southesk is now declared to be the author of that remarkable poem “Jonas Fisher,” which the Spectator said must have been written either by Mr. Robert Buchanan or the Devil. Lord Southesk is a Liberal peer, who has begun a literary career somewhat late in life. He is 48 years old, and I believe that until his recent book about sporting in America he had not appeared before the public. He is an old guardsman, succeeded his father, Sir James Carnegie, in the baronetcy, got the Scotch earldom of Southesk restored in his favour in 1855, and was made a peer of the United Kingdom in 1869. He married a daughter of the first Earl of Gainsborough, and she died in the year that he was raised to the peerage, leaving him with four children, of whom the youngest is his heir, and has lately come of age.

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The Glasgow Herald (27 January, 1876 - p.5)

     The recent letter, under the signature of “Thos. Maitland,” which, in the Examiner, provoked the ire of Mr Robert Buchanan, is said to be the work of Mr Swinburne, who surely has as much right as any one to fall foul of Mr Buchanan, seeing how terribly mauled he was himself by Mr Buchanan’s hands.

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The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (1 February, 1876 - p.5)

     The action for libel in which Mr. Robert Buchanan, the poet, threatens the London Examiner, has its amusing side. Mr. Buchanan deems himself unfairly attacked by a critic signing himself “Thomas Maitland.” This was the nom de plume used by Mr. Buchanan at one time, the signature under which he assailed the Fleshley School so vigorously, and he is naturally wrath that a foe should assume the same name. Mr.  Swinburne was supposed to be the second Thomas Maitland, but those who know his scorn of the first and his dislike of anonymity ridicule the suspicion.

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Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (2 February, 1876)

The recently published poem of Jonas Fisher, a poem which the Editor of the Examiner said must either be Robert Buchanan’s or the Devil’s, turns out to have been written by Lord Southesk, so that if the Editor of the Examiner may be taken to be an authority in matters of this kind, the question of the Personality of the Devil is settled. His Majesty is, when in the flesh, a middle aged English Peer, who began life in the Guards, and has now taken to poetry.

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The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (4 February, 1876 - p.8)

     I am told that a quarrel between two men of genius is waging which will not improbably find its way for settlement into the Law Courts, and if it does, some very lively reading is likely to be the result. The combatants are no less persons than Algernon Charles Swinburne and Robert Buchanan, the poets. Mr. Buchanan has written some rather sharp things of  Mr. Swinburne, and in return the latter has pretty well roasted the former at various times, especially of late in the Examiner. The original cause of complaint was a statement in the Examiner, that the anonymous poem called Jonas Fisher was by “Robert Buchanan or the devil.” Mr Buchanan naturally did not like the analogy, and in disclaiming the authorship of the poem showed a good deal of temper, which was reciprocated by Mr. Swinburne, who wrote, it is stated, a letter in the Examiner above the signature of “Robert Maitland,” in which appear the specific statements complained of. Buchanan calls this a malicious slander, and claims, jointly from the Examiner and Swinburne, damages amounting to £5,000.

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The Isle of Man Times (5 February, 1876 - p.2)

     There is to be another great literary libel case. Robert Buchanan, the poet, calls upon the Examiner to answer for a malicious slander upon him, and puts the damages at £5,000. The quarrel arose in the first place out of the statement made by the Examiner that the anonymous poem called “Jonas Fisher” was by “Robert Buchanan or the devil.” Buchanan declared that it was not his, and a little temper was shown on the subject on the one side and the other, and presently in the same paper appeared a severe attack upon Buchanan signed “Robert Maitland.” In this letter Mr Buchanan finds his libel, and the letter turns out to have been written by the poet Swinburne, against whom Buchanan has written many severe things from time to time. Buichanan’s friends are urging him to let the matter rest; but, on the other hand, it is urged that the letter in question contains language which could not be justified under the privileges of criticism.

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The Aberdeen Journal (9 February, 1876)

     Mr Buchanan has raised an action against the Examiner for the modest sum of £5000.

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The Leeds Mercury (9 February, 1876)

     I am afraid that, after all, the public may be deprived of its anticipated laugh over the “Thomas Maitland business.” Certain interrogatories have, according to the new procedure, been submitted by the defendant’s counsel, and it is just possible that when Mr. R. Buchanan comes to consider these he will, on reflection, consent to a withdrawal of the case. The comic papers, including the Saturday and the World, would regret this.

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The Times (16 February, 1876 - p.11)

BUCHANAN V. TAYLOR.

     This was a motion to rescind an order of Mr. Justice Denman at Chambers, allowing certain interrogatories to be administered by the defendant.
     Mr. McClymont appeared for the plaintiff; Mr. Robert Williams for the defendant.
     The action was one of libel, pending against the defendant, for articles published in the Examiner, and reflecting in strong language upon the plaintiff. It appeared that the plaintiff had written an article in the Contemporary Review three years ago, under the signature of “Thomas Maitland,” in which he made some pungent criticisms upon the poetry of Mr. Swinburne, Mr. Rossetti, and Mr. Morris, and headed his article “The Fleshly School.” This article was strongly  resented, and a fierce paper war ensued, in which the plaintiff was taxed with writing under an assumed name, and language was used in the Examiner upon which the present action of libel was founded. Interrogatories were then administered to the plaintiff by the defendant, which were now objected to as being too general, and one in particular as being vexatious. This interrogatory, after asking the plaintiff whether he was the author of certain letters which appeared in the Athenæum signed “Robert Buchanan,” referred to certain words in the letters, “I have written under pseudonyms repeatedly,” and then asked the plaintiff to set forth the occasions on which he had so written as a critic upon the poems of Mr. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Mr. Algernon Swinburne, Mr. Morris, or of other writers of the so-called “Fleshly School.”
     Mr. WILLIAMS, on behalf of the defendant, submitted that the answer to that question would materially assist his client’s defence.
     Mr. Justice BRETT.—It is said you have made statements which are libellous, and which you ought not to have made unless you can justify. Justification is your defence, and your interrogatories should show what is in your mind.
     Mr. WILLIAMS said they knew the plaintiff had repeatedly written under false names, and had called persons by epithets which were opposed to religious taste. All they wanted was to get at one of these occasions.
     Mr. Justice BRETT.—How long do you want the plaintiff to go back in memory?
     Mr. WILLIAMS.—Ten years.
     Mr. Justice BRETT.—Would a simple answer, yes or no, without relation to time or place or circumstances, be enough for you? It would not prove your justification.
     Mr. WILLIAMS submitted that was all that was required, and such an answer would be of material help.
     Mr. Justice BRETT said he could not think, if this candid admission had been made at Chambers, Mr. Justice Denman would have allowed this interrogatory, but it had not been brought to his mind. The admission made by the defendant’s counsel amounted to this, that the only answer required was that the plaintiff had written anonymously. Such an answer could be of no possible use. It was absolutely immaterial to any issue raised in the cause. The interrogatory, therefore, being utterly idle and immaterial, was considered in law as impertinent, and could not be allowed.
     Mr. Justice ARCHIBALD said when the interrogatory was ordered by him to be amended at Chambers, before it went in its amended form to Mr. Justice Denman, he thought the question was put with a serious purpose. No doubt Mr. Justice Denman believed the same thing; but, as matters now stood, he entirely agreed in the opinion of Mr. Justice Brett.
     Mr. Justice LINDLEY concurred.

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The Morning Post (16 February, 1876 - p.7)

BUCHANAN V. TAYLOR.

     The plaintiff in this case was Mr. Robert Buchanan, and the action was one of libel, brought against Mr. Peter Taylor, the proprietor of the Examiner. The matter came before the court upon an application to rescind part of an order of Mr. Justice Denman allowing a certain interrogatory to be exhibited by the defendant to the plaintiff. It was stated that the plaintiff about three years ago wrote a severe article in the Contemporary Review which gave great offence to Mr. Swinburne, Mr. Rosetti, and Mr. Morris, and to this article he did not append his own name. The editor, to prevent the article appearing anonymously, put to it the name of “Thomas Maitland.” The plaintiff, however, was found out to be the author, and he was severely attacked in the Athenæum and other journals. It was some of these attacks that led to the present action. It was alleged against the plaintiff that he had anonymously published unfair criticisms of certain writers, and that he had unfairly praised the poems and other writings of himself. The interrogatory asked him whether he had not written under a pseudonym or anonymously of Mr. Swinburne, Mr. Rosetti, Mr. Morris, “and other so-called writers of the fleshly school;” and also whether he had not written anonymously in reference to his own poems and other writings.
     Mr. McClymont appeared for the rule, and Mr. R. Williams showed cause.
     Mr. Justice Brett said that an interrogatory in such general terms could be of no use to the person putting it, for the answer would not be material to any issue raised in the case. The interrogatory was idle and immaterial, and therefore, in the language of the law, impertinent. For this reason it ought not to have been allowed.
     Rule absolute.

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The Edinburgh Evening News (17 February, 1876- p.2)

THE “FLESHLY SCHOOL” OF POETRY.

     The action which Mr Robert Buchanan, the poet, has raised against the Examiner is likely to prove more than usually interesting. I understand, writes the London correspondent of the Dundee Advertiser, that about a dozen leading literary men will figure in the proceedings, and that Mr Swinburne, Mr Morris, and Mr Rossetti will be put into the witness-box to be asked questions which, if answered, may throw some strange light on the art of literary criticism. Mr Buchanan himself will be put in the box, and, if all one hears be true, his examination will be quite an event. Readers of periodical literature have not forgotten the tumult created by Mr Buchanan’s attack on the “Fleshly School” of poetry. The tumult will be re-created in an altered form. Mr Buchanan, I believe, alleges that the Examiner has been the instrument of the “Fleshly” litterateurs, who have through its columns systematically attacked him because he put them down. He seems to suspect a conspiracy whose existence will, I hear, be easily disproved. The immediate cause of the fight is, singularly enough, Lord Southesk’s poem “Jonas Fisher.” The Examiner, quoting from the poem, attributed the authorship of “Jonas” to Mr Buchanan, which sad assertion was followed by a letter by Mr Swinburne, who, under a signature which Mr Buchanan could not like, said some things which Mr Buchanan could not endure.

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The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (6 March, 1876 - p.5)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan, the poet, has just arrived in London from Connemara, Ireland, in order to prosecute his case against Mr. Taylor, M.P., and the proprietor of the Examiner, for alleged libels in that publication. The trial will come on in a few weeks, and will doubtless be the talk of the town. There will also be much food for merriment, for Mr. Swinburne, the most nervous of bards, will have to appear in the witness-box. Mr. George Barnett Smith, the editor of the Evening Echo is also one of those subpœnaed, as is also the Earl of Southesk. The noble earl, we have reason to believe, strongly sides with the complainant—the now avowed author of “Jonas Fisher”—as he is very much dissatisfied that it should have been attributed either to “Mr. Buchanan or the Devil.” A Q.C. has been retained as counsel on either side.

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The Brisbane Courier (14 April, 1876 - p.3)

Piccadilly Points of View.
[BY OUR LADY CORRESPONDENT IN LONDON.]
No. II.

                                                                                                                                 LONDON, February 3.

. . .

     We are to have another libel case which will excite, if not the general interest which was attracted by Mr. Irving’s action against Fun—the details of which were exceedingly amusing, and especially the examination of Mr. Toole in Court—at least considerable attention on the part of the literary world. Mr. Robert Buchanan, who is a poet of some merit, and writes very creditable—if occasionally extravagant—essays, is unhappily a very vain and super-sensitive person. He is incensed by silence, and he is outraged by any comment which can be called criticism. “Praise everything, and quote the whole,” was Sidney Smith’s advice to a person who asked him how he ought to review a friend’s book. Mr. Robert Buchanan is seemingly of this way of thinking, but he has, if any writer can have an excuse for doing so undignified an act as criticising his critics, some reason for being angry with The Examiner. He has certainly been severely handled in its columns, but that is not saying that the criticisms are unjust, or their authors actuated by any reprehensible motive. However, Mr. Robert Buchanan believes himself to be the object of personal malice on the part of The Examiner, and is about to bring an action against that journal, claiming damages to the extent of £5000. He alleges that The Examiner’s criticisms of his work are notoriously and systematically prejudiced, and that a conspiracy to write him down has been formed in The Examiner office. It is rather amusing when one recollects that quite lately The Examiner published a paragraph in which the authorship of a poem called “Jonas Fisher,” which has been much talked of, was attributed to Mr. Robert Buchanan; followed it up with a letter from the irascible bard himself disclaiming the authorship of “Jonas Fisher,” and then came out with a statement that both the paragraph and the letter emanated from the same source—Mr. Buchanan himself. A special feature in the case—should it ever come into Court—will be the letters published in The Examiner under the signature “John Maitland,” the nom de plume which Mr. Buchanan adopted when he attacked the Swinburne and Rossetti clique in an essay upon “The Fleshly School of Poetry.” Mr. Swinburne is known to be the author of these letters, and he is naturally not fond of Mr. Buchanan, so that should the battle come to be fought in the open, it will no doubt prove to be a very pretty quarrel.

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The Sheffield Daily Telegraph (28 June, 1876 - p.3)

     An interesting action for libel is down for to-morrow though no one can say when it may actually come on. The plaintiff is Mr. Robert Buchanan, the poet, and the defendant the printer of the Examiner. The case arises out of a letter published some months ago in the Examiner, in which Mr. Buchanan was rather cruelly chaffed. The added sting was given to the letter by the signature “Thomas Maitland,” that being the signature of the former article in the “Contemporary Review,” in which “The Fleshly school of poetry” was described, and Robert Buchanan was warmly eulogised. The wicked world has always had it that Buchanan himself wrote that article, and, indeed, I do not know that the soft impeachment has ever been seriously denied. It is scarcely less a secret that Swinburne wrote the letter in the Examiner which is the subject of the action. That distinguished poet will appear in the witness box, and his evidence is looked forward to with great interest.

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The Trial
Day One: Thursday, 29th June, 1876.

 

The Pall Mall Gazette (29 June, 1876)

ACTION FOR LIBEL AGAINST A NEWSPAPER.

     In the Common Pleas Division of the High Court to-day Mr. Justice Archibald, with a special jury, is trying the case of Buchanan v. Taylor. This was an action by Mr. Robert Buchanan against the proprietor of the Examiner newspaper, Mr. P. A. Taylor, M.P. for Leicester, to recover damages for an alleged libel contained in notices of a poem which was supposed to have been written by the plaintiff, called “Jonas Fisher.” The defendant, in addition to “Not guilty,” justified the supposed libel as being only a fair criticism of the work.
     Mr. Charles Russell, Q.C., and Mr. McAlmont appeared for the plaintiff; and Mr. Hawkins, Q.C., Mr. Mathew, Mr. Warr, and Mr. Robert Williams for the defendant.
     Mr. C. Russell, in opening the case, said that the plaintiff was a Scotchman by birth and a literary man by profession. He had attained a considerable amount of eminence in his profession, and he received by the hands of Mr. Gladstone some years ago an award from the Royal Literary Fund which was the more creditable as having been entirely unasked for. The defendant’s paper was one which, to say the least of it, took strong and peculiar views of politics and religion. Some years ago there sprung up what was known as the “Fleshly School” of writers; and among the most prominent of the writers of this school were Mr. Swinburne, Mr. Rossetti, Mr. Maurice, and Mr. O’Shaughnessy. This school was disgraced by an amount of sensualism and subtle indecency such as was to be found in the French school of writers, but seldom, happily, among English writers. In 1870 Mr. Buchanan sent to the Contemporary Review an article upon the writers of this school, but wished that article to be judged of simply upon its own merits, and he did not, therefore, wish to append his name to it. It was, however, the custom to place names at the end of articles in that review, and the publisher therefore appended the name of “Thomas Maitland.” In consequence of some observations made upon this article the plaintiff came forward, and openly avowed the authorship. After this Mr. Buchanan was criticised most severely by Mr. Swinburne in a publication called “Under the Microscope,” in which article he was supposed to have used up every epithet of abuse in the English language. After this matters rested for a while, but in 1875 Messrs. Trübner published a poem called “Jonas Fisher,” in which the writer took somewhat the same views as the plaintiff might have taken. Thereupon the poem was attacked in the Examiner. It was said:—

     This anonymous poem is said by the London correspondents to be the work of either Mr. Robert Buchanan or the devil; and delicate as may be the question raised by this double-sided supposition, the weight of probability inclines to the first of the alternatives. That the author, whichever he is, is a Scotchman, may be inferred from one or two incidental sneers at the characteristic virtues of his countrymen. If a prophet has no honour in his own country, it must be said, on the other hand, that a country seldom gets much honour from its own prophet. The worst thing said about countries have been said by renegade natives. There are other and more specific circumstances which favour the report that Jonas Fisher is another of the aliases under which Mr. Buchanan is fond of challenging criticism, rather than one of the equally numerous disguises of the enemy. There is no reason why the devil should go out of his way to abuse the “Fleshly School.” Now the hero of this poem has views on some of the tendencies of modern poetry and art which coincide very closely with Mr. Buchanan’s, exhibiting the same nicely balanced and carefully differentiated feelings of scorn for effeminate voluptuousness and delight in that voluptuousness which is manly.

This criticism, it was submitted by the learned counsel, was unfair and unjust to the plaintiff. This, however, was not all, for in the Examiner of the 11th of December last there appeared a letter headed “The Devil’s Due,” and signed with the name which had been placed to the plaintiff’s article in the Contemporary Review, “Thomas Maitland,” and dated from “St. Kilda.” The writer says:—

     It is with inexpressible interest that I receive, at this distance from New Grub-street, the important and doubtless trustworthy—I should say, reliable—information that the Examiner has lately discovered a mare’s nest, and that a poem which I certainly did not understand to be on your authority, but on quite another kind of authority than yours, attributable “either to Mr. Robert Buchanan or the Devil,” is at all events not assignable to my illustrious namesake in pseudonymy. So much the better, or so much the worse, as the case may be, either for the songster or the song, possibly for both at once. The invention of the mare’s nest (I do not use the word “invention” in that sense in which the Church Universal talks, or used to talk, of the invention of the Cross) is doubtless all in the “way of the world”—the title and the subject of the greatest of English comedies; but I may perhaps take this occasion to remark that the mere suggestion of such an alternative in authorship as appears elsewhere to have been offered with less discretion than decision, would be more perplexing to readers of “Paradise Lost” than to readers of the Book of Job. (I do not say the book of Robert Buchanan or of Peter Bell the third). The devil in Scripture, as we all know, was addicted to going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down in it, a locomotive habit which may suggest the assistance on his part of at least one quality in common with the bard whose range of vision and visitation is suggested to oscillate between the Seven Dials and “the Land of Lorne.

     The article continued at considerable length in a similar strain. Mr. Buchanan sent a paragraph to the Echo simply stating that he had nothing to do with “Jonas Fisher;” and there also appeared a paragraph in the World in which some allusion was made to the Examiner; but with this the plaintiff had nothing whatever to do, though it was attributed to him in the Examiner. The plaintiff, through his solicitors, entered into a correspondence, in the course of which it was stated that “The Devil’s Due” was written by Mr. Swinburne, who, it was said, was prepared to take the full responsibility of the article, and it was suggested that proceedings should be taken against him, and not against Mr. Taylor, but this was declined, and the action went on. The learned counsel, in conclusion, said that in the course of what had been written in the Examiner of the plaintiff he was called “a skulk,” “a shuffler,” “a liar,” and “the idyllist of the gutter,” which surely could not be called fair criticism. Mr. Taylor might know nothing of the article, but he was responsible for it, for he gave an opportunity to Mr. Swinburne not to adversely criticise Mr. Buchanan’s works, but to vent the spleen, spite, and malice which he had conceived, so far back as 1871, against the article by “Thomas Maitland” upon the “Fleshly   School,” and during all which time Mr. Swinburne appeared to have nursed his wrath.
     Lord Southesk was called and said that he was the author of “Jonas Fisher,” and with it Mr. Buchanan had nothing whatever to do. In cross-examination he said that he was acquainted with Mr. Buchanan. “Jonas Fisher” was supposed to be a city missionary in Edinburgh, and he made some free comments upon the Roman Catholic clergy and upon other matters.
     Mr. Buchanan said: I have followed literature as a profession for about fifteen years. I am now thirty-five. I have written some poems and much prose, mostly criticisms, and chiefly it was anonymous. In 1871 my attention was drawn to some writers of the “Fleshly School.” I had been acquainted with it before. In September, 1871, I wrote an article upon the “Fleshly School,” and sent it from Oban, in Scotland, to the Contemporary Review. I believe that there was no name appended to it; I gave directions that it should be published anonymously. It appeared with the name of “Thomas Maitland” appended to it. Mr. Strahan wrote that the editor objected to the article appearing anonymously, and I telegraphed to him to suppress it. Very little comment was made upon it until it was discovered that I was the author. I then distinctly avowed being the author. There were then further criticisms upon it; one in “Under the Microscope,” and another “George Chapman,” but under the signature of Mr. Swinburne. I republished my article with additions, which were chiefly criticisms upon Mr. Swinburne. I honestly expressed my opinion upon this class of writing. I had no animosity against any of the writers I criticised, nor had I any quarrel with any of them. There was no pretence for the “London Correspondent” to suggest that I was the author of “Jonas Fisher.” It was a distinct invention. I have written under various pseudonyms. I repudiated in the Echo being the author of “Jonas Fisher,” but I had nothing to do with the paragraph in the World in which the “Radical Shoemakers” and so on were referred to. I have never written other than what I believed to be honest reviews. I have never puffed myself under assumed names, as imputed to me in the Examiner, nor have I taken any improper way of keeping myself before the public.
     Cross-examined.—I saw the criticism upon “Jonas Fisher” the week in which it was published. Mr. Minto is, I believe, the editor of the Examiner. I had not before the publication of the review of “Jonas Fisher” seen or had any communication with Mr. Minto or Mr. Taylor.
     And you have no reason to believe that either of them cares personally about you?—I have reason to know that Mr. Minto is a personal friend of Mr. Swinburne. I communicated with Mr. Minto after the review. I had no knowledge of “Jonas Fisher” until I saw the review.
     Did you tell Mr. Minto that he was better acquainted with the devil’s style than you were?
     Mr. Russell: Whatever it was, it was in writing, and must be put in.
     Mr. Hawkins: Was it your opinion that he was better acquainted with the devil’s style than you were?
     Mr. Russell said that this was an indirect attempt to get in the substance of a written document.
     Mr. Justice Archibald ruled that the question could not be put.
     The report will be continued in our subsequent editions.

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The Times (Friday, 30 June, 1876 - p.11)

SECOND DIVISIONAL COURT.
(Before Mr. Justice ARCHIBALD and a Special Jury.)
BUCHANAN V. TAYLOR.

     This is an action by Mr. Robert Buchanan against Mr. Peter Taylor, M.P., for libels published in the Examiner, of which publication the defendant is the proprietor. The defendant pleaded that the articles complained of were written and published for the public good and in fair and bona fide comment on the critical writings of the plaintiff.
     Mr. Russell, Q.C., and Mr. C. R. McClymont appeared for the plaintiff; Mr. Hawkins, Q.C., Mr. J. C. Mathew, Mr. Warre, and Mr. Robert Williams for the defendant.
     The alleged libels were published in the Examiner of the 27th of November and the 11th of December last. The first was contained in a review of an anonymous poem, entitled, “Jonas Fisher,” and which, the reviewer stated, “is said by the ‘London Correspondents’ to be the work either of Mr. Robert Buchanan or of the devil.” The second alleged libel was a letter, with the heading “The Devil’s Due,” signed “Thomas Maitland.” The letter, which it is admitted was written by Mr. Swinburne, stated “that an author haunted by such a horror of the bloodthirsty critics who lie in wait for him has evidently yet to learn the new and precious receipt discovered by Mr. Robert Buchanan (if that be his name), of ‘Every Poeticule his own criticaster,’ a device by which Bavius may at once review his own poems with enthusiasm under the signature of Mævius, and throw dirt up, in passing, with momentary accurity, at the window of Horace or of Virgil.” The plaintiff was also referred to a “the multifaced idyllist of the gutter.”
     Mr. RUSSELL having opened the plaintiff’s case,
     Lord Southesk was called, and he deposed that he was the author of “Jonas Fisher” and that the plaintiff had nothing whatever to do with it. The poem contained his own views of “the fleshly school of poetry.”
     Mr. Robert Buchanan stated that he was acquainted with the works of Mr. Rossetti and Mr. Swinburne. He wrote the article on “the fleshly school of poetry,” which appeared in the Contemporary Review, under the nom de plume “Thomas Maitland.” The article contained the views he held on the subject. He had no animosity against any of the persons whose productions he had in mind when he wrote the article.
     Mr. HAWKINS cross-examined the plaintiff at great length as to the character of his writings, and had not concluded when the Court rose.

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The Guardian (30 June, 1876 - p.8)

EXTRAORDINARY ACTION FOR LIBEL.
_____

     In the Common Pleas Division, yesterday, Mr. Justice Archibald, with a special jury, was engaged in trying the case of Buchanan v. Taylor. This was an action by Mr. Robert Buchanan against the proprietor of the Examiner newspaper, Mr. P. A. Taylor, M.P. for Leicester, to recover damages for an alleged libel contained in notices of a poem which was supposed to have been written by the plaintiff, called “Jonas Fisher.” The defendant, in addition to a plea of not guilty, justified the supposed libel as being only a fair criticism of the work.—Mr. Charles Russell, Q.C. and Mr. McClymont appeared for the plaintiff; and Mr. Hawkins, Q.C. Mr. Mathew, Mr. Warr, and Mr. Robert Williams for the defendant.—Mr. C. Russell, in opening the case, said that the plaintiff was a Scotchman by birth and a literary man by profession. He had attained a considerable amount of eminence in his profession, and he received by the hands of Mr. Gladstone some years ago an award from the Royal Literary Fund, which was the more creditable as having been entirely unasked for. The defendant’s paper was one which, to say the least of it, took strong and peculiar views of politics and religion. Some years ago there sprung up what was known as the “Fleshly School” of writers; and among the most prominent of the writers of this school were Mr. Swinburne, Mr. Rossetti, Mr. Maurice, and Mr. O’Shaughnessy. This school was disgraced by an amount of sensualism and subtle indecency such as was to be found in the French school of writers, but seldom, happily, among English writers. In 1870 Mr. Buchanan sent to the Contemporary Review an article upon the writers of this school, but wished that article to be judged of simply upon its own merits, and he did not, therefore, wish to append his name to it. It was, however, the custom to place names at the end of articles in that review, and the publisher therefore appended the name of “Thomas Maitland.” In consequence of some observations made upon this article the plaintiff came forward, and openly avowed the authorship. After this Mr. Buchanan was criticised most severely by Mr. Swinburne in a publication called “Under the Microscope,” in which article he was supposed to have used up every epithet of abuse in the English language. After this matters rested for a while, but in 1875 Messrs. Trubner published a poem called “Jonas Fisher,” in which the writer took somewhat the same views as the plaintiff might have taken. Thereupon the poem was attacked in the Examiner. It was said, “This anonymous poem is said by the London correspondents to be the work of either Mr. Robert Buchanan or the devil; and delicate as may be the question raised by this double-sided supposition the weight of probability inclines to the first of the alternatives. That the author, whichever he is, is a Scotchman may be inferred from one or two incidents, sneers at the characteristics of his countrymen. If a prophet has no honour in his own country, it must be said, on the other hand, that a country seldom gets much honour from its own prophet. The worst thing said about countries have been said by renegade natives. There are other and more specific circumstances which favour the report that Jonas Fisher is another of the aliases under which Mr. Buchanan is fond of challenging criticism rather than one of the equally numerous disguises of the enemy. There is no reason why the devil should go out of his way to abuse the ‘Fleshly School.’ Now, the hero of this poem has views on some of the tendencies of modern poetry and art which coincide very closely with Mr. Buchanan’s, exhibiting the same nicely balanced and carefully differentiated feelings of scorn for effeminate voluptuousness and delight in that voluptuousness which is manly.” This criticism, it was submitted by the learned counsel, was unfair and unjust to the plaintiff. This, however, was not all, for in the Examiner of the 11th December last there appeared a letter headed “The Devil’s Due,” and signed with the name which had been placed to the plaintiff’s article in the Contemporary Review, “Thomas Maitland,” and dated from “St. Kilda.” The writer says:—“It is with inexpressible interest that I receive, at this distance from New Grub-street, the important and doubtless trustworthy—I should say, reliable—information that the Examiner has lately discovered a mare’s nest, and that a poem which I certainly did not understand to be on your authority, but on quite another kind of authority than yours, attributable ‘either to Mr. Robert Buchanan or the devil,’ is at all events not assignable to my illustrious namesake in pseudonymy. So much the better or so much the worse, as the case may be, either for the songster or the song, possibly for both at once. The invention of the mare’s nest (I do not use the word ‘invention’ in that sense in which the Church Universal talks, or used to talk, of the invention of the Cross) is doubtless all in the ‘way of the world’ - - the title and the subject of the greatest of English comedies; but I may perhaps take this occasion to remark that the mere suggestion of such an alternative in authorship as appears elsewhere to have been offered with less discretion than decision, would be more perplexing to readers of ‘Paradise Lost’ than to readers of the Book of Job (I do not say the book of Robert Buchanan or of Peter Bell the third). The Devil in Scripture, as we all know, was addicted to going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down in it, a locomotive habit which may suggest the assistance on his part of at least one quality in common with the bard whose range of vision and visitation is suggested to oscillate between the Seven Dials and ‘the Land of Lorne.’” The article continued at considerable length in a similar strain. Mr. Buchanan sent a paragraph to the Echo simply stating that he had nothing to do with “Jonas Fisher,” and there also appeared a paragraph in the World in which some allusion was made to the Examiner; but with this the plaintiff had nothing whatever to do, though it was attributed to him in the Examiner. The plaintiff, through his solicitors, entered into a correspondence, in the course of which it was stated that “The Devil’s Due” was written by Mr. Swinburne, who, it was said, was prepared to take the full responsibility of the article, and it was suggested that proceedings should be taken against him, and not against Mr. Taylor, but this was declined, and the action went on. The learned counsel, in conclusion, said that in the course of what had been written in the Examiner of the plaintiff he was called “a skulk,” a “shuffler,” “a liar,” and “the idyllist of the gutter,” which surely could not be called fair criticism, Mr. Taylor might know nothing of the article, but he was responsible for it, for he gave an opportunity to Mr. Swinburne not to adversely criticise Mr. Buchanan’s works, but to vent the spleen, spite, and malice which he had conceived, so far back as 1871, against the article by “Thomas Maitland” upon the “Fleshly School,” and during all which time Mr. Swinburne appeared to have nursed his wrath.
     Lord Southesk was called and said that he was the author of “Jonas Fisher,” and with it Mr. Buchanan had nothing whatever to do. In cross-examination he said that he was acquainted with Mr. Buchanan. “Jonas Fisher” was supposed to be a city missionary in Edinburgh, and he made some free comments upon the Roman Catholic clergy and upon other matters.
     Mr. Robert Buchanan said: I have followed literature as a profession for about fifteen years. I am now thirty-five. I have written some poems and much prose, mostly criticisms, and chiefly it was anonymous. In 1871 my attention was drawn to some writers of the “Fleshly School.” I had been acquainted with it before. In September, 1871, I wrote an article upon the “Fleshly School,” and sent it from Oban, in Scotland, to the Contemporary Review. I believe that there was no name appended to it; I gave directions that it should be published anonymously. It appeared with the name of “Thomas Maitland” appended to it. Mr. Strahan wrote that the editor objected to the article appearing anonymously, and I telegraphed to him to suppress it. Very little comment was made upon it until it was discovered that I was the author. I then distinctly avowed being the author. There were then further criticisms upon it. I republished my article with additions, which were chiefly criticisms upon Mr. Swinburne. I honestly expressed my opinion upon this class of writing. I had no animosity against any of the writers I criticised, nor had I any quarrel with any of them. There was no pretence for the “London Correspondent” to suggest that I was the author of “Jonas Fisher.” It was a distinct invention. I have written under various pseudonyms. I repudiated in the Echo being the author of “Jonas Fisher,” but I had nothing to do with the paragraph in the World in which the “Radical Shoemakers” and so on were referred to. I have never written other than what I believed to be honest reviews. I have never puffed myself under assumed names, as imputed to me in the Examiner, nor have I taken any improper way of keeping myself before the public.
     Cross-examined. I saw the criticism upon “Jonas Fisher” the week in which it was published. Mr. Minto is, I believe, the editor of the Examiner. I had not before the publication of the review of “Jonas Fisher” seen or had any communication with Mr. Minto or Mr. Taylor.—And you have no reason to believe that either of them care personally about you?—I have reason to know that Mr. Minto is a personal friend of Mr. Swinburne. I communicated with Mr. Minto after the review. I had no knowledge of “Jonas Fisher” until I saw the review.—Did you tell Mr. Minto that he was better acquainted with the Devil’s style than you were? Mr. Russell.—Whatever it was, it was in writing, and must be put in.—Mr. Hawkins.—Was it your opinion that he was better acquainted with the devil’s style than you were?— Mr. Russell said that this was an indirect attempt to get in the substance of a written document.—Mr. Justice Archibald ruled that the question could not be put.—Witness.—I looked upon it as “a foolish rumour” that I had written that book. This was in writing.—Is the paragraph of the 4th of December in the Examiner in which it was said, “Mr. Robert Buchanan has asked us to contradict the rumour that he is the author of ‘Jonas Fisher.’ He had never heard of the work till he saw our review.” The words of the Echo were, “Mr. Robert Buchanan is not the author of the clever poem ‘Jonas Fisher.’ The Examiner says it is either by Mr. Buchanan or the devil, so that there is little room left for speculation upon the authorship.”—That paragraph is not in the words I wrote, but it is substantially the same. I only wrote one paragraph, tho’ for the Echo.—Had you any reason to believe that the editor of the Examiner would “garble your words” if you wrote to him.—I had every reason to believe so; that he would represent me unfairly. I never met Mr. Rosetti, but I have once met Mr. Swinburne. It was at the Hanover Square Rooms, on the occasion of my giving a recitation. I believe I invited him.—You asked him to go there to do you a kindness.—I do not see how it was doing me a kindness. I had never seen Mr. Swinburne when I wrote my “Session of the Poets” in 1866.—You would not make any personal attack in a work of yours?—I might be guilty of personality, but it must be provoked by something very gross. I had not heard when I wrote my “Session of the Poets” that Mr. Swinburne had exceeded the bounds of moderation in drink. It was an unfair, a cowardly, and ungentlemanly thing to refer to that in a review if it stood alone. I might mention it as indicating character in combination with other things. I should think it unfair to drag in his personal appearance, except as indicative of character. I did introduce him into the “Session of the Poets.” The expressions there were indicative of literary character.—You refer to yourself in the “Session of the Poets”—

“There sat, looking mooney, conceited, and narrow,
     Buchanan, who, finding, when foolish and young,
Apollo asleep on a coster-girl’s barrow,
     Straight dragged him away to see somebody hung.”

(Laughter). And you also wrote of Mr. Swinburne—

“Up jumped with his neck stretched out like a gander.”

Has he a long neck?—I do not know.—You also make Mr. Tennyson say of him,—

“ ‘To the door with the boy, call a cab, he is tipsy,’
and they carried the naughty young gentleman out.”

Was he drunk?—He was drunk to publish such a book. No one in his sober senses would publish it. I think what I said was an exceedingly mild way of putting it. I meant only to refer to Mr. Swinburne’s literary character.—You allude to  Mr. Tennyson as being—

“With his trousers unbraced, and his shirt-collar undone,
He lolled at his ease like a good-natured bear.”

(Laughter).—This was descriptive of his character, as the other was of Mr. Swinburne.—You say—

“Master Swinburne glared out of his hair,”

How could a man do that?—(Laughter).—If his hair hung over his eyes it would be descriptive.
     The further hearing of the case was adjourned.

___

 

The Glasgow Herald (30 June, 1876)

(p.4)

     The latest addition to the quarrels of authors is likely to attract some attention and excite a good deal of amusement. The parties involved are Mr Robert Buchanan on the one hand, and the editor and publisher of the Examiner and Mr Swinburne, who is an occasional contributor to that journal, on the other. The affair, which will be settled in the Court of Common Pleas, arose out of a criticism of “Jonas Fisher,” a poem published anonymously but afterwards found to be written by the Earl of Southesk. The Examiner, in the course of its review, discussed a rumour that “Jonas Fisher” was the work either of Mr Buchanan or of the devil, and a letter from Mr Swinburne (who signed “Thomas Maitland,” a former pseudonym of Mr Buchanan) was afterwards published on the same point. Mr Buchanan considers the remarks made as being beyond the limits of fair criticism, and is probably offended at being dragged before the public along with the Prince of Darkness. Hence the present action, which will prove a tit-bit for a few days for those who like a good  row.

 

(p. 6)

MR ROBERT BUCHANAN AND THE
EXAMINER.

_____

ACTION FOR LIBEL.

     In the Common Pleas Division of the High Court of Justice yesterday, Mr Justice Archibald, with a special Jury, heard the case of Buchanan v. Taylor. This was an action by Mr R. Buchanan against the proprietor of the Examiner newspaper, Mr P. A. Taylor, M.P. for Leicester, to recover damages for an alleged libel contained in notices of a poem, which was supposed to have been written by the plaintiff, called “Jonas Fisher.” The defendant, in addition to “not    guilty,” justified the supposed libel as being only a fair criticism of the work. Mr Charles Russell, Q.C., appeared for the plaintiff; and Mr Hawkins, Q.C., for the defendant.
     Mr C. RUSSELL, in opening the case, said that the plaintiff was a Scotchman by birth, and a literary man by profession. He had attained a considerable amount of eminence in his profession, and he received by the hands of Mr Gladstone, some years ago, an award from the Royal Literary Fund, which was the more creditable as having been entirely unasked for. The defendant’s paper was one which, to say the least of it, took strong and peculiar views of politics and religion. Some years ago there sprung up what was known as the “Fleshly School” of writers, and among the most prominent of the writers of this school were Mr Swinburne, Mr Rossetti, Mr Morris, and Mr O’Shaughnessy. This school was disgraced by an amount of sensualism and subtle indecency such as was to be found in the French school of writers, but seldom, happily, among English writers. In 1870 Mr. Buchanan sent to the Contemporary Review an article upon the writers of this school, but wished that article to be judged of simply upon its own merits, and he did not therefore wish to append his name to it. It was, however, the custom to place names at the end of articles in that Review, and the publisher therefore appended the name of “Thomas Maitland.” In consequence of some observations made upon this article, the plaintiff came forward and openly avowed the authorship. After this Mr. Buchanan was criticised most severely by Mr. Swinburne in a publication called Under the Microscope, in which article he was supposed to have used up every epithet of abuse in the English language. After this matters rested for a while, but in 1875 Messrs. Trübner published a poem called “Jonas Fisher,” in which the writer took somewhat the same views as the plaintiff might have taken. Thereupon the poem was attacked in the Examiner. It was said:—
     “This anonymous poem is said by the London correspondents to be the work of either Mr. Robert Buchanan or the Devil, and delicate as may be the question raised by this double-sided supposition, the weight of probability inclines to the first of the alternatives. That the author, whichever he is, is a Scotchman may be inferred from one or two incidental sneers at the characteristics of his countrymen. If a prophet has no honour in his own country, it must be said, on the other hand, that a country seldom gets much honour from its own prophets. The worst things said about countries have been said by renegade natives. There are other and more specific circumstances which favour the report that Jonas Fisher is another of the aliases under which Mr Buchanan is fond of challenging criticism, rather than one of the equally numerous disguises of the enemy. There is no reason why the devil should go out of his way to abuse the ‘Fleshly   School.’ Now, through this poem are views on some of the tendencies of modern poetry and art which coincide very closely with Mr Buchanan’s, exhibiting the same nicely balanced and carefully differentiated feelings of scorn for effeminate voluptuousness and delight in that voluptuousness which is manly.”
This criticism, it was submitted by the learned counsel, was unfair and unjust to the plaintiff. This, however, was not all; for in the Examiner of the 11th of December last there appeared a letter headed “The Devil’s Due,” and signed with the name which had been placed to the plaintiff’s article in the Contemporary Review, “Thomas Maitland,” and dated from “St. Kilda.” The writer says:—
     “It is with inexpressible interest that I receive at this distance from New Grub Street the important and doubtless trustworthy—I should say reliable—information that the Examiner has lately discovered a mare’s nest, and that a poem, which I certainly did not understand to be on your authority, but on quite another kind of authority than yours, attributable ‘either to Mr Robert Buchanan or the Devil,’ is at all events not assignable to my illustrious namesake in pseudonymy. So much the better, or so much the worse, as the case may be, either for the songster or the song—possibly for both at once. The invention of the mare’s nest (I don’t use the word ‘invention’ in that sense in which the Church universal talks or used to talk of the invention of the Cross) is doubtless all in the ‘way of the world,’ the title and the subject of the greatest of English comedies; but I may perhaps take this occasion to remark that the mere suggestion of such an alternative in authorship as appears elsewhere to have been offered with less discretion than decision, would be more perplexing to readers of ‘Paradise Lost’ than to readers of the Book of Job (I don’t say the book of Robert Buchanan, or of Peter Bell the third). The Devil in Scripture, as we all know, was addicted to going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down in it, a locomotive habit which may suggest the assistance on his part of at least one quality in common with the bard whose range of vision and visitation is supposed to oscillate between the Seven Dials and the ‘Land of Lorn.’”
The article continued at considerable length in a similar strain. Mr. Buchanan sent a paragraph to the Echo simply stating that he had nothing to do with “Jonas Fisher;” and there also appeared a paragraph in the World, in which some allusion was made to the Examiner; but with which the plaintiff had nothing whatever to do, though it was attributed to him in the Examiner. The plaintiff, through his solicitor, entered into a correspondence, in the course of which it was stated that “The Devil’s Due” was written by Mr Swinburne, who, it was said, was prepared to take the full responsibility of the article, and it was suggested that proceedings should be taken against him and not against Mr. Taylor, but this was declined, and the action went on.
     Lord Southesk was called, and said that he was the author of “Jonas Fisher,” and with it Mr Buchanan had nothing whatever to do. In cross-examination, he said that he was acquainted with Mr Buchanan. “Jonas Fisher” was supposed to be a city missionary in Edinburgh, and he made some free comments upon the Roman Catholic clergy and upon other matters.
     Mr Robert Buchanan said—I have followed literature as a profession for about 15 years. I am now 35. In  September, 1871, I wrote an article upon the “Fleshly School,” and sent it from Oban, in Scotland, to the Contemporary Review. I believe that there was no name appended to it; I gave directions that it should be published anonymously. It appeared with the name of “Thomas Maitland” appended to it. Mr. Strahan wrote that the editor objected to the article appearing anonymously, and I telegraphed to him to suppress it. Very little comment was made upon it until it was discovered that I was the author. I then distinctly avowed being the author. I republished my article with additions, which were chiefly criticisms upon Mr. Swinburne. I honestly expressed my opinion upon this class of writing. I had no animosity against any of the writers I criticised, nor had I any quarrel with any of them. I have written under various pseudonyms. I have never puffed myself under assumed names as imputed to me in the Examiner, nor have I taken any improper way of keeping myself before the public.
     Cross-examined.—I saw the criticism upon “Jonas Fisher” the week in which it was published. Mr Minto is, I  believe, the editor of the Examiner. I had not, before the publication of the review of “Jonas Fisher,” seen, or had any communication with Mr Minto or Mr Taylor.
     And you have no reason to believe that either of them cares personally about you?—I have reason to know that Mr. Minto is a personal friend of Mr. Swinburne.
     Did you tell Mr. Minto that he was better acquainted with the devil’s style than you were?
     Mr RUSSELL—Whatever it was, it was in writing and must be put in.
     Mr HAWKINS—Was it your opinion that he was better acquainted with the devil’s style than you were?
     Mr RUSSELL said that this was an indirect attempt to get the substance of a written document.
     Mr Justice ARCHIBALD ruled that the question could not be put.
     Had you any reason to believe that the editor of the Examiner would “garble your words” if you wrote to him?—I had every reason to believe so, that he would represent me unfairly. I never met Mr Rossetti, but I have once met Mr Swinburne. It was at the Hanover Square Rooms on the occasion of my giving a recitation. I believe I invited him.
     You asked him to go there to do you a kindness?—I don’t see how it was doing me a kindness. I had never seen Mr Swinburne when I wrote my “Session of the Poets” in 1866.
     You would not make any personal attack in a work of yours?—I might be guilty of personality; but it must be provoked by something very gross. I had not heard when I wrote my “Session of the Poets” that Mr Swinburne had exceeded the bounds of moderation in drink. It would be an unfair, a cowardly, and ungentlemanly thing to refer to that in a review. If it stood alone I might mention it as indicating character in combination with other things. I should think it unfair to drag in his personal appearance, except as indicative of character. I did introduce him into the “Session of the Poets.” The expressions there were indicative of literary character.
     Mr HAWKINS—You refer to yourself in the “Session of the Poets”—

“There sat, looking moody, conceited, and narrow,
 Buchanan, who finding, when foolish and young,
 Apollo asleep on a coster-girl’s barrow,
 Straight dragged him away to see somebody hung.”

(Laughter.) And you also wrote of Mr Swinburne—

“Up jumped with his neck stretched out like a gander.”

     Has he a long neck?—I don’t know.
     You also make Mr Tennyson say of him—

“To the door with the boy, call a cab, he is tipsy—
 And they carried the naughty young gentleman out.”

     Was he drunk?—He was drunk to publish such a book. No one in his sober senses would publish it. I meant only to refer to Swinburne’s literary character.
     You allude to Mr Tennyson as being—

“With his trousers unbraced, his shirt collar undone,
     He lolled at his ease, like a good-natured bear.”

(Laughter.)—This was descriptive of his character, as the other was of Mr Swinburne.
     You say “Master Swinburne glared out of his hair.” How could a man do that? (Laughter.)—If his hair hung over his eyes it would be descriptive.
     The further hearing of the case was adjourned.

_____

 

The Fleshly School Libel Action - continued

 

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